Friday, May 15, 2009

The Sun Never Sets

Nostalgia for the British Empire is one of my most politically incorrect traits. I know that the days when the sun never set on the "pink parts of the map" were days of racism and injustice. Untold horrors occured in the name of Imperialism and I am not saying, of course, that I feel nostalgic for those things. I am talking, instead, about a nostalgia felt by an expat Canadian living in the United States for things Victorian and things that remind me of my Commonwealth upbringing. I miss the kinship of Commonwealth that made me feel connected to little girls growing up in London or Australia or India. Many of our parents had coronation tea cups and Queen's Jubilee tea towels. (Our parents all drank tea!) Many of us ate Jaffa Cakes and Tate and Lyles and used Sunlight soap. I am still drawn to people who know what these things are. We had pictures of the Queen in our schools and family mementos that combined the British flag with local emblems (as in this rug, above, from my friend Jo Jo's house in Halifax). This shows Canadian maple leaves but there could just as easily be kangaroos beside the Union Jack, or lions or elephants, depending on which part of the world we called home.

For those of us who grew up in the Commonwealth there was a feeling of a shared culture that stretched, as the Kinks say in their song " Victoria", from "Canada to India and Australia to Cornwall" This song illustrates my own ambivalence to the British Empire - love and hate, fondness and disgust.

Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene
And the rich were so mean
Stately homes for the lords
Croquet lawns, village greens
Victoria was my queen
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria

I was born, lucky me
In a land that I love

Though I am poor, I am free
When I grow I shall fight
For this land I shall die
Let her sun never set
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria

Land of hope and gloria
Land of my victoria
Land of hope and gloria
Land of my victoria
Victoria, toria
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria

Canada to India
Australia to Cornwall
Singapore to Hong Kong
From the west to the east
From the rich to the poor
Victoria loved them all
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria
Victoria, victoria, victoria

There was also an aspect to British Imperialism that embraced the vastness of the earth and its varied material cultures. I was reminded of the positive side of this cosmopolitan attitude while visiting Jo Jo and her mum Mary in Eastern Canada. Their lovely Victorian houses are full of gorgeous objects that reflect a passion for travel and for history.

Cushions on a day bed in Jo Jo's house

Mary's house

Embroidery from Greece

Cushions brought back from a recent trip to Morocco

Victorian craftsmanship ensured that even the baseboard around a door was a thing of beauty.

A Victorian staircase meets twenty-first Century family life.

Looking down the stairs to a couple of soccer balls on the ground floor.

The children's bathroom sink.

Images from Jo Jo's kitchen.

Victorian ruins are embraced in Mary's garden

I have a childhood memory of my father explaining to me that Queen Victoria's birthday didn't really fall at the end of May but that she was such a good and thoughtful Queen that she allowed her subjects to celebrate her birthday when the weather was nice and everyone could go outside for a picnic. I am sure this is an apocryphal memory as my father is no monarchist, but it is rather sweet. Happy Victoria Day everyone!


  1. And Happy Victoria Day to you too- from a Yank who loves (almost) all things British and Victorian.

    Your friend has a lovely home- I love all of the textiles.

  2. Hi Jean, thanks for the visit and glad you enjoyed the poppies!

    I love your friends home, and share you love of textiles and things patriotic too. Love the first image, it reminded me a lot of cushions now made by a Lady called Jan Constantine with Union Jacks, Maps, and Pop art type symbolism.

  3. Thank you for dropping by Karen. We are getting five minutes of sunshine right now and I wonder if you have rushed outside to the garden.

    Zoe thank you for pointing out Jan Constantine's work. I love the hot pink and black union jack. Cool Britannia indeed.