Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Roy Keane taught me everything I need to know about Englishness, but thanks for the email anyway

Oh, email forwards, aren't they great? They're usually jokes and pictures of horrible things for you to laugh at. I remember at work some hilarious person was sending round about twenty photos of 'unattractive' naked ladies. And it was Friday afternoon and one chap found it so funny that he immediately had to forward it on to all his mates in the company.

Unfortunately when he went into the 'Choose Address' bit of Microsoft Outlook - he chose 'Harrison, Angela' instead of 'Harrison, Darren' and sent the lovely photos to the HR Director. He realised 10 minutes later and spent the last hour of his employment trying to cancel the mail. There were frantic phonecalls to the IT department. It was a pathetic little tragedy, but it was the most amusing 'Email Forward' based incident I can remember. Usually they provoke a groan or you just want to instantly press delete. Heaven help us if everyone starts replying and you come back to your desk to find 58 RE:RE:RE:RE:FW emails.... Ha ha not very ha ha...

Which brings me to this 'Subject: FW: England' - received a few days back and initially ignored. But thought about while I was wanting to go to sleep so I had to get up and reply. An ex-work colleague sent it & I'm afraid I'm back on my England/Britain High Horse again. This new England thing is going from strength to strength. But in the hope that someone might receive this FW: England thing as an email and want to check a few of the 'facts' included - I'm just going to post the email and my reply, feel free to lose the will to live at any stage ...

From: Pxxx Mxxxxxx 
To: a big open list of people
Subject: FW: England

England my England  
Goodbye to my England, So long my old friend 
Your days are numbered, being brought to an end 
To be Scottish, Irish or Welsh that's fine 
But don't say you're English, that's way out of line. 
The French and the Germans may call themselves such
So may Norwegians, the Swedes and the Dutch
You can say you are Russian or maybe a Dane
But don't say you're English ever again. 
At Broadcasting House the word is taboo
In Brussels it's scrapped, in Parliament too
Even schools are affected. Staff do as they're told 
They must not teach children about England of old.
Writers like Shakespeare, Milton and Shaw
The pupils don't learn about them anymore
How about Agincourt, Hastings , Arnhem or Mons ?
When England lost hosts of her very brave sons. 
We are not Europeans, how can we be? 
Europe is miles away, over the sea 
We're the English from England, let's all be proud 
Stand up and be counted - Shout it out loud! 
Let's tell our Government and Brussels too 
We're proud of our heritage and the Red, White and Blue 
Fly the flag of Saint George or the Union Jack
Let the world know - WE WANT OUR ENGLAND BACK !!!!
If you are English, pass it on please.

