I continue my fight to be British, something that is increasingly hard to be here in London. There are so many "colonials" here who, not knowing any better, seem to feel it's okay to call me "English" (plus of course most of the English folk too which is about 90% of the population even those of ethnic minority origins which really makes me laugh). Well it's not and I'm pretty quick to educate them in the subtle differences.
The biggest of course is about being patriotic. Self-confessed English people are, in my opinion, being traitorous towards Her Britannic Majesty. If the United Kingdom is one country under Queen Elizabeth II then that is good enough for me to consider myself British. Anything else is secessionist rebellion against the monarchy and as self confessed royalist I'll have nothing to do with that thank you very much.
What connects British people? A shared ruler, a shared political structure (being eroded now by devolution, alas) and a shared military. Not culture, which is what some English folk protest connects them. People seem to think being English means you share an exclusive culture with all the other folk who live in "England" as opposed to the cultures of the Scots or Welsh. This of course is a ludicrous delusion. I no more share my culture with someone from Yorkshire than I do with someone from northern France. I suspect I'd probably understand the French person better too (my French is rudimentary but better than my Tyke). If that is not the case, if they really don't think culture connects them then being English is quite pointless as there is no other sane reason for considering yourself English than as part of one nationality and culture. Thus Englishness is a defunct concept.
The most important point for me though is aspirational. Britishness is a concept open to interpretation, free of the thousands of years of history of any other and formed only over the last couple of hundred years. The concept of Britishness, to me anyway, is one of being unobtrusively patriotic (no American gushing over the flag, more a silent respect), of being polite to others, of being thoughtful and of keeping ones emotions in check as much as possible. The good old British stiff upper lip as it were. Sure it's impossible for any human to constantly maintain such a holier than thou demeanour. But it can't hurt to try.
Englishness seems more in line with ideas of Anglo-Saxon bravado and a certain lack of class in everyday interactions. Of thoughtlessness and of arrogance. The St Georges flag seems to me to represent everything that I hate in this country.
This story from the Titanic empathises everything I consider important about being British. In everything I do I aspire to meet the Captain's demand of "Be British, boys, be British."
I just wish more people did the same.
So feel free to call yourself English and lay claim to the violence and destruction of the Anglo Saxons. I prefer to believe in looking forward, of believing in unity against sedition or progress over longing for an imaginary past. So don't call me English and don't call this country England. Until the nationalists (and of course the disinterested masses) win, it remains the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Long may it remain so.
P.S. Why do Americans call the country England? Even at the time of the Revolution it was the Kingdom of Great Britain. Grr...
The How to be British Collection (US Amazon)
The English Nation: The Great Myth (US Amazon)