The Shoe-Shine Boys
Singers gotta sing, players gonna play and writers must write. If a person does not follow their passion it normally leads to internal disappointment. For me, writing is something I must do, sometimes it is spontaneous and seems to come from nowhere, the creative flame is lit by some spark and off I go. At other times, it is more of an itch that must be scratched, the thought gnaws away at the mind, often impacting on sleep or concentration that would be better directed at the task in hand. The itch becomes unbearable and sooner or later it must be given that deep, longed-for scratch that will (hopefully) alleviate it. I.e. I must write it out.
Such is the case with the subject of this article. It is one that has bothered and bemused, interested and irritated, disappointed and dumbfounded for a number of years now (yes, I know, too long a time to leave an itch unscratched – such is the power of procrastination eh!). I wonder and am interested to learn if others have the same bewilderment at the fact this phenomenon occurs. It is a phenomenon that has been around in various forms for many a year and I imagine that it will continue for many more given the current state of things in the British Realm. Indeed, in recent days it has been used as a political tool to buy allegiance.
So, what is it that itches so?
First, I’d like to labour the introduction (even further) by playing a game. A quiz even. Here goes.
Question 1: Who is it the odd one out from Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Alex Ferguson, Billy Connolly, Bob Geldof and Colin Kaepernick?
Answer – I think it fair to say that it is no hard task to point out that all except Kaepernick have been knighted by the hand of a British Royal, all, except Kaepernick, are designated ‘knights of the realm’.
Question 2: What is it then that connects these individuals?
Answer – It is a physical action that connects them all – the ‘bending of the knee’.
Question 3: What is the second difference between Kaepernick?
Answer – The intention of all except Kaepernick was to show allegiance, to submit, to join in with, to perpetuate, to support and to legitimize the British Royal Family.
Kaepernick on the other hand, he executed a carefully thought-out and respectful protest against the entrenched racial discrimination of the American political system, at a time when the pinnacle (D. Trump et al) promote the racial divide and exacerbate the existent racism with their actions.
Whereas Kaepernick acts against it, the rest acquiesce to the injustice of the Royal Family and the attached consequences for society of having an elite stratum deemed more important than the general populace.
You may have guessed by now I am an abolitionist and Republican.
What is it that puzzles me about this phenomenon? To be sure, it isn’t hard to understand that people will curry favour with powerful individuals and groups, history is littered with examples. Also, anyone who has worked in a factory or office will no doubt have a story about some brown-nose sucking up to the boss for their own personal advancement or benefit.
Some examples of kowtowing are easily explained. Take Alistair Darling for instance, here is a man who was photographed walking down the street holding a banner calling for a worker’s republic and claimed to support the abolition of the House of Lords. Yet as night follows day, he showed no shame in succuming to the ‘trill’ of ermine as he was rewarded for his defence of the Union following the referendum. Even more base, that socialist stalwart John ‘Bruiser’ Prescott binned his ideals en-route to the House of Lords so his wife could wear a new hat, so much for it being an ‘affront to democracy’ as he’d previously said.
Politicians are no stranger to this type of volte-face, we saw Emanuel Barroso, a former member of the underground Maoist MRPP in Portugal and now taking the fight to the heart of the enemy by working for Goldman Sachs, come to the aid of the Union in 2014 when hunting for votes for another top EU job. Though none to me are more obvious than the example of Adam ‘Republican’ Tompkins who, acting out of sheer desire for prominence, unclenched his raised hand and brazenly joined the Tories to lead the chant for the Queen’s Eleven and all things Unionist. This, from a man who once said you can’t be a democrat and a monarchist. Whilst I believe we can rightfully change our mind as and when we wish, to me, it seems to demonstrate a severe lack of conviction and character to move from one political position or worldview to another so easily.
No, what interests me is not the all-to-predictable sliming of political slugs but why those who I believe would decline such an offer, that, due to their backgrounds and/or experiences, would knock it back without a doubt. Take Fergie, a man who kicked his football amongst the rivets of the ClydeShipyards, living in a Glasgow that has suffered immeasurably at the hands of the class-system in our so-called United Kingdom. I don’t think we can separate the poverty experienced in the Gorbals and the privilege enjoyed at the Palace. I thought that that alone should have been enough for him to remember his roots and either politely reject the offer or better still publicly decry the absurdity of taking the knee for those who have never worked for their wealth. He who used the grit and nous of his upbringing to such good effect in attaining success in his field. Alas no, he bent the knee, and not to tie his bootlaces either.
