The Independent had a short story on what, today, it means to be English, and if there is such a thing as “Englishness”. It mentioned the Town of Ripley in Derbyshire, just next door to my home town. Apparently this is one of the most English places in England (not sure if that also means “in the world” too) so does this make me one of the most English people in the world?
I write this at the top of a hill looking over the green fields and the autumn woods – the quintessential image of England – as I try to work out what makes me English. Is it our history? It certainly plays a large part but this is always mixed up with “British” history and difficult to prise apart. Of the separate parts of Britain it is Scotland that has a very distinct identity, Wales a slightly less identity but still a recognisable culture of it’s own, England does not seem to have a clear image of its own.
But does it matter if English is always associated with British? I don’t think so, they are so intertwined as to be one and the same, certainly from outside of Britain this is how we are seen. I believe the Scottish and the Welsh dislike this fact (at least some do), and perhaps rightly so, but given that around 95% of the British population live in English this is hardly a surprise. So does England need it’s own identity, separate from the other kingdoms? I don’t think so. It has not been separate for many centuries and has not suffered for this, indeed it has prospered from it, after all it is not just known as “Britain” but “GREAT Britain”.
“British” seems much easier to define, a sense of fair play always pops to the top. A desire, or at least attempt, to do the right thing remains high, going beyond Queen and country, back to the idea of “fairness”. If you look even quickly into Britain has long had a Culture, “Brit Pop” has spread some of the most well known bands around the globe, we have generations of writers, play rights and actors with some of the most globally recognisable characters – Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Harry Potter. And there are few countries in the world without an “English Pub”. Our culture is everywhere.
The British culture is indeed everywhere but it is not stuck in time, it has developed and keeps developing. The globalisation of the English language has meant that England has become one of the most international countries on the planet. Immigration does not dilute the English culture it enhances it, takes the best from other cultures and infuses them into its own.
Britain is a place where it’s people are free to create, free to teach, free to learn, and I for one enjoy living here – ultimately, what’s important is not how it is viewed by others but how we ourself view it, so take a second to think about all the great things Britain has and does do. It is a people of generosity donating more to charity than others, a people who protect the animals and their pets from harm, a people who still choose to queue no matter where in the world they are because “first come” is fair play, it’s a people who can meet out in the hills in the middle of nowhere and still find the time for a polite “hello” and yes, maybe even a comment on the weather, but most of all it is a place where you can get a good quality, and preferably cold, beer or a sweet slowed brewed cup of tea. (as long as it’s before closing time…)