Current Essays

2010—A Year That Will Re-live Some Sort of Infamy On:2010-07-10 00:00:00

Nothing to do with England’s performance in the World Cup, nor for that matter their lack of performance in the World Cup. No, no, it’s actually that in 2010 back home in England they are celebrating the sixteen-hundredth anniversary of the Ancient Romans leaving Britain, or rather the sixteen-hundredth anniversary of Flavius Honorius (IMP CÆS as they inscribed them back in those days) purportedly sending a letter telling the Britons (well at least some of the poor buggers) that, as far as he was concerned, as far as their defence was concerned, from then on it was going to be their own concern. They were on their own. Poor abandoned Britannia! But even more ominously and importantly and on-their-own-ishly, it’s also the thirtieth anniversary of that same poor Britain being abandoned by me!

Yes I’ve abandoned that poor Land of Cardiac-arrest-on-a-bun (that’s the famous English Cream Tea, you know, scones and jam and clotted cream and arteries to match), for this new land where I just bumped into a dead cockroach that was so big it should have had a social security number...or perhaps a zip code. And you know I have no idea whether I’m better off here or there, though I’m pretty certain that the Britons, whether Ancient or not, are.
You see I’ve of course gained all the advantages of being a Briton in a land which is not Britain--those advantages that are typified by the Dilbert cartoons outside my work cubicle, where the pointy haired boss complains that he thought he’d hired a genius, but it was just some guy with a fake British accent, and then all the women swoon and forget that they are married the moment the guy mentions leaving his brolly in the lift. Not that either of those things have ever happened to me, especially since I’ve never ever left my brolly anywhere, let alone in a lift; but I do to a certain extent bask in the afterglow of that attitude. I mean I’m pretty certain that you would not be listening to me now if I tended to say ‘Gee check that out’ or ‘Gag me with a spoon’, or if I could enunciate ‘y’all’ with any degree of conviction, or at least you’d not be listening anywhere near as intently.
But life in my new home is not all wine, roses and other good stuff, nor is it any longer all that new: and now, after thirty years, I miss certain aspects of Britain, most of which involve America’s lack of what we should call ‘that layered look’. As my opening paragraph vaguely hinted, back in Britain we have History-wiv’-a-capital-‘huh’ and, further, you must surely have noticed, that I’m rather interested in it. Not surprising really when you consider that as a teenager my favourite bike rides might involve as destinations a fortress built by those very same Romans from my opening paragraph or at least their great, great grandpas way back in the third century and still surprisingly upstanding, or a trip to the coast to watch mediæval churches slowly being eaten by the North Sea.
In spite of that we have a lot of mediæval churches, their shapes so internalized for me, that over here there seem to be hardly any churches at all, just large warehouses or odd-looking office buildings where a whole lot of worshipping goes on. Then we have castles and half-timbered buildings that have served food since sixteen-something-or-other and Georgian elegance mixed with engineering from the industrial revolution when we were the only guys in the business and Victorian overdone-ity.
Layers and layers upon layers.
And, frankly, you don’t have that or anything like it, indeed judging by your propensity to knock things down after a few years to modernise at all costs you may never have it—and anyway you are certainly not going to have it during my lifetime. Oh! I know that people have been here for thousands of years bouncing around all over the place, but (at least to me) it seems different, to lack the continuity that is the essence of the layered look.
Consider that various DNA studies suggest that the ancestors of most of the people in Britain today were in Britain well before those Romans even invaded us, let alone merely before the buggers abandoned us; or that many of those churches were built on sites that were used by our pagan ancestors well before Christianity came to Britain; or that the same defensive sites were sometimes used by the Celts before the Romans, by the Romans after they had beaten the Celts, by the Celts again after the Romans left, by the Anglo-Saxons after the Celts and by those Damned Normans after everyone else had lost interest. You know, some of us haven’t forgiven William and his Damned Normans.
But then even the layered look has its down-side.
And, finally, what does Britain miss most about me?
Well, I’d have thought that was fairly obvious...
Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton

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