Land of the Painted People

White Cliffs of Dover

So you want to hear about my country, do you? Well, it could take a while – we have a long and sometimes proud history. Sometimes not so proud, but overall I like to think it’s broadly positive.

I’m not sure how our history impacts us day-to-day any more. As a country we claim to be tolerant and fair-minded. In practice that can sometimes seem a little hollow, to put it mildly. But on the whole, yes, I think it’s right. So, dear stranger, you would be welcome.

We are a Western democracy – we like to think we invented Parliaments, and certainly we were involved very early with a model of constitutional monarchy which seems to be holding up fairly well. We haven’t had any major internal conflicts for about 350 years now, although that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been the occasional incident of name-calling, and we can hardly be complacent about our behaviour where Ireland is concerned. My country is also intricately entwined with other immediate neighbours, and in fact we have a single identity as the United Kingdom, which breaks down most often at sporting events and in arguments over money, just like most families.

We have an Established Church, whose head is the monarch. This church, dating back to the Reformation of 400 and more years ago, is not usually evangelical or energetic. It is quiet, calm and generally welcoming of a broad range of opinion and debate. It is accepting and undemanding, and this suits our character; we are mostly suspicious of relifious activity which is excessively public or demanding. This does not mean that people are irreligious (although most people do not go to church), merely that religion is a personal and private affair for those who believe. On the other hand, it os sometimes said that the National Health Service is the clsoest thing to a national religion that we currently have as it is one of the few things that pretty much the whole nation supports unequivocally; debate about some of the details notwithstanding.

I live in a rural part of the north-east of my country and only visit larger cities for work. However, most of the population is in fact urban and indeed, lives in the south-eastern corner of our little island. We are an island nation you see, and that affects much of our history as well as our current attitudes. It can make us a little anti-social sometimes, and divorced from the concerns of our closest neighbours. Indeed, with a history of world-spanning Empire, some of our closest cultural relationships are with nations very distant from us geographically. We are united to them by shared history and by linguistic similarities. However, these versions of English are diverging with every generation, and now our own children are being culturally separated from their parents through the impacts of on-line and other social media. The beauty of our language is that it evolves continuously and creatively; not many people would be able to understand the idiom of even a couple of generations ago. However, as the century turns we find we are no longer driving our language as our fellow English speakers derive their own terminology and this in turn feeds back into our daily speech – much as we previously took on terms form other languages which are now used commonly, such as “bungalow”.

As we are situated at the northern edges of our continent we have a damp and cool climate, protected by the Gulf Stream – although for how much longer we cannot say. Global Warming may leave us colder and wetter and with a more ferocious weather system; even in Roman times our island was recognised as a temperate and fertile land, producing superior apples, wool and other goods. We traded tin and furs and slaves with the Mediterranean long before the Romans came, and our name for these islands, “Britain,” derives from the Celtic “Pretain” meaning “painted people”, and was recorded by the Greek writer Pythias who visited the island around 325 BC.

Our economic situation is less fortunate today. As part of the global market we are suffering recession and hardship, although no worse than others, and in many ways better than some. Our most recent general election this Spring has left us with a coalition government which is in many ways unsettling as it is not a common model for us and may or may not last. We are afraid of a double-dip recession and awaiting the results of a spending review (which means a not-spending review). However, it is unlikely to lead to significant civil unrest; as a nation we rarely take to the streets en masse. In some ssegments of the community there is a perverse enjoyment of the austerity measures being imposed ; they resonate with the situation facing our grand-parents 70 years ago during the Second World War, a period many see as our country’s finest hour both militarily and domestically. Many of us live in the past, like aged relatives remembering their childhood but forgetting to turn off the oven.

If all this sounds too depressing, do not be down-hearted at the prospect of a visit. As well as a wealth of historic attractions we have thriving local communities and small businesses to match against the failing high streets and mothballed industries. We have beautiful scenery, folk traditions and stunning new art forms in every field, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, film makers and on-line content creators. Our television output is among the best in the world, and our architecture is amazingly varied and often humbling from gothic medieval spires to the gherkin in London’s financial district. Despite being such a small country we can provide you with entertainment and activities to suit any taste. Personally I recommend a pint of ale from one of the hundreds of small-scale breweries, or if you are not a drinker of alcohol, perhaps a cream tea either in a traditional rural tea shop or one of the high class hotels in a large city.

I love my country, both yesterday and today. I hope to still love it tomorrow. If you do visit, I hope you find a cause for enjoyment too.

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