I have a towel. Unless I’m suddenly Arthur Dent, this fact is of little relevance to any following text.

It’s a white towel. It’s very old now, and it’s covered with drawings of flags. Flags, supposedly at least, representing the countries who took part at France 98. It’s actually incredibly inaccurate, as Canada definitely didn’t qualify yet the Canadian flag features more than once.

Regardless of the accuracy of the towel (and before people question my memory – it’s definitely France 98 as it has a football and the logo on it), given the fact I was only five years old around the time of the 98 World Cup, it’s probably my first exposure to flags.

I also have some placards with the flags of the world on, but I preferred the towel story.

It matters not how I first saw them, I’ve always had a love for flags. It’s probably something to do with the colours on them, and what they represent, the history of them, how they develop over time and how they are all so similar with such minute differences.

Essentially, with notable exceptions, most countries have flags with either block colours or a cross. Which means that the colours used are crucial to determining the difference between them. Cote D’Ivoire and Ireland have a white strip in between orange and green ones. For the Irish, the green appears on the left, for the African nation, it features on the right.

And while these kind of flags confuse people, there are only two pairs which I can forgive you mixing up. Chad and Romania. Both are blue then yellow then red. Chad’s is a deeper blue. And that’s the only difference. Admittedly, that is easy to get confused as every printer prints shades differently and every eye sees shades differently.

The other is even harder to determine. Monaco and Indonesia. Both have a block of red sitting on top a block of white (the opposite of Poland). The only difference is Indonesia’s is slightly wider. Brilliant, isn’t it?

I don’t want this to turn into a flag lesson. I hardly know what I want it to turn into, except to say that I do genuinely quite like flags. Sweden’s is my favourite, which may go some way to explaining my love for the country. A yellow cross on a blue background. I think it’s really rather pretty.

It would also be wrong of me to write an article without mentioning the various flags of the United Kingdom, especially given it’s St George’s Day. The English flag is a plain red cross on a white background, the Scots have a diagonal white cross on a blue background while Northern Ireland’s only differs from England with the addition of a red hand in the middle of the cross and a gold crown above the hand.

Wales, however, well and truly bucked the trend. White on the top, green on the bottom. With a massive red dragon in the middle. There is nothing more radical than that in the flag kingdom (it beats the Bhutan flag due to the more striking colours). Well done Wales, you win this round.

I tend not to like the patriotism (jingoism?) that comes with flags, and I have no problem if you want to burn the British one. Why do I still love flags if that is what they are associated with these days? Well, that’s just a by-product of the people who see and use the flags, rather than the flags themselves. I suppose that’s how I reason my love for flags against my rather global views, and I’d also argue we are all a little contradictory in some ways.

The towel doesn’t really fit anymore, but the flags have imprinted.


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