I know that we promised that January would see a return to Albion's usual plumpness, but even I am (very pleasantly!) surprised by this edition's scope and mixture of themes.
To begin with, we are extremely happy to welcome three new writers, Em Marshall, Kamran Riaz-Mohammed, and Alexander Betts, as well as the triumphant return of our long-time music writer James Turner, after surviving all the upheaval that goes with moving house.
There are a number of highlights in this edition. Cinema Corner has turned into a sort of post-war special, with Kamran's pieces on Look Back in Anger and The League of Gentlemen, and an article on Free Cinema for which I felt very honoured to able to interview Walter Lassally, a stalwart of the English film industry throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Alex Betts provides a thought-provoking feature on the thorny question of Englishness vs. Britishness, even going so far as to present us with his Englishness 'test,' while in art, Alex Flux considers the work of the subversive graffiti artist Banksy and I examine the elusive Brotherhood of Ruralists. The music section contains an article by James on the Levellers, who are evidently still a force of nature after eighteen years.
This edition sees two major additions to our regular departments. The Society page (nothing to do with Ascot) debuts with Alex Flux's examination of poverty in England, containing some truly startling and alarming statistics. In music, we have added a classical section, written by Em. Both of these content changes were long overdue, and I am very happy to be able to finally bring them in.
During my work on this edition, I found it a particular joy to interview Sue Clifford and Angela King for our Spotlight feature. They are responsible for the sensational new classic England in Particular, and for Common Ground, an organisation which fosters local culture in all its idiosyncrasy and diversity. Their book and our interview were immensely cheering as well as thought-provoking.
Something else also raised my spirits: an email from Graham Smith, who in October 2006, together with Heather Annison, founded one of the many groupsagitating for St George's Day to be recognised as a national holiday. Unlike some other lobbyists, however, Mr Smith's organisation takes a determinedly inclusive approach, and while it respects the past, it also looks forward to the brighter future that all English people can achieve together. With their approach, far from becoming a divisively nationalistic event, St George's Day could actually work to unify communities: "We would like all the English, regardless of colour, religion or sexuality, to be able to celebrate our common heritage and future together. A bank holiday on St George's Day would be a great opportunity....to recognise the things that bind us together --rather than concentrating on our differences. Everything from cricket to curry could be celebrated on our national day." The group have a unique, and somewhat audacious, idea for pressuring the government to grant us what most of the Celtic nations either already have, or will soon get: a national day. If enough people take the day off work on April 23rd, they believe, the government will have to make it a bank holiday.
Thus, although many of us are understandably cowed by the state of the world and troubles within England itself, there are numerous undaunted spirits among us who roll up their sleeves and do something positive for communities around them, whether by fostering local distinctiveness through Community Orchards, or by writing impassioned polemics against the far right, or by thinking of ways to draw the nation's various groups together in a healthy expression of patriotism. We can take comfort and, perhaps, some inspiration from their efforts.