Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Green and pleasant land

It was William Blake (or so wikipedia informs me) who coined the phrased 'green and pleasant land' when referring to England. Let's just ponder those words for a minute shall we. 'Green'. Well yes, it is very green, particularly if you live in the countryside and certainly when you contrast it to the dry, yellowy brown plains of Africa that I grew up with. And the reason it's green is because it never stops raining. Ever. The grass could try with all it's might to wither and die in a vain attempt to turn brown. But the relentless onslaught of rain means it doesn't stand a chance. It will just grow and grow and stay shiny and green. Just ask my husband who gets to mow the stuff every weekend.

Which brings us onto 'Pleasant'. Billy Blake doesn't know just quite how accurate he was with that adjective. 'Pleasant'. It's not a bold word. It doesn't project greatness, magnificence, awe or wonder. It's not negative (mustn't complain after all) but it's not wholly positive either is it? It's just very, very English. As Bill Bryson sort of describes in his Notes from a Small Island book, only the English would describe having a dry rich tea biscuit with a cup of milky tea in a poky tea shop with driving rain bashing against the windows as 'lovely'. So describing the entire country as 'pleasant' is spot on. Blake could equally have chosen 'this grey and wet land' but he was probably an optimistic sort.

So here we are, living in this green and pleasant land. And every now and then, I wonder whether we've made the right decision in choosing this place as our home. It wasn't a decision taken lightly and to become British I've had to jump through many bureacratic hoops. Let's see, there was the initial proving that I was actually married to a Brit and getting indefinite leave to remain. Then there was the constant stream of paperwork that accompanied anything I wanted to do - from opening a bank account to buying a car - as I had to prove I wasn't some nasty foreigner who would do a runner or launder money or sell small children into slavery (recently I've thought that isn't such a bad idea).

Then there was having to redo my driver's licence - the theory and practical bits. I became the world's most annoying woman telling anyone who would listen what the travelling distance should be between two cars in the rain (very pertinent for driving in this country). And I was amazed to discover that the round white sign with a black line through it meant national speet limit. I'd always thought it meant no entry for the colour blind.

And once I'd got past that test, I had to do my Becoming British test. Instead of asking questions that might actually help a new citizen in every day life - like who you should call if you fall and sprain your ankle while looking after two little boys - they asked things like 'Where did the majority of bus drivers come from in the 1950s?' (I think the answer was the West Indies but quite frankly, should I care? I don't even catch the bus now much less in the 50s and even if I had, I doubt the driver's ethnicity would it have made a difference to my trip unless he had brought some of his homemade rum with him).

And once I'd passed that test, I got to go to a citizenship ceremony in which everyone rather embarrassingly stumbled through the national anthem and had pictures taken with a portrait of the queen. Our son crunched noisily through a packet of crisps the whole way through and instead of wearing a smart suit - like everyone else in the room - I'd turned up in jeans. Probably not the proper way to become a citizen but there you go.

And finally I was the proud owner of a pink passport that allowed me to travel anywhere in Europe without the need for long waits outside embassies in London to secure visas.

So here I am. British. Bona fide. I even have a Union Jack Emma Bridgewater mug to prove it. Yet, as I gaze outside at the drizzle, wearing a jumper and wondering whether to pack wellies for the boys today as well as raincoats, I do wonder whether perhaps we should have chosen somewhere a little sunnier to call home.

Then again, where else do you get Radio 4 and their endless discussions on the trials of pea growing in North Yorkshire, the aforementioned Rich Tea Biscuits (and custard creams), the NHS (don't complain about it until you live in a country where you either have medical aid or die), summer fetes (that are guaranteed to be rained out), Wimbledon (also guaranteed to be rained out), Pimms and lemonade, Yorkshire Pudding and very nice sausages. So really, mustn't complain.

Must head out into the green and pleasant land now with two small boys. Hopefully we won't get too wet.

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