It has been quite a while since we've suggested ways for you to pass the time in the office. This one sounds simple, but could last a lifetime.... We have been asked to submit some pictures that will sum up England.
Where to start? These are our initial observations:
1. the sheer quantity of characteristics to which one would like to draw attention, and
2. the variety within each one.
So, to keep the number of pictures down to a manageable quantity, each one will have to stand for more than one characteristic.
Thus, the picture of Tarn Howes in the Lake District (above) represents the English landscape. But it is not as untouched by human hand as it may look -- it was adjusted in the nineteenth century to be more picturesque. So it also recalls the artform invented by the English -- landscape design -- that led to "English Gardens" in so many other European countries. It is not a million miles from a real English Garden -- Stourhead:
This includes a classical temple. There was philosophy underpinning landscape garden design: if God is a perfect being, he must have created a perfect world. The trouble is that we've let it get into a bit of a mess, so it is our duty to tidy it up. What should it look like when it is tidy? Easy: a painting by Claude Lorraine. There are classical remains in his pictures.
Which in turn led to our landscape painting. This is one of Constable's paintings of Salisbury Cathedral...
...which introduces our medieval cathedral cities.
The next great period in English civic architecture was the Georgian era. If a perfect landscape is what Claude Lorraine would paint, then a perfect building is what Palladio would build. Here is the Royal Crescent in Bath:
What is true of a city palace is also true of a hunting lodge -- this is Burlington's Chiswick House, based on the Villa Rotonda near Vicenza.
Every image so far has been of things that the English have made. We should go further in this direction and celebrate English machines,plus the affection with which they are held -- thousands spending weekends volunteering to repair and run trams, buses or steam locomotives on restored track. This is 60163 Tornado, a Peppercorn A1 Pacific class locomotive that was completed in 2008:
And not just trains. The Supermarine Spitfire has iconic status for many reasons, but particularly for how it looks (after all, the Hurricane played a larger part in the Battle of Britain). It is those curved wings...
This beautiful plane will have to represent all England's military victories, and its navy.
Whereas this Jaguar SS100 represents our great motoring marques, plus the fact that the area around Oxfordshire is the source for almost all the world's racing and rally cars:
An Englishman does not buy his at auction and show it at Pebble Beach the next day, as if he could take credit for the vehicle and the state it's in. No, he buys the bits from Suffolk Jaguar, and builds his own.
Jaguars used to be raffish, so they were not typically driven by gentlemen. That said, gentlemen are self-confident, so they would drive what they wanted. They would always be properly dressed, though:
A gift from the English to the world has therefore been good tailoring, but also what all these pictures have shown: style. Yes, style. Difficult though it is to imagine nowadays.
Another gift to the western world was tea-drinking. This teapot by Christopher Dresser...
...stands, therefore, for the English tea traditions, and also for English silversmithing and craft skills generally. Plus the democratically-inspired art and crafts movement that did so much to kick start radical changes in the arts and design throughout Europe and America at the beginning of the 20th century.
Fine Lighting News readers will not want it to be forgotten that it was an Englishman who gave the world lead crystal, making possible fine chandeliers, like this strong, muscular early Georgian design from Wilkinson:
A particular strength has been in ceramics. Here is the cross-dressing potter, Grayson Perry, also representing those individuals who the English have raised to the status of "National Treasure" (another is David Attenborough). He is also here because he, too, has set about summing up Englishness, in his case, on pots and in tapestries:
It is not just Tea. England has beer, English food and -- where both can be convivially appreciated -- pubs:
The English love their gardens, and they live in houses like this:
Gardening is possible because the weather is so clement. The English like to be outdoors whenever possible -- in the summer, playing cricket:
Boys and girls will start playing at school and continue at university. This picture of King's College, Cambridge represents England's great universities, plus an uninterrupted heritage going back hundreds of years of choral singing -- also the most popular leisure activity of the English in later life.
On Sundays, they mostly worship in less grand buildings -- in the church at the heart of their community, the denomination being the Church of England, once criticized for its lack of extremism but that, of course, has now become its greatest strength;
The English do do normal things, like shop in supermarkets. Fortunately, their concern about what they put into their bodies has resulted in quality being more important than cheapness, so there is Waitrose, where you know the mince does not have horse in it, unless it says so:
And this is where we come in. Here is Cheryl, Peter and Holly, the Company Dog, typical of the large number of English businesses that are run by families. We are the backbone of the nation's prosperity, and there are lots of us! Most of what we buy is from other family businesses -- our beef, our pork, our lamb, our health foods, our bread, our eggs, our perfumes, our cars, our haircuts, the Company's landlords.... NB the bakers are Polish and the hairdressers are Japanese -- you don't have to be English to be English.
The English may have lost their style; their European policy may be to not lead, to have no policy, but instead just to whinge; their prime minister may deliberately dress badly and pretend not to know what Magna Carta means; government may think its function is to introduce targets and as much complexity as possible; the national hobby may be telling other people what not to do in the name of health and safety; the police may so emasculated that they stand idly by while someone drowns in a foot of water; their TV may celebrate the gross, the ugly and the depressing; journalists may be unashamed to display their deep interest in the details of child sex scandals; hospitals may demonstrate distressing levels of inhumanity in their treatment of patients; and the only issues that the clergy appear to take really seriously are to do with gender.
That is the England their media celebrates, by searching out examples where they can find them.
But there is, and there has always has been, another England, that is just as real -- the England of ordinary people, that goes back thousands of years. No-one knows how long ago they dug out the prehistoric White Horse...
...but next to it is the mound on the top of which that valiant Englishman, St George, slew the dragon.
See the white spot on the top? The grass has never grown again where the dragon's blood was spilt.
This post is work-in-progress. Sometimes there is not enough time in the office to waste!
Note that some of the images may be subject to copyright. If the owners would prefer that we replace them, please contact us.