Thursday, 29 March 2007


Here’s a preview of one of the items featured in the March edition of Large Hats Monthly. It was worn by the Queen at the Westminster Abbey service marking the 200th anniversary of the act to abolish the slave trade. Throughout this festival of pious contrition HM was looking relaxed yet sombre in that inimitably queenly way she has, but her husband, as he so often does nowadays, looked distinctly sour; the old charmer probably thinks that giving those fellows their freedom was a bad mistake.

Tony Blair wasn’t there but a Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister has made a very strong statement emphasising the inhumanity of the slave trade....” A strong statement indeed, putting to shame all those who had always believed that slavery was a bit of a giggle. And the Archbishop of York has called on the UK “to formally apologise” for its role in the slave trade.

The constant references to “apology” in this context illustrate the confusion that arises because of the two meanings of “I’m sorry”. If you tell me that you have broken both your legs, then I might say, “I’m sorry”. This is a sincere expression of regret but obviously not an apology: how could it be? I was in no way responsible.

Abandoning for the moment the crude sarcasm and cheap irony which are among the main characteristics of the style in which much of Other Men's Flowers is written, we can say that most reasonable people regret, or are sorry—perhaps ashamed—that their forebears behaved abominably. But that is not an apology: apologising on behalf of people one has never met means nothing. As for making restitution after a couple of hundred years to those descended from the ill-treated ones, that is daft even by the standards of the pronouncements of the Church of England.

No comments: