nyone who has spent any serious amount of time in England will be aware that there is a definite sense of character peculiar to this odd little country, something that goes far beyond being European or British. Is it our history of empire building? Is it our mongrel-like genetic make-up? Our defeatism? Our resentment of those more successful than ourselves? Our repressed sexualities? Whatever, here are ten things, in no particular order, which I feel go somewhere towards demonstrating the peculiar and disturbing thing that is Englishness.
25 Cromwell Street
Fred West fucked his children to death and then buried them under the patio and in his basement. He also fucked some complete strangers and some family friends to death and buried them too. His wife encouraged, nay, helped him, because, after all, whats a marriage without a few shared interests? In sickness and in death and all that... The horrors of 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester are peculiarly English because none of Fred and Rosemary Wests neighbours knew what was going on at all until the whole evil farrago blew up in the press when Fred was finally caught. After all, an Englishmans home is his castle (or graveyard / slaughterhouse) and what he gets up to behind the privacy of his own garden fence is nobodys business but his own. I would have included the recent case of Doctor Harold Shipman, who killed something like 200 of his elderly patients simply because he enjoyed doing it, but Shipman took his punishment like a man and went to prison for a very long time. Whereas Fred West topped himself whilst on remand and left his wife to clear up the whole damn mess, just like a proper Englishman should.
OK, so Terry Gilliam was born in America, but do you really think the fractured psychedelic humour of the Monty Python crew could have come from anywhere other than England? No other country has quite the maverick sense of creativity that England does, which one can only assume is something to do with the god-awful weather we have here, driving us inside for the 90% of the time when its raining and sending us barking mad when the sun finally does shine. Monty Python stand for bravery, irreverence, innovation and the kind of humour that upsets the religious middle classes and the uneducated council masses alike while also simultaneously unifying anyone from any background who has a brain and a sense of humour. Spam and spam for lunch, anybody?
God, how we hate a winner. Gazza became a national hero when he cried like a girl because he got booked against Germany during the Italia 90 semi-final, cementing his place in our affections a year later when he tried to kick Gary Charles kneecap out through his shin in the 91 FA Cup Final and actually ruptured his own cruciate ligament in the process. Remarkable talent, a tendency to self-destruct, an inability to behave properly in foreign countries, shocking hair extensions / highlights / etcetera (delete as appropriate), alcoholism, inarticulacy and the social skills and table manners of a clam, Gazza is all that is great about English men. Oh, and he beat his wife up too. Magic.
Empty eyes, ingratiating smile, love me love me love me only me only me only me take me home and love me let me be loved please please please.... Pragmatism over dogma, insincerity over honesty. He fucks around with God, he fucks around with a countrys hopes, he sells arms to Third World Countries, he is our elected leader, the champion of spin, Mandelson and Campbells sickly sweet glove puppet, the father of a teenage drunk and the husband of a barrister who looks like a witch. I certainly didnt vote for him. His faults are numerous and obvious, documented and categorised (OK, so he never got a gobble from an intern, but only cos Mandelson never told him to) and yet still everybody seems to love him. Smile, be polite, thank God, be seen in public patting your childrens heads and youll go far. Bastard. And he cost me £10,000 by obliterating student grants.
The Criminal Justice Act
Though shalt not have fun
Or dance to the beat of a drum
Or gather in groups of an eve
And travel the country like theives.
Not in my back yard, anyway.
Mabel, my dear, you may not like our dance music,
but that 1812 overture youre so fond of,
those canons are a repetitive beat too, you know.
Miserable old sods.
Oasis @ Finsbury Park
National heroes playing in front of thousands! All those old songs we loved so much! And performed with such charisma and vim too! Oooh, its almost as good as The Rolling Stones isnt it? Or U2? Theyre a bit more raunchy though, arent they, Oasis? Theyve got a bit of rock in them! Oh yes! Now lets throw bottles of piss over each other for half an hour and make every single female in this 40,000 strong audience fear that she may be raped by a pack of baying lads full of Stella and testosterone! Makes you proud, doesnt it?
A quaint English custom that involves people tying bells to their ankles, getting pissed on real ale, putting handkerchiefs on their heads and then skipping around outside pubs while hitting each other with sticks. Can you explain it? No, neither can I. But its fantastic.
Sod all formal qualifications AND a dodgy beard but hes still a multi-millionaire. The Virgin Empire stretches further than the British Empire ever did and its pretty much all down to one man with some freakish good luck, phenomenal business sense and a copy of Tubular Bells. Less geeky than Bill Gates, Branson has that built in need to seek danger that typifies so many English men, from Captain Scott onwards. Phenomenally rich, owner of many successful global businesses and one of the most readily identifiable brands in the galaxy, and what does he do for a hobby? Flies around the world in hot air balloons trying to kill himself. And when he gets bored of that he goes powerboating. Beats golf. Massive disregard for ones own safety in the name of adventure is quintessentially English.
Running now on BBC1 for something like 17 years, Eastenders the queen of soaps, Englands most loved daily fix of gossip and tittle tattle. We know the characters better then we know our own neighbours. Forget Coronation Street, thats practically a sit-com next to Eastenders! But the really English think about Eastenders is its unremitting, turgid, depressing bleakness. Rape, incest, wife-beating, wrongful imprisonment, adultery, abandoned children, cancer, death, drugs, crime, alcoholism, repression and AIDS. What cheerful plotlines. And its broadcast at 7.30pm so the children can watch it too, how thoughtful.
It's nice that in this day and age of high-speed living, work-related stress, hyper-tension, fastfood, superficiality and false meaning, twenty-two men can spend four days chucking a piece of leather at some willow. Any game that breaks for lunch and tea and features grown men rubbing balls against their crotches is alright by me.