England

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,–
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
William Shakespeare, “King Richard II”, Act 2 scene 1
I like to think of England as Shakespeare describes it. Perhaps it was how I thought of it before I had to live here. For Shakespeare, familiarity did nothing to tarnish the vision. I have found it easier to love my adopted country when viewed from abroad. Distance adds gloss to the image and removes from view aspects of life in England that one would rather not experience. Thus sitting on a verandah sipping a ‘sun-downer’ gin and tonic in the evening warmth, as insects flit in the cooling air, one can romantacise about the green fields and verdant hedgerows of ‘home’. One can imagine sunny, summer days and games of tennis wondering “is there honey still for tea?” Rupert Brooke eloquently describes the longing felt abroad in his elegy ‘The Old Vicarage, Granchester’ though in the same poem he is critical of much of the country he describes. But the longing is real and can be felt in the lines,
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?

From abroad, England’s weather is sunnier, her fields greener and her streets cleaner. For those of us brought up in far-flung Empire this was the England we loved, the England we dreamed of visiting and possibly returning to at some far distant point in the future.

Sadly, it neither is, nor was, the England of unkind reality. At the time he wrote, for many, England was a land of long, dangerous hours of work during short lives; work in steamy mills or dark mines, surfacing to coal smog and poor housing. A land of cities, such as Bradford, where in the1850s average life expectancy was less than 20. Now the mills and mines are gone; poor housing is largely replaced and real poverty is rare. Swept away with them has been community spirit, a positive work ethic and a sense of who we are. Communities are more mixed and the nuclear family appears to be valued more by ethnic minorities than by the English. No-one appears to know what Englishness is and often those who try to distil it, are labelled as one sort of bigot or another. Years of socialism has created a breed of people who expect the State to provide where they are too feckless, lazy or incapable of providing for themselves. The virtues of independence, self-reliance, robustness are much less valued, having been replaced by dependence on ‘them’, the ever more intrusive State and its organs.

I have watched as a socialist inspired iconoclasm has attacked the institutions that defined our society. Much has been pulled down; little of value has been erected in its place. The gods of equality and diversity rule a society in much of which the abnormal is normal and ability is swamped by mediocrity. Excellence is eschewed.

So, I have found the view from close-up unappealing. I have had to persist for 26 years, while the family grew up. Now, I long for warm evenings sipping a drink while supper cooks on the ‘brei’, thinking of the England that probably exists only in romantic elegies and in the minds of English communities living abroad. Enough of the reality; I’m off for some dreaming.

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