Wednesday, 30 April 2014

England, My Profoundly Bizarre Place

Last Wednesday was St George's day and despite being a proud, patriotic (3/4) English woman, I wasn't aware of it until I went on Twitter at 9am. It was also Shakespeare's 450th birthday, a fact I was more aware of due to the million e-mail newsletters I receive from theatres and cultural blogs everyday. A proud day for England some might say.

Yet, this year, as every year I couldn't help but think about the lack of energy surrounding St George's day. Sure there are celebrations going on.. Apparently there was a parade.. but does anyone really care about this day of Englishness? Compared with the international celebrations that St Patrick's Day brings and the intensely patriotic celebrations of the 4th July in the USA and apparently (according to the Dutch intern in my office) Kingsday in Holland among many others, St George's day barely resonates in England.

To be honest, I'm not sure why it is. Perhaps St George's cross has been hijacked too many times by far-right fascist, sexist arseholes hell-bent on narrow-minded, misinformed destruction. Perhaps the English still harbour guilt over years of oppression of the empire. Whatever it is, we're not really allowed to be English anymore. 

It's not that I'm not proud of being British, I am. My blood is a quarter Irish with streaks of Scots and I've Welsh relatives, but I've been brought up in England. My grandparents hail from Newcastle and Manchester as well as Dublin. My father is a born and bred Saarrff-Londoner and my mother grew-up in Surrey, as did I. 

I'm proud of being English as well as British and I think we should be. So I thought I'd round up my 11 reasons I'm happy to be English today and what we should cherish and celebrate. 

1) Accents

Is there a place that per square mile has as many different, strange accents as England? From Geordie to Sarf-London, from Manc to middlesborough to the West-Country. From Cockney to Scouse to Yorkshire. I love it and I love them all.

2) Music 

The quote in the title of this post was from Gene Simmons, of Kiss, an American who said:   
"England is a profoundly bizarre place that has produced thousands of bands the world has worshipped."
This is something we continue to do. Producing an eclectic mix of great music, talented musicians, internationally adored bands and fantastic producers and DJs. All with that hint of humour behind them that is ever-present in English culture. 

Glastonbury is still the best festival in the world.. despite Coachella's posy pretension and fucking sunshine ALL THE TIME. In 2012 four out of the top five best-selling albums in the US were British (English actually except Niall from 1D). I'm not saying you have to love all our exports, but appreciate what the country can do.

3) Sports

Yeah we never win the football, yet still we soldier on believing . The English invented many games that they are now rubbish at. Yet still we back our own, still we stoutly support sports that we would generally never watch or understand if our own are doing well.

We celebrate very Englishly too, quick celebration, the pub and back to work the next day. Not like other countries I could mention...

Recently the Olympics has been our greatest achievement, the (British-I-know) team and the great English city of London showed the world. However one of the best days of my life involved Johnny Wilkinson and the England Team against Oz, a fabulous drop-kick in extra-time, all on one miserable November day in 2003.

I went to a very good party the evening of this match back when I was 17.. I remember we worried for weeks that if England lost, no boys would come and we'd be left drinking Breezers and snogging each other. Luckily it ended up being a night to remember and one of my friends even lost her virginity; poor lad was full of beer and emotion and dear sweet Johnny, so she got rogered against a garden shed... it was like the summer of love all over again.

4) Fashion

I just love the creativity of the English with their fashion. I love how they are not scared to look a little scruffy around the edges. We're not as chic as the French or Italians, we're not as glowy and blowy as the Americans, we're not afraid to clash or dress something up or down or layer or over accesorise.

Also, every town in England has a slightly different style and I love that and I love noticing it as I travel.

I love our designers best of all. If I could live in Williamson, Dame Westwood and Burberry, I'd be fine. Throw in some Hunter Wellies, M&S, Sweaty Betty and Topshop and a a lot of Vintage and who needs anything else. And yes, I do mean all together.

