This Sacred Land I moan about England a lot. I hate the politics, the cynicism, the over-priced housing and the sheer determination to cover every field with blocks of concrete. I hate the soaps and game shows on the telly, the class system that supposedly doesn't exist, the jealously of the have-nots; the arrogance of those who have. I loath the rail system that's forever in a mess (and they want to put prices up again?), the NHS that struggles at ground zero because admin need a new clipboard. I get jittery when our prime minister speaks because all I see is a puppet waving his hands in the air - whatever party they're from! But there is so much more to this beautiful country - an age old history just bursting at the seams with mystery and wonder. Recently I went on a pilgrimage to some of these places. It started out as a visit to a friends in Brighton but we soon left London by the sea and made for the green. I want to share some of these wonderful places with you, some of the feel and history. If these are places you have never seen I urge you to don your walking boots and make for the hills! SILBURY HILL With 2 year old child finally asleep after a drive that should have taken us around two hours but ended up taking nearly 5 because of motorway congestion, we arrived exhausted but happy at the base of Silbury Hill. It was nearly 9pm but the sky was clear and promised heat the following day. Silbury Hill is on the A4 between Marlborough and Beckhampton and you really can?t miss it. It is a Neolithic manmade hill which has remained an utter mystery. Although excavations have been done all that have been found are pieces of flint, animal bones and antlers. There is a legend though that a horse and rider's bones were found in the seventeen hundreds which fuels the claim that King Sil was buried here with his golden horse but that's never been verified the bones that is!). It is also said that the Devil dropp
ed a pile of Earth here when he was put off his mission to dump the lot on the people of Marlborough. The Hill stands 130ft high and the base covers 5 acres of land. The top is flattened and when seen from a distance it lays flat to the horizon. It's estimated to be between 4000 and 5000 years old. The hill was built in stages with the first stage beginning around August (according to the remains) which links the hill to the Pagan festival of Lughnasadh (or Lammas meaning loaf-mass). In the 18th Century, festivals were still held on the top of the hill to welcome the harvest time. Sadly a couple of years ago part of the hill collapsed in on the top. There is now a huge hole there. The National Trust/English Heritage tried to blame people who chose to walk up the hill. This is find very irritating seeing as this is a place of celebration for Pagans and it's managed to stand quite happily for nearly three thousand years! Nowt to do with the rough excavation work from the 19th Century then? Whatever - the solution has been to fill it with polystyrene rather than actually make the Hill properly safe. There are various groups lobbying to get them to restore the Hill but as ever money is claimed as an issue. Of course now I would NOT advise or encourage anyone to climb the hill for any reason. The hill is vulnerable and so will you be if you fall down the 10ft wide hole that's around 30ft deep! We had made our way to the tiny car park in the field just beside Silbury. Here you will find space to camp but be warned you are NOT meant to camp here! There is an old farmer who comes around every morning at around 7am just to check up on who's around. Every time I've ever been he has appeared with his lilting Somerset accent commenting on the weather then pointedly asking how long you are planning to stay. I rather like the fact that he has taken it upon himself to look after the area. Mostly you will find that you don't have a
ny problems with camping here and most people would probably want to be in a campsite seeing as you have no water/toilet or anything facilities. I love the wildness of the place though so it suits me to stay for a couple of nights. Be warned that in other areas around here the National Trust have begun fining people for camping - probably because sadly a lot of people don't know how to behave in the countryside (or elsewhere for that matter) and dump their litter everywhere, light fires where they shouldn't or trample over crops etc...That said I do believe that as long as a person is respecting the land and other people they should be allowed to camp overnight. When someone says 'I own this land' I just say 'How far down?' As the Romany's say - we borrow the Earth, we don't own it. WEST KENNET LONG BARROW Turn left out of Silbury Hill carpark and drive up to the top of the hill. As you drive look to your right and you will see a small gate and sign pointing the way to the barrow and a little layby. When you get out the car turn back to look at Silbury because you get a great view of it from there! To get to the long barrow you need to go through the gate and walk up a country track. It's a gradual incline so nothing too strenuous! The views from here are wonderful and if you are as lucky as we were you may see some crop circles as they often appear in the surrounding fields. In fact the whole area is renowned for this. There was a giant one in the field beside us. If you do see them however please respect the crops and don't go traipsing around the field. The barrow itself is around 2000 years old. A large mound were some 46 skeletons were found in the 1800's. It is estimated that the barrow was finally sealed around 1600 BC. Nowadays it is open. Duck through the stones at the front and you find yourself in a long cool corridor with chambers either side. I have a great reverence for this place.
