How random loyalties define us

1st December 2000 at 00:00
IT'S my birthday on Monday, an event that I share with fellow

Sagittarians Nurse Edith Cavell, Generalissimo Francisco Franco and comedian Ronnie Corbett.

Can there ever be a more convincing case against astrology than simply taking a look at the bizarre list of people with whom you share a birth date? Not everyone finds Ronnie Corbett funny but he sure knocks the spots off Franco who, even among fascist dictators, was considered pretty dour company. As for Edith Cavell, the only thing she and I have in common is that we both broke local regulations in Belgium. Nurse Cavell was caught smuggling British troops through enemy lines, while I was apprehended taking my own wine onto the Eurostar.

No, astrology, like most arbitrary attempts to group human beings, is deeply flawed. I once attended an event where three of us were being promoted as New Welsh Novelists. The only thing we found in common was that we had all been born in England. School was even more absurd. For no reason at all I was put in "Beaufort" and given a red rugby shirt to wear. Despite the fat that most of my friends were in "Howard" and wore blue, house-loyalty decreed that once a week I was obliged to help my fellow redshirts kick and trample them.

Loyalty to an institution is inherently bizarre. Just because you live in the same catchment area with other young thugs, why band together and go around beating up people from other catchment areas?

To be honest, the only group loyalty I've ever really understood was to my own school year-group. This was because when I arrived, at the age of 11, a second-year pupil grabbed my cap, kicked it into a puddle and swore at me. Common suffering forged a bond of brotherhood and in due course we, as second years, inculcated that same blood brotherhood. Maybe it is only when a group of people suffer together that they truly unite against a common foe. The institutionalised school bullying of my generation had its own perverse purpose, just as the Blitz united Londoners.

Maybe if Franco, Ronnie, and Edith had had their caps stolen too I might be happier to be celebrating their birthdays on Monday.

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