Tonight I have just got back from one of those great moments that happen from time to time in the Banana Republic.
It was a fireworks show over the water, fired from ships lying straight off from the Wharf, and boy it was great stuff. We got to The Point in the rain, and stood for half an hour on the shingle, with the smell of the water and seaweed in our noses, and the shingle scrunching beneath our feet. And despite the rain and the chill, it was neither damp nor cold enough to dull my enthusiasm. You know, I have come to love the Island. I love the Banana Republic and all its foibles. Yes, I get frustrated and annoyed by it, but overall, it’s an honest sort of a city.
Waiting for the fireworks, I played on the shingle with Toby, a close friend’s son – cracking open glow sticks and pretending in the October night to be Darth Vader – swinging our light sabres and laughing as we duelled.
Then, as the time grew closer I fell into conversation with a pair of women – one of whom lived in Old Portsmouth. And it was then that I encountered the Provincial Snob.
I guess I should have known her from her aloof air as she stood beneath her brolly, frowning at us playing, rigid in her light blue jacket in the rain. The Provincial Snob of this type is a very particular beast. Look at her now, with her mousey bobbed hair and the slight curl of the lip, so nearly a sneer. Notice the way that she looks around her with an expression of discontent on her face. But most importantly, listen to what she says.
This Provincial Snob says things like: “Yes, I live here, unfortunately,” and doesn’t have the self knowledge to know that she is creating her own unhappiness. A little moaner, always looking to find something bad to say about the surroundings that are simply not good enough for her, the Provincial Snob will not hear that the place where she lives has anything to recommend it. She is in her twenties and yet sounds like a long decommissioned battleship would talk. Living by the side of the sea, she is a sad old hulk, caught in the backwater and stuck in the mud. What a shame on her.
And of course, the thing that is so stupid about the Snob is that she lives in a lovely, picturesque part of Pompey. A place where the old buildings were saved after the War. A place where King Harry watched his ships from the ramparts, where “heroes innumerable” as the brass plaque tells it, sallied forth from the Sally Port, and where the body of General Wolfe was landed in a barrel of brandy after he was killed scaling the Heights of Abraham.
“I didn’t use to like Portsmouth when I was younger,” I told her. “I used to live in the country. But now I’ve moved here, it’s great. The characters are amazing. Some of them are nutters.”
“Yes, well that’s part of the problem, the people,” she says, the light in her eye the optical equivalent of chokedamp.
Aha! So, it would be a better city if it didn’t have people in it… Another part of the Provincial Snob’s mindset is that she doesn’t really know how to be comfortable around people.
And then there is the Tower. As the firework show starts up, the Spinnaker Tower begins to flash with all sorts of different lights. Looking at its pointy shape and the way it stand on two legs, I say: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Tower took off!? That would be one heck of a rocket!”
“That would be the best thing that could happen to it,” the Snob sneers back, that cynical look in her eyes, that flush of colour darkening her face more. This is something that she has wound herself up about, that’s for sure. “That shocking waste of money. And I paid for it with my taxes. It’s disgusting. I see it everywhere I go in this city, and it is the ugliest thing I have seen.”
Wow. She is so dark now. “Oh, I really love it,” I tell her. “It’s a great signature building. Like the Blackpool Tower it is instantly recognisable. It put Pompey on the map.”
“That put Pompey on the map?! You don’t think that anyone knew that it was here before?”
Oh, such stupidity. “Of course they did. But it now has an icon – a brand. It’s great fun. And people come here to see it, and enjoy it…”
But now the real fireworks start in earnest. A little dinghy is puttering around the harbour, and is firing a barrage of rockets into the sky. Screaming in pinks and whites and gold and blue from a big mortar on the boat. And this is just the prelude.
There it is. An amazing spectacle. Bright colours, explosions, the crackling of fireflowers burning for an instant in the sky, the gold explosion of the fire that bursts and rains. Then the embers hanging like stars in the rainy sky.
Oh, wonderful city. Oh little Banana Republic that sparkles in the night, and fizzes and whooshes. This is the joy of the winter night, and little 4 year-old Toby sits on his father’s shoulders with his mouth agape. He’s never seen anything like it.
Behind it all, that remarkable Tower, lit up, drawing people to it, like a beacon.
And one Provincial Snob, not knowing that those little everyday decisions that she’s made about what to love and what to hate, she’s got the wrong way round.
Because if you choose to hate a firework, then it lasts for two seconds. But you choose to hate a building, or a town, and overlook what it has to offer… well, then you’re going to have to carry on hating it for a long time. It ain’t going anywhere. And that little loop of reinforced emotion is going to carry on growing, under the skilled guidance of someone who really knows how to do misery. Filling up your life with petty and useless distinctions which might well reinforce your sense of who you are but which, in the end make you this: a person less able to enjoy yourself.
Remember that, each time you are tempted to turn your nose up at whatever you choose to belittle; and when you are tempted to judge without first wanting to know and understand. Remember this too: that knowing how to use your judgement skills to improve and delight in a thing can make you a person who can improve every day – and into a person in whom others can take true, pleasure – for the world expands as your love of it expands.
Why would you choose to do otherwise?