What is England? The blowing of a horn and red-jacketed men on horseback. A leather cricket ball struck by a wooden bat. Strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. "Order! Order!" in The House of Commons. Punting along The River Cam. A garden party at The Vicarage. Downton Abbey and Jane Eyre and plays by William Shakespeare. English muffins and scones with jam and clotted cream. Building sandcastles at the seaside.
Oldham in Greater ManchesterWar heroes and monuments. The jet engine and the hovercraft. Pop groups and Andrew Lloyd Webber. David Niven and good manners. Billy Bunter and Mr Bean and Monty Python. And public footpaths that wind their way through farmland and over rickety footbridges where willows cascade. The cooing of doves. Tumbledown abbeys and schoolboys in straw boaters. Someone is singing "Greensleeves". "Bisto" gravy powder in the cupboard with "Oxo" cubes and H.P. sauce. A minaret rising over the rooftops.
William Webb Ellis and Sir Francis Drake. Elton John and John Lennon. Florence Nightingale and Emmeline Pankhurst. A murmuration of starlings in the dusk and a painting by J.M.W.Turner - "The Fighting Temaraire". February snowdops clustering by the churchyard path where an ancient yew tree grows. And Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile in Oxford. The white cliffs of Dover immortalised in song by Vera Lynn and Geoff Hurst's goals that summery afternoon in 1966 at Wembley.
Winston Churchill vowed, "We will never surrender". Queen Elizabeth on our coins and in our hearts. Horses thundering round The Grand National course and oarsmen on the river. Oxford and Cambridge. The lion on Tate and Lyle's treacle tin. Pints of beer in glass tankards. "Drink to me only with thine eyes? And I will pledge with mine...". The aroma of bonfires in autumn. Cadbury's. Jaguar. Cheddar cheese. The Rolling Stones. Stonehenge. Jane Austen. Audrey Hepburn. Stirling Moss. David Attenborough. Roses curling around a cottage doorway and the humming of bees.
Is that what England is or is it the photo squares of often overlooked northern places... Leeds, Oldham, Hull and Liverpool? And there could be others... Burnley, Rotherham, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Bradford, Rochdale, Newcastle, Doncaster. Perhaps it is in such places, such streets that the true answer to the question is waiting to be found.
A teacher from Batley is in hiding with his family after giving a lesson on Muhammad.ReplyDelete
Fearing for his life, he no longer lives in Yorkshire and has had to change his name.
*And that will be England gone,* as Philip Larkin wrote long ago.
The Islamic fascists who enjoy complete freedom to worship in their host country permit no such free and open discourse.
Larkin's poem *Going, Going* is read by Freddie Fox on The Poetry Hour.
82% of English people belong to the white "host" community and have their roots here. We should surely keep things in proper perspective.Delete
Immigration was not my point though Douglas Murray (YouTube) questions the wisdom of mass immigration in European countries including our own.Delete
My point is that Muslims (unlike say Sikh Punjabi people) do not always adapt to the British way of life, indeed militant Muslims express contempt for our democratic secular values.
One blogger told me he did not want my 'extreme opinions' on his site; he might have reacted differently if a member of his family had been murdered in a Muslim terrorist attack.
Jack Straw said the Muslim community can be overly sensitive to reasonable criticism : this was when a Muslim woman who came to his surgery refused to remove her veil.
This is the England I miss, an England which welcomed immigrants (such as central European Jews) who were glad to come here and start a new life.
Once immigrants came to our shores, lived peaceably, mixed freely with other social groups, without a shot being fired, without anyone being murdered, or threatened with murder like the man who is a member of your own profession, Neil.
