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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, March 17, 2006
    Think of England
     


    I tried out Martin Parr's wonderful video Moving Pictures on a group tonight. Featuring the BBC film, Think of England.

    How we laughed - at this collection of English eccentrics, grimly determined to keep smiling through the rain-lashed village fete, tucking into salmon in a car-park at Henley and never seeing a boat. How we grimaced - at the xenophobia of an old guy in a motorway service station car park favourably recalling Enoch Powell's rivers of blood speech while drinking (Indian) tea. How we were provoked - by the scouse socialists sitting in a smoky bar detailing the differences between home counties 'English' and the rest of 'us'.

    I love this film, though watching it with others brought out its limitations: for maximum effect Parr obviously goes for the extremes (Blackpool in the stormy season, small-town teenagers mad with drink). Some thought Parr was taking the piss from the girl behind the stall at St John's Market who didn't have a clue what he meant by the word characteristics (as in "What are the English characteristics?") and who had to duck off-camera to ask her (uncontrollably laughing) mates what to say. I just find her endearing, the one from the group who dared put herself forward in this way, her mock outrage at Parr's intrusiveness.

    Our conversation afterwards drifted into a discussion about dialects - a peculiarly British obsession, marker of class, indicator of social and geographical place. We ended up all too aware of the underlying tensions between groups in our society, but despite all that this film ultimately makes me feel warm about the English. I fill up with unguarded joy every time I watch Parr's cameo of the man who sells children time on the trampolines on Hunstanton beach. Ever smiling, this man with Eddie The Eagle looks, facing seawards on a windy promenade, attentive to his bouncing young charges on the sands below. He's so perfectly content with life. "I've got a nice little house," he says, "I've got a nice little job, a nice little wife, two nice little kids: what more could I want?" And he really means it.