When William the Conqueror invaded our fair Isle nearly a thousand years ago, though his vital battle was at Hastings in Sussex, one of his targets was Canterbury just under fifty miles away. Though the defeated (and killed) King Harold was from Wessex, he had been the first King of England to be crowned in Westminster Abbey and his rule was widely acknowledged. The religious seat of power however, had long been established at Canterbury, and the church was powerful enough for William to give his attention to that ancient city.
When his army turned from Sussex to Kent, they met some valiant resistance with troops gathering from as far away as the River Medway to the North and West of the County. Though there was some spirited opposition, William’s army was stronger and more determined, and in due course William became victorious.
What might have happened though, if troops from the West of the Medway had fought with equal resilience as those from the East side of the river?
We will never know. However, since that time Kent has been a divided County. The brave, freedom fighters to the East of the Medway claiming the noble name of Men of Kent, whilst their weaker, less resistant compatriots to the West of the River being designated as mere Kentish Men. (Whilst one or two other theories of the origins of these terms have been proffered over the Centuries, no true man of Kent such as myself, would give them more than a passing glance.)
Not only was I born a Man of Kent, no more than a hundred yards from the English Channel, across which the last successful invaders had come, but I went to School in Canterbury. The school, founded only around a hundred and fifty years after William the Conqueror, took the name of Simon Langton, brother of the Thirteenth Century Archbishop of Canterbury, and was and is one of the oldest in the land.
With such a rich heritage behind me, imagine my chagrin to hear that one of the Corona viruses had been given the name of ‘the Kent’ variant. Surely, nothing could be more offensive than to designate a virus by the name of its place of origin? Having lived some seventy odd years with an (admittedly small) level of pride, and (much larger) fond memories of my homeland, might I not be devastated and deeply offended that the land of my birth is now considered no more than an appendage to designate a microscopic virus, especially when it is labelled no more than a ‘variant’.
You can understand my relief when I heard, that in order to avoid such offence, the Government of England decreed that the virus variants would be given letters of the alphabet so that there could be no suggestion that any County or Country bore any responsibility for their hitherto nominated namesake. (We must just hope that the Greeks are not offended that we have used their alphabet to designate the variants instead of the English alphabet.) Perhaps we should all be grateful that we have such sensitive and sensible people in power, who are willing to give their valuable time and our money to avoiding any possibility of offence.
No doubt, there will soon be official guidelines – or even laws, that outline what we may and may not call each other. After all, if what we call a microscopic bug is of such vital importance, how much more should we be reclassifying any person or thing that finds a given designation offensive.
Perhaps we should enquire whether there are any animals who are offended by their names. To start with, I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘the Guinea Pig’ or ‘the Hedge Hog’ objected to being called a variation of a pig. The poor ‘Warthog’ has a doubly offensive name, and is an actual member of the pig family as well. Might they not prefer to be known as ‘Guinea Kittens’, ‘Hedge Puppies’ or ‘Genetically Disadvantaged Bump Faced Bunnies’?
It is of course at this stage that I should say: “And then I awoke, and realised that it had all been a dream”.
But it isn’t, is it? We do actually live in a world gone mad.
Perhaps now is the time to pray more earnestly – ‘Come Lord Jesus!’
(I tried to think of a way to write sensibly about the recent, supposedly offensive, naming of covid virus variants, but I could not think how to rationally address such an irrational situation. So please bear with this poor attempt to do so.)