A place called England

Today, 23rd April 2010, is, as I’m sure you’re aware, Saint George’s day. Now I’ve always felt that it has never really been in the nature of the English or by extension, the British, to wave flags and do the public patriotism thing. It’s just not our way – traditionally, we Brits have generally been an understated bunch. In recent years, it seems there’s a movement toward a more public celebration of nationality and Englishness, which I welcome. It’s good to see Saint George reclaimed from the extremists and those that strive to divide, and placed securely back in the hands of the ordinary people.

What readers may not realise is that the day following, Saturday 24th April 2010, is the 78th anniversary of the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout, in Derbyshire’s Peak District. This momentous event – little mentioned outside the circles of ramblers and lovers of the great British outdoors – was a catalyst and key trigger to giving the ordinary British citizen access to the common wealth of countryside we all share. For that which we now have a legal right to explore and enjoy, back in 1932, those pioneers were assaulted and later jailed for nothing more than wanting to share the best that their country had to offer, with those who saw the landscape as their own private playground. To those trespassers – and the subsequent millions of walkers, artists, cyclists, twitchers, fell runners, photographers, geocachers, botanists and all-round enthusiasts for our unique land who have marvelled at the wonders of the country around them – you are the spirit of England and the United Kingdom.

Is there anywhere finer? Staffordshire's Roaches, from Morridge, Saturday, 15th September 2007.

My feelings about England and all that Saint George stuff have been wonderfully summed up by a song I first heard on the ‘A Quiet Eye’ album by June Tabor. Written by Maggie Holland, June does an excellent job of covering this song, full of incisive, but affectionate sentiment about our shared heritage. It’s not the first time I’ve dipped into the work of June Tabor for a blog post, nor indeed this album. If you like it, please do hunt it down.

Remember that many of the rights we take for granted today were obtained through the selfless sacrifice of others. Beware of anybody who clings to the national flag and preaches division. We’ve always seen the best of times when we stand together. I think Maggie Holland summed it up in the line, ‘England is not flag or Empire, it is not money it is not blood. It’s limestone gorge and granite fell, It’s Wealden clay and Severn mud.’

Best wishes to all, and happy Saint George’s day.

(Sadly, June Tabor’s version is no longer available on youtube, but this version – by Simon Jackson – joyous)

 
A Place Called England

I rode out on a bright May morning
Like a hero in a song
Looking for a place called England
Trying to find where I belong
Couldn’t find the old flood meadow
Or the house that I once knew
No trace of the little river
Or the garden where I grew


I saw town and I saw country
Motorway and sink estate
Rich man in his rolling acres
Poor man still outside the gate
Retail park and burger kingdom
Prairie field and factory farm
Run by men who think that England’s
Only a place to park their car


But as the train pulled from the station
Through the wastelands of despair
From the corner of my eye
A brightness filled the filthy air
Someone’s grown a patch of sunflowers
Though the soil is sooty black
Marigolds and a few tomatoes
Right beside the railway track


Down behind the terraced houses
In between the concrete towers
Compost heaps and scarlet runners
Secret gardens full of flowers
Meeta grows her scented roses
Right beneath the big jet’s path
They bid a fortune for her garden
Eileen turns away and laughs


So rise up George and wake up Arthur
Time to rouse out from your sleep
Deck the horse in the sea-green ribbons
Drag the old sword from the deep
Hold the line for Dave and Daniel
As they tunnel through the clay
While the oak in all its glory
Soaks up sun for one more day


And come all you at home with freedom
Whatever the land that gave you birth
There’s room for you both root and branch
As long as you love the English earth
Room for vole and room for orchid
Room for all to grow and thrive
Just less room for the fat landowner
On his arse in his four-wheel drive


England is not flag or Empire
It is not money it is not blood
It’s limestone gorge and granite fell
It’s Wealden clay and Severn mud
It’s blackbird singing from the may-tree
Lark ascending through the scales
Robin watching from your spade
And English earth beneath your nails


So here’s two cheers for a place called England
Sore abused but not yet dead
A Mr. Harding sort of England
Hanging in there by a thread
Here’s two cheers for the crazy Diggers
Now their hour shall come around
We can plant the seed they saved us
Common wealth and common ground
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4 Responses to A place called England

  1. Mick_P says:

    Nice one Brownhills Bob, fine sentiments. It’s quite an odd feeling being an ex-pat on St George’s Day. I think it’s true that many ex-pats are more patriotic and protective of their homeland than are people who’ve never lived abroad, and while part of that might be attributed to rose-tinted spectacles, I believe that it’s also because you don’t know what you’ve got till you no longer have it, a message – a warning perhaps – as pertinent to those still living in England as to those now abroad.

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