Tonight we have an English classic: cottage pie. There’s the roast beef of Old England recycled with mash and nice orange carrots and green broccoli. There’s gravy, and my Best Beloved will add to that with Brown Sauce. There will be real English Ale and there has been tea throughout the day, of course.
How very English – but not, I hope, Little Englander.
Let’s start with the food. Beef – as in Beefeaters and les rosbifs. The word is Norman French and the breed of cattle is Scottish. Mashed potatoes – not so very indigenous, from South America originally. The word carrot is French and the orange colour comes from Dutch breeders. Broccoli is fairly obviously Italian, and the Romans brought us the onions I’ve used in the gravy.
Brown Sauce has the beautifully named tamarind in it – originally from Africa, but now associated with India. The ale has hops in it – quite probably from Germany, the Czech Republic or Poland, and the tea, though Chinese in name and botanical origin, comes from India.
So far, so many backgrounds brought together. But they’re just imports, surely? What about the English people? The clues are in the language again – like surnames. My husband’s family are called Francis meaning Frenchie. My maiden name was Tate. It means cheerful – from Teitr in Old Norse. ( If you saw my Dad’s smile, you’d agree.)
My given name (before I was adopted) was Catherine Mary McClellan – suggesting Irish and Scots in the mix. The wonderful tight black curls I had as a baby and toddler hint at Africa – my birth father is untraceable. Stephen’s family has legends of Canadians and Romanies too.
I am happy to be a mash-up, a cross breed. I’ll have what gardeners call hybrid vigour, please. And that goes for my country. Anyone who refers to the purity of our English race is either woefully ignorant of our history – or worse.
St George’s Day is a time I consider which aspects of England I am proud of:
- the quirky – Mummers’ Plays and Morris, madcap traditions, folklore and frivolity – Pantomime Dames, anyone?
- the creative inhabitants (too many to list!)
- the unique – our complex geology and glorious countryside for a start-off, the daft, infuriating but oh-so-gloriously varied language,
- the universal – compassion, courage and courtesy
All of these I am happy to share – and xenophobia comes nowhere in my long-list.