“English culture can be torn back from the clutches of the blinkered. It can be saved.”
English culture is cheap beer and a touch of xenophobia. Its artists and musicians are pot-bellied and shirtless hooligans, its ambassadors and diplomats are retching drunkards at international football tournaments and on package holidays to the Costa del Sol. Its monuments are crates of canned lager, condoms, and crisp packets that litter the beaches of Malaga.
This is English culture.
English culture is the well-heeled who take delight in queuing, cottages, and “the war”. It is the suburban set who attend Last Night of the Proms. It is the pomp, the “huzzah”, and the National Trust. Even in the era of Instagram, it is a picture postcard portrayal of a green and pleasant land. It is quaint and it is a pretense.
This is English culture.
Superficially different, the hooligans and the nostalgists do have a common culture. It is white and it is Anglo-Saxon. No blacks, no Irish. From the man in the van to the lads in the pub to the members at Lord’s, these are stalwarts of a “Land of Hope and Glory” that is sealing itself off from the world.
An English culture that is either drunken slobbery or ignorant nostalgia and nothing in between.
This need not be the reality.
I implore England to accept that our culture should be founded, not on the insular but on the international. Our island story is also a story of the world. It should not belong to the xenophobe.
English culture can be torn back from the clutches of the blinkered. It can be saved.
A Cool Britannia?
With the taint of football thuggery and conservative arrogance, from the terraces to Westminster Palace, it is unsurprising that artists have chosen to champion ethnicity and sexuality, believing that Englishness is unappealing to anyone apart from the loutish lad or public school set.
In its pretense of respectability, Cool Britannia dispensed with the gentleman’s club and flat-roofed bar. But it was a facade, a celebration of Britain that, in truth, avoided confrontation of the English element of the national culture. Cool Britain became a mere mockery of English stereotype, proving no exception to the adage of employing irony to appropriate “stupid” fashionably.
Traditional roles were reversed when lyrics taunted the English lout instead of the foreigner, derided the philistines of the housing estates, and jeered at the plebs. But the musicians, the artists, and the journalists that rallied on a platform of repulsion against the establishment — they belonged at Westminster as much as the stumbling Conservative party and its prep-schooled ministers. For all the feigned indifference, Noel Gallagher at Downing Street was much the same as drinks at a country club. A smell wafted from every canape in the insular culture of Cool Britannia, as musicians walked the boards of Broadcasting House, settled down to a pleasant life of camper van and cruise, and found quiet abodes in the Cotswolds.
Once deserted by commerical spin, Cool Britannia proved lackluster, a limited patronage tired of its pleasantries.
The latest vogue is also sustained by the charm of commerce: the millennials delighting in the culture of the corporate exotic over the dreariness of English reality. The hipped-up Frappuccino is an attempt to glimpse sunlit California in Camden town. The coffee drinker, a copycat of corporate West Coast, shelters in serfdom disguised as adventurism — a glimmer of individuality regardless of the haughtiness of the artisanal barista.
This is a culture that is stained by exclusivity. Owned by the right-on conformist eating quinoa, kale, and the occasional pinch of activated charcoal, all served alongside a smirk of smug superiority over the gluten eating and carnivorous, the ageing and the feeble. Condescending ridicule rather than reconciliation between each side of the cultural divide.
For all the pretence of a globalised outlook, millennials are cornered by blind adoration of the independent café, the street food truck and craft beer stand; the hawker’s yard strung in twinkle lights, run on the back of a fag packet and a Facebook page; feigned tolerance whilst serving the select few with a selfie and smile. The charm of the entitled millennial middle class. The globalised culture is insular and narcissistic, it proves a mere frontage for their vision
of society. Meanwhile, English culture festers amidst the xenophobes whilst pride is taken in its ruin and scorn is
poured on the patriotic.
What to Do?
Restore English culture by embracing the romanticism of the inclusive routine of English life.
England is defined in diversity, a mongrel pedigree. It is a hyphenated Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Norman. It is an amalgamation of Italians, Germans, the French rather than a fictitious English race.
England is not the preserve of some distinct ethnic group. It is the amalgamation of countless travellers and
inhabitants. Its success is from the distinct trait of entertaining a plurality of thought and language.
The goalkeeping coach for the English football team — now uniting the nation with its run in the World Cup — is Welsh. The striker coach is Scottish. The parents of poster boys Dele Ali and Danny Welbeck are from Ghana and Nigeria. Gareth Southgate is right to describe it as a team that reflects England.
English culture should be defined by a vibrancy that incorporates native and immigrant.
The right to roam the peaks of the National Parks and the patch of grassland that stretches alongside the Thames is a pastoral liberty that is enshrined in the English statute book. In its obliviousness to ethnicity, the English landscape itself is a testament to the cosmopolitan bedrock of this nation. Tinfoil wrapped sandwiches, the satsuma, and the yoghurt cartons of a family picnic in both Croydon and the Cotswolds does not see class, race, or an inherent birthright of only some among the man.
Fish and chips, the stalwart of the Friday night routine. It is a Jewish tradition, imported by Portuguese, sold originally by an Eastern European and reliant on the Chinese.
English culture should draw on the international and the richness that it provides. Through accident or by fault, each visitor leaves an imprint that is consumed and liberated in some form anew. This is a sticky toffee pudding: herbs and fruits from afar, sugar and spice from each and every continent, steamed in a cottage kitchen to become the epitome of Englishness.
English culture cannot be left to be trampled upon by xenophobia and imperial nostalgia. It is not a homogeneous scene but an epithet of difference. It is an assortment of common people, many of whose are most un-common, that thrives on the distillation of tradition and rebellion. It is a culture defined by difference. It is an amalgamation of every inhabitant to produce flare, alternativity, and innovation.
Yes, this can be English culture.