United We Fall Apart! (Not Us Two Though!)
This journal covers the period between our leaving China and our arrival in Qatar; it is therefore non-sequential and should not really appear in the Q & A in Qatar section but I found it difficult to work out where it should be filed.
Trying to write a journal of the summer weeks is always difficult because there are friends and family involved. The certainties of upsetting someone are only counterbalanced by the fact the readership tends to be low, as everyone has something more interesting to talk about, like making out on the beach. However, I’ve never been accused of cowardice when it comes to the written word, although the threat of physical pain often prevents me from excesses, therefore I’ve seen fit to put together a short account of our US and UK visits. This is a must read article for my US readers and will result in lots of hate mail!
Our two countries share many aspects in common and obviously a little history. The photographs to the left are from California and Wales respectively. My American friends in Suzhou often tried to wind me up by mentioning the American War of Independence, thinking it might rankle somewhat and make me upset! Of course this demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of an Englishman’s view of history, in which the American Revolution features only as a minor footnote, rather than a dominating perspective.
American history is a past of interlinked wars, from Independence to Civil War, the Indian and Mexican Wars, the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and then the Middle East. (You will appreciate that this list is not intended to be entirely chronological. I think Bob Dylan got it in the right order in “God on Our Side”.) Of course you can tie in other aspects on the timeline such as the gold rush, slavery, McCarthyism, Watergate and so on, but these actually fall neatly into one of the war category classifications. Ultimately American history is confined to a few recent centuries and it is obvious that death, which walks hand in hand with war, should focus American attentions on the conflicts over this period rather than anything else. (I’m not ignoring the Native Americans but pre-Columbus and being illiterate classifies them as pre-history rather than history.)
On the other hand British history is considerably longer. It’s hard to become hugely emotional about the Romano-British versus Anglo-Saxon Wars, the Norman Conquest or even our own Civil War, a period which is inexplicably ignored by many historians, but one that was at least as significant as the French Revolution. For Brits, the American Revolution falls into the category of inconveniences rather than being ultimately significant; we simply switched sending our minor criminals to Australia rather than North America and drank more tea as the price dropped!
The parting of ways eventually left us with a common word in our names, United, one which the Brits, for once, copied from the Americans; and America with an C18th British culture and language, which it still clings onto, as youthful nations so often do, whilst Britain and Europe moved on. It is interesting to note that the new Republican right wing is called the Tea Party. When anyone mentions the Boston Tea Party my mind goes straight to that great song by Alex Harvey rather than any more mundane telling of those terrorist acts in C18th New England. Now those of you who know even a tad about the late, great Alex Harvey will know his stage act was a sight more interesting than the more traditional retelling of a two hundred year story about objecting to rightful taxation.
Unfortunately it has left the USA with a huge scar; they hate tax with a vehemence they only usually exhibit for Iran. It leaves the federal government in an unenviable situation in that they can’t really govern internally, whatever they say; their only real outlet is in foreign policy.
Any visit to the States by a European should be treated as taking a huge step back in history; it’s a wonderful opportunity and not one to be wasted. The US has an amalgam of cultures, having little that is new, rather bits and pieces that were dropped into a blender that was left on until there were only a few lumpy bits left. One American cultural invention worthy of mention is Jazz and whilst it too can trace its roots to both Africa and Europe, it must be considered genuinely American as it’s so damned awful. Unfortunately it is an abysmal art form, something that is attested to by its audience, which tends to be cardigan-wearing, 50 plus and male. To my mind Jazz is the only music form that encourages musicians to attain complete mastery of their instruments and then proceeds to encourages them to play them badly. This did seem a particularly apt point to include a photo of a big bird; it’s an Osprey.
The Americans did invent prohibition; an idea so bad that the consequences are still impacting the entire world with organised crime. Apart from creating drug financed gangs and Jazz, the only other cultural development that springs to mind is the American English dictionary, a misnomer so complete it cries out to be changed; why can’t they call their language Americish? It isn’t English!
The American dictionary was devised due to Benjamin Franklin’s desperate desire to distance the newly created US from the linguistic form of its earlier master. Webster created the Frankenstein volume that now sit in homes from the east coast, through the mid-west and on to California; I’m pretty sure they don’t use dictionaries in Texas and I’ll have to ask Chuck about Wisconsin!