Real Englishness


The other weekend I happened to find myself in Oxford for the day. There were of course a lot of tourists and so I was delighted to see so much Englishness in all its forms served up for them.

Atmospheric ancient buildings, a few students flittering by in exam garb like extras from Harry Potter, and of course a Town Crier or two and motley batches of Morris dancers.

Morris dancing, is, I fear, our only projection of national identity not involving the threatening undertones of a Union Jack. I don’t quite know how or where it happens (certainly not a feature of my life in town or country in the various parts of the nation I’ve inhabited over the years), but someone somewhere thinks it makes a good show for the tourists.

And a good show for English visitors too, I mused, as I gazed with not a little amused superiority on the frantic antics.

It set me off on one of my favourite topics: what is reality? Was this dancing “real” English dancing? Was anyone from the Far East spectating deluded into believing they seeing a bit of “real” England? That these sad costumes and poorly choreographed frolics were the essence of “Englishness”?

But of course they were, when I thought about it further. An odd desire to dress up and promote a tradition which means absolutely nothing to 99.999% of the population is actually incredibly English.

And me, standing there in cynical bystander mode: that was incredibly English too.


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