Steady now, just 'keep calm and carry on'

For something that sounds a bit like a second-rate breakfast cereal, Brexit has created the most monumental commotion in Britain since David Beckham damaged his precious metatarsal.

It's created family rifts, longtime friends are not talking to one another and the young ones have decided it's all the fault of the wrinklies. "I'm never giving up my seat on the train for an old person ever again," tweeted one young lady. Comments like that prompted comedian Ricky Gervais to remark: "I can't believe it took a referendum for Britain's youth to find out old people hate them."

Summing up the sorry situation nicely was Andy Zaltman's analogy in Newsweek, likening Brexit to "a bored nation sticking its fingers in a tempting-looking electrical socket, just to see what happens".

It was entertaining to observe all the "experts" being wheeled in by the BBC and CNN, attempting to explain what would happen next. They all came to one conclusion -- they had absolutely no idea. But hopefully they had a little more idea than Fox News which briefly announced in a news alert: "UK votes to leave UN."

Adding to the drama was England's football team, under manager Roy Hodgson, crashing out of the Euro 16 tournament. As one observer tweeted: "Hodgson is the only man in England with a coherent plan for leaving Europe."

In the wake of Brexit, one slogan that keeps surfacing is "Keep Calm and Carry On", originally launched in World War II as British citizens prepared for the German bombers. It looks like the British people have taken this slogan to heart, because a common theme in tweets following the vote was "I'm off to the pub" -- that's definitely keeping calm and carrying on. True democracy in action.

Regrets, I've had a few

Adding to the fun are reports that some people who voted for Leave were having second thoughts as the pound plunged and stock markets wobbled. It appears that quite a number were simply making a protest vote and didn't think Leave had a hope of winning, a reaction quickly dubbed "Regrexit". Little did they realise their votes would lead to unprecedented political turmoil, featuring back-stabbings, betrayals and skulduggery of Shakespearean proportions.

It is no secret that the majority of MPs had backed the Remain vote, prompting a wry cartoon in the Daily Telegraph, depicting two MPs outside Parliament. One of them comments gruffly: "Let's never ask the public for their views again."

Stiff upper lip

The "keep calm and carry on" philosophy first surfaced in World War I when the British government's slogan was "Business as Usual", adopted from a Winston Churchill speech. It suggested that whatever the enemy did it would not affect everyday life. Of course it was impossible to carry on as normal when you were involved in "the war to end all wars", but it was good for morale and the expression is still common in everyday speech.

These wartime slogans are a reflection of the "stiff upper lip" culture particularly associated with the British when faced with a potential catastrophe. The expression derives from the belief that the first sign someone is fearful is when the upper lip starts trembling. Britain probably requires a combined 64 million stiff upper lips in the coming months.

Up the Khyber

"Stiff upper lip" always reminds me of the 1968 comedy film, Carry On Up The Khyber. It is set during the British occupation of India in Victorian times, with the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment battling Afghan tribesmen. In a wonderful climactic scene, the governor is hosting a formal black-tie dinner when his residence comes under heavy attack from the tribesman. In true British tradition, the governor and guests carry on with their meal as if nothing untoward is happening, despite bullets whistling around, shells crashing into the building and plaster falling into the soup.

Just a scratch

There are countless examples of the "stiff upper lip" in British history.

One of the most famous occurred at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when Lord Uxbridge, after being hit in the leg by cannon shot, rode up to the Duke of Wellington and announced: "By God sir, I believe I've lost my leg." To which Wellington replied dispassionately, "By God sir, so you have."

Another oft-cited case is that of explorer Ernest Shackleton whose ship Endurance was trapped in the Antarctic ice in 1915. mAlong with his 30-man crew he had to abandon ship in bitterly cold conditions and could only watch as his vessel lost its fight with the ice. As the ship sunk, Shackleton remarked: "There she goes boys, there she goes."

This is your captain speaking

In 1982, there was the case of British Airways pilot, Capt Eric Moody, whose 747 lost the use of all four engines after they were choked by volcanic ash while flying over Indonesia.

Capt Moody very calmly announced over the intercom to the 247 passengers: "Ladies and gentlemen. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."

He proceeded to land safely, despite having to glide the engineless plane for some distance with no visibility, the windshield being covered in ash. Capt Moody later likened it to "negotiating ones way up a badger's backside."


Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@gmail.com.

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