Why men care about their identity – and why they’re wasting their time

 

Here’s a poser for you: when was the last time you saw upwards of 10,000 women boisterously marching through a city centre, bellowing out hymns in defence of their home town, while at the same time mocking another large gathering of women and their place of residence for its abundance of ill-conceived dwellings and inhabitants’ propensity for sexual relations among family members?
 
Don’t bother answering, I’m being all clever and rhetorical. The point being that I’m not attempting to demonstrate womanhood’s apathetic betrayal of their God-given rights – their inability to take to the streets protesting about Elle Macpherson’s insipid performance on Britain’s Next Top Model (Monday night is ladies night around my way) is proof of that.
 
Rather, maybe they’ve got their priorities right. Maybe, just maybe, where we’re from – our place of birth, the village/town/city/cardboard box we call home and, especially, our country – really isn’t that important after all. And, yes, I know the scene I painted above was related to football, and support of one’s team goes beyond place (insert joke about Manchester United/Liverpool/Arsenal and their legions of interloper fans here), but you get my drift.
 
So, chaps, sorry to turn centuries of perceived wisdom on its head and all that, but possibly we all need to be a bit more relaxed about this curious relationship between ‘home’, our identity and sense of self. Perhaps, as per Ian Brown’s memorable aphorism, it’s less about where you’re from, and more about where you’re at. Of course being from Manchester, he would say that. He can afford to be magnanimous.
 
Believe me, I’m as obsessed as the next man about identity and how my place of birth and/or the places I’ve grown up continue to shape me. That’s possibly because the two places that do provide an adequate answer to the question, “Where are you from?”, I feel no affinity towards.
 
I was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, and lived there until just before my 13th birthday. When my dad got a new job, our nuclear family moved to Taunton, Somerset. My parents, quite likely correctly, felt the south west would provide better opportunities for their offspring than a town whose heyday had been back in the 13th Century. At first, I was proud of my Boston roots; my vaguely northern accent marking me out among my new classmates.
 
However, as I grew older I began to realise that Boston actually had very little to recommend it. These days, it’s only in the news because of sporadic outbreaks of racism (locals battling Portuguese immigrants after England were defeated by Portugal at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup) and gluttony (apparently the town has the highest obesity rate in the country). It does, mercifully, have a soul though – albeit scarred and tortured. Something that can’t be said for bland
and vacuous Taunton.
 
Funnily enough, my dad thinks I should reply “Taunton” when quizzed about where
I come from – a question that living in London one gets asked a lot. I disagree, not only on the grounds that I don’t want to be associated with the place, but, moreover, I only lived there for seven years. I’ve lived in London for 12 years and I certainly don’t consider myself a Londoner. Tellingly, when my dad and I were having our dinner table tête-â-tête, the ladies present – my mum and my girlfriend – kept quiet. And not because they were suddenly transported back to the ’50s, but they really couldn’t be bothered to shrug their shoulders, such was their indifference.
 
The nature of nationality is slightly more thorny, and therefore needs to have its bubble burst even more. Put simply, nationality is something of a man-made phenomenon. Backward-looking folk like your common- or-garden nationalist might like to argue otherwise, that it is natural and authentic, but consider us Brits. Could there be a more bastard nation? We should be proud of this mix; celebrate it in a form of progressive patriotism espoused by the likes of Billy Bragg.
 
To believe that nations (just look at the idea of the nation state – it’s a modern artifice designed to bolster capitalism) are repositories of some traditional truth, which is generally just a disguise for racism or, at best, jingoism, is a fallacy. Yes, we all have little quirks and we can all have a laugh and a joke at the Frenchman’s obsession with sex, while the converse is said to apply to us Brits, but let’s not take it any further than that.
 
Nationality is more fluid than ever before – a reason why I don’t have a problem with the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Craig Kieswetter et al representing England at cricket. In a sophisticated society we should embrace this. And at the same time, let us all agree that
 
I don’t have to answer Taunton when asked the question that bedevils us all. 




This article first appeared in Umbrella Magazine Issue #2. You can view it online here.



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