Samuel Johnson wrote: “The man who is tired of London is tired of life.” Aside from his implication that women don’t exist, I agree. Unfortunately, I never got to see the north of England. (The family grand tour of 1973 was undertaken in a small rented car: two chain-smoking parents in front, three daughters in back. I couldn’t stand it, and took the train back to home base in Surrey). Someday I hope to finish the tour, preferably with one carefully-chosen companion.
Things I love about England:
(1) Signs of history everywhere! The local Church of St. Nicholas in Surrey had (probably still has) an Anglo-Saxon wall, built before the Norman Conquest. And I found out that Henry VIII really was roly-poly,judging from his armour. (He was about five high tall and five feet around.) When I moved to London, I found the gravestone of Anthony Trollope in the nearest cemetery, not singled out in any way from the rest.
On the Canadian prairies where I live, there are no buildings from before the 1880s. Public schools don’t teach children much about the history of the First Nations peoples who were here before “we” (white folks) arrived. And until recently, First Nations children were educated/missionized in church-run residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages. The result is a kind of general amnesia about anything that happened before the late Victorian Age. Where's the evidence?
(2) The climate! Seriously. In southern England, you get two basic choices: it’s raining or it’s not raining. Sometimes the sun comes out. The air is humid enough to substitute for skin moisturizer. No one dies from overexposure to rain. Compare that to temperatures that range from 40 degrees below zero (about the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius) to 40 above zero (Celsius) or 110 (Fahrenheit).
(3) The scenery. I wouldn’t mind going for a walk in England and reaching a dead end, so to speak. (In a city, it would probably be an interesting building. In the country it would probably be something quaint and ivy-covered.) If you go for a walk in much of Canada (especially in winter) and get lost, your end might be deader than you planned.
(4) The arts. In Surrey, I went to a festival of Renaissance music played on the original instruments. Where I live, no one still has their grandmother`s piano. I also saw what was probably the worst performance of A Midsummer Night`s Dream I`ve ever seen, done by local amateurs on an ancestral estate. At least the locals were willing to honour the Bard, and the ancient oaks and rose bushes stole the show.
(5) Neighbourhood pubs that aren`t meat-markets. This might have changed since the 1970s, but in my experience, a young woman could sample the local beer without having to fight off unwanted suitors. Wanted ones are a different case.
(6) Some of the food. I`m sure Marmite was invented in hell (black yeast on toast! Who ever decided that was edible?), but Lancashire Hotpot, Devon Cream and cheap fresh fish make up for it.
(7) Micro-culture. Every county seems to have its own accent, its own landmarks, its own beer, its own cheese. Devon and Cornwall even have milk with a distinct regional flavour. Nowhere in North America can you find this much variety in such a small area.
(8) A non-hysterical attitude to sex and sexual orientation. (Mary Whitehouse was actually a prudish critic of the BBC, not part of the social mainstream.) The double entendres in British television sitcoms still seem daring by the standards of parallel North American programs aimed at `family` audiences. Sex ain`t no joke over here.
To be fair, I know the British economy sucks. O to be a tourist in Britain, with an income from somewhere else! I need to start planning.