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Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

...lie out in the noonday sun. So the saying goes, and with the stretch of beautiful weather we've had in Sunny Ulverston, there's more than a few burned faces and shoulders to prove the truth of that. And yet, despite that, last Friday I did something terribly, terribly British - I combined two of our nation's favourite past-times: Queuing and moaning about the weather.

Along with hundreds of other brass-band players, I took the torturous journey down the M6 and M62 (on a Friday before a bank-holiday weekend...have mercy), trombone-in-hand, and took part in the Whit Friday marches.

For those of you who don't know, the Whit Friday marches are an annual brass-band contest that takes place in the Saddleworth and Tameside areas near Oldham. Apparently, it's the biggest, free-to-enter music festival in the country! You get on a bus, drive to a village, get off the bus, play one short piece of music while marching, play a contest march standing still (what you call a "static" - a more challenging piece of music than the one you shuffle along to!), get back on the bus, rinse and repeat. There are prizes awarded to the best bands, as well as prizes for the best fancy-dress, "deportment" prizes for the neatest marchers, and so on. Competing against some of the best brass bands in the world, a scratch-band from Flookburgh/Ulverston weren't going to win anything, but it's jolly good fun all the same.

And yet, despite the lovely run of weather we've had, Whit Friday was the one day in weeks that it rained.

And rained.

As we pulled into Denshaw, our first village of the day, it was drizzling. Bravely donning rain macs and disposable ponchos, we said, "This isn't so bad."

At which point, predictably, the heavens opened.

We got off the bus, and standing in the rain, waited to play. I was struck by how only the British could make a good job of a bad day - especially when you saw the crowds that turned up to sit - sit! - on plastic chairs to watch the bands, umbrellas (and beers) in hand. The weather was miserable, but somehow, neither the bands nor the audience were.

There's a lot of talk these days about "British Values". So far, the term remains nebulous and vague. Mostly, it seems to be an agenda to promote the "extreme tolerance" approach to certain issues - a stance which, for all its claims of tolerance, doesn't allow for calm discussion or disagreement.

"Tolerance" is most definitely a British value - even historically - but unfortunately for those who want this tolerance to mean the explicit acceptance and promotion (even amongst ethnic and religious minority groups) of the ethical views of certain pressure groups and campaigners, "Tolerance" as a British value means putting up with something we don't like.

Tolerance is waiting to play with a brass band in the Whit Friday marches, and putting up with the rain because if we had to wait for good weather, we'd never play at all!

Tolerance is watching your neighbour paint their house bright pink and putting up with it - because it's a free country and you just know they can't stand the way you put your bins out the night before they're due to be collected.

Tolerance is disagreeing with someone - even on a deep and fundamental level - but still treating them with the respect that you hope they would show you. As Ofsted inspectors and others march in ham-fisted and try to bully people into teaching something that British law only demands they put up with, they could learn something from the dogged British value of Tolerance.

It's a Christian idea, too. As I stood there in the rain last Friday, and was grateful that is was actually quite mild out despite the rain, I had the verse, "Godliness with contentment is great gain," (1 Timothy 6:6) going through my head. A better verse now might be 1 Peter 3:15: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope [i.e. the Christian hope in Jesus] that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

If we demand that people - who may at best be putting up with our religious and ethical views - treat us with respect and not ride rough-shod over the things we hold dearest, we ought to do the same.

Tolerance is a British value because this island we live on has been invaded and immigrated into for thousands of years, and people with very different cultures, religious backgrounds and political ideas have to share the same small patch of dirt and rock in the North Sea. We talk about Britain as having become a multicultural society, but even before Angles and Saxons and (my own ancestors!) Vikings started carving out their own little patches of Eden in England's Green and Pleasant Land, different people groups and tribes had been trying to co-exist (often unsuccessfully) for a very, very long time. From centuries of conflict, we've learned the great value of tolerating things we don't like very much.

We can't all be expected to like each other - we can't all be expected to agree - but the British thing to do is at least to be polite about it. Perhaps this is a British Value we all need to be reminded of?