Nostalgia and British Identity in the City and Country

Throughout my tour of the United Kingdom, I was impressed by the many stands and plaques that are implanted through the entire country, celebrating certain times in history that favor positive times in British history or important British figures. This demonstration of nostalgia for a more rose-tinted view of the past, though, there are distinctly different ways to view this admiration: through the city and through the country. The city heavily relies on this nostalgia to sentimentalize the “Great Persons” of the past who lived in the city and acknowledges the person’s contributions to the world, while the country acknowledges an admiration for the past mostly through its preservation of the quirks and beauty of the country. Through this, I am not saying these methods of nostalgia do not happen the other way as well; however, there are reasons why one is emphasized more than the other in both places, such as “Great People” not usually being in the country (in most circumstances) due to the lower amount of people who come from the country.

An outside view of Westminster Abbey (pictures within much of the inside are not permitted).

With its illustrious history of kings and queens throughout history, the cities of the United Kingdom, particularly those in England, such as London, emphasize the importance and impact those kings had on their own history in a nostalgic remembrance. One particular place where kings and queens are emphasized is the building where they are crowned: Westminster Abbey. In fact, many of the kings and queens are buried there, such as Elizabeth I, Henry V, and over 20 other monarchs. Francis Beaumont, who lived from 1584-1616, in his poem “On the Tombs of Westminster Abbey” commented, “Think how many royal bones/ Sleep within this heap of stones … Where from their pulpits sealed with dust/ They preach: ‘In greatness is not trust’” (Beaumont 3-22). Beaumont’s poem comments on the fragility of life and how everyone will die eventually, but his narrator does not hide his awe for the people buried in the Abbey during the poem. Beaumont’s narrator instead states the people who lie in the tombs as seemed the least likely to die, thus his comments on the frailty of all humans relies on the fact that these monarchs were basically gods who walked on Earth, and that basic human facts that mortality and degeneration did not happen to them. Therefore, just because they occupied an important role in society, these people were given a status that did not give them flaws, which might have been because of the view that the monarchs were God’s anointed rulers, and gives them a warped, sentimental view that these people from a long time ago were not fallible to death. One can still see the residue from that feeling today, such as the vast tombs the monarchs reside in that seem massive compared to regular tombs in normal graveyards for so-called “normal” people.

A bust of Charles Dickens is displayed

In the modern day, especially in cities, the legacy of the worshipping the “Great Person” to portray the worth Britain puts in its past continues, and not just through kings and queens. For example, in the city of Rochester, there are several areas of dedication to the author Charles Dickens, who was one of the most popular writers in the 19th century and someone who is a large part of British identity through his works. Not only is his old house located in Rochester kept in relatively good condition to honor the man, including a memorial within a park he frequently visited. Along with that, there is a museum which has much Dickens’ memorabilia along the same street. In fact, while the museum does allude to some indiscretions in Dickens’ character (such as his womanizing and affair with the actress Ellen Ternan), it tries to de-emphasize Dickens’ role in the affair and calls Ternan a “siren.”

A display calls Dickens’ mistress Ellen Ternan a “siren” (middle-right of image)

Therefore, the exhibit tries to whitewash the flaws of Dickens and create a narrative that emphasizes how much of a “Great Man” he was in order to create a proper narrative to sentimentalize the past and ignore the real problems of the era in a haze of nostalgia in an attempt to clear the legacy of someone so affiliated with Britain, just like how Beaumont’s poem creates the idea that monarchs are god-like in the eyes of many people.

Another spot in London also has reverence for past figures as well: Parliament Square. There, I saw people such as Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln portrayed as statues, and soon where 20th century suffragette Millicent Fawcett will be portrayed as well. Not only do these statues emphasize the importance of the “Great Person” list frequently portrayed in British city life, but also presents a new problem through ignoring the struggle some had against the British government for many years, such as a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the same area. Gandhi had been arrested before by the British government, and the memorial makes no mention of this.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill pose together as statues on a bench, emphasizing the importance of “Great Persons” in the city

So, not only is British culture ignoring flaws in these “Great People,” but also glosses over its own flaws as a society by erecting statues of people they persecuted and not mentioning those people were persecuted by their own culture at the time the person was alive. Thus, cities (and the British identity these cities hold) usually try to sentimentalize their own history under the guise of “Great People” and the meaningful things those people did, even though it tends to wash over the problems of the past like it washes over the indiscretions of the famous people as well, making British identity seem cleaner by both of these means.

On the other hand, while the country in British culture also tends to sentimentalize the past as well. People in the country emphasize a nostalgic look at the past more through its preservation of its history and the quirkier aspects of the culture from its buildings or landmarks. In Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, the culture of the country itself brings back a flood of memories for the main character, especially when related to physical places. When she talks to her old friend Peter Walsh, Mrs. Dalloway becomes emotionally overcome when talking about a lake: “‘Do you remember the lake?’ she said, in an abrupt voice, under the pressure of an emotion that caught her heart, made the muscles of her throat stiff, and contracted her lips in a spasm as she said ‘lake’” (Woolf 63). Mrs. Dalloway sentimentalizes the countryside through its physical aspects, such as a lake, emphasizing the natural area within the country estate of Bourton (the house where Mrs. Dalloway lives as a young lady). The connection between the past and the country are heavily linked upon in the novel, and this recollection to the country brings back strong emotional connections from the characters.

In a similar way, I saw this connection in a similar way when we traveled in the country, seeing a link to the past and a natural formation or a building while traveling around. One such example is the countryside area of land near the smallest city in the United Kingdom (St. Davids, Wales). During a hike all of the class took, we all saw a space of land near the Atlantic Ocean that showed an affectionate view toward the past through nature. Notably, though, I was impressed by the preservation of religious items associated with the culture. For example, the chapel based on the area where the Welsh saint St. David (who the city is named after) was supposedly born is marked off, even though the building is crumbled, so people do not desecrate the area. Also, there is a well called “St. Non’s Well” (St. Non is St. David’s mother), which is said to cure those with ailments, and has been preserved for innumerable amount of years in the area. Near both the chapel and the well, there is a resort for those interested in having a good view of the ocean and being in the area where these religious items unique to Wales are.

St. Non’s Well

For one, while both the well and the chapel celebrate “Great People” like what usually happens in the city, I find it interesting that both of these areas preserve these Great People through a natural phenomena and a building rather than a simple statue or plaque. From here, becomes apparent that country life is so reliant on landmarks that even when honoring people it still has a way of working hard to keep the physical aspects of a place while also honoring the person. Furthermore, while trying to preserve these areas is important from a cultural and religious standpoint for Britons, the resort emphasizes the nostalgia even more for these areas, as these old areas become tourist destinations within the country. Therefore, these nostalgic, quaint places in Wales become a notable part in the British identity.

Another example of using the past to memorialize the past is the village of St. Fagans in Wales, where an open-air museum in the town uses buildings to memorialize the history of the country as well, with a plethora of areas which have previously been disassembled residing in the area, such as a church that had been used on the site for hundreds of years beforehand. In fact, there were even paintings that were reproduced in the church, though these paintings are only mediocre. This presentation of country areas as wanting to keep areas constructed the way they were exactly before, even when they were not particularly valuable to outsiders, allows people in the country to reflect on their own unique society and contributions to British society, even if some of those contributions are mediocre when looked at through modern eyes. In fact, one magazine named it the most popular tourist attraction in the UK in 2011 (WalesOnline), demonstrating the popularity of old buildings and their display of nostalgia for the past.

Just like Mrs. Dalloway, the scene of nature or a building from long ago can give one a feeling of quaintness and emotion, but the emotion feels odd when brought out into the light of the present, especially since I heard at one time on the trip that there is still a lot of prejudice toward ethnic and sexual minorities in the country, which may have to do with a fascination of a time when those attitudes were not unique among people in both the city and country of the UK. However, the fascination with the British identity allows people to be less suspicious of the meanings underneath this preservation of the past under the guise of continuing to show off the culture.

Overall, the British have a culture that leads to a sentimentalizing of the past that skips over the past’s problems, trying to create an image that does not wholly line up with the reality of situations. However, it also allows the British to relish a cultural moment of the past and preserve parts of the past that they can truly call their own, whether it is a person or a place, creating a strange mix of overt nostalgia with a sense of fantasy on the British Isles.

Further Reading:

“Rochester celebrates Charles Dickens link” (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-kent-20561929)

“St Fagans National Museum of History” (https://museum.wales/stfagans/)

“St Non’s Chapel and Holy Well” (http://www.castlewales.com/stnon.html)

Works Cited

Beaumont, Francis. “On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey.” London: A     History in Verse. Ed. by Mark Frost. London, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012. 137-138. Print.

“National History Monument at St. Fagans soars to the top of UK’s Favorite Tourist Sites.” WalesOnline. 29 September 2011. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/national-history-museum-st-fagans-1813294

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1925. Print.

The Triumph of Tradition in the United Kingdom

When a culture’s history stretches as far back as British culture does, it is inevitably bound by the traditions and customs of its forebears.  What was most surprising to me during my time as a traveler in the United Kingdom, was how heavily that tradition weighted on modern British society, and British identity as a whole.  It’s shadow can be seen lurking for better or worse in government, politics, economy, religion, and education.  This essay will examine how tradition weights on British identity specifically through Her Majesty’s Government via the article by Peter Borsay, Town or country? British Spas and the urban –rural interface, and the poem by Francis Beaumont, On the Tombs of Westminster Abby.

One of the most striking places that tradition can be found is in the British government.  Governments are often steeped in tradition especially in older countries, but what occurred to me was how prominently tradition affects the way the British government functions to this day.  The first thing one can notice is the names of the houses of parliament: The House of Lords and the House of Commons.  Even their names betray an outdated class system of a bygone era.  What’s more, is that the actual names of these bodies are much, much longer than the condensed versions people use to talk about them.  For example, the official name of the House of Lords is “The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled” (Carmichael 40).  Besides showing the pomp of the ruling classes in Britain, that name has been changed at least five recorded times since 1603 and thereby shows the length of history and tradition that weights on the British government. 

The odd names of the houses of parliament are indicative of the functions of these legislative bodies.  The most apt comparison one can make to someone familiar with U.S. government, is that the House of Commons is similar to the House of Representatives and the House of Lords is akin to the Senate.  Whereas the House of Representatives and the House of Commons are somewhat similar, the comparison between the House of Lords and the Senate requires some explaining.  Not one of the 794 current sitting members of the chamber are elected, instead they are all appointed from the peerage.  The peerage is a combination of leaders of the church of England, and the entire body of nobles in the country.  These nobles usually come from a long line of extreme wealth and often own large swaths of land, succinctly putting them in the ruling class.  Many of these appointments from the peerage are for life and only stem from owning land or being a religious figurehead.  In fact, until as recent as 1999 many seats of the house were passed through inheritance, and never had the chance to be opened up to a larger public, or even the rest of the peerage (Carmichael 41).  To an American, this form of government sound archaic and overtly classist especially for a first-world country, it sounds more akin to the Victorian era than to the world of Instagram and Twitter, though that is the point of bringing up the House of Lords.  The traditions of the past dictate with extreme authority how the country is run.  It doesn’t seem to matter if much of the population can never participate in certain parts of the government because it wasn’t set up to include them and hasn’t been changed.  The classist tendencies and beliefs of centuries past has bled into modern day government.  It isn’t just the federal government, however that follows these policies dictated by tradition. 

When looking to smaller British governments, it isn’t hard to spot the shadow of tradition weighting on them as well.  The city of Bath is a perfect example of how tradition can be seen working in the present.  In his article, Borsay discussed the Enlightenments creation of “The new concept of politeness”, about this he writes, “This created an ideology of manners and behavior that came to dominate the cultural landscape of the elite and upper middle class in eighteenth-century Britain”.  What Borsay does not discuss, however, is how the growing social arena of Bath affected the city’s architecture.  Just as Bath was becoming a hub for the socialites of Britain, it became fashionable to build houses from a certain type of local limestone called bathstone.  As more and more elites came to spend time in Bath, more and more houses were built of this similar construction, giving Bath the look it holds to this day, of every building in certain districts of the city being built from bathstone. 

This is an example of what a modern street looks like in Bath. Every building is made from the same type of stone despite when it was built.

What is so interesting about this brief history of the architecture of the city of Bath is what Bath did to maintain it.  In 1987 the city of Bath became a world heritage site for its unique architecture across the city with the stipulation that the city must maintain this ubiquitous architecture.  According to the UNESCO website, “The Bath […] plan contains a core policy according to which the development which would harm the qualities justifying the inscription of the World Heritage property or its setting, will not be permitted”.  This means that new building must be built from bathstone and attempt to blend with surrounding buildings, and that old building cannot be torn down and replaced for more progressive ones.  This has stopped new public buildings like bus stations and shopping malls from being developed which would have been possible before the city put such heavy regulations on new construction projects.   Bath has become an example of how the impact of tradition can stretch across entire cities and affect all of its inhabitants.   The upholding of tradition has changed how the city itself functions on a fundamental level that can’t be seen in many other places.   Bath is a place where tradition is held to highly, progress comes second without a thought.  

The final example of places where tradition weights on the British government is Westminster abbey.  Firstly about the name, Westminster Abbey hasn’t technically been an abbey, since 1560, but is considered a “Church of England “Royal Peculiar”, meaning the it is directly responsible as a place of worship to the monarch (Newcomb 8).  The name ‘abbey’ has stuck due to the buildings personal history of being called an abbey, and to further distinguish it from Eastminster abbey, yet another example of names being trapped in tradition.  Besides the nomenclature of the place, the most notable aspect of this self-defined ‘Peculiar’ place, however, is the opinion it wants to inform its visitors of about British culture.  It is hard when passing the graves of countless monarchs, great scientists, and renown authors not to develop an awe for the British.  It seems as though they have gathered up all of the famous figures from their history and kept them in one place, and its really impressive.  To see Dickens next to Newton next to Mary, Queen of Scots, all housed in a gorgeous gothic cathedral one has to take a moment to recognize what a unique place Westminster Abbey truly is.  That being said, this is somewhat of a façade.  The greatness of the past doesn’t necessitate greatness in the future, and this is what Francis Beaumont argues in his poem On the Tombs of Westminster Abbey.  Beaumont is extremely critical of the vain glories in the abbey.  He says, “Know from this the world’s a snare, How greatness is but care, How all pleasures are but pain, And how short they do remain”.  Beaumont rails against the glorification of the past because it doesn’t pertain to the future.  He goes on to say, “In greatness is no trust”.  Past greatness doesn’t mean anything to the present.  It is hard to argue that the British empire wasn’t great in scope or size.  Soley in size, the British empire was the largest empire in the history of the world beating the next largest empire, the Mongol Empire, by more than 4 million square miles.  The customs and traditions of this massive empire can be seen across the world to this day.  Westminster abbey desperately wants to recapture that past glory, of a time when the British truly ruled the world, and this tradition is held onto with such force, it has become a key aspect of British identity.  

The impressive architecture of the north facade of Westminster Abbey is meant to inspire awe in all those who see it, much like what is housed inside.

The House of Lords, Bath, and Westminster Abbey are examples of how tradition weights extremely heavily on three different aspects of British government.  What is so incredible is that to a foreigner such as myself, this reverence for tradition seems to often stand directly in the way of progress.  Forbidding bus stations and shopping malls in a city because they don’t match the architecture is extremely damaging to a community especially to its less affluent members.  Its backwards to me to have a person be entitled to a prominent spot in government on the sole basis that one of their parents held that spot and they own land.  Spending government funds to support a cathedral for the express purpose of showing the past greatness of the country doesn’t seem like an efficient use of tax payer money.  All of these examples help illuminate a truth about how tradition plays against British identity.  Tradition is a foundational aspect of British identity in a way that isn’t found in younger countries like the United States.  It can dictate policies that stand directly opposed to many progressive ideals with impunity, and is at the heart of British Identity.  

 

Works cited

Carmichael, Paul; Dickson, Brice (1999). The House of Lords: Its Parliamentary and Judicial Roles. Hart Publishing. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-1-84113-020-0.

Newcomb, Rexford (1997). “Abbey”. In Johnston, Bernard. Collier’s Encyclopedia. I A to Ameland (First ed.). New York, NY: P.F. Collier. pp. 8–11.

In the Mercy of His Means: The Temporal Relationship Between Identity and Space in the UK

Human beings develop various relationships with time, given various contexts and environments. Individuals can take an active role over time by ‘telling’ time, ‘checking’ time, or ‘managing’ time. In other situations, time itself takes action by ‘getting away,’ ‘slowing down,’ or ‘running out.’ This trade-off of activity and passivity extends into the navigation of physical space, as people can ‘move’ through time, but time itself can also ‘move.’

British texts that choose to focus on time often examine the movements of people and time as they relate to the navigation of city and country spaces. As a result, certain motions and temporal relationships become associated with certain spaces. Audiences of these texts then internalize these associations and the crafted narratives of the texts become the supposed narratives of the city and country spaces themselves. In traveling to the UK and experiencing time in city and country spaces, some of the conventions of these narratives became reinforced, whereas others got subverted. The outcome of these experiences within the scope of selected texts revealed consistent, significant connectivity to physical space as a quality of British identity in both the city and the country.

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, an omniscient narrator depicts time in a city space as tangential and hectic. The narrative of the novel proves nonlinear, often moving between reflective subjects, locations, and focal characters quickly and sporadically. This includes moving backwards and forwards through daily time as well as exploring time in greater obscurity, such as through memories, daydreams, and actual dreams. Even syntactically, the narrator moves rapidly between several subjects and actions, often within the same sentence. This results in deliberately, often jarringly superfluous prose that navigates readers in various directions at a brisk pace. Despite the potential for disorientation, much like the disorientation caused a busy city, the flow of the narration does not stop unless something hugely significant, such as the car crash at the end of the first section, occurs (Woolf 14). The structure of the narrative thus purports a narrative about time in city spaces, suggesting its active role. Time seems to move especially quickly, to continually reorient its subjects, and to stop for no one.

In addition to the novel’s structure, the action within the novel’s prose depicts London as a city replete with fast-paced, busy life. The narrator positions Clarissa Dalloway in a singular moment within significant hustle and bustle when she relates, “In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June” (Woolf 4). This description of a moment in London conveys, despite a bit of claustrophobia and chaos, a sense of location and security. Clarissa seems to find comfort in observing Londoners speed through their lives on a summer day. In this instance, Clarissa seems to assume the active role over time, as she has actively paused to observe and admire her surroundings. That said, the objects of her admiration and the tangential pathways of her reflection still seem to indicate a character guided by the city’s time clock (and quite literally, given her hyperawareness of Big Ben’s activity).

My adventures in London as a literary tourist echoed Woolf’s conception of city time as fast-paced and tangential. Likewise, my observations reinforced Woolf’s purported convention of the city having an abundance of life navigating city time simultaneously. My first exposure to the speed and constant reorientation of London occurred on my group’s first day in London when we practiced how to get around the city on the Tube. We began at King’s Cross station, where I felt awe regarding the sheer quantity of people commuting in various directions. As a Des Moines, Iowa native, I had very little previous experience with public transit, especially in a city as densely populated as London. I found myself impressed by the speed with which people moved across the station as well as moved from line to line across various stations. I felt alienated, as though my travel-mates and I were the only ones lost amid an amalgamate of people who knew their destinations and how exactly to get there. This alienation subsisted given the finesse with which the crowds in the Tube had internalized the various rules of Tube travel, such as hanging to the right on escalators and situating oneself securely on the trains so as to not get jostled by its various motions.

People moving on their own time outside of King’s Cross Station.