xxxx - And so I climbed on my 'high horse' and replied

Yo Pxxxx
(Friendly bantery opening)
I have to admit I was going to delete this message after I'd read it cos I thought, hmmm, I'm not sure this is entirely truthful, but then I thought, no, no one else is going to bother to question it. And it disturbed me. It disturbs me that there's a lot of untruth in it and yet the tone of it is to encourage English people to feel oppressed and angry about how they're not allowed to be English. And that's a bit daft on one level - of course we're allowed to be English - but it's also a bit sinister, as it's exactly the kind of thing that the BNP like to encourage. And I get offended that these extremely right-wing people think that they're more patriotic than me. Especially when they don't know a great deal about English history, English Literature - or even life in England today. So just bear with me while I point out a few mistakes in this poem.
1. You're not allowed to be English or talk about being English on the BBC? The question is do we even need to say 'we're English'? You turn on the radio in the morning and it doesn't matter what channel you choose and you're going to hear John Humphreys or Chris Moyles - they couldn't be more English. They don't have to wear an England shirt to be any more English. The news today was about the Chief Medical officer of England's views on swine flu (we have a separate body to Wales & Scotland), there was also stuff about the England (and Wales) Cricket team. And the rain. It was all very English. Like Test Match Special - could those public school boys be any more English? They talk all day about rain and cake and cricket - that's England. Or a certain section of it at least. Personally I visit the bbc news website every day - it breaks down from World news, to UK, to England, to Manchester. That works for me. And we do have St Georges' Day, I'd personally prefer to see it celebrated more widely, but whilst Manchester city centre is chock full of shaven headed lads in England shirts - as it was this year - it puts people off. We need to grab that aggressive patriotism off the louts, but that's just my opinion.
2. No English authors? Really? Have they looked at the English & History GCSE curriculum recently? Shakespeare's compulsary at English GCSE, whether the students like it or not. I could add a few more English poets - and generally you can throw in George Orwell as well. So really? that's nonsense. Milton doesn't get taught much at that level, I'll admit, but then, Paradise Lost is a little too complex. As for George Bernard Shaw, well, that's just amusing - he's as Irish as Roy Keane. Shaw was born in Dublin, so I'm not quite sure what the point is including him on the list. Perhaps he just rhymed and they forgot to look him up in Wikipedia. That's a bit sad.
3. History GCSE - yeah, well it's always difficult to separate English and British history isn't it. Look at the Tudors - they're studied as part of the National Curriculum - James 1st of England (6th of Scotland) was a big supporter of Shakespeare - that's one reason why Shakespeare wrote the 'Scottish play' Macbeth. Elizabeth 1st was less enamoured with Shakespeare - but then she didn't like Catholics, Scots or her cousin, Mary (Queen of Scots) who she had arrested then executed for treason. Pupils learn about that at school - English, Scots, Irish, Welsh - and usually French - history is all intertwined. Look at the first World War - that's another line that takes my breath away. The one about Arnhem & Mons. That's an England vs Germany battle now is it? Is it no longer the British army? Really, that makes you sick to the stomach just a week after 8 soldiers from the Welsh Guards were brought home dead from Afghanistan. I'm guessing they were comfortable in being patriotically Welsh and British soldiers. But it would be disgusting to forget about them or the Canadians or Polish who fought in those battles. That's the line that really made me write this. It's sickeningly stupid, more unforgiveable than not even caring or knowing who George Bernard Shaw was. I can understand that - Shaw rhymes with 'anymore'. Very clever.
There's always been a confusion between England and Britain - Americans are the same - we all use one for the other - it's sometimes hard to know - life is easier if you're Welsh cos you know you're Welsh - there's no confusion there - Welsh and British. We shouldn't be ashamed to be English. I'm not. We can be British (and fly the Union Flag) and also English (and fly the St George's Cross). Of course the author of this poem doesn't seem to know the difference, but then, I think we've established that they haven't done their research. It's a nasty, stupid poem - and patriotic English men and women deserve better. Fortunately a great English poet has already done the job: William Blake's Jerusalem. Surely this should be the English National Anthem? The Queen might be the monarch of the Commonwealth but we deserve our own anthem - what better than this paen to England's green and pleasant land?
  And did those feet in ancient time
  Walk upon England's mountains green?
  And was the holy Lamb of God
  On England's pleasant pastures seen?
  And did the Countenance Divine
  Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
  And was Jerusalem builded here
  Among those dark Satanic mills?
  Bring me my bow of burning gold:
  Bring me my arrows of desire:
  Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold!
  Bring me my chariot of fire!
  I will not cease from mental fight,
  Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
  Till we have built Jerusalem
  In England's green and pleasant land.

well there you go, I'm not sure if you'll ever reach this far down but I had to have my say. It hurts me that some people might just superficially flick through that nasty piece of trash and feel a sense of anger and bitterness about England. There are good reasons to be angry about this country - genuine problems - and I fear that this sort of tripe will just make things worse.
anyway, have a splendid day!

Well that was all very long winded, pious, egotistical and bla bla, but such is life. As I've said before (on St George's Day) my feeling is that a) I won't allow these right-wing horrible people to claim patriotism as their own & b) We just need to chill out about Englishness. We just are. We're not oppressed. All around the world everyone speaks English & listens to British music. We're winning (if you wanna look at that way).

