Monday, June 9, 2014


Twelve years ago, when I first moved into this flat, one of the first things I did was put up a flag.

I did this because I have always had a flag flying from any home I have lived in. I’m an American; it’s what we do. To be fair, I did know that I was going against the rules of my tenancy agreement, which stated that nothing was to be put on the balcony, but I didn’t think anyone would mind. I also didn't think that I would be violating an actual law. Not the bludgeoning to death of the delivery man and hiding his body in the coal cellar type of violation; more like the allowing your dog to poop on your neighbor’s yard sort. But a violation nonetheless.

However, the flag stayed up, no one complained, no kittens were killed and life went on as before.

Long may she wave
Because I had just come from America, it did strike me as odd that no one else was flying flags, but I soon came to understand that overt displays of patriotism were deemed by the locals as being a bit gauche and over-the-top, something an American might do. What I did not know was that, in order to fly a flag, you had to secure permission from the local council. The fees for the red tape to acquire this permission could cost hundreds of pounds and permission was not always forthcoming. Many councils, it seems, simply did not allow it. I think most British people didn’t know this, either, but since they rarely flew flags, it never became an issue. Until the summer of 2012.

That was the summer of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations and the London Olympics and, suddenly, everyone was patriotic and, without realizing they were breaking the law, everyone put up flags.

A bit over-the-top, don't you think?
The local councils, who make a point of knowing these things, did realize it was against the law and soon found themselves faced with the onerous (not to mention unpopular) task of having to put almost every citizen in the entire country in jail.

Then something truly amazing (and, as far as I know, unheard of in the annals of government) occurred: common sense prevailed. The national government, realizing they were sitting on a potentially embarrassing issue, quickly passed a law giving everyone and anyone the right to fly a flag.

However, if you happened to be living in a building you didn’t own—say, a rented flat, for instance—you had to have the landlord’s permission. And I did not. But, again, no one complained, no baby harp seals were clubbed with cricket bats and life went on as before.

Then yesterday this letter arrived:

“We [the landlord] have received several complaints with regard to some residence (sic) of Pelham and Waverley consuming illegal substances in their flats and within the communal grounds.

The above will not be tolerated and further to this letter anyone suspected of doing so will be reported to the Police and also have their tenancy terminated without further discussion.

I would also like to take this opportunity to advise residents that Flags are not to be displayed on the balconies or in windows within the development.”

So, in addition to having to dismantle the meth lab in the back bedroom and uproot all the marijuana plants I was growing in the loft, I had to take the flag down.

(Note to local police officers: the above was a joke—I do not have any illegal substances in my flat so please put down the battering ram and call off the drug-sniffing dogs.)

I admit to being more than a little disappointed. In the grand scheme of things, hanging a flag seems relatively innocuous when compared to drug trafficking, and the off-handed nature of the flag codicil appears to me like someone told the guy writing the letter, “and while you’re at it, make that asshole take his damn flag down!”

Oddly, my neighbors seem more upset about me having to take down my flag than I do. One of them even came to my door to give me a pamphlet that spelled out my right to fly the flag (conveniently omitting the part about needing the property owner’s permission). I’m touched by this but, there is little any of us can do.

So the flag came down and will likely stay down. For the first time in my life I am living in a place where I am forbidden to fly the nation’s flag. An era has ended, but no one was hurt, no puppies were abandoned and life will go on as before.

I just wish someone had been around to play taps.

Day is done...gone the sun...


  1. How crazy is this!!! I could understand if you had all of the flags of the UN up there fluttering about, but really, one flag!!! Grrrrrrrrrr!!

    1. I just called their office to ask about this. They are afraid that, at some point in the future, someone will be offended by my display of nationalism. Or that, seeing my flag, everyone else will put one up and they don't want any displays of nationalism in the complex. I reminded them that, for 12 years, none of this happened, but they wouldn't change their minds.

  2. Ugh - how annoying. It's even more annoying that patriotism is now linked to extremism.

    1. Yes, it is annoying. I think it's 50% "no one can do anything because someone, somewhere might find it offensive" and 50% "display of the national flag means you're an extremist." I find both assumptions offensive (but no one cares about offending me -;) ) I really do feel bad for Britain that displaying their own flag causes offence. I mean, really, to an American, that is just inconceivable.

  3. Anonymous3:32 PM

    I wonder if mentioning the flag rule was in anticipation to the run-up to the World Cup when footie fans like to display English flags in their windows? Was a lovely gesture your neighbor made, coming to your door. I'm heartened.

    1. I think they may have also been trying to keep people from showing their support in the World Cup by putting up flags, but that, too, is very sad. It's team England--why can't you show your support without offending someone. People need thicker skin.

      I do applaud the national government for sweeping away all the petty obstacles local councils put up to keep people from displaying the flag. Now--if you own your own home--there is nothing stopping you from putting up a flag.

  4. I do agree that people need *thicker* skin and are offended much too easily...

    1. Yes. Apparently a hypothetical person in an imaginary future who could theoretically become consternated by something totally innocuous that I am doing today has more rights than I do. It's a strange world we inhabit.

  5. You'll just have to get one of those little car window flags and fly that. Or get some stars and stripes bunting and put it round your window on the inside. Or stars and stripes fairy lights. I bet you can get them from some American Things catalogue or other. Or... I dunno, but you should do something! I am a rebel at heart and can't bear being told to obey stupid rules that have no good reason behind them (it stems from my boarding school days... I'm scarred for life!). Don't just acquiesce!

  6. You might try displaying the coat of arms of the US - the English seem to have these on everything -