We know this England. We know the Topshop high streets and the post-war towerblocks, the concrete cancer ring-roads and the scarifying motorways. Near the asphalt heart of a former industrial town the great rusting behemoth of a Victorian gasworks oxidises slowly in the drizzle; along the North Sea coast a seaside town fades like a postcard in thin and fleeting sun; on a layby up the M1 there's a van that sells a good greasy full English to the passing fleets of Argos lorries.
We know this England. In the leafy home-county suburbs, executives dream of far-away Arcadia and make their daily commute into the capital; the new-build palaces of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire gleam in the summer rain; Radio 1 plays urban anthems to teenage mums in the Job Centre Plus near Junction 21; the blue rinse set in the Fens sing Jerusalem in a draughty village hall; the merchants of the City count their gold in plastic ones and zeros.
We know this England. Railway Parade, Church Lane, Fosse Way, Electric Avenue. The village fête and the mummer's play; the Caribbean carnival and the Festival of Lights; pageants and parades by Royal decree in full fancy dress regalia. In the city a goal is scored, in the shires the wickets fall. In a Wetherspoons, children bop along to the Christmas number one; shopping trolleys accumulate one by one, night after night in the Grand Union Canal.
We know this England. Around the cul-de-sacs of a council estate an icecream van strangles greensleeves, while choirboys in Durham do the same; the gloom of an endless January stops the clocks until bluebells chime in March; in August, wasps the colour of grit bins nosedive into a nation's pint. On the green a hint is dropped, behind the warehouse a heart is broken; in the dusty library of a country seat, a leather-bound Latinate Tacitus holds its tongue, while the daytime television reality show we call today blares from the open doors of summetime terraces. We know this England.
Behind it all, the other England. England in shadow, subaudible England. Creeping like moss, seeping like damp into English hearts and minds. Its roots are deep, it is older than Shakespeare or Domesday or Cædmon. It is not Nation, it is not Empire; it isn't race or class or tradition, but a condition. It has always been here, and here it shall remain. It is a mood and a feeling. It is ineffable and unseen. It is essence, not substance. It is alive in the ivy, it breathes through oaks and elms. It watches from the Rookery.
This haunted land, this England tattooed with unseen lines and heaving with stones. The genius loci of an old wall, a statue that moves in the moonlight, the twisted yew that grew from the ashes of the bale-fire. Every Norman church knows it, and every Roman road. It speaks slowly, in long exhalations that last for centuries. The birds all know it, and every day they announce its presence to our uncomprehending ears. It is a thin black thread woven into the veil of today. It is a pattern in the landscape, traced in both space and time. It is the Great Leviathan that churns in the Abyss. At the bottom of a forgotten well, it is the white worm the seethes and burrows inwards; in the eaves of our great cathedrals, it is the wyvern that takes flight on the solstice.
It whispers to our children and colours their dreams - not the colour of flags or skin or money, but the innumerable colours of the earth and the sky. When we sleep, it is awake; and while we toil through our lives, it slumbers in the depths awaiting our end so that it may begin anew.
This England knows you.