Friday, 9 May 2014

What is England?

I had a meeting with Uncle Archie at Wingspan today and we talked about the possibility of making a film about England. Specifically England, you understand. Not Britain. A musical journey which attempts to analyse what it actually means to be English. If indeed it means anything at all.

I've been a little perturbed of late by the sheer amount of time we spend as British people discussing what it means to be Scottish, Welsh or Irish. I've said this many times before - it's one of my soap box issues - but calling oneself British is a curiously English phenomenon. We use the phrase to be inclusive, and to make the countries we brutally annexed feel like part of a team. But, with the possible exception of some of the more loyalist factions in Northern Ireland, I don't think British is a phrase which carries much weight outside England. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I've never heard a Scottish person outside politics calling him or herself British. Even Americans will describe English accents as "British" accents, yet, still refer to Scottish people as Scots.

All of this leaves us English people with an issue. We don't get to celebrate our specific identity. We don't get to crow about our beautiful country or celebrate our own folk arts. If you're a shanty singer from Essex you can forget about being taken seriously, but don an Aran sweater and sit on a windswept beach in Scotland and you've got a permanent slot on the BBC! In fact, worse than this, by calling ourselves Brits, we're subconsciously acknowledging
that our country is only great with the Celtic regions attached!

So I want to celebrate England... but unfortunately this can't happen until I get my head around what it is which makes the English different to the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh. We know what Britain is... but what IS England? Are we more eccentric than our neighbours? Are we more reserved? Are we less down to earth?

So this blog is something of an appeal. Can anyone answer this question? Does anyone have any thoughts? If you're Scottish or Welsh, what is it about being you which is different to the English? If you're one of my Canadian, American or Australian readers, how would you define Englishness?

I ended up in Kentish Town High Street after the meeting, which, after I'd got myself all excited about the concept of Englishness, was a bit of a fall from heaven. Police were milling about everywhere, because some poor woman had been stabbed in a nearby house, and a poor old bloke was in a right old state outside Gregg's. He seemed to be holding a Stephen King book with one hand and with the other was trying to keep his trousers on, which has split so badly at the back that they wouldn't stay up on their own. He was muttering to himself. I think he was trying to flog the book to a passer-by and wanted 20p. Everyone was ignoring him and then he burst into tears. It was hopeless.

And I hope it wasn't a sign; the universe trying to show me what being English is actually about.... Come on, readers. We can do better than that!

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