Friday, May 01, 2009

Why on reflection I think I'm British...

Ahem, I think one of the problems we have as Englishers is that we - and when I say *we*, I mean *I* can't quite separate Englishness from Britishness. It's our native arrogance I guess, but it's also the way we were brought up. England didn't reallly used to exist, did it? Back in the 70s, 80s & 90s. Not for us anyway. Apart from those friendly/ridiculously violent football matches we'd have every year. Where England would generally beat Northern Ireland and Wales and then have a war (with added ball) against Scotland. O happy days.

But it's nice to have a good ole conversation about the matter.

Maybe it was just me, but I didn't even really realise I was English - outside of football - when I was growing up. If anyone asked I was British. That's what it said on my passport. It's like those Americans that ask you were you're from when you're in Europe somewhere:
"So are you guys English? I love England, apart from the food, the food is gross, but the history is just amazing!"
"O yeah? What's your favourite place in England then?"
"Edinburgh. Beautiful. Where do you come from?"
"Me? Flixton. Near Stretford."
"Oh Stretford-on-Avon. I hear that's just amazing there. Really beautiful and historic."
"Well the Arndale Centre's quite nice. I wouldn't say it's the most beautiful place, but the bingo hall on Chester Road is quite nice, it looks like an ice cream..."

Anyway, that was an exaggerated and untrue conversation. Although the second half of it was based on an actual conversation with Germans hitchhikers. But I'm digressing....

Just like that pretend American us English still say English when we mean British and British when - well, we're just confused basically... But I'm not sure it mattered (to us) prior to Welsh & Scottish devolution. English/British - same thing, innit? Ha dee ha ha.

I grew up with Union Jack flags being put up on the Queen's birthday and on her Jubilee - and that was what patriotism was all about. Britishness. We had to Keep Britain Tidy and Buy British. Then we had Cool Britannia and Brit Pop. And before that various wars and a British Empire and a monarch that ruled the waves. As far as I'm aware (and I may be very wrong) in the 1970s when Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games they played the National Anthem - of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 'God Save The Queen'. In fact they did that for Australia as well. At least I think so.

And now everyone (else) has got their own songs; which is nice. But England still seem to think they're Great Britain. We haven't changed our tune. We still sing about saving our Queen. We don't sing about Jerusalem and our mountains green, our dark Satanic mills and our generally green and pleasant land. And I think that's a pity. You don't get many lyricists as good as William Blake. No, we still sing about supporting the Queen. And really we should save that for when we're Britain.

We're a bit like Serbia still calling ourselves Yugoslavia. We're a bit like Norma Desmond. The rest of the world has moved on, but we want things to stay as they were. We were happy then. And now we're a bit grumpy about everything. We don't quite know how we're supposed to react to things. We're England but we're also Britain. We're like an 8 year old child trying to understand why if Scotland is still our mummy why does she want to live with us any more? Well okay, we're not divorced yet, but Britain is like an open marriage of countries. Except the other countries are off enjoying themselves and grumpy old England is left confused, feeling alone and very very grumpy. We're not what we were. We're not young and beautiful any more. We don't look the same. Even our flag isn't so pretty. Just red and white? None of the pretty blue bits and the other diagonal red cross? We have to watch what we say. It's alright for everyone else to pipe up about how great they are but if we say anything! We get a right telling off.

We're having a mid-life crisis...........................

Okay, I say we, to mean England, but it might just be *we* meaning *me*...... sorry

So growing up British I'm not sure I needed Englishness. I was happy being British. But now I have no choice. It's like they decimalised the cultural currency and I just need to get used to this new set-up. The Welsh & the Scots seem to do quite well with their cultural identities. From an outsiders point of view we look at them and think: yeah, well, it's alright for them, they've got stuff in common. Talking a weird language or walking around in kilts; deep-frying Mars bars or having a deep distrust of all English people. But do they really have all that much in common? People in Liverpool and Wrexham have probably got more in common than people living in Rhyl and St. Davids.

If someone asks me where I come from I'll say Manchester. As a Lancastrian I'm not sure I've got over the War of the Roses yet. Yorkshire is a foreign country. And London is another world. I can accept it as another part of Britain but it came to a Yugoslavian style war - would I really want to line up against the Scots and on the side of Boris Johnson's London army?

So growing up I was British, Northern & Mancunian depending on the circumstances. But not really English. English was what I spoke. It was one of my favourite subjects at school. English Lit: Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Kenneth Grahame, Robert Louis Stevenson, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis. Only one of them is actually English, but I don't really fancy partitioning them out.

Wales can be proud to claim Roald Dahl; Northern Ireland can have C.S. Lewis; Stevenson is a Scot - but I'm just happy for them all to be British and Great.

So I'm quite happy to stick at being British. So I don't have to read the label on everything cultural we produce, so that we can decide who it belongs to. When the world goes crazy with whatever hideous disease or famine or climate catastrophe or war that will invitably happen in the next ... umm, 50 or a 100 years - we'll just go back to being an island. A little squabbling island full of mongrel races. Squabbling like a family does - about nothing.

So yeah, someone come up with some good St George's Day activities and I'm up for it but in the meantime I still think the Union Jack is definitely the best flag going. Look at that dress as an example, wouldn't work with any other flag...


  1. Sadly, Doughboy is no longer with us as he tragically perished in a vat of Irn Bru.

  2. These last two posts have made me think.

    I think a lot of the problem re identity - are we British or English comes down to the attitude of the chattering classes; the middle class.

    They cling to 'British'.

    The liberals do it so that they can be seen to be inclusive; Scots, Welsh etc are all welcome to their club.

    The conservatives do it because they hanker after our old Imperial past; it was Britain that created the Empire, not England.

    The both have that arrogant middle class attitude that is a legacy of our Imperial past; we know best and you (whether it be chavs or, in Victorian times, fuzzy wuzzies) should know your place.

    And since the chattering classes, on the whole, look down on and depise the working classes (Chavs, lager louts and all the other derogatory terms) what do the working classes do?

    Why, they fly the English flag as a way of sticking a finger up and maintaining their own stubborn identity.

    The irony is this; I think it is those who want to be English who have better accepted our status as it is today and not how they would like it to be.

    The Jack is an Imperial flag the red cross is not.

    The sad part in all of this is that the only political entity to embrace Englishness is the BNP and, of course, that just entrenches the middle class view that the English are thuggish.

    That is dangerous in current times. I cannot remember a time when politicians and politics have been so despised.

    Whenever you get a situation like that - a vacuum - then someone or something will fill it.

    I just hope it isn't the BNP.

    I will proclaim my Englishness.

    In a quiet English way.

  3. For me it is simple. I am English. Born and bred of mostly English parentage... with some Irish in there, but born here and lived here all my life.

    My children have also been born and bred here, of an English mother but a different race father, born across the Globe, and equally as 'ish' as me, in his own country as it were.... probably more so in fact.

    So, my children are not English, but British.

    So there :)

  4. I think my genetic Irishness makes it easier for me to be British as well. Cos I'm English and Irish and confused and I'll say no more on the subject...

  5. And therein lies the rub.

    If you had been born in the US you would be American; possibly Irish-American.

    But American all the same. No confusion there.

    Same with Sarah's children; they would be American.

    It says something about our confusion when a mother can call herself English yet her children British even though all were brought up in England (I think)

    I'm a quarter Welsh - god forbid - but I'll still call myself English because that is where I have been brought up; my culture.

    Like the blog - even though I don't always agree with you - and I admire your courage in allowing anyone to enter without knocking; and risking the occasional caustic comment.

    I do the ame.

    I've linked you.