The first time I flew across the Atlantic to England on a work visa was to catch a train from London Paddington Station to Exeter St. David’s. As I settled in for the two-and-a-half-hour trip, gazing at the moving frames outside my train window, I lost myself in the landscape—if there is a paradise on earth, it would be this—a landscape so beautiful it angered me.
Hills rolled by in shades of gold and green, their horizons crowned by round-topped trees.
Black-faced sheep searched for brambles on their gentle slopes, which soon gave way to pearly smoke and bales of hay, signs of life pointing to a lonely barn or thatched-roof cottage. Within a sea of green my eyes would rest upon a glassy creek, a red-iron bridge for crossing, and bushes, neatly-hedged, marking an ancient right of way. Train tracks dutifully marked the borders: long grasses wild and spilling on one side, neatly trimmed on the other. Nature, funneled into place, rolled in its thousand life-giving shades of olive, emerald, and lime. Blades, leaves, and buds reached out and reached up, guided by the touch of those who work the land. The kind of calm seen in most people’s dreams, and missing in the rest, the kind of calm that kindled anger in my breast.
The kind of calm that is borne from the privilege of existing outside of the last century’s mandate of decades-long subjugation by war or chokehold by economic sanctions, IMF, or World Bank. It is true that bombing during World War II burned up much of the wooden buildings in the city centres, leaving very little of the old cities behind. But England was not touched again by war after that, and was left unmolested to rebuild. Even the war did not manage to interrupt its imperial holdings, just as warring never interrupted the first (but not last) English slaving expedition from Plymouth, nor stopped the first Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania from sailing off to subjugate the island in what would eventually lead to genocide.