What I like about Britain

By , 12 June 2009 6:30 pm

Much to everybody’s surprise the Prime Minister appears to have got off the hook despite pretty appalling European election results. The reality is that his party is in such trouble that no one particularly wants to take over given that they have to hold a general election within ten months or so.

Anyway by way of a change I thought I would run two-parter on a) What I like about Britain and b) What I don’t. Feel free to join in. What I like, in no particular order, are the following aspects of Britain.

  • No matter where you live in the UK you don’t really need air conditioning.
  • The fact that we are in hopeless confusion about what we called: Great Britain/British Isles/United Kingdom and whether we are British/English/Welsh/Scottish or whatever the Northern Irish call themselves.
  • We use a language which has a remarkable property of allowing sentences be comprehensible even when the words are put in all the wrong places.
  • We haven’t had a proper massacre on British soil for probably 400 years. (Some idea of how rare a proper massacre is can be seen when you look at the events of 16 August 1819 when cavalry with drawn sabres charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 which had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. The result was that 15 people were killed and the event became known to posterity as the ‘Peterloo Massacre’. I’ve known Lebanese family disputes with a higher death toll.)
  • Except when drunk (see next week) there is a tradition of agreeing to differ and a refusal to adopt a belligerent position. Typical English phrases include ‘I can see where you are coming from…’ and ‘Well, I suppose that’s a fair point but I would like to point out that…’
  • You have to work hard to get frostbite. (Although if you wear a swimming costume on a British beach on the average summer day something very similar seems to occur.)
  • There are no wild animals and our one poisonous snake species manages to kill two people a century or thereabouts.
  • To be an underachiever is absolutely normal. Indeed there is something wrong with your ambition if you do not want to be an underachiever. We are truly excellent at mediocrity.
  • BBC radio, BBC on the Internet and the BBC World Service. Not however the BBC television service.
  • The fact that we are now vaguely repentant and apologetic about having tried to conquer large parts of the world. We certainly have no idea of making another attempt.
  • The idea of the English pub in which over several hours people slowly drink a brown moderately alcoholic drink and politely discuss what’s wrong with the world. (Note that I said the idea: the reality is now often very different but that’s for next week.)
  • The fact that no one ever visits Britain and says (as they do in Belgium and Finland), ‘Say, did anybody famous ever come from here?’
  • The fact that the monarch is not a political appointee.
  • A national church which dogmatically holds only one belief: that it is wrong to hold dogmatic beliefs.
  • The fact that British police are generally unlikely to shoot you and when they do they are fearfully apologetic.
  • The way that we persistently and rather endearingly hold onto the belief (against all the evidence) that we really are good at some things such as comedy, car making, playing football and acting as a good moral influence on the United States and/or France.
  • We have some jolly fine museums mostly filled with splendid bits that we looted from all over the world when we were top dog.
  • The way we rejoice in our defeats (Dunkirk) and rarely get jingoistic about our triumphs.
  • Our penchant for finding the real world so distasteful that we must seek refuge in fantasy.
  • A widespread refusal to complain as in ‘Mustn’t grumble, must we?’ (This of course has the unfortunate repercussion that all manner of substandard things can persist in Britain because no one does protest about them. Just try the railways.)
  • Being nice to animals. (I was in the British Museum last weekend where there are some splendid Assyrian wall panels; listening to the bystanders it was clear that no one objected to the scenes of torture and humiliation of human beings but everyone was outraged at the scenes of lions being killed.)
  • We lead the world in fine funerals. Few people want to live as a Brit but most aspire to die like one.
  • The widespread view (unfortunately not held by newspaper proprietors from Australia) that it is unsporting to interfere with the press.

2 Responses to “What I like about Britain”

  1. daniel says:

    "A national church which dogmatically holds only one belief: that it is wrong to hold dogmatic beliefs."

    I find the Anglican Church interesting. As a denomination, it presents quite a liberal image, to the point where you can make the above statement. But it also has a vibrant evangelical stream that has contributed so much to the wider Church. We'd be much poorer without the work of Anglicans like C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, N.T. Wright, Nicky Gumbel, and John Stott. And that's not even accounting for historical figures like the Wesleys, Whitefield, and many British abolitionists such as Wilberforce.

  2. Chris says:

    I have no wish to denigrate the evangelical Anglicans (I have a son who is one). Nevertheless, as you admit, the portrayal of the faith by the organisation today, is very wishy-washy. 19th century Anglicanism is quite another matter; don't forget Bishop Ryle either!

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