Letter: The past is another country

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The Independent Online
IN HIS article 'Britain's crumbling ruling class is losing the accent of authority' (7 August), Neal Ascherson becomes uncharacteristically simple-minded when he laughs at people who can't answer the question: 'Where do you come from?'. No, surely, if one was born and lived to the age of 18 in a rectory near Exeter, one does not necessarily come from Devonshire. It would need a generation or two staying in the same area to make that claim; whereas for nearly two centuries the professional middle classes, especially the clergy, have moved about constantly wherever their work took them. In this, they were certainly not apeing the landed gentry who had property to pin them down and could say where they came from. Nor does Mr Ascherson take any account of the administration of an empire, which further dispersed and deracinated the professional class in particular.

I was born in Kenya, where I spent the firsthalf of my childhood. The second half I divided between boarding schools in Oxford and Wiltshire and my maternal grandmother's cottage in West Byfleet, originally acquired as a country retreat by my grandfather. My parents meanwhile moved from Trinidad to the Gambia to Sierra Leone before retiring to Sussex, where I have never lived.

So what can I say - and surely thousands like me - except: 'I come from England, though I wasn't born here'? And what, by the way, would Mr Ascherson suggest a new generation of British citizens should say? 'I was born in England, though I don't come from here'?

John Spurling

London N7

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