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!
*Map Of The Trip here