The speed and intensity of movement served as a major adjustment for me, and my first encounter with this system of time proved awkward. At one point during my first tube ride, I fell backwards into another person when the train stopped, and said person proceeded to laugh in my face. This encounter, in conjunction with my observations of the Tube, suggested to me that the internalization of time’s motion in London proved characteristic of London’s occupants. People either kept up with time in the city, or time kept trailblazing without them. As I became a more competent navigator throughout our week and London, speed and reorientation continued to present themselves. I noticed them, for instance, in our course itinerary. The way certain days were planned out required movement across broad space while following a strict time schedule. For instance, on January 7th, our group met for a class session, spent time in Regent’s Park, split up for lunch, and went to the Tate Britain Museum, all before 4 p.m. I even noticed speed and reorientation when some of my peers and I ventured to some of the clubs in Leicester Square. Bouncers from various clubs would often catch us on the street en route to other clubs and persuade us to come to the clubs they worked for. This caused us to move rapidly between a large number of locations, as dictated by the motion and flow of time in the city.

In addition to speed and reorientation, Woolf’s convention of city time having potential for pause and singularity also sustained itself in my tourist experiences. That said, I had not expected to witness or experience as much introspection as I did. I figured that moments of pause and reflection would only occur in momentous events, such as after the car crash in Mrs. Dalloway. Contrarily, it seemed that pause and reflection proved necessary for navigating the speed and reorientation of London. My first moment of legitimate pause and reflection occurred when I took a tour of the Tower Bridge and looked out at the River Thames and the city skyline. This moment provided me with a sense of spatial awareness and location amid the surplus of life and activity of the city. I became aware of London occupants seeking this sense of location when I spent some time on a bench people watching in Tavistock Square. On this particular night, Tavistock Square did not bustle with people, per se, but it maintained a fullness that still struck me, particularly for an extra cold night. Despite a steady flow of people, no people interacted with me directly and very seldom did anyone even pass by me. Instead, people in the park kept their focus inward, dedicating their time fully to the tasks they came to do, such as walk their dogs, smoke, and socialize. The people in Tavistock Square seemed to move navigate time alone and together simultaneously. Everyone trusted one another to not break the flow and maintain the pace and life the park breathed. This indicated to me that although time has a significant, active presence within the city of London, the occupants find ways to take action and agency over their personal time.

A still moment of reflection overlooking a fast-paced London from the Tower Bridge.

The relationship between convention and reality with regard to time within space proves additionally complex in a rural context. The speaker in Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill directly addresses the varying effects on identity time has in a country setting. The speaker makes this relationship concrete by personifying ‘Time’ and placing it figuratively among the imagery that he too interacts with. He examines the relationship of his youth in the country to Time in the second stanza saying, “In the sun that is young once only / Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means.” Here, Time takes both an active and passive role. Time acts by “let[ting]” the speaker play; however, the speaker also acts by “be[ing] Golden” in the mercy of Time’s means. This suggests that although Time looms a constant presence over the speaker, the speaker still has the freedom and autonomy to “play.” Likewise, the relationship between the speaker and time seems romantic, as if the presence of Time enhances the speaker’s experience in the sun by allowing him to be “golden.” This relationship parallels a broader narrative of the country where people have time to play and time proves constantly present and generous.

Thomas’ speaker challenges this romantic relationship with Time later in the poem, saying “Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, / Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” In these lines, both Time (“held”) and the speaker (“sang”) still remain active; however, Time seems less merciful and more oppressive than before. By holding the speaker in place, the Time that once let him play now kills him. That said, the final quoted line suggests a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in the speaker, through which he accepts the “chains” of Time that hold him and continues to “sing” or live despite them. These lines demonstrate a different facet to country time. The constant presence of time proves less freeing and more suffocating, less generous and more violent. Despite this, the individuals that interact with time, according to Thomas’ speaker, accept that time forces them to connect with the space around them, and then holds them there. Navigating time in the country thus necessitates resigning oneself to time killing him in the country.

 

Brecon Beacons

My expectations for my country experiences in Wales, admittedly, aligned more with Thomas’ later stanza. In fact, I rather dreaded the idea of hiking the countryside, as I imagined it blase given my typical propensity for urbanity. When the time came for my group to hike the Brecon Beacons, my expectations got thwarted more than had happened with any experience on our journey to that point. The aesthetic experience of the hike- including the sight of the grassy, mountainous landscape, the brisk temperature and air, and the physical sensation of the exercise- proved one of the most profoundly affective experiences of my life. The experienced moved me so much that I sat down and wrote a free-form entry in my traveling notebook. I felt similarly moved when our group travelled to St. David’s two days later to take a hike by the sea. The waves crashing onto the limestone structures of the bluffs proved one of the most beautiful and humbling sights I have ever beheld.

Not only did my level of enjoyment in the country defy my expectations, but so did my expectations with regard to time’s interaction with the space. Actually, I did not notice time on the group’s hikes nearly as much as I did in London. I became less aware of time on a moment-to-moment basis, as the country landscapes proved non-reflexive and did not comment on time nearly as much as I had imagined. This provided stark contrast to the speed, reorientation, and scheduling I had experienced in London. Obviously, time proved present in the country, as it takes time to climb up and down a mountain (all day, in fact). However, I understood Thomas’ speaker’s notion of time granting permission for play and, in turn, enhancing experiences out in nature. That said, I know that both days spent hiking proved busy in they centered around activity. I did not have enough inactivity or quiet time in the country to support or challenge Thomas’ speaker’s notion of time as a captor and killer.

I encountered drastically fewer people in the country than I did in London. That said, the people I did meet seemed to luxuriate in the mercy of time rather than feel oppressed by it. For instance, the hotel staff at the Baskerville Hotel, where we stayed in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, conveyed impressive amounts of positivity and calm while also lacking urgency. This manifested itself most clearly through the number of maintenance errors the hotel experienced during our time there, including broken locks, water leakages, and food health issues. Many members of my travel group made mention of these issues during our 5-night stay; however, we did not stick around long enough to see any of these issues attended to. The staff seemed to figure they would get around to fixing the issues eventually, as they had a wealth of time at their disposal with very few places to go.

One of our tour guides from the Brecon Beacons, Mick, also demonstrated pleasure from the wealth of time the country allotted him. Likewise, he exhibited a similar lack of urgency to the Baskerville Hotel staff. During our hike of Brecon Beacons, Mick and I had a private conversation in which I asked him the length of his longest hike. He told me that he often takes long hikes that extend anywhere from 3 days to a full week. He said that his wife would often drop him off at the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park and set him free for a hike, from which he would eventually meander back. Mick’s account, including his wife’s support of his hikes, struck me with both its honor and apathy towards time. Mick’s movement and flow through country spaces would not prove possible without a wealth of time for disposal; however, time itself does nothing to regulate or dictate what Mick does on those hikes. Mick’s story reiterates Thomas’ speaker’s notion of country time as abundant yet generous, and does not suggest any connection to country time as oppressive or debilitating.

St. David’s by the sea

People in the UK forge different relationships to their environments based on the different relationships to time that surface in these environments. Based on the comparison of textual narrative and real-life experiences, time in cities like London seems to move quickly, strictly, and tangentially. City occupants, in turn, navigate through and forge relationships with the space around them through individuality, pause, and introspection. In the country, time proves omnipotent and abundant, and it acts either generously or oppressively. Country occupants, in turn, navigate through and forge relationships with the space around them by resisting urgency and allowing themselves to play. In both the city and the country, the ways people negotiate time and navigate space seems integral to forming individual identity as part of broader community identity. In other words, regardless of the space’s form, people in the UK find ways to identify profoundly with space, and they do so by interacting constantly with time.

Works Cited

Thomas, Dylan. Fern Hill. [New York]: N.p., 1945. Print.

Woolf, Virginia, and Francine Prose. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harvest Book/Harcourt, 2004. Print.

Further Reading

  1. “The Significance of Time in Mrs. Dalloway”  http://prizedwriting.ucdavis.edu/significance-time-mrs-dalloway
  2. “Passage of Time and Loss of Childhood in Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill and William Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality”  http://www.worldscientificnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/WSN-50-2016-106-116.pdf
  3. “British Identity: its sources and possible implications for civic attitudes and behaviour”  http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.justice.gov.uk/docs/british-identity.pdf

London Visitors: Life-Like, London-Like, and Welsh

 On January 7, I sat on a short, beige couch in the Tate Britain gallery and veiwed Jame Tissot’s London Visitors as steadily as I would regard my own reflection in a mirror. Like Tissot’s visitors, I too did not belong in London- I did not belong in Britain at all. Like the London Visitors, I would often, over the course of my visit to London, Wales, and Bath, lean to my traveling companions, consulting some museum guide or street map. I would equally as often point, apathetically confident, in the direction of our goal. I had consulted children, couples, the elderly to receive accurate directions, recommendations, and insights into British culture, and I would feel like an intrusion as they went away to continue occupying the places that belonged to them.

The London Visitors and I are not unique, however. We would have to look back past the Anglo-Saxons and the Romans in order to find the first foreign eyes in Britain, and we would have to look far into the future to see the last. Britain was shaped by the tides of invasion, colonialism, forced migration, immigration, and tourism. In many ways, Britain’s historical contact with ‘the Others’, whether Normans, Afro-Caribbean immigrants, or tourists, has compelled them to reexamine and clearly define their own identity publicly and visibly.

On one hand, Britain has a globally recognized identity; even before this trip, I associated Britain with Harry Potter, double decker busses, and sophisticated accents. I knew of the Tower of London and Big Ben, I knew of sheep on the vast and dreary moors and I knew of the bizarre Welsh language. However, this picture of Britain- the heroes and the World Wars, the stewards of the glories of the classical world- can’t be the complete one, any more than the image of southern hospitality and 1950s nuclear family aesthetics could completely be the United States.

1/6/18 - 1/7/18: A Cream Tea and Morefish Cafe
Over the course of this trip, I made drawings of the sights and places I saw. Here are two pen and ink drawings with light watercolor washes: one the right I have recorded my first cream tea, and on the left I have drawn the Morefish Cafe and Deli. (Click on the image to view fully.)

My visit to the Tate Britain consisted of a slow ramble through the rest of the their special Ey Exhibition: Impressionists in London. There I saw the works of, Andre Derain, Camille Pissaro, and, of course, Claude Monet. They and many others sojourner in London as exiles of the Franco-Prussian war, are their art seems to grapple with the new environment they found themselves in. Monet said of his work during this time:

1/8/18 - the River Thames
Far from the vibrant sunrises of Monet’s Thames, the morning I went to paint the river was grey, damp, and subdued.

“I am making progress… in understanding this very special climate, and have got to the point where I can work with big slashing strokes on canvases that have given me a lot of trouble, which were more or less finished, but were not London-like enough, and this is what I am trying to convey with this broad brushwork.”

By virtue of the fact that these works have been gathered for a special exhibition at one of the most important art galleries in London, we can conclude that the impressionists were quite

successful in their efforts. Their influence does not stop at the art world, however, but extends even to perceptions of Britain. As Oscar Wilde said:

“To whom, is not (the impressionists) and their master, do we owe these lovely silver mists that brood over our river and turn to faint forms of fading Grace? There may have been fogs for centuries in London- I dare say there were- but no one saw them… They did not exist until art had invented them.”

The fogs of London now are well-known, and are often grouped alongside breakfast tea and the Queen when considering things that are ‘London-like’. It seems curious, though, that this particular tag of British identity stemmed not from the British, but from foreigners. Not even willing foreigners: the oh-so-very-British fogs were brought to the world’s attention by those who resided in London only to escape war in their home land.

On the surface, this seems reasonable. The French Impressionists were highly respected and highly skilled artists, so it not only seems natural, but right and just, that their representations of Brittan be elevated and celebrated. However, this conclusion- acceptable in itself, but possessing the pretense of egality towards those outside the scope of current British-ness- falls apart when broader immigrant communities in London are taken into consideration. Take this quote from the short story, The Courter:

1/4/18 - 1/6/18- Spitalfields
Clockwise from the top: Spitalfields Market; an Organ at St. James’; a gnarled tree in the countryside; the bus ride to Rochester

“So it was England that was breaking (Contrary Mary’s) heart, breaking it by not being India. London was killing her, by not being Bombay… Or was it that her heart, roped by two different loves, was being pulled both East and West, whinnying and rearing… and she knew that to live she would have to choose?…

“I, too, have ropes around my neck, I have them to this day, pulling me this way and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding, choose, choose.” (The Courter, Salman Rushdie).

These passages describe the experiences of Indian immigrants and their children, and I would hazard to say that this reflects a larger disposition of immigrants’ relationship with their new home.

Take the Afro-Caribbean community in London: the descendants of immigrants, producing exceptional and influential music. Tourists come to Brixton, one of the neighborhoods with a large population Black Brits, just to see Electric Avenue, the star of its titular song by Eddy Grant. During my time in Britain, there was a special exhibition showcasing Black British music in the Black Cultural Archives, a resource created to help Black Brits to connect to their heritage and to help others learn about Afro-Caribbean-British culture. However, when it was built, the Black Cultural Archives- a home to immigrant and descendant-of-immigrant representations of Britishness, just as the Tate was- came with a disclaimer: ‘Use it or lose it’.

How can it be that the children and grandchildren of Caribbean immigrants (who are not merely sojourning in Britain, but are living their lives here in Britain, and are just as British as their white neighbors) do not have the same institutional recognition that the French Impressionists (temporary inhabitants, visitors as an effect of war) enjoy? The answer seems unfortunately familiar, being a phenomenon that is paralleled in most countries which possess some level of racial diversity: the British either do not want to have, or see no urgency in prioritizing having, their image, their identity, associated with people of color.

1/2/18 -1/3/18 - Tower of London
On the left, a clockface from the Charles’ Dickens museum, our class’s home base while in London and the subject of many discussion on representation. On the left, we have a room from the Tower of London, a prison-turned tourist attraction

This may be one of the biggest barriers in trying to uncover ‘true’ British identity: the authorities and institutions that are supposed to be showcasing it. Whether by art galleries, public memorials, or world heritage sites, someone has control over what is presented as ‘British’ to the world. The fact that these locations are also representations of reality creates an issue of bias. In representations we clearly identify as artistic, we expect and appreciate biases as natural and often desirable; art gives us the ability to communicate our experience of life without needing to pay attention to objectivity.

1/12/18- Baskerville Hall Music Room
I light trespass into warped perspectives in the Baskerville Hall music room.

 Art is inherently subjective, and therefore must only conjure ‘life-likeness’ in their audience’s mind. However, when it comes to cultural and historical sources of information, whether the Churchill War Room Museum or Welsh hiking guides, we expect a level of objectivity. When we enter a museum, we are shown something that presents itself as truth, but is in fact it is the result of careful planning and studied selection- a representation.

Take St. Fagan’s National Museum of History, for instance. Touted as “one of Europe’s leading open-air museums and Wales’s most popular heritage attraction”, the museum is a cross between a living history museum and a historical preservation site. The buildings at St. Fagan’s were curated from all around Wales- carefully removed from their original locations and reconstructed at the site, with gravel pathways and a concept of “Welsh-ness” connecting a small, thatched cottages, mills, and tanneries. It appears to be strongly ‘Welsh’ it romanticized the connection the Welsh have to the natural world through agriculture and history. It cannot be doubted that a large part of Welsh identity does lie in their land- listen to the words of Dylan Thomas, one of the most famous of the Welsh poets:

 And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

              Trail with daisies and barley

     Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

              In the sun that is young once only,

                   Time let me play and be

              Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

              And the sabbath rang slowly

      In the pebbles of the holy streams.” (Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas).

Like in London, however, these are still only representations of Welsh life. While these representations have merit- from everything I have read and seen and experience while on this trip, there truly does exist a strong and admirable connection between the Welsh and- they are not more meritorious then those Welsh people who are bored with what they see as dull country life or those who live within Cardiff, Wales’ capital and largest city, and not on their ancestral farm, herding sheep. The two are equal, and in order to have a more complete understanding of any part of Britain- whether as cosmopolitan as London or as rural as Wales, all narratives and representations of the locations must be taken into consideration.

For many visitors to the island, discovering the truth behind the representations may never come to full fruition- however, with careful observation and a commitment to interrogation of the assumed, it is likely that these visitors, whether tourist or refugee, immigrant or migrant, will soon be equipped to broaden our understanding of Britain by create representations of their own.

1/10/18- Pen Y Fen Lunch Break
Our class at the top of Pen Y Fen, the highest mountain in Wales.

 

If you would like to read more about the topics I’ve addressed in this essay, these are great places to start:

For more information on Ey’s Impressionists in London Exhibition, click here.

For a thought provoking critique of the Exhibition, click here.

For more information about the Black Cultural Archives, click here.

For an overview of the mission and methods of St Fagans, click here.

If you would like to see more of my own representations of Britain, as well as my other work, please visit my website.

 

SOURCES

Rushdie, Salman. East, west: stories. Vintage International, 1996.

Thomas, Dylan. “Fern Hill.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 6 Aug. 2014, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/fern-hill.

Containment as it relates to British Identity in the City and Country

As I sat on top of my bulging suitcase, I came to an abrupt realization- I didn’t pack hiking boots. In fact, I didn’t pack any gear or clothing to keep me warm in the latter portion of my England and Wales adventure. I assessed the contents of my bag and quickly came to the awareness that I needed to create a new plan of attack; one that would accommodate both the inherent aesthetic requirements of the city and the physical demands of the country. After a more detailed consultation with the provided packing list, I filled my bag and rolled out my apartment door. Now, sitting back almost three weeks later, looking over the city of Chicago still humming with life at 3 am, I reflect on the journey we have embarked on. I remember the bustling streets of London that so closely mirrors the organized chaos that I take comfort in, and yet, I still long to hear the crashing waves on the coastline of St. David. Throughout our class’s travels in the city and country, this duality of limitations extended beyond the narrative of clothing.

Looking over the cliffside in St. David

For although I was physically prepped for the elements in each location, I discerned that much of the United Kingdom is contained physically and metaphorically. Specifically, the literal containment of the naturalistic elements in the city in contrast with the inherent classist limitations of the country both work to establish a culture and British identity consumed by ideals, and the perpetuation of perfection within British culture.

The City is Alive

The element that struck me the most about London was the degree to which it teemed with natural life. It seemed as though past every corner, religious spaces and patches of greenery were spattered throughout the sea of concrete. Every tour we embarked on included one of these sanctuaries of trees separated from city life by iron-clad fences. Each tour guide beaming with pride about the famous philosopher that used to ponder in these gates, or that Virginia Woolf often sauntered on the cobblestone paths. This pride in green spaces extends into the fabric of British tourism, timeout.com describes the parks as “gloriously green, big-hitting parks” that are unmistakably British.

Virginia Woolf Memorial in Tavistock Square

In seeking to understand the dichotomy of natural space and the industrial city, our class participated in a recreation of Charles Dickens’ classic essay ‘Night Walks.’ The famous storyteller weaves together analogies and vivid personification of the city to bring the reader on a journey with him through the streets of London past midnight. However, as I’m sure my family will be enthused to hear, we modified this experience for the current day in age. Set out in pairs, we wandered the early evening within the city limits. We were instructed to find solace in the greenery and be alone with our thoughts for at least 30 minutes. Now, the prospect of being alone with only myself as company already seemed like a daunting task- but to do so in a public park at night mounted my anxiety to new heights. My plan had always been to go to St. George’s Park- a speck of green and a monument to the dead in this very grey city. But when I arrived, the great iron door was sealed shut and a bright white ‘DO NOT PASS’ sign emblazoned the door, highlighting the shimmering padlock adorning the gate. As I walked with my head held low, I began to question the history and regulation of public parks such as this within the city. I soon found after a quick search that this containment of park and natural life is far from a nuanced concept.

Photo of St. George’s Park during operating hours

The earliest form of enclosure laws arose in the mid 1700’s through a series of Parliamentary Acts called the Enclosure Acts, which were centrally passed from 1750 to 1860. These 1,000’s of Acts established that land known as ‘open fields’ that were traditionally used by the peasantry for farming would remain in their possession and be protected under law against the rapidly expanding city. Moreover, it allowed the excess land that was not suitable for farming, i.e. moorland, marshes and infertile soil, to be given to those displaced by the redistribution of land that resulted from these Acts. According to Wendy McElroy of The Future of Freedom Foundation’s article, The Enclosure Acts and the Industrial Revolution, the reality of these Acts were not so much meant to appease the peasantry, but rather to push out unsuccessful farms. After the Acts were enacted, “the lands seized by the acts were then consolidated into individual and privately owned farms, with large, politically connected farmers receiving the best land. Often, small landowners could not afford the legal and other associated costs of enclosure and so were forced out” (McElroy, 1).

Time marched forward and it seems the divide between city and country grew with it. People would import goods in the city and export a steady flow of income to these fabled countrysides. This fetishizing of the country continued to inspire city-goers to move to buy estates in the far reaches of the English countryside and to have tourist destination cities, like Bath, mirror the ideals of the country backed by the convenience and modernity of the city. It wasn’t really until the 1930’s that environmentalists and naturalists came to Parliament with the idea of saving these areas of the countryside and making them publicly accessible. Unfortunately, this idea was tabled due to the impending Second World War. But, it was revisited by Parliament and in 1949 they issued the the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which oversaw the establishment of 10 national parks in the United Kingdom. This act was a starting point for regimented containment of natural elements in the country as a whole, and it wasn’t long before similar acts began popping up for conservation of greenery within the London city limits.

After what seemed like hours of searching, my partner and I came upon a patch of park where the gates were wide open- Tavistock Square. As I situate myself on a cold green bench in a cold green park surrounded by cold black bars, I reflect on this idea of containment. How can a city so fruitful and alive feel so closed off and regulated? Why was it so difficult to find space and silence in a city that boasts its lush parks and peaceful demeanor? Before I could get too lost in thought I felt a tap on my shoulder and was met by a cheery man in a construction-grade orange vest. “Hey sleeping beauty do you want to sleep here tonight?” he said through a thick Eastern European accent. All I could mumble was a quick “Oh no I’m sorry” and I promptly left the little green oasis.

The Country is Forged

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.

The rich man in the castle, the poor man at the gate,

God made them high or lowly, and ordered their estate.

17th Century protest against English Enclosure

As aforementioned, the regulations that led to the establishment of designated green spaces in London first came about due to land disputes in the country. This was a massive source of disagreement in the 1700’s when these regulations were established, but continued to happen long before and long after Parliament intervened. We see the impacts that these regulations had on the population though lawsuits about invisible lines in the grass, to impacts on works of literature. For example in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson paints a picture of a man he meets in the countryside while investigating a massive beast killing off members of the Baskerville Family- a wealthy family that resides in a manor in the countryside. This man is Mr. Frankland, and he is what the legal profession refers to as a bull shark. He “fights for the mere pleasure of fighting” and his battle of choice in British Law happens to be litigation in land disputes (Doyle 110). Watson describes this character to Sherlock as a man who “will with his own hands tear down some other man’s gate and declare that a path has existed there from time immemorial, defying the owner to prosecute him for trespass” (Doyle 110). This character demonstrates the heightened levels of anxiety that arose after these Acts were in place, in the city the containment of greenery was easy to manage- there was not much of it and most of the spaces were used for leisure. In the country these land lines extended for miles, and the cost of loosing an acre or two meant the difference between eating or not that night. In addition, this character puts into perspective the power that the wealthy manipulated over the rural farmers and inhabitants, knowledge was power and if your whole life was consumed with tilling fields, you didn’t have time or money to educate yourself of the ins and outs of British Law as a project of “passion” (Doyle 110).

Baskerville Hall situated in the Welsh Countryside

The shockwaves of the Enclosure Acts are still being felt today, as the Acts effectively “advantage[d] those fortunate enough to become individual owners and disadvantage peasants. The immediate effect [of the Enclosure Acts] was to devastate the peasant class” (McElroy 1).

While the land in the city is contained by iron gates and regulated by men in orange vests, the people of the country are more so contained by the dependency they have on the land due to the socioeconomic limitations that contain it’s population to that geographic area.

The same tensions between classes that Doyle hints at in his 1901 work still resonate with the modern UK countryside. According to the UK 2014/15 Defra Rural Poverty Statistics, in rural areas, “ the percentage of children in relative and absolute low income increased, the percentage of households in relative low income increased, and for households, working age people and pensioners, the percentage in absolute low income after housing costs had fallen” (gov.uk 4). These statistics put a modern face to the idea of stratified poverty. While the urban counterparts in this same statistic also faced increased levels of households in relative low income, it is clear that there is a stratification of wealth the exists and binds people in the country to their geographic location.

Containing British Identity

So how do these ideas of containment relate back to British identity? This idea is best illustrated by the literary character of Pip in Charles Dickens’ work, Great Expectations. Pip is a boy from the countryside who is given a large sum of money from an anonymous donor with the intent for him to move to the city of London and become a gentleman. This quest was a rarity in Pip’s hometown of Kent. Social mobility was not easily obtained, and the concept of it coming from a donor who didn’t wish to revel in the social currency that came from charity like this was eerie at best. Pip’s view of the city, and the physically binding space that it exhibits, is reflected when he contrasts his rural life and his newfound social and geographic location. Saying, “so imperfect was this realization of the first of my great expectations that I looked in dismay at Mr. Wemmick. ‘Ah!’ said he, mistaking me ‘the retirement reminds you of the country. So it does me” (Dickens 181). Here Pip realizes that although London is a place of promise, for him and all it’s inhabitants, it is still consumed by the dirt and grime that is left in the country. In the same breath, his hometown in the countryside, Kent, is marked by poverty and tradesmen- contained to their lots in life from the day they were born.

In between exists this liminality, this mist that Dickens describes that overtakes the entirety of the novel, the internal becomes external-and nature becomes a representation of emotion. Much like our travels our own implicit biases became somewhat external. As a self informed traveler we are forced to become aware of our social location as it relates to the culture around us. Just as I am commenting on the reality that I faced in the streets of London and in the countryside, I am also contained by my inability to see the world from all angles. In my experience, both the regimented containment of nature in the city and the classist containment of lower classes within the countryside mix together to create an overarching culture and deeply-rooted identity that is idealistic in nature and perpetuates the quixotic perfection of the United Kingdom.

Additional Readings:

1. Should the city London become a National Park?: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/47-per-cent-of-london-is-green-space-is-it-time-for-our-capital-to-become-a-national-park-9756470.html

2. A Modern Take on Rural Poverty and Survival: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-22952918

3. Reality of Social Isolation in Rural Areas: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/rural-communities-countryside-public-health-england-local-government-association-neglected-digital-a7636521.html

See other hyperlinks throughout the piece as well!

Works Cited

Doss, Latif, and Charles Dickens. Great Expectations. Pearson Education, 2008.

“Dufra Rural Poverty Statistics.” Poverty, Gov.Uk, Mar. 2017, www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/597383/DefraRuralPovertyStats_March_2017.pdf.

“Major Parks in London.” Time Out London, 27 Apr. 2017, www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/londons-major-parks.

McElroy, Wendy. “The Enclosure Acts and the Industrial Revolution.” The Future of Freedom Foundation, 8 Mar. 2012, www.fff.org/explore-freedom/article/enclosure-acts-industrial-revolution/.

Parliament, UK. “Enclosing the Land.” Www.parliament.uk, www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/towncountry/landscape/overview/enclosingland/.

Parliament, UK. “SECOND READING. [FIRST NIGHT.].” SECOND READING. [FIRST NIGHT.] (Hansard, 25 April 1881), 25 Apr. 1881, hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1881/apr/25/second-reading-first-night.

Ronaldson, Alan, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Pearson Education, 2008.

Aside by the Author- Brief History of British Land Ownership and Identity Abroad

For centuries, man has tied land to power. This notion is as old as the fabric of society itself. It also makes sense to a certain degree- when someone owns more land they can physically afford to plant more crops and therefore bring home more food for their family, perhaps even selling the excess. Therefore, ensuring the survival of their bloodline and elevating their social status. But this hunger and desire eventually escalades to the point beyond human need- when one human being decides that they have less land than their neighbor, and enter into a competition of wealth. Then enter the British Empire, the origins of which date back to the late 16th century with a series of chartered companies that have a commercial monopoly over a set area of distinct geographical areas. This trading and influence over areas like India and the East Andes then exploded into colonies organized by the Crown and their charter companies to facilitate the growing need in the West for tobacco and sugar cane. Throughout the next 3-4 centuries this basic concept would explode and expand into modern imperialism. 

Imperialism is the political strategy where, in essence, one nation enters another to obtain land and money and leave behind ‘civilized individuals’ who mirror the ideals of the host culture. This could be achieved through a multitude of fashions but for the British in the mid-19th century, this took the form of cultural erasure of the native populations through a series of educational videos such as this. This film in particular was made by the Colonial Film Unit to be shown in the Caribbean Colonies of Britain, it is one in a series of propaganda based education intended to mobilize cheap labor to Britain and illustrate the beauty and sophistication of the British countryside. Proving that even if you were a mere farmer in the Caribbean, there was still an expectation of decorum and class. This specific breed of expansion of a national identity isn’t solely British, particularly in the 19th century it seems as though the whole world was contained between invisible lines and boundaries drawn by the powerful and observed by the necessitous. 

To this day, the United Kingdom retains many of these entities obtained through Imperialism. The British identity itself is not merely influenced by the desire to own land and power, but deeply seeded throughout British history and culture, and should be recognized by the modern traveler.

Surrounded by shops in Leadenhall Market

The English and Welsh City and Country: A Study of the Meaning of Life

As I traveled through the cities and countryside of England and Wales, I was drawn to the distinct differences of the meaning of life as it relates and manifests itself in the city versus the country.  As a class, our first task upon arriving in London was to orient ourselves to the ways of city-life, including how to ride the tube and navigate the city.  Watching the vast sea of people walking around King’s Cross Station was eye-opening.  The constant traffic showed the ebb and flow life itself in the city.  The city-people often didn’t have time to sit down and eat, they were “on the go.”  I saw people in the subway, or tube, eating their breakfast, lunch, or dinner as they headed from one point of direction to the other.  The way of life that dwelt within the city was motivated by the jobs that exists inside the city.  London is an industrial city, time is money.  No matter where we went in London, there was the constant push that drove the city-people forward.

One of our readings, the London Buses by Mervyn Peak illustrated this point beautifully.  “The city’s body with a living thread/ That like a vessel weaving through grey flesh/ Its crimson mesh”  This poem uses the iconic red double-decker buses as a symbolic representation of life within the city.  In this particular poem, the city and its “broken stone” is dead and it is the flow of the buses that brings life to the city.

Taken while riding a double decker bus across London

Jobs and traffic aren’t the only driving forces within the city of London, tourism too brings life to the city.  When standing inside of Westminster Abbey, tourists wandered the church, viewing the memorials that were spread throughout the space.  Tourists breathe life into this extravagant graveyard by visiting the tombs and memorializing the lives of those past within the Abbey. In the poem, On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey, by Francis Beaumont, he comments on the mortality of us all.  “What a change of flesh is here! / Think how many royal bones/ Sleep within this heap of stones,” Although the poet seems to mock the people who are buried in Westminster Abbey by calling them “the richest royalest seed,” comparing them to expensive fertilizer, tourists come centuries later to see these memorials and graves of the people deemed important.  This memorialization, in itself, seems to breathe life into even the places of the dead.  In a way, the lives of those inside the Abbey, such as Sir Isaac Netwon or Charles Dickens, are revived for the moments that they have visitors by their graves.  The interest of the public about their lives prolongs their importance and what value they have left the world.

Westminster Abbey

The biggest threat to life in the city seems to be time.  Throughout the city there are CCTV cameras for the protection of the people who dwell within the city.  This layer of protection may extend the life a person may have.  Traffic signs, ease of access to food and shelter can make an impactable difference on the life and safety of those who live there.  When traveling inside the city, there are buildings everywhere you turn and the street signs help you navigate even the windiest of roads.  If there is bad weather, a person could easily “wait it out” in a building of their choosing, and perhaps even get a coffee during the wait.  If someone were to get lost, as I did several times in my time in London or Bath, there is a constant flow of people wherever you may go, that might be willing to offer directions.

The meaning of life in the country is much different, especially in the Welsh countryside.  One of our class adventures brought us to the highest peak in Southern Wales, Pen y Fan.  Coming from the hustle and bustle of London, this experience was a stark contrast.  For the first time in our trip, we were able to appreciate the nature around us without the constant distraction of people, noise, or traffic.  Looking back at the cities as I climbed higher and higher was so surreal.  Hiking the rocky terrain was not an easy feat, I was often presented with challenges such as weather, fatigue, mud, slippery rocks, and unfamiliarity with the environment.  This prompted the idea for me that the people in the country have a completely different view of life and safety than those in the city.  In the country, things like weather, access to food and shelter and familiarity of the terrain are necessary for survival.  A sudden change in weather whilst hiking the peak could mean that your life is at risk. On the other side of the peak we saw how truly life-threatening the peak could be.  Tommy Jones was a five-year-old boy, who, due to exhaustion and exposure, had died on the ridge below the peak of Pen y Fan.  This is a clear illustration of how dangerous life can be in the country.

An image of myself hiking Pen y Fan

Life in the country can also be measured in other ways.  One such way, is through the beauty of nature itself.  Dylan Thomas’s poem, The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, illustrates the beauty of life through the perspectives of nature.    “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/ Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees/ Is my destroyer./ And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose/ My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.”  Dylan Thomas uses metaphors of life through nature.  The force, meaning the life that is present inside of it.  Or perhaps, meaning water that helps the flower grow, which is also vital for life to exist.  The driving force in the country is much different to that of the city.  In the city, life is measured in the time spent working, as cities are often industrial based places.  In the country however, the labor is often, and traditionally has been pastoral.  Because of this difference, life and the motivations for life in the country are not influenced by time in hours, nor the urgency that time can create.  Life in the country is measured by the light of day, and whether the weather is permitting of accomplishing a task.  The urgency that city-life presented itself with was also not present in the country.  In the country people sat down to enjoy a meal, and even if the they had finished all the food placed in front of them, the people were more comfortable and willing to sit and talk for hours with each other.  I observed this behavior many times throughout my time in the country, however this was most often witnessed while I was in the town of Hay-On-Wye.  On this particular day in Hay-on-Wye, I found myself at a restaurant that had many tables spread across.  I sat with my friend Adam at a table in the corner overlooking the window to the street.  As lunch time drew closer, more and more people sat down for lunch inside Oscars Bistro.  Those people who had come in and ordered just moments before me, were still enjoying their meal by the time I had scarfed it down from sheer hunger.  As I sat an enjoyed my piece of carrot cake and pot of tea, I noticed that, although a very pleasant day outside, even though the people were finished with their meal, they were in no rush to leave.  The conversation that they had was stimulating enough for them to continue without the effects of time souring the fun.  This was such a contrast to those people in the city that had to eat “on the go.”  I had taken a leisurely hour perhaps an hour and a half lunch break, which was foreign to me, and when I left, the people I had been observing were still happy as could be, talking with each other and enjoying the quality time that they shared together.

Final Thoughts

Although my class and I were able to go to many places inside of England and Wales in our seventeen days together, we were tourists wherever we went, and thus our perceptions are swayed by this notion.  We also spent a majority of our time together in cities and did not have as much time to spend in the country nor did we spend time in the English countryside meaning that my idea of British Identity in the country may only reflect the Welsh perspective of this.  I hope to return to England and Wales again someday and further my analysis of British Identity and also including the perspectives of Ireland and Scotland into the picture.

For Further Reading:
1. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brecon-beacons/features/tommy-jones-little-boy-lost-on-pen-y-fan
2. http://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/England.html
3. http://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/England.html

British Identity – Industrialized nation and racial interaction in the City vs. Country

Every country has its own sense of what defines the country’s identity. It is the set of principles and traditions that the majority of the country consider are the most representative of the country as a whole. With the few weeks in Britain for our January Term, we were able to go on different tours in London, a few cities in Wales and Bath, we got to see the things that define British identity in the city as well as the country. The two things that stood out for me about British identity were how industrialization have been changing the nation as a whole and the racial relationship with the question of the people who are considered “British”.

“Great Expectations”, Dickens’ thirteenth novel and also one of his most popular pieces, illustrates how a transition in living environment can spark changes in one’s characteristic and create an identity crisis for that person. Pip was a poor orphan boy who only ever known of the marsh, where he lived for over a decade with his older sister and Joe. He received a small fortune from a secret benefactor and took the chance to go to London in order to start a new life learn about the ways of a gentleman. In London, Pip was tossed in the middle of the industrialized

St. James Church in Cooling, Kent, England where the first scene of “Great expectations” were inspired

environment in British society. In such a highly competitive environment, Pip was forced to change his way so he could fit in well to this higher middle-class and its way of living. When he did become a part of this new class, he begins to feel reluctant about coming back to the lower class as well as pushing those people from such class away, including Joe, who was is best friend when he was back in the marsh of the country. His judgement of Joe’s clothing as well as his condescending attitude towards Joe indicate that Pip has changed and he no longer look up to Joe like he once did.

Formerly Gads Hill Place, the country home of Charles Dickens

“I determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards, Jacks, which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too” (Dickens 1942).

“Sat so far from the table and dropped so much more than he ate, and pretended that he hadn’t dropped it; That I was heartily glad when Herbert left us for the City” (Dickens 1942).

Such a way of living like Pip, in the industrialized world, forces people to be critical of themselves, which leads to them becoming critical of one another. The risk of being judged or criticized makes personal interaction become much less enticing, inflicting one’s life to revolve around material things – like money, clothing, accessories and so on.

In London, the sight I saw which indicate this trend would be people rushing to places, trying to get on the right tube and having this passive aggressive look on their face when someone is in the way, thereby costing them three extra seconds of their valuable time. There is always this constant sense of urgency, this fast pace that makes the people of London all seem very disconnected, losing touch with one another and seem like they are surviving rather than living. Maybe, in the mist of all that, they might have forgotten basic principles to human bond.

Tower Bridge

Comparing to constant chattering and musical performances accompanied with the majority of my subway rides in New York city, my tube experience in London was the exact opposite. The rides were usually extremely quiet, with the occasional sounds of people coughing, sneezing and things hitting the tube’s floor after falling out of someone’s pocket. It’s like everyone in London just know this unspoken rule to be quiet and keep it to themselves, like such unspoken manners of a gentleman Pip learnt about.

In contrast with London, people tend to be more open about their lives in Wales and especially the rural areas . It didn’t take many questions for our guides on the Pen Y Fan hiking day to open up to us about their family business, their wives and their past of being in the military. The staff at Baskerville Hall Hotel were friendly, almost too friendly sometimes. Once at the hotel bar, I was trying to order a drink and the bartender straight up told me I to wait for her while she is “finishing up a conversation with an old friend.” I don’t consider myself a constant bar-goer, but I have been to a far share of bars to know that bartenders are not likely to make a customer wait because they are busy catching up with an old pal. People there seem to value connections to a personal level more than almost anything else.  On the other hand, there is myself, a city dweller, think of small talk as an act of politeness, almost an obligation on a few occasions and rather annoying.

Moreover, the people in Wales countryside whom we had a chance to interact with seem to have little to no sense of urgency at all, to the point of if something isn’t life and death, it can wait. I remember when we were climbing Pen Y Fan Peak, I asked one of our guides how long does this hike usually take. He looked at me and answered with a smirk on his face: “Just till whenever we reach the other side.” They really seem to be enjoying the

On the way up Pen Y Fan Peak

moment and try not to let the time factor take total control of the excursion. The nature of their jobs might have something to do with how carefree these people are. The majority of people’s jobs in the country is related to nature. Whether is it agriculture or hiking guides service, one isn’t supposed to rush because you simply just can’t rush nature. Nature takes its time, so they take their time too!

As relaxed, carefree and friendly the people in the country are, I couldn’t help but notice that I stand out because of my skin color. I noticed how I would get looks from people at the bar, or at Hay-on-Wye. Comparing to being the only person of color in the group, being the only person on color in the entire town of Hay-in-Wye was a whole other level. All that looks coming my

A store at Hay-on-Wye

way are from people who seem like they were trying to find a representation of my entire race through me alone. I took notice of how the local people only talked and looked at my Caucasian friends, even if I’m the one asking the question. I just can’t seem to figure out if that’s because I’m not as interesting as my white friends, or that they are just straight up uncomfortable with my skin color.

In London, I don’t feel as isolated. There are people of color as citizens as well as tourists walking around every day. Such diversity makes the streets of London almost as colorful as its lights.

St. Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden

Sadly, such diversity doesn’t immune London from the negative stigmas and racist thoughts that a lot of people still hold in their minds. According to Deutsche Welle, a Germany media news company, United Kingdom experienced an almost unprecedented spike of 19% in hate crime against ethnic minorities in the last two years(For Further Reading 4). Racism still exist in British society, very much like how Salman Rushdie describe the life of that Indian boy in “The Courter”.

“A blade caught the light. ‘F*cking wogs,’ he said. ‘You f*cking come over here, you don’t f*cking know how to f*cking behave. Why don’t you f*cking f*ck off to f*cking Wogistan?” (Rushdie 1994).

Although the previous line is taken from a fiction that took place in the 60s, it resembles Hanane Yakoubi’s encounter of racism in 2015, when she was 34 weeks pregnant.

“I don’t f*cking like you people because you’re f*cking rude. You come to England and you have no f*cking manners… Go back to your f*cking country ”. (For further reading 3)

I found myself in a similar situation on our last day in London. I was wandering the streets of London when this man yelled out “Chink” and started doing a mockery version of what I could only assume was Kung Fu.

It’s not at all easy and enjoyable to have to move out of one home country, to leave the things that were familiar to them. They all have their own reasons for doing that, and to make your life miserable was never one of them. All immigrants feel some sort of identity crisis when they arrived to the new country, as a part of them was left behind, and they struggle with establishing a new identity in the new country. Rushdie described this perfectly in “The Courter”:

A tree with Palestinian flags tied on it’s branches. A symbol  says that all British-Palestinians are staying right here and they are not going anywhere because England is their home too.

“But I, too, have ropes around my neck, I have them to this day, pulling me this way and that, East and West…I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to choose.” (Rushdie 1994).

They should not feel any less British than any other person who was born and raised in Britain. A country doesn’t become exclusive to anyone just because they were born there, or because of their skin color. We were all immigrants at one point in time.

Perhaps my view on the British society might seem personal. Perhaps my opinions on this issue might be compromised because I share a common background with a lot of these people. No matter what the case is, you have to see that the problem is there and it is real. The country’s glamorous look, the street lights, and the aesthetic fog have a way to make it hard for you to see what is really underneath.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, British identity depends greatly upon the people, the citizens of that nation. The way they treat one another and the way the treat incomers, either immigrants or tourists, shapes the way the country is viewed. Sure, the United Kingdom has been through a lot, and their length of their history should be enough to shape their identity. But all those things, how good the food is, how tall and old these abbeys are, are not going to be the things tourists remember. They are going to remember if the citizens of that nation were nice to them, whether they were discriminated or cheated. Because people don’t remember things: people remember other people.

Continue reading “British Identity – Industrialized nation and racial interaction in the City vs. Country”

The Nature of British Identity

History

Nature has always been the most important factor in founding civilization. Great Britain is no exception. London was built for its access to water and natural resources. Bath was established by the warm springs. The rural countryside was homesteaded in search of fertile soil and rich vegetation for livestock.

In the beginning, the Thames was a source of water, income, and defense. Aqueducts were built by the Romans to move the water throughout the city. Guilds built along the river to control the imports and exports. The Tower of London was erected beside it to allow a moat to encircle the fortress and keep enemies out. All of these made the city a lasting foothold in Britain.

The view from inside the Tower of London. You can see the Thames with the infamous Tower Bridge spanning across it just outside the tower walls.

Water was also sought out in the country, as was elevation and soil type. Ditches were dug to direct water to crops. The right elevation was needed to procure a long enough growing season and moderate enough temperatures for livestock. Soil was examined to find the right place away from sand, rock, and clay to grow enough food to support families. Each factor was equally important in deciding where communities sprouted in the rural areas.

Nature now plays a different role in life in both the city and country. We explored these roles and the identities of people living in both areas throughout our class’ travels, readings, and discussions. In our readings we were able to catch a glimpse of the past lives of the places we visited and compare them to the scenery of today. We used these readings as a foundation to dive into discussions of identity and create our own ideas. Nature was a large topic of discussion in Wales leading me to ask what role it played in the cities we visited. Upon further reflection, I have decided that the city tries to control nature for the comfort and productivity of its citizens while the country tries to coincide with nature. As someone who lives in a city in the US that sees a lot of nature in the form of snow, I was intrigued to see how a city like London would deal with the rain and snow. It did not snow while we were there, I would have loved to see where in their busy, narrow streets they plowed it, but it did rain.

The City

“On entering the Park, the silence; the mist; the hum; the slow-swimming happy ducks; the pouched birds waddling; and  who should be coming along with his back against the Government buildings, most appropriately, carrying a dispatch box stamped with the Royal Arms, who but Hugh Whitbread,” (Woolf 7).

This excerpt describes St. James’ park which is right outside the Palace. Of course it describes St. James’ park in the past, but from what I can tell and what I learned from our tour guide, not much has changed in the park. There are still gas lamps that light the paths at night and in the early morning mist. Stately government buildings continue to surround the park. While the same birds are certainly not swimming in the pond, there are many birds-swans, ducks, pelicans, and the ever present pigeons-that call the park home.

The citation does fail to mention some aspects of the park. Perhaps these aspects were not present at the time of publishing, but today there are low fences around the pond separating the birds from the humans, signs that show the time to walk to certain parts of the city, mainly tube stations, and spikes on the buildings to keep the birds from landing and taking roost.

All of these point towards a certain control over nature in the urban environment that I did not see in the countryside. Nature in the city serves a very specific purpose. St. James’ park, once the palace gardens now acts as a buffer between the palace and government buildings. This adds a level of security as from almost anywhere in the park, I could spot a man with a gun and bullet-proof vest.

Most of the parks in London are not nearly as extravagant as the Royal Parks. Some are old cemeteries which would have been improper to build on so instead headstones were moved to pave paths and now dogs run between the large raised tombs of those who died hundreds of years ago, something that sounds quite morbid but the parks themselves seem more peaceful than creepy. Most parks are small green squares with trees and benches between rows of houses. These are a necessity for the thousands of dog owners we encountered in London. Most homes are townhomes, sometimes spilt into apartments, with no gardens. The small squares then make up the yards of entire blocks of residential living spaces. This is nice in the idea that the residents have no mowing to do, not so nice when you consider house training a puppy. Each park was planned and designed for optimal use of space within the city, something that contrasts greatly with the park we experienced in the country.

This is St. George’s Park in Bloomsbury which used to be St. George’s Cemetery just outside the walls of London. As London expanded, all cemeteries were moved further outside of the city and many old cemeteries were turned into parks.

 

The Country

Our class visited Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.  This park’s location was not thoughtfully planned out or delicately arranged to suit what was appealing to the eye. No, the park was made a park because of the mountain range. Most of the land is too high in elevation for crops and dangerous to keep livestock on, although the lower areas do have sheep grazing the grass.

Some of the lower lands of Brecon Beacons with Pen y Fan and a waterfall in the background.
The view from the top of Pen y Fan, the mountain we climbed in Wales. You can see some of the fog that surrounded the mountain top.
The obelisk memorial to Tommy Jones, a five year old boy who died on the mountain in 1900. Today it is used as a guide mark and reminder of the dangers of the mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we climbed higher and higher, the hike became more dangerous with steep cliffs, loose rocks, and fog as you can see in the picture above. The temperature also dropped to below freezing, but the most eerie part of the trip was a stop on our way down. We were all feeling a bit too confident and safe for being on the side of a mountain until the ground flattened for a bit and the obelisk came into view. Next to the monument for a young boy who died because the weather changed too quickly, was what looked like a puddle of water. As you can imagine, puddles are not uncommon in Great Britain, but this one had a fence on one side. Our guide made the comment that someone should check how deep it was and instantly we all knew to avoid it. This combined with the story of little Tommy Jones who died on his way to grandma’s house quieted the group. While the class was reminded of the very real dangers on being on a mountain, I was reminded of an excerpt from The Hound of the Baskervilles:

“A false step yonder means death to man or beast. Only yesterday I saw one of the moor ponies wander into it. He never came out. I saw his head for quite a long time craning out of the bog-hole, but it sucked him down at last. Even in dry seasons it is a danger to cross it, but after these autumn rains it is an awful place.” (Doyle 65).

This quote not only summed up what I was thinking, what happens if one of the dogs that run up and down the mountain beside their owners gets stuck or if a sheep goes too far up and finds itself in the pit, but also explains the view of the countryside from someone who lives on it. Stapleton is the character who says this to Watson in the Sherlock Holmes novel. He explains the danger of the moor but continues to say that he can cross it. He has learned to avoid the dangerous routes that not even the animals that live on the moors have been able to do. He has learned to coincide with nature in a way that city dwellers, like Watson and the younger Baskerville, would not know how to. Of course, in the novel, Sherlock can and does navigate the moors without an issue despite living in London, but he is the great Dr. Holmes and what can’t he do?

This is Regent’s Park, the park closest to Sherlock Holmes’ address of 221b Baker Street. Baker Street is one of the side streets where the buildings are across the lake. While this park is much bigger than the small squares that speckle most of London, it is much flatter and poses less danger than the moors in the novel or Brecon Beacons.

Weather as Nature Today

While in class at our hotel in Wales, we discussed how the weather would have changed our experience on the mountain. We lucked out with mostly sunny and dry skies. If it had been wet out, perhaps we would have had to take the easier way up the mountain to avoid even slipperier rocks, as it was some on our path were covered in mud or ice, or we might have even had to avoid the mountain completely.

