Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This way up!

So then. Her Majesty the Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, as are many of her happy subjects. This means that flags are flying wherever you look. And this disturbs me. Not because I don't agree with flag-flying - the town I call home is looking very festive - but because so many of the flags I've seen have been flying upside down.

I read somewhere the other day that 99% of British people are oblivious to the fact that it is possible to fly the Union Flag the wrong way up. But possible it is. As my husband says, it is typically British to have a flag that is so complicated and so subtle, and so easy to hang upside down.

The history of the Union Flag is the history of the United Kingdom, and helps explain its complicated design. The current design dates back to 1801 and the Act of Union, which merged Great Britain and Ireland. Up until this point, the flag had consisted of the red cross of St George, representing England, and the diagonal white cross of St Andrew, against its blue background, representing Scotland. With the Act of Union, the red diagonal cross of St Patrick was added, to represent Ireland.

In heraldry terms, the flag is blazoned Azure, the Crosses Saltire of St Andrew and St Patrick, quarterly per saltire, counterchanged Argent and Gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of St George of the third, fimbriated as the saltire, which is lovely, isn't it?

Here is the Union Flag the right way up:

The crucial thing about the flag is that the broader of the two white diagonal stripes should be uppermost when attached to a flag-pole. Simple. It follows that the broader of the two white stripes should be on the left when the flag is, say, hung in a shop window (Hexham sweet-shops, opticians, takeaway bakeries, purveyors of objets d'art, pubs and travel agents - this means you!).

This is the flag displayed upside down:

It is a subtle difference, but doesn't it just somehow look... wrong?

Traditionally, flying the flag upside down was a distress signal. It is also seen as 'lèse majesté' (from the Latin laesa maiestas, meaning 'injured majesty'). In other words, it's just not good manners. The shop-keepers who are flying their flags upside down as a mark of patriotism are, strictly-speaking, being a little rude to Her Majesty. If we're going to get all patriotic, surely we can at least do it the right way up?

I have been wondering about solutions to this problem, and ways of ensuring our national flag is always displayed correctly. I came up with my own design. Here it is:

The upper half represents the usual colour of our sky, whilst the lower half represents our green and pleasant land. Simple, honest and easy to get right.

I'm joking, of course. But one thing that did catch my eye yesterday as I walked through town was a string of Union Flags with a picture of the Queen in the middle. Aha. You'd have to be a real idiot to hang those the wrong way up. So, between us, my husband and I (!) have come up with this re-design of the Union Flag, as a fool-proof alternative to the current one. A small change. Effective though, I think.

Whatever you're planning to do on the forthcoming special Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend, I hope you have a festive time, and get to eat lots of cake and drink lots of lemonade, and, most importantly, that the sun shines on you!