Silent passions and small things
14th January, 2003
It's all go, all madness, every day in Middle England.
Middle England. Not the smart city set, or the languid country classes. Middle England is half-town half-rural suburbia.
It appears quiet, almost placid. Antiquing, rambler's associations, bird watching,
and quiet evenings spent working on the model railway. Staring at prize petunias in the garden shed, for hours and hours.
You might think this sounds very dull.
You couldn't be more wrong. It's a simmering cauldron of intrigue, of insatiable desire, of forbidden passion.
You can see them everywhere: huddled for hours with binoculars for a five second glimpse of a seagull;
tramping wind-sept moors dressed in parkas looking for tudor church naves; manning minature railways all Sunday for no reward.
The blood red, beating heart of England. The amateur hobbyist.
The Tweeter Strikes Back
You think the cosa nostra know how to carry a grudge? You wait to see what happens when an English
walking group is denied right of way over twenty metres of the same dung-ridden field that they've walked on for twenty years. The vendetta
against the farmer in question will be carried out coldly, viciously, and will never stop. No weapon will be left unused.
Slight scowls, a slighty cold tone of voice, slightly grumpy letters to the local newspaper - the ant bites of social condemnation
will go on and on till there's barely a skeleton left.
You think a Frenchman can argue with force? That's just a lot of flapping about nothing. Just wait till you've seen
a friendly debate between two Englishmen over the identification of a common hedge bird. Lesser Tufted Creek Warbler? With
pointed eye-lobes? What rot? I think you'll find it was a Greater Tufted Sedge Warbler, actually.
The final 'actually' is
the danger sign. Back away. The voices
may never be raised, there may be little motion in the thin, pale bodies, but as the antagonists eye each other furiously from behind
their spectacles, you had better back away. A Middle Englishman may not break any porcelain or slam any doors, but when his
hobby is in question he will hold on, and never, ever give up.
Glory, the Pointless
One day, six years ago, the gentlemen of the local boat club decided to paddle their rubber dinghy ten miles along the Dee estuary to West Kirby.
So far, they've reached half way. Every spring tide, they haul out the dinghy,
paddle a few hundred metres, mark the spot on a map, haul in
the dinghy, and go to the pub. Year after year, they've slowly made they're way.
They expect to arrive in West Kirby by 2010, hopefully before last orders.
Anywhere else, people would ask, what was the point? Noone asks that here. Those men know exactly where they're
going and why. They decided what they wanted to do, and now they're doing it.
Why do they all do it? Why are so many sensible adults wandering the marshes looking for small birds with expensive
binoculars that could be so better used staring through a neighbour's windows? Why is there so much fascination with toy trains
and old chamber pots?
Why do they hold on to these little notions?
When the ancient Britons came to this dark, cold, sodden island, they found nothing but the forest and the swamp. They must
half been inclined just to jump in the boat and go back. But they didn't. They went forward, hacking
a new land out of the dark swamps.
It can hardly have been an encouraging place to live. But they held on. They held on, and slowly, yard by yard, the
swamp began to retreat. The modern Britons don't have to be taught the value of perseverance. It is their passion.
The Cucumber of Truth
Other Europeans call the English inspid Mediterreanean people like to boast of their passions, their high temperament. But who wants to hear one more
mediterreanean mother-fixated temper tantrum? That's not passion.
Passion means to suffer. To suffer for the thing you love, to hold on to a thing despite all the pain and
jibes of the world.
To suffer and to hold on. It doesn't matter if it's the smallest thing in the world. It doesn't matter if the world disdains
it, and you for loving it.
The days are short, and dark. The gentle rain lulls us towards melancholy. The ancient swamp calls to them.
But, sitting in the cold, in the middle of nowhere
they munch our cucumber sandwiches, ready their binoculars, and hardly notice at all.