Some remarks from a chapter called ‘The Beginnings’ by Jacquetta Hawkes.
“At this time Britain was a promontory of north-western Europe. About 10,000 years ago, however, the ice-sheets and glaciers began to melt back towards their present positions, and the release of enormous quantities of water raised the sea level. By about 6000 B.C. the North Sea had been formed, and the landbridge with France severed. Britain had become an island.” (14)
Now this could be seen as the inaugural Brexit, when Nature itself decided to intervene and create the Channel Sea. And thus, six thousand years before Christ, some proto-Farage clansman waved goodbye to the meddling bureaucrats on the Continent and returned to spearing a rabbit for supper. This! This green and pleasant land was born.
So, here is in and here are the old boasts and the old gripes. This is the Preface to the “Shell Guide To England (1973)” by none other than J. B. Priestley. And what do we find? None other than the same old kant and moaning. He claims an unnamed German traveller (who he has since, determinedly, out-travelled) said to him when he asked what the most beautiful country in the world was : “England”. But of course, he says “only, of course, what we have left of it.”
He continues: “And between the England that German had seen and admired and the England we see now there stands, like a mountain of trash, the dreadful legacy of the ‘thirties, surely the most determinedly tasteless of all our decades.” (9, Shell Guide To England 73)
So he has used his pulpit to bash, to moan, to brag – to belittle – to Romanticise and be a Classicist. What could be more English? No wonder they kicked off this weighty tome with this diatribe. Or did they, like now we might, sit and snigger at the moany old Brexit man who delivered his scant essay five weeks late and then probably had a side-swipe at the publishers?
“We may not have done our best to ruin our enchanting country, but have undoubtedly had a devil of a good try.” (10)
“In large countries you can go two hundred miles along one valley, three hundred miles across one monotonous plain. These are countries for which the jets were invented. Fly – and get done with them. Even the English should not fly over England.” (10)
Well, there you have it! Not that I intend to fly. He is quite right, that this small (very small) island vanishes at the hands of a jet plane. You need a shit car, a horrible snarled up M road, a terrible service station and many sad-eyed people to feel the true magic of England. Let me enter my Mk1 Megane Cabrio. Let me feel it.
I recently left my post at a leading academic publisher, after 10 years of running the list. As I recharge and ponder my next move, I have taken the time to set up a publisher of my own. This is E6 Books. The web address is e6books.co.uk and submissions can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In my downtime I will be going on road trips and a vague tour of this nation of ours (I say ours – it’s not mine, as Theresa May et al have reminded me). I am “British-born” rather than British, at least, I am if I ever do anything wrong and get the papers writing about me. I am still proud of my town, my City and my people and I cling to my friends as brothers and sisters. These are the England I hold dear. They are what I have discovered in the rolling hills and steam and soot of London. How much pain will these politicians inflict on the BAME communities for purely personal gain? Have they no shame and sense of greater purpose.
My bible shall be this 1973 Shell Guide to England, which has a Preface ‘On England’ by J. B. Priestley.
Here is my wife, Laura, with the Good Book, in Marcham, where we stopped for a drink and met some of the locals.
Here for your perusal, are the Contents. Let these be the stages of my redemption.