Thursday, February 05, 2009

Birdwatching in Britain

It’s been two weeks plus a couple of days since a major moment in history was made with Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. From all of the reports that I have been receiving and reading on this side of the pond, President Obama is already on his way in accomplishing more within a fortnight than his predecessor did in eight years. His approval ratings here in the UK remain astronomically high, which is not only generally good in terms of foreign policy but even better for any American who currently calls Britain home.

Just like in Kermit the Frog’s song, It’s Not Easy Being Green, it has not been very easy for any of us expats for the past eight years, due in large part to the person and the policies of Number 43 (aka Dubya). With the promise of change that is coming out of the Obama White House, also comes the added bonus that many of us over here are becoming popular, or at the very least a bit more tolerated to the extent that a Brit can allow himself to be towards a Yank.

One of Sarah’s gifts to me which I received on Christmas morning was Parky, the autobiographical memoir of British broadcaster Michael Parkinson. In it, he recalls a conversation that he had with fellow journalist and broadcaster Alistair Cooke in 1972. When Cooke first arrived in America, he hated the place. ‘I suffered from the delusion, which is universal among the English, that Americans are Englishmen gone wrong.’ Sadly, this is a delusion which is still shared by many in 2009.

I may be in danger of ruffling a few feathers with the following observation, but I shall share it, just the same. In a country which counts birdwatching as one of its many popular pastimes, there is a particular species of British fowl that is quite prevalent throughout the countryside; a species which I have personally observed in great detail during the time that I’ve spent here. One of its characteristic traits is an obstinate avoidance of anything foreign, and most especially anything that is remotely American in origin. Fearful of illumination, these particular birds madly fly out of the way of new ideas and innovation as if they were the bright headlights of oncoming speeding traffic along the M25; content instead to remain roosting in a dark, yet very familiar nesting blind because that’s the way it’s always been done.

These same tendencies also find their way into the flock’s current popular culture. Rather than exposing themselves to anything created on a foreign shore, this species of fowl prefers to embrace and listen to domestically-produced mediocrity from untalented boybands and girlbands, while anointing semi-literate footballers (and their respective wives and girlfriends) to the deity status of cultural icons who grace the pages of the red-topped tabloids and OK magazine.

There are many species of living beings that inhabit and contribute to the overall beauty and magnificence of these British Isles which I continue to enjoy calling home; I have just briefly focused my attention upon just one of them because of that species’ singular impact upon the greater British ecosystem that the rest of us also live in.

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