Sinead O’Connor’s line “England’s not the mythical land of Madame George and roses, it’s the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds” has been running through my head lately. In thinking about living in England, I’d say that actually the country has got elements of both.
On the ‘police who kill black boys in mopeds’ side there is a real thread of nastiness in England. At the moment, there is horrific rhetoric about anyone unfortunate enough to be on a benefit suggesting that they’re lazy, not trying to get a job, bringing England down etc. Disabled people are being questioned and criticised about how disabled they really are. There is overt and covert racism, homophobia, class prejudice and sexism.
As an immigrant myself, I wince at the harsh words against ‘uncontrolled immigration’ supposedly leading to a shortage of housing and jobs and a drain on the welfare state. I know as a white, middle class, English speaking immigrant, I’m privileged. The hate isn’t really directed at me, but I still feel the sting of it.
But still... with the angst of the welfare cuts and nastiness popping out here and there, England seduces me back into seeing the ‘Madame George and roses’ side.
I spent several hours driving around rural Dorset and Somerset yesterday. The countryside was like a cat or a supermodel; effortlessly beautiful from any angle. There were rolling hills, little clumps of big old oak trees, sheep and lambs in the fields, villages with thatched stone cottages, old churches, pubs and little windy roads because they were built in horse and cart times. I saw three does grazing by the side of the road, a large white heron, pheasants in the fields and several little brown raptors.
People often ask in an amazed tone why on earth I moved from New Zealand. I think they see it as a dreamy Hobbiton-type place. I tell them that New Zealand is beautiful, but England is beautiful too. There is a lot of that mythical land left. The place where the books I read as a child were set: Wind in the Willows and the Famous Five. Then there were Shakespeare, Keats, Jane Austen, Dorothy L Sayers all writing love letters to this beautiful country. They have a point. England is still undeniably gorgeous and I feel very lucky to be able to be here experiencing it.
If you’re English – what do you think about my outsider’s view? If you’re not, do you think there’s a dark underbelly in your country? What form does it take?