England’s Cultural Anxiety

Why I Really Moved to Wales

From Planet 237

by Steven Lovatt

Steven Lovatt draws on Raymond Williams to describe England’s material, spiritual and ecological malaise, and how he and his Hungarian partner felt compelled to cross the border. Why does the Welsh independence movement feel more inclusive than the nationalism of his home country and Hungary?

My partner, Judit, is Hungarian, and I’m more or less English. When we moved with our daughters from Bristol to Swansea two years ago we had sensible, practical reasons that could be readily understood by parents and friends who questioned our decision and especially our timing (our son was to be born only a few weeks later). We were grateful for that, because it meant we didn’t have to try to articulate the deeper and more personal reasons for wanting to cross the border, although by the time we left, ‘wanting’ was an understatement: we felt we needed to escape. We were under strain in all sort of ways, and I’d been ill with something that exhausted me and left me with so little breath that I couldn’t even read a bedtime story. A stifled personal crisis, inseparable from England’s material and spiritual blight and also the global ecological disaster, denied a proper airing, spread instead beneath the surface of our everyday lives, leaving us tense and disoriented. The only things that helped temporarily were sleep and alcohol, and the only thing that really helped was the birdsong from the allotments behind our house. There was pure relief in that because it was something wholly outside me and immune to interpretation; that patch of green, and the sparrows’ implacable chaffing stopped me panicking and literally gave back my breath. But we craved greater respite and the refreshment that comes with a new place, a place where we could feel part of something larger than ourselves. A comprehensible place, and with that inestimable bonus for the Mercian and the land-locked Hungarian: the sea.

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