Brexit, Flags and Travesties

Patrick Kidd in today’s issue of  The Times devotes his “Political Sketch” column to the Commonwealth Conference convened this week in London. He opens and closes with references to an Evelyn Waugh novel:

Put out more flags. Evelyn Waugh took the title of his 1942 novel from a Chinese epigram about how a drunk military man should “order gallons and put out more flags in order to increase his splendour”. Gloria in vexillis Deo, as the foreign secretary might say.

The flags were out all over London yesterday, around Parliament Square, up and down the Mall and standing upright at the back of the Buckingham Palace ballroom to honour the 53 countries attending the Commonwealth meeting. In Brexiting Britannia, these colourful cloths are more than just bunting. Each represents an opportunity for life after the EU, or so Theresa May hopes: 52 potential trade deals, 52 places where Liam Fox can be sent with a pen and a pleading look. Britain’s future is in flags. Or perhaps it’s just flaggin’.

Most of the column (entitled “Worth a flutter?”) is devoted to Justin Trudeau. Kidd notes, in this regard, Trudeau’s gaffes in English and fluency in French and closes with this:

It was light on detail but heavy on flags. Mr Trudeau spoke in front of a forest of nine red-and-white maple leafs. Following the Waugh rule, he must be in trouble back home.

In this week’s New Yorker, playwright Tom Stoppard is interviewed by Cynthia Zarin in connection with the revival of his 1974 play Travesties. This is set in 1917 Zurich and features James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and the “Dadaist” Tristan Tzara. In discussing his career, Stoppard mentions how he got his start with some help from Waugh:

Stoppard left school at seventeen, and worked as a journalist, and then as a drama critic. (His pseudonym was William Boot, after the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel “Scoop.”) While reporting for newspapers, he began writing plays for radio and the stage.

The article concludes with this insight into what may be the subject of Stoppard’s next play: “I don’t actively want to write about Brexit, but a play about Englishness would have to be about Brexit.”

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