First, the geography. People are forever pointing out how small Britain is but the length of the main island is 836 miles or 1329 kilometres. That’s not short.
Given that most city states in the early days were relatively small and that disused Roman roads were pretty well impassable, given that the Elmet held out against the Anglian Northumbria and had little to do with the Saxon south, England as such developed pretty unevenly.
If pressed, I’d say the land from the Humber to the Firth of Forth and across to Cumbria are my extremities, York’s pretty well the furthest south I’d call home but Lindisfarne is a little too far north. Beckfoot Bridge in the west riding settles the western limit.
Is this England? Well, it’s as “England” as we’re going to get. It’s just as “England” as the Norfolk Broads [nice ladies all], Liverpool or Small Dole. But it’s clearly not enough for a definition.
Wensleydale, Double Gloucester, Blue Vinney, Theakstons, Camerons, Bass, Marston’s Pedigree, the pub culture [before it was destroyed by teen-binge-asbo-videoscreen-headnumbing] – do they help create a definition of England?
Drystone walls, railway embankments, signal boxes, dry fly fishing, the salmon, the chippy, mushy peas, Falling Foss, Ugglebarnby, fields and hedgerows, public walkways, shooting sticks, Coronation Street, the Archers, Tony Hancock, Barbours, wellies, anoraks [the people], football, rugby, cricket, Wimbledon [not the Crazy Gang], the Severn Bore – how am I going?
Anything with an “-oze” ending [Rumbelows, Prestos, Tescos], DIY barns outside towns, the Tube, weird names like Lunn Poly and BUPA, Gyrocheques [don’t know much about these], Boots, Marks & Sparks, Covent Garden.
These are just fragments in the makeup which is England.
The cynical moving in of the EU, attempting to exploit historical regional differences, shows a complete lack of understanding of our essential cross-county battiness. It’s our eccentric tastes and passive resistance which will eventually drive the invader from our shores – if they don’t go out of their tree first.
There’s the past I miss too – Carnaby Street, Ska music from 1980, Splodginess Abounds, the whole scene of those days. The Stranglers, Gypsy Moth IV before they stole it and burnt the Cutty Sark, Biggles and Algy’s strange relationship – we could go on and on.
Some of us are stranded, far-flung from native shores but isn’t this also English? From Clive of India to Milligan, we’ve lived all over the place and for different reasons. Philby and Burgess insisted on their copies of the Times; I personally miss Radio 4’s 12 midnight chimes and the shipping forecast. I miss BBC 1’s 4.52 p.m. Final Score and Doctor Who [oh how I miss this]. I miss Sunday Lunches with convivial company.
So yes, much of my life has been spent [and still is] outside that green, pleasant, maddening and frustrating land, some count me American, Australian, even Russian, my accent is an RP mess with a hint of drawl and twang but there’s an Englishness inside which is forever surfacing and cannot be denied. Surely only someone as batty as an Englishman could derive some form of pleasure from this nightly entertainment:
Dogger Fisher German Bight: Northwest 7 to severe gale 9, occasionally storm 10 in Fisher and German Bight, decreasing 5 or 6 in Dogger. Rough or very rough, occasionally high at first. Wintry showers. Moderate or good.
Sublime. Reassuring. It also happens to be tonight’s forecast so you’d best head for home whilst you still can.
James Higham lives in the former USSR, he blogs at Nourishing Obscurity.