Monday, 6 July 2009

Tynwald Day for Dummies

Tynwald Day is the Manx National Day, and is celebrated every year on 5th July except on the years when it is celebrated on other days instead. In the years when it is not celebrated on 5th July, then 5th July is a public holiday to celebrate Tynwald Day and nobody has to go to work and Tynwald Day is another public holiday which isn’t on 5th July when nobody has to go to work.
This year it is celebrated on 6th July because 5th July was a Sunday, when, being a Christian country (according to the church) we should all be in church even though (according to the Manx church’s most optimistic figures) over 95% of us never go to church and (according to the census) many of us are not even Christian. In addition, roughly 10% of the 5% who do attend church are off-island tourists recorded entering churches to attend tourist board promotions and the majority of the 5% are relatives and friends there to attend funerals or weddings, or government officials there as a job requirement to attend state events which, being a Christian country, we always hold in churches instead of appropriate venues.
The other reason that the ceremony cannot be on a Sunday is that, again being a Christian country, the ceremony cannot begin until the politicians (many of whom are also not Christian) have attended the church service which precedes it and isn’t legal until they go back into the church after the ceremony for another ceremony. Even though, as various senior church figures keep saying, the ceremony that looks like a church service after the ceremony isn’t actually a church service but a legal sitting of Tynwald. If those church services also had to be on a Sunday, they would clash with all the other church services at least 95% of us would not be attending.
If it wasn’t a legal sitting of Tynwald, though held in a church, there would be no need for the church to be involved in national ceremonies like Tynwald, because there would be no link between church and state (even though the church strenuously insists it has no undue influence in matters of state), although if there was no link between church and state there would also be no excuse for a bishop to participate unelected in Legislative Council. If he wanted a say in politics he would have to stand for election, just as ordinary members of the public do and all the other Members of Legislative Council don’t.
Nevertheless, my family attend the Tynwald Day Fair every year without fail, though neither religiously nor patriotically. It’s a national holiday anyway, so islanders either choose to go and watch a bunch of turnip bashers in bad suits ponce about with whichever Royal inbreed Buck Pally sends over or stay at home and get drunk while watching daytime TV.
It’s a bit like Glastonbury. If you time it right, you can spend the day sniggering at stalls and exhibitions manned by every two-village-idiots-and-a-scabby-mutt wacko ‘good cause’ that can get charitable status without once being inconvenienced by the main freakshow. Homophobes for Africa, Christian Property Developers for East Europe, Pastors for the Rain Forest, Vegetables for Jesus, Kipper Curers for Hitler…..whatever, we have them all.
Out front, the main ceremony is a man in a home-made town criers outfit reading out all the laws passed in the year on a small mound topped by a tent containing the island’s politicians. This happens once in English then again in Manx in case you didn’t fall asleep the first time.
By the way, text books on Manx history solemnly tell us that Tynwald Hill contains a sod from every parish. Curiously, they never mention that most of them are drunk, senile, or both.
Normal people have only woken up long enough to participate in the Tynwald ceremony twice in history.
Once, over a century ago, they threw clods of earth at a particularly unpopular governor. Being idler than our forefathers, these days most people think ‘Sod the Governor’ but we can’t be bothered to actually do it any more.
In 1991 the ceremony was also briefly fun when Outrage dropped in to protest against Tynwald’s continued delay in partially legalising homosexuality. That doesn’t appear in any history books yet, though from time to time one of our oldest hacks grumbles about it in a weekly newspaper column which is constructed from whimsy and old wee in roughly equal proportions.
Curiously, while such hacks and their drinking buddies consider Outrage as, well…..outrageous, they have nothing critical to say about the Chief Constable from that era, a particularly vicious specimen of the breed who, before being banished here, was to James Anderton in Manchester what our current bishop, before his own exile, was to John Sentamu in York. We’ve also had a governor who, before his exile, oversaw RAF carpet bombing of Iraqi civilians in the first Gulf War and played a key part in the Saudi arms deals which never quite got investigated by Blair’s government and, after his exile, used his official residence to play host to fellow arms dealers from the US posing as ‘old military aquaintances’.
Sometimes the English wonder why we’re not grateful for their contributions to Manx culture. I am, thought it is fair to say that Manx culture would still be funny enough without them.

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