I felt great emotion as I walked the track way up to it. The connection to loss in the past and loss of my own. Inside it is incredibly still and silent and all around there are offerings to the Goddess and God. Corn dollies, feathers, flowers, dream-catchers. People come here to honour the ancient ones and those who have passed into the Summerlands. AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE There is so much I could say about this place but I will attempt to give you just a taster else you and I will be here for hours and Dooyoo will run out of space! I first saw Avebury when I was about 10. We were going on holiday to Devon and my Dad took a detour. I was asleep in the back of the car and woke up when I felt something akin to an electric shock pass through me - not uncomfortable but very odd. I looked out to see we had just crossed the circle as we heading into the village. I knew from that moment that there was something very special about this place. Avebury lies around a mile away from West Kennet and Silbury. It's a tiny village with a single pub and two shops. In one you'll find lots of trinkets, books and information in the area and the other is a post-office come supermarket wot-have-u. Part of the village is surround by a large circular earthwork. Just inside the Ridgeway lay the stones. It's estimated to be around 4000 years old. There's a good aerial picture here which is easier than me trying to explain it! http://witcombe.sbc.edu/earthmysteries/EMAvebury.html Within the main circle lie two more smaller circles. Sadly in the 1800's many stones were pulled down. Some say it is due to farmers clearing land, some to Christians who saw them as a representation of evil. There is an old legend that if you count all the stone 3 times and get the same number each time the Devil will appear and take you to hell! The whole of the area is accessible to everyone. There are usually quite a few visitors at any
one time. If you go around any of the Pagan festival dates you may well be met by King Arthur, Druids and drumming - a wonderful atmosphere. On the days we went Morris dancers were entertaining us and amazing they were too. It irks me to think that in so many other cultures folk roots are respected whereas here they are laughed at. I recommend a quick visit to the Red Lion Pub which sits right opposite the main fields of stones. Unfortunately we got flat beer this time and um...last time as well but the service is lovely and friendly and I think we were just unlucky with the alcohol! The pub welcomes children and dogs (although with the latter you have to sit outside). Be aware that the fields where the stones sit are still used by farmers so you will have to dodge the sheep as you walk around them. For that reason keep dogs (and kids) on leads and under control! The stones themselves are incredible giants that each have a personality of their own. Those that were knocked down are now marked by concrete posts. Entrance stones are roughly at the four quarters and from each once ran long avenues of stones. Now only the west avenue remains. Even if you never visit any other sacred site, Avebury is a must see. UFFINGTON WHITE HORSE Well now I could hardly write this opinion without giving my namesake a mention could I? Just as we absolutely HAD to visit this place next! Nobody really knows why the horse was built and there's also some debate on whether it is in fact a horse. Some say it is an image of the Dragon that St. George slew; others suggest it's a cat! Well personally I see it as a horse. It has that grace and beauty of line associated with the magnificent animal. This is one of the more difficult places to find as there aren't that many signs pointing to it. It's situated just off the B4507 between the villages of Wantage and Wanborough. Uffington village is between Swindon and Oxford. If you
9;re trying to find it on a map, look for the A420 between Swindon and Oxford and just come down a bit. There is a sign pointing the way from the A420 - well at least on one side of the road. The road to Uffington is tiny and winds it's way through the most stunning villages and scenery. If anyone has got a house to give away here then let me know! The Horse is carved into a chalk hill high up in the Vale. At the bottom of the main field is a car park with the inevitable ice-cream van and picnic tables but that's all. The walk up the hill is quite a climb I'll warn you now. Again - lots of sheep and we even spotted a very lost look field mouse. Uffington White Horse is the oldest hill figure in the country - around 3000 years old. At 374 feet long it's also pretty huge so you can only appreciate it truly from the air or faraway. Horses have long since been associated with fertility and this figure may be in honour of the horse Goddess Epona. Once at the top of the hill you are rewarded with a stunning view of the Vale of the Whitehorse. Field upon field lays before your eyes. Dragon Hill lays just below. This is the place where St. George is meant to have slain the dragon. On the top of the hill is a bear patch where no grass grows. This is supposed to be where the dragon's blood fell. The whole story is an analogy of Christianity beating out Paganism - the same as St. Patrick and the Snake. English Heritage maintain the horse in pristine white condition so please don't walk on the chalk. You can however walk right around the horse itself although it's a bit precarious in places due to the lie of the hill. Even if it's hot, take a jacket because it's windy up there! There is much folklore and legend associated with this place much of which was dropped into the wonderful 70's children's program The Moon Stallion. Yippee - you can still get it on video! GLASTONBURY TOR On from Uf
fington back down south to Glastonbury in Somerset. I had never climbed the Tor so we thought it was about time I did. We arrived in Glasters late in the evening and spent an hour driving round trying to find the campsite that used to be at the base of the Tor. Sadly this has now gone so after getting directions we made our way to The Isle of Avalon campsite (okay tacky name!). This is set just on the edge of the town so you can walk from here back into the centre. It cost is £14 for two of us with a child and car/tent. The site is lovely and has a shower block and toilets etc. It's even won 'loo of the year award' for the last x amount of years - I'm impressed! Glastonbury town is full of twinkle and charm although we found it hard to find somewhere to eat in the evening. Quite a lot of pubs had stopped serving food and those that were were either no kids allowed or not veggie friendly. We finally settled on a visit to the chippie just round the corner from the campsite. A child in tow generally means an early morning start. We woke to find everything damp - this is certainly the place of mist! The whole of this area used to be under water most of the time afterall. We arrived at the Tor by around 8.30 in the morning. There's little parking space around here and technically you're not supposed to park on the road leading up to the Tor although we did as it was so early. There are two paths up the Tor and I recommend the long and winding one as the other will half kill you unless you're really fit. The Tor itself is a natural feature of the land which has long been associated with magic and mystery. Perhaps because it stood above the flooded landscape it gained magical power. In olden times a stone circle sat on the top of it. Now St. Michaels tower has replaced it. It's a pretty folly but of course I would prefer to see the stones. We were greeted however by two doves as we walked into the tower which was a
