Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Proper teaching

I've just done a three hour session on my British Cultural Experience module. We ranged from Stuart Hall to globalisation to politics and national identity - everyone is now utterly confused about where it's located, which was my purpose.

One of the things we discussed was Bill Bryson's version of Englishness.

Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying ’musn’t grumble’ and ‘I’m terribly sorry but’, people apologising to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays….What other nation in the world could have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardeners’ Question Time’ and the chocolate digestive biscuit? (Bryson 1996, p.351)

What do you think? I like most of the things listed here and eat/do/visit/listen to most of them, but I also think it's a very middle-to-upper class imaginary England, rooted in a past that never was: virtually nobody lives in villages for a start. It excludes so much: popular music (and most other music), curries, urban excitement, invading everyone, doing whatever America tells you, moaning about the railways and so on.

So let's hear from you, English, British or Other: what do you think of when asked to enunciate Englishness? My students' responses included queuing, pessimism, fish and chips (an East End merger between Irish and Jewish cooking), Sunday lunch and many more.

I had the great joy of introducing them to Radio 4, of which they'd never heard, and trying to define a crumpet to a Chinese student. It wasn't listed in her electronic translator! Best of all was playing them the theme tune and a couple of minutes of The Archers. Bliss!


ed said...

Nostalgia for World War II. Which always makes me feel uncomfortable, as that usually whittles down to nostalgia for an England before widespread immigration. Paul Gilroy calls it 'post-imperial melancholia' I think.

Oh, and that Liverpudlian skiffle group.

The Plashing Vole said...

Bryson's version is basically a white, pre-immigration version of Britain. Reminds me of what TS Eliot wanted and couldn't find. Both Americans, of course.

I'm so bored of the Nazis. Perhaps because it was the only justifiable war the British have ever fought.

Nobody mentioned music at all. Interesting.

Zoot Horn said...

My mum was an immigrant - she came over in 1946, and we had loads of cousins and others from Canada, Africa, you name it, staying with us on and off throughout my childhood. My best mate was the product of a German mother and a Latvian father who met in a prisoner of war camp a couple of miles from where we grew up. The earliest music I can remember listening to was my mum's Fats Waller records. I never had an ordinary potato until I went to school - sweet potatoes were the order of the day, and trips to the deli section of the market to get the ingredients for fish curry were de rigeur. As kids we were still obsessed with the war though. And I do love the Lake District.

Emma said...

In my 8 and half years here, I have embraced cricket, real ale, & curry. I remain despite the adverts indifferent to marmite.
Can I include Yorkshire pudding? Which was introduced to me long before I moved here by a firend who has English parents.

ed said...

That's quite the cosmopolitan background Zoot!

My grandad was of the Windrush generation. Then he moved to Canada in the late sixties to start another family, the prat.

Zoot Horn said...

Yeah - I think my dad's side is Irish. Hey, it's just one big diaspora!