There's an old song from the forties that I've actually mentioned here from time to time "There'll Always Be an England". Written at the start of WWII (or W-Wii as I suppose young Nintendo players now think of it) it became intensely popular as we stood there, defiant, backs to the wall, faces to the channel, all alone, while you guys dithered about whose side was going to pick you and whether you'd be the last to be picked. Anyway with songs like that how could we fail? It epitomized Britain, and casually, almost inadvertently, subsumed the whole into its part: bigger as part of smaller; Britain as a part of England, and only allowed to be part of England if those buggers in Scotland, and Wales, and bits o' Ireland behaved and kept their claymores, and leeks, and shillelaghs off the furniture and maintained an attitude of decent respect for Old England, Oh yes and the Empire too, bless their fuzzy brown heads, "freedom remains these are the chains nothing can break" and however oxymoronic that line from the song may have been, we knew what England was: probably all of the above.
Things change: we won that war (with a bit of help from you and the Scots, Welsh, Irish, and the Empire too "We can depend on you, freedom remains these are the cha..." sorry about that I got a bit carried away again there. Though it turned out that the chains were rather more breakable than predicted, though many of what we might call Imperical individuals remained, or rather came to the British shores and joined us, and suddenly we noticed that things had changed and now, today, I've just noticed that there is a whole slew of books and articles and stuff over there wondering , not only if there'll always be an England, but what the Hell it'll be if it does manage to survive! Yes, over there there is now vast discussion of Britishness and Englishness (though as a one-time denizen of Suffolk I'm very disappointed that I've seen none yet about East-Anglian-ness, but it'll come).
You see less than a lifetime ago... at the end of W-Wii we had an Empire, and Europe were just those poor benighted wogs the other side of the channel, and we were basically all white or white-ish ... well at least all the same (indeed from my own experience growing up I believe that there might have been just one black family living in Norwich when I was a child, though I was never taken to see them) and we knew exactly who the English were--they were the British only slightly better (and then only when we felt like admitting it).
Now, what a change of flesh is here; we have no Empire (well I suppose there is sort of Gibraltar, the Falklands.. and um ...well some other unreguarded little trifles here and there but they hardly count). Now Europe is rapidly becoming our masters. Now our population is multifaceted, multicoloured and multicultured.
And we have absolutely no idea how to deal with it, and all we seem to do is go on endlessly about what it is to be us.
And we are driven back on our English Qualities (since that's vague enough and has enough inclusivity-potential to get by the PC crowd and the Brussels lot. We search desperately for things that make us truly English: things that we had in our hands only a moment ago: things that maybe fell down behind the sofa: things like fair play!
Fair play ---if, for example, I a thoroughly and probably indisputable English person, watch, say, a football match (real football, I mean, I never watch whatever it is that they play over here in loads of armor for incredibly short intervals between all the other things that seem go on during a 'game', or maybe that was at a Renaissance Fayre, anyway you know what I mean)---soccer, even if it's in Italian or Mexican incomprehdereousness I instantly identify with, and give all my heartfelt, total support for, whichever team is down, and should their fortunes switch in that funnygamefootballish way that they do, so too do my undying allegiances. And that rule may apply even if it's a match where I ought to have swads of local patriotism---Ipswich Town or Norwich City Canaries playing (though since both teams usually lose I haven't really been able to put that to the test yet).
Now that's pretty English.
Cheerio for now
There'll Always be an England
words & music: Parker & Charles
I give you a toast, ladies and gentlemen. For a really heartfelt performance try this .
I give you a toast, ladies and gentlemen.
May this fair dear land we love so well
In dignity and freedom dwell.
Though worlds may change and go awry
While there is still one voice to cry
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.
Red, white and blue; what does it mean to you?
Surely you're proud, shout it aloud,
The empire too, we can depend on you.
Freedom remains. These are the chains
Nothing can break.
There'll always be an England,
And England shall be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me1.
1 Interestingly, my Scottish Mum always sang this couplet...
'If England means as much to you
'As Scotland means to me"
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