Jeremy Paxman\’s \”The English\”

Well using a British Council library you read what you can get. But I\’ve been astonished by two points in Paxman\’s book \”The English\”.

He makes much of the way that  The English (and you can hear the double capitals in his tone) prefer a house with a garden to a flat. This is entirely true of course.

Then he goes on to say that of course The English will just have to get over their preferences and live in flats like everyone else.


Leave aside that terraced housing provides greater population density than high rises with the associated grand squares. Leave aside even that only 2% or so of England is actually housing. There\’s another 2% which is roads and schools n\’ospitals etc, but we\’ll have those whatever people actually live in.

Think of that very English arrogance there: sod what the peasantry want to do, they should do what I tell \’em. At least the French aristocracy ignored the peasantry…..

The second was his musings upon English sexuality. Yes, I know, the great jokes about Victorian womanhood. They weren\’t interested, so said the mores of the time, so the men shagged prossies and only their wives when they demanded children. All rather bollocks as any married man or woman of the time would have pointed out. But that low divorce rate, what about that, eh?

But then he goes on to say how much this has all changed: how we\’ve the highest number of teenage mothers, single mothers, divorces, look, look, see how it\’s changed!

And he absolutely and entirely misses how it has changed.

The English don\’t in fact climb in and out of the beds of other men\’s wives/other women\’s husbands particularly more or less than in any other nation. What they do do is insist that such adventures must be consecutive, not concurrent.

What we\’ve lost (and you may think it a good or a bad thing, entirely up to you) is this idea that marriage, the family, is paramount. The sliding off for another shag (on either side) might be a lapse, might be a freedom, could well lead to the breaking of crockery, but it\’s not a reason, in and of itself, to break up that family. We might call this the French, or Italian view. On the other side we\’ve, well I\’ve always viewed it as the American view, that infidelity is indeed the breach of the entire foundation of said relationship. Shag some bird just once and that\’s marriage over, buster. We, currently, tend to be more American in this.

It\’s not even the sex bit really. No, I\’ve never actually seen this but I could imagine it: an American couple, dedicated swingers. Sex with all and sundry, but together. Then one of them has an affair, emotional intimacy, I could see that being the pretext, reason, for a divorce. Whereas in our French view (yes, I know, they don\’t actually live this way, it\’s a description) the intimacy is the point. Something that peps up coming home to that family.

Paxman has missed entirely the real change that has gone on. We, the English (or English culture if you like) have gone from that sex isn\’t the important thing straight through to sex is the only important thing. Without ever stopping at that mid point which is the typically English compromise.

I\’m not arguing either side in either argument. I just thought they were strange things for Paxman to get wrong.

On the flats thing, I might be being a tad sensitive. Not as in too much so but as in attuned. Here in Czech, as points further east, they deliberately housed everbody in high rise flats. Because people who live more communally will naturally become more communal and socialist, right? No, really, they were thinking that way. And what do people want?

A house with a garden.

10 thoughts on “Jeremy Paxman\’s \”The English\””

  1. Very simplistic, I am afraid…both you Tim and the Paxtwat. look at all the high rise buildings on Canary Wharf and in various satellite towns of London, full of high-rent flats.

    “The English” seem to enjoy living in a high-rise with a nice view and where they can be guranteed that someone else will kill the rats and glear the toilet blockages.

    What they don’t like are nasty high-rises where you cannot flick the curtain and ascertain how many men are visiting her next-door…and where the lifts do not work and the bins do not get collected.

  2. typical of the metropolitan elite and their enablers in the media. aA long rich history of hypocrisy made paramount.

    Start by forcibly disbanding the Council for the Protection of Rich Estate owners. Paxtwat is the heir to Max Hastings. Decrying the wrong sort of ‘development’ whilst literally lording it up in a home counties georgian manor.

    pudenda delenda est……

  3. “I just thought they were strange things for Paxman to get wrong.” Why” He’s just another Beeb prat, isn’t he?

