Friday, 22 April 2011

Blaming the English

The mighty Conwy Castle.  I know many think it pretty geeky/sad/tragic to visit historical sights while on holiday.  But I defy anybody to go to Conwy and not be inspired by it.

It is awesome.  Unbreakable.  Invincible.  Terrifying.  I reckon you could still hold out against some nasty bad guys in there for a pretty much indefinite amount of time.  Easy peasy.

And, of course, that was the exactly the point.  I've already blogged about the turbulent history of Wales and the subsequent struggles of the Welsh/English psyche.  I've been told that I probably went on a bit too much about it all, so I won't go through it all again.  Read it if you're interested in the endlessly complex and messy history of the birth of what we now call the United Kingdom.

If you're not bothered, you're still welcome here.

However, I really don't want you to be like the man I overheard in the gift shop.  He made me very, very angry.

This is what went down.  I was perusing the excellent and well thought out exhibition that explained the campaigns of Edward I in Wales in the 13th Century and the subsequent rebellions that ultimately ended up with some of the most impressive castles in the whole of Europe being built.  Edward built the castle and walls of Conwy in just five years, a feat that I'm not sure we could repeat even today.  Of course, he got other people to build it for him, but impressive nevertheless.  The speed of construction and the general mightiness of the structure was obviously intentional. With this castle, Edward was sending a message out that could never be ignored or misunderstood by the locals: I am in charge now and you now need to behave, please.

All of this was put very clearly in a display created by Cadw (the Welsh version of English Heritage) that was clearly aimed at children.  Anyway, I was minding my own business when a thick-set, be-tattooed and lobster skinned man of a similar age to me very audibly took exception to what he was seeing.

"Oh yes, that's right.  Blame the English time!" he protested in a loud Lancastrian accent as his blue-biro effect tattoos rippled in reaction to the perceived injustices before him.  "All over the world, everyone wants to blame the English."

I was stunned.  I turned to say something but I was only able to splutter in indignation as he stormed off into the North Welsh sunset muttering to himself.

Do we need to blame someone for building a pretty impressive castle 700 years ago?  And if we do need a scapegoat, it's going to have to be the English isn't it?  I'm pretty sure Edward I is going to have to be classified as English.  Or perhaps we could argue that he had a good French pedigree, but I don't think that would go down well with Mr England vs The World.  So we won't mention that.

And as for everyone, all over the world no less, 'blaming the English'.  That's a very strange way to perceive the world isn't it, to think that everyone is blaming you and your kin for everything?  Maybe Mr Tattooed And Indignant needs to understand that maybe there are people in the world that don't really give a shit about England.  Not in a bad way, simply in the way that I'm sure he doesn't give a shit about, say, Greenland.

It was, all in all, a very depressing experience.  The dude hadn't even bothered to read all of the exhibition and seemed to delighting in, wallowing in the mud of his complete and utter ignorance of the history of his own country.

You know when you hear something awful being said to you or someone close to you and it isn't until later that you manage to think of the utterly devastating, world-ending, brilliantly destructive reply that you needed right there and then?  This was one of those situations and this is why I'm boring you with it; I am blogging exactly why that ill-informed but highly-opinioned chump was so unimaginably and irritatingly wrong.



  1. It could have been exquisite irony on his part.

  2. Perhaps. He was an Englishman standing in the shadows of an English fortress built by an Englishman when England subdued the Welsh. And he was in Wales. In fact, you're right: the more I think about this, the more I come to see that he was a genius making some kind of comment on the futility of nationalism of any kind.

  3. Actually, no. He was an idiot and quite possibly racist. Which would be typical of the English.


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