Saturday, 28 July 2012

Britain: our story and everyone's.

It started with water. A huge canopy of blue shimmering around the crowd. The Shipping Forecast. And the Spirit of God brooded over the waters. The water of life. And then a tree. The tree of life. The earth created by God. A garden. Grass to grow, seed to plant. Summer and winter and seed time and harvest. A green and pleasant land. Blake's vision: 'And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England's mountain's green? And was the Holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen?' If not the Holy Lamb of God, then certainly maypoles and women in bonnets, men in breeches hoeing and tilling the good earth in Merrie England.

And then Pandemonium erupts. Milton's word for the capital of Hell. Industrialisation. The Fall of Man. Visions of heaven and hell embedded in our consciousness. Chimneys, black, smoking; children shinning up them. Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies - the hell of the bully, Mr Grimes, the soot, child deaths; but also the purity of water as a symbol of washing away sin and dirt. Children always suffer first; they are society's conscience.

Culture. From it come both good and bad. Industry produces both invention and pollution: railways, newspapers, votes for women, education, the volunteer movement, the National Health Service. Also exploitation, weapons and War. Remembrance.

The Queen. Who never, ever, gets involved in anything show business-y or showy, acts in a clip with James Bond. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? She is brilliant. Doesn't seem at all ruffled by her exciting helicopter parachute jump into the Olympic Stadium.

Children. We respond to their innocence and care for them when they're sick. Sick children in bed and healthy children bouncing on their beds. All are powerful, provocative images. Fiends of the imagination like the Child Catcher and Lord Voldemort are banished by caring and magical adults - real flying Mary Poppinses. With obligatory black umbrellas. This is Britain after all.

Chariots of Fire. Elijah didn't die; he was translated. There are places between heaven and earth that are especially thin. The Christian sportsman, Eric Liddell, running along a beach; serious and uplifting, till joined by Mr Bean and a big fat raspberry. We have a sense of humour in Britain, predicated on the underdog. It's what keeps us human.

Multiculturalism. We're British and diverse. We do not stand alone. Welcome the alien in your midst. We celebrate life in pop music; the highs and lows, the heartbreak. Since the sixties we've been searching for satisfaction, love and that perfect kiss. 

We so hunger for connection that we invented the world wide web. We are now so connected that news spreads around the world like wildfire. Status: 'In a relationship.'

Sadly, so does hate. Some people, ordinary people, people from many different ethnicities, got on the wrong bus, the wrong train, at the wrong time when the bombs went off. We still remember. At times like this, words are inadequate. 

And so we dance. We sing...

'Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.'

For the story of Britain, or of anyone anywhere, when all's said and done, is a story about life and death; good and evil; choices; a garden, a fall and how to find the Way back.


  1. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Britain: our story and everyone's.":

    Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your article post.
    I wanted to write a little comment to support you.

  2. Thanks a lot!! Glad you have enjoyed the posts.