Lately I’ve been struck by a very folky kind of nostalgia. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe so much is changing that I have to cling to something, but myriad absences are suddenly apparent. What happened to Bonfire Night? Does no-one dance around a maypole anymore? I’m sure I used to watch St George slay the dragon on Gravesend Prom each April. When was the last time a carol singer came to the door?
I’m wary of this instinct, this sense that a chunk of my culture is being lost. I do not want to be the sort of person who continually harks back to an idealised past in which rosy-cheeked maidens ministered to men, who were men in those days. I’ve spent most of my life trying to drown out that aspect of our national identity, which calls so strongly to our most trenchantly conservative and white supremacist citizens. After all, nobody stole our culture. We ran from it gladly, thinking that it was fusty and outdated. In my lifetime, it seems to me that the English have seen themselves as cultureless: too sophisticated for embarrassing costumes and silly stories. Where we respect folk culture in other societies and identities - and that’s not always the case - it has been as a curio on their part. We have thought ourselves above such things.