Sunday, 24 July 2011

Another Exile

John Burns in an article entitled "Rude Britannia"  in the New York Times describes an experience I recognise all too well - believing a place you love exists in your absence, only to find on your return that it has vanished.

Among the paragraphs I particularly identified with were these:

"Over the course of a meal together last week, three of my fellow countrymen who have lived for years abroad ticked off some of the things that have troubled them about life back at home: policemen behaving with an arrogance and indifference unremembered from childhood days; top-level soccer players earning astronomical salaries behaving like cheap thugs, on and off the field; multi-million-dollar performers on television and radio, including the BBC, resorting to coarse language, and, on at least one occasion in recent memory, bullying and taunting an aging comic actor for their trifling amusement; gangs of feral youths prowling center-city areas menacingly after dark; and a beer culture among the nation’s youth that has made public drunkenness a scourge.
The list is long, and its deepest causes not simple to discern. Some, perhaps, lie in what has otherwise been hugely beneficial. The end of Britain’s empire in the 1950s and 1960s, coupled with the gradual erosion of once-rigid class divides, have cast the country loose from the old anchors, and left many people in a restless search for new certainties, new sources of identity and pride. The collapse of standards in the public education system, once among the world’s best, have precipitated an epidemic of antisocial behavior among urban youth. The decline of manufacturing industries has fostered soaring unemployment and, among many, a lifelong welfare dependency.

Three decades after Margaret Thatcher took office on a crusade to resurrect traditional standards, there are many signs that she may have been a blip on an otherwise descending trajectory. While Mr. Cameron has taken up many of her themes — along with Mr. Miliband, though he, as the Labour leader, would be loathe to admit it — a man who had a season in Downing Street over the past year as one of Mr. Cameron’s advisers surveyed the turmoil of the News of the World scandal and offered a revealing conclusion. Britain, he said, resembled more than anything, a “post-communist society” — unhinged from the old verities, and not yet in sight of anything enduring to replace them. It made for a disheartening verdict on a deeply discouraging week"


  1. It's always hard to analyse a country's characteristics, particularly when it's one's own country. Tony Hancock's radio shows have always been a guide for me in this: it seems that even back in the 1950s people were trying to skive off work, going to the pub to get pissed, etc. Of course, back then there was an element of shame supposedly attached to such behaviour, which maybe kept a limit on it. I suppose that element has gone now. Mrs Thatcher rather burst her own 'traditional values' balloon by stating that there was 'no such thing as society'.

  2. Skiving and getting pissed don't seem new to me, or particularly dreadful, but prurience, if that's the right word, and thuggishness seem, if not new, much more dominant than they once were. And manners have virtually vanished, but that's true throughout the English-speaking world (listen to me, you'd think I was on the pension already)