Over the course of many years of child-watching, if not child-minding, I’m sure most of us will have watched young children playing ‘I’m the King of the Castle’, a game defined by Collins as ‘a children’s game in which each child attempts to stand alone on a mound, sandcastle, etc, by pushing other children off it.’ The game apparently has a long history: being referred to by Horace in 20BC; being evidenced in France in the 16th century; and having a 17thcentury Scottish variant that begins ‘I, William of the Wastle, Am now in my Castle’. The winner is usually the biggest and often the most obnoxious child, whose obnoxiousness all too readily asserts itself in the relish with which the next line, ‘and you’re the dirty rascal!’ is shouted.
However venerable its history, the game is pretty juvenile and most people will have grown out of it by the time they reach the advanced age of about ten and realize that the mythical sovereignty the King of the Castle is claiming is just that – mythical. Some may spend the rest of their lives pushing as many other people as possible off their castle, but they tend not to chant about being King while they do so. Not so our Prime Minister and his Brexiteer colleagues who are notable exceptions: they are obsessed with the idea of King-of-Castle ‘sovereignty’ and can’t stop shouting about it. If the ‘dirty rascals’ aren’t going to pay appropriate obeisance to that ‘sovereignty’ the Brexiteers will stomp off home and won’t ever play with them – ever, ever, ever again.
One of the many curiosities of this situation, one that would be worth exploring at greater length than I can here, if only to stop oneself from getting too angry about the childish stupidity of the ‘sovereignty’ obsession and too worried about its inevitable consequences, is the relationship between the ‘dirty rascals’ of the nursery rhyme and the ‘dirty foreigner’ trope that informs much popular culture, including children’s literature, from our esteemed Enid Blyton to Jane Pilgrim’s seemingly innocent Blackberry Farm series.
Pilgrim’s The Adventures of Walter, which I always felt obliged to bowdlerize when I couldn’t avoid reading it in response to my very young children’s requests, is a case in point, a kind of infantile but racially charged bildungsroman, or perhaps, given its Pilgrim author, just a parable. Instead of being content to remain on the pond at Blackberry Farm as his mother advises, Walter Duck insists on going off on his adventures to explore the wider world, but he encounters a group of ‘nasty dirty’ ducks who chase him away and he retreats back to Blackberry Farm, presumably to the end of his circumscribed days, having learnt the error of his ways. It is all strongly reminiscent of the lines in Mrs C.F Alexander’s ‘All things bright and beautiful’: ‘God made them high and lowly/ He gave them their estate.’ But Jane Pilgrim is overlaying the ‘dirty foreigner’ trope on Mrs Alexander’s ‘The rich man in his palace/The poor man at his gate.’ What distinguishes the ‘dirty’ ducks that chase Walter is the fact, quite simply, that they are not white like Walter. Presumably because they aren’t white, they are wantonly aggressive, operate as a gang, and are a very evident threat to all peace-loving young white ducks, as Walter’s mother clearly knew. The Teniel cartoon above, taken from an early edition of Punch, captures the trope very well with its depiction of the ugly and deformed Irishman threatening the white-clad virgin while Britannia, also clothed in white, stands tall and protects her.
The official sanction for pushing other children off the castle under the guise that they are ‘dirty rascals’ offered by the rules of the game is obviously a license for bullies, and the name of the game, ‘I’m King of the Castle’ is manifestly over-gendered for our modern world. If our small island is our castle, it is clear that those who see themselves as its Kings and Queens also see one of their sovereign responsibilities as being to keep all ‘dirty rascals’, who must by definition be rascals if they are ‘dirty’, off the island and, as far as possible, push the ones who have already settled here, courtesy, for example, of the SS Windrush, off the castle. Looked at in this light, our Home Office would appear to be trying to implement a slow and covert form of ethnic cleansing
Nobody will be surprised that our current Queen of the Home Office castle, Priti Patel, is prone to grossly exaggerating the rascality of the ‘dirty rascals’ she is intent on pushing off the castle to this end. She claimed that the planeload of West Indians she was trying to deport on 2nd December consisted of ‘vile criminals’ and alleged again that those she was trying to deport were ‘rapists and murderers’. One has come to expect Tory Cabinet Ministers to tell lies, but this is taking it to an extreme. Of the 23 who were taken off the flight at the last minute, none, as far as it is possible to ascertain, was a ‘vile criminal’. Some were taken off because they could have been victims of modern slavery, others were taken off because the impact on the British children they were responsible for hadn’t been adequately assessed. If you can’t push black children themselves off the castle just because they are black, you have to bully them indirectly via their foreign fathers. One example of Patel’s ‘vile criminals’ will have to suffice, that of a Jamaican man who has lived in the UK for 27 years and has five British children he cares for of whom the youngest are 14, 11 and three. He had been sentenced for substance abuse after developing a drug addiction, had been in jail for less than two years, during which time he overcame his addiction and became clean, and has been trying to resolve his immigration status since 2014. As he said himself : ‘They throw a blanket over us, that everyone is a murderer, a rapist. That’s the stigma they create.”
Is it any surprise, with a racist climate like this being fostered by our Home Office, that a contemptible section of the football fans at a Millwall football match yesterday should have felt that they have been given license to boo the players when they ‘took a knee’ in support of Black Lives Matter before the game started? Our island castle is busy cultivating too many bullying kings.