beautiful symbol. This is a place where the veil between the worlds is thin, where faery folk appear and transformation occurs. Many come to the Tor as a sacred pilgrimage both Christian and Pagan. There is an excellent website which covers all aspects of the Tor and legends surrounding it. http://www.glastonburytor.org.uk/ CHALICE WELL When you come down form the Tor take a visit to Chalice Well Gardens. It's around £3 to get in. It is quite beautiful and many people from all over the world come to gain healing from the holy water. You don?t have to go into the gardens to get some of the water. Just take a few empty bottles and follow the stone wall around the side of the garden and you will come to a spout where the water flows from. (Oh and visit the Veggie cafe opposite because it's lovely!). The water is considered holy as it has a reddish tinge which is meant to be connected with the blood of Christ. Wells and springs have been considered sacred from ancient times. Legend says that Joseph of Arimethea hid the Holy Grail within the Tor and a spring sprung from the place where it was buried. The water does run red due to the high iron oxide in the water which you can taste. I have always a bottle of it in the house and it seems to keep for years! It is thought that this Spring has been in use for around 2000 years. http://www.chalicewell.org.uk/ As a quick note if you do visit Glastonbury then do try to visit the Abbey. It's around £4 to get in but it really is worth seeing the ruins. STONEHENGE Of course Britain's most famous landmark has to come into this opinion. I had never been to Stonehenge before and I was absolutely awed by the stones. However - RANT warning... I am absolutely and utterly disgusted that it costs £4.40 to go into the field where the henge is and the whole thing is totally roped off. The place has stood for more than 5000 years and suddenly English He
ritage are desperately worried that someone might damage them - never mind the fact that they do not OWN this place, that this is a site of religious significance for some and that it should be open to everyone in this country! The fact that this site takes more money than any other British site probably has nothing to do with it either...Oh I think so. I think very much that there are pound signs glaring in someone's eyes whilst the stones lie desolate without human presence. Thank the Gods for Midsummer when we are 'allowed' to go and be with the stones - I should damn well think so! My friends little girl made a bee-line for the henge and I shouted encouragement all the way (she's only 2!). The security there gave us and many others Paddington hard stares as if they owned the place. I have no objection to having security present to make sure no one damages the area but to keep us away altogether is outrageous. My feelings ranged from absolute inspiration at such an incredible structure to reverence because of the sacred nature of the place to sheer rage that I couldn't walk up and lay my hands on the stones. Had there been less people I would have done but there were so many tourists that security was really high. I don't mind being hauled unceremoniously away but we were on holiday and I didn't want the hassle. I settled for loud pointed comments about religious rights and how the stones used to be open in the 60's as my Dad told me. I would like to see the stones permanently available to the public - even just a £1 charge would bring in an incredible amount of revenue. The other option is to have special opening times for ceremonies and rites to take place - not just midsummer so that those the wish to use the area for sacred rites can do so and those that simply wish to visit can also do so. It is perhaps obvious that we bought absolutely nothing from the range of shops and food/drink sta
lls at the entrance to the tunnel leading under the road to get to the stones. Go and see Stonehenge, complain about the price, don't buy from the shop, and DO checkout the details of the road planning that some idiots are intent on doing by the henge. http://www.savestonehenge.org.uk/ This land is beautiful and magnificent and stunning. The landscape changes county to county - the flat fens, the lush of Somerset, the wild folding hills of Cumbria, the rocky dales - everywhere there is beauty. And there are secret places where no footstep is heard - places that hang between this world and another. There are stones touched by a millennia of fingers. We may not always have good weather here but there is so much to see. We are the landscape and legends - they are part of us and our heritage. Remember - We borrow the Earth.
*THE GOOD* ██ Justice ██ There will never be a perfect justice system, and our justice system needs an overhaul and constant change to keep up with modern society. But the fact remains that England's justice system has been copied throughout the world. Unlike many other countries, we treat criminals humanely and presume a person is innocent until proven guilty. It has to be proven that the defendant *without reasonable doubt* committed the crime in question . Capital punishment is illegal which is surely part of marking a civilised society that believes in reform and humanity. If a person is murdered, no mayter *who they are* (a homeless person or a doctor), a full scale investigation is very likely to be set up and resources poured into finding the killer. The police get a lot of criticism and not enough thanks in my opinion considering the job they do. Not only do they fight crime and find criminals, they support victims with the help of rape suites and trained family liason officers. When you compare our system to others around the world it outshines them. ██ Animal Laws ██ We have a reputation as a nation of animal lovers. Although you read about terrible acts of animal cruelty, it is becoming more and more common for these perpetrators to be taken to court, fined, banned from keeping animals and even given a custodial sentence in particularly bad cases. Organisations such as the RSPCA which do an excellent job and other animal charities help look after unwanted animals and rescue and treat sick animals. Children under the age of 12 can not buy pets and most dog homes insist on a home visit before letting anyone have a dog from them. There will always be horrible cases of cruelty but when you think of other countries where bullfighting occurs, monkeys are forced to perform and dogs are eaten, I am glad I live here. ██ Variety █
