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August 03, 2006



Good stuff!

Ali McNab

Nice one Roldy,

It's a hard one this isn't it? Maybe it is the indefinite nature of Englishness that makes it a bit good.


The harder you look at it the harder it becomes to see.

Martin McCallion

Nice piece Roldy. However, you are making the same mistake that almost every Big Englander so far has made (and which I intend to address in my piece): you are confusing England with Britain (or even with the UK).

Because there's nothing in there that you don't also get in Scotland, in Wales, or (I'm sure) in Northern Ireland.

Ok, except cricket. :-)


Mistake? Are you sure? I think most English people conceptualise England in this way. It is usually only Welsh or Scottish folks who feel the need to differentiate, presumably for their own reasons of national identity.

There is no need for a rule that says what you like about England has to be exclusive to England. I know Nye Bevan was Welsh. If you want to say what I like about England is that it has learnt a Welsh or Scottish sense of natural justice then so be it. That is misleading though and really quite unimportant.

You can't "own" culture. Although people love to try. And it is tiresome when they do.


Wow that was a bit strong. I've been in America too long.
It's just I knew someone would say something like that...

It is interesting that England has very little that is exclusively "English". This is good I think. I find when the Americans and French go on about how exceptional they are it just smacks of insecure parochialism. Whoops I've turned into a troll. No wonder people think English people are arrogant.

Martin McCallion

It wasn't too strong. But I wasn't trying to "own" culture. And yes, it is a mistake.

My point is that it's depressingly common for English people to refer to "England" when they mean "Britain" or "The UK". That tends to annoy people from the other nations of the United Kingdom, because it gives the impression of belittling them by careless language. Compare it, if you will, with the old "man embraces woman" cliche, that was used (and still is) to support casual sexism in language.

You said, "There is no need for a rule that says what you like about England has to be exclusive to England." That's perfectly true, of course. But my interpretation of Dave's intent with the "Big England" series (and I may completely misunderstand his intent, of course) is that he wants people to discuss the good and bad about England. Strongly implying (to me, at least) _exclusively_ England.


Is there anything good and bad about England that is exclusively English? Isn't that artifically limiting what England means to people? An identity may be unique but characteristics (the good and bad) rarely are.

I have never lived in Scotland so would find it very hard to tell you what characteristics define an Englishman that don't also apply to a Scotsman. Does that mean I am unable to say what England means to me?


Yeah I think Dave was interested in is this idea of an emerging "English" identity, as seperate from the UK, which things like the world cup make us think about.

To tell you the truth I thought about mentioning Nye Beven as being Welsh in the article but decided against it. I agree with the sentiment in your "man embraces woman" example. After all there is no valid reason to put men over women. But disagree when it comes to national identity - firstly because culture is never homogenous/simple enough to warrant this type of care (you would just be splitting hairs forever as everyone has their own opinion), and secondly, unlike with men over women, there IS a pragmatic reason to put England over Scotland - England is bigger, has more people, and is both historically and presently more powerful. (Sorry - there I go again trolling).

The UK is 83% English remember.

There are only slightly more Scottish people than there are people who describe themselves as from an ethnic minority in the UK.


I'm sorry Martin, maybe it is this American coffee. I think they should start putting Ritalin in it.

Interestingly, over here in America you get way more kudos being Scottish, or Irish than being English (they don't know what being Welsh means, I think they think it is some sort of drama school.)

Martin McCallion

molasses: It may be artificially limiting what England means to people, but I was going by the "Big England" brief. If I can quote from the email that Dave sent me: "The subject is What I Like About England (or not, as the case may be)"

Of course there's more to identity than that, but my point is that almost all the contributors so far (not just Roldy, it's just his post that I happen to have commented on) have been referring to good things that aren't exclusively English. And that's fine, and maybe there's nothing that is exclusively English within Britain (except cricket, obviously). But I just get annoyed by the apparent inability to tell the difference -- or at least, to make the distinction.

Roldy, you said you "disagree when it comes to national identity - firstly because culture is never homogenous/simple enough to warrant this type of care"

Can't agree with you there. Firstly because we're not talking about culture (or not solely about it): we're talking about nationality (which includes culture). Or at least, we are now, as I see it. We weren't at first, but I seem to have introduced it.

Secondly because I think it's always worth taking care with language to ensure you say precisely what you mean (not that I'm claiming I always achieve that, and this tiny comment box is certainly a barrier to doing so).

If the UK is 83% English that means that it's 17% not-English. And does that "people who describe themselves as from an ethnic minority in the UK" include people who describe themselve as from an ethnic minority in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Or is it just England?


Ah, but you spoke of the US as much as you did of England. Well, not really the US, but rather a teeny bit of it known as Missouri. It doesn't sound as if Missouri is particularly representative of the US for comparisons sake though.

@ Ali - Do I understand that while both your parents are Scottish, you yourself are English? How does that work? I mean, if your parents are Scottish, wouldn't that make you Scottish as well? Sorry for the ignorance.

Ali McNab

I'm something better - I'm British and European.


This is always what happens when you start talking about national identity and characteristics.

It is also what happens when you make documentaries.

It is impossible to be representative. All you can do is give a considered point of view, and try and untangle your own experience a little. I think that is why I did my article in the style of a conversation, to try to avoid this...

Of course I know that my experience of healthcare provision might be different if I was in Massachusetts, but I am not, I am in Missouri.

But I still think the contrast is a valid one. Despite regional variations England has a primarily public system of healthcare. America has a private one. I seriously used to argue that America's system would be preferable to ours. Really I did. But now I am living in America I find the privatised healthcare system disgusts me. It makes me feel physically sick it is so alien to certain values that were never challenged before.

I'm sorry. America is a great country but not perfect.

At the moment I am making a film about home birth in America - a complex issue.

But I think the reactions from the people who hold the power are telling. In America, where 94% of births are overseen by private obstetricians, we see the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists lobbying hard for greater legal restrictions and prosections against midwifery. That is their reaction to the issue. It is adversarial and it is largely about power and money, yet it marches only under the banner of protecting babies (from the foolishness of their mothers).

In the UK the reaction is totally different. It is an open consultation process carried out by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. It is a 635 page report and it is considered, balanced and sensible. It tries to find a balance between women's choice, the best uses of resources and safety. And it gives the government and health service a blueprint to take forward in the best interests of birthing mothers.

This is just one example of a pattern of difference I see repeated constantly.

Now in theory I can see advantages of the American approach. But when I see it happening in practise it makes me feel like throwing up.

Sorry for the Scottish thing Martin. I was just being cheeky. You are right of course to point it out!

But I still think, when you actually look at what people do and say in real life, nationality is really a very weak influencer of culture.


Roldy, thanks for the thoughtful reply. And yeah, well, I'm not too pleased with my country right at the moment either. But I'll try to say on topic. The problem, I think, for home birth (or any medical care )in the US is that we tend to be so litigious. My doctor is quick to order hugely expensive and needless tests for the least little thing in order to cover his bottom line. It's annoying. The good news is that it isn't written in stone. It's a mess and needs to be fixed,though, fo sho'.


The England / Britain thing is a tricky one. Clearly one of the best things about being English is being able to wind up Scottish people by saying things like "Hurray for Andy Murray, another great victory for England!" I lazily refer to myself as English when I mean British, but if I was being accurate I would say I'm a Londoner first and foremost. When I venture out of the M25 and go to those weird places (i.e. most of the rest of the country) where everyone is white and people talk about A roads and B roads as if it is interesting, I start to freak out. It's like being on another planet.

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