Three months have passed since the Bolton lass Georgia Villalobos, my 2 year old daughter Sardana (Dana) and myself reached Buckingham Palace after walking and pushing a heavy loaded pram 460 miles ( 750 km:s) from Moss Side in Manchester. In all honesty I have needed this time to process what I consider one of the happiest journey´s I have ever done. But, I would also consider it as one of the biggest “discoveries” I have ever come across. Even though the Explorers Club in New York denied me a Flag, an honour which I have become accustomed to on almost all my Expeditions, mainly due to that my primary application didn´t offer any new scientific discoveries about England or the English to further the clubs scientific knowledge, nevertheless they concluded it could well still be an important journey. I have to say what I have seen and discovered on this journey I personally rate my most important of all journeys. It has changed the way I personally see life and how I am going to live after the journey. Who knew!
One of the major differences with this journey compared to my other Expeditions has been the fact that this is the first time in my last 20 years, that I have actually done an Expedition in a country, who´s reputation globally is predominantly very positive. The other Expeditions I have done have been to areas and countries who in one way or the other, have terrified people. And for this reason, during those Expeditions, I have put most of my energy into changing those perceptions into something overwhelmingly positive. This time, however, it went slightly the other way. Mainly due to the far too positive image I had beforehand, dominated by my time in London and that most of my best friends are English. And, of course as I understand England today, the great marketing abilities of the British. Well, I just had no idea the real England would differ that much from my perceived image of this great island!
Let me first say that there´s an incredible amount of positive things to say about England. Mainly about its people! There´s a reason most of my very best friends are English. They make very good friends; loyal, funny, and intelligent, no limits or obstacles in life and they have a great knowledge of the outside world. They have this aura around them of greatness and positivity. My mistake was to believe this was true for most English. It could be, but it isn’t.
Secondly, I am (still) an anglophile due to having spent many summers in Essex, and I, like I imagine most human beings on earth do, had this image of England as a rich, powerful, just, equal, free and opinionated country. After spending 10 months living in Moss Side, one of the most densely populated areas in Europe, and walking from there to London, I beg to differ. Please let me clearly point out that I am basing my opinions and discoveries on almost 30 years of exploring the world, having visited over 100 countries and being Scandinavian where class is not an issue, yet, feminism is very strong and there are still not too many hungry and destitute people. I am still slightly in shock about what I have experienced in England.
I just had no idea that the differences between rich and poor were this huge. I didn´t even know that there was such a large number of poor, freezing and suffering people in England. Like many others I have bought the self-confident propaganda pouring mainly out of London, but that was before I realized English society is split between those who have been to public schools (private) and those who have not. The class society is certainly still alive, even though it has taken new shape and seems to be made up of quite a few more levels than the traditional upper class, middle class and working class. (*According to a survey published by the BBC there´s 8 levels of class nowadays, http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/0/21970879 ). And, importantly, your accent still matters a lot.
Another major reason for my astonishment is that all the friends I have in England (and I have quite a few) are boisterous, outgoing, loud, extremely self-confident, doers, great fun and with a mentality that nothing is impossible. Not until this year in England did I know that with very few exceptions, they´re all public schools trained, where they teach you too become a doer. And as I have found out through the survey´s I have read, most explorers, people within media, government and the legal system have this back ground.
For this reason, I was genuinely surprised throughout my journey to come across a large section of society who just seemed to accept most things in silence, with the sole idea of just getting on with life. It was hard filming because most people were terrified either ending up in one of these shameless tabloids or in a documentary which turned out to be something completely different to what they were promised. And generally, the hardest was getting women to have opinions on camera.
Also, as regards to the issue of private land accessible to just a very few, and how scared most English people are of trespassing and questioning this status quo, I can just not fathom this point as little as the reality that on paper one of the richest countries on earth, display these big gaps between people. I cannot understand this.
