A Stena Line ticket is printed, a sea journey lies less than a week away. Co Wexford to Pembrokeshire in a self-enclosed world where there is nothing to do except wait. Nothing to be done other than to accept whatever elements arise, hoping the elements are gentle. The ticket is tucked inside my British passport; it still seems odd carrying a passport for what seems a domestic journey.
Being on a boat always recalls Tom Stoppard’s lines from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” on being and being.
“You can’t not be on a boat.
I’ve frequently not been on boats.
No, no, no… what you’ve been is not on boats”.
Hamlet’s erstwhile friends are caught in a discussion on being as action and being as existence. But being comes in many forms; neither Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are drive to refect on beng as identity. They are Renaissance men, internationalists who move easily from one nation to another; if they are Danish, it is by accident of birth and not through conscious choice. Being as identity belongs to a world of realpolitik of which they are no part; it is part of the world of military strong-arms like Fortinbras, not the world of intellectual loftiness in which Hamlet lives (though that does not bar him from the odd spot of wanton killing).
Being as identity comes strongly to mind at this time of year. Visiting Nenagh in Co Tipperary yesterday, the blue and yellow colours of the county were in evidence. The reigning All-Ireland champions appear strong again this season and play a semi-final at Croke Park on Sunday week. Thousands will travel to Dublin in shirts matching those worn by the players in the team from the Premier County, but they are not like the replica soccer shirts worn by children who have never been near their club’s stadium; they are a declaration of identity, ‘I am of Tipperary; being of Tipperary, I am declaring my allegiance to my county.” Those who wear soccer shirts cannot make such a declaration; unless you live in a particular corner of south-west London, you cannot claim, “I am of Chelsea.”
Flicking through the passport, looking at the diverse images of Britain printed on its pages, there was a pondering of what being British means. What is signified by the passport? What national stories and traditions now hold my country together? What does being British mean?
You can’t not be on a boat. Ultimately, you can’t not be anywhere; identity must mean something, but what?