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They appeared overnight about two weeks ago. Compact wooden booths covered in breezily bright posters that had been strategically erected in all the parking lots in town. Inside each booth, sweating in the heat, sits a vendor surrounded by his merchandise – box upon box of fireworks. The vendor lists his inventory, the names he rattles off sounding more like dive-bar cocktails than pyrotechnics: Shagadellic Mojos; Fiery Frogs; Round Red Dahlias; Falcon Rising; Dragons’s Tears.
For these two weeks leading up to July 4th business is good. After all, what better way is there of showing your patriotism than by letting off Chinese-manufactured explosions in your backyard? Is there perhaps some part of the American psyche that can only be happy with national holidays if it allows you to let off gunpowder or drop ridiculously large items into boiling oil? The number of accidents from fireworks and deep-frying turkey mishaps on July 4th and Thanksgiving suggests so.
I will, of course, be keeping fairly quiet today. I figure an Englishman at a July 4th barbeque is about as appropriate as Colonel Sanders at a PETA meeting. And I’d almost certainly be an irritating wise-ass who would, at some stage, propose a toast to the Queen. Before you could say “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” someone will have had me tarred and feathered.
Not that the resut of the war still rankles. Honest. We’re cool now, America. We’re cool. We just got a little confused at the time. We thought that stunt you pulled of dressing up as Mohawk Indians and throwing tea into the harbour was hilarious. Positively Python-esque. Up there with the fish slapping dance. We had no idea you meant it as a serious political protest. We thought it was all just for a laugh. I mean, you did put on fancy dress costumes. Also, we didn’t know you’d go completely ape over the whole taxation thing. Clearly, we’d never bothered listening to any American political discourse before because the one thing, above anything else, that seems to make all you go collectively bat-poop crazy is taxation. But looking on the bright side, from our point of view, it was possibly for the best too. The historian Linda Colley in her marvelous book Britons (which I can’t recommend highly enough) posited that an inadvertent effect of losing the war and the “English” empire that the thirteen colonies could be seen as representating was that it better allowed for the forging of a new British (rather than English) identity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
“The war refurbished their unity in another important respect. True, one important periphery, the American colonies, had been lost. But another, Scotland, had become linked to the centre to a greater degree than ever before, fastened tight by cords of self-interest. This did not mean that antipathy towards the English in Scotland, or towards the Scots in England promptly evaporated in the warmth of a new tolerance and understanding. Obviously not. But never again was there an outcry against Scottish influence in the state on the scale initiated by John Wilkes and his supporters. And this was not because that influence declined, but rather because southerners became accustomed to its increasing. The English had been able to regard the heartland of their first empire, the American colonies, as peculiarly their own, pioneered by their own ancestors long before the Act of Union with Scotland. By contrast, in terms of those who won it, those who governed it and those who settled it, the Second British Empire would indeed be emphatically British. And a major share in the work (and the profits) of constructing Greater Britain would for a long time be sufficient for Scottish ambition.”