This, we decided, is typical of life in the country. It is very much controlled by the weather. If the rain is coming down too hard or fog is too thick, certain tasks lose their urgency where others may gain theirs. Taking a trip into town can be pushed back to the next day, but fixing a leak in the roof is now important to keeping that rain out.

In the city, the leak would still be urgent, but the rain will not stop the city dwellers from going about their lives. In an effort to control the weather, there are overhangs over bus stops and trains below the ground. No amount of rain or snow will pile up on underground tracks to stop the Tube, although the same cannot be said for the above ground portions. Shopping centers are covered arcades so even on the rainiest of days you can window shop without getting wet. Even telephone booths are covered so if someone wanted to make a call to the 1950s, they could in the comfort of a dry three by three foot box.

This is an arcade in Cardiff, Wales dating back to Victorian times.
This arcade is in London and is the fanciest arcade in the city with it’s own set of strict rules and guards at the entrance to enforce them.

 

Works Cited:

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Wisehouse, 2015.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. NTMC, 2017.

Links for Further Reading

For a better understanding of the green oases in the middle of the city, here is a site with pictures of the parks in London: https://londonist.com/london/art-and-photography/in-photos-london-s-most-beautiful-parks

Here is a brief history of the parks of London: https://www.londonforfree.net/places/parks-public-spaces/history-londons-parks-open-spaces/

Some more information on the guilds that help build London can be found here:  https://inspiringcity.com/2013/07/27/the-great-12-livery-companies-of-the-city-of-london/

Click here for the full story of Tommy Jones: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brecon-beacons/features/tommy-jones-little-boy-lost-on-pen-y-fan

This is an interesting BBC article from 2012 detailing the amount of nature in the UK, specifically the nature in urban environments: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-18623096

The UK’s Identity As A Tourist Destination

As our trip to England and Wales comes to its close, I am left with a vivid, if short-lived experience and scattered memories of beautiful locations. As a foreigner, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and sometimes smells of different cultures. We may have been students studying, learning, and taking notes, but most of the time it felt like we were tourists.

This parallel got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As a Floridian, from Orlando no less, I’ve seen tourism firsthand; growing up literally a few miles away from Disney World taught me how to spot a tourist. We were being taken on tours, constantly taking pictures, going to historical sites and landmarks, and we were in a large group. For this essay I’d like to explore the idea of England’s identity as a tourist destination. Two of the texts we’ve read deal with the theme of foreign view: how an outsider views a country: ‘The London Fog’, and in ‘Town or Country?’.

 

——————————————England——————————————

Tower Bridge can be seen in the background.

The city of London of is the most populous city in the UK, and one of the most populous in the world, and as such is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. The amount of attractions in London is astounding, and the variety between them appeals to such a wide audience. Fans of British literature have the Dickens Museum, which also boasts the main residence of Charles Dickens himself, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Platform 9¾ from Harry Potter, and the entirety of Bloomsbury, home to Virginia Woolf. History fans can enjoy London’s multiple Cathedrals, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. George’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. London also has no shortage of landmarks, such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, and Shakespeare’s Globe. Between these, the numerous museums, art galleries, and parks, London practically caters to tourists.

 

While England doesn’t have celebrity culture in the same way that we in the States do, it does have a very unique form of celebrities in the Royal Family. The popularity of the Royal Family, as evidenced by the media coverage of the royal wedding, is not something to be overlooked. The English monarchy, as we learned from our tour guide in Westminster Abbey, has a long, sometimes convoluted history. The Family may not rule in the same manner as they did centuries before, but they represent the power and tradition of England. Because of their prestige, the Royal Family attracts many tourists to London to visit Trafalgar Square and walk the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The Royal Guards represent this power and tradition.

No, the lighting in this photo isn’t off, the water is green. It’s really gross, trust me.

Bath was made famous during England’s period during Roman reign, when the empire discovered naturally forming springs in the area, they built several bath houses for recreational use. These areas quickly became social hotspots, as well as the meeting place for most demographics. Long after the fall of Rome, England re-discovered these springs and renovated them for the express purpose of attracting tourists. This attraction drew the wealthy and affluent, and quickly turned the city into a high-end destination. Posh stores and prestigious residences were built to accommodate this community, which happened to include author Jane Austen.

 

 

——————————————-Wales——————————————–

Next our journey took us to the country of Wales, my personal favorite destination on this trip. This was due partly to just how beautiful it was. Wales is mainly categorized as ‘countryside’; it has beautiful rolling hills, mountain ranges, cliffs, and coasts to charm anybody that travels there. In Wales, we visited several places:

Hay-on-Wye is the quintessential quaint Welsh town, home to local restaurants, shops, and an obscene number of bookstores. Like, way too many for any one town to have. It also boasts Baskerville Hall, our residence for the duration of the trip.

This picture cannot do how beautiful the setting was justice. Or how high up we were.

Brecon Beacons is a mountain range in South Wales that is as beautiful as it is physically demanding. The entire hike took at least 3 hours, not including the multiple breaks we took along the way. It features one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen, both in a figurative and very literal sense. (I’m asthmatic, so I had to stop constantly for air.)

 

Cardiff, the Capital of Wales is home to a few attractions, the most prominent being Cardiff Castle. This historic site tells the story of how the castle was used during both medieval times as residence to royalty, and more recently as a bomb shelter during World War II. Cardiff also features quite a large shopping district, filled with arcades and a variety of stores.

Don’t fall. You might actually die.

St. David is the smallest city in the UK, and home to my favorite stop on the trip: the Cliffs of St. David. It was very much similar to Brecon Beacons, except it overlooked the beautiful Welsh coastline with the pleasant briny breeze and the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs to extenuate the experience.

———————————————————————————————–

On our trip I noticed a clear difference in the Identities of England and Wales.

“The ambivalence in this account lies at the heart of the British spa’s identity and appeal to visitors and tourists.” (Borsay 155) Peter Borsay, in his article about the British spas, comments on how tourism drove England, even back in the 1700’s. While this quote was written with Bath in mind, I feel that it applies to London as well. The sheer amount of tourist attractions that London had to offer, built for the purpose of tourism, shows where the city’s priorities lie. In trying to gain the favor of tourists, I feel as though England has sacrificed part of its identity to be more appealing. As Christine Corton discusses in ‘The London Fog’, London has always been a tourist destination. At some point during the 19th century, a mysterious, thick fog encompassed London, obscuring sight in every direction at all hours of the day.) While many saw this fog as a nuisance, abroad it earned a reputation as a unique occurrence, bringing many famous figures to London to observe it. One of the biggest names was impressionist painter Claude Monet; Monet fell in love with London’s gloomy aesthetic and devoted much time to capturing its unique beauty. (Corton 182) Bath also seeks to cater this deep want of tourists, as its identity lies in pleasing others.

Wales, on the other hand, felt less catering. What made Wales so refreshing for me was just how relaxed it was. There was a distinct lack of traditional tourist attractions, with entertainment more relying on nature than set experiences. The St. David Cliffs and Brecon Beacons weren’t constructed for my enjoyment, I was able to enjoy them without any strings attached. Even the explicit tourist attractions in Wales still felt like they maintained identity. Cardiff’s shopping center came the closest to being catering, but even it’s tourist shops sold traditional Welsh souvenirs like love spoons; items that are essential to Welsh culture. Baskerville Hall does admittedly capitalize on the fame of the Sherlock Holmes novel, but doesn’t rely solely on the name to be unique.

There was a key difference in the type of tourism I experienced in England vs. Wales.  I did a series of things in England, but I experienced Wales. England’s emphasis on tourism was obvious, with several things vying for the attention of foreigners and fans of certain things. Wales opts for a different approach; the calm presence of the country allows the tourist to experience things at their own pace. Whereas I felt intrusive in England, I felt relaxed in Wales. This is admittedly due to personal preference, but I do feel this distinct difference between how the two conduct tourism. Most of England’s attractions were built with the intention of being attractions; these pieces of architecture and museums, and to some extent Cathedrals. Wales meanwhile, uses its attractions to preserve Welsh culture. St. Fagins museum is purely to educate people about Wales’ history

———————————————————————————————–

Further Reading:

America’s Obsession with the Royal Family:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/rupert-cornwell/the-regal-republic-why-are-americans-obsessed-with-the-royal-family-2274357.html

The Socioeconomic Effects of Tourism on London: 

http://www.academia.edu/20109244/Tourism_in_London_economical_sociocultural_environmental_effects_of_tourism_in_london

The Effect of Tourism in Wales:

http://www.geographyinthenews.org.uk/issues/issue-4/tourism-in-wales/ks3/

———————————————————————————————–

Final Thoughts:

A study conducted by a student of St. Mary University showed that tourism is, unsurprisingly, good for the economy, as it creates an large stream of new revenue for businesses in the area. The same study points out however, that tourists generally perceive their presence in London as a good thing. This creates disadvantages with tourism, as it creates an entitled mindset. Locals were also observed to not always appreciate tourists, as clashing cultures sometimes led to conflicts. (Lonescu 7)

I am not completely opposed to the tourist industry, as I acknowledge its economic benefit to its respective countries. I do think however, that there is a responsibility of both the tourist and those responsible for the advertisement of tourist attractions to understand that these attractions do not always accurately represent the culture of the country. Education is an important factor when it comes to experiencing another culture, even if one is touring. If we wish to respect other cultures, we must understand the history that came before the attractions.

I believe that we achieved our status as good tourists, and I hope that we contributed positively to England and Wales.

———————————————————————————————–

Works Cited:

Corton, Christine. London Fog. President and FeUows of Harvard College. 1958. Cambridge, MA.

Peter Borsay (2012) Town or country? British spas and the urban–rural interface, Journal of Tourism History, 4:2, 155-169, DOI: 10.1080/1755182X.2012.697489

Ionescu, Adriana. Tourism in London: economical, sociocultural, environmental effects of tourism in London. Academia. St. Mary University. Web. http://www.academia.edu/20109244/Tourism_in_London_economical_sociocultural_environmental_effects_of_tourism_in_london. Accessed 21 January 2018.