Monday, August 25, 2008
I don't know how English I feel. I know that of my four grandparents three were English and one was Irish. I also know that I was born and lived the first few years in South London before spending a formative part of my childhood on the Welsh-English border. Most of the rest of the time I have lived in London or the Home Counties. So that's it , easy, not only English but Southern English – the most complacent of the breed.
But I don't really think of it like that. Mostly I don't think about it at all and this is probably quite typical. The issues of identity can be both complex and contradictory I also have a strong distrust of overt nationalism and prefer to look at the specifics of a person rather than the generalities of a people. Nevertheless there are images of Englishness I carry round in my head, some of which I find quite comforting. A surprising number come from the Nineteenth Century but increasingly they have little to do with the society I live in.
I was thinking about this when watching the Olympics. Seeing the competitors cry on winning or with the disappointment of losing or seeing them jump about to celebrate how brilliant they had been. Long gone is the emotionally inhibited gentleman who would greet victory with a quick 'good show' or 'that was not bad' and think it a bit unseemly to exalt too much in ones own success.
This might very well be a good thing. Too much emotional repression is probably not a good thing and understated language can lead to misunderstanding. (There is a dramatic example from the Korean War when an English Brigadier reported to his American superior that 'things were a bit sticky', meaning desperate but was interpreted by the American as saying things were not too bad. As a result neither reinforcements were sent nor was there any order to withdraw). Nevertheless I have a fondness for people quietly and calmly getting on with the job of being excellent and so savoured the answer of Tim Brabants, the gold medal winning canoeist, to the question of how he could go back to just being Dr Tim. “Oh quite easily” he replied “no one will recognise me.”
My type of running is evenly modulated in that 'just-getting-on-with-it' sort of way (as long as you forget the idea of excellence). Sessions are never brilliant or disastrous, some go a little better than others, but that is all. Also I don't know what is meant by the term 'runners high'. At the end of a run I will often get feelings of immense contentment and a sense of peace but it is not euphoric and don't think see how it can be described as a high. So I think my hobby sits very well with some of my outdated ideas of a reserved Englishman.
Yesterday's run did everything to confirm this. I passed this cricket ground and loved the sound of 'willow on leather'. It felt comforting.
However one should not get too sentimental. There is a bloody great dual carriage way carrying speeding traffic just to the left of this picture. Things always move on.