What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

Agree? Disagree? Tell me

My Other Blog

Thursday, January 12, 2006

As readers of this blog know, I have from time to time deplored the changes that have occurred across the English landscape over the years - from tea shops that don’t serve tea to London Bobbies patrolling the streets with turbans where their helmets should be. You can read that one by clicking on the obvious blog post title on the left of this screen.

I lived in England as a child and went to school there - so there was an England that I once knew. But each time that I’ve gone back to visit over the years, I’ve noticed changes - and I haven’t thought of them as changes for the better. And as I say, I’ve written about them here on numerous occasions, the most recent comments appearing on December 13 of last year.

Now it seems that the British government has become aware of the changes that have taken place in the country - changes that have made England less "English" than it used to be and is trying to do something about it - and one of the things is to ask members of the public to identify English "Icons" - the edifices or traditions that make England "England."

You can read about it at this UK Government web site. You can even nominate and/or vote for icons at this site if you feel so inclined, though I would imagine the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport would prefer only votes originating in England and may only count home generated votes.

On the other hand, the BBC, which is asking Internet users to select their preferences from the initial twelve icons, probably couldn’t care less where you’re from. Have fun. Vote away!!

It’s an interesting project and it will be interesting to see what the final groups of English "icons" will be. Here’s are descriptions of the first twelve chosen by the government. I doubt that the authorities are suggesting that these are the most representative of England’s icons. I know I can think of a dozen that could easily replace this dozen and would be widely accepted as highly representative of the spirit of the nation.

As I say, it’s an interesting project, but if the aim is to reflect the public’s concept of "Englishness" or to raise awareness of English culture, I’m afraid it won’t have much success. Through all of the changes that have taken place in England that I have noted in past blog comments, the "icons" that have been identified in the original dozen have remained intact - even the "cup of tea" that I once complained wasn’t available in a tea shop. It was an anomaly. The English still drink tea by the gallon.

But "Englishness" - if there is such a word - isn’t something that is identified by the artifacts of the country. They’re important to be sure. The castles, the ancient homes, the quaint villages, the churches and the pubs. But the true culture of the country is reflected by its people - and no selection of English "icons" by popular vote is going to make those who live there more or less appreciative or understanding of what it is to be English.

Unlike the United States, England, with its insulated population and history, wasn’t what one would think of as an ideal kind of nation to become a melting pot - but that’s what it’s become and it has yet to come to grips with the changed nation. In my youth, the sight of a black face was a rarity - an event - something to be pointed out to your friends or to be recounted later over a glass of beer. Most of the black faces belonged to members of visiting cricket teams from India or South Africa. You didn’t hear foreign languages spoken everywhere. There weren’t thousands of immigrants pouring into the country. There were probably more people going the other way - to Canada and Australia. You didn’t hear the wailing of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer from the minaret of the local mosque. If there were any mosques in those days, they were well hidden from public view.

But all that has changed. It’s not the same country it once was and it’s having a hard time coming to grips with its new demographics and its new values. England had and still has an official religion - the Church of England - of which the reigning monarch has the title of Defender of the Faith, but it has little influence in projecting that image of "Englishness" that was once was once so easily recognizable.

The Royals probably do a better job of reminding us of the England that used to be - though with less noblesse oblige than in olden days - and I can visualize a day when even the Royals will be part of Britain’s past.

But they still have one thing going for them that hasn’t changed - even with their proximity to Europe - and that is the right hand drive cars using the left side of the road. If I was to pick the number one icon that represented "Englishness" to me - that’s what I would pick. That blithering wrong sided driving nightmare with its Belisha Beacons and its mind boggling roundabouts!!

As long as they are there there’ll always be an England and we won’t need any other icons to remind us.