Here’s an idea I like to play with. Modern Britain was born, let us say, in 1400 AD. We need a round figure for a starting date, because then we can make a nice simple equation: one century (of historical time) equals one decade (of lifespan). So Modern Britain would be ten years old in 1500, twenty in 1600, thirty in 1700, forty in 1800, fifty in 1900, sixty in 2000 – and sixty one in 2010.
Britain’s mum, of course, is the enduring, shaping land itself – the same land who has been mother and lover to so many past cultures (Druids, Anglo-Saxons, and so on). As for his father, that was Norman culture, the cathedral-building, French-speaking, Rome-obeying invader culture.
Modern Britain was probably conceived during the Black Death (1348-ish) but we’ll give him a long gestation and let him out in 1400 (Chaucer’s death-date – and hence the symbolic end-date of medieval poetry and, to an extent, medieval culture).
It was a tough upbringing for our little lad, with all the chaos of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) going on around his formative years (between the ages of 5 and 9). So it’s no wonder he emerged into adolescence with a bit of an attitude. He was only 14 (and a bit) when he had a major bust up with his family. This was the Reformation (1547), and his family was Catholicism. That’s how he’d been brought up - a Catholic - but he wasn’t taking orders from anyone, so he slammed out of the family home, demolished a few of his dad’s abbeys, and set up on his own.
Now, it’s just as well he was a self-reliant sort of chap, because the Family decided to take him in hand, sending over the Spanish Armada when he was just 18 (1588). But he bopped them on the nose and carried on in his own stroppy way. He seemed to take confidence from this because he became a very flashy, creative sort of fellow, getting Shakespeare and others to write some thrilling dramas when he was entering his twenties (up till 1616 or so).
Nonetheless, he suffered a lot of inner conflict – bound to really, considering his family upbringing – and he had a bit of a Civil War with himself in his mid twenties (1642-1651), resulting in his joining a rather miserable religious clique (Cromwell’s Puritans) when he was around 25. Predictably he got fed up with this and cheered himself up in the company of Nell Gwyn for the next couple of years, although he did not entirely lose his more serious side, getting Milton to publish 12 volumes of Paradise Lost for him in 1674 (aged 27). He also developed a strong interest in science, setting up the Royal Society around the same time (1660).
By the time he was in his thirties (the 1700s) he was a strong, confident, prosperous sort of chap, getting involved in all sorts liaisons, although this brings us to the topic of families, and we cannot disguise the grief he felt over his rebellious son. The story went like this. Back in 1610, when only 21, he had had an affair with a beautiful exotic woman on the other side of the Atlantic. It had been a high minded liaison at first, based on religion and self-sufficiency, and their child had grown up to be a strong, sparky young fellow.
Unfortunately this son shared the family traits and – just like his father before him – young America rebelled in his teens (War of Independence, 1775-1783) when he was only 16 and 17. Things eventually settled down, but America shared the family tendency to inner conflict, having a Civil War with himself when he was in his mid twenties (1864) just like his dad before him.
Now, we’re talking about the 1800s and – getting back to dad – that was when Britain was at his most confident and expansive. True, he had a hankering for his youth with the Romantic movement (Wordsworth, Byron, Keats) in his early forties, but by the end of his forties (Victoria’s jubilee, 1897) he was a proud, rather serious sort, inclined to preach and not universally popular (Boer War 1899-1902).
However, things were about to get a bit crucial. His younger cousin, Germany, was full of thrusting ambition, and soon there was a huge family (European) war. Luckily young America (30 years old by now) was on better terms with dad and came over to help out. He had to do this again in the 1940s. Britain was in his mid fifties by now and beginning to feel the strain of all this conflict. It was time for the European family to make up, and by the time Britain reached the age of sixty (2000) European family brawls were a thing of the past.
However, that was not the end of world conflict, and something very odd happened in 2001. America was just approaching his forties when he got enmeshed in a long running quarrel (Al-Qaeda/Iraq/Afghanistan). The fascinating thing is that Britain had got into a similarly protracted struggle at just the same age (the Napoleonic Wars, 1799-1815).
If precedent is anything to go by, America will emerge stronger and more confident than ever. But what about the old fellow? What about Britain, sixty one years old as we speak? Well, it’s a great age to be. People live a lot longer nowadays, and there’s plenty of spring in the old man’s step – why the whole world wants to come and play Olympic Games with him in 2012.
But he can do more than that. In the sixties you’re into your third age. Youth (first age) – done that, give it a tick. Family business (second age) – done that, give it a tick. Third age (wisdom) – ah, that’s where he is now. What will he do? How will he affect the world? It’s time for the Soul of the Nation to emerge and make a difference.
May I invite you to make certain purchases? (I may? Why, thank you...)
(a) The Salamander Stone (by my most excellent and trusty pal, Mrs Me) from one of these outlets:
Direct from the publisher, Burst Books: click here
Amazon UK: click here
(b) The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole (by Mrs Me’s most excellent and trusty pal, Me):
Amazon UK: click here
Amazon.com (US): click here
(You’ll be getting both of them? Well, that is an admirable choice, if I may say so...)