█ Due to globalisation and immigration throughout the world, our country has become a multicultural one. This is seen much more in cities, in villages it is still common to have no ethnic minorities and signs of life other than the traditional English way. But in the cities you can find sari shops, Chinese take aways, Synagogues and even sushi on sale in Marks and Spencer. Opinions are divided on the benefits of globalisation but personally I prefer to live in a country with variety in food, fashion, music, and most importantly variety of people to talk to, befriend, and learn a different view of the world from. ██ Opportunity ██ Say what you like about tuition fees and elitism in education in this country, but the fact remains that if a person really wants to (for example) become a doctor or lawyer, there is nothing stopping them, whether they are Hubert from Eton or Dwayne from Grange Hill. There may be a few more barriers in the way of Dwayne, but if he works hard he has just as much opportunity in life as anyone else. Many universities have schemes in place to encourage young people from areas where there is traditionally a low university intake to go into higher education. Tuition fees are means tested, and while not entirely fair, the people with the least money will not have to pay them. ██ History ██ I do not like "new" cities like Milton Keynes. I do not like modern housing estates which look like plastic dolls houses. I like the history in this country, the abundance of castles, Stonehenge, old churches, thatched roof cottages, the Houses of Parliament, Cathedrals and the colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. ██ Landscape ██ I worked in central Spain one summer. The landscape was very imposing with its red mountains and scorpions and although it had its own beauty, I prefer the friendly gre
en trees in England. When you fly over the English countryside you can really appreciate how green this country really is. Even in the cities there is more green than you would think. I live about 6 miles from Birmingham city centre in a fifth floor flat. From my kitchen window I can see right into town, the BT tower, the Rotunda, St Martins Church in the Bull Ring. Although very urban, my view is mostly green. Even if you live in a city, it is never far to get to the countryside. From Birmingham it is only a short drive to the Lickey and Malvern Hills. I would miss the green if I ever emigrated. ██ Seasons and Weather ██ Many people may disagree with me on this. But I like living somewhere where you can get a tan (of sorts) in the summer, see the lovely colours in Autumn and have snowball fights in Winter (if you're lucky). I like going out on my bike in the rain (very good for letting frustration out) and having a mug of hot chocolate under a blanket in the cold. I like having a wardrobe full of everything from flimsy tops to thick wool jumpers. Imagine living in a country where it is boiling hot for 9 months of the year-stifling heat interspersed with the odd thunderstorm. The climate in England is a moderate one, if only we could banish hail and temperatures under 5C. Other good things about England: a thriving arts culture, inventive government initatives, lots of charities, the country "coming" together for special occasions, sense of humour. *THE BAD* ██ Attitudes ██ Whether it's moaning about asylum seekers, complaining about prices (although justified in this rip off country!), looking down on people for having a certain accent or thinking someone's a snob because they speak in a particular way, many people in England have a chip on their shoulder. On St Georges Day I was in some pubs in Birmingham
city centre. What started as a nice sunny day with people in good spirits turned nasty when some football "fans" took it on themselves to sing anti IRA and racist chants, creating a tense horrible atmosphere. It is as though criticising others makes a person or group of people feel better about themselves. Then there is snobbery, people who think they are better than others because they went to a certain university or live in a "good" area. On the opposite side, there is inverse snobbery, where people "hate" those with a "posh" accent or with a good job. Sometimes it feels like you can't win in this country. I was at a meal once with my boyfriends family and an uncle started teasing me because I was at university, saying I was posh. It was only teasing but I was embarrassed. I sometimes think that older people are jealous of the opportunities that young people have nowadays- cheap travel and a good education were not so readily available when they were young and free. ██ Costs ██ British people pay up to 44% more than people in other European countries (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,479247,00.html) This is a disgrace. Whenever I have been on holiday I have noticed the cheaper prices on everything from meals in restaurants to CD prices. Why should we pay more than these countries for the same thing, especially when as a whole, we have the longest working week and fewest Bank Holidays? When companies attempt to offer a fair price they are often pushed out or fail because they can't afford marketing. ██ Sameness ██ Admittedly this not just happening in England, but all over the developed world .Go down any high street and what do you see- McDonalds, Blockbusters, Starbucks and Gap by any chance? Don't get me wrong, I occasionally have a Chicken Burger (when I am desperate) but I do not like the way
our high streets are being taken over by the (mostly) multinational companies. It pushes out local businesses and makes it very difficult for young entrepreneurs to open their own shops, selling individual , unique items. Every city is becoming the same, from the bars and clubs to the shops and buses. It's depressing. Of course there are certain advantages to this but I think the disadvantages outweigh them by far. ██ The Welfare Culture ██ Some people are better off on benefits than they would be going out to work. If you had the choice between doing 40 hours a week in a menial boring job, or doing nothing (maybe a free adult education course and going to the gym) and getting more money, which would you choose? Let me show you how this works: if you are unemployed, you get a minimum of £42 a week in Jobseekers Allowance. Many people get more (if you are older than 25 or have paid enough in National Insurance contributions). Then you get housing benefit and council tax benefit. Then there are extras such as free courses, schemes such as Birmingham's passport to leisure which entitles you to half price leisure facilities. Once you start work, all of these benefits stop, so working 35 hours a week at minimum wage you take home approximately £130 after tax. Then you have to get to work in the first place, so take off £10 for a weekly bus pass and another £10 for your daily lunch. Then you must pay your rent and council tax. You can see why some people are better off staying on benefits rather than going into a dead end job. I think unemployed people should be encouraged to do voluntary work, and given rewards when they get back into work. ██ Political Correctness ██ -You have to say gingerbread person, not man. -Can't say nitty gritty. -Have to constantly be ultra aware of what you say in case you offend anyone - Jobs purely for people of
a certain background/ethnicity -A company was not allowed to use the word "friendly" in a job description for the job centre. - Ethnic quotas to be filled in workplaces rather than giving the best person the job -On every job application you have to tick your ethic background. Why does it matter? It makes me so angry. I understand the purpose of political correctness but it has gone too far. Other bad things about England: Very few successful films, Government wasting money, queues, annoying people who come up to you in the high street to ask for money or if you want compensation, football hooliganism. Despite all of these, I would not want to live in any other country (at the moment). Apart from maybe Australia or Holland.
I have only been abroad once, and the thing I remember the most is the weather and the scenery. Yet I have been on vacation in England many times, and the things I remember the most is: The weather (that gorgeous day, that terrible day), the scenery (that beautiful landscape, that dump of a place), the laughs, the upsets, and the fact that I was still close to my home. I don’t think it matters where you take your vacation, as long as you enjoy it. All you need to enjoy your vacation is company that you enjoy being around, the ability not to take things too seriously (your on vacation, enjoy yourself!), and an idea of what you want from your holiday. So why pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds to jet off abroad, when everything is right here in England, and if you’re lucky, you may just get a good balance of weather. Here’s a bit about a couple of place I’ve been to: Scarborough & Blackpool Scarborough - From living in Kent, you may think going on holiday to Scarborough is an unlikely choice, as it is not the most talked about, or popular destination. The reason why I first went there was because I was talking to someone for about a year and a half without ever meeting her, so I dragged a friend up there with me to meet her. I must say now, things didn’t really work out with this girl, but that didn’t stop myself and my friend from having a good time. The thing I really liked about Scarborough, was the fact that everything is right there. Our B&B was opposite the train station, the high street (which was fairly big) was just a minutes walk down the road, and the beach front (loads of arcades, pubs, and of course, the beach) was just down below the high street. One thing that shocked myself and my friend though, was what happened come the weekend nights. Going from seeing a usual amount of people walking around the high street on a Friday afternoon, to seeing hundreds and hundreds of people suddenly appearing c
ome night time. No matter where you go on a weekend night, you will probably enjoy yourself, as the people are very friendly, and such a laugh. Blackpool - Well we’ve got to go to Blackpool at least one time in our lives, it is always talked about, and advertised. So we did! Maybe it was because it was hyped-up too much. Maybe it was because there were only two of us. Maybe it was because we went for too long. But we didn’t enjoy it all that much. I don’t know why I said maybe, it was because of these factors. I said before that I was shocked to see all these people appear come the weekend nights, and in Blackpool I was even more shocked. Friday and Saturday night was absolutely packed with people, everywhere you went was packed, it was a great atmosphere. The only thing is that come the day, especially by the Monday we were there, everywhere was dead, and you were struggling to find something to do. As I stated before, I think I went for too long, and with not enough friends. I will definitely be going back again, but with more friends, and for a little less time. But definitely a place to go with a few friends, for a few days of fun!
I have a social disability. I am not a gossip (all the time) or a wallflower or a usurper or a space invader or a bigamist. It’s much more serious than that. I don’t like tea, and in polite English society this is about the worst crime you can commit. My best friend’s dad still refers to me as “the one who doesn’t drink tea” (followed by an incredulous chuckle) although he has known me by name for eleven years. I think if I had stolen a family heirloom on our first meeting I might have been forgiven by now, but the fact that I refused a cup of tea has led to him eyeing me suspiciously every time I enter their home. The English, you see, are nothing short of insane. To drink tea is to be an upstanding citizen and a good egg. We believe that a cup of tea will cure all ills (“you’ve severed your own arm, poor love, I’ll pop the kettle on”) and greatly distrust anyone who rejects the stuff. Have you ever seen a Bond baddie with a brew? Of course you haven’t. Anyway, this is a highly sophisticated study of ‘England in General’ not ‘Tea in General’. So on with the show. The English do a lot of things really well. I’m proud of our language, our history, our culture and our Government. No, honestly. I love living here. I love the eccentric quirks of the English nature, but most of all I love the stereotypes applied to us: that we live on a diet of fish paste sandwiches (yum – McWho?), that we love nothing better than queuing in the rain in our frog wellingtons, that all the ladies wear smart overcoats and all the gentlemen bowler hats. But of course we do. Here is a Guide To Blighty for the uninitiated. * * HISTORY * * I was going to attempt to write a potted history of our green and pleasant land, but realised the futility of the exercise after about 30 seconds when I happed upon this glorious website: http://
britannia.com/history It has everything you could possibly want to know and a good deal more besides, so I’ll leave the history to the historians. Phew. * * POLITICS * * I’ll keep this section short as well. I just think our Government gets far too much stick (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a civil servant and I want a quiet life). There are weasel-y and corrupt individuals, as in any profession, but as a system it *does* work. We have justice and freedom and opportunity and relative safety, which is a darn sight more than most nations have achieved. They’re acting like asses over the whole tube thing though. End of politics. * * LANGUAGE * * Did you know that thesauruses (thesauri?) don’t exist outside of the English-speaking world? No other language is rich or diverse enough to require one, and that makes me feel very smug indeed. The flipside to this of course is our reluctance to learn other languages (preferring instead to shout and gesticulate). I once saw this book called The Englishman’s International Dictionary (or something along those lines), which featured pictures of things like airports and plates of egg and chips, eradicating the need to learn any new holiday vocabulary at all. When in Rome (etc), the Englishman can simply whip this slim volume from his blazer pocket and point. English is a marvellous language. It is also completely illogical (I’m damn happy I grew up with it), yet the most widely spoken in the world. It would be nice to believe that this is down to its sheer beauty, or the wealth of great literature the English have produced, but the truth is that we owe the Yanks big time. America has global clout we can only dream of (but no past and no queen and no Barbour jackets). If you have a spare hour or two, read Bill Bryson’s ‘Mother Tongue’, which must be the only entertaining book on linguistics ever written.
* * ARTS * * Literature and the arts in general are things that the English excel at. Our great artists, past and present, embody the madness of the nation. J M W Turner strapped himself to the mast of a boat and set out into a rather choppy sea, nearly killing himself in the process, in order to accurately paint the ferocity of the waves. Tracey Emin has made a huge personal fortune by exhibiting her unmade bed (complete with used condoms, tissues and dirty underwear) and embroidering a quilt with a list of all the people she has ever slept with. (I often wonder whether she keeps it up to date, and how many prospective partners this has put off.) Our fashion designers too are among the most celebrated in the world, which is hard to believe when you consider that we invented the spotted-handkerchief-tied-around-head beach look, the Essex Girl and the Sloane. But our erratic tendencies seem to go down well abroad, and London is still considered one of the most stylish cities in the globe. * * LONDON * * I’m not going to wax lyrical about the virtues of London because I’ve bored you with that in plenty of other ops, but I can’t let it slip through the net entirely. Our capital is one of our greatest assets, steeped in history, bristling with life and innovation and inhabited by people from the far reaches of the globe. As a nation we have a long way to go to become truly ‘multicultural’ (I will draw a veil over the recent race riots up north, which make me sick to the stomach), but London is an international city which really puts us on the map. * * VILLAGES * * In contrast, our villages and hamlets are also national treasures. Arguably these show off the ‘real’ England, and are bestowed with such risible names as Wallish Walls, Twenty, Yeavering Bell and Wham (all true). Villages are the upholders of quaint institutions, from Girl Guide jumble sales to vicarage s
ummer hog roasts, and have a greater concentration of X-file candidates per square foot than anywhere else in the country. Unlike city psychos however, your average English village-dwelling crazy horse is seemingly innocuous, and it’s only when you’re invited in for tea (no thank you) that you see their collection of dead hedgehogs. * * MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN * * The English are a strange race. We weep at pictures of bedraggled cats, yet merrily part with £10 to go on a guided Jack the Ripper tour of London. We grumble ceaselessly about the weather, even when it is glorious outside (“hot enough for you?”), yet never complain about bad service. If a waiter asks an Englishman whether he is enjoying his meal the reply will invariably be yes, even if he has to politely excuse himself five minutes later to vomit. We are a nation of apologisers, stammering “sorry, sorry” if someone stands on *our* foot. And the English always wait their turn. For everything. Queuing is almost a national sport – and the sooner it gets recognised as such the better I say; we’ll be a shoo-in for at least one gold in the Olympics. * * OTHER POINTS TO NOTE * * An ironmonger does not mong iron, and a fishmonger does not mong fish. It’s just another example of how the English love nonsense.
This country has gone to levels which I never thought possible in my lifetime. The yob culture at the lower end of things, the greed culture at the other end of the scale. But even that as filtered through to all levels. What has happened to England?? We no longer have an indentity, multiculture has put paid to that. But even that is not manifested itself in an even manner, we have vast areas where the crescent replaced the cross and the majority of the populous stem from one area/culture. Our image abroad is wrecked by the image of the shaven headed lout, not all shaven headed persons are loutish, but that is judged by others as such. Our political system is in chaos, no proper left wing party to oppose a proper right wing party, all of them seem to be opting for middle ground and not achieving anything. A royal family whose standards and morals are so in question, do we really need them, I dont think so, but thats just my personal view. We still have some redeeming qualities like the NHS and our welfare system, but it is getting so much abuse from a; outsiders, who have made or intend making no input, and b; our own skivers, which we seem to have more than enough of. We have just lost track of who we are.
Despite the fact people often moan about England - the weather, the cleanliness (guilty!) etc etc. I am proud to be English. I think it is the best country to live in in the world for quite a few reasons: 1-The Weather Although it isn't always warm and sunny (particularly in the summer) I like the English weather. Our hot days are hot enough for me and our cold days are cold enough for me. The ones in between are just right. I personally wouldn't be able to function properly (not that I do anyway!) if it ever got any hotter or any colder. I never go anywhere hot on holiday because I find England warm enough. I think our weather is just right - we don't suffer from bad droughts or floods and I think all the people who moan about the weather should appreciate this. 2-The Food I think the English food is the best in the world! Good ol' fish and chips, you can't get anything quite like them anywhere else. Now, the fact I have very bland taste has quite a lot to do with this but hey, it's my opinion! English food looks good, smells good and tastes good and it's not spicy! In other countries I have so much trouble with the food, they always mess it up with strange sauces etc. Our bland food is definitely the best. I'd much rather eat a plate of fish 'n' chips than an Indian, Chinese, Italian or Mexican. 3-The Wealth We are a very lucky country, we are lucky to be More Economically Developed and able to afford what we need, and more. I don't think we always appreciate this. We can afford decent public transport and a health service which is more than some countries. Also, we don't let people starve, there are places for homeless people to go and there is support for the unemployed. In places like India, if you are unemployed, you can die from lack of food etc. We are lucky that we can afford to live the way we do. It is good that we are able to look after those less fortunat
e than us. Unfortunately, we waste money too. I mean, the Millennium Dome.....?! 4-The Health I also think we are fortunate to have such good healthcare. I know people always moan about the NHS, but at least we have it. At least if you get ill, you can go into hospital to be treated if you need to be. People in other countries suffer because they can't afford healthcare. I think we should appreciate the fact that if we are ill we can be treated, and also we can afford to prevent illness through immunisation etc. We really are very fortunate to have access to such good treatment and to be able to prevent diseases. 5-The Safety I am glad I live in England when I hear about what's happening in the rest of the world. When you see war scenes and fighting beteen other countries on the news it is terrible. I feel so lucky to live here where it is safe, and also where we have a good defence system - the army. Also I am glad that our children can feel safe in their schools. You read about people taking guns into school in America and pupils and teachers getting shot for no reason. We are very fortunate not to be in this situation. Anyway, these are just my reasons for liking England so much, serious and not so serious. But I really do think that people don't appreciate how lucky we are to have everything we have as a country sometimes which is a shame.
