On Bog Standards

I have written previously, on a number of occasions, about bogs, but as far as I recall I have not addressed the important topic of bog standards. It is helpful, as ever, to define our terms at the outset, so let me cobble together a very basic definition of the bog standard.

Bog standard : A standard, or flag, assigned to a bog, and usually flown from a flagpole anent the bog.

Now if I know my readers, and I think I do, you will be sitting there open-mouthed, perhaps dribbling slightly, saying to yourselves something along the lines of “Well, I am utterly befuddled. Never in all my life have I ever seen a flag flying next to a bog, unless inadvertently. Certainly not where the flag is inextricably bound to the bog, is as it were the bog’s flag. No, that is wholly outwith my lived experience. And yet Mr Key is never wrong, as far as I am aware. His is a still small voice of certainty in a baffling world. Blimey. No wonder I am befuddled.”

You may mop up your dribble and unfuddle your head, for I shall explain all. What I did not mention, in my definition, was that the bog standard was confined to a particular time and place, and that time has passed and that place is no more. Those of you with a smattering of vexillological learning may have an inkling of what I am talking about. You might guess that this has something to do with that flag-mad king, Gobbo III, of the bog-riddled land of Tantarabim.

If you were paying due attention to Herr Von Straubenzee’s lessons, in the old wooden schoolroom long ago, you may recall Gobbo III, his tyrannical reign, his temper tantrums, his odd refulgent crown, his bustling and stamping, his surfeit of lampreys, his wax effigy, his cardboard queen, his lupin nosegays, his unrestrained power, his ceremonial pincers, his butt of Malmesbury, and of course his flags. You may recall these things because, if Gobbo III was mad for flags, then Herr Von Straubenzee was mad for Gobbo. He rarely taught us about anyone or anything else, long ago in the old wooden schoolroom, with frost on the windowpanes and icicles hanging from the ceiling.

It was while I was spending an hour or two slumped on a municipal park bench, watching swans and ducks in a municipal park pond, that my thoughts turned to reverie, and all unbidden my mind was filled with Herr Von Straubenzee. The memory of him in turn reminded me of Gobbo III, and of his flag-madness, and I remembered something we had been told of the time he, the King, decreed that every bog in the land should have its own flag. I could only remember vaguely, so on my way home I popped in to the Vexillology Club, and got a temporary ticket to use its library, and I pored over many many books about flags, and eventually I found what I was looking for. I seemed to remember Herr Von Straubenzee telling us that the proclamation, or promulgation, of Gobbo III’s decree had been recorded, and preserved, and indeed it had, for there it was tucked away in the endpapers of one of the books I consulted.

Bow down, bow down, ye serfs and peasants, and pin back your ears, for I am your King and I have a proclamation to proclaim! Let my words crash like thunder in your ears! In my majesty and magnificence I hereby decree that every bog in the land shall have its own flag. I have a vision, of a stout and mighty flagpole planted in the muck anent each bog, and from each flagpole shall fly that bog its flag. And let no one, not princeling nor peasant, not noble nor knave, cause any one of the flags o’ the bogs ever to be lowered, for any reason whatsoever, natural or supernatural, sensible or foolish. Let the vexillographers of the land begin work this very day on the designs of said flags, to be submitted for my personal approbation. This I decree, for I am mighty and majestic, and I hold in my hand the ceremonial pincers. I am Gobbo!

It is one of the great sadnesses of my life that I never heard these words spoken by Herr Von Straubenzee. While it is true that his voice was thin and reedy and he often had to break off from speaking to cough up blood into the pail he kept by his lectern, he would have done them justice, I think, in the old wooden schoolroom long ago, with frost on the windowpanes and icicles hanging from the ceiling, a freezing draught creeping in under the door and making the flimsy flames from the blubber candles flicker. The flames cast shadows on the walls, and I remember how Frau Von Straubenzee, after our lessons, would enchant us with her shadow puppetry, of cows and pigs and mythological beasts and noble kinsmen and hydroelectric power stations and swans and ducks.

Speaking of which, I hid the transcript of Gobbo III’s proclamation under my fantastically stylish Flinders Petrie cardigan, nipped out of the Vexillology Club library via the back staircase, and returned to the municipal park bench, by the municipal park pond. The swans and ducks were still splashing about. A pond is not a bog, far from it, but as I sat there in the dying light of an autumn afternoon, I thought how the scene would be improved by a flagpole and a flag, a special flag designed for that pond alone. Now, for the first time I realised that Gobbo III, for all his tyrannical reign and his temper tantrums and his odd refulgent crown and his bustling and stamping and his surfeit of lampreys and his wax effigy and his cardboard queen and his lupin nosegays and his unrestrained power and his ceremonial pincers and his butt of Malmesbury, was that rare thing, a wise king, perhaps even a philosopher king.

To each bog its flag. That simple phrase holds a deeper, more profound truth than the mere words can convey. I think Herr Von Straubenzee, in the old wooden schoolroom long ago, with frost on the windowpanes and icicles hanging from the ceiling, a freezing draught creeping in under the door and making the flimsy flames from the blubber candles flicker, knew that. And I salute his memory.

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