I sit on my terrace with the sun setting on an azure sea – or some such. In the fields around me cattle graze peacefully and sheep engage in sheep like wanderings, dispersed across the meadows. I note that three young bulls (all virgins) have just broken out of their enclosure and are heading for a neighbouring field full of dairy heifers.
On the wireless news is brought to me of Iraq and the sectarian conflict erupting from its previous simmer. The Sun has, via the postman, delivered a free copy of its special ‘celebrating England’ issue. This is a masterly stunt designed to reinforce and infuse our World Cup efforts with a general sense of how brilliant the English are. Pace any Scots or indeed Welsh readers, there is acknowledgement that being English is inclusive.
It being the Sun some pulchritude and a lot of celebrity is in order. Moreover, News International’s favoured hacks and affiliates are much featured as is an orgy of punning headlines of which Send’em Rome – as what would have been the headline when Julius Caesar landed – is my favourite; but in general this is a cheery effort at sustaining national pride.
The paper has commissioned a special poll to determine the Who and the What of English greatness. In terms of the greatest living The Queen and Sir David Attenborough lead by a country mile, and historically, Sir Winston Churchill is well ahead of the pack. That said, it is less predictable that Mo Farah should make the top ten living and Brunel and Shakespeare tie for second in the history sector. It is a mixed result for feminists. The Queen is the only female in the top ten living, but the history girls are nearly 50:50 on the gender split, with Emmeline Pankhurst coming in at joint 6th with QE1 and Isaac Newton sharing the same ranking.
Presumably the poll was conducted among the paper’s readers (although it may not have been) – but it is worth noting that more than 7 out of 10 respondents declared themselves proud to be English with only 10% in the Don’t Know section and the remainder split equally between the (presumably English but not proud) ‘No’s’ and the ‘Do not consider myself English’ – which considering the number of Welsh, Scots, Irish and other ethnic citizens we boast is remarkable. But who are those English folk who are not proud of their country’s great characteristics (fair play, tolerance, queuing etc.) and our contribution to the world (vaccinations, steam, jets, computers and flush toilets) to name just a few of the impressive and eclectic list?
All of which is very heart-warming. And there on Page 3 is our very own Kelly Brook as the ‘No.1 Rose.
Modestly clad in a camisole and high heels our Kelly is celebrated under the by-line of anthropologist Desmond Morris (blow me, he is still around!). Ever protective of the occasion or non-Sun reader sensibilities the copy ponders the dichotomy of ‘English Rose’ quality with its presentation in lacy underwear. Having used the guise of surmising how young men might regard the lightly clad Kelly (‘plump breasts offering what a poet called pneumatic bliss’ [T.S. Eliot, in case you were wondering, Dezza]), the item concludes that Kelly is ‘a wonderful contradiction of wholesome wickedness’.
As it happens, Rose no.3 in the voting was a young lady called Emily Ratajkowski – and how English does that sound? There was nothing in the list of admirable English characteristics that quite deals with how HMQE, WC, Mo Farah and Ant & Dec get to be such English figures given their origins. Or indeed how showing your tits, makes you an English Rose.
Maybe it is all wrapped up in ‘fair play’ or ‘tolerance’. Maybe it is just about fitting in to a society that doesn’t believe too much in anything other than those two precepts.
Put it this way, we ‘English’ may not be perfect, but there is a chance any one can earn the right to claim that identity. And at least our girls can show off in their underwear if they want.