Next weekend should have been a time of May fairs and may pole dancing, it should have been a time of well dressing and Morris men, and all that is celebratory and joyous about the beginning of the merriest month.
There is a sequence at the opening of the video released to accompany Mumford and Sons’ song Winter Winds that evokes images that seems quintessentially English. The four musicians step out onto a country road. One is dressed in a three piece light coloured suit with bunting draped around his neck; it is home made bunting of the sort that would once have been found at village fetes, there are hand drawn union jacks on the triangular pennants. One member of the group wears a shirt, waistcoat and trousers, like some workman from former times. Elsewhere in the video, they cross a meadow filled with wild plants.
The video presents a rural England of meadows and sunshine; a place of village greens and garden fetes and white marquees and coloured bunting, an England of the shires, an England where my home county was typical.
The England evoked is a place of fresh scones and Victoria sponges, and home made jam and chutney, and cucumber sandwiches without crusts, and tea served in china cups with matching saucers. One of the band in the video carries a tambourine; it conjures up memories of folk bands, and Morris dancers with bells and handkerchieves.
Maybe the England of May poles and fairs, of jam and Jerusalem, of warm beer and Stilton, of willow on leather and stripy deck chairs and Panama hats, of ladies in frocks and men in sleeveless pullovers, of all those images; maybe that England is a cliché, a piece of fond imagination. Maybe the England of bunting and wild flowers is not the real England.
Sometimes I wonder if England is anything more than Tom Stoppard’s “conspiracy of cartographers,” a geographical occurrence, with characteristics so divergent that it is not possible to say “this is England?” Does England really exist at all?
The Mumford and Sons video images are probably not the real England, they would probably be alien to the students I teach in a provincial town of 100,000 people, but which images are the real ones? England has been in a state of constant change since the Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century, writers like William Cobbett longed to recapture a bucolic past, but even that past was far from ideal.
Perhaps my images are just a piece of nostalgia, perhaps England is not a land of May fairs, but without them it is a poorer place.