Thursday 1 November 2007

Would You Live Anywhere Else?

England is a funny place really.
It is just- different.

Those of you who don't live here can't get it for one of two reasons.

Firstly, I think it's true to say that NO old world country is quite like it.
The continental countries are just different. They have their differences, but ultimately, there is such a thing as European History, which involved all of Europe.
We sometimes got involved in European affairs, but the reverse never happened.

This has made us an island, not just geographically, but in any way you can think of.
Even in this closer, more cosmoplitan world, we think differently this side of the channel.

The world's other Anglophone countries are more similar in some ways. Culturally, this is where it all began for them. But I still think Americans, Canadians and Australians find this country different to what they expected.

We take for granted that the country is littered with buildings built before the US existed. We walk past them every day and do not notice. Four hundred years old isn't that old, really. Not in England.
Even Norman castles and churches are interesting to us, but they don't AMAZE us. We take them for granted.

We forget that history in this country can be continuously tracked back for far longer than can be said even for our European neighbours- there has just been far less disruption here. Ownership of fields can be tracked back to before the Norman conquest.

But this can lead tourists to come here expecting a vast museum.
It's not like that.
Where do you think sixty million people live?
In thatched cottages?
With the local squire riding past on horseback?

It always amuses me that places in America that call themselves cities would be counted as small towns here. In this country, a city isn't REALLY a city, unless it has about a quarter of a million people. And of course, they're all a LOT closer.

This is a built up country in the way that North Americans and Australians probably cannot comprehend, in much the same way as looking at the map, I cannot really comprehend the huge spaces in their countries. To me, Wales is sparsely populated.

And in reality, much of it is modern. It is a land of motorways, tower blocks, housing estates and out of town shopping centres. Some of it is drab, some of it is pretty grim, but most of it is homely in its mediocrity.
Personally, I think Birmingham is a shining example of what can be done with glass and concrete.

Believe it or not, you miss that when you are abroad. You miss that peculiarly English quality- England is real.

I remember coming back from Amsterdam once and coming back into London. It was a funny feeling. Amsterdam of course, has a lot to recommend it. But it's difficult to take it seriously as a capital city.

Standing in the centre of London breathing in the fumes, watching the scurrying workers elbow eachother in front of taxis, looking at the buildings, listening to the perpetual beeping of horns, I knew what it was I missed. This was a real city, A REAL capital, of a REAL country.

Not a land of cyclists and trams and windmills and legalised pot smoking.

But a land of congested motorways, of grimy tower blocks, of executive housing estates, of packed supermarkets, of long working hours, but a real sense of how to play.

The continent is very clean and tidy, but they don't really talk to eachother in the bars. Their countries just don't feel...lived in. I think that's it really, this is a LIVED IN country.

It doesn't matter what tw*ts run this place, it'll still be the only place you could feel at home.
Which is why, I guess even when Brits go abroad, they try as hard as they can to turn abroad into Britain.

I guess we miss sitting around in bars moaning to other Brits about how crap Britain is.


Anonymous said...

Oh Crushed,
I know you are a union jack-waving Brit who sings "Rule Brittania," everyday before work.

You are right. England has an incredible history. I was there for six months. The skyline and architecture is vastly different to the US. The country itself feels like it has a real history even when you walk down the street.

It is a lot less populated than the US (60 million versus 301 million)

I did find the people real, as opposed to L.A. where everyone is on their way to being someone else, so they don't have a real sense of self. Even English TV is different. You show nudity, we cover it up. You show real people, we show a casting directors idea of perfection.

Anonymous said...

This is actual one of my favourite posts of yours thus far. Gives another sense of what lies behind the opinions-- it is always nice to find out why someone feels someplace is home to them.
Living in North America, I sometimes feel I am cut off from the notion of a cultural history.

Anonymous said...

Many are forced into going abroad. There's no real choice as life is made impossible by the powers that be.

Anonymous said...

I worry interminably that we are being turned into something very unBritish.

I'd love to talk in bars but I have too little spare cash and spend too much of my time working to pay for a grossly over-priced house in this over crowded country.

You may well be able to talk in bars - most probably to people of your own generation in the evenings when city centers are taken over by a single age group.

On the Continent their family bonding is much MUCH better - their social lives are inclusive of all age groups and old people aren't shoved away at the end of their lives and small children aren't treated as an embuggerance.

I think the fragmentation between generations and the perpetuation of the stag night culture is what causes so many of our fathers to be feckless and abandon their children. It's too easy to take yourself away from the judgment of previous generations and the behavioural continuity is then broken.

I know many MANY older people who do not really recognise my generation and younger as being English.

New Lab thinkers have just mooted the idea of downgrading Christmas celebrations to even up the status of other religions - in some places Guy Fawkes celebrations have been damped down in the name of Health and Safety. Our country is being swamped with other cultures and languages which all seem to take greater priority than our own.

The change is dramatic and I really don't know what you're talking about, Ingsoc.

Anonymous said...

Would I live anywhere else ?

Yes. I think I'm about ready to try that now.

No one loved my country more than I did. I utterly hate the place now.

Anonymous said...

Alexys is mistaken " It is a lot less populated than the US (60 million versus 301 million)

England has one fifth of the US population yet is a fraction of the size of a single US state.

We are jammed packed.

Anonymous said...

Alexys- I depends where you go. Birmingham is a bit like Boston, I think, from what I've seen.
A lot of our big cities aren't really that old- though none as young as LA, obviously.
Of course, we take it for granted.

We have a smaller population, but living close together in a way that nowhere in the US does.
In the US, there are places you can get lost, in a sense, of get lost and die. That couldn't happen here. Wherever you go, there's a road not TOO far away. There is nowhere here untamed by civilisation. We have no dangerous animals,

A small town in England is anything less than 50,000 people, really.

