Friday, 6 June 2008


Bryan Appleyard: “I wouldn't have noticed it before, but, after
the extravagant politeness of America, it came as a shock. The British used to
mock the 'have a nice day' culture as false and, somehow, corrupt. But it's a
thousand times better than our own surly sub-culture and, anyway, if
professionalisation and training produce good manners, what's wrong with that?
And it's not cynical and skin-deep. Some of the most interesting conversations I
had in the US were with waiters and shop assistants. Here I wouldn't bother. We
have, as I wrote on my return, a problem, a dimming of our imaginations, a
closing of our minds....”

Thus Bryan, commiserating the dimming of this nation. And I am perfectly of his opinion concerning “our surly sub-culture,” which, though extremely fashionable at present, I think altogether uncivilised. For here’s a photograph I’ve taken of my local cycling-path. It flawlessly conveys the aspiration and unadulterated behaviour of the English pig in his own backyard.

The countryside is his scrapyard. And pardon my hubris - but can people be so abysmally pigheaded and still claim the status of a civilised nation? Where you and I are enraptured by the view of sweeping meadows, the lark ascending, and the tolling of bells marking out the glorious Hertfordshire morning, that don't mean shit to a navvy, mate. The age of poetry is gone. This is the age of the common man, and every day brings some sort of reminder that we are living under the dominion of a sub-culture that I, for one, truly do not understand.

How on earth did it happen that evolution passed him by?

For that he’s still living and breathing absolutely astonishes me. Perhaps if there is a moral origin to this problem it can be found in what Disraeli referred to as the Two Nations, an important feature of which was class selfishness and the domination of the landed interests before those of the common man. For in all this, one can detect not just the gratuitous scorn of the resilient, recalcitrant navvy, but also the suppressed rage and resentment of the oppressed “workhouse boy“, cripplingly conscious of his own ignoble origins - and regarded as the poorest of the poor, as savages who slept with their pigs. In truth, we only have to think of the brutality of the factory system, the high mortality amongst child-workers, the exploitation of the labour of women, the overcrowded industrial towns, dark and poorly ventilated coalmines, low wages and long hours to understand that the English worker, to this day, will come with an attitude. He’ll carry his grudge like a battlescar - livid with a strong sense of “them” and “us,” born out of centuries of poverty and exploitation. The fact of the matter is, that the England of Celts, Frisians, Saxons, Angles and mixed bands of other invaders, has never recovered from the Norman yoke which taught the lower orders to be ashamed of their roots and who, even in our time, still display a traditional sense of grievance against the ruling establishment.

Today, of course, you’re also dealing with a large welfare-class. Your contemporary peasants will be a mixture of unemployed loafers, dysfunctional families, and genetic throwbacks who regard all foreigners with ill-concealed loathing. Truth to tell, there is something undeniably retro about the statistical fact that one in five males in this country at the very least, shows potentially psychopathic tendencies, and that mental health problems cost Britain more than £40 billion a year in treatment and lost days at work.

It’s no secret.

It harks back to the days of Wellington and Waterloo, when Anglo-Saxon warrior mystique was constructed in colloquial concoctions of ‘scum of the earth’. The scumbag has a very big heart and that bulldog tenacity which makes him totally unafraid. And history has enhanced his reputation. There is, on the other hand, a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Indeed, it strikes me as a profoundly poignant incongruity that, once the material of Empire and the arbiter of nations, now dumbed down into a consumer culture with no direction or ideals left, there appears to be an entire class of people whose historical objective has been reduced to getting habitually drunk, fouling up the countryside, and beating the crap out of each other...



Richard Madeley said...

The thing that astonishes me isn't that they still exist but they are flourishing. A neighbour of mine has had many children by many fathers, possesses no skills, vulgar, young alcoholic, drives a nice new car which she parks across the pavement (blocking it for all who might want to walk past the house). She spends her days being loud and obnoxious, leaves her children with grandparents while she parties away the night.

I envy her. Her life is bliss.

All Shook Up said...

Why aspire when all wants are being met? Their sub-culture is in the ascendant, with an apparent position as the demographic being sought out by the media, and appealed to as consumers. It must be wonderful to be one of them when almost every supermarket aisle, every fast-food outlet, every click of the remote control brings gratification. Not much mileage left in "sweeping meadows, the lark ascending, and the tolling of bells marking out the glorious Hertfordshire morning" when it can't be bottled or packaged or sold as a twofer.

Anonymous said...

These filth lack any sensitivity to beauty or decency or goodness. They truly are akin to the orcs of Mordor. i fear and despise them.

Stephen said...

I blame daytime TV. If there was nothing on to people would have to do something else. Possibly they would pursue a career in the arts or politics.

Jonathan said...

It's interesting what you say about the legacy of class divisions lying beneath lower class scorn for the establishment. The Americans, with their historical classlessness clearly lack this and perhaps that explains the lack of resentment and cultural renunciation found among the Americans Bryan met.

Traditionally, I believe Christianity provided a semblance of meaning and dignity for the folks Elberry so understandably and yet hopelessly scorns.

It may be my Old Tory patrician values speaking but I cannot ultimately blame only the disempowered, undereducated and consciously manipulated and lied to by the powers that be, for their state. Not do deny that individuals are responsible for what they do, but so too are we all for our fellow men. We are our brothers keepers and if the priveleged do not care for the cultivation of the souls of the masses they only have themselves to blame for the consequences.

And another thing. Maybe what these wild and mindless thugs are really crying out for, like the undirected adolescent, burning up in his own chaos, is a firm hand to admire and some authoritative direction from those who might charismatically inspire them.

Hitlerian potency + Gandhi's moral vision is perhaps something close to what is required.

Blaming the chavs for being chavs is pretty pointless.

A healthy dose of divinely inspired patronisation is called for, methins

Selena Dreamy said...

...of course, that's the combination which won Britain the Empire in the first place: "a firm hand to admire and some authoritative direction" plus plenty of "scum" for cannon-fodder...

Selena Dreamy said...

...the orcs of Mordor. i fear and despise them. the Duke of Welligton said after inspecting his men before the Battle of Waterloo: "I don't know whether they'll frighten the enemy, but they certainly frighten me!"

Jonathan said...

But did they feel any self-respect as this cannon-fodder (preseumably only male scum)...more so than they do now?