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Being British: Our Once And Future Selves Kindle Edition
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I especially enjoyed Parish's words on British pessimism from the best selling books with awfully negative titles and then with broken gym equipment branded with signs stating their dysfunctional state. Why do we not resolve our issues? Complaining doesn't solve anything. I'm sure it's an English proverb which dictates "there is no use crying over spilled milk". As Parish writes: "...a common characteristic of British culture is to complain while having no intention of doing anything about it."
He later asks: "...why do we British tend to have this pessimistic glass-half-empty attitude to our country and to life?" And, I feel that yet it may be because of the fall of our Great Empire but it's socially ingrained in us. If we are remotely happier than our peers, something 'big' must have happened. All of us, British individuals, share this same thought: why so pessimist? Is it just because these pessimistic attitudes are prevalent in the tv soaps we watch for entertainment? Eastenders, anyone?
I enjoyed Parish's semi-patriotic, liberal, take on being and becoming British. The culture, the history, the values. It's always good to be reminded of the values we hold in such high regard. Parish writes: "Fair play as a British value runs deep and has roots stretching way back into our historical development as a nation. It is part of who we are, and one facet of the elusive heart of Britishness." This is almost poetic, and I'm pleased that I'm not nostalgic about it: we still value it, today (what, with our practice of 'queuing' and all)
Now before you dismiss the opportunity to read this book, do understand that this book is different to what you're used to. It's not a handbook of what it entails to be a Brit, it is a brilliant account of how our British nationality influences us, in the present day.
Chris Parish recognises that: "Books about the English or the British tend to give lists of peculiar habits and characteristics of ours which are supposed to be definitive of our nationality, but inevitably they are superficial and also tend to be rather silly stereotypes: we are tea drinking, warm-beer swigging, cricket loving, Marmite scoffing, fish & chip enthusiasts; reserved folk who are very polite and at the same time repressed and feeling permanent embarrassment for the mere fact that we exist; saying sorry for having our own foot trodden on by someone else." And, I'm pleased to remark that this book is nothing of the sort.
What stands out for me about this book are two things. One is it is written in a style which is highly readable and the other is, simultaneously, it manages to combine this with real gravitas and intellectual curiosity. In this sense the author reminds me of the great George Orwell, who I know he very much admires. Orwell was the master of the ability to mix original thought with a fresh, highly engaging style; his essay 'The Lion and the Unicorn' being an excellent example.
The readability of 'Being British' is to do with both the easy style of writing and the range of subjects lighted upon including some delightful, well researched examples of less commonly known episodes of history used in order to make a point. One such is the little known story of the village of Newington Green, now absorbed into London, and the surprising part it played in the American Revolution. Similarly the chapter on the British relationship to Nature is a tour de force.
What I found most of all makes the book worth reading is the originality of the thought behind it. It’s no surprise that Rowan Williams - quoted on the cover - found it so pleasing. The writer clearly has an aversion to clichéd thinking. Instead he offers a deep and thoughtful account, shining a light on many taken-for-granted notions about Britain, its people, where we’ve come from and who we and this country can be.
At this time we are in the thick of a debate about Europe and the question of our identity and future direction is at the forefront of public discourse. Yet all too often the views we hear lack the intellectual rigour, sensitivity and subtlety that would do justice to the questions posed. 'Being British' is a joyful antidote to shallowness and for anyone interested in a more nuanced contemplation of this subject Chris Parish’s reflective, insightful investigation is guaranteed to provide a pleasurable and thoroughly stimulating read. The answers he provides do genuinely point the way to a better place for ourselves in the world.
This is a book that is filled to overflowing with intelligence, wit and humour and takes us deeper and deeper into owning for ourselves, what it really means to be a British person alive today.
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