Eclectica – where the British excel – and why it is useful

I don't expect to be believed but on a single day earlier this week I happened to listen to a Flanders and Swann performance in the car, after I had listened to another CD of Sidney Carter's poems and songs. And that evening dived into the BBC dramatisation of Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers. It really was quite accidental. Foir those who don't know any of these people Flanders and Swann were a couple of song writers in the 1960s who performed their comedy material in a revue style. Sydney Carter is best known for his song Lord of the Dance. He is responsible for no less than 3 of the top 10 songs typically sung in school assemblies. He was a contrararian and a mystic. And Trollope a quintessentially English writer from the 19th century who is funny, cutting and moving at the drop of a sixpence. Is it me or does British culture have an inexhaustible supply of eccentrics, eclectics and larger than life characters? Who are all quite unlike one another. What they share is wit, warmth, humour and the ability to celebrate life while standing at a critical distance from it.

And these qualities really do help to give the Brits an edge. We seem to have the gift of flipping (a most unfortunate verb – but lets redeem it from its Westminster usage this last week) between close attention and sardonic detachment. Which allows us to explore and test ideas without ever swallowing them hook line and sinker. Or at the other extreme dismissing everything for falling short of some abstract high culture ideal. Walking around the British Museum with Mark Hancock yesterday, listening to Melvyn Bragg discussing the repulsion of the Ottoman armies from the siege of Vienna in the 16th century. There is literally nothing which our culture will not pick up, discuss develop a viewpoint on and store in case we find a use for it some time.

We are in danger of looking at the technology trends driving mass information culture and giving primacy to what are after all just delivery platforms. The key is how we process and what we do with it. There is more to read and process than any of us can possibly assimilate. How we profit from it is what matters. I just think we Brits are privileged to live in a huge playground. We're not stuck in vast library of endless volumes. So get out there and play – work it.



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