Forever England

In a week when being English is a cause for celebration* - if anyone can be bothered - I should like to pay homage to this great, hybrid nation of ours.

In a week when being English is a cause for celebration* - if anyone can be bothered - I should like to pay homage to this great, hybrid nation of ours.

It was as we sat on an array of three plastic-backed picnic blankets, on the wet grass, beside the car, in temperatures hovering around the low 50s Fahrenheit, that I munched my ham and tomato roll, sipped indescribably bad instant coffee from a flask and contemplated the nature of being English.

My mum and dad, son and girlfriend, daughter and boyfriend, me and him, sedately conducted our picnic, passing the mustard, clockwise, in the middle of the car park at Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds.

We had known, before we set out for the day trip, that the weather would be indifferent to cool although the mist, which hung over the trees like a damp grey sponge, lingered.

Were we downhearted? Not at all.

Ruth, bare-legged and in floral pumps, was in a cotton top and skirt.

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“Are you cold?”

“A bit - but I'm fine,” she declared stoically as my mum shivered in her fleecy jacket. “I'm fine too,” she alleged.

At Ickworth, there is an indoor restaurant, a picnic area and a hog roast but we didn't want to look soft so we stuck with the blankets and salad.

We took a turn round the rotunda but we decided to get outdoors in the cold and head for the willow maze; which was padlocked and didn't really look much like a maze; not so much a case of finding your way to the middle as finding a way in.

After a few hours of fresh air we headed home, feeling satisfied that we had explored another corner of “this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war. This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea…This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Today, as I nurse the cold I probably caught because I didn't wear gloves at Ickworth, I feel a sense of pride that I am English and therefore expected to behave strangely, if nobly.

There is a trend for former colonies around the world, to demand apologies from their invaders and occupiers.

Do the English ask the Romans, Normans, Danes etc for reparation? No we don't and we don't want grovelling letters either.

Dear people of England, we are most dreadfully sorry our forebears conquered your nation. As a small gesture, I would like to complete the wall Hadrian left half finished,

Yours sincerely

Silvio Berlusconi pp Julius Caesar


Mon Cher Angleterre

Nous sommes vraiment prostrate over le petit incident nous saisons � '1066 et tout ca'. Would it be of any comfort to have le Bayeux Tapestry on loan for a couple de semaines dans le summer,

Yours truly,

Nicola Sarkozy pp William I


Guten morgen, Englischers

On behalf of or forefathers, may I extend my deepest regret for the 600 years the Anglo-Saxons lorded it over you.

In recompense, the German people undertake to leave two sun loungers free by every swimming pool for the exclusive use of the English.

Yours faithfully

Angela Merkel pp Hengist and Horsa


Dear England

What can I say. Pillaging is just not what Demark is about in the 21st century. We are the land of Lego, and Hans Christian Anderson. To prove we are no longer a warlike nation I enclose a copy of Danny Kaye singing The Ugly Duckling

Yours in peace

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark pp Eric Bloodaxe

Quite unnecessary. We are not the sort of people to bear a grudge and so we embrace our conquerors. We are even grateful, as demonstrated by TV programmes such as What the Romans Did for Us.

There is some debate about exactly how savage we were before the Romans. I'm pretty sure our knuckles were well off the ground before Julius came over here and veni-ed, vidi-ed and vici-ed in 55BC.

You get the impression that prior to the Romans, we only travelled from A to B by the most circuitous route as there were no straight roads anywhere; we never had a bath until the Romans created spas; and we wouldn't have known what an orgy was if the caterers dropped grapes in our mouths and cavorted naked with a tray of larks' wings.

But even if the Italian invaders did supplant some of our own much-loved ancient traditions such as fighting in the nude (as Boudicca did, apparently) and painting ourselves blue, their legacy is a rich one.

We would probably have all been living in bungalows if the Romans hadn't built upstairs. Then where would we be?... New Zealand, maybe.

*It is St George's Day on Thursday. Why not do something genuinely English, such as not make a fuss about it or be too polite to mention it.

The BBC invited visitors to its website to write a short poem based on some everyday instructions, perhaps helping to make them more memorable.

One of their examples was the wiring colours for fitting a plug. The text is as follows:

Earth - green and yellow (previously green)

Neutral - blue (previously black)

Live - brown (previously red)

The poem, by Wendy Cope is:

Live Brown

Lights up the town.

Neutral Blue

Has no strong view.

And what about the stripy fellow?

Earth's the berth for Green-and -Yellow.

It set me wondering whether poems could be the answer to my menopausal memory deficit.

For example, helping me remember to take one HRT pill at the same time each day:


At half past three

(Though this is a different time

It's worth it to complete the rhyme)

2. Remembering to pay the milkman (yes, I still have milk delivered in glass bottles)

Leave out a bottle

Write out a cheque

Roll it up tightly and

Place in the neck

Ah, I've just spotted the obvious drawback.

If I can't remember what I'm supposed to do then I'm hardly likely to remember a rhyme about it.

I'll just carry on plastering the house with post-it notes.