On Englishness

Attentive followers of These Isles may understand that the soul of my business these last six years has been to explore the physical and psycho-geography of this North Atlantic archipelago in a quest for a material home. In practice, I research the craft, weave the landscapes, tell the stories of the local folk, and inhabit the politics.

I know that many of my readers are Celtic diaspora, and others are city-bound rural diaspora. Probably everyone feels like diaspora at some level of consciousness, forcibly removed from the land as most of our ancestors have been by landlords or economics (which amount to the same thing). 

So I hope that this blog entry, even less to do with my weaving business than my other writings, will be of interest.

Born and raised consciously poor in rural England to left-wing intellectual, counter-cultural, Cornish and Italian parents, I’ve seldom shared a mainstream view on anything very much. A couple out of a million examples: a vegetarian for 30 years, just before it started going mainstream I started moving towards peasant omnivorism, for both pragmatic and ideological reasons, even while my heart and moral compass insist upon high animal welfare standards. The same rural-anarcho analytic framework leads me to accept deadly viruses as a part of our natural ecology even while my heart and moral compass embrace a *good* degree of voluntary social responsibility for the weak. (We all draw our lines in different places and it is interesting to watch one’s own line move as understanding evolves.)

In those rare moments when I *do* seem to share the mainstream view, I feel a wash of relieved elation: protesting the Iraq war in Madrid in 2003 and knowing I was part of the 92% who opposed it in Spain; campaigning for Corbyn in 2017… I really can’t think of many examples, but the most recent is English football.  

I regret that I’ve always been a snob about football – I associated it with ignorance and xenophobia. I’ve watched about two games in my life, by happenstance, and both times I was cheering for Italy, including this Sunday just gone. Naturally, I’m ashamed of the behaviour of some England fans who too easily come to characterise all England fans – or all Brits in general, especially as seen from abroad. 

But this week, catching up belatedly with the horrifying but heartening English story of Euro 2020 I am moved to tears and to great hope: blame-driven fans and senior politicians have been spectacularly shamed by black heroism which has widespread public support in a climate of high-level debate. If you care about England, I urge you to read football manager Gareth Southgate’s ‘Letter to England’, to watch last Sunday’s final, and to read Labour activist Paul Mason’s heartening article on reclaiming Englishness. The tide is finally turning, and now I am cheering for England.

I’ve been trying to leave England for years, and I probably still will (have to) for economic reasons, but sometimes I remember how much I love my home country. I’m a funny sort of patriot. I’m an internationalist and a localist. And I am a nationalist at heart – who isn’t; I imagine I speak for many when I say that I’ve just been too conflicted and alienated to embrace my cultural Englishness, but now I’m hoping I can embrace all our nationalities for their incredible differences: Cornish, English, Italian, Irish, Scottish, Breton… and next month I go on holiday (holiday!) to Wales, and if I can get there with tests and masks and care and respect but no vaccine, I may spend the winter in Occitanie, or the Basque country, or Liguria, or Spain… and soon I will find a way to commit to a patch of land to call ‘home’, and get to know its country intimately, and cheer for that team as well.

…and by the way, from my safe-but-sadly-soon-to-be-sold (also for economic reasons) haven of my parents’ home in rural Devon, I’m currently watching Latin American films and weaving these isles in ponchos…