Heading up towards Manchester this weekend for a wedding, I had been hoping for a leisurely drive through
England’s green and pleasant land. What I drove through instead was England’s brown and wilting land. In place of
normally lush rain-drenched greenery there is a sun-scorched wasteland. Cheshire, my destination, a county with one of the
highest rainfalls in the country, is taking on the look of southern Spain.
The nationwide drought – even the dankest parts of Scotland are hot and dry – is now into its fifth week. When I say drought,
by the way, I don’t mean significantly less rain than usual, I mean no rain at all. That’s right. No rain. In England.
Still, although the plants may be drooping, English spirits are high. Even though the country’s ruling Conservative Party
is making a hash of Brexit and voters, ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’ alike, are bracing for a resounding and humiliating ‘non’
from the European Union to Britain’s latest proposals, which have acquired the supreme virtue of satisfying neither side of the
great British divided. Offending one or the other would have been far too dangerous, so the government has come up with
a grand strategy that offends everyone. Much safer that way. It was worked out at what the media have been calling
a weekend ‘slumber party’ of the cabinet, held over the weekend at Chequers, the prime minister’s country home.
The grand strategy failed to get much coverage on the front pages of the newspapers. They were given over to a far more
important story: England’s football team, having despatched Sweden, is about to play in the semi-final of the World Cup.
For decades the laughing stock of foreigners and the despair of its own fans, the team has developed, under a new young manager,
an image of fresh-faced vigour and enthusiasm. Tired old veterans of the team, some of them revered as icons, were thrown out
for up-and-coming players with a new ‘attitude’, one that allows them to give the impression they actually enjoy playing the game.
Lo and behold, as I did on Saturday – I had little choice in the matter – they swept the Swedes aside with an insouciance that
was almost arrogant. They moved the ball forward. They attacked their opponents’ goal. They took shots at goal. They scored.
This sort of thing hasn’t happened to an England team for donkey’s years. The football team is uniting the nation.
Or so I keep reading. We shall see what happens if, heaven forbid, England should lose its next game, against Croatia, suddenly one
of the more fancied teams in a tournament notable for its casualties among the favourites. Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Spain
have all been obliged to catch planes home to face the collective wrath of their unforgiving supporters. In two instances, the
expression ‘heads will roll’ may be enforced literally.
Personally, I still find it hard to whip myself into a state of high excitement, as I mentioned in a previous piece, but it is hard
not to be swept along when the wedding guests are paying more attention to their cell phones than to the nuptial proceedings, and
when even the toastmaster feels he has to precede every announcement with the latest score from Russia.
The English would normally have considered a prolonged drought and the preternaturally prolonged Brexit crisis more worthy
of their concern. Not now. For a few more days, whether it rains or not, whether Boris Johnson is fired or not, whether M. Barnier is
going to be rude to us or not, we must all as a matter of solemn patriotic duty become football fanatics.
The wedding by the way was wonderful and the bride looked gorgeous, though I wonder whether anyone actually noticed, poor girl.