This morning I discovered a rather splendid article in the New Statesman by Owen Hatherley about a new collection of Penguin Travelogues. In his piece, Hatherley points out that despite nominally being a series concerned with journeying through England, the series almost completely ignores the towns and cities which the overwhelming majority of British people call home.
“The England we live in is largely uncharted.
As a now mainly rural Conservative Party is likely to win the next election by default, the myths of rural England urgently need debunking, but these English journeys are more about escape from an urban country in deep crisis.
Lie back and think of England.”
The ‘myths of rural England’ that Hatherley rails against are the almost universally accepted beliefs that Britain is a “green and pleasant land” whose true nature lies not in London or the great cities of the Midlands and North but rather the green bits in-between those cities. The vast acres given over to large-scale industrial farming and its ensuing nasal cocktail of nauseating slurry and allergy-provoking pollen. The great spaces one travels through in order to get to something worth visiting. The space into which cities should expand.
So needless to say, I am sympathetic to Hatherley’s frustration with Britain’s countryside fetish and the pseudoscientific ‘cult of the natural’ that comes in its wake. However, Hatherley is not the only person to make this point :