Friday, 23 April 2010

St George's Day

I have been cheered today by seeing some English flags flying for St George's Day; it is past time we reclaimed our national flag from the most bigoted and unpleasant elements of the extreme right. I am English: I carry a British passport but identify as English just as I have friends who identify as Scottish or Welsh while carrying a British Passport. I love England and wouldn't live anywhere else. I value the diversity of its regions and regional voices, traditions and character; I value our countryside from the wild moors and peaks of the north to the green hills and woods of my home Gloucestershire;I love our tolerance of eccentricity; I even love our weather, season after season.

I also value England's ability to absorb and assimilate other cultures because for me, 'English' is not code for 'white'. I was running some race and culture sessions for young people and started trying to make a time-line of migrations and immigrations into and through these islands. I had to give up because it would have stretched twice around the room. We have always had groups of people coming to, and passing through, England: we are truly a mongrel nation and it makes us rich in stories, traditions, and lore.

I was walking early this week and twice met old men walking their old dogs. Stopping to chat for a few minutes, the soft cadences of local accents took me straight back to my grampy, pushing his rickety bike with leeks in the basket and 'mums wrapped in newspaper and tied to the handlebars, after a day scraping a living from his allotment. Sometimes, when people hear I live in Cheltenham, comments are made about it being a wealthy place - and certainly, Gloucestershire has areas of affluence, especially in the picture-postcard Cotswold villages. What people tend to forget though (or not think about)is that anywhere there are people from the wealthiest layers of society, there is inevitably a raft of working people servicing their needs and so it has always been.

Because of this, I get irritated when any hint of being proud to be English is met, from some, with mutters about imperialism. The Empire was a long time ago and it certainly wasn't run by the working classes. The working class English people had it very hard during the times of empire - look at the child labour, the workhouses, the grinding poverty in the cities, the working class martyrs - yet those who can't forgive the faults (which were many) of the Empire behave as if the whole of England were the landowners and aristocracy. The English working class wo/man developed, through years of repression, a bloody-minded independence and pride as well as a mischievous delight in discomfitting their 'betters'. I suspect this is something not seen or recognised by those who haven't seen it up close - but it is something I know and love.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

"Abridged" submission call

I always enjoy receiving a contributor’s copy of a magazine I haven’t seen before (in hard copy, rather than online where I seek them out to submit to) and last week, I got my copy of ‘Abridged’, an arts and poetry magazine which is based in the Verbal Arts centre in Derry, Ireland. It is gorgeous: really beautifully produced and full of interesting, fresh, poetry and artwork/protography. I am delighted to be in it and will be looking at taking out a subscription. In the meantime, they have a new submission call:

"In the world of colour charts and iconic English sheepdogs, Magnolia represents the fence-sitting hue that neither offends or accosts the senses. Adorning the walls of TurnKey packaged homes of first-time buyers or haunting the corners of final destination rest homes of howls and despair, Magnolia stalks us from the cradle to the grave. It is the bastard offspring of white: it is the disgraced sibling of beige. It is nothingness yet it is everywhere. It is Abridged 0 – 21.”

Up to three poems may be submitted with a maximum length approx 100 lines. Art can be up to A4 sized, full colour and should be at least 300 dpi. Submissions may be emailed to or sent by post to: Abridged, c/o Verbal Arts Centre, Stable Lane and Mall Wall, Bishop Street Within, Derry BT48 6PU Closing date for submission is May 21st.