I don't sleep well at night - though I am able to drop off easily during the day! - and in those lonely, dead-of-night hours I seek things to do: composing, painting, attempting to write a poem, or just relaxing in front of whatever TV is around at that time (surprisingly interesting actually, sometimes). Likewise the BBC World Service is nearly always very good at this time. And some of these programmes offer different views of life as seen through folk from all over the world. What has always struck me is how alike, basically, are the aspirations of ordinary people the world over. We share in common the desire to live in peace, without fear, in reasonable plenty, with our family & friends around us, led by humane government, and free to express ourselves within the context of a diverse and vibrant culture. Yet time and again I listen to extraordinary accounts of people for whom life is anything but easy, and time and again I am given reason to pause and think just how fortunate I am to live when and where I do.
I then ponder that big question, why? How come a small island (or group of islands) somewhere betwixt the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea has remained for so long such a rich, powerful and unconquered nation? How is it that, despite recessions and the like, we still remain right up near the top of the world order, or so we'd mostly like to think? On what was our prosperity founded, and how is it maintained? I ventured to give a tongue-in-cheek response to this big question in a poem of rhyming couplets, although the end result is not entirely frivolous at all: I am not a serious historian, and my view of things may well be somewhat cock-eyed, but there is, I believe, a ring of truth about my portrayal of our hard-fought-for dominance. Our way of life, our standard of living, these are built upon centuries of often bloody history. We have trampled many times over weaker peoples in order to exploit natural resources that we do not have at home. We have for centuries jockeyed with our European neighbours for the pole positions, better to gather the spoils of lesser nations round the globe. It's called Empire building, and we were very, very good at it!
So there it is: a narrative view of why "we English" used to dominate the world, and still have quite a hold on parts of it all. And it is "we English" rather than "we British" because even close to home the London power ruthlessly destroyed any uprisings in the fellow countries of the UK. Some might call us a proud nation, and in many ways we undoubtedly are; but there is also much shame to acknowledge in our struggle to be great. My account bares the soul of our greatness through my guilt-ridden, comfortably-middle-class eyes:
For the likes of you and me the comfort of the C of E provides us with a moral code to light our way, to show the road of our life's journey. Each new mile sanctioned by the vicar's smile. Canterbury leads the way for all of us at work, in play. Provides a decent moral layer to our Government at prayer. Whether Left or Tory Right the Leader's halo doth shine bright, legislating in the House with humility of a cathedral mouse. Our Constitution can be seen in ceremonial glory of our Queen, resplendent as our Head of State in all she does officiate.
And with authority of this crown has Merrie England oft cut down peoples in corners of the globe our country's interests sought to probe and subjugate with brutish forces lands rich in natural resources. We built the British Commonwealth to satiate the needs of self. We forced the natives to comply with laws that sought to edify their savage and unholy lives; with guns against their spears and knives we ruthlessly put down dissent, sanctioned by that church in Kent. With greedy zeal our moral Church knocked many an idol off its perch!
T'was love brought C of E about espoused in blood by that goutish lout who sought in vain a Papal blessing to solve his matrimonial messing. This heresy nationalised perforce did justify murderous divorce. Henry made the glorious C of E to end our papal legacy. He finished our dependency on the corrupted Holy See. Thus on this convenient foundation we rebuilt our powerful Nation, fought with vigour France and Spain, time and time and time again. When Philip's Spain attacked our shore Drake's brilliance gave the Armada more than maybe they had bargained for. Maybe the weather helped. Cruel sea took awful toll of man and ship as violent storms and winds did whip the waters into frenzied foam that chased the beaten sailors home. Sometimes we lost, sometimes we won, but when required our Wellington thrashed Bony when it mattered most. And kept intact our fortress coast.
