Let’s Run This Up The Flagpole

KnotWhen I described blogging as self-indulgent yesterday, you could substitute the word selfish, at least as far as I’m concerned.

You may have gathered that I do like to soak off-centre facts, filing them away in the dusty attic that is my head and like most dusty attics, once stored, things can be tricky to find again.

That’s why I sometimes use my blog selfishly, to record the things I’d quite like to remember for future reference. It’s also why there is a search box up there on the right.

Today is a case in point. David Cameron’s house call on Barack Obama didn’t get off to the best of starts when our flag was flown upside down. This ignited a perennial radio discussion on this thorny topic.

Union FlagDoes flying a flag upside down signal distress? Is it the Union Jack on a ship and a Union Flag on land? And how do you tell when it is the right way up?

Fortunately there was a vexillologist on hand from the UK Flag Institute to explain and clarify:

  1. Union Jack and Union Flag are both acceptable whether at sea or dry land. Both terms have been used interchangeably by politicians and the navy for a very, very long time.
  2. You can tell if it is flown the right way up if the white stripe of the cross of St Andrew is narrowest at the top next to the flagpole. This signifies the seniority of Scotland over Northern Ireland as they have been part of the Union for longer.
  3. Any flag flown upside down is a sign of distress, just not a very practical one. The French flag, for example, is the same either way. It would be extremely difficult to tell if the Union Flag were upside down unless you were quite close, ie on the ship that is in distress.

So there you go. A few more titbits filed away for when I need them.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

11 comments… Add yours
  • Elizabeth 13th March 2012

    I knew that, Ian, but I battle with these wretched comment boxes so much that I’m not even going to try and tell you. May day. May day. x

  • Mr Parrot 14th March 2012

    No 1 was news to me and I can never remember the answer to No 2. And No 3 always sounded like and old wives’ tale. (Or should that be sailors’?)

  • Mr Parrot 14th March 2012

    Oh, and I didn’t know that we had a UK Flag Institute. I find that vaguely reassuring.

  • Comrade Pudding 14th March 2012

    Even as I write this comment, Barack and Eton Dave are guzzling Irish whiskey together, comparing penises and singing “Always look on the bright side of life!” Meanwhile the legacy of their prevarication appears as an open wound in Kandahar. I’m just flagging it up.

  • Owl Wood 14th March 2012

    I do wonder rather about the cost of replacing Union Flag/Jacks on all public buildings once the Scotlanders, the Welshers and the Northern Irishers all go their own way – no-one in “The Abroad” will recognise any of our little flaggies independently.

    Perhaps it’s time we paid a nice big important commercial corporation like McDonalds or Tata or Santander to run a competition for 5 – 10 year olds to draw a new one, with mumsy mummies, doting daddies and web-enabled grandparents voting to decide the winner? It could make a heck of a television series and finale.

    (Sorry, but I can just see it happening that way …)

  • Jennyta 14th March 2012

    The information about when the Union Jack is the right way up is one of those things that I’ve often been told/read about but never seem to retain it in my brain. 🙂

  • Katherine 14th March 2012

    I learnt the union Jack right-way-up-method in Brownies. 🙂

  • rhymeswithplague 14th March 2012

    Another day, another new couple of facts!

    Could someone block that Comrade Pudding?

  • Trevor Rowley 15th March 2012

    Leaving aside for a moment what might need to be done to our national flag, we might also face the dilemma of what we actually call ourselves once the Scots have gone their own way (as Alex Salmond seems hell bent on engineering). For some years now we have been the United Kingom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. When/if Scotland departs, might we change it to the Slightly Less United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (with a nice abbreviation of “SLUK” plastered inside your passport)? Also, who gets to claim Hadrain’s Wall? Us or the jocks? Or do we reach a happy compromise and let the current Italian government (as proxy and on behalf of the former Roman Empire) have it back? We probably wouldn’t be able to afford to ship it over the channel to them (having been carefully disassembled slab by slab) but we could write into the deal words to the effect of “buyer to collect.” (they seem to be able to do it that way on ebay by all accounts).

  • Shooting Parrots 15th March 2012

    An interesting point Trevor. I’ve just been listening to three-way family favourites between London, Port Stanley and Buenos Aires on the Falklands/Malvinas spat. Much play is made of self-determination from our side, but we don’t seem too keen on it when it comes to Scotland.

    But should the Jocks choose to leave union, it would be the Great Britain bit that would no longer be accurate, so perhaps United Kingdom of Most of Britain and Northern Ireland?

    As for Hadrian’s Wall, I’ve put in a quote for the pebble-dashing, taking away and making good.

  • Trevor Rowley 15th March 2012

    Personally, I think the loss of Scotland from the Union would be a fatal error on everyone’s part. I certainly don’t see Scotland “belonging” to England (perhaps more correctly, England and Wales) as in days of Empire. I have always seen the Union as precisely that – a joining together of a small number of relatively small nations, of like mind, and for their collective good. I have never seen Scotland as an inferior part of this arrangement and I have never spoken to anybody else who has thought that way. So why Alex Salmond and his chums feel the need to carve out their own independent future I just couldn’t come up with the exact answer. Maybe a dreadful national inferiority complex compounded over the years by all that heavy mist and dank housing – not to mention the deep-fried Mars bars?

    PS An interesting exercise is to try to unravel what Britain/British Isles/Great Britain/Isles of Britannia actually mean. I came to the rather confusing conclusion that Ireland (the island) was very much part of the whole and was in there somewhere. Whilst I appreciate that this conclusion would cause some consternation to the average Irishman, I think it definitely needs “a coat of loooking at.” (steps back and retreats to his side of the Irish Sea).


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