Monday, 10 October 2011


An oblique response to George Szirtes’ recent post on, with or without quote marks, Englishness:

1) 19-12 to France, and thank god England are out of the rugby world cup. Too much money, too much bureaucracy, too much strutting. But I’m English, and once upon a time I played the game. Now Wales, with great relief and with both head and heart.

2) I am English, male, white, middle-class, through-and-through, ineradicable, and if I have a habit of saying ‘sorry’ and stepping aside that’s all part of it. I know the codes, or some of them, and I’ve benefited from this. While also being someone who, in any neutral contest, naturally supports the underdog; someone whose favourite writers are either non-English or English-at-a-curious-angle (a conspicuous exception is Ford Madox Ford, but look at the writers he championed: Conrad, Pound, Joyce, Hemingway, James …); someone whose most important loves and friendships happen to have always been with non-English people; someone who feels them to be my countryfolk.

3) No sympathy required or expected or wanted. If I’m uneasy with the label English in any way that current labellers would define it, and certainly in any nationalistic way, clearly none of the other easy labels – minority, outsider, from-the-margins – will stick. What’s left is discomfort, conflictedness, under a camouflage of full-on Englishness, and I couldn’t ask for more.

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