Emboldened by our seamen's might we conquered everywhere in sight. We out-manouvred with some ease the Spanish, Dutch and Portugese, discovering lands across the oceans, exported our Protestant devotions to all and sundry. Colonies galore established world-wide England's law, and fed the natives with the lie that our just cause was noble, high, and in their interest. Thus we stole their natural wealth, culture and soul, creating Empire proud and strong. It could not, did not, last for long. Poor George the Third was weak and lax, had problems with our Income Tax, revolting natives threw our tea into the sea, along with our authority!
Closer to home, that land of gales and rain and sheep – storm-tossed Wales - has always been the lesser nation made to know its lowly station. But for their water, coal and steel, they still remain our dog at heel; defiantly they have their say on the rugby field of play. As do our enemies the Scots for whom the pain endures. In lots of games they never seem to win as England finds their puissance thin. Their Waterloo was at Culloden where their dreams ended in mud and blood and tears. And ever since England downed each rebellious prince; (even in their national game of football, the result's the same).... And so we kept their coronation stone [from Scone] beneath our London throne.
The Emerald Isle was bullied too, for centuries. For although they number few they have their pride and own beliefs, and a vast array of warring chiefs, ever willing to fight to the end the English whose arrogances offend. Thus has English supervision created years of bloody division: Republicans and Loyalists fight endlessly for the right to command the streets, to own the land, using tactics underhand. One common shout do all confide, that God, their God, is on their side.
And then, my friends, our enemy the French joined forces with us twice in muddy trench, to fight the monumental German foe, enlisting all to make the Hun forego his genocidal, evil case to become the Master Race; millions suffered to revoke the nightmare dreams of Herrenvolk. And when things were getting frantic, help came from over the Atlantic; from the ex-colonial quarter many flocked to join the slaughter. From India and down under too folk came in haste to help the few protect the White Cliffs of Dover from the onslaught from Hanover, paying back that original sin of choosing German royal kin.
And all for what? And what for all? How History shapes our crystal ball! One man's gain is another's loss; and 'cause our England's usually boss we prosper in a world of want, blessed by that water in the font of the baptismal C of E, exclusive brand of Christianity interpreting the God of Love our way. He up there, above, supports us in all things we do, all our ventures, old and new. History is what proves me right, and right is on the side of might. The fist is mostly velvet now, but still says what it will allow or not. And in this cut-throat world makes sure the Union Jack's unfurled! Our interests always to the fore, Whilst most have less, we still have more.
Out in the desert Middle East on liquid black our eyes do feast, that stuff called oil is what we need our industrial machines to feed; 'planes, cars and lorries need it too, to trade in goods from Timbuktoo to China and the Orient. To each new place we sent ambassadors to ease the way for English interests to hold sway. 'Tis true that in the field of human rights we appear as leading lights, trumpeting freedom of expression to them that practice cruel repression, on the reasonable condition that we can do secret rendition: quiz by proxy in some lesser land with methods our vicar'd find underhand those whose motives we suspect, those belonging to a diff'rent sect, those whose creeds, from holy Meccas, bomb Londoners in double-deckers. At least we question quite a lot of foreigners, caring not a jot that many may be innocent of harbouring any foul intent. We leave them broken, left to die away from our sensitive public eye.
Remember, it was we, alas! first dropped our cans of poison gas on unsuspecting folk below. The milk of kindness ceased to flow! And when we felt the need to stamp authority, the concentration camp enabled us to subjugate those natives that we love to hate. We reaped, and now we sow the consequences of this status quo: the enemy we never had is now the foe, the fearsome jihad counteracting our crusade. Our world's foundations now are laid on greed and insecurity; our sense of moral purity replaced by pious moral stance. We English always seek advance, our wealthy influence makes rules that give us ever sharper tools with which to shape the world we know - to nurture friend and punish foe.
