Back in September, when I interviewed Alex Marshall, the author of a world tour of national anthems called Republic or Death!, he told me the following about “God Save the Queen,” the national anthem of the United Kingdom (and, by default, the anthem of England, which doesn’t have an official one):
There’s almost too many reasons not to like “God Save the Queen.” … When you hear it, you can’t get excited about it. And, the other big issue: It just has absolutely nothing about Britain today. All it says is, “We have a monarch, and we’d really like her to reign for a long time.” … [People] get far more excited singing songs with titles like “Land of Hope and Glory.” Or there’s one called “Jerusalem,” which is about “England’s green and pleasant land.” And those songs actually speak to the country and people’s sense of hope. Those mean so much more. If the U.K. had a different anthem I might get more excited about it.
The U.K. may not get a different anthem anytime soon, but there’s hope for England yet. (Scotland and Wales have their own anthems, Northern Ireland does not.) Yesterday, a bill to decide the future of an English anthem was introduced in Parliament and will come up for debate in March.
Labour MP Toby Perkins defended his affinity for God, Queen, and country: “I would like to say at the outset that I am neither a republican, nor an atheist nor an English nationalist ... Members should detect no hostility in me towards God, her majesty the Queen, to God Save the Queen or to the United Kingdom.”
I caught up with Marshall today over email to ask about the latest development in his and his country’s fraught history with “God Save the Queen.” He clarified that, first of all, England has publicly wrestled with getting its own anthem before. It comes up “before every major soccer tournament.” Marshall added:
Normally a few cranks shout about it and then everyone quickly moves on, but this time feels different. Maybe because of the recent Scottish independence referendum, or debates about UK membership of the EU, or even the European migrant crisis, a lot more people seem to be thinking about questions of national identity here and this feeds into them. Labour MPs also want to be seen to be patriotic right now since their leader Jeremy Corbyn isn’t and so have reason to push the idea. All of that could see this call get further than most. Chances are, though, MPs will panic in a few months when people start telling them they have more important things to discuss like the economy, health service and the fact much of England was recently under water.
As for Marshall’s choice for England’s national anthem, front-runner “Jerusalem” (heard in the video seen above) is “the only choice.” The words to “Jerusalem” are based on a William Blake hymn that includes the famous lines, “I will not cease from mental fight,/Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,/Till we have built Jerusalem/In England’s green and pleasant land.”
“It’s not just because it’s got a fantastic tune,” Marshall writes. “Its central message—of building a paradise, a Jerusalem … is one anyone here can be inspired by. That’s why you find it being sung by everyone from communists to the Women’s Institute.”
What about the song that’s also been cited as a contender, “Land of Hope and Glory”? According to Marshall: “Adopting that seems beyond bizarre. It’s a song that calls for England’s borders to get ‘wider and wider’ at one point. That message might have worked at the height of the Empire, but today? Bloody hell!”
“White Wine in the Sun” isn’t a probable title for a Christmas song, but it is if you’re Australian, like the comedian/musician Tim Minchin. (Among other things, he wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Matilda.)
This song will sneak up on you—it usually manages to get me in tears in the last minute or so. For most of it, Minchin ruminates on his mixed feelings around the holidays: He’s “hardly religious,” but he likes the music. He has “all the usual objections to consumerism,” he doesn’t want big presents. “It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it.”
But about halfway through, “White Wine in the Sun” builds, and it becomes about Minchin spending the holidays with his family in Australia, drinking white wine in the sun, and the reliability of always knowing they’re there.
I challenge you to hold it together until the end.
“And if, my baby girl, when you’re twenty-one or thirty-one,/And Christmas comes around/And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home/You'll know what ever comes/Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum/Will be waiting for you in the sun./Whenever you come,/Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles/Your grandparents, cousins, and me and your mum/We'll be waiting for you in the sun, drinking white wine in the sun.