  4. As Diogenes say’s, the market knocks the ‘hice’n grinds theory on the head. You only have to look at the mansion block areas of Central London which were much sort after residences, long before immigration darkened the horizon. And density is the important factor. High density means the delights of the West End, the bustle of commerce & the lunatic asylum by the Thames at Westminster are a walk away. Much the same is repeated in other UK cities. It’s the reason so many of Inner London’s multi-storey residential has been flatted & why the prices favour the areas with more storeys.
    Why we don’t build more for this…. Planning mostly. Lack of nerve?

  5. “Everyone” wants to live in a house with a garden. It’s a given.
    If not then a spacious flat in a nice neighbourhood, close to the shops/nightlife/trasnport.
    You DON’T want to live next to the drug dealer/hooker/single mum with 5 kids all taller than 6foot.
    Unfortunately if you live in many British council built/owned high-rises that is exactly what you get. Same in US, same in France or Belgium or Holland.
    If Tim went to some estates in Prague or Brno, he’d see that the people are polite and the kids don’t carry Uzis.
    It’s a vicious circle, once you move those who have no care for their surroundings into an area, then the place rapidly goes downhill. The good eggs leave and the place is dominated by the bad ones.
    In other words if you’re paying 1000 a month to live in a flat, you’re not going to wreck it. If the govt is paying you to live there, then you’re not going to care.
    Common sense really.

    Tim adds: “If Tim went to some estates in Prague or Brno, he’d see that the people are polite and the kids don’t carry Uzis.”

    It doesn’t quite work like that. Here in Usti nad Labem, about 2 miles away from where I sit now, there’s a truly appalling estate of “panelki”. High rise flats. It’s the sink estate of sink estates around here. So bad that they actually built a wall down the middle of the road to keep the real scum away from the merely poor.

    And really, don’t get anyone around here started on the subject of Roma.

  6. On flats and socialism: there’s something in that. If you want to know whether a US state will vote Rep or Dem, you should look not at their wealth, but how close together their houses are.

    Tim, were the blocks in Czech to make people socialist or to prevent them having defensible spaces (the hauseman/Paris principle)? An Australian architect working in public housing in Singapore couldn’t work out why his plans kept getting changed till he realised this (can’t be bothered to find the link).

  7. Slovakia does it too. I saw a report on Austrian TV about town in Slovakia where such Apartheid/Peace Walls are built. The Roma are kept to a curfew and locked into their ghetto at night.

    But anyway, you kinda prove my point. They’ve stuck all their rotten apples into one barrel or once the decline starts it is too hard to arrest.

  8. “The English don’t in fact climb in and out of the beds of other men’s wives/other women’s husbands particularly more or less than in any other nation. What they do do is insist that such adventures must be consecutive, not concurrent.”

    “We, the English (or English culture if you like) have gone from that sex isn’t the important thing straight through to sex is the only important thing.”

    Before concluding that Paxman has got it wrong, it would be useful to see some evidence for these assertions.

  9. In my personal experience (6 countries and different styles of housing) apartment buildings aer far less “communal” than houses with gardens. The closer you live to your neighbours (2 or three adjoining walls gets pretty close) the less you “invade” their space by actually speaking to them, far less knocking on their door and inviting yourself in!

    Besides the practical aspect that you only get to see them in the elevator/stairwell and corridors (a very small amount of time), when you can hear them instead you get a somewhat different impression of what they may be like. Meeting your neighbours over the garden fence is a much less intrusive way of interacting and leads to much more of a social connection when you can speak to them on their own terms.

    I currently live in a large building (22 floors, about 200 apartments) and we hardly see/know any of our neighbours (only the ones with dogs as these provide a way to open a conversation when you meet them). The building has communal areas to try and generate social interactions, but summer and winter parties rarely get more than 40 people. Even this is regarded as a notable development and we have real estate agents using the “social life” of the building as a selling point.

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