Oh, England, My Lionheart…I Don’t Want to Go…

Green Man from the Beltane Bash Street Party, 2006

Yesterday I passed  the Life in the UK Test which all seeking residence must take after the law changed in 2007.  The experience was of course a series of jumping through hoops placed in front of you by a patronizing bureaucracy, the same absurd behemoth that has been the birth mother of so much brilliantly sardonic British comedy.  The test is that unnerving combination of stupid and hard; it had almost nothing to do with life here– an arbitrary series of factiods, most 8 years old, memorized and spat back in tick box format.

And, with all this, Operation Don’t Deport Me, or ODDME, has just begun!

It’s forced me to focus on what I do love about living here– everything that wasn’t on the test and that will never be in any oath.  Ale is one–my informal passport to real life here.   Beer has shown me this place and the people in it in the most glowing, welcoming way.

There are no coincidences in life, really.  Shortly after returing home, demoralized and frustrated despite my success, I read Zythophile’s transcription of Carol Ann Duffy’s beautiful poem, a meta take on one of my favourite folk songs. I reprint it here with what I hope is fair use.

John Barleycorn

Carol Ann Duffy

Although I knew they’d laid him low, thrashed him, hung him out to dry,
Had tortured him with water and with fire, then dashed his brains out on a stone,
I saw him in the Seven Stars, and in the Plough.
I saw him in the Crescent Moon and in the Beehive.
In the Barley Mow, my Green Man, newly born, alive, John Barleycorn.

I saw him seasonally, at harvest time, in the Wheatsheaf and the Load of Hay,
I saw him, heard his laughter in the Star and Garter and the Fountain and the Bell,
The Corn Dolly, the Woolpack and the Flowing Spring.
I saw him in the Rising Sun, the Moon and Sixpence and the Evening Star.
I saw him in the Rose and Crown, my Green Man, ancient, barely born, John Barleycorn.

He moved through Britain, bright and dark, like ale in glass.
I saw him run across the fields, towards the Gamekeeper, the Poacher and the Blacksmith’s Arms.
He knew the Ram, the Lamb, the Lion and the Swan,
White Hart, Blue Bull, Red Dragon, Fox and Hounds.
I saw him in the Three Goats’ Heads, the Black Bull and Dun Cow, Shoulder of Mutton, Griffin, Unicorn.
Green Man, beer-born, good health, long life, John Barleycorn.

I saw him festively, when people sang for victory, for love and New Year’s Eve,
In the Raven and the Bird in Hand, the Golden Eagle, the Kingfisher, the Dove.
I saw him grieve and mourn, a shadow at the bar, in the Falcon, the Marsh Harrier,
The Sparrowhawk, the Barn Owl, Cuckoo, Heron, Nightingale.
A pint of bitter in the Jenny Wren for my Green Man, alone, forlorn, John Barleycorn.

Britain’s soul, as the crow flies, so flew he.
I saw him in the Holly Bush, the Yew Tree, the Royal Oak, the Ivy Bush, the Linden.
I saw him in the Forester, the Woodman.
He history: I saw him in the Wellington, the Nelson, Marquis of Granby, Wicked Lady, Bishop’s Finger.
I saw him in the Ship, the Golden Fleece, the Flask
The Railway Inn, the Robin Hood and Little John.
My Green Man, legend-strong, reborn, John Barleycorn.

Scythed down, he crawled, knelt, stood.
I saw him in the Crow, Newt, Stag, all weathers, noon or night.
I saw him in the Feathers, Salutation, Navigation, Knot, the Bricklayer’s Arms, Hop Inn, the Maypole and the Regiment, the Horse and Groom, the Dog and Duck, the Flag.
And where he supped the past lived still.
And where he sipped the glass brimmed full.
He was in the King’s Head and Queen’s Arms. I saw him there:
Green Man, well-born, spellbound, charming one, John Barleycorn.

17 Responses

  1. I wonder how many members of the royal family would pass the Life in the UK Test, seeing that (if they hadn’t changed their surnames) Elizabeth Windsor would be a Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Charles Windsor a Battenberg.

    • Too right, RedNev! So much of the test was composed of little factoids about employment and even film ratings, etc…parts of life that are as remote to them as life on the Moon, to say nothing of their (dubious?) ancestry!

      • There’s nothing dubious about it, they’re simply German! 😀

  2. You have to take an oath? Saying what? Now you have citizenship can you admit you find th idea of a Queen ridiculous?

  3. Congratulations.

  4. Congratulations. I hadn’t read that poem before. Love it.

  5. Hi,
    I loved that poem on Culture show the other week, thought the film was really good too.

  6. Congratulations!

    If you haven’t already, you should find Carol Ann Duffy reading the poem for the show as it’s mesmerising.

    • It’s no longer streaming– I couldn’t find it on Youtube– where did you see it?

  7. …And Kudos for getting a Kate Bush reference in there too. One of my heroes – and one of her most underrated songs. wonderful.

    • Thanks- I love Kate Bush too, and this is one of my favourite songs of hers. It’s my own personal national anthem!

  8. Congratulations! Any beer related questions in the test?

    • Hi Knut! Actually there was a semi-beer-related question on the test: it asked what the closing time was for a pub without a special license. I don’t even remember what I put now but embarrassingly I think it may have been one of the ones I got wrong– I think I put down midnight instead of 11, totally overt-thinking it!

  9. If I’m not mistaken, after looking at that top picture, you are surely now a member of the Church O’ Satan.

  10. Wife and I are heading for London early to mid-January, staying with a friend in Brixton. Any recommended must-see pubs? We’ll be in town for about a week.

    • Hi Mike– I don’t know Brixton too well, but if you are willing to travel about I would recommend Blackfrairs for the interior, which is beautiful, and the Market Porter for the beer selection– be sure to go on a market day so you can check out Utobeer (the beer stall) as well, and while you are in Borough, the Royal Oak has lovely beers on always and is the quintessential London pub.

      • Thanks! We’re really looking forward to our visit and appreciate the first-hand advice.

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