I Promise To Honour The Flag

It takes just three minutes to puncture Dortmund’s dream. Number 29, Kylian Mbappé hits home. 1-0 Monaco on the night, 4-2 on aggregate and 87 minutes to go. Dying Swan has struck again.

The Monegasque fans celebrate. They jump, they cheer, they wave flags. Red-and-white flags of the prinicipality, flags bearing the club’s emblem, flags of neighbouring France. We mustn’t forget that most of the “Monegasques” are actually French.  The French flag is the most iconic tricolor in the world and here it is being flown in all its glory. Bleu, blanc, rouge.

Or rather rouge, blanc, bleu. Some idiot is holding it the wrong way round. I spotted him last week and he hasn’t learned his lesson. I would put him on the guillotine. Vexillology, the study of flags, is one of my pet obsessions; getting the flag wrong is one of my pet hates.

Flags fascinate me. I love the symbolism, the history, the colour. I love the mystique. People have fought and died for flags. Not countries –flags. I once saw an Ottoman battle standard with 472 bullet holes in it. The museum curator told me it was a world record. He was very proud of it. I love the diversity and the sense of identity. I love their versatility. I have no problem with flag wavers, I am a patriot.

I have a British friend living over here. He too loves flags, but not quite in the same way as I do. He moves house a lot and wherever he goes, the Union Flag goes with him. It’s a big old thing; it would fit nicely on top of a castle. Wherever he lays his hat, there’s his home, as long as the Union Jack is pinned to the wall in the living room.

The flag appeared I went to visit him in the last flat-but-one. It looked good against the wooden beams but something wasn’t quite right. It was upside down.  I see this immediately. It’s like looking at someone with their shoes on the wrong feet or their jacket inside out: It’s the little details that count. I had to tell him. Had to.

When he moved to the next flat, the flag came with him, only this time it had company. It was pinned to the wall together with the green, the white and the dragon that make up the standard of the Prince of Wales. To non-vexillologists this is the “Welsh flag”. The flag of Wales is actually the cross of St David, which is black and yellow. I digress.

My friend is a non-vexillologist. The red dragon appears to be running away from the action or baring its arse to the flagpole or both. Either way it is the wrong way round. And once more, the British flag is upside down. I point this out. The point is taken –about the Welsh dragon. He is sceptical about the Union Jack.

Some months later, he moves again. Again, the British flag and the Welsh standard are on show. Again, the Union Jack is upside down. I cannot let it lie –I have to say something. By now my friend has decided that I am pulling his leg, that I am joking, winding him up. I cannot convince him otherwise.

This could be a methaphor on the 21st century world view. That which we cannot comprehend we explain away as conspiracy. But I think it’s just lazy.

There are a lot of lazy people about and some of them should know better. I once did an event for the British business community where they hung the Union Flag upside down. I pointed this out. It gives me great satisfaction as a Scotsman to lecture English people on their ignorance of British fundamentals, of course it does.

The year before the British ambassador was present at the same event. Thankfully I was not. He spotted the same mistake I did and pointed it out. I am told that he was not amused. Had I been there, I would have held the individual responsible’s arms while His Excellency hit him.

Throughout the Brexit debate, social media sites have been filled with pictures of incorrectly hung Union Flags, Union Flags tied between dustbins, Union Flags with crude slogans written in marker pen etc. Excuses have been made, hurried explanations about “flying the flag upside down as a protest at the decline of our once great country”. I hear such excuses and now I am the sceptical one.

A flag is a statement and so it should be presented as a considered opinion. So whatever your views on Brexit, here’s the secret of how to hang the British flag properly.

The white gaps between the red diagonals and the blue background are not equidistant. In the top left corner, the wider gap should be facing upwards. The broad bit of the cross of St Andrew should be top left. You will now find that the “fat bits” of the Scottish Saltire are facing upwards on the left and downwards on the right.

In case you were wondering, Germans also hang their flags upside down without realising. Or they buy the Belgian one by mistake.

As for the Scottish Saltire, is there a correct way to hang that? The answer is yes: The two holes should be on the left side, next to the flagpole.

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