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English journeys

From the Boys' Brigade to postcolonial Sudan, my early years brought me into contact with many kinds of Englishness. But what was never in doubt was that each was part of a whole. It is hard to say the same of our national identity today

By Robert Colls   July 2007

My first English journey was in 1962, to Humshaugh, in Northumberland, on a Boys’ Brigade camp. We went in the back of a lorry up to Gateshead, over the Tyne bridge, through Newcastle, and out west. Passing the folks along the road, we waved and shouted. There were no seats, though someone had neatly folded coal sacks for our benefit.

This was not my first trip into the country. The brigade had camped at Alston the year before; a stormy week that saw us flooded out of our tents and driven to the shelter of a barn. Humshaugh, by contrast,…

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