It’s an incomplete list but it includes morris dancing, brass bands, church bells and hedgerows. I used to be a bit cynical and even a tad sarcastic about these sorts of things but now I am finding them more endearing.
I grew up in a small town in Northern England where morris dancing was part of the cultural calendar. We even had the opportunity to learn it in high school, which one of my friends did and over twenty years on if you give her a sufficient amount of alcohol and a couple of tea towels she still puts on a great show!
I was watching some last week and I loved the choreography, the music and the humour, but was puzzled by the blackened faces. I’ve since researched its perceived origins; learned about the Black Act of 1723 (a fascinating period of history which I knew nothing about), read differing views on whether it is racist or ritual and am now pondering the larger debate of when, or if, traditions should adapt because society has changed.
The stereotype of morris dancing on the cobbled town square can easily be surpassed by the time when I was sat in the sunshine in Stratford-Upon-Avon eating an ice cream when, from the bandstand on the opposite river bank, the opening refrain of ‘Jerusalem’ drifted across the water from the brass band and with that the winning clichéd cherry is firmly placed on top of the cake.
And yet, and yet – it made me happy. Walking the narrow lanes and soaking up the English countryside makes me happy, as does listening to the bell ringing practice on a Thursday night, as I’m on the way to the pub for a pint.
Now, I know all these are just a slither of a small amount of people’s version of English life and for some they are anachronisms that no longer have a place in the 21st century but hopefully there is way to ensure that the old has room alongside the new. Maybe Kipling was onto something when he asked “What should they know of England who only England know?” but then again I am not sure I understand England, or the English, any better having been away. I think I merely have a a new perception and a greater appreciation than previously, on the other hand maybe I’m simply getting old.