In modern times we've meddled still like thieves with fingers in the till. The Malvinas, storm-tossed isles surrounded for miles and miles and miles by freezing seas. For these we fought as dogs, for territorial waters rich beneath the cold grey waves, were many men sent to their graves. Once more we claim an Exclusion Zone round some rocks that stand alone so many thousand miles away from where our massive might holds sway. Imagine letting the Isle of Man be governed by far-off Iran! Suppose we ceded sovereign right to Malta, of the Isle of Wight! Could we let the Isles of Scilly be conquered by those that speak Swahili? How'd we feel if foreign power claimed mineral rights around the Gower? Elsewhere too lands rich in oil we have invaded, military toil rewarded by the mineral plunder for which the natives are torn asunder. Anywhere within our range we might subject to regime change. But yet, not all: we only go where we identify the foe as weak enough to take the risk. Our military campaigns are brisk initially. Post destruction we ignore the reconstruction.
And our victorious relief is mirrored by the terrible grief of those we've vanquished. Wretched mothers for their sons, girls for their brothers. Children too join this collateral, their deaths disgustingly unnatural. But when each year Remembrance Day comes round, we join to pray for our war dead, forgetting those who, caught in situ, never chose to live beneath the aerial hellfire. Weapons our dealers so admire bought with our taxes. Our joint Forces England's supremacy endorses.
In our green and pleasant land we soon forget the desert sand. The high street stores have food and goods, our countryside has fields and woods, no danger from the skies above, an unspoilt land we've grown to love. For although we keep world order we are safe behind our border. Ours is Right, the Moral Nation, built by human exploitation. Church and State unite as one to shape our God, to own the sun. When politicians and archbishops meet they sing from the English Hymnal sheet: brother clasps hand of brother, and marching to the Promised Land they make on Earth our kind of Heaven: whether Lancashire or cream teas Devon, Sussex Downs or Yorkshire Dale, in fact in every leafy vale our land is rich, we are never cursed by famine. Nor do we ever thirst.
Woolly liberal protesters, the open-toed, and child molesters, doctors, nurses, factory workers, even social benefit shirkers, farmers, kitchen appliance makers, priests as well as undertakers, all save up for later times, retirement, trips to warmer climes. All entrusted bankers' dockets not to line financiers' pockets. They were wrong, and now we pay whilst bankers grow rich day by day. In what was all of this invested? By what ethic was it tested? Do we really know or care, so long as we received our share? Risking money they don't own young men fueled by testosterone lost massive sums; not just millions: this our life-long hard-earned billions! Guilt-edged Bonds [sic], stocks & shares, in any business, no-one cares. Maybe in green-energy wind-farms, just as likely drugs and firearms. In housing too do we invest which leaves a shortage for the rest, the out-of-work deserving poor for whom we should be building more. Nimby's and our planning laws work hard to close those needed doors. As far as any of us tries to be moral, we all have ties with business of the darker kind - out of sight and out of mind.
So ponder as you eat your fill at all the folk we had to kill to keep providing on our plate the food we eat, the goods to sate our avaricious appetite. Fight the good fight with all your might to keep the world at bay, but compliant. Despite our size, we are the giant, who from behind our sacred shore ensures that there is always more where that came from. For us the morrow is always free from doubt and sorrow! In desert storms the still small voice of calm shouts loud: let us rejoice with a full and gladsome mind' to remind us that our Lord is kind! Through the earthquakes, wind and fire we prosper neath Cathedral spire; led by priests in solemn prayers designed to suit our moral layers. So know but this, we English folk will never suffer slavery's yoke; the men who played on Eton's field learn principles we'll never yield. They keep our island home afloat, entice us when it comes to vote to vote for them, the ruling classes: born to lead the chattering masses. They create the wealthy niche now occupied by nouveau riche; they provide the middle classes with their designer reading glasses, all they need to live life's plenty up to the age three score & twenty thanks to our much-loved NHS. We would not settle now for less than what we feel are our just dues. We English have too much to lose to rock too much the wobbly boat of moral contradiction. We'll vote always where are interests are, not stretch our consciences too far with any awkward questions. No: we'll settle for the status quo!