Monday 22 October 2018

Kevin Myers: What the English have, as they showed last Saturday, is guts. But it is often witless guts

Kevin Myers

ALWAYS willing to oblige my two readers; one of them asked me what the rugby match at Twickenham showed about the English. No doubt the request was tongue-in-cheek, but either way, let me oblige.

Because a great deal of that dangerously elusive quality "national character" was in evidence from the England performance on Saturday. The first was cultural: the English have virtually no songs denoting identity. The very fact that the only tune that English rugby fans seem able to sing in a group is a negro spiritual (as we are, for the moment anyway, still allowed to say), 'Swing low Sweet Chariot' suggests as much. The fact that the British national anthem is also the English team anthem tends to confirm it. Simply, the English get embarrassed by musical enthusiasm: the last night of the Proms is the exception, the annual pig-out by habitual anorexics.

Every Irish county has its own tune, and every town has its musical bard. These cultural fixtures are unknown in England. People simply do not sing of their home towns there; indeed, even the concept, "home town" is mawkish and rather American-sounding. The English do not even write songs about themselves. The three most "English" of wartime tunes -- 'Berkeley Square', 'A Foggy Day in London Town,' and 'Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover', were, essentially, written by American Jews (though the lyrics of 'Berkeley Square' were written by an Englishman of German-Jewish extraction). And to leap codes for a moment, the tune most often chanted by English soccer fans, 'The Great Escape', was also written by an American Jew.

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