I wrote a long while ago about the rather strange obsession in Hastings and St Leonards with inappropriate excuses for knees ups. From the age old pagan festival which dates back to the dawn of time in…. Erm… 1983 to the wildly geographically and meteorologically inaccurate Mardi Gras, there seems to be no end to what can be shoehorned on to the local events calendar to keep the pub tills ringing and to rake in money for and inflate the ego of whoever dreamed up that particular wheeze. I did toy with the idea of importing the annual Penis festival from the town of Kawasaki in Japan but then figured that there were already enough complete pricks about town already without me throwing them a parade.
The latest nonsensical todo is an extravaganza to celebrate the birthday of the American black civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Frankly, this totally mystifies me and it seems to be culturally and geographically out of place on a number of levels. The American Civil rights movement, whilst being of great importance to the United States, is a total irrelevance in the United Kingdom. We abolished slavery long before Americans did and we, as a culture, never subscribed to segregation of any kind, let alone the legally framed racism of North America. Granted, there were appalling signs in the windows of many British boarding houses stating “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” up until the seventies and some of our television programmes up to the early eighties left a lot to be desired. It must be acknowledged though that the Brits were as equally sexist and homophobic as they were racist, which was equality of sorts I guess… Erm… yay us? The cultural framework in the uk makes importing Martin Luther King day a complete nonsense, as relavant as Thanksgiving or labour day would be. Incidentally, I never get why Rosa Parks doesn’t get a day in the states as I find the bravery of a quiet lady, too tired to stand, breaking the segregation rules on a bus a much braver and inspiring action than a grown man mouthing off about something. They never do that, do they? Granted he did get whacked, but then so do lots of political speakers, hazard of the job…
So along with Mardi Gras, Martin Luther King day becomes a “thing” in Hastings with its prerequisite dressing up and money will be shelled out, including the predictable amount for charity so as to legitimise a bunch of grown ups titting about yet again, and that will now be the year partitioned off into another time wasting but ultimately pointless excercise in attention seeking. Yawn!
So in leu of something completely arse backwards, here is a suggestion for something new and completely appropriate……… Drum roll please…… Gandhi Day!
Just think about it for a moment, Britain’s dark history lies mostly in the days of empire. That’s not all of it of course, from the crusades, through to Iraq via slavery, the opium wars and slave trading we have always been pretty awful as a nation and frankly still are but the empire on which the sun never set was also the evil on which the sun never set, India being a case in point. Mahatma Gandhi led India to gain independence from the British empire through non violent means and was instrumental in using and developing many of the non violent techniques that would be later used by Martin Luther King as well as many others throughout the world. On top of that he could spin his own yarn, which always impressed me, both from a technical point of view as from the photos I’ve seen it always looked like he got it impressively even, plus as a form of economic self reliance, that and the salt making were dead impressive as a practical forms of direct action.
Plus, from a personal point of view, I can’t be mouthing off about what other people are up to if I can’t propose a more positive and appropriate solution myself. Gandhi himself said, Be the change that you wish to see in the world. So if I want to see a date on the Hastings calendar that is not about egos and drinking and puffing up one’s own community standing, then I’d better sort it out myself, as humility and event organisation seem to be strange bedfellows hereabout.
There are a few practical problems to having a Gandhi day in Hastings though, firstly the musical aspect. As anyone who has ever been to a knees up in Hastings knows, you have to have music, ideally some local, erm, talent mangling some vaguely appropriate tune or other. Martin Luther King lends itself rather well to this format, what with Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday and numerous Billie Holiday songs that can be wrestled into enthusiastic submission. But Gandhi? I found the rather catchy Gandhi Jayanthi but not being the usual verse chorus verse structure in 4/4 time accross twelve bars it might be a bit much to belt out down the pub. Then there is the costume problem…. Seeing as Gandhi rarely wore much more than a big nappy affair of a bit of cloth wrapped around himself, it’s probably not the most practical get up for a cold night in October where his birthday fell, the sandals wouldn’t be that practical either. Plus there was the Gandhi not being a boozer problem…no event in Hastings or st Leonards is worth bothering with , it seems, unless everyone gets plastered by the end of it, and one that doesn’t make money for the local landlords and shopkeepers will sadly get no support. But that isn’t necessarily a problem as there was nothing Gandhi liked better than to quietly potter about at home.
So there we go, we have a plan. A culturally and historically relavant celebration for a historical figure who had a positive effect on Britain, by scuppering its exploitative empire, that can be celebrated quietly at home with the minimum of fuss and distraction to people who find the whole endless cycle of showing off events rather tedious and childish. Plus unlike the usual ego stroking affairs of my somewhat parochial and backwards thinking home town, I stake no claim to said idea and give it freely to the world. All I ask is that if you choose to have a Gandhi day of your own, just don’t invite me. I have enough stuff to avoid going to and put people’s noses out of joint in the process as it is.