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Tuesday, 24 March 2009


It's official! I am now a P.O.H.M.

A Prisoner Of Her Majesty. A bona fide British citizen.

What does this mean exactly? To be honest, I'm not too sure.

I know that I can now vote and "sign on" (British for going on the dole). I can go through the faster line now at Heathrow airport and I can live and work anywhere in the EU. I'm pretty happy about all of this (well I hope I won't have to sign on anytime soon) but what does it mean to me? Lavendar Lee.

During the citizenship ceremony today, I looked around me for clues. There was lots to take in. The ceremony was held in a beautiful Georgian country house which was now a heritage property, used by the local council. Stunning though it was from the exterior, the inside had sadly capitulated to some terrible design choices. Dark terracotta walls. Fake white lilies. Cheap Pre-Raephaelite prints framed in gaudy, epoque borders. The room had been decorated to effect a false grandeur which contrasted greatly with the Pat Benatar-esque hairstyle and blue-pink lipstick of the woman hosting the ceremony. She was a hoot. As we lined up to register, she asked us all in quick succession:

"God or No God?"

This was to ascertain who of us Brits-to-Be would be pledging their oath to God and which would be pledging theirs to the Queen. As I was a No God, I got asked to sit with all the other non-believers on the side of the room where a cardboard poster of the Queen smiling benignly down at us. I'm not much of a Royalist or a Monarchist or whatever the hell you call it but it was nice to have the old bird smiling at us as we pledged away. I couldn't help but notice that one of the cheap prints on the wall, placed directly behind the Queen's head was:

It's called La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which translates to
The Beautiful Lady Without Pity!

Is it just me - or were they trying to tell us all something about the Queen?

To further add to the sense of ceremony, the Mayor came along too. His arrival was announced by his, I don't know - footman? This footman then ponced down the aisle swinging some kind of fake golden chalice from side-to-side, followed by the Mayor who was all dressed up in his heavy red robes and golden chains. He was a short man with a curled upper lip so I took an instant dislike to him as I always think people with that lip shape are sneering.

The ceremony then preceeded in its rather predictable kind of way. We all got our certificates, had our photos taken and sang the national anthem.

The national anthem!

I'm about to digress so please excuse me.

When I told my work mates that I was about to become a Brit - there was much laughing and teasing about me having to sing the national anthem at the ceremony. I don't know why the national anthem always brings out such hystericism in people. I can only bring it down to the fact that as children we were all tortured into learning it.

One of my work mates ever so kindly printed out the words of the British national anthem for me. Imagine my shock upon reading it properly.

As an Australian, I had been raised to sing about the joys and beauty of our lovely land:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.

It's pretty uplifting. There's not really anything noxious about it. People have said that the use of the word fair is racist but I think those people are reading out of context.

Then we have the British anthem which is:

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us;
God save the Queen!

O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!

I particularly like the lines "Confound their politics. Frustrate their knavish tricks." The Brits are not as nice as the Australians. After seeing this it became clear to me that, as Dorothy said:

"We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."

Mind you, compared to La Marseille, it sounds like a nursery rhyme:

Let's go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny's
Bloody flag is raised! (repeat)
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!

Grab your weapons, citizens!
Form your batallions!
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood
Water our fields!

Now that I am a Brit, I wonder if I should hate the French. It is tradition after all and if there was one thing that the ceremony indicated to me, it was being a Brit was being part of years and years and years and years and tears.... oh.. and years of tradition. The fake Georgian interiors. The fake picture of the Queen. The fake gold of the swinging chalice.

But you know what? It didn't matter because I was surrounded by a bunch of people that weren't fake. They were real and they were clearly all very happy (apart from one lady) to become British citizens. They were from all over. Sri Lanka, Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique to name a few. To be in their company reminded me how great a place London really is. It has a tolerance and breadth that I have not encountered anywhere else. It's noisy, crowded, polluted and inefficient. But it's also green, patient, honest and current. To be a British citizen means that I can live, work and play in London - to me, the most multicultural city in the world.

And for that - I am truly grateful.
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