Kate Simon: This mythical view of England is foreign to me
Sunday 03 April 2011
There's more than just a rotten whiff of the Eighties about Britain at the moment.
First, we have the bloated spectacle of this month's royal wedding looming. (Hoorah for Hull, recently reported as the only place in England where not a single application has been received by the local council to hold that most jingoistic of events, the street party.)
Then there's David Cameron softly, softly wreaking havoc on our public services. He may not appear to have the cojones of Maggie Thatcher but his government is a more enthusiastic bunch of axe-wielders – less Big Society, more Bugger Society.
The prevailing zeitgeist has even impacted upon the tourist industry. We've been getting regular blasts from that gloomiest era of the recent past over the airwaves, too, thanks to VisitEngland's media campaign to encourage us to remain on home shores for our holidays this year.
Voiced by the Queen Mother – well, Helena Bonham Carter, but they seem to be one and the same these days – VisitEngland's eulogy to what puts the Great in Britain's holidays is relayed with "increasing pride, passion and patriotism", as required by the directions on the original script (at which I've had a peek). Conservative Central Office couldn't have done a better job. "Walking in the Lake District. Playing cards in the pub. Full English in a café. The spires of Oxford," Helena opines. "Pony trekking in the Peaks. Cricket on the green. A picnic on the rug. Pork pies and cucumber sandwiches. Lemon sherberts and pear drops. A boat out on the Broads. Building castles in the sand ..."
I could go on but I think you get the gist. Doubtless all these pursuits are enjoyable in their own right, according to individual taste – and religious beliefs, so far as the pork pies go. But why is this middle-class monocultural take on our country still being thrust upon us as the acme of the English experience?
Newsflash: most English people don't inhabit a thatched cottage next door to Miss Marple, and this elitist take on what the country has to offer will have little resonance with those of us who live in 21st-century Britain. Our England is far more vibrant and cosmopolitan. Crucially, it has been enriched by the multiculturalism of the post-war years.
VisitEngland's chiefs would have been well advised to refer the creative agency responsible for this trite vision of England – horribly reminiscent of John Major's infamous dream of "leather on willow" – back to the drawing board, perhaps via its own website, enjoyengland.com, which is rather more inclusive. After all, there are many more original ways to holiday at home this year.
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