I've just been reading Roy Keane's autobiography and I came across this passage that distills his thoughts about Irishness & I thought, yeah, replace the word Irish with the nationality of your choice and that would sum up my feelings on the matter...

"The story ran that I didn't care about playing for my country. It wasn't true ... I loved Ireland, it was my home, and home to my closest friends and family. I deeply resented this, I'm more Irish than the Irish thing, the patriotic fraud that hung around the Irish team. The bullshitters in the squad were clever about wearing their Irishness like a badge of honour. The super-Irishmen, fucking bluffers and PR men who pandered to the media and the fans as if they'd invented being Irish. Wasn't it obvious I was Irish? From Mayfield in Cork. I didn't need lessons in Irishness. I was Irish."  Keane p.247


  1. Isn't being English what we English do best? A true English patriot doesn't spout about it, we simply accept and them move on. we don't make a fuss ( except maybe later and in a letter)

    We are good at writing letters of complaint aren't we? Being English means we don't complain at the time, showing ourselves up, but we take offence all the same.

    It is a shame the BNP have spoiled the English view by jumping on that particular bandwagon, and spoiling it for the rest of us 'English'.

    I have to say, if anyone asks me what I define myself as, I always reply in the 'English', and never 'British', and that is simply because it is my choice.

    Isms are horrible. If you say anything about anyone, it is deemed an Ism and you are judged upon it as being as 'ist'.

    It's politics gone mad.

    I am English by definition, but I have a lot of Irish in me as well. I suppose we all need to belong to something?
    The problem here is that we don't know quite where we stand in the grand scheme any more.. we do not like all the illegal immigrants pouring in to the place living off benefits etc etc, but if we raise the subject we are deemed as 'racist'. It's easier to be 'English' and say nowt.

    Going back to 'Jerusalem'.. wasn't that simply an ideology for 'perfect' ?.. but I know what you mean!

  2. I'm going to be pedantic here and defend someone who should really be admired:

    Elizabeth gets bad press: she enjoyed and championed plays,doing a lot for theatres and the survival thereof. She also didn't have it in for Mary, who was a bad lot and gets historically forgiven a lot because she was pretty and was executed, because of the law. Elizabeth had to hate catholics, she'd have been kicked off the throne otherwise, you had to be one or t'other.

    Up here, we of course learned the version whereby St Mary was pretty much floating around being goodly and Elizabeth chopped her head off because she was in a bad mood.

    back to topic:

    somehow patriotism needs to be seperated from racism. Is it not possible to be proud of your heritage, of the beauty of your country, of the achievements of your ancestors, but at the same time welcome strangers, embrace other cultures and learn from other countries rather than assuming they are lesser than us? Can't we admire what they are proud of and share cultures, learn from incomers as we hope to learn when we go abroad? Can't we be proud that foreigners can enjoy our country too? I am ferociously proud to be a Scot, of what my country has to offer and of our inventions and achievements, but I don't for a moment think that I am better than anyone who isn't a Scot. I am luckier to be a Scot than people from many many nations, but I'm not better.

    Raising the subject of immigrants "taking our benefits" may or may not be racist but it's rather sad from a being-a-nice-human point of view that the view on those immigrants, especially the illegal ones, is anything other than compassion.

  3. Amen and agreement and yes, you're right if I got any historical whatnots wrong.
    Elizabeth I - she had a great look all that white lead make-up - lovely.

    And I hope not to return to this subject. unless the world annoys me again. There are more important things like pies, frankly.

  4. MD.. if you go back and read me, I said 'illegal immigrants'.


  5. Sarah, I did read that and pondered about illegal immigrants getting benefits, decided that was complex and went with immigrants of undefined legality.

    If the illegal ones get benefits then kudos to them really.