However, having pointed this reality out, there are other sides of England which impress me a lot. The resilience and survival instinct among those less fortunate is impressive. A trait I have fallen in love with. I also think the English generally are among the most tolerant of people on earth. Even though immigration is a major issue right now, as it always is in the EU, the English are still generally welcoming to newcomers. At least compared to what I have seen in other countries. Areas like Moss Side and East London I rate world class on the subject of mixing of cultures and people. I loved both places.
Compared to Sweden, the English allow much more of a variety of lifestyles outside the norm. Also they are generally much friendlier, interested and helpful. You can still be eccentric, belong to some underground movement or behave differently. Not everywhere, but the closer you are to London, absolutely. This is quite unique as I see it. The closer we got to London, we got more invited in by people and they more accepted our odd way of travelling became. And there is a freedom of religion which I think is by far the best on earth, even if the English government have joined the American Government in their quest to make Islam a threat to whatever values we in the West think we have.
The best of the English; like some of its media, organisations like the RGS, self-confidence, attitude, cultural mix and knowledge about other parts of the world, it is also probably the best in the world. And I loved the immigrant parts of Birmingham, Leicester, Luton and London.
For me that is the best of the English!
*Download the full report here!
*Map Of The Trip here
“well done Michael as an Englishman – I think you have made a valid point as especially England is England. “
Hi Mikael Strandberg.
Thanks for the email. Interesting points you are making in your expedition report, but I will read it properly later and give some feeback.
We have just been on a little expedition ourselves as we have moved the boat to Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire, a tiny village where there are many OTHER KIDS living on boats. Or, many at least compared to Oxford. We now have a mooring here for £214/month so no one can move us on anymore!
But we are also going to Spain (Costa del Sol) for the winter, leaving in one week. We have a flat down there for 1 month, but I have no child care yet so need to sort that out when I get there so can work and make some money for living.
You have been an inspiration to me with regards to travelling with a child, and you gave me a rare feeling that choosing to live alternatively is something admirable. So thanks.
I wish you and your family and Georgia all the best,
thanks for the last Report. It is great! I don’t know why, but I feel more admiration for to you seeing you walking with the heavy load and your two fantastic Daughters through England then when you rambled in killing heat of not always hospitable deserts of Yemen!!!! I love your observations on Britons and Britain which you sampled shortly but so clearly in the Report. I find it all very interesting. You write here mostly about others, but those who know about your journeys, trips and passages can see how Michael Strandberg evolves (being still himself).
We miss you and your great Family here in Skane and we hope to have you all here again.
Meanwhile we continue our trips through different parts of India where we find refuge and which became our Alternative World.
Yours as Ever,
Krzysztof Pluskota and Birgitta Anderson, Lund
This is Siddharth from India. I am really not sure why I am writing this email to you. Probably, I am right now at the lowest point of my life and looking for a miracle to change my lifestyle completely from what I have become into someone that I have always dreamed of as a child. So, I was browsing through the Internet and I stumbled upon your website. I must congratulate you for all that you have done in your life and I think, I would do anything to trade places with someone like you.
I have graduated from Indian Institute of Technology with a post graduate degree in Economics in 2010. I have tried a couple of jobs since then, which bore me to death and always remind me of how guys like you extract every ounce of juice from life while I am rotting behind the desk of a back end office trying to make ends meet. I think if I do not do anything about it, I will probably end up spending the rest of my miserable life getting trapped in this capitalistic maze and grow old with probably no major achievement except earning some money and putting on some weight to justify my existence.
Coming to the point, I want to ask you for one thing. I want to have an opportunity to work with you. How could I contribute to your work? I’ll let you figure that out but firstly a few things about myself. I am an avid reader with great interest in sociology and anthropology, though I do not have a degree in any of these subjects. I am passionate about traveling and studying tribal cultures. I have seen your lecture organized by TED Talks where you talked about understanding the world and yourself. I should say it was a great inspiration. I have excellent communication skills. I am passionate about leaning and I am into sports. I like to think that I am a smart guy/an amateur philosopher with great EQ and I am sure you will like my company. In short, I think I have it in me to step out of my comfort zone.
