I am, damn it, proud to be English

SIMON COOKE voices below a peculiarly English form of patriotism.  England is a land of emotional understatement and it shows in their form of patriotism. Their emotional understatement serves them well but is rarely understood by outsiders.  I have no feelings similar to those expressed by Cooke below despite being of substantially English ancestry and culturally in many ways English. 

But I am a 5th generation Australian and am very much a product of Australian culture  -- which is a culture of relaxation.  There was a time when Australia had a lot of half-millionaires.  When they got to that stage they decided that further financial progress required too much effort and instead retired to the golf course and fishing  

I am similar. I got into the lower rungs of being a millionaire via real estate investment but many years ago I sold all my properties and concentrated on blogging instead.  My Serbian girlfriend does not understand that decision at all. And her Serbian patriotism is intense

Australian culture is just about the opposite to the hard-driving culture of America and we feel very thankful for that.  America seems insane to us

Take in the view and whisper a little prayer of thanks for the men and women who made this place we call England. Because it is beautiful and we should be proud of those who made it beautiful.

In the latest instalment of The Hookland Chronicles, David writes about an encounter with J. G Ballard, that most suburban of England’s great writers. It starts with Ballard’s advice:

In many ways it was a ride in a BBC cab with J.G. Ballard that led to the creation of Hookland. To be achingly specific it was only one sentence. His advice was: “Concentrate on place, nothing without a sense of it is ever any good.”

Much is said about identity and lived experience. A good deal of it is little more than selfish indulgence and much else is a sort of political cosh to strike down the baddies. But identity matters and Ballard was right as are the Hookland Chronicles: our first, longest and strongest identity is with place. When, in opening his poem in praise of Sussex, Kipling spoke about men having small hearts, he described this truth.

So my identity isn’t about my sexuality, my gender or my skin colour. Nor is that identity shaped by an intersectionality implied by those things. No, my identity is defined by a series of places, by where I was born in South London, by Hull, my university, by an adult life in the South Pennines, by Upton Park and Bradford City Hall. Above all, my identity is shaped by the place that contains all these places, the thing that defines so much about what I believe and how I feel.

That place is England.

Where to begin? In my last speech as a Bradford councillor, I spoke about the places I’d represented for all those years:

“I was sat on top of Denholme Edge the other day eating a ham and tomato sandwich, admiring the view. Much of what I see from there is Bingley Rural. And it is beautiful. Anyway I was sat there and I got to thinking. Each way I looked, into every nook of the places in that view there was a story – something that had been done to make the place a little better.”

What you see from Denholme Edge is a picture of England. Denholme isn’t a posh or grand place, most of you will never have been there and, if you have, it is most likely just driving through on the A629. Like all the places I represented, Denholme exists because of wool. The town, don’t ever call it a village, was noted for wool sorting, the process of separating the different qualities of wool. Today it is an ordinary place, a mix of flats, back-to-back terraces, a few streets of semi-detached homes and a couple of modern estates. The Edge is the ridge behind the town, running from Edge Bottom up onto Thornton Moor.

Everything we see from that ridge is shaped by men and women over hundreds of years, thousands if we include the shadowy remains of a Roman camp and the last few stones from an Iron Age fort. This is England, a kempt place without wilderness, a place made by men. When we talk about England's ancient woodland or its wonderful landscape - ‘outstanding natural beauty’ as the bureaucrats call it - we are not talking of the truly natural since even the shape of the hills involves the scars of quarrying and agriculture’s management of the land. What we look at from Denholme Edge is a place shaped by the love and care of people, mostly forgotten, who lived in England.

If you look at the Wikipedia page for the song “There’ll Always be an England”, it comes across ever so slightly sneering: “...the song invokes various clichés of English rural life, liberty, and the Empire”. But while it isn’t the greatest song and filled with clichés, it still makes me stand up a little straighter and smile. On occasion singing it will bring a tear to the eye because the song is uncomplicated and unquestioningly proud of England: 

“There'll always be an England

While there's a country lane

Wherever there's a cottage small

Beside a field of grain

There'll always be an England

While there's a busy street

Wherever there's a turning wheel

A million marching feet”

As with all the best patriotism, the sentiment isn’t about the great and good, there is no harking back to glorious victories, ancient monarchs, or great leaders but rather an invoking of the ordinary, of you and me as the definition of England. Everything about England was shaped by the English, not by the list of names you learned in history but, as Kipling’s charm puts it:

 “...the mere uncounted folk 

Of whose life and death is none 

Report or lamentation”

If you are in England, take a moment to pause and look around you. Not for signs of greatness but for signs of love. Look over the wall at the allotment gardens with their neat rows of beans and cabbage lined up behind a rickety old shed. Walk round the park and take in a green space within the busy city. Wander along a suburban street, have a nosey into front gardens. And find a hill to climb where you can look out at the place that your fellow English men and women have made. It doesn’t matter whether that view is a slightly tired old mill town like Denholme, the Georgian wonder of Bath or the rolling Downs of Sussex or North Kent. Take in the view and whisper a little prayer of thanks for the men and women who made this place we call England. Because it is beautiful and we should be proud of those who made it beautiful.



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