I was born in England, but I had to learn to become English. It was a gentle process connected to a velvet countryside and an easy acceptance not only of the country's age but also of its connection to the histories of many other countries around the world. It was almost a surprise to realize how much the countryside meant to people in very remote--to me--places in the world, people who found special the things I had been born to understand were mine by birthright. I was proud to be British and as I look back, one of the earliest lessons that I learned came from a moment when I felt a visceral connection to the countryside that was never to leave me. I remember the day very well.
My mother was a nurse and for some reason she needed to visit one of her clients. I remember the name of the family: Clutterbuck. How British can one be? She took me with her, but once there I was something of an intrusion. Her solution was to send me out into the gardens behind the house and let me explore. What I found was magic and stays with me still. It may sound trite as I look back on all the traditional ways of describing the English countryside—all the talk of roses, blackberries, lavender, and the birdsong in mighty oaks not to mention the distant cuckoos and woodpeckers, but on that day it came together for me in an unforgettable panorama of what England had been and always would be.
When I went out into garden, I found--or rather, he found me--an old farmer, the kind called Giles or Patch or Toby, who saw a child alone. He invited me to join him while he sang “Froggy Would A-Wooing Go,” rhythmically swinging his scythe down a row of corn. His voice was cracked but pleasant. I could imagine him singing that song on long dark winter evenings while his family gathered around the fireplace, a ritual pleasure rooted somewhere back in the countryside of a thousand years ago. I heard his voice, I smelled the dark earth, I heard the drone of autumn bees, and the whoosh and snap of his blade. He marked me as for ever English and I felt upon me the mantle of the workers of the land. I wanted them to be proud of me. Even though I was never live in England again, having traveled too widely to be a citizen of any one place in this world, the countryside and the man of the earth it created is what makes me always English.