The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some impressions of "Mother England"

I wrote most of this, as part of a bigger communication home, while I was in Brighton, a few weeks back. All up I think I was in England for about 3 weeks (visiting Scotland first and Wales for two days in the middle), including only 3 days in London.

I'm probably about 90% of English extraction, and in many ways I was raised on a diet of English television (Worsel Gummidge, Dr Who, The Goodies, Dangermouse, etc etc) and books (Enid Blyton and Narnia in particular). It's been highly surreal at times to be in the place that all of this came from, which my ancestors came from, and to find that it isn't nearly as cheesy as I'd imagined - in fact it's all real.

I've seen castles and rabbits, badgers (dead on the side of the road) and robins, the light coming through the trees in a way I'd always assumed was fanciful when I saw it in paintings. The moon has hung in the sky in quite a different fashion from anywhere else I've been, and I've been in cathedrals that seem straight out of Pillars of the Earth.

England has been exactly as I pictured it in my head for all these years, but that makes it stranger, because I'd assumed my imaginings were miles off the mark.

We headed from Scotland down to Carlisle, just over the border, and then wombled around the North for a while, before going across to Wales for a few days. Now we are back in England again, swinging our way around the South, up to Cambridge and then into London for our last days on the other side of the world.

I'm not going to write in detail about all of this because I just don't have time, but my highlights have been our trip to Chatsworth (home of the last living Mitford sister, Debo), the time spent in York (with it's quaint little medieval streets and buildings), Salisbury Cathedral (the building was spectacular enough but it also has one of the four originals of the Magna Carta), St Martin's Church in York (heavily focused on peace and reconciliation, including praying for the Germans who bombed the church in WWII), and our time in Salisbury driving around the English countryside (and stopping to watch a cricket match for a few hours in the sun with a great picnic).

I find it odd that I share so much cultural heritage with a country on the other side of the world, but I can now understand why there are New Zealanders who still think of England as Home.


PabloR said...

Hi Span, I too went to England In Search of the Mother Country (TM) and loved it enough to stay for six and a half years, buy a house, get married (to a NZer) have a family and finally emigrate back here.

It's a funny place, England, but for all its faults (plenty of 'em) there are are so many good things. Sitting at the Globe with a glass of wine and watching the sun set over St Paul's sticks out as one of my favourite memories. Getting used to the people took time, but mostly because ex-pats initially tend to flock together, and they are no more or less weird than most NZers.

I was sorry to leave, but when your life changes you move with it and I am happy to be back in NZ (tax rates never once came into the decision to move in either direction BTW ;) again). I miss it most in the football season, strangely enough!

Glad you enjoyed the place and aren't one of those kiwis who like to slag of the country and the poms on short aquaintance.

Gary F said...

My father is English, and my mum -- a Pakeha, who can of course trace her ancestry back to Great Britain -- spent a great length of time living in England with him. They both have a massive sense of identification with England as a result.

I've found myself growing up with quintessentially English television as well (The Wombles, Tugs, Thomas the Tank Engine, as well as various comedies like Fawlty Towers). Then there's my dad's fantastic English dialect... When I was at primary school I even spoke with an English accent.

So I've always felt like something of an English person as well as a Kiwi. I'm looking forward to going there when I graduate from uni and it was really interesting to read your perceptions of your experience. I think I've got very similar expectations of England as you did, so I guess I won't be disappointed! It's such a murkily exotic place.

Because my father is English, I am eligible for dual-citizenship as well. I must say, I do think of England as home in a way, although I've never been there. It is, after all, the very cultural roots of New Zealand society.

stef said...

I was thinking about this the other day when we were talking about national identity. One of the problems that I think a lot of white new zealanders have is that our identity is based a lot around who we aren't - maori, european, english, Australian, american. Canadians are very similar in this regard, and something I hope we are gradually growing away from.

PabloR said...

I went to England needing to touch down on some sort of home country too, but it never really worked out that way.

After about 2 years I felt lost between two stools so to speak. I couldn't readily identify with NZ for some reason and I wasn't considered a pom by the locals (well, duh, I'm not!). Having dual citizenship was a godsend thoguh, I would never have stayed as long, or been able to pass it on to my London-born son.

My worst habit in the UK? Drinking with a bunch of English people and unconsciously slipping into a London accent. I still do it and even afer a year, a few of my colleagues assume I am English.

I always recommend England/London as a place to live, with the caveat that nothing is as you expect it of course.