What would an avid motor racing enthusiast like me, who stood for years on end facing danger at the edge of the track, do for a holiday ?? Yes, rent a canal boat. Top speed 4 mph, 5 if you break the rules, limited manouverability and no brakes. So I dragged my girl friend, two children, mum, dad, aunt and dog off to Adventure Fleet in Braunston, Northamptonshire to rent the boat Berwyn (this is an updated name, the model I rented has been replaced ) for a week. On arrival there, the boat appeared huge at 62ft and had 3 cabins plus living area, two toilets, cooking area and seats to front and rear for relaxation during the journey plus all the usual refinements one would expect like TV, charging points for phone and video and constant hot water. After checking this huge craft and being given a training session in the handling we had to finally decide where to go !! For this we bought a canal companion Book, price £4.95 from the on site shop, and decided on the South Midlands and Warwickshire ring. Canals were man made two hundred and more years ago, which is a massive feat in itself, and were arranged in rings and straight lines for the movement of freight, but the route we had chosen should take a week to complete. Planning is essential at 4 mph, otherwise many sites of interest and meals will be missed. We headed off from Braunston along the Grand Union Canal towards Napton Junction and from there turned towards Leamington Spa where the first night was spent, eating first in a pub gleaned from the canal companion. Along the way we had encountered several locks to traverse, these equalise the height of water and contain 40,000 gallons of water or more to be removed or refilled and each takes about 10 minutes to go through. Second day we stopped at Warwick, and toured the castle there which was very worthwhile and then encountered Hatton Locks, 21 in a row and rising impressively up the hill. Working as a team we
managed to beat this huge task in about an hour, and many videos and photos were taken by the cooks inside the boat delivering us tea as we toiled. Then another of the canal systems mysteries ....a tunnel, which is both narrow and quite dark. As I approached the tunnel I thought about the boat and it's length, it was so big but I still got it in. Going through a tunnel in a boat is an amazing experience as the tunnel is long and dark (this was Shrewley Tunnel at 396 metres ), and water drips on your head from the hill above but as one follows the chink of light in front and exits into the (hopefully ) bright light at the other end one is filled with wonderment. There are much longer tunnels on the canal network, some are over a mile in length. From here we turned right at Kingswood junction. Turning a huge boat through ninety degrees requires a great deal of skill as the canals are equally narrow and requires slowing the boat initially which is achieved by putting the boat into reverse. My dad at this point tried to bend the boat round the corner, one of several times I ended up actually IN the water, another time was in a lock which is extremely dangerous and not the ideal place for a swim. From here we stopped off at Cadburys World and the Patrick Motor Collection which are both canalside and worth visiting, and the village of Bournville is extremely attractive having been built in Cadbury colours for the workers there. Then we headed towards Birmingham, which is an amazing place to go through in a boat.It is in fact easier to park a 62ft boat in the centre of Birmingham than it is a Smart car. Birmingham has many attractions such as Gas Street basin which is a selection of shops arranged like a street alongside the canal. In wonderment that afternoon through bleary eyes my girlfriend said " I'm not going under that huge erection ". However the canal route did in fact take us under the Birmingham Post Offi
ce Tower so she had no choice. At some points the canal is very narrow going through locks, and we virtually had to drag the boat under some parts of Birmingham. To cut what can be a very long story a bit short other places we visited or experienced included Coventry and Rugby, and several smaller towns on the way, and included going under Spaghetti Junction. The final night was spent at Hillmorton. The following day on starting our final two hours my girlfriend went up to the lock to let us through. She came back and said there was no water. We looked at her, not wishing to believe she had gone a bit silly, went to look. There was no water. The lock had leaked several hundred thousand gallons of water during the night. We were stuck. However by juggling with the preceeding and following locks we managed to return the canal to this 100 metre barren stretch. Amazing where you can produce 1/4 million gallons of water from at short notice !! The boat was returned only 1/2 hour late. For anyone wanting to repeat this experience try Blakes holidays on 01603 739400. Ours was a Price Band 40 boat which varies from £622 to £1,020 per week inclusive of all costs including fuel.
This year the election has been the worst one i've ever seen. They are normally bad but this year they have been worse. Normally you expect to see the usual 5 adverts on every lamp-post on the street. Fortunatly, due to the foot and mouth crisis, the elction has been delayed, and so less of the adverts have been put up, but still; on my way to school this morning i saw 4 different adverts! Oh brother! The election is supposed to be about choosing the government with the best policies, the best plans and the most realistic ways of handling a crisis. This year i watched the programme on BBC1 asking questions to William Hague about what he would do if he got into power. He handled almost every question by saying that Labour had mucked everything up, and they would fix it. Every campaign is just advertising the other parties mistakes. The only party that i have seen steer clear of this is the Lib Dems. It seems to me they have the most realistic plans but it seems to everyone else they are just not big enough to get into power. So it's the battle of labour and the tories. So both try to get famous people to "accidentally" drop a hint they willl vote for them. Labour apparently has Britney Spears, and the Tories have someone that i have forgotten the name of. This is just trying to get fans of the famous people to vote for the party they advertise. Nothing to do with what they can really do. The parties, then it seems can't really do anything. So who should we vote for?
