At the risk of being deplatformed by the permanently outraged, the Grasshopper will say here that he is immensely proud of England. While her history is being ever-more reviled, England has given the world much: a language that not only one in five people in the world can at least use to order a beer, but also one in which most of the world’s computers are programmed; weather that’s always interesting enough to talk about but rarely bad enough to kill; rugby (huzzah!), cricket (chiz chiz) and football (meh); Led Zep and the Stones (of course); and a sense of self-deprecating humour that forces us to include ‘the queue’ in a list like this, to name but a smidgeon.
You won’t come across an ‘English’ Restaurant in Italy, China and India, yet the Sunday Roast is as classic a world dish as pizza, chow mein and biryani. Just ask a foreigner what they want to eat when they land here. And while we don’t have the views over the Rift Valley, K2 to climb or the Marianas to plumb, we can still punch well above our weight when it comes to oneness with the world, be it morning mists on Southsea Common, a scramble along Striding Edge or guillemots off the Farnes.
And, of course, England has more than its fair share of history. None more so than in ‘hopper’s adopted home town of Portsmouth. The more the surface gets scratched, the more the palimpsest reveals its earlier forms. Harbours that started life – or at least human settlement-type life – thousands of years ago, to be built over time and time again, revealing snippets of earlier habitation. Fortifications that started as earth embankments, became wooden palisades, then stone ramparts with moats, and then perhaps back to mere bumps or dips in the pavement where everything has been knocked down or filled in. Forts that become rose gardens. Stone gates that once separated sailors out a-whoring from the good burghers of the city, but now form part of the boundary of a playing field. It’s a history geek’s paradise.
One such example is Fort Cumberland. Situated in the south-eastern corner of Portsea Island – the main island of Portsmouth – the fort was progressively built during the 18th and early 19th centuries and is now under the ownership of Historic England, the provisional arm of English Heritage1. So that means it’s owned by us, the English, right? Historic England doesn’t seem to agree. Locked up and only accessible by stealth by weaseling in through security to visit one of the small number of businesses that HE is painfully slowly allowing to be established there, Fort Cumberland is a gem that is being protected from view in the same way that young grasshoppers protect their classwork from the cheats by throwing their arms around it with just the top of their pencils sticking out2.
How many more gems are being hidden away by Historic England? Worth an investigation, one fancies. Anyway, in the spirit of ‘gotcher’ on this one at least, here’s the latest Out&About video from the itinerant two, shot recently in Fort Cumberland and featuring the estimable Portsmouth Distillery, which is located there. The Grasshopper hopes you enjoy it.
Did ‘hopper get that right? It’s all a bit confusing.
Yes, yes, I know grasshoppers don’t have arms, but never let the facts get in the way of a good metaphor.