Britain, eh? Sometimes it’s really disappointing. You know, like when bunting is flapping in the drizzle as the yummy wife of some noxious management-consultant tries to tempt her jaded child with a red, white and blue cupcake. Or when Cameron is dismantling the NHS and our unemployed are being told that unpaid work and a sleeping-bag under a bridge is an opportunity (and frankly they should show a bit more gratitude) but the Daily Express still manages to come up with the headline: QUEEN SAVES COUNTRYSIDE.
Still, sometimes it’s really wonderful. This month, for example, I performed at Neu Reekie in Edinburgh, and then climbed Arthur’s seat the next morning in the sun to see miles of bright water and city and crag and gorse and croaking crows.
(photo by David Monniaux)
I dined in New College, Oxford, with my friend Hannah and Craig Raine, and then spent the next morning exploring sauterne-coloured colleges with blowsy gardens full of lavender and roses. I took my mother to Greenwich to see Captain Scott’s expedition biscuit, and the chapel that looks like it’s made of Wedgwood china. I sheltered from the rain in Ai Wei Wei’s Serpentine Pavilion. And my husband cooked Jamie Oliver’s Empire Chicken, a multicultural take on the Sunday roast so insanely delicious I’ve been evangelical ever since.
It will probably be hard to avoid think-pieces about Britishness for a couple more months with the Olympics coming. But it might be useful to ignore the tabloids and listen to what the foreign visitors really think about us. Last week I taught some Singaporean teenagers for the Poetry School and was surprised to discover that one of the most memorable discoveries they had made in England was the tuna sandwich. When I asked what images they’d take away with them, a girl told me it was ‘a homeless man keeping warm with a lighter’, which is a fairly stunning indictment of London in June on every level. They wrote (brilliant) odes to, amongst other things, umbrellas and Primark.
Anyway, despite my mixed emotions about our current lather of nationalism, there are some aspects of the British summer I’m really looking forward to: boules in Ramsgate, Rufus Wainwright at Latitude, wild swimming at Wilderness, raspberries coming into season… I’ve got a ticket for the basketball, and I’ve already mentioned how excited I am about the Poetry Parnassus – I hope to see some of you there. I’ll be blogging about it and will have a poem in the Rain of Poems, and be performing on Thursday night at an event called New World Order.