The English are a silly people. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in how they never ever, ever, ever seem to conform to expectations. There’s an image the wider world has of the British, of tea-sipping tweeness. Croquet and cricket. Beatrix Potter-themed crockery. “His Lord and Ladyship politely request your attendance to the philharmonic box social for corgis. A carriage has been arranged to escort you to Covent Garden oh, capital!” Shakespeare! Top-notch! Marvelous! Et cetera! etc.
But of course, those who actively pay attention to Britain or have lived there know there’s much, much more to British people than the above polite and quiet crumpet eating we tease them for.“Football hooliganism” for one. Geordie Shore for another. “Gaz an’ ‘iz mates are go-ink fowa cheeky nandos and bantz.” Well wikid! Oh, my DAAAzzze! Etc. And based on this “Brexit” thingy: xenophobia. And dumb-dumbness.
Of course, cliche is obviously never a good look to apply to an entire nation of diverse people. Not all Americans for example, wear cowboy hats and discharge pistols into the ceiling whilst eating a hamburger. Sometimes they’re eating a hotdog.Obviously, Britain is made up every kind of person from rich to poor, from Oxford-educated to barely at all, from James Bond to Austin Powers. Scary Spice to the Queen Mother, both now deceased.
I moved to England in my early teens from Australia, riding a kangaroo from Sydney to Perth, then surfing the rest of the way to the Thames and fetching up in as near the exact middle of these two types of Britain as possible: Clapham.
Clapham was just up the road from Brixton, which when I lived there was not that long removed from some socio-economic based rioting. Clapham itself was just on the cusp of acquiring its current gentrified status. Apparently it’s now full of Australians. Fancy that.
My school – also in Clapham – was a private institution of some historical significance, having incredibly just celebrated its 400th birthday. That’s medieval old, when booty-call texts were sent by raven: “You up? *lute emoji* An age so astonishing that the Queen herself personally commemorated the occasion by visiting the grounds and planting a tree. By which I mean she stood next to a tree someone planted.
The school was a remarkable mix of socio-economics; at the top of the rich list was a minor Prince of Brunei. He was only at my school I understand, because the top hat-wearing Lords of Eaton deemed him to stupid to be admitted there. He had his lunch delivered daily from Harrods, the sort of department store I imagined had its croissants flown in each morning by concord.
At the other end were students there on “assisted place”; a Thatcher scheme lasting until 1997 that placed children from the surrounding soviet-looking council estates into elite schools at a heavy subsidy or for free, which coloured things in the best possible way. The majority of students were still pudgy white toffs, but it was the minority of assisted place kids who dictated the culture of the student body.
Their way of speaking was a mix of cockney – On my first day a classmate denounced a student for being a “Millwool suppoawta” which I learned meant someone who “supports Millwall Football Club”, which apparently was tantamount to public leprosy – and Ali G-type, faux Afro-Caribbean “Big it UP!” if that makes sense. All the kids, even the toffs, talked like this. Even I alternated between my native Australian twang and this Caribbean afflicted cockney to generate an accent so discombobulating it caused my Nanna a panic attack over the phone.
The late 90’s was a great time to be a young Australian in England. The reason of course, was sport. And sex. First on sex:
One of the things most at odds with the quintessential, English wealthy dowager shocked into dropping her monocle into her champagne
was that the UK has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Western Europe. Their approach to sex on TV made Australia looks relatively Catholic by comparison. A weekly “current affairs” show specializing entirely of Europeans being naked for extremely vague reasons called “Euro Trash” was a school favourite. Even the celebrity chefs were vaguely porno: “Split the chicken” Nigella Lawson would slither. “And massaaaage the cream marinade into the breastsss” She never even cooked anything.
But sport. At the time of my arrival, English national teams had been on losing streak dating back to the founding of my school. In 1998 the English rugby team went to Australia and lost 76-0. The English cricket team hadn’t beaten Australia in a series since the Guards Vs Convicts game of 1788. At the Barcelona Olympics, in a group match against Australia, the British water polo team, drowned. They sucked.
And so it was I was suddenly thrust into ALL my English school’s sports teams. Having never played competitive cricket, I became first change bowler and returned a bowling average of “4”, which is like a soccer goalie conceding a goal every other season. Having never played competitive rugby, I was suddenly in the first 15 as forward, because the other forwards were too fat to keep up with the play.
But then something happened over the last ten years. The English have become much better than Australia at international sports. On the balance they’ve whipped us in the last Olympics, won more cricket games and just last week, won three straight rugby games against Australia. In Australia! What the actual hell??!!
In the third game England somehow piled on 44 points. The last time an English team scored 40 points against Australia, it was a basketball game. Which Australia won. By like, a lot. Because Australia scored 106.
But. At the end of the day, there is still one thing you can count on with the English in sport. You can be assured, that when it really counts, really, really matters, they’ll somehow “English” it all up.
At the last cricket world cup, they somehow lost the final by conceding 24 runs in the last 4 balls of the match. It’s like leading the 200m hurdles by 100m, and then as at the last hurdle, going diarrhea all over it. It was an astonishing fall.
But, it pales next to their “always on the cusp of greatness” soccer team. They’ve just lost to Iceland. How tiny is Iceland compared to England? Put it this way, the population of Iceland, was on the actual pitch.The team manager, is the dentist. The person they left behind to look after Iceland, is the cat.
But look, I absolutely applaud and appreciate how good English have got at sports. It makes the great Australia Vs England match up a much more meaningful and emotional experience.
Get well soon,
Your little bro, Australia.