Lynne Mortimer: If I was tested for Britishness, would I pass? I don’t think so

Lynne Mortimer

Lynne Mortimer - Credit: Archant

I found a copy of a book on my desk this week.

No, it wasn’t the new Fifty Shades of Grey: Making Yet More Money bestseller. As readers will know from my previous attempts to buy the right sized cable ties, I have abandoned any ventures into sexual domination. For a start, I don’t have a dungeon and the cupboard under the stairs is way too small for anything interactive... unless you happen to be a shoe or vacuum cleaner fetishist (no emails, please).

This book was much more up my street. It is The Real Citizenship Test by Paul Sinha, published this month. Rather than the practice of being British, this book looks at the essence of Britishness.

So before I read it, I set out my own parameters, assessing my own brand of national stereotype which, I fondly imagine, is quintessentially British.

QED: my lack of confidence speaking other foreign languages is only matched by my supreme but misplaced belief that I am brilliant at accents. So, while in France I speak only a poor version of Franglais (Excusez moi, avez vous un straw pour mon glass d’orange, s’il vous plait?), as devised by the late Miles Kington, I’m happy to lark about and do my Maurice Chevallier as in “Tank ‘evan for leetle gulls.”

I shine like a beacon of whiteness on foreign beaches. The only reason I wear sunglasses is to cut down the glare from my thighs.

I pack more medication than anything else for my hols. Headache tablets (naturally), plasters, pills for constipation and the opposite affliction, sunburn relief, antihistamine, insect repellent, antiseptic wipes, etc.

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“To be British, you do not need to be able to name Henry VIII’s wives in order...” Sinha says awareness of Henry’s reign is all that is required, immediately kicking “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” into touch.

It’s virtually the first page he writes and I’m already over-qualified.

But he makes some good points in his alphabetically-arranged guide. It’s humorous but not a total romp.

Sinha finds time to recommend checking the price of anything you are about to buy with the price in Argos, to suggest David Attenborough may be Britain’s greatest living person and that we must understand that “David Beckham is better than you” (except in a game of Trivial Pursuit, he adds).

He moves on to a more serious issue: “Only in Britain can a reckless philanderer and cold-blooded murderer be the ultimate male icon for the nation... It is every heterosexual man’s job to watch the films and strive to his levels of perfection.” He speaks, of course, of James Bond.

While I may like the idea of a well-buff, indestructible secret agent with an unlimited expense account and the stamina to make love to women after a car chase, killing a man with his bare hands, being shot at on a ski slope, escaping from being lashed to a table with a laser approaching his loins, and five shaken vodka martinis, would I actually want to live with one? My husband has requested I say that, in fact, I do live with one but the truth is, he prefers red wine.

“If executed perfectly, the British hen night may be the worst sociocultural monstrosity on the planet,” says Sinha.

My daughter is already planning her hen do and I am invited (at least to one of them) which reassures me there will be none of the excessive ruderies I have witnessed on the streets when parties of women, the bride-to-be often dressed in a veil and carrying something inflatable like no-one I know, spill out into the night-time, squealing and unsteady on high heels. Men do not reach the aural pitch some women achieve. I once sat in a train carriage with a group of men on a stag-do who were dressed as Oompa Loompas which they clearly felt was pretty extreme. Actually, I was quite shocked... their singing of the Oompa Loompa song was atrocious.

So would I pass Paul Sinha’s test of British citizenship? Probably not but I reckon this is the only place on earth that would put up with me so it looks as if Britain and I are stuck with one another.

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