Tuesday, 30 November 2010

England and the English

I am English, not British but English. My ancestors were born and raised in England. Their surnames can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon England. I am proud to call England' my home. It's not the England that once ruled the world - or at least half of it - of which I feel proud, it's a gentler England.. It's an England that's associated with Shakespeare, with Elgar, with cricket, and, above all, the landscape.

Hertfordshire Landscape
Sentiments with which I agree and which I recalled when driving back from Church Farm last week.  MWNN and I often reflect on the fact that we are fortunate to live in a very beautiful part of the world. It's not magnificent, or stunning, it has a quieter, less showy beauty.  The music of Elgar and Vaughan Williams captures this beauty.

"I am drawn to English music because I love the way it reflects the climate and the vegetation which know no sharp edges, no definitive demarcation, where different hues of green melt into each other and where the line between sea and land is always joined and changing, sometimes gradually, sometime dramatically. The music … is a very human music, not given to shattering utterances, to pronouncements of right or wrong, not to abstract intellectual processes, to human emotion in the abstract, but to a single man’s experience of today as related to a particular place…” (Yehudi Menhuin)

The Pennines
MWNN described our local landscape  as 'gently rolling'. I replied, 'That's because there are no mountains in England'. There are hills a-plenty - the  'backbone' of England is the Pennines.

For the first 18 years of my life I lived in Manchester, in the shelter of the Pennines. At Secondary School, groups of us walked the Edale to Hayfield route at weekends when the weather was fair. The Pennines are rugged, many of the walks are strenous and challenging, particularly when the weather suddenly changes and the clouds descend.

Chiltern Hills
The landscape in the part of England in which we now live is softer. 'Rolling' is a good way to describe the countryside. My father, who spent his whole life in Manchester, in the North West of England, often called it 'the soft south' - a term he applied to our homes in South London and our present one, half an hour's train ride to the north. We live on the edge of the Chilterns, hills made up of chalk deposits, and called 'downland'. Where the downs (which to us appear as 'ups') meet the sea, the chalk is exposed as cliffs, the most famous of which, the White Cliffs of Dover, are a symbol of England for many.

Cambridgeshire Fenland
For such a relativelty small country, England possesses a great variety of landscape; the rugged hills of the north, the gentler ones of the south and west, the flat, watery fenland of the East. The 'English' have just as much variety in their genes - from Roman, Angle, Saxon, Jute, Norman, German, Dutch, and other, more recent, 'incomers'. We are an adaptable, yet solid and firmly rooted people, always joined and changing.  Legally, we are British (it says so on our passports), in our hearts, we are forever English - amiable, understated,  with a sense of humour that, at its best, is dry, knowing, ironic, self-deprecating in the best possible way, wacky, surreal, and eccentric (just look at the rules of Cricket if you're not convinced).