Today is 23rd APRIL....St. Georges Day. I am quite miffed that I was the only adult I have seen today that wore a badge with the English flag on it.The only other people I saw wearing one were my children !!! When I collected them from school today, they told me they were the ONLY ones to wear one out of the whole school.Not one teacher mentioned that it was St.Georges Day....infact several asked what the badges were for!! I think that is shameful.On St.Patricks Day, the Irish wear their pins with pride and celebrate in style.The Scots that I know do the same, as do the Welsh. On 'Patron Saints Days' I make a point of wishing the Irish / Scottish / Welsh folk a happy day.I have even been known to have a drink with them to celebrate. What do us English do (I cannot say all, as I know many do celebrate/ acknowledge it) on St.Georges Day. Chuff all !! My sister was once landlady of a pub (here in England).On St.Patricks night we laid on bacon, cabbage, hats, decorations...the place was packed, the atmosphere wonderful. On St.Georges Day we hung bunting, the English flag hung above the bar,we laid on hats, beef sandwiches, bangers and mash. The pub again was packed.90% of the customers asked what the celebration was all about !! Why are we like this ? I do my bit, I only wish more would. I have to make our badges every year, as I have not seen one shop in a five mile radius of here that sells them.I came across one shop that sold flags !! I am sure, now correct me if I am wrong, that dooyoo acknowledged St Patricks Day, there were banners e.t.c. Not a sign of anything related to St.Georges Day though!! I read today that a headmaster in a school BANNED the English flag from flying at the school today, as he did not want to 'offend the multi-cultural society' that England now is. I cannot believe that attitude.....what are things coming to? It is people
like that headmaster that create half the problems.Bit like me saying 'it's my birthday today, but I won't celebrate incase I offend all those who do not share my birthday'. We accommodate many cultures/festivals in England, we are happy to do so.I doubt very much any sane person would be offended by us celebrating our Patron Saints Day. And if they were to be offended....tough.That is just small minded and very petty.It's about time more of us celebrated St.Georges Day. I am proud to be English, proud to be part of Great Britain.I wore my badge with pride, and will continue to do so in future.I just hope I see more people do the same. Anyway..... HAPPY ST.GEORGES DAY.
For all of you who haven’t heard the latest rumour – England is one of the best places to live in the world! Well, if you’re like me and haven’t even contemplated moving to another country then I would think that you like living in England – I certainly do. There is so much about England that anyone could possibly write about, so I’ll try and keep my opinion brief, but as useful as possible! England is a very small country compared to other European places, but there is so much to do here from a tourist’s point of view at least! I’d recommend England as a holiday destination to anyone, even though we may not have the best weather. We may not even have the best fashion stores, football team, rugby national side, tennis players or athletics team, but as a place of history England rules the roost. Go to any place in England and it’ll have a detailed history – very interesting in most cases. I’ve been all over the country to places like Coventry, London – a superb, highly populated tourist heaven capital of England, Newcastle - not their stadium though :) and many other places. For tourists – go to London! The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the shopping streets of Oxford, Bond and Regent Street and so many other famous attractions. These are many of the highlights of England and are considered as landmarks of the country. England is superb, I cannot re-iterate that fact enough, we may seem old fashioned with a royal family but they’re ok, and the government does it’s best. England – a great place to live, visit and be proud of!! Jester
This is an opinion about a road. Not any old road at the end of your street, but a damn fine new road. It's called the A50 Derby to Stoke link road. For many years I have struggled using the beast that is known as the M6. But everytime in the past that I have used it, I have also ended up in one huge traffic jam, giving me plenty of time to view the sights and smells of Birmingham. Not a very pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, let me assure you. Then to my rescue came Connect A50, an especially formed company, who were indeed one of the first companies in the UK to be awarded a contract under the Governments D.B.F.O. (Design, Build, Finance and Operate) initiatives. The contract called for the building of a new motorway link road and it's subsequent maintenance between Stoke on Trent, near the M6 motorway in the West of England, and Derby in the East Midlands, close to the M1 motorway. The inclusion of the maintenance in the original contract is interesting - is it an attempt to minimise future repairs to the road, which in the past, have been required to other motorways as the result of dodgy foundations, I wonder? Anyway, what a lovely road they have built! It starts near the M1 as a three lane dual carriageway but after a few initial bends, settles into a two lane dual carriageway. It has got a modern surface to it that doesn't make too much tyre noise, it is nice and straight apart from about 5 roundabouts, and at the moment it's fairly free of traffic (compared with the M1 and M6). It has shaved at least half an hour off the time it takes for me to get from the south of England to Cheshire, and relieved much of the stress, in the knowledge that I am unlikely to grind to a halt in a traffic jam. I thoroughly recommend it. Usually at this point in an opinion I might give the address of a web site, but in this case I refer you (from the south) to junction 23A of the M1 sign posted "Stoke". I t
urn off just before it reaches Stoke and head up through Leek to Macclesfield.