I’M not certain when it began – old movies my parents watched on television, mostly World War ll but sprinkled with pieces such as Gunga Din. Mrs Miniver with the beautiful Greer Garson. These were my introduction to the English.
I became a voracious reader. I discovered Jane Eyre. Then on to the moors with Cathy and Heathcliff. Oh, what stories! The places and characters sounded so exotic. I know now the characters were uniquely English; things about their outlook and their handling of their situations . . . the beginnings of knowing the English. For me, at any rate. They were written about a generation long passed but they were so real to me that they transcended generations and centuries.
Now I’m (ahem) a little older, retired, and have freedom. Netflix has proved to be a boon. First, The Great British Baking Show: listen to ‘real’ English people, watch their faces, interactions, in their quests for the crystal cake plate. Competition here is seen always to be in relation to big money prizes – $10,000, $25,000. One expects maximum overdrive to attain that. You give the same time, work, deliberation to the attainment of a crystal cake plate! And the nature views interspersed throughout the filming of Bake Off (as you call it): the little lambs, the woolly sheep, the trees, the flying insects, the fowl – I don’t even know what some of them are! The producers know their audience: you are so intimately connected to your land, your country; the flora and fauna is in your blood and bones and sinew. It’s your land and you love it.
Big Dreams Small Spaces with host Monty Don; I have so thoroughly enjoyed it. In the States we have the Home and Garden television network and it’s fun to dream about the perfect garden, for example. But our shows are about a kamikaze bombing with professionals descending on the property of a family and in two days completely cleaning out and erecting, planting, painting, finishing an entire back yard. Bam! Faster than a New York minute.
In Big Dreams, Monty helps the folks focus and then walks away. Folks do the work. You love the smell, the feel of the land in your hands. You get down in it and own it and shape it. Because it is as much a part of you as your heart. You want the garden to look a certain way, but you want nature to come in – the little bugs and butterflies and the little creepy crawly things. You love the life they bring to your gardens.
The gardeners invite their friends and families to help. We pay professionals to come in, you ask friends and family. And they do it! Yes, TV; and OK, 15 minutes of fame – but really, it’s because they love the land, too! To the English, it’s a part of their love for their country.
The program Your Garden – families with special needs are assisted in bringing the beauty and therapy of a garden to their homes. The first program I watched was a young couple and their first child, a Down’s child – a little guy with a huge smile and just starting to toddle. Because of his challenges, the parents wanted to create a space that played to his strengths. All the programs are in that vein. Uplifting, transcendent and a glimpse into the heart of the English – caring, giving, and unselfish.
The folks dress in ‘comfortable clothing’. Out and about, to the store, or to the park, you dress simply and sensibly. I haven’t noticed (I have to laugh because this is iconically American), I haven’t noticed any false fingernails! Gosh, here, ten-year-olds are apt to have artificial fingernails! Not you sensible English. You know what’s important. There’s more to life, evidently, then fake nails and six-inch high heels. Who knew?
House of Windsor was my introduction to the monarchy. It must be a fairly accurate portrayal of your Queen – she and her family are living history. Add to this, the program The Crown (huge success here) which is a much more intimate look at Queen Elizabeth. It seems a fair presentation of who she is.
In the Queen, I see you. The strength, the stoicism of your nature. It must be done, so do it to the best of your ability. I think of a woman on Bake Off tackling a problem– it was the first time I ever heard ‘needs must’. You are a tough, resilient people; you soldier on and make do, or bend things to your will. You don’t cry. We cry at the drop of a hat. But you know when tears are warranted and ‘this ain’t that’.
All these things – and more – have informed my view of the English. You are good and true, fair and sensible, caring and light-hearted, strong and gutsy, gentle and loving. An amazing history, an amazing country, an amazing people.