Time for a bit of hand-on-heart honesty about British Decency today, readers.

This strip was born from a sudden mental image of kids taking prisoners during war-games – and subsequent musings upon my own experience when my family moved Ireland when I was 9.


queen's silver jubilee

I stood to attention in my Cub uniform for her, in Perth, Scotland in 1977


Superiority Complex

I arrived in Ireland in 1977, which was Queen Elizabeth II‘s Silver JubileeYear. The greatest Union Jack flag-waving event in many British people’s memories. If I’m perfectly honest; when I got here, I had quite a superior-British attitude about the Irish, by whom I was suddenly surrounded. This was born of a lifetime of hearing Irishman jokes and a general tendency in British comedy to make fun of the Irish for being thick. It was a hangover from the days of those offensive PUNCH magazine cartoons which not only belonged back in the 19th Century but shouldn’t have ever existed in the first place. It’s clear to me now that this was probably born of fear and jealousy – as is usually the case.

To my shame, I even drew a few stereotype cartoons myself, as an 8 and 9 year old, showing English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish men. I might have even done some after I arrived in Ireland! Was I venting my disappointment at being plucked out of Scotland – a place that I loved – and dropped into the Irish countryside, away from all of my friends and the brilliant Robert Douglas Memorial School in the Scottish village of Scone? Suddenly, I was surrounded by church-going strangers in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in what was then, a pretty grubby and dreary looking Irish National School. We stayed in one classroom all day long. And did no art or crafts.



When in Rome..?

A mature person in this situation would tread gently and make sure not to offend anyone. You were outnumbered after all. And when in Rome…

I recall the headmaster – who loved to poke fun at the kids – asking me in front of the class:

“What nationality are you John?”
“Half English and half Irish.” I proclaimed. Proud of the first bit.
“Oh really? And which half is Irish?” He asked.
“The bottom half” I jibed cheekily.

This was meant to be jibe – back at him in particular. But to be honest, it was more of an insult to the English! It wasn’t long before I discovered that most of my classmates were probably a lot cleverer and better at their schoolwork than I was. Ciaran Curley, Kevin Bonfield and Francis O’Carroll put me to shame. Crediting my brain with being in the English half was no great tribute to Her Majesty.


star wars sountrack album record label

Even this Irish-pressed Star Wars item wasn’t safe from my KGB style revisionism!



Even this Irish-pressed Star Wars item wasn’t safe from my KGB style revisionism!

Still, it didn’t stop me crossing out ‘Made in Ireland’ from my school Jotters and writing in G.B. and drawing little Union Jacks on things. How I got away with this behaviour is amazing to me. In fact, I can honestly say that despite The Troubles still raging in the North of Ireland, most people treated me well under the circumstances. Except for one bully named Tom. In Scotland the bullies called me an English Bastard. In Ireland they didn’t: Tom instead called me a Scottish Bastard. My accent had a touch of Scottish by then.

But other than that, I didn’t sense any attempt at retribution for 500 years of British oppresion and tyranny. I have to thank best friends like Niall Farrington, John Skehan and Francis O’Carroll for letting bygones be bygones – in the Irish historical sense – and probably also for putting up with some of my misplaced and annoying patriotic nonsense!


Risky Business



union jack kite 1977

I had one of these. Possibly because of the 1977 Silver Jubilee


I had one of these. Possibly because of the 1977 Silver Jubilee

We stayed with my relatives in Northern Ireland for a few months before we moved to the South (“The Free State”) in 1977, which I might talk about another time… One of things I brought over with me was – I think – a Remus brand self-build kite that I’d bought in Scotland. It had a Union Jack design on it!

My dad had to quickly tell me – very anxiously, no doubt – that it would be a terrible idea to fly it outside in the Catholic square where my granny lived. I’m sure he explained all of the excellent reasons for this, but it would have gone over my head at that age. I mean, the main things that I loved about staying in Bessbrook, Northern Ireland was the army presence. Soldiers carrying guns, armoured cars, helicopters, army bases and checkpoints. Corrr… But precisely the things that frightened and enraged the Catholic local community.


So, am I English or Irish?

To be perfectly honest: at this stage I think I’d have to admit that I’m more Irish. My dad is English, my Mum is Northern Irish. I was born in Liverpool, England. So that makes me a bit more English, right? Or at least more British, depending on how you look at Northern Ireland. I always felt so, but I think I’ve been kidding myself. Of my 46 years, I have now lived in Ireland continuously for 37 of them. That’s 80.43% of my life. Or just over 8/10 – or 4/5 of my life!


Facing it

So even if I still don’t feel very Irish – or especially English for that matter, it’s probably time to face reality. Besides, when Ireland play football against England, I always support Ireland. What more proof could you need?

P.S: My dad will probably tell me that my sums are wrong. See? Not so clever and superior.


** Stay Groovy, all you 1970s kids! **

– John White

↓ Transcript

In a green field, we see the two boys, Neal and Jim engrossed in the 'Movie Facts' on the backs of their collectible Star Wars bubble gum cards.

"They used 'Blue Screen'?" asked Neal, without quite understanding what it was. Before he could answer, Jim looked up and saw Jack, "Uh oh..."

"Hands up Jerries!" shouted Jack, standing over their hiding place in the wet ditch, pointing his cowboy gun at them. "For you - zer varr iss over. Ha!" in a mock-German accent. "Don't shoot!" begged Jim, both boys throwing up their hands in immediate surrender, adding "Geneva Convention!"

Jack, sniffed, put on a snooty British air and casually twirled his gun around his trigger finger, "Relax Fritz: we're British, don't you know? We don't shoot prisoners - like you chaps do. No, no. Not the done things. Honour - sportsmanship - fair play - " then adding " - and all that rot."

The two boys, still holding their hands in their looked grumpily and incredulously up at Jack, "Oh - reeeeeeally." they said unison.

"Yes - really!" Replied Jack. "Haven't you read the Warlord comics that I lent you? The innate English sense of Decency?" He looked at them, baffled at their lack of understanding. "No?"

Jim, unable to take any more of this nonsense, and going quite dark in the face, asked, "Jack, are you even aware that I'm Irish?!?"

(we cut to an extreme wide-view of the field, which is full of cowes and sheep and shite. Behind we see the red hay-shed, the Bus Eireann bus stop sign, the rusty bathtub cattle trough, old tyres...)

"And that you now live in fecking Ireland?!?" shouted Jim. A red tractor rolls down the road behind the hedgerow, and a farmer leans out, "Howya lads!"

"Howya Tom" replies Neal. Jack looks around the field, still baffled. But he has a quick think, glancing nervously sideways at Jim. He thinks, "Jim's acting weirdly lately... could it be battle fatigue? Or..." he gasps, "Shell-shock?"