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Friday, 18 April 2014

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What are we all? We’re different!

This week I wrote a feature asking the question what makes us British?

The answer, it seems, isn’t easy.

People I spoke to for the article and in the office have all given different explanations.

Which I think is a brilliant thing.

It would make us a pretty dull and one dimensional breed if we could be summed up in a single sentence.

I like the idea of being complex and hard to define, makes me sound much more interesting.

Some people say the key to being British is to moan a lot, but then just get on with life.

Others say it is the way we accept different people and ideas, take the best bits and make them our own.

Another explanation of what makes us British is the more simple reason of parents’ nationalities and/or birthplace.

I think the fact that we are a mongrel breed is a key factor in our make-up.

After being conquered by the Romans and the Danes, vikings and the French, there’s an awful lot of ‘foreign’ DNA sloshing around in our blood.

Then there’s our centuries-old tradition of taking in those who have fled oppression and extremism or who have come here as a result of the British Empire.

Whether that’s the Huguenots, Eastern Europeans fleeing the pogroms early in the 1900s, anyone escaping the Nazis, Afro-Caribbeans in the 1950s or Ugandan Asians in the Seventies.

One of the most moving of the Wootton Bassett repatriation ceremonies for our soldiers who fell in service in Afghanistan involved a Staff Sergeant called Olaf Schmid.

The 30-year-old explosives, expert who died in 2009, he had defused 64 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and attended 11 finds of bomb-making equipment during just five months.

He was killed just a few days before he was due to return home.

Born and raised in Truro, Cornwall, he didn’t have a very British name, did Olaf Schmid.

But he felt British enough to join the Army and represent his country with bravery and pride and he paid the ultimate price.

It’s interesting, flattering and humbling that people still want to come here from other nations to live and count themselves and their children as British.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s former Cabinet ministers, Norman Tebbitt, once said you could distinguish someone’s nationality by the national team they supported.

There’s some truth in that, but us Brits are a bit more complex and harder to define than that.

That’s something to be proud of.

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