What about Ole Mickey Jagger, that rascal, that ladies man (or alleged exploitative sex pest depending on what you believe). Here was a middle-class English boy with a passion and a plan, to sing the Blues and spread its words. The Rolling Stones became hugely successful and Jagger lived his life the way he saw fit. However, the Establishment didn’t like his music and behaviour or at least the impact they thought it was having on society – people wanted to enjoy freedom to do as they wished, this challenged the status quo, a status quo that had long been good for the establishment – for the Royals and their ilk. He soon felt ‘the long arm of the law’ on his fashionable collar and the gutter press sensationalised his every move. Jagger wasn’t happy, he even penned the song Street-fighting man following a bust, singing;
‘the time is right for palace revolution’ and ‘I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the King and rail at his servants.’
Jagger moved to France as he was literally hounded out of England by the Police and Press. Reason enough to laugh at the offer of such an ‘honour’ whenever it arrived in his life. Nope, he didn’t ‘rail at the servants’ he bent the knee and became one.
Billy Connolly, another Glasgow son who witnessed first hand the result of Scotland’s position in the hierarchy of needs as dictated by the Establishment elite and their Conservative supporters. He’s one of us, thought I as a young lad growing up in a Housing Scheme. If I’d been asked I’d have replied: “He’s like yer brilliant, crazy Uncle who comes roond at New Year and sends the party mental, the complete opposite of all that Royalty shite and the posh grubbers of their craven court.”
Now the distance between us is now immeasurable. Why? Because you bent the knee Billy, you been gone and bent the knee Billy (hangs head).
And then there’s Rod, with his cheeky, cat-that-got-the-cream smile. Sometimes the lottery of birth blesses you with talent or looks, he was lucky in the talent department, the man can croon somewhat and has therefore been able to profit from his voice. He once sang about stealing your Dad’s cue and make a living playing pool, being a young Turk and running away with a girlfriend etc. Here was a man that said to other young working -class men, hey look, if I can do it so can you, there’s nothing stopping you making it and having a good time, you just have to go for it (well until his pink jackets and Los Angeles embarrassment). That’s not to say I agree with Rod and his life’s actions, I don’t. What I am trying to say is that I didn’t see him as an establishment busboy, he goes to the footy ffs. But another fail, another bewildered look on my face as I thought about him bending the knee to get his wee pat on the head – that’s a good wee Rod – you bend the knee now Rod. (stomach turns in disgust).
In the case of Kaepernick, we have someone I can look at and wish to emulate, think well of and be supportive of his actions. Kaepernick took a decision to make a very public stand against the blatant racial discrimination in America. He deserves my respect, he has used his position to challenge the status quo, to rail against the injustice, to influence society, to show solidarity. A now rich man identifying with the poor and downtrodden, not a rich man bowing his head in meek acceptance of the continuation of an injustice that should have long been consigned to the history books. Kaepernick bent the knee and stands taller than all those others mentioned in this article.
Now I understand that it may be better to bend the knee in some circumstances. For example, if someone had a gun to my head or were threatening to kill my family or others around me. I might even bend the knee for a large sum of cash, I would use the Utilitarian rule that my embarrassment was less valuable to society than the money, which I could go on to use to help myself and others. However, I could never bend my knee for a so-called honour, to think I could ever stoop so low. It is unimaginable. I reflect that it must be status that sways the head to accept such an offer, each of those I mention has enough money, so it must be plain old status – look at me I have a title – a Sir no less.
Personally, I am of the opinion (as happens in the Sue Townsend book The Queen and I) that the Royal Family should have their riches removed and be placed in the nearest available council housing and be left to survive on the benefits available to every other poor bugger unfortunate enough to find themselves unemployed in Brexit Britain these days. In saying that, I would still be agitating to improve their situation, I would still be voting and arguing against Conservative policies that kill poor people. I would fight their corner if they were discriminated against. We don’t differentiate between the downtrodden in society, we should defend our ideals to the last. You may need support yourself one day.
So, the itch has been scratched, I will hopefully no longer lose/waste time thinking about this subject. I now prefer to remind myself, and will finish this article by highlighting, a few of those who did not accept that bending the knee was a viable option for their sense of self-worth or compatible with their ideals. Doris Lessing wouldn’t bend the knee because she attacked the Royal Family as a youth. Henry Moore the sculptor, son of a coal miner, wanted to stay in touch with his roots so didn’t bend the knee. Bowie and Lennon both declined to bend the knee. Glenda Jackson, Aldous Huxley, George Bernard Shaw, all remained unbowed. Our own Danny Boyle refused to bend the knee. Let’s celebrate all those (hopefully) principled individuals who declined as opposed to falling into the trap of elevating in public life those who doff the cap to their ‘betters’.
Here’s my motto – Stand tall, stand free, an ‘Honour’ will never bend my knee.