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Thursday, March 06, 2003
How the English see themselves

It appears that the Today programme listeners have got themselves into the news again. (You know, they're the idiots who rated Diana among the top ten greatest Britons and chose Churchill as the greatest of them all. Putting such people ahead of Shakespeare, Darwin and Newton reveals a startling lack of knowledge.)

This time, they've been voting on which book says most about our individual (English) character. The Scots, Welsh and Irish have been at it too, but they have been rather less controversial. The English choice was Nineteen- eighty- four by George Orwell. Here's a little bit about it.

And here from The Daily Telegraph, in an article headed " Self-loathing is a way of life for the English", is a bit more detail.

Fortuitously, I happen to have been reading another work by George Orwell - The Lion and the Unicorn published in 1941. In it, Orwell refers to "English anti-militarism", "gentleness", and the ability of the English to laugh at themselves. .

Our patriotism is relaxed, needing neither constant restatement, nor aggressive assertion. "The working man's heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack," Orwell writes. We are suspicious of authority and our policemen are unarmed. And, blow me down, most people are polite, here. We could easily double for a cold, damp Australia, if you forget our sporting prowess (or lack of it).

I don't see much self-loathing. There's a lot to moan about (as there is everywhere) and we can complain without too much fear of the consequences. Nineteen-eighty-four was a warning, for heaven's sake. And if we think that we've moved a bit nearer Orwell's nightmare scenario, that highlights English lack of gullibility, not self-loathing.

But we haven't. and we won't.

A similar, larger, rival poll, for World Book Day, gives pride of place to Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. This work's an amusing and satirical appreciation of things British. Bryson, from Ohio, has lived here for twenty years and plans to stay, so we can't be that bad, can we? Still, I'm waiting for him to copy Josh: half the year in England, the other half in Australia, a place he appreciated, too.

As for Orwell, I must visit his tomb, sometime. It’s in Long Wittenham. He’s buried under the name “Eric Blair”. Orwell was a pseudonym; Blair was his real name. Have a care, Tony...

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