Saturday, January 5, 2008

Albion: Part Two

I found the house eventually, after getting precise, assertively voiced directions from what nowadays might insultingly be termed a ‘chav’.

Staying with Lee and his girlfriend was a Scottish guy who wore a hat inside and who’s name I forget. He let me in before Lee turned up. He kindly offered me a can of Stella Artois, twice. For curious reasons I declined. Perhaps I was worried about the size of my stomach. I often am. He was sympathetically intrigued that I live in Kuwait and made sure to tell me I should drink as much beer as I could before its too late.

As usual I ended up wanting to be at least in some way deep or serious. I asked him what it’s like for him, a Scot, to live in England. He said it was fine, which reassured me. After being told by Paul, an Englishman living near Aberdeen, but now temporarily working in Kuwait, that the Scots want nothing to do with England, it was pleasing to meet a Scot who didn’t hate the English or their land. I asked him what he thought about Scottish Independence, and whether he wanted it. I was surprised to hear he didn’t, that he thought Britain was a good system as it stood and that Scotland benefits from the Union. I wanted to make sure he was entirely Scottish himself, by ancestry; yes, he was.

Perhaps I’m a little too paranoid about Celtic perceptions of the Anglo-Saxons. I’m wondering if such a paranoia is widespread amongst the English. In so far as it exists, might it be the flip side of the coin, the inverse, of that much more distastefully smug, condescending English supremacist bearing we’re told characterises, and no doubt to some extent does, the English man’s stance towards his Celtic fellow nationals. Such a paranoia would involve an exaggerated estimation of the Celts’ sense of grievance towards England’s policies towards Wales, Scotland and Ireland over the centuries. It might be linked, in so far as it’s felt, to an English guilt and a shame over that historical record. On the other hand, maybe it’s not a paranoia; maybe it’s a justified fear –maybe there is no exaggeration. Maybe the Celts really do hate the English, or at least some of them, or most of them? I wouldn’t want to say. This is for the Celts to say.

Certainly, as an Englishman, of as far as I know largely non-Celtic ancetry*, I do feel guilty about, and ashamed of, England’s treatment of the non-English Britannic peoples. By ‘Britannic peoples’ I speak strictly of the inhabitants of the ‘British Isles’. Regrettably or not, this is the only collective term I’m aware of for the two, largish, off-shore Islands to the north west of Europe. I totally understand how such a term used to cover The Republic of Ireland might be annoying to Irish people and regret it on that account. Would we prefer ‘The Blessed Isles’, or would that suggest an irksome Pan- Anglo-Saxon-Celtic supremacism I wonder?

That said, I’m not sure what’s to be gained from my beating myself or my country up over this issue; or for me or my country to be beaten up over it. Here, by ‘my country’ I mean specifically England, even though in a different sense I understand my country to be ‘Britain’ and myself to be a Briton.

In principle I’m as opposed to vengeance as I am to judgementalism, given that I intentionally launch my mind on a trajectory seeking a home in a higher, greater, nobler world in which people can love one another not in theory or fantasy but reality, motivated in this as I am by the central man in my life, Jesus Christ. As I see things, we are all sinners, none of us have the right to judge and so all should forgive. While I accept it might in ways be a bitter pill for the Celts to swallow, I don’t see how a policy other than forgiving the English, in their hearts, for the past is a constructive or positive way forward, especially with regard to the extent to which we ourselves express regret for that past. I can see how this might be seen as very patronizing and smug of me; how it might be thought that the powerful and the dominant requesting forgiveness from the subdued for having been dominated might be construed by the subdued as a clever, devious tactic on the part of the powerful to legitimize their dominance- by way of exalted, religiously nuaced high sentiments- to encourage compliance on the part of the subdued to their fate; but I’m not sure it has to be seen in this light.

I also should say I do not wish to speak for England here, as some imagined representative, so please don't blame England or The English if you don't like what I say. I am an Englishman only after first being a human being. Sometimes, of course, I wonder whether it's even accurate to call myself a human being. I don't mean thereby to claim some more exalted status, though it's certainly true I have on occasions been the experiencer of 'delusions of grandeur', for sure. What I really mean is that in terms of the way I see myself, my essence precedes and is independent of my categorisation. My categorisation as either this, that or the other. In that sense 'I', as what I am in-itself, is not the same as what 'I' am in terms of how I am captured or contained by a human societal, rational category. In this way, by understanding myself in this way, through my own uncapturableness, I am allowed to keep open the window of access in myself, regarding myself, to the transcendent, as it were, to the infinite, to the unconditioned. Yes I am English, yes I am British, yes I am European, yes I am a Westerner, yes I am a man (as opposed to a woman), yes I am a human being, yes I am an organic embodiment, like the animals, of life on Planet Earth. But these are all items of human, finite, knowledge schemata; of systems of knowledge as perceived and projected from a human point of view. Outside of these, what I am in myself, as perceived either by other, extra-terrestrial life forms (if such exist), or else by God (presuming he exists), I can have no idea about. Indeed even if above us there is only void, this still doesn't mean I can be equated ultimately only with the categories of our systems of knowledge.

Anyway, enough stilted, political pomposity and obscure philosophy. Back to Albion, a land of my dreams.

After Northampton I went to see Lucy in Hemel Hempstead. She’d been a brief 5-day girlfriend back in my late 1990s, tawdry, Islington days. As was the case in that phase of my life, she, as the embodiment of a ‘sexual other’, apparently meant more to me than vica versa. We lost contact for a few years but the virtual worlds of Myspace and Facebook brought us back in touch, I’m glad to say. Sitting on a stool next to my embarrassingly large rucksack in a crowded pub was not an ideal venue in which to catch up, but she’s very fond of her local, and I didn’t really mind. In any case, the oddly free buffet arrangement was a real consolation. Alas I couldn’t stay long and had to rush back to London, to get the last tube and then bus back to North Greenwich.

By the way, sometimes the names I use are real and sometimes they are not. It depends on my calculation regarding whether I think they’d mind me writing about them in the way I do, a calculation which one way or the other might be mistaken.

* When I grow a beard, in so far as my hairs are not grey there is a definite tinge of red. Quite why my facial hair is a different colour from my other hair mystifies me but maybe this is normal. Anyway, perhaps this testifies to a Celtic element, or maybe the Celtic red hair connection is overblown. All I know is that my ancestors on my father's side lived in Lancashire and before that Yorkshire and maybe Cheshire back into the 13th century or so. My Mother's ancestors seem to have come from the Bristol area, and before that from around Durham, though I really don't know the details. I imagine, to be fair, that it would be more unlikely than not, that there'd be no Welsh or Scottish elements at all, but I really don't know. Does it matter, one way or the other? Not at all, not to me anyway. Would be interesting to know though.

No comments: