Saturday, 4 December 2010

A brief divagation on the national character

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

When I am not thinking about who invented the expression 'quantative easing' or what exactly is wrong with the brain of Senator John McCain, I sometimes contemplate the national character. I am not quite sure if such a thing exists. I like to think it does, because I do so adore making sweeping statements about plucky Britons or can-do Americans or the intellectually superior French. The problem is the exceptions which may prove or disprove the rule. (My favourite German friend is not at all efficient and very funny and rather louche, as if he wakes up each morning determined to undermine stereotype.)

Also, while nations are stitched together by institutions and history and culture, they are also made up of millions of diverse individuals who peskily refuse to go quietly into good boxes. Is a farmer in Devon going to have the exact same set of assumptions as an accountant in Burnley? I can't be sure. A trannie in Soho might have a slightly different outlook than a gentleman who owns half of Wales. (That was not a figure of speech. My friend the Man of Letters was at dinner last week with someone who actually does own half of Wales. Or it might have been Northamptonshire. It is a good thing I do not write for The New York Times; the fact checkers would have steam coming out of their poor ears by now.)

But last night, I did feel very British indeed. After England performed a miracle of bowling in getting Australia out for 245, I allowed myself a little stirring of hope. Then, just before I went to bed, the news came that Andrew Strauss, the England captain, was clean bowled for one. ('Straussy, Straussy, Straussy,' cried the cricket fans on Twitter, in noisy dismay.) And here was my immediate thought: well, that's it then. That's it, then. I put away childish things, like dreams of victory, and stumped off stoically to bed. There was almost some relief in it; we were back to business as usual, which consists of tiny flickers of vain hope before the hard crash of reality. I had to be extra stoical, because the boiler chose that moment to conk out, so I went to bed in all my clothes, with five blankets, two eiderdowns, dogs arranged over my legs for extra insulation, and a final blanket over them so they did not freeze. It did not occur to me to complain or rage against the dying of the light. As I lay in the perishing cold, I felt the click click click of reset expectations.

It is quite odd, the 'that's it then' response. I am actually very optimistic by nature. I believe things will get better, that most people are good and kind, that if I work hard enough then one day I will write the perfect sentence. But when it comes to cold and sport, my Britishness kicks in as if someone has thrown a switch.

Somewhere in the night, the optimism elves went to work. I woke up and gave the boiler one more desultory try, and it roared into life. I hardly dared go to the Test Match Special website to see the score, but as I squinted at the screen through my fingers I saw the miraculously improbable news that Alistair Cook had put on 136. ALASTAIR COOK now goes into capitals along with JIMMY ANDERSON. The interesting thing about both those boys (and they are still boys really, incredibly young to be doing such extraordinary things on the world stage) is that they display a bit of national character of their own. Endlessly asked by excitable journalists about their brilliant numbers, they go straight for polite understatement. They do not bask or brag. They always give the most credit to their team-mates. 'The lads were great,' they say.

Cook has smashed a bunch of records in the last week. His name will be carved on plaques and written into Wisden in letters of fire. You could forgive him a moment of cockiness. Instead, he said, diffidently: 'We have to keep our feet on the ground as one good day does not win you a test.' There it is, the national character, if it does exist: phlegmatic, understated, and most of all, not getting carried away.

Of course, you could look at The X Factor or any city centre on a Saturday night and draw a very different conclusion about Britishness. For today though, I go with the Anderson and Cook version. They are properly lovely young men, and I hope their mothers are proud.

And now for your snow pictures.

The trees, the trees:

4th Dec 1

4th Dec 4

4th Dec 5

Dog running through the trees, with her ears in the air, which always makes me laugh:

4th Dec 2

I love this view of the bridge; it looks almost like a painting:

4th Dec 6

Garden chairs covered in snow, making me think of three cross old ladies, for some reason:

4th Dec 12


4th Dec 7

4th Dec 9

Duchess having a little sit, and wondering if that is a rabbit she can hear rustling about in the woods:

4th Dec 10

Oh, oh, the raving beauty:

4th Dec 8

Final snow trees:

4th Dec 6-1

4th Dec 11

And now I must go and do some work. I naughtily took yesterday afternoon off to listen to the cricket on the iPlayer, and so must make good the deficit, or my agent will parachute in and demand an explanation.


  1. I definitely prefer the cricket version of Britishness to the drunken loutishness outside your average bar at night version.

  2. I like that description specially the phlegmatic bit!

    Those pictures - the one of the bridge should be used on a picture postcard for your hometown! I neednt say anything about the dogs of course but I still think they must be freezing!

  3. Snow. On. Nose!!!! The Ladyship adoration grows apace in our house :)

    PS-Sooo pleased to have reminded you of The Duckworth Lewis Method (Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash by the way)hope you're enjoying!

  4. Snow Dogs with Snowy Noses!! Too, too beautiful.

  5. I can only add, KEVIN PIETERSEN also has to go in capital letters.


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