Last week I took a trip back to England for a family event. It was my first time in the Old Country since 2008 (for a different family event). Family business took up most of my time; I had little opportunity for exploring. What follows are some random notes and observations.
In a way, the family-centric nature of the trip was instructive, or at least orienting, in itself.
I assume I know all about what’s going on in England from my daily reading of the Mail Online. Third World “asylum seekers” (i.e. illegal immigrants) get luxury housing at public expense; East European gypsies occupy hospital parking lots and can’t be moved for fear of infringing their “human rights”; fanatical Muslims prowl the streets of London looking for violations of Shariah law; . . . Mail Online keeps me up to date.
Here, though, one must beware of the London In Flames! phenomenon. British journalist Alistair Cooke was in the U.S.A. during 1940-41 when England was suffering under the Blitz. Seeing lurid newspaper headlines about London in Flames! he made desperate efforts to phone through to his friends in London. At last he got a connection:
“Fred, Fred, are you all right?”
Fred: “Well, my rheumatism’s been acting up a bit . . .”
Life goes on in a humdrum way for most people in most places, even when great history-changing events are happening a few miles away. It does no harm to be reminded of this. Newspaper headlines serve their purpose; but by definition they concern the extraordinary.
Northampton. Our first stop was in Northampton, my home town. We—I was traveling with my daughter Nellie—stayed there three days with my sister and her family.
Northampton is a modest country town in the East Midlands. When I was a child the population was almost entirely English. There was an Irish colony of a thousand or two: Donall MacAmhlaigh’s memoir An Irish Navvy is partly about 1950s Northampton. There was also a scattering of Europeans displaced by the war: my first dentist was Polish. Everybody else was English.
Strolling around in the town last week, most of the people I saw were white English. They were even distinctively so, bringing Orwell to mind: “The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd.” So they still are.
The Northamptonians still have a distinct accent, too. This gave me a rare opportunity to impress my American daughter a few days later, as we were leaving the country. In Heathrow Airport I heard some familiar accents. “Excuse me,” I asked the speakers, “are you from Northampton?” They were from Milton Keynes, twenty miles away—close enough.
This doesn’t work in any country less than a thousand years old.
The main complaint I heard in Northampton was about Somalis. Some years ago the British government agreed to accept Somali refugees, but with restrictions on the welfare benefits they could receive. Northampton, however, had elected a very left-wing town council, and offered them all municipal benefits.
The result was that the town got a lot of Somalis, who are as unassimilable and troublesome here as elsewhere. Adding insult to injury, instead of dumping them in a sink estate on the outskirts somewhere, the town has given over to them blocks of public housing in the Mayorhold, the oldest part of the central town. (Pronounced “Merrold” by the locals.)
I saw a couple of them in the old market square: women in flowing robes and head coverings, tall as I knew Somalis are, but much wider than advertised. Possibly they’ve taken to English cuisine.
Pleas by the President of Somalia for his people to return home and rebuild the nation are apparently not being heeded.
Swindon. The main purpose of the trip was to celebrate my brother Noel’s <gulp> Diamond Wedding. My brother, I hasten to say, is fifteen years older than me, and married young. He has two fine sons, who booked a room at a hotel in Swindon, where Noel lives, and invited us over for the celebration.
Swindon, eighty miles west of London, is similar to Northampton: an undistinguished old English town. We didn’t get to see much of it. We did, though, get an encouraging dose of Englishness in the hotel. It happened this way.
Our celebration was on Saturday the 9th. The following Monday, November 11th, was Armistice Day, commemorating the end of WW1 hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918.
The Sunday closest to Armistice Day is Remembrance Sunday. There is a solemn ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, at which the monarch and other notables lay wreaths to commemorate the dead of Britain’s wars.
