The Divine Miss M and Urban Space

The other day I heard an interview with Bette Midler on how she had been impressed with the urban gardens, allotments etc she had seen whilst on tour in the UK many years ago, and when she returned to New York set about greening up what was at the time a pretty grim place to live. She seems to have form in this, as I also remember an interview with her from years ago when they were walking along a sea front somewhere and she kept breaking off the conversation to pick up litter and put it in bins.

So, that got me thinking about the many differences between England and places like North America and Australia, as England is tiny compared to them; it can fit in the state of Victoria, Australia, and can fit twice into Texas. So space here has long been a battle, between landowners and the landless, between city and country.

So, here’s the lyrics to ‘A Place Called England’, by Maggie Holland which won the best new song in the 1992 Radio 2 Folk Music Awards. This is from

I rode out on a bright May morning; like a hero in a song,
Looking for a palace called England, trying to find where I belong.
Couldn’t find the old flood meadow or the house that I once knew,
No trace of the little river or the garden where I grew.

I saw town and I saw country, motorway and sink estate,
Rich man in his rolling acres, poor man still outside the gate,
Retail park and Burger kingdom, prairie field and factory farm,
Run by men who think that England’s only a place to park their car.

But as the train pulled out from the station, through the wastelands of despair,
From the corner of my eye, a brightness filled the filthy air.
Someone’s sown a patch of sunflowers, though the soil is sooty black:
Marigolds and a few tomatoes right beside the railway track.

Down behind the terraced houses, in between the concrete towers,
Compost heaps and scarlet runners, secret gardens full of flowers.
Meeta grows her scented roses right beneath the big jet’s path.
Bid a fortune for her garden, Eileen turns away and laughs.

Rise up, George, and wake up, Arthur. Time to rise out from your sleep.
Deck the horse with sea-horse ribbons. Drag the old from the deep.
Hold the line for Dave and Daniel as they tunnel through the clay,
While the oak in all its glory soaks up sun for one more day.

Come all you at home with freedom, whatever the land that gave you birth.
There’s room for you both root and branch as long as you love the English earth.
Room for vole and room for orchid, room for all to grow and thrive;
Just less room for the fat landowner on his arse in his four-wheel drive.

For England is not flag or Empire. It is not money and it is not blood.
It’s limestone gorge and granite fell. It’s Whealden clay and Severn mud.
It’s blackbird singing from the may-tree, lark ascending through the scales.
It’s robin watching from your spade and English earth beneath your nails.

So, here’s two cheers for a place called England, sore abused but not yet dead.
A Mr Harding sort of England, hanging in there by a thread.
Here’s two cheers for the crazy Diggers. Now their hour shall come around.
We shall plant the seed they saved us, as common wealth and common ground.

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