Although I’m not really into football it’s been really nice to see the mood of the country become overwhelmingly positive and filled with hope leading up to the World Cup semi finals.
It’s also nice to know where everyone is likely to be so that you can be absolutely sure the supermarket is deserted when you arrive!
I must admit though I couldn’t help but pay attention to the match and when I’d packed away my shopping actually watched the second half of it and the tense extra time as I did my ironing.
We were clearly robbed – but the team are coming home with their heads held high.
They did their country proud.
There are really rare events in life that seem to capture everyone’s imagination – and for once this isn’t a terrorist plot or something awful, but a moment when hopes and dreams link hands with national pride.
The great thing is that when they do you see people of all faiths backgrounds and walks of life unite behind a single moment.
It reminds you of why it’s so great to live in the UK – because for all of its occasional difficulties and internal tensions regarding its place in the world – I for one love living here.
I appreciate it the more I explore it if I’m honest – but I didn’t always feel that way.
I grew up on a council estate and spent my childhood looking at a landscape created by unemployment and poor education.
My opinion unexpectedly began to shift in this respect many years ago when I lived with an enthusiastic Australian.
Like many from down under you could take the boy out of Australia – but not Australia out of the boy, and I was initially taken aback at how much he loved his birthplace.
It confused me if I’m honest.
I always thought loving your country equalled small minded bigotry. Our national pride seemed to be tied to hooliganism and men in white transit vans with George cross flags.
These people (reinforcing my views) typically stopped by the side of the road to call me a fat c**t and I continually related nationalistic pride to the knuckle dragging light commercial vehicle owners that so regularly gave me such spirited dimensional feedback.
In contrast everything my housemate said about his home land suggested it was a great place to live.
Sure – it had its problems (he occasionally conceded) but his was still the best country in the world.
It would be celebrated whenever the UK weather permitted – and (maybe unsurprisingly) I saw many barbecues and Australian flags in the time we were in eachother’s orbit.
I eventually visited his birthplace on a whim some to see a friend years later and began to understand why he loved it so much.
Although I really struggled to get there (seatbelt extenders and armrests pressing into your thighs for that long isn’t fun) and explore while I was in and around Sydney (I couldn’t very well really) a lot of good came out of that trip.
Firstly I got to catch up with a much loved friend and secondly it left me with several really important memories.
One in particular has always stuck with me and that was when I blundered into a typically cheerful Aussie barman whilst exploring Manly Beach.
‘How’re you doin mate?’ He greeted me as I sat at the bar.
‘Not bad!’ I replied – feeling happy.
His face fell.
‘What’s wrong?’ He enquired earnestly – putting down the glass he’d been polishing with a small towel.
”Ummm – nothing…’ I replied.
I was in a good mood and the sun was shining. I was about to have a beer in a bar by the beach in Australia.
Life seemed good.
‘So why did you say not bad?’ He asked.
‘I don’t know.’ I replied, confused. ‘It’s what I always say when someone asks me how I am.’
I thought for a brief moment.
‘Ok – how are you?’ I asked, redirecting the query.
He grinned behind the bar from ear to ear pulled himself back toward the spirits, extended his arms, looked me square in the eye and said ‘Not a worry in the world mate!‘
He had me there.
I couldn’t trump that.
I’d replied with a positive negative whereas He’d replied with nothing but a positive.
Was language the key to a national mood?
Not on its own I eventually concluded. It was a symptom of a wider sense that your country is a good place to live – and that it’s people have a place that’s secure and looked after within its society.
That’s why there was national pride.
The phrase stuck with me though – and when I came back to the UK it was still pinging around in my brain.
Why did I say ‘not bad‘?
It wasn’t just me either. Everyone around me seemed to be doing it when I bumped into and greeted them in corridors and doorways.
I eventually confided one day over the kettle at work to an Israeli colleague that I had concerns about the UK and our national mood.
‘At least you’re not from Israel.’ He said.
‘Why’s that?’ I asked.
‘We say – It could be worse!‘
I laughed. He had a point. Things could indeed be worse.
My housemate and that barman has however kickstarted a thought process within me that would remain for many years – and would eventually become the pillars of my thought process.
We are who we think we are – and what we say we are is what we become.
What I mean by this is that unconscious linguistic bias like this has a profound effect.
By ‘not having a worry in the world’ the barman had placed his reality in a mental picture frame where life was grand.
Nothing would get to him and even if it did he was highly unlikely to stress about it.
In contrast my life wasn’t bad – but crucially it wasn’t good either.
Even so – things could be worse.
Ultimately I resolved to change this and became known at work for a while as the guy that said ‘fantastic’, ‘awesome’ or ‘superb thanks!’ when asked how he was.
A lot of the time I wasn’t. Being me was hard. I had a lot of issues – but dwelling on things and dragging others down never helped me get to the bottom of any of them.
I guess what the World Cup – and a love for your country comes down to (for me) is groups of different people – presented on a massive scale but all with a similar mindset in one area.
I think the understanding we share in this country is that it’s our difference that makes us stronger.
Our diversity is something that empowers us as a nation – and it takes a moment like the World Cup to remind us that even though some of us may prefer the quiet of a supermarket to the roar of crowds in a stadium we all just get along and live our lives.
When we come together in our streets, businesses and public lives we become a group.
When we form these – just like mine at Slimming World there’s absolutely nothing we can’t do.