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.