"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

10 Things I Miss Most About Britain: #8. History

The British Invasion?
There is one thing that defines the history of the British Isles - invasion by foreigners. Britain has been invaded - or a target of invasion - many times. In contrast, Canada has only been invaded once. The American invasion of Canada in 1812 led to a war that Canada won. Yes, the United States and Canada have existed side-by-side for a long time but have only been at war once. Americans, of course, deny they lost the war of 1812, but is Canada still an independent nation? Actually, that's a tricky question.

Throughout history, every single time that Britain was invaded, the British lost. There are two arguable exceptions. The first was the mighty Spanish Armada. They didn't actually invade though. Sir Francis Drake chased them up the English Channel and made artificial reefs out of quite a lot of them (did I tell the joke yet about modern Spanish naval vessels having glass bottoms so that Spanish sailors can see the old Spanish navy?)

The German army glowered across the channel in the 1940s but never actually invaded. They read their history books and knew the British people succumbed to every single invasion in the past, but when the Luftwaffe came a little too close to the white cliffs of Dover, the eternally famous "Few" saw them off.

Italy 1 England 0
Italy was the first recorded country to actually violate the shores of Britain. The ancient Britons were a primitive tribal race compared to the Imperial Army of Rome. The Romans had technology, organization and advanced military skills at their disposal. They changed the face of England, but when they met the Scots they simply built a wall to keep them out. I met the Tartan Army on a London subway station once and I can well imagine how the Romans must have felt.

Denmark 1 England 0
The next major wave of invasion came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. These were my ancestors - the Vikings. The Vikings didn't bring civilization in the way the Romans did. Quite the opposite, in fact. We Vikings have hot blood and would rather rape, pillage and plunder than build nice roads. We did fill up a lot of North Sea ferries with some of our wilder chaps who caused quite a lot of bother over a wide swathe of England. We even settled, mostly in Eastern England, and ran the place for a while. Our legacy to England can be found in place names. All the villages with names ending in -by belonged to us.

France 1 England 0
Next up were the French. King William of Normandy sailed across the English Channel with a surprisingly large number of heavily armed Frenchmen all of whom were called Norman. A bloody battle ensued in a Hastings suburb called "Battle". The Battle of Hastings was characterized by the dominance of one of the most terrible weapons of war ever used - the longbow. Each side fired volleys of thousands of arrows into the air. As the sea of arrows came down the opposing army was torn to shreds. The Battle ended rather abruptly when the English commander-in-chief, King Harold, dropped his shield, looked up and said: "hey, look at all those arrows".

England 1 France 0
And Britain has relics of all these moments in its history. Iron Age settlements, castles, ancient churches and cathedrals, battlefields. Everywhere you go history surrounds you. So why is it that Canada lacks any trace of history older than the Battle of Quebec in 1759? In order not to offend Albertans I hasten to add that there is ample evidence of the existence of Dinosaurs in that province. But what of human existence? The answer is that Canada is a new country; this land does not bear the evidence of hundreds of years of human settlement and I miss that.

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