I’ve been planning on heading to an exhibition on flags, but have been either unusually busy or asleep. Of course, it’s over now and I’ve missed it. Life getting in the way of life.
No, really, flags?
Well, one. Sort of. The exhibition was The Union Flag: Change and Diversity.
The combination of the jubilee and the forthcoming olympics has meant that it has been possible to buy any amount of items branded with the union flag. Cups, tshirts, cushions, stationery, bedding, jewellery, partyware. Think of the item and you can be sure that somebody has stuck a flag on it. I’m wondering about who’s been buying it all? Do the buying patterns in Northern Ireland vary from Great Britain?
I grew up in a contested society, where flags carried a lot of weight. They demarked an area, showed control, inspired fear. Nobody waved a flag without knowing that was making a statement about who they were, who they wanted to be, and who they very definitely were not.
In Northern Ireland the union flag and the tricolour have been loaded with meaning. My family avoided flags. If pushed we’d be Irish (northern), but not enough to fight about either aspect of that. Anyway, the passports were British.
Flags said too much. The sort of saying that could get you killed. We avoided flags. All the flags. All the colour schemes. It has taken me a lifetime to wear a navy dress with a red and white scarf. It looks fine, and I am aware that the screaming of “wearing red, white and blue” is only in my head. I’m working on it.
The exhibition I missed demonstrated how surprisingly fluid the concept of a flag can be. Our society is still far from normal, and flags may still be an issue. We have a way to go. But there are small steps. There’s less fear. The passport is Irish now.
Girl2 was at a birthday party during the jubilee weekend. Lots of little folk singing and dancing and eating and laughing. None of them noticing how their Polish hosts had decorated the house for the event. Nobody blinked at jubilee party plates, napkins and bunting.
In the meantime, my head exploded.
flags picture from culturenorthernireland.org