I really do not know if this email will reach you or your team will regard it as spam and put it in the trash, but I am glad that I have written this to you and at least made an attempt to fulfil my dreams. Thanks a lot for your time if you have indeed read it. Please do let me know if I could be of any help to you in any way. If you have any projects in India, as a token of my appreciation, i am willing to work with you without any compensation. Please keep me in the loop about any such developments. If you can hire me for any of your present projects, I will jump at the opportunity.
I didn’t know you were coming to London, otherwise I’d have arranged to meet you in person! I hope (and believe) that I fall into your general category of English people – and I am English going back many generations (except for a little smattering of Welsh!)
Over my many years, I have found prejudice amongst northern English to us southerners, believing we are snobs and that we’re not friendly. This is not at all true!
Congratulations, great article and some valid insights!
This reminded me re Base Camp Festival too – we have another coming up at the end of May
Can you come?
Hope to hear from you
I hope you are all well and enjoying life to the full.
I read your expedition briefing with an almost exiled eye living between London and Stockholm. It’s interesting what you say about the English as I look in on a very complicated culture from the outside here in Sweden. The Swedes see Britain largely as a ‘cool’ place with the Union Flag adorning many items of apparel, goods and brands as if somehow Britain was nothing more than a lifestyle accessory.
There’s no definitive answer to what it is to be English as the picture changes like sand on the shore. A wave comes, washes back into the sea and the sand changes but it is still the same sand on the same seashore, but it will change over time. Some waves are larger than others and the larger waves penetrate further up the beach. So it has been with immigration to the British Isles since time immemorial and particularly since Britain lost its empire. As a modern nation however it has no desire to be a smaller, more humble or less significant place.
What do I know of Leicester or Manchester and its peoples? I have never so much as passed through either City. I recall many summers staying with an uncle and aunt in Aylesbury which was then a large agricultural town with a cattle market in the Midlands. That was as far north as I ever got to as a child and I remember getting there from London by steam train. My uncle got me interested in the outdoors. One day he and I were walking across mudflats in the Thames estuary. Without sight of anything visible he stopped and started digging in the sandy mud with his hands. After ten minutes or so he pulled a Roman amphorae out of the ground. He had great psychic abilities which haunted him most of his life. My uncle was like all our family, brought up in the hardest part of the East End of London. I know very little about my family but expect most of my forebears experience nearly 200 years of poverty, lack of opportunity and terrifying twentieth century warfare.
We English tend to look at our heritage through rose tinted glasses. The London I see today is a very different and strange place compared to the city I knew as a child. Much if it has become a monument to greed and a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor. It has become the new Victorian era with the rich requiring control through its establishments and the poor once again having been humbled by the burden of financial collapse brought about by the greed of overpaid and over-valued city bankers, hedge fund managers and their like. Many working people, and I don’t use the word ‘class’ here, endure the prospect of earning a barely liveable wage. Many of those people who work for just over seven pounds an hour are claiming housing benefit whilst many of the companies that they work for are avoiding paying taxes in the UK and making multi-million pound profits, largely contributed to by the British tax payer in terms of social welfare benefits for their employees. Many of those companies are American, a largely inward looking and violent people driven by fear of others, profit and greed. For some reason the UK believes the US business culture is a good model to follow. The special relationship is really nothing special and largely benefits US rather than being of equal status. The relationship only became special through the reparations owed by Britain to its ally having eventually brought them kicking and screaming into the two largest and most evil conflicts known by man.