My brother served 22 years in the British Army, 1949-71. He was posted all over the world, and saw active service in the 1956 Suez campaign. Until 2009 he went down to London every Remembrance Sunday to march in the parade with his old comrades. Then comrades became homebound or died off, his own joints stiffened, and travel became too stressful; but he still likes to watch the ceremony on TV.
I came down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant somewhat hung over from the previous evening’s festivities. My brother and his family were already there; so were my sister and her husband. After breakfast we sat around in the hotel lounge, chatting.
Across the lounge was a raised area with a bar. The bar had a TV. The TV was showing the Remembrance Sunday ceremony. At ten-thirty, military bands were playing fine old solemn tunes—some of them, like Elgar’s Nimrod, hardly ever heard outside England.
I went for more coffee. When I came back, my brother and the others had moved up to the bar area to watch the ceremony. I joined them, seated at a table.
By eleven o’clock other people had come from the restaurant, where the remnants of a Saturday wedding reception had been taking breakfast. They were in the lounge and the bar area, watching the show. Nobody was talking much. The bar staff were South Asian and there were some Slavs serving in the restaurant. Everyone else was white English.
As Big Ben went into the chime sequence preparatory to striking the hour, I felt I should be standing. I stood up. Other people felt the same impulse. By the time Big Ben struck the first of the eleven hours the whole area, lounge and bar, was filled with people standing. Talk had died out.
After the eleventh hour has struck, a two minutes’silence is observed nationwide. It was certainly observed in the Swindon Hilton last Sunday. For the full two minutes you could have heard a pin drop.
Then a field gun sounded, and Royal Marines buglers played the Last Post (i.e. Taps). The Queen stepped up and laid a wreath at the base of the Cenotaph. The other dignitaries followed suit.
Around the bar TV set, people relaxed. I sat down to deal with something that had got in my eye. My brother leaned across: “In all the services I attended, the only time I heard muttering from the crowd was when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown showed themselves.”
My brother’s a conservative and a patriot, two types among whom Blair and Brown are universally loathed.
London. Well, not really. I had had the vague idea to take Nellie into London for some sightseeing, but there was no time.
With an early-morning flight back to New York, though, I thought it best to check into an airport hotel. That put us in the West London suburbs where Heathrow is located—the west of what used to be called Middlesex.
Driving around those streets, I can well believe the news stories about white British citizens being a minority in their nation’s capital. All right, airport neighborhoods are never tony; but New York’s Howard Beach, next to JFK Airport, is a lot more generic-American than west Middlesex is generic-British. The dominant form of retail outlet here seems to be halal butchers.
JFK is a lot neater, too. Here decent suburban houses were falling into decay. The gardens, where they had not been paved over, were in a disgraceful state.
Disgraceful gardens, in England! Don’t Muslims do gardening?
Still an England? My little jaunt persuaded me that outside London at least, there is still an England. Presumably there are a Wales and a Scotland, too. (Ireland may be a different matter.) Not only does the nation still exist, its national rituals are still respected.
With a firm change of policy soon, England might yet be saved as a national home for the English, rather than merely a place for trading financial instruments.
And “soon” could be just six months away: In May 2014 there are Europe-wide elections for the European Parliament. It is widely expected that Euroskeptic, immigration-patriot, and nationalist parties will scare the pants off those currently in power.
Not that the nation-killers will yield without a fight. The propaganda is being stepped up. The Economist Magazine, in one of its Caplanesque cheerleading pieces for open borders recently [A Fresh Headcount, November 2, 2013], included a graphic showing the native, European-immigrant, and non-European immigrant populations of Britain as they have been for the past twenty years. The native population line is flat, which of course The Economist thinks deplorable. The graphic is titled: “Life would be flatter without them.”
For a small, crowded set of islands like Britain, in fact, flat is probably optimal.
Someday historians will find an explanation for the gibbering insanity of British immigration policy this past fifty years. I have none.
New York. Home at last, I learn that Mrs. Derbyshire has been doing dog-walking duties in my absence; and not only doing them, but writing poems about it.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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