Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nige Thinks of England

On a rare recent excursion from the turbine halls of NigeCorp HQ, I was sitting on the train, musing with my eyes shut (dozing might be a more accurate verb) and opening them intermittently to see where I was. This, on a familiar route, takes about a second - but then it occurred to me what a very short time it takes to know, from a single glimpse, especially from the railway, that you are in England - or, as it might be, France, or Denmark, Italy, wherever. Not that I was expecting to be anywhere but England - but here's the question: What are the qualities that make England so instantly reognisable?
Certainly there's a general quality of ragged, rounded, bosomy greenness, of burgeoning vegetation, which you get nowhere else (certainly around railways). Then there's the heavy, over-specified, post-Victorian richness of detailing - this affects everything to some extent, and is obviously very apparent in railway architecture and engineering (much of which is indeed Victorian still). The housing too - faded, designless, blandly sub-rural - is instantly recognisable. And there are smaller details, like the bond of the brickwork, styles of lettering, materials... There must be much more. Here is what might just be my first effective link (thanks Andrew - and the good Dr Hackenbush), to a truly lovely
website which is, as the name suggests, all about English particularity, though with a more local slant. Enjoy it.


  1. Amongst other things: the quality of light, Tesco, Wetherspoons pubs, other pubs, multi-coloured people, football shirts, fashion victims, Indian restaurants, puddles, particular items of litter, Chinese chip shops, dog-walkers, pale girls with brown hair, empty cathedrals.

  2. There are few more consoling sights than the distinctive patchwork quilt of the English countryside viewed from an aeroplane on approach.

    But you're right, Nige - it's always the overgrown vegetation of railway stations that makes me think of England, and idyllic recollections of a childhood spent deep in DH Lawrence country. Our great Romantic poets captured this perfectly, of course - and the images still resonate as vibrantly even though so much has changed.

    I also enjoy the peculiar Englishness of rail-announcer rhetoric: "all change", "alight here", and so on. It just doesn't sound right abroad. I think it's the slightly stiff, polite formality of the English version, which gives it a curiously life-affirming quality. Same goes for that of Queen's English-speaking BA pilots. Shame about the cabin crews.

  3. At the risk of being obvious, this then must be the perfect Enslish poem -

  4. though 'English' wld be a better way of putting it...

  5. On the train back from Leeds (someone has to do it), a housing estate, surrounded by trees. Very sylvan, except every tree had captured a carrier bag. I suspect the plantation was there for that very purpose. We are a very messy nation.