Jude Collins

Saturday, 31 December 2011

The New Year's Honours List and getting lucky

I wonder how many football referees are made knights?  I ask because one thing most football referees are good at is running backwards - occasionally there’s a collision but most manage it perfectly most of the time. Which means being made a knight would be tailor-made for them, since apparently when you get a knighthood, you’re supposed to back your way out of the room. That’s because the room contains Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, better known as Queen Elizabeth II. The reasons for the backward movement are rooted in English history. Some have suggested it was because the English monarch was originally a big robber baron, so other smaller robber barons made a point of backing out of a room that contained them to avoid ending with a dagger lodged between their shoulder-blades. This is almost certainly black propaganda. The reverse is more probably true, you might say: people reversed from the room containing the English monarch because turning their back would have been disrespectful, not dangerous. (Although being disrespectful can also be dangerous).

In the south of Ireland, poor people, they do not have a monarch. They have Michael D Higgins which is not quite the same thing.  Which means they are deprived of the New Year’s Honours List that we in the north enjoy.   There is talk down there of inventing an honours list,  and perhaps some fake antique practices to go with it,  like leaving Michael D’s presence while hopping on one foot or doing a leap-frog over the honour-recipient behind you.  Hopelessly fake-sounding, if you ask me. Unlike all the ceremony that surrounds Her Majesty Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, which is steeped in centuries of antique stuff, most of it fashioned to remind people of their place in society. If you  must bow or curtsey or kneel or back your way out of a room, you’d be quite thick not to get the message of who’s important around here.

Besides, even the south had a monarch of its own, it still wouldn’t have an Empire, would it, and that’s really built into our awards.  OBE does not mean Out of Body Experience, it means Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. That’s what Darren Clarke got. Rory McIlroy, being younger, had to settle for becoming an MBE – Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. When Ronnie Flanagan got his thing a few years back for all that good work in the RUC, he became a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. KCB, in short. Not the British Commonwealth, you note. Empire. That brought civilization all over the world.  EMPIRE! HUZZAH!

God, I’m getting misty-eyed and I haven’t even touched a drop yet. Let me end, my dear blog-readers, with a poem from one of our own – Paul Muldoon. A good Ulsterman. It’s called ‘Meeting the British’ and it’s about honouring some North American native people in the seventeeth century with a few well-chosen gifts.  The speaker, of course, is one of the primitive but loveable native people.

We met the British in the dead of winter. 
The sky was lavender 
and the snow lavender-blue. 
I could hear, far below, 
the sound of two streams coming together 
(both were frozen over) 
and, no less strange, 
myself calling out in French 
across that forest- 
clearing. Neither General Jeffrey Amherst 
nor Colonel Henry Bouquet 
could stomach our willow-tobacco. 
As for the unusual 
scent when the Colonel shook out his hand- 
kerchief: C'est la lavande, 
une fleur mauve comme le ciel. 
They gave us six fishhooks 
and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.

Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh  -  Happy New Year to everyone.


  1. Were you not made a member of the silver ring this year? Bliain ur faoi Mhaise duit a chara

  2. I enjoyed that article, being one of those who anon so has a go at, being not British correct. It's really humourous reading those guys who are so Brutish they want to convert you with violence, if not physical then mental. I grasp what you say about being grown up they evidently don't. Any way, keep up the challenging writing at least the fuckers reading it haveto think be fore reposting.

  3. Jude
    I think you are secretly in love with the Queen, you spend so much time writing about her.
    So the British have an honours system, so what? I don't think Rory getting an MBE has harmed me in any way.
    He seems pleased and I'm sure his family are proud of him. The rest of us can just ignore it.

    An eloquent and thoughtful contribution. Well done.

  4. Thanks, PJD. And gio - omg - you've located my secret love. It's probably because of this kind of thing that I love her. (Thanks to philip for alerting me to its existence):

    Twice each year the British government tells us of forty new knights (i.e. “Sirs”), 130 CBEs, 250 OBEs and 600 MBEs it wants us to bow to.

    Civil servants solicit nominations from public authorities that are not permitted to say which honour they believe the nominee should receive. Senior civil servants examine the nominations and more senior civil servants produce the final list of honourees.

    Serving ministers and civil servants refused to talk to journalist Jon Snow about how they run this system for the British people when he made a documentary shown on Channel Four TV in June 2002.

    In 2003, however, official documents showing how the system operates were leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper. One memorandum about a meeting of the main Whitehall honours committee suggested honours are often awarded routinely to those who have reached a certain status or to add interest to the announcement of new awards. A tennis player was recommended for an Order of the British Empire because he was under fifty and well known amongst an otherwise dull list. Scientist Colin Blakemore was thought a dubious candidate because his work was unpopular with anti-vivisectionists.

    Other leaked documents brought to light the names of 300 people who have rejected an award under the feudal system. The names included Graham Greene, David Hockney, John le Carré, Robert Graves, Francis Bacon, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, J B Priestley, Anthony Powell, Roald Dahl, Philip Larkin, Trevor Howard, Alastair Sim, LS Lowry, Albert Finney, David Bowie, J G Ballard, Honor Blackman and George Melly. Artist Lowry seems to have rejected five awards, including a knighthood. The actor Albert Finney turned down both a knighthood and a CBE. Novelist Ballard described the honours system to the Sunday Times as a "preposterous charade . . . . It makes us look a laughing stock and encourages deference to the crown," he added.

  5. sirgiordanobruno3 January 2012 at 16:59

    I don't disagree with any of that. It is all a bit preposterous.
    I assume you do not regard yourself as British, though, so I am at a loss to understand why you are bothered.
    I believe it is not uncommon for other States to do this sort of thing.
    The Vatican even awarded Rupert Murdoch a Papal Knighthood.

  6. sirgio - I like to comment occasionally on events in or coming from the neighbouring island. It doesn't bother me but it is a laff, and I just can't believe that people who've done something worthwhile subject themselves to this humiliating and as I say laughable ritual. Re the Vatican, I could say there's at least an element of election relating to the giver-out of goodies, but it's as near as dammit as foolish. Although I don't know what ritual squirmings they get up to. Besides, no matter where it happens, it encourages lobbying, rivalry, envy...It's like saying "These are the top books in the world" - who's to say? Daft, I call it. And laughable. But the Empire bit takes the biscuit. Have you checked my Facebook posting of the B Z piece on awards? Try it. Too good.