Last week I wrote from my fiery Scottish heart about the interesting state of the union.     This week from my cool British head, I’d like to write in praise of England and the English.

We have lived in England, in the glorious county of Sussex, for 22 years.    When I first saw Sussex all those years ago, I fell in love with it on first sight, and knew it would be mine, as you might fall in love with a man when your eye first lighted upon him.   Sussex is neither swift nor demonstrative;  it does not come out to meet you.   Never the less, it promised me and has delivered a long and peaceful embrace.    I love Sussex.   It is the most beautiful county in England.   (We who live in Sussex must be forgiven for saying this, though of course there are other lovely counties which might aspire to this title.)

And I love England.   I love its infinite variety;  its superb architecture;  its people.   I love how different it is to the majestic and tempestuous Scotland.   England is peaceful, slow to rouse, conservative in the best sense of that word, enduring.   It has a still, magic and ancient beauty that cannot be easily evoked elsewhere.   It is subtle and contradictory and difficult to understand.    The English are on the whole good-natured and tolerant, with a dry sardonic wit.   They are proud of their reputation for fair play and will put up with a lot, contentedly complaining; yet you antagonise the English at your peril.      Once provoked into action, they can be swift and unpredictable; they make a redoubtable foe and a bad enemy.        They are understated but this is because they have no need to brag.     They are the English.    Being anything else is unthinkable.

But for all I love and appreciate England, I can never BE English.   Every word I speak, the cadence of my language, the process of my thoughts, my instinctive reactions, every step I take, marks me out as a Scot, and proud to be so.   I can only ever be an adopted daughter of England.

Once, when in Davenport, New Zealand, we went in search of a pub showing an England/Portugal football game in the then World Cup.   It was 9 am but their love of sport and hospitality was so great, the pub  opened to us, and the barman made us comfortable.   The barman was a Scot.   “So,” he said finally, when he had attended to all our requirements.   “Have you come to see England get stuffed?”   John replied politely that, no, we had come to support England, but I had a burst of (silent) irritation.      Scotland, now it’s going to be a mature nation, should abandon this persecution complex it has over England.   Obviously, in an England/Scotland game, Scots would support Scotland; but in other games…     When Andy Murray said of some fixture he would be supporting ‘anyone but England’, sadly, he wasn’t joking (though he later qualified the remark.)

My own mixed loyalties (and prejudices) were revealed when in a Ladies’ Toilet outside the Royal Palace in Tokyo, Japan.   I was washing my hands when a very large, very loud American woman emerged from a cubicle.   I could feel her studying me.   Eventually, she caught my eye in the mirror.   “Speakee English?” she enquired.    Now I am a Scot, NOT tolerant and patient like the English.    Speakee English?   I thought.    Clearly I am not Japanese.   I look like a European.    Do I look like I can’t speak English?  Can SHE speak English?    I flung a prayer for forgiveness to St Andrews and looked her in the eye.    “I AM English,” I said, and then turned on my heel and departed, not waiting to hear whatever urgent remark she wished to impart in her English-as-spoken-to-Foreigners.   (Yes, I agree, one of my Could have been kinder, episodes.)    St Andrew didn’t appear to mind, and I trusted St George was willing to take me in.

And this rather illustrates my position.     Asked the somewhat silly question, for it’s not going to come to this, ‘If you were forced to choose, which passport  would you have, Scots or English?’    I’d be proud to carry either, and I hope both would be pleased to have me.

I’m for St Andrew and St George.

And seeing as how we, the British, are famously humorous, perhaps we can give the last word to Flanders & Swan.

*   *   *

The English  (Flanders & Swan)

The rottenest bits of these islands of ours

We’ve left in the hands of three unfriendly powers

Examine the Irishman, Welshman or Scot

You’ll find he’s a stinker as likely as not

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

The Scotsman is mean as we’re all well aware

He’s boney and blotchy and covered with hair

He eats salty porridge, he works all the day

And hasn’t got bishops to show him the way

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

The Irishman now our contempt is beneath

He sleeps in his boots and he lies through his teeth

He blows up policemen or so I have heard

And blames it on Cromwell and William the Third

*   *   *

The English are moral the English are good

And clever and modest and misunderstood

*   *   *

The Welshman’s dishonest, he cheats when he can

He’s little and dark more like monkey than man

He works underground with a lamp on his hat

And sings far too loud, far too often and flat

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

And crossing the channel one cannot say much

For the French or the Spanish, the Danish or Dutch

The Germans are German, the Russians are red

And the Greeks and Italians eat garlic in bed

*   *   *

The English are noble, the English are nice

And worth any other at double the price

*   *   *

And all the world over each nation’s the same

They’ve simply no notion of playing the game

They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won

And they practice before hand which spoils all the fun

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

It’s not that they’re wicked or naturally bad

It’s just that they’re foreign that makes them so mad

The English are all that a nation should be

And the pride of the English are Chipper and me

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

3 Responses to THE ENGLISH ARE BEST…

  1. Moira McNair says:

    The English half of me thanks you, Anne, the Scottish half applauds you, and both halves agree with you (especially about Sussex).

  2. adhocannie says:

    Next week, when you’re in the park looking at the Royal Palace, Tokyo, just step into the Ladies… maybe that woman is a ghost that haunts the lavatory like the girl in Harry Potter, condemned to ask everybody, ‘Speakee English?’ until someone kinder than me takes pity on her… AA

  3. Moira McNair says:

    I’m already nervous of going into Japanese loos (re Elizabeth’s experience), don’t spook me further!!

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