It seems to me that words and ideas go in cycles and groups. We went through hygge, lagom and kalsarikannit within the last two years. I’ve got the hang of the first two, and I’m working on the last one as we speak….
Britain (whatever the results of the Brexit vote in 2016 have been presented as) has always been an outward-facing country. We’re an island; if we need to talk to our neighbours, then there can be quite a few as long as you’re prepared to travel overseas to get there. I’m not here to defend or attack the British Empire, but it must be admitted that we have as a nation been happy adopting and using good ideas from around the world, and also exporting our own inventions and ideas. I worry that we don’t give ourselves credit for being more open-minded than we are sometimes presented. Chicken Tikka was the Nation’s Favourite Dish for quite a while, we sleep in pyjamas, wash with shampoo, take a laissez-faire attitude to freedom and go out on a Saturday for a Prosecco or Tequila shots. We may need to see a good reason to keep a thing, but if you can convince us something is a good idea, we’ll keep it.
Interior design often borrows from abroad: as far back as the 18th Century we borrowed classical Greek and Roman architecture seen on the Grand Tour for our houses and churches, from the recently-uncovered Egyptian antiquaries in the early 20th century, from China and Japan in the mid-19th. We read about, we learn about and we adopt, adapt and finally embed the ideas.
In so many ways, there is no such thing as pure British culture and that is simultaneously good and bad. It’s hard to claim a national identity when our national identity is either a mongrel-mix of the best of others, or has been accepted as the lingua franca of the modern world. Of all the home nations, England doesn’t have a set of clothing that we can point to and say “That is our national costume”. Partly that’s because the traditional costume of the middle and upper classes in Victorian times became the international costume of business (in the form of the suit) while the agrarian costume of a smock and leggings was dropped when factory workers found the voluminous folds of a smock too dangerous to work with. I rather suspect an anthropologist looking back at the last 60 years would say that our national garb of choice is the jeans and a t shirt, neither of which are truly British.
Does it matter? Well, no. National feeling isn’t a static thing, and shouldn’t be. 100 years ago we were a proud Empire-leading nation. Today, we’re a small part of a European conglomerate and looking to weaken that bond in search of…. what? I’m not sure. I don’t think anybody has set out a convincing vision of what our future should be, either within or without the EU. We are (possibly) leaving the EU at a time when national pride has never been lower. It’s been attacked by all sides. Be filled with pride and you stand accused of right-wing nationalism, be filled with a dislike of all things patriotic and you stand for wishy-washy Superstate nationalism, where individual character is subsumed by a European Elite and anything that was Great about Britain is labelled as Empiricism, Jingoism and all points right wing.
There must be a middle way. A better way of looking at ourselves.
I come from Liverpool. Well, actually, I come from Rainhill a small village outside of Liverpool. Google it, there’s not a lot famous about it. In fact, there’s only really one little part of history that we’re known for: The Rainhill Trials in 1829. I don’t live in Rainhill anymore, but I still feel great pride that the small village has a place in history.
Likewise, I’m very proud of Liverpool, my nearest city and adopted home. I am proud of the people, who are mostly harmless, the culture which looks both within and without the country to make Liverpool a great place to live, and the city which, built on shipping money, still impresses today. Liverpool has more Georgian houses than Bath. In a contest between any city and my City, I am going to stand behind Liverpool. I love that being a traditional shipping port, we have a Chinese community that is the oldest in Europe and boasts the largest Paifang Chinese arch outside of China. We’re twinned with Shang Hai, have up to 30,000 chinese inhabitants and links through the museums and universities. Indeed, at the moment, Liverpool is hosting the Terracotta Warriors, one of the few cities outside China to have hosted them. I’m going to see them in June, and I can’t wait.
Here, then, are the top reasons I love Liverpool.
- We don’t give up over important things. The Hillsborough Disaster (96 dead) was raised again and again until something was done about it. And, as an example of unity when it was needed, any football rivalry was set aside in support for that justice. We pull together when we need to.
- We’re quite open minded. So long as you’re not doing anything totally illegal, or hurting others, you’re free to live your life.
- We build links between countries. Liverpool is twinned with Shang Hai, Dublin, Cologne and Rio De Janeiro as well as Odessa. It loves meeting people, going out to new countries and spreading word that it is a vibrant and friendly city. We really do.
- We hold you close if you’re a friend. If you move here and love us as we are, we’ll love you back. Just don’t tell us we’re doing it wrong, or we’ll look at you like you’re daft. Family is family, and I might skit my brother rotten, but if anyone else does, well, you’re up for it then.
- We value history, but we don’t value it above people. Yes, we have the most beautiful waterfront in the world, but we use it. We’ll build the hotels and landing piers we need, because the people need the work more than we need a beautiful but empty city to look at.
- We take pride in our appearance, well, at least, if we’re a girl. We are Britain’s Most Pampered City, and famous for it. Like the style or not, it’s definitely Liverpool.
- We have culture, and we don’t care whether it’s popular or not. We go from performance poetry via pop music to classical and on to world-class theatre. And we honour our roots, with Caribbean culture, Chinese culture and Irish culture all represented in the city as well.
- We are greater than the sum of our parts. Taken individually, we possibly aren’t the best football teams in the Country (yet: hope is another great Liverpool thing), we don’t have the biggest or brightest of most things, we don’t top league tables or make top ten lists, but the whole of the city is a greater thing than these lists. Put everything together and we are a Great city for visitors and those who live here. We know it, really, but we don’t shout about it. We’re modest as well, you see.
How about if, as a nation or group of nations, we took on some of those local attributes. Pride, but not too much. Fellowship expressed through gentle teasing and a strong sense that we’ve got your back. A willingness to expand the definition of culture to include all sorts of stuff, including Cbeebies, Towie and Drake. Being open to learn and able to judge when we need to assimilate rather than accumulate. We could have an International Year of the Scouse, and then go round other cities to garner wisdom from them. The International Year of the Brummie, Year of the Geordie and, finally, Year of the Cockney. Sometimes we look to the Big and Important to teach us what to do next. That’s fine,a nd we need to do that, but sometimes…. just sometimes…. the real teaching is done by the small and unimportant whom we suddenly find out are the important ones after all.
Small things are important to happiness. My new book, Happier, deals with how to use the small details in life to make you happier. You can get it at Amazon.
I also think the principles of enjoying life and making the most of small details is an important part of How to Hygge Your Summer , the book which contains my advice on having a hyggely time at home and outside, and which is also available in ebook and paperback version. You can find details about all my books, and how to connect with me on social media on the Start Here page of the blog.