In the days when Britain was the world’s most far-flung superpower, maps and globes showed all its subject territories in shades of red. For those of us long enough in the tooth to recall the time when those old maps were displayed in classrooms, there will always be a deep, if seldom articulated, link between Britishness and redness. Blake called ours a ‘green and pleasant land’, but, as the art critic Adrian Stokes once pointed out, it is also a land liberally spattered with dots of red.
Our oldest regiments, such as the Life Guards, still wear the dangerously bright red uniforms worn by the soldiers who carved out the Empire. We buy red poppies every November to honour our war dead, tacitly recalling oceans of spilled blood as well as the flowers of northern