On holiday in a fairly remote part of Croatia I find myself surrounded by a variety of different nationalities: Czech, Slovak, French, German, Polish, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Serb, Croatian and my own Bosnian hosts. Inevitably the subject of what makes us different comes up- and in a variety of different languages we explore the issue.
One asks me "whatever became of the "English [sic] gentleman?".
"Once", he continues, "the British would not show their emotions", this was, he submits, an amazing advantage, because "one could never tell when the British were beaten".
They would not show emotions whether faced with triumph or disaster.
I was immediately reminded of Kipling's proscription for Manhood :"if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same". I suppose this is the very essence of "cool"- to remain unemotional when faced with considerable difficulty.
I think that this is what made me so very uncomfortable when the British newspapers led an orgy of shroud waving when Diana, Princess of Wales met her untimely death. All the emotion seemed so profoundly, well, just wrong. The Second World War was not won by unseemly emotion, but by a grim determination to "keep calm and carry on".
I was therefore rather cheered at Dubrovnik Airport to see an obviously British passenger wearing just that slogan on a tee shirt. Despite the emotive nonsense on so many subjects in the media; despite the incompetence and shallowness of so many of our supposed leaders, in the end the British People must hold on to such eminently sensible advice.
Playing it cool... is cool. Keeping calm and carrying on is what we always do when the chips are down.
So I replied to the question on whatever happend to the "English gentleman" as follows:
"Not dead, just sleeping, and if you don't believe me, remember 7/7". A cup of tea, a trip to the pub and we were back at work the next day.
That WAS cool.
And we have not been beaten yet.