Thursday, September 29, 2011

Old and Wet - what's not to like?

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.


  1. Hi, Jean,

    Yeah! except for the food, I definitely agree.

    The English climate has a bad reputation, but I remember visiting in January and discovering that the grass was still bright green!

    On the other hand, British plumbing leaves much to be desired, or did when I was last there. Showers were hard to come by.

  2. The pumbing has improved no end. I mean when I stay in Florida ten to one the lavatory gets blocked up but that doesn't happen here anymore. And I have a lovely shower.

    However, glad to read how much you enjoyed visiting us, I enjoy going to North America too, love everything about it.

    You know Bob Hope (who was born in London) always said The British climate has four seasons - all in one day! So true.

  3. Jean - having lived in a couple prairiegrass states, I can relate to the "deader than you planned" and historical amnesia. It's as if you have to scar the earth to matter.

    If you ever put together a cheese tour of England, Scotland, and Wales, let me know. I'd love to taste the regions.

  4. Just so you know, as an island where the furthest it is to the coast is but 70 miles (not km) it rains once a day, somewhere! And there's noting wrong with our food, we've been eating it for centuries and are still going strong. :D