OK, so it’s not high drama offence like Clarkson using the “N” word, but somehow somewhere in the debate about Scotland, Cornwall and their respective independence a Guardian writer called Stuart Heritage (ironic surname once you discover what his article was about) added his opinion on the apparent lack of cultural identity in his own life. He was raised in the county of Kent, like me, and bemoaned that not only does Kent lack a cultural identity it also “barely has a border”.
Firstly, do allow me to help you, Mr Heritage, as you’re seemingly unable to find Kent’s borders. May I suggest that you head for Dover and once you get a waft of freshly baked croissants and notice that your socks are getting soggy, that’s the border. It’s called the English Channel. If you also hear the fog-horn of a passing ferry or David Walliams doggy paddles past, then you’re nearly in France..across the border. The wayward geography along with his argument leaves much to be desired, he suggests that Kent has no identity because north of Kent is London and to the West is Sussex.
Kent is South East of London, so Stuart – by all means head north of Kent…but when you start to get the overwhelming waft……of fake tan and your socks feel a little soggy…that’s the Thames, separating Kent from Essex. If you see any of the cast of TOWIE then you’ve gone too far.
To the West is London, to the South is East Sussex (let me know if I’m confusing you) and to the North, South and East is water. In fact the name Kent even derives from ‘Cantus’ meaning ‘border’, not bad for a county Heritage said “barely” has one.
I now live in Los Angeles, after living for 18 years in London and the 18 formative ones before that in Kent, which still feels like home. Kent was where I learned to walk, had my first kiss, where I learned to DJ, read the tv news, and where when I go for a run it feels as if I have Pegasus’ hoof such is the elation of running along the north downs and looking across the river and fields of lavender. It is a huge part of my own identity so I wholly disagree with Stuart Heritage’s conclusion. Identity is about having our own unique footprint, so while Heritage is correct to note that we don’t have the strong dialect of Scotland, or Cornwall, and therefore are lacking an instant audial fingerprint – it definitely does have its own pronunciation of Skellington (skeleton) and weld (world) unique to certain parts of North Kent.
I’m proud that my home county’s rich and feisty history saw it as the original home of air flight centuries after having its own rule the same as Wales and Scotland (minus the accents and Mel Gibson epic). In the 11th Century Kent decided to stick with its existing own brand of rape and pillaging instead of letting the Normans have a go, and earned the county the title “Invicta” meaning “undefeated”.
According to Heritage’s article, Kent also doesn’t have any famous people apart from Orlando Bloom. I certainly would not undermine the achivements and talents of one of the acting greats of our generation who has just been awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at just 37 years old. Not a bad feat for a Canterbury boy, and one who would no doubt be delighted to be remembered as Kent’s shining star ahead of Churchill, Mick Jagger, Harry Hill, Bob Geldof, Charles Darwin, and that man who wrote A Muppet Christmas Carol – whatshisname – oh yes, Charles Dickens. Not to mention Kelly Brook, JMW Turner, Tracy Emin, Gemma Arterton and Peter Cushing.
Anyone who thinks, as Heritage does, that all Kent has to offer the palette is a “gypsy tart” has never eaten Kentish strawberries at Wimbledon, Whitstable Oysters, picked an apple from a Kent orchard or tried any of the fine beers from the UK’s oldest brewery Shepherd Neame.
Why does Heritage feel that my home county needs a Premiership football club to seize an identity? It has Gillingham FC, which still sees three generations turn out together on Saturdays for games, and who seriously thinks Manchester United or its fans is culturally Mancunian?
The Scots may have their own identity, the Cornish theirs, but Stuart Heritage I disagree that Kent is a “disparate collection of stuff” (presumably you mean Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and the White Cliffs of Dover?). Firstly it’s the county with a pronunciation most likely to amusingly trip up a politician or news presenter live on air, but mostly – it’s proven itself as a feisty county that means that having been brought up there I couldn’t allow this premise to go unchallenged. No, it isn’t about to campaign for independence, it’s a happy part of the jigsaw, but I feel sad for Stuart Heritage that he missed all of this. My friend, this IS my Kentish identity. Invictus.
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