One thing that English people always notice is being somewhere you can't hear traffic. It's a noise we just expect to hear.

It does affect our psyche, I think. We EXPECT to live cheek by jowl, which is why we do have to be a lot less false, I think.

Princess P- We take it for granted here. We are old, even by European standards- our counties are over a thousand years old, and some have pretty much the same boundaries as they did then. One of the pubs I drink in (not often, its a bit pretentious) is over two hundred years old.

I guess that's we don't wave flags a lot. We don't give a damn about Britain the state, really. But we love this old island and its unplanned urban sprawl, because we don't do a bad job of living together.

James- In some ways, yes. We work longer hours with high living costs. We are run by Fascists, that's true.
I think life CAN be tough here, I think quality of life on the bottom rung here, is probably pretty miserable.

E-K- Ah, well. I live in two bedroomed flat, that suits me.
One of the things I do like about our culture is our social lives, I just don't think you get it as good elsewhere.
I think you get a sense of living life on the edge in a way I'm not sure you get elsewhere. Life is fast paced and you play as hard as you work.

I like the cultural blend, it suits me. I actually get pretty homesick, if I'm away from the Midlands for too long.

Anonymous said...

I'm not getting any play. Gordon Brown is shafting me too much.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Crushed, I've been thinking of writing about my village. We do take for granted our open spaces, much to the detriment of our towns and cities--why maintain or rebuild in the center of an urban area (with all the parking and congestion problems) when it is easier to plunk a building the size of a small hamlet in the middle of what was someone's wheat field 35 years ago?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post Crushed.

When I came to live in London from Australia I was blown away by the sense of history in the place. Brought up on English history, reading books set in England, I was awestruck by the fact that I walked in places where Henry VIII walked, for example. That said I hated the unfriendliness of people as you travelled around. Australians interact with strangers on the bus, on the train, in the pub, anywhere. English people don't do that and I found it very strange.

I was lucky to make English friends and was invited to their homes but many people I knew did not and they found the English people very cool.

I don't know how many times I was called a colonial! But my father was born in Scotland, for heavens sake, although that didn't go down well with the English either.

England is a very crowded country. You can't get away from people there or go into the wilderness as you can here. I live in a city of a million people but people get lost all the time in the mountains forty minutes away from me.

London has its charms, without a doubt, although the air was very polluted. Supposedly it is better now. Funnily enough, I have never felt the desire to go back to England since I left forty-six years ago. Although I have been back many times to Europe. Perhaps I saw everything I wanted to see since I lived there for 18 months. Well I do miss the theatre, perhaps I should consider a London theatre tour.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. England is defintely more dense. Although our population is larger, it doesn't feel as if we are all closing in on each other like sardines.

Anonymous said...

I find myself agreeing with you AND Electro Kevin.

I love this land of my birth, but I'm scared it's being callously and carelessly erased from under us.

Or maybe I'm just getting old and can't handle change !

Anonymous said...

E-K- He shafts all of us. And yes, we have a lot to moan about. This place could be a LOT better. But go abroad. The tw*ts that run them are WORSE than the ones that run us.

We have it lucky here, trust me.

Helen- What we get a lot of here is people sitting on land. By that I mean, most undeveloped land has a number of possible uses, so people buy land just to sit on it and wait till the price is right. (I'm sorry to say, I fully intend to do the same myself, should I get enough free capital)

There is a lot of emphasis now on urban regeneration, basically building on brownfield, as opposed to greenfield sites.

jmb- English people do interact, I think, far more than conitinentals, but it's different.
Don't forget, we live VERY close together. To us, North americans come across as very naive, and I think that's partly because a North American of twenty has met and interacted with far less people than a Brit of the same age- and in a culture where people are more laid back.
Contrary to the stereotypes, this isn't a laid back country- we live too close together.
Here, you're either good with people, or you are f*cked, I think it is that simple.
We guard ourselves close, in a way I don't think North Americans can appreciate.

I think we go out more than other cultures, but we are cagy about our homes. Even me, it's rare I'll let people in to my home. Close frinds yes, but not even my parents.
I think, yes, this is quite a hardened, cynical place to live- you have to be quite tough, but also a people person to like it here.

The wilderness, yes,. that was my point. To me, wild animals belong in fairy tales- they don't exist in reality. Wilderness here is the Peak District National park.
that's part of what sometimes makes me shiver when I go abroad- the concept of areas not entirely developed. This entire country is developed. Every square mile. Even if it isn't built on, it's use is dictated.

Alexys- We don't feel that either :)
In fact, I get panicky if I turn onto a road with no headlamps...

If I can't see buildings, I feel nervous. I'm just not used to it.

Somewhere WITHOUT people feels wierd.

Knifepainter- How can it be? It's people, not a flag. It's an environment we live in, that we share.Of course it changes- everywhere does.

Is Mississipi today the State it was in 1960???
I hope not...
What of Ghana? A very different land to the British colony of 1958.

Bulgaria in the last fifteen years?

We haven't had QUITE the same upheavals.

We'll still be us. We'll still watch Football on Sky at our local and head off for a kebab afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Well, as one who does live somewhere else, I do take your points. You don't realise until you move away just what you will miss - and often it's little things. For me it's R4 and British humour mostly. You're right that we like to sit around grumbling about Britain - but we don't like it when anybody else does it!

Anonymous said...

Ps: I menat to say that people in Italy don't talk to each other in bars like the Brits do in pubs, but as a woman on her own I feel a lot more comfortable in a bar here than I would in a pub in Britain!

Anonymous said...

Loved this mate!

Never been to England but you paint the picture beautifully,

Peace, love,