5) Laugh English

I altered this myself.. The English humour is the BEST. Will never be beaten. Look at comedy, look at literature. Look at our attitude towards life. All with a pinch of salt and a derogatory comment or a harmless joke. Love this.

6) Blitz Spirit/English Attitude

I really don't need to write much for this... it's the small things and the large. Call it what you will, if you find the Blitz spirit thing too much of a cliche.. It's putting ones head down and getting on with it, cracking a joke here and there, supporting others without asking for any reward. Sometimes we think we've lost it, but it's always lingering under the service there.. ready for use.

7) "A Nation of Shopkeepers"

The origin of this phrase is a little misleading as thought it is always Napoleon who is quoted:

"L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers."

Belittling the English in one fail swoop with his dismissal of our commercial-based power. He believed the English would be weak in the war as they had no land power, only naval and commerce. However, it was in fact used first by Scottish philosopher and economist, Adam Smith, often sited as being "the father of modern economics", he extolled the virtues of the free market.

Either way, it is in this I am proud, we are resourceful and entrepreneurial and we like to buy and sell things... it is what we are good at. From little village shops, to great department stores to international brands and web based retailers. I am not saying that a completely commercial world is a great thing, but this need to consume and sell and find another little niche is just so English. It does upset me when I see great chains destroying village high streets, but we need those as well. Again, it is the attitude.

8) English Country Garden (and Village)

Idealised in the Victorian period when the cities finally overtook the countryside in terms of population in Britain, an English Country Garden became the rural idyll for town folk. Nowadays we still love the picture of England's green and pleasant land in our heads, even though that is rarely what we see.

Similarly with village life, we love the idea of the English village full of strange people and their dogs. Broadcast has covered it since it started, from the Archers to the Vicar of Dibley to the Great British Bake-off.

I love this about England, love the ideal of it even if it's not true. Love a village and a garden.

9) Travel

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of England's Finest Explorers

We may not bother to learn any other languages as we simply assume that English is spoken the world over, but we do know how to travel and we are good at it. (Brits Abroad not withstanding). Travel broadens the mind and as we live on a very small island it is important that we do this. We have forever, not always with the best results.. but we're better at it now. You can't be proud of your own nationality if you don't go and see others and see what's great about theirs too. And no, most of Spain's beach resorts in the summer-holidays do not count as a trip abroad.

At the least travel round Great Britain and see all the wonderful places there are to see.. yeah

10) Literature and Poetry

Sure we're the nation of Shakespeare and Byron and Keats, Dickens and Mary Shelley, Austen and the Brontes. However, our modern offering is just as impressive: Abi Morgan, Hilary Mantel, Mendelson, Ishiguro and McEwan. It's an endless list. 

A pride in both the past, present and tentative future of our writers and poets is still very much part of our heritage.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
From: The Soldier - Rupert Brooke
Hurrying to catch my Comet

One dark November day,Which soon would snatch me from itTo the sunshine of Bombay,I pondered pages BerkeleyNot three weeks since had heard,Perceiving Chatto darklyThrough the mirror of the Third.
Had made my taxi late,
Yet not till I was airborne
Did I recall the date -
The day when Queen and Minister
And Band of Guards and all
Still act their solemn-sinister
Wreath-rubbish in Whitehall.
These mawkish, nursery games:
O When will England grow up?

Crowds, colourless and careworn
It used to make me throw up,
 From: Naturally the Foundation will Bear Your Expenses - Philip Larkin

11) Art and Expression

Just do it. Most of all what I love about England is its ability to move forward and adapt and enjoy the times. We begrudgingly moan for a minute and then embrace a new culture, just like that and our Englishness is about embracing the subcultures and the new creative movements and celebrating the diversity. We've always been a small country that has filtered our experiences of the world and its people into our own ethos.

And that's it my little eccentric English friends and others... love England being English and British and I love the world... 

Please note as well... these are my prides.. yours could be totally different...

All images are not (c) me - except a couple of Instagram ones

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