Thursday, 10 July 2014

A Brief History of England - Part the First

One of the problems with challenges connected with the history of England is that it goes back such a blooming long way.  So far back that it is very easy to get totally immersed in one particular part and to miss the big picture.  In short, one fails to see the wood for the trees.  The object of this exercise is to distil the essence of our great history so that what remains is easily digestible.  Much, indeed most of what has happened in our history can be classified into one of three groups:  Good Things, Bad Things, and Things That Are Neither Good Nor Bad and Don’t Really Matter Very Much Anyway. 

So much of what we are taught in school seems to fall into that third category that history is consigned to the “It’s Boring” set of lessons.  If only history were taught so that our schoolchildren could see that history is relevant to their lives today or, if not exactly relevant, can be hilarious fun.  That is a second, underlying objective of this exercise.

That said, let’s get started.

There was nothing really important or interesting happening until the Romans came.  The various tribes had been paying customs duties to those guys in dresses but somebody reckoned that taxing people as part of the Roman Empire would raise more cash.  (The dresses the guys wore were known as togas, which became shortened to togs, a modern word for clothes.)  The debate in the Roman senate when it was agreed to tax the Brits till the pips squeaked was the forerunner for the annual budget presented nowadays by the Chancellor of the Exchequer so the Roman invasion in about the year 43AD is very relevant and is, on the whole, a Bad Thing.  However, the Romans wanted to get about the country so they built a lot of roads, many of which are still being used today, which makes this a Good Thing.  Unfortunately, most of those roads go to places that nobody wants to visit so they are not really a Good Thing, especially as they are now full of potholes.

While the Romans were over here they had a lot of bother with rough people called Picts and Scots.  The Picts and Scots lived in the wild, northern mountains (which the Romans didn’t want anyway) and ate haggis and porridge (which the Romans didn’t like).  One of the Romans, a chap called Hadrian, had a Bright Idea.  He called up some mates who were pretty good builders and they built a wall right across the country.  As it was Hadrian who had had the idea they called it Hadrian’s Wall.

After a few years, the Romans got fed up with the weather (it kept raining and they weren’t used to that) and they wanted to get back to see the final of the Gladiator Show which was on at the Coliseum.  As nobody had invented television then they had to go to Rome to watch the Christians being eaten by lions.  (A Bad Thing – but as it didn’t happen in England it Doesn’t Really Matter.)

After the Romans there were all sorts of people wanting to get a bit of the action.  The Danes came and grabbed a lot of land – which could be why there is a Legoland near Windsor (a Good Thing, as you will know if you have ever been there) – but their taxes were even higher than those of the Romans (which is why Legoland is so expensive - a Bad Thing) so people were often hard up (another Bad Thing) and wanted to get rid of the Danes.  They chose a chap called Alfred as their leader.  He must have been a big man as he is often referred to as Alfred the Great.  Alf wasn’t much of a cook and when he was asked to watch the oven while the woman of the house popped next door for a cup of tea, he managed to let the cakes burn.

While Alfred the Great was burning the cakes, the King of the Danes was at the seaside, actually at Bosham, which is now a small village on Chichester Harbour in Sussex.  If you have ever been to the seaside, you will know that the sandcastle you build on one day will be washed flat by the sea before you get back on the sand the next day.  King Canute, as the king of the Danes was known, must have taken his family on holiday with him and his children, Canute’s Kids, obviously had a go at him.  “You’re the King,” they must have said, “So why don’t you tell the sea not to come in and wash our sandcastles down?”

I expect Mrs C sided with the kids, so what was poor old Canute to do?  He tried to stop the tide, but failed.  (Neither a Good Thing Nor A Bad Thing.)  Anyway, Canute was so upset that he went back to Denmark and Alfred became King of England.  (A Good Thing, so long as you didn’t want any cakes baked.)

After that, things settled down for a bit so we'll just pause at this point and maybe carry another day.

No comments: