Friday, 23 April 2010

This sceptic isle, this England

There is a superficiality about the English that is very agreeable. It surfaces in the irony of our humour – there is no tragedy that cannot be shrugged off with a joke. We just can’t take ourselves too seriously. It is a very useful ability particularly in times of crisis from wars to weddings.
No one else, for example, but the English could have invented Test cricket. A game that can last five days and still end in a draw – and whose dream is thrashing little young Australia. This escaping the harsh edges of reality is evident from the popularity of The ‘X’ Factor to the current election campaign. None of the political parties admits to the harsh spending cuts round the corner.
But let’s not be serious. Despite the Scottish roots of the Royal Family (their German ones are deeper) the young Royals are representative of all that is lightweight in the English nature.
Party-mad, hard-drinking, promiscuous, indifferent to culture, and scant interest in religion.
Tony Blair, our former Prime Minister, was the opposite on all these counts – and where did it get us? The illegal invasion of Iraq.
So on St. George’s Day there is nothing I’d prefer to be than English as we celebrate this country’s saint’s day.
It took the devolution movement for me to realise the resentment the Scots and Welsh harboured against us and that’s not counting the tortured politics of both bits of Ireland.
What I valued most was this country’s (England and Britain's) tolerance, which gave homes not only to Freud, Marx, and TS Eliot but my own grandparents. It wasn’t that anyone turned up on your doorstep with a Welcome Basket but nor did they dump dog turds through your letterbox. The English standoffishness is not due to their natural reserve, they just don’t care. For the most part you were allowed to get on with your life, then and now.
But I see this live and let live nature being stretched by the strain immigration is putting on resources.
I’m beginning to question whether my nationality is still British. My earliest scribbles were infant criss-crosses trying to draw the Union Jack flag. This is the flag my albeit modest patriotic fervour still responds to rather than the boring red cross of St George.
Of course many of the things I relished about our national characteristics as I grew up were English but I was content to count them British. I was happy to be part of the same peoples that bred Keats, Burns, Thomas and Shaw. These days I’m on firmer ground saying I’m be proud to share the same nationality as Shakespeare, Churchill, and George Orwell. The latter is a particular hero and allows me to attach his picture to this post. Happy St George’s Day.

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