Well using a British Council library you read what you can get. But I’ve been astonished by two points in Paxman’s book “The English”.
He makes much of the way that The English (and you can hear the double capitals in his tone) prefer a house with a garden to a flat. This is entirely true of course.
Then he goes on to say that of course The English will just have to get over their preferences and live in flats like everyone else.
Leave aside that terraced housing provides greater population density than high rises with the associated grand squares. Leave aside even that only 2% or so of England is actually housing. There’s another 2% which is roads and schools n’ospitals etc, but we’ll have those whatever people actually live in.
Think of that very English arrogance there: sod what the peasantry want to do, they should do what I tell ‘em. At least the French aristocracy ignored the peasantry…..
The second was his musings upon English sexuality. Yes, I know, the great jokes about Victorian womanhood. They weren’t interested, so said the mores of the time, so the men shagged prossies and only their wives when they demanded children. All rather bollocks as any married man or woman of the time would have pointed out. But that low divorce rate, what about that, eh?
But then he goes on to say how much this has all changed: how we’ve the highest number of teenage mothers, single mothers, divorces, look, look, see how it’s changed!
And he absolutely and entirely misses how it has changed.
The English don’t in fact climb in and out of the beds of other men’s wives/other women’s husbands particularly more or less than in any other nation. What they do do is insist that such adventures must be consecutive, not concurrent.
What we’ve lost (and you may think it a good or a bad thing, entirely up to you) is this idea that marriage, the family, is paramount. The sliding off for another shag (on either side) might be a lapse, might be a freedom, could well lead to the breaking of crockery, but it’s not a reason, in and of itself, to break up that family. We might call this the French, or Italian view. On the other side we’ve, well I’ve always viewed it as the American view, that infidelity is indeed the breach of the entire foundation of said relationship. Shag some bird just once and that’s marriage over, buster. We, currently, tend to be more American in this.
It’s not even the sex bit really. No, I’ve never actually seen this but I could imagine it: an American couple, dedicated swingers. Sex with all and sundry, but together. Then one of them has an affair, emotional intimacy, I could see that being the pretext, reason, for a divorce. Whereas in our French view (yes, I know, they don’t actually live this way, it’s a description) the intimacy is the point. Something that peps up coming home to that family.
Paxman has missed entirely the real change that has gone on. We, the English (or English culture if you like) have gone from that sex isn’t the important thing straight through to sex is the only important thing. Without ever stopping at that mid point which is the typically English compromise.
I’m not arguing either side in either argument. I just thought they were strange things for Paxman to get wrong.
On the flats thing, I might be being a tad sensitive. Not as in too much so but as in attuned. Here in Czech, as points further east, they deliberately housed everbody in high rise flats. Because people who live more communally will naturally become more communal and socialist, right? No, really, they were thinking that way. And what do people want?
A house with a garden.