Saturday, 25 September 2004

United Kingdom

An elderly lady of whom I was fond died last year. Our relationship had been founded on mutual affection and respect combined with utter contempt for each other’s politics and views on society, and I miss our occasional disputes. She was actually a kind and generous person, but often gave voice to the most bloodthirsty pronouncements: I do not believe she would really have wanted the death penalty applied to, for example, Liberal voters, but it sometimes sounded as if she might have done.

She did not have all the prejudices one might expect in someone of her class and generation, and those she did have were not at all predictable: “Why do they have to come here, we don’t want them, why can’t they go back to their own country?” she would say…but she was talking about the Scots.

This was entirely because she could not always understand what they said when they were on TV as newsreaders or commentators, and resented being given English news in her own home by people with foreign accents.

But her strong feelings on this matter did reflect the sad truth that the Act of Union in 1707 (proposed a hundred years earlier) has not yet resolved the suspicion and mistrust between the two countries which had prevented the union throughout the 17th century.

(The Scots feared that they would simply become another region of England, being swallowed up as had happened to Wales some four hundred years earlier. For England the fear that the Scots might take sides with France and rekindle the 'Auld Alliance' was decisive: England relied heavily on Scottish soldiers and to have them turn and join ranks with the French would have been disastrous. So there were some financial incentives offered which convinced some dithering Scottish MP's of the many potential benefits of a union with England, and the deal was done.)

And now? Perhaps Michael Flanders spoke for us all:

The rottenest bits of these islands of ours
We’ve left in the hands of three unfriendly powers.
Consider the Irishman, Welshman or Scot,
You’ll find he’s a stinker as likely as not.
The English, the English, the English are best
I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest…..
…The English are noble, the English are good,
And clever, and modest, and misunderstood.

Those are sentiments on which I think my friend and I would have agreed.


Astolath said...

Perhaps Daniel Defoe gives the best retort to that one:

"Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,
That het'rogeneous thing, an Englishman:
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot,
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot."

And further:

"A True-Born Englishman's a Contradiction,
In Speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction.
A Banter made to be a test of Fools,
Which those that use it justly ridicules."


Tony said...

But this isn't a retort!
Defoe wrote it to suck up to William III by attacking those who objected to a non-English king. His point was that there is no such thing as a pure-bred Englishman; being English himself, he never disputed the fact that we are the best, mongrels or no. How could anyone dispute it?

Astolath said...

It was a retrospective retort, I won't attempt to dispute the chronology or geography. As a bit of a mutt myself, Defoe's words have come in handy on several occasions to rebuff those who argue for Anglo-Saxon purity. Personally, I can only lay claim to being British, having Welsh and Irish corpuscles swimming happily alongside my English ones.

Personally, I think that nationality is purely an accident of birth, and as such, nothing to boast about or claim to be proud of. It's amazing how divided we allow ourselves to be on this few million acres of island we have. Still, as a microcosm of the world at large, it does explain a lot of our problems.

dearieme said...

That'll be William II and III, matey.

Tony said...

What will?
Explain yourself.