You ask a tough question. You haven't considered history and all that the various groups who've passed through England. there's much that makes up England.ReplyDelete
It is a jigsaw constructed upon jigsaw layers.Delete
Whatever the congestion, that was a remarkable memory of the Olde England that we love.ReplyDelete
I didn't think too much about it. The contents winged their way into my mind and then down to my keyboard fingers.Delete
England is everything you said AND the overlooked places.ReplyDelete
It is good to remind ourselves that those overlooked places exist beyond the usual mythology.Delete
Is there such a thing as "the true answer to the question"? It rather seems that there are many different Englands, like parallel universes, depending on where and under what circumstances someone lives.ReplyDelete
You are right Meike. It is a rhetorical question. There is no answer but what I do know is the overlooked places are often left out of the equation.Delete
I have four grandchildren bought up in the North but all going to London for their university education. Is it aspiration or ambition? are the streets of London paved with gold? Those photos of endless terraces tells us one thing at the time they were built it was all about industrialisation and the workers.ReplyDelete
Sometimes it seems like a class war - the Bullington boys have//had the upper hands through most of this period. Only yesterday a figure struck me, can't remember the exact numbers, but over the Tory tenure ship of about 125 years, Labour had only been in power 33 years.
Comfortable security is what people want I suppose and out of those terraced houses into suburbia land ;)
The migration of bright northern youngsters to London is a familiar tale but here in southern Sheffield we have seen many return - including my daughter. My son is still down there and still loves our vibrant capital city.Delete
That's a disturbing situation described by Haggerty. All countries have less than attractive areas, often where poverty abounds. We, you and North America have terrible poverty and the gap between the rich and poor is growing. This should not be so in rich countries. But it is a natural thing to highlight the good parts of countries; the scenic, the traditional and the history.ReplyDelete
It may be a natural thing but it is not an accurate thing. In rich countries, no one should be homeless or hungry.Delete
"This is England" - The Clash and the book England An Elegy - Richard Scruton come to mind. Allotments, Brass Bands, The Labour Party founded for the labourers, Vimto, real ale, Manchester United, and the NHS are some of my favourite England things.ReplyDelete
I should have put the NHS in my blogpost even though the damned Tories have been doing their damnedest to consign it to history.Delete
From my perspective, England is drinking tea, eating chips and scones, driving on the wrong side of the road and talking with a funny accent, once tried to tax us without representation, populated out country, and somewhere between Churchhill and Mr. Bean. Sort of like a distant Uncle whom we haven't visited in a long long time.ReplyDelete
I like your very honest portrait - especially when I know it's coming from an American who has been here and understands he has roots here.Delete
I think you could probably write something very similar for most countries these days. The reality does not always match the perception.ReplyDelete
Well put JayCee.Delete
Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a position with the English Tourist Board at this present time.ReplyDelete
Would that be because I am a heterosexual white male without a disability?Delete
Your description is well thought out but surely it's a bygone England - not the country as most people know, and accept today?ReplyDelete
I'm told that if I returned to England, I wouldn't recognise it, but whether that is visually or in comparison to my memories. I haven't been told.
The England I alluded to is still there. You just have to peel back a couple of layers. But there was always another England anyway - it's just that it got little attention - as in the four aerial shots. In truth, I think the question "What is England?" is unanswerable.Delete
The real place is often found a few blocks off the main street, around the bend on a country road, over the hilltop, or out across the wetlands, in the farmers field, the craftspersons workshop.ReplyDelete
I like your poetry Travel - it rather chimes with mine.Delete
All of that and more.ReplyDelete
In fact there is no definitive answer.Delete
You missed out the love of queuing. No other country does it like us. But we are all a mixture of those things, plus cultures that have been absorbed from invaders like the Romans, the Saxons and Normans.ReplyDelete
You are right. As well as asking Where is England?, I might also have asked What does being English really mean?Delete
I am wrestling with the whole idea of this post. I know you're trying to bring the forgotten corners of England out from behind the stereotypes, but I also think trying to define a country is a futile exercise -- especially one as diverse and complex as the UK (or the USA).ReplyDelete
Of course you are right. In a way, my question is as ridiculous as it is rhetorical.Delete
Your words remind me of that song "We didn't start the fire" ...ReplyDelete
A tangential connection but I do get your point Ellen.Delete
The juxtaposition of your eloquent prose with aerial photographs of "where the workers live" is jarring and effective. Point taken. All is rarely what it seems to be. All is rarely as presented for public consumption. My guess is that it never is and never was.ReplyDelete
This is my second attempt at commenting. I hope this one is successful.
Thank you for your thoughtful response Bob and for "getting" this blogpost.Delete