She is really into home improvement/interior decorating—every time I visit, she and her husband have changed another room in their house, and it always looks amazing and they do it themselves (except the kitchen). She enjoys science fiction and fantasy books (Orson Scott Card and George R.R. Martin are a couple favorite authors I know of), but has also been known to read young adult fiction like Hunger Games, etc., when she needs something light. She is currently working on her dissertation for a PhD in electrical engineering. She has a two-year-old daughter, and is expecting twin boys, so her life is about to change dramatically.
Any gift they’ve loved?
I got her flannel pajama pants one year and she said loved them so much that I ended up getting her another pair a few years later. This feels pathetic to me because she's such a good gift-giver. When I learned I'd be moving across the country for my husband's job, she got me three handmade luggage tags, each with a map centered on a different place: my hometown, my husband's hometown, and the new town we'd be calling home together. Flannel PJs seem rather silly in comparison, but she said she loved them. I clearly could use some help.
Since your friend’s life is changing dramatically, immersion in something even more dramatic by comparison could actually be grounding. (It reminds one that stranger things can happen.) The podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” rests comfortably in sci-fi, fantasy, and YA fiction, and documents the weird citizens of a weirder town in a desert somewhere in the southwestern United States. It’s frightening, witty, surprising, and energetic, and yet—you could probably meditate to it. (This owes much to the deep, dulcet tones of narrator Cecil Baldwin, but also, one of the story’s themes is that there are lovely, soothing things to be found in a chaotic future. A sample quote: “While the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first, and settles in as the gentle present.”) Since she’ll soon have three small children on her hands, get her a nice pair of comfortable Bluetooth headphones—no cord for the babies to grab—and the audiobook for the just-released novelization of the podcast. Hopefully she’ll feel right at home in Night Vale.
At the end of third grade, my class gathered to meet our fourth-grade teacher. We were supposed to go around the room and say our names in introduction. When it was my turn, instead of saying my name, I spelled it out: “J-I-L-L-I-A-N.” Someone else picked up after me and said it: “Jillian.” Following that ordeal, I strategically took bathroom breaks in order to miss my turn when we went around the room to read aloud.
My stutter continued to follow me around my entire life. My favorite restaurant dish growing up was fish and chips, but I rarely ordered it myself because I couldn’t say it. My college-admissions essay was about stuttering. The college I went to begins with “B” and I loved it, but I don’t like to say its name. Nor do I like to say “boyfriend,” nor mine’s last name, which starts with “G.” My bad letters remain: B and G, along with D. When J became easier, I was grateful, but sometimes my heart still pounds when I have to introduce myself in a group.
Emma Alpern, a writer and stutterer herself, reported for us last week on the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. When she interviewed the association’s chairman of the board, Kenny Koroll, he said, “There’s always that question. If you had a magic pill [that could cure a stutter], would you take it? And for me, the answer is no.”
Stutterers share a debate that splinters other communities whose members are disabled in some way.
Answering the Magic Pill question involves engaging with two sides of the same experience: the one that disables and the one that enriches. (For more on this question as it relates to the above conditions, read Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree.) I have asked myself this question numerous times, although I don’t seriously consider its repercussions, as there is no cure for stuttering. When the answer has been “yes,” I was younger—at 14, I would’ve taken such a pill in a second—or besieged by memories of the rhythm, or lack of one, that defines my stutter: the pregnant pauses, the coping swallows, the speech therapy visits, the words I can’t say, the silence of my peers as I imagined what they thought of me. The shame.
When I tell people now that I stutter, or used to, they are surprised. They say they’ve never heard me do it. Like many stutterers, I grew out of the severity of my stutter, which is why I am comfortable today with the sense that I probably wouldn’t take a magic pill, because I don’t know who I’d be today if I had. For one, my stutter fueled a love for reading and writing, as Nathan Heller has written about. I am, despite the past, attached to myself now, and I’m inseparable from my stutter.
Scott Stossel, the editor of this magazine, wrote in a cover story last year about anxiety that, “some of the things for which I am most thankful … not only coexist with my condition but are in some meaningful way the product of it.” Some wounds and gifts are indistinguishable.