England does somehow appear to remains a principled country even though this attribute is often masked by the quest for wealth and privilege, making it a very divided nation still largely united behind an impotent monarchy. A decent education is everything and an Oxbridge one for the elite and a few very bright state school kids opens doors to power, influence and wealth. England missed a great opportunity to change the establishment for good by the recent unification of the collective political elite to put fear amongst the Scots to vote ‘no’ to independence in their recent referendum. An independent Scotland would I believe have resulted in a more just England, Wales and Northern Ireland, even if it had resulted in a painful separation. It would have given us all the chance to re-establish and define our national identities and dispelled the fears spread by right wing anti-European and anti-immigration parties for those that deserve to live or settle in a country based on tolerance, a strong work ethic and a place of potential equal opportunity.
Much of the change in culture in England has not in all fairness been driven by the English. The desire for greed and profit at any cost has largely about by the back door acquisition of UK institutions by foreign investors, largely from the US. As a nation of shopkeepers, anything appears to be for sale to the highest bidder. For example many Londoners in particular, including myself could now afford to live in the ‘trendy’ parts of once impoverished, brow beaten and bomb damaged city that my parents and grandparents could only wish to get out of.
It is a continuing struggle that makes cultures so important and interesting. Maybe that’s why I find the culture in Stockholm so shallow and smug. It’s all about’ lifestlyle’ and latte Pappas here and perhaps Sweden is only beginning to realise it has become almost defenceless to a growing threat, perceived or real, from an old arch enemy across the Baltic. The farce of the recent incident of a Russian mini-submarine scare in the Stockholm archipelago has perhaps highlighted the lack of understanding amongst the Swedish political elite. Neutrality comes at a price and by not being a member of NATO, Sweden is beginning to feel a very vulnerable indeed at the moment. With a new largely left leaning government comprised of backroom deals and horse trading between the socialists and fringe parties is not what most British would call the creation of a democratic government, but then again neither is the British system of ‘first past the post’. Setting up a fringe party here with no particular agenda or large following is perhaps the easiest way to become a Swedish government minister.
Two world wars changed British society for ever. It does however seem that people are disillusioned with British politics and feel a desire for change and opportunity. They’ve been fed enough political lies, false promises and ideologies that have ended up giving far too many people too little and others far too much. I do not hold communist principles but I do believe in a fair society and I see the worst side of capitalist greed for wealth and power bringing the whole system down. The agrarian society painted by Constable was at least an image of community even if controlled by the landed classes. It was a time before universal suffrage but it somehow paradoxically portrays and encapsulates the essence of England and the English. It has been a community spirit that has pulled the constituent parts of the British Isles though many hardships. Let’s hope that the Scottish referendum was a political wake-up call for better values, my fear however is that the political framework will return to business as usual and the rich will become richer.
What a novel trip where can I see more I have strandberg swedish ancestors perhaps we are related beth
thanks for the report! Very interesting insights you and Georgia have on modern England!
We are pleased to have been involved.
Brilliantly well written review, Mr Moss!
Thanks for accepting my request.
I have recently found out about you today after googling ‘why is papau new guinea too dangerous to explore?’ which led me to your website.
You have become an instant hero of mine, your website is great, the Papau story was fantastic, I couldn’t stop reading (I don’t think I blinked!).
I’m off on my travels from December and just want to know that I have been further inspired to explore by you and I will continue to follow your facebook and website.
I’d love to meet you and talk about travel and adventure.
My thoughts: happy and sad about the report, sad that you found some negative stuff but happy that overall like me you can see how wonderful this country is. It does not surprise me that few people can define what being English is, unfortunately heinous organisations like the EDL and UKIP have hijacked what it means to be either: British or English. I can only personally sum up being English with 2 of my favourite sayings:’crack on’ which is something I think British people are great at doing, even when things are difficult they tend to get on with it. And the other is ‘I am sorry’ English people are overwhelmingly polite people!
Quite a contrast with your trip across the Yemen! I enjoyed watching your film of that journey at the Adveture Travel Film Festival, please let me know when your film of this trip – assuming you make one – is out.
Eli, I’m not surprised you’ve felt slightly ostracized choosing to live on a boat in the UK.
