Paul Newman

I have been thumbing through some of the stirring stuff inscribed hereabouts, and jolly impressive it is to. In an effort to compete, (portenders ready …you might say), my first thought was to complain that I can never escape Englishness. I kid you not, I was incubating some gor-blimey pretentious metaphor in which Milton’s Satan stopped off to say …

“Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell“, …

This, seriously, was to illustrate the inescapability of one’s identity. Well thankfully you are saved from this nascent horror; I am off on quite another tack.

Here it is then….Years ago I sat in a Library reading the Miller’s Tale, yes I was only eight and already inhabiting the Middle English linguistic world. …….Ok ok, I was at ‘uni’, had no choice, and got a modern translation to save on swotting. Anyway, I got the only bit of Chaucer everyone knows. Absolom was thrusting his hot poker, “amidde the ers”, of Nicholas’ “toute” causing N, understandably enough, to cry, “water!”. The Landlord, you will recall, thinks the great flood has come and hilarity ensues. As I read I, “laughed out loud”.

Think on that for a moment; an idiotically dressed, and coiffed, 20th century student sending a LOL down the centuries to Geoffrey Chaucer. Englishman to Englishman.

You see, dear reader, in our dimly lit Anglo Saxon past, after battle, they feasted and re-told unbelievably tedious sagas about Sea monsters and stuff ….On the next hill, where I would be, they laughed at the whole thing, remarked on who had been the most cowardly, and admitted they would rather copulate with farm yard animals than fight.

I don’t say we should not soar above green vales to heroic strains of Elgar, or tease out any number of threads. Amongst all the full-body-waxing lyrical though, someone should at least try to conjure the merriness of Englishmen, finding the ridiculous often in what they love, and hate, most fervently.

Few, for example, have considered life and death with greater seriousness than John Donne, but in his Valediction Forbidding Mourning, a verse of terse spiritual and emotional strength, he still chucks in a knob gag for good measure ….

…It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home….

Nudge nudge eh, but let’s not over emphasise the bawdy. The exquisitely malicious observation of Jane Austen, the eye for foible of Charles Dickens, the affectionate despair we feel for Pooter, the endless verbal delight of PG Woodhouse, Churchill, Shaw, Cleese, Milligan, Rickie Gervais, where to start, where to end? It is part of us and I`d say an important part.

Why did we English establish Common Law so early, avoid revolution, religious slaughter (mostly), and muddle though in a manner the benighted foreigner can only envy? I suggest it is a sense of proportion, a deep reasonableness rather gentler than stern “Reason”.

To have sense of proportion is to find life and oneself at once serious and absurd. Ask yourself why a prat-fall is so enduringly funny? It’s the sight of man in the attitude of walking, when he is falling. Humour (he pontificated…) is a corrective to stiffness and renders the miserable po-faced preening tick powerless. For one thing our leaders, the constant butt of cruel satire, have been is comparatively decent.

Now this great Nation faces new challenges, threats to Liberty, free speech and our very right to be a people at all. Let us all hope we continue to say the unsayable, and laugh at our own prejudices whilst defending our values. If we do I have little doubt it will “Turn out nice” again.

Paul Newman ‘was’ the author of Newmania before he acquired three children.


I find it so difficult sometimes to define what it means to be myself let alone tackle questions of this weight! What does England mean to me, what does it mean to be English? Why, I suppose it’s a little bit like a reflex, a little like breathing: English is what I am; English is what I will always be.

For me it’s not about sport, or politics or any transitory passion; it really does rest on something altogether deeper. I love the English language, a love the beauty and the rhythm of simple English prose. Yes, I know the language is not exclusively ours any longer. It’s been launched into the world sometimes with uncertain-and unhappy-returns! But I would continue to look for Englishness, Englishness expressed through words, in what I like to call the original ‘mines’ of our language, our poetry and our literature. There they are before me: Langland and Chaucer; the Bible, both in William Tyndale’s translation and in the King James’ version; the Book of Common Prayer; the plays and poetry of Shakespeare, the Jacobean poets and more.

I’ve been working my way through The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. He’s a super writer, a true craftsman, expressing himself in simple, limpid prose. InEngland Your England part of a longer essay entitled The Lion and the Unicorn he analyses at some length what exactly it means to be English. Yes, a lot has changed since 1940 but a lot remains remarkably the same. The individuality is still there, the dislike of regimentation and officialdom, the suspicion of ‘ideology’ as something foreign, something un-English. These were the rocks against which Fascism and Communism floundered. It’s these same qualities that continue to make English people distrustful of identity cards or the European Super State ; of standardisation in any form.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that the English, with all of their idiosyncrasies, all of their baffling eccentricities, are simply beyond the comprehension of most foreigners. Karl Marx spent most of his life in this country in exile. Always expecting great things from the English proletariat, the most advanced in Europe, by the lights of his theory, he came to see that England was the one country in Europe with a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois working class as well as a bourgeois bourgeois! His last recorded words were “To the Devil with the British.”

Britishness? Ah, yes, now there is a problem. I grew up believing simply that Britishness and Englishness were more or less the same thing though I was very well aware that the Celtic nations had a separate and somewhat prickly identity. It’s been their assertiveness, their determination to be ‘themselves’, to govern themselves, that resulted in our present botched constitutional settlement, one that has really forced me to focus more specifically on simple Englishness. I no longer use British to identify myself other than to say that I have a British passport.

Yes, our present constitutional settlement is botched, badly thought-out and unfinished. It has raised more questions than it has answered, the question over England ’s political sovereignty above all, our right to manage our own domestic affairs without outside interference, interference by those who are not English. Where does England fit in the devolved United Kingdom ? I simply don’t know. There is, so far as I can tell, no great desire for a separate English parliament, but things cannot go on as they are indefinitely. It’s a house of cards which will fall, I believe, if we ever again have a Labour administration only kept in place by MPs from Scotland and Wales.

Sovereignty also raises the question of our position within the European Union. This is a touchy subject because I see considerable dangers in the current integrationist drift in European policy, dangers in the Lisbon Treaty for our future liberty. If we ever do become Airstrip One it will be largely thanks to the efforts of our own politicians, arguably more damaging than those of Philip II, Napoleon or Hitler.

I’m sure it comes no surprise that I’m a history student. And it is English history, our common heritage, which I believe defines us as a nation in the fullest sense. Our pride, our individuality, our idiosyncrasies, our distrust of foreign ideas and, yes, of foreigners, has largely been determined by our island story, by a slow evolution of a common culture. I simply refuse to accept that there is a single English person, admit it or not, who does no feel a stirring of the blood when hearing the great St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. It most assuredly stirs my blood, as does the speech of Elizabeth I at Tilbury. That’s Englishness, a dogged courage in the face of terrible odds. That’s my England.

My name is Anastasia; I’m twenty-three years old and a history student, shortly to begin work on a PhD in English history. My speciality is late Stuart England. My dedicated blog can be found at