Minor British Institutions: Grumbling

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The Independent Online

Grumbling is an ancient institution in these islands, with their many tribes, narrow confines and persistent arrivals: Iceni about Trinovantes, Britons about Romans, Angles about Saxons, Saxons about Normans, peasants about squires, lords about kings, wives about husbands, English about Scots, Irish, Welsh and all vice versa.

Along it has murmured, falling, rising, occasionally crashing into riot and ruction. The infrequency of the last is often attributed to the frequency of the first, the constant emission of steam easing the pressure. If ever there was an example of the famous British irony, it's the refrain: "mustn't grumble".

Much of our humour, from Shakespeare and before to Hancock to the Grumpy Old Men and Women, depends on it, well summed up by Mona Lott, the ever-grumbling charlady on the old radio show, ITMA: "It's being so cheerful as keeps me going". I often wonder how much there was as they pulled those stones to Stonehenge.