Updated: Jan 23, 2021
I’ve always had an interest in nature, and access to it, as a child in Australia I would be playing in the bush with my friends. I had the freedom to explore and be inquisitive. I also had the culture of expecting children to be playing in nature, not all our neighbors agreed exactly, especially when I would strip off whenever it rained to play in the street. But in general it was the norm to appreciate the land around us.
When I was a teenager and we moved to the UK the land around me changed dramatically, we moved to Kent so I got to experience more greens than my eyes had ever seen before. I was again in a culture that wasn’t surprised when we would go exploring the fields around us and swimming in the river, though I was surprised when lots of friends at school told me they didn’t know how to swim.
Then when I was 16 we moved to London, being further away from the freedom of natural space all to myself I turned to the internet to find comfort in dreaming of ‘one day’ I would go on Tumblr and look at photos of beautiful flower meadows and picturesque cottages, a lot of these photos would have girls in them, girls my age to early 20’s, pretty white girls, girls I saw myself in, girls I dreamed of being ‘one day’. I was able to imagine my future which I still do now and everyday get closer to achieving; living in the countryside, owning my own business, having pets and children. With images like these I could believe that all of this was a possibility for me.
And of course images like this have been reproduced my whole life in the films I watch too; as a child watching The Secret Garden or every Jane Austen adaptation I could believe that I too, could, if it came to it; lie down in some moors crying in a storm.
It’s taken me seeking out people of colour in the english countryside through the internet to come to the realisation that no wonder they don’t feel safe or welcome walking through fields or eating in country pubs as there has always been an inherent no go atmosphere, which is continually reinforced by pop culture. I guess what story writers are thinking is they are just representing reality but my question is does the representation create the reality?
That’s why I feel tv shows like Flowers are so important to add to the collective idea of the english countryside. Directed by Will Sharpe, it is a melancholic reality of a countryside culture that is such a true depiction of mental health that it brings peace whilst going through pain watching it. Even though they are in the countryside (shock horror) half of the characters outside the white family are not. Because instead of the writer thinking ‘statistically the neighbours will more than likely also be white’ Will Sharpe being English and Japanese has included the families friends to be people of colour. The children have a love interest in the same girl, also a person of colour which leads to beautiful scenes of the two girls dancing in white dresses in mist at nighttime like an old English folk horror film. This certainly hit my aesthetic spot and so I’m sure many other people, maybe people of colour who love this genre but feel they could never reenact it in case it could be dangerous.
Another great show that gives POC a place in the english countryside is Ghosts on BBC, the premise is a young mixed-race couple are surprised to inherit a grand mansion from a long lost relative, it seamlessly places a black man in a aristocratic, humongous house in the middle of the countryside where you, as the viewer, being empathetic to the idea of suddenly owning a countryhouse, feel no odds at him trying to make it his home, because why should you? They use the hilarity of the show to make you completely comfortable and unquestioning to one of the ghosts, Kitty, from the georgian period being a black noblewoman, again the writers could have thought the majority of noblewoman at the time would have been white but not this Kitty. In one episode we meet the couple’s new neighbours, who ‘technically own the land they use to cross into their land’ this couple couldn’t have been a truer representation of rich people in the countryside, some I have met very similar to. It’s hilarity in it’s ridiculousness is actually scary as you feel their privilege as rich land owners can let them off for everything, drunk driving and embezzlement are some examples, their welcoming niceness hides their entitlement to land ownership which in this country is an upcoming subject due to parliament putting forth plans to criminalise trespassing, which we know will affect POC more than white people as does most harmless crimes and Land In Our Names wanting land reparations.
I have watched other tv shows recently which feel like they are making a point of including people of colour in the countryside and I guess it’s because they are having to make a point, Cursed just out on Netflix is one, an Arthurian legend focusing on a white female lead, we assume the Lady in the Lake, makes sure they represent all races, because they can and they have, a magical mythical land though a land not too far from our own where hierarchy, politics and religion create cleansing and displacements. With Faeries and Fauns, why not have them depicting all people? Refreshing to see a black woman with dark skin and long dreads in amongst mossy logs with toadstools growing from them, this is not often an image we get to see.
Worzel Gummidge which came out as a miniseries around Christmas makes a point of having the main characters, siblings; Susan and John mixed race kids, they, as modern children coming from a town or city find it an adjustment at first being in the countryside but they quickly start feeling comfortable with their surroundings and to caring for it, the show has a huge environmental message threaded through; to inspire the future generation of caring for the countryside as an asset.
I feel these shows including people of colour unquestioning in the english countryside provide the environment for development within sectors involved with nature, for example the english plant nursery industry; which I am a part of. I plan to own my own nursery, which involves buying a house with land including some kind of outbuildings and attracting custom, which as I’ve pointed out due to the culture I have been brought up in I believe I can achieve all this. Now maybe to some this isn’t a big dream but for me who has found a niche industry that keeps its head above whatever economic flux happens, a passion I’ll never get bored of and a lifestyle that will suit all my wants, I’ve hit jackpot and I put it down to my privilege as a white girl being brought up in the countryside, I’ve obviously worked hard to get where I am but I believe I would have had to work even harder if I wasn’t white.