The English

The United Kingdom is a cold, wet, foggy and unkind country. The territory, abandoned voluntarily by the Romans, is bereft of natural resources except for coal, which is increasingly uneconomic to extract. The land is for the most part unsuitable for arable farming, though at cost this can be practised. The natural environment lends itself obviously only to grazing, growing berries and gathering nuts. Ideally it should be depopulated, reforested and set aside as a huge northern European national park, for outdoor survival courses and riding holidays.

In the last century when - by accidents of international relations and industrial innovation - Britain briefly enjoyed power and overseas possessions out of all proportion to her strength, she was too squeamish or unimaginative to seize the opportunity to abandon her homeland (as the American pioneers did), kill most of the indigenous population of one of her more agreeable colonies, and transfer her seat of government and entire population there. Failing this, large numbers of the most capable of her people have for nearly a century been emigrating, leaching the residual population of its stock of talent and genetic potential.

Her people, the residue - us - are generally unimpressive. We are physically a hybrid and undistinguished tribe with podgy faces, bad complexions, squishy little noses and mousy hair, tending towards baldness and varicose veins and destined for premature death from cardiac arrest.

A generally indolent people, we do not even enjoy our leisure much, and are hardly noted for our sense of fun. Censorious, mean-spirited, envious and nosy, we display the ugly side of puritanism without its countervailing drive. Like our established church, we combine the spirituality of Calvinists with the diligence of Catholics. Unromantic, unadventurous, ungenerous and smug, we have not even the virtues of complacency, for we are an irritable and unhappy bunch, begrudging others their success, chafing at our own natures and forever discontented with our lot.

If an entire folk can be said to suffer from a collective mental disorder, ours is a sort of catatonic paranoia. Unwilling properly to band together, love one another, communicate or make common cause, we remain convinced that we are under some kind of external siege. The world is out to get us. Show me a Briton who is not certain that someone is trying to poison him, rob him, steal his land, pollute his environment or take away his inheritance, and I'll show you a recent immigrant.

Yet this hostility towards strangers breeds no warmth between inmates. Our relationships outside marriage are characterised by formality or a sort of passionless promiscuity; our marriages are for the most part unhappy. We have one of the highest divorce rates in history or in the world. Poor family-makers, we are cold to our children, heedless and neglectful of our parents.

The average Briton is unhappily married, in a job he does not like, with two children who hardly know him. Fate has placed him where he is, but - with little likelihood of his kicking over the traces - he (or she) inwardly yearns to be someone else, with someone else, somewhere else, doing something different. But he carries on, out of a mixture of duty, timidity and a lack of imagination.

He is not, however, without a soul. It is his unused intelligence, his undeveloped heart and his unacknowledged soul which are the causes of his misery.

Matthew Parris - The Times 16.11.92