WHAT DOES BEING ENGLISH MEAN?
Owing to comments from Emma Thompson and many others of late, I have been forced to consider what being English really means. It’s a difficult subject and obviously complex – but it certainly can’t be summed up as just inhabitants who are ‘cake-eating miseries’. That is neither accurate or fair. There have to be both pros and cons to give a valid view.
Let’s go for the pros first. A wise man once told me that what England had above all other countries in the world was ‘its poets and its countryside’ – and I can’t disagree with that. Take the countryside first. Once out of the crowded and overpopulated large cities (especially the sprawl reaching out from London and spreading its tentacles over the south-east) – once out of there, you can travel for miles over glorious and ever-changing countryside, each county having its own particular identity. I particularly love the clustered white sea-side villages in Cornwall, or the pink thatched cottages of Devon and its dramatic coastline. I love the vast rolling landscapes of Salisbury plain with Stonehenge looming out of the mist. Proceeding North, there are the Cotswolds, the glories of the Derbyshire Peak District, the Lake District, the wilds of North Yorkshire and Cumbria and many, many more fantastic places to visit. These are vast, deserted areas with not a house or person in sight. It is easy to forget this when living in London, Birmingham, Manchester, etc. etc. There is so much worry about migrants at the moment and of course our resources are being stretched – but although a tiny island – we do have space and there is plenty of deserted and beautiful countryside to explore.
There is no problem about taking pride in our poets – although many today are sadly neglected – but there is always Shakespeare leading the way and his popularity will always remain undiminished. But we excel in ALL the arts and long may they flourish. England is the home of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and further back Dowland and Purcell. It is also the home of painters like Constable and Turner, and the many great sculptors and designers, added to which there is our excellence in the field of theatre, ballet and opera.
There are so many cons it is not possible to mention them all – but I would also add that the English, in general, have an indomitable spirit particularly in times of crisis, and a wonderful sense of humour which never deserts them. Finally there is our sense of fairness and tolerance, which I hope will never disappear, even given the pressures of modern life.
So to the cons. I am trying here to regard the English from the point of view of a foreigner. This means I am forced to admit we can be arrogant, living on past glories, with a tendency to become insular, ‘Little Englanders’, with a narrowness of vision. There is sadly a tendency towards corruption in our major institutions – politics, the law, the church. There is a danger, especially at present, for society to become polarized – the far right wing and the far left – the very rich and the very poor. This tends to breed the unpleasant characteristics of greed, envy and contempt in almost equal measures. And we are lazy. Compared with other nations we are definitely a lazy race, especially when taking on the more menial tasks. This has been made worse in recent times and I am sure is partly the fault of endless television and too much eating of fatty and sweet foods!
We are often accused of moaning- especially about the weather! I don’t really mind this, it can be amusing, especially coming from the mouth of a London taxi driver. What I do mind is grumbling and lack of appreciation for all that is done for us by the State, particularly the health service. It makes me hopping mad when I hear the endless complaints from people who have just had all their health care done for free and when nurses and doctors have done their very best by them. I think this is the very worst aspect of all who live on this island, especially those recently who have arrived here to live. If the NHS disappeared – then there really would be something to grumble about – as they would soon find out if they lived elsewhere.
Given this vast topic – of which I have only just scratched the surface – I have come to the conclusion that the pros far outweigh the cons. Ignore the miserable cake-eaters and revel in the glories that England and the English have to offer. I would far rather live here than in any other country in the world. I love to visit other countries – but England is the place I want to live.