I think that although the english tolerate ‘otherness’ and alternative lifestyles they also look down upon people who choose to live differently. People like yourselves in my experience are well read, open minded and generally offer more intelligent insights. I think the mainstream would be surprised to open their eyes and see this. ( I include myself in the mainstream bracket- walking with Mikael I was surprised to open my eyes and see this- and quickly realised I had much less to add to the conversation!)
How I can see the video?
Dear Andrés, you mean the Yemen Doc or the Expedition England doc to be? The Yemen Doc is right now only available at film festivals or on TV and check my Facbook page at http://www.facebook.com/explorerglobal for updates. The English Doc is under work right now, but proper professional editing will start in January.
I read this with great interest. How beautifully you put things and I agree with so much of what you write.
Walking with Mikael time and again I met very decent, unassuming people struggling to survive in a new, ill fitting culture. US business culture is pervading all areas of life, including local government which then directly affects community life. Square peg, round hole. I felt it so strongly in East London I’ve fled to Northumberland- I’m hoping by the time that someone cottons on to the fact that this style of culture is bad for England and starts to change things, Northumberland will have just bypassed the whole thing.
Interestingly I’m finding British politics engaging for the first time in my life. Bearing in mind I was born in the early 80’s so I’m that generation brought up by the conservatives that was trained by the education system to accept and not question and to go shopping instead. I’m finding it interesting because of UKIP. For the first time there are unpolished speeches and people saying what they actually think (with strong regional accents! ). Granted I don’t agree wtih most of what UKIP actually stands for or says- but they are really stirring things up. I really, really hope that they will end up being a catalyst for a more open debate and English people actually speaking out rather than ‘accepting in silence’ as Mikael quite rightly noted.
On the education front- I’m a teacher- I’m actually finding some very refreshing approaches to education coming out of the free school movement. One school I find so inspiring that I volunteer there one day a week. They spend two days a week learning outdoors- woodland, beach (these are inner city newcastle kids from the poorest area) – and three days in the classroom. I asked the governors of the school what their aims were for the school and children. They said ” To create state school children as confident as public school children, and who question their teachers”. Let’s hope this approach catches on. Here’s to the next generation of English who question and question and question.
Your expedition report was spot on regarding Brits though, and an excellent read!
Excellent read & having worked in Sweden I can understand your take on it. I’m from the Midlands and your comments on the area and the people is spot on.
I read your report of your England 2014 expedition and something struck areal chord with me and that was how you mentioned that previously most of the people you knew were from a certain background etc.
our British history and our presented is affected in myriad ways by colonialism, for good and bad.
I think you got close to opening up a really big, and interesting discussion with your england project, and that is coming from me a normal Englishman who now lives in Prague like a normal Czech person, no point discussing it over email, its better in the pub or in a lecture hall.
Thank you for sharing this article and for your dedication to bringing the real stories of everyday people to life, I am honored to be associated with you thought the explorers community…never stop enchanting us with your vision of the World!
The defusing of knowledge is not always glamorous images of the best he World has to offer. The average person in the street very rarely gets a voice. You have found a way to bring their voices center stage and we are lucky to have a front row seat.
Enjoyed articles Mikael. Brings me right there. Much sympathy for your shivers & applause for exposing the ‘other England’ who struggles, fears, lives, laughs and loves in the shadow of its contemporary, quite opposite the guide books point you to if touring. I see through your words. Distrust from locals. Who are you but one who walks among them, not a separatist, but a bridge builder. Thanks for the redirect. Hats off, tip & a bow for your shared observances.
What a great story,Mikael Strandberg! It’s a place where I spent first summer away from my family in the first year of college. I wish I could see all of these things then – with you eyes! I will be reading it slowly tonight – just can’t wait! This is the world most people won’t know unless somebody – like you – will come and observe the nearest things with open heart, curiosity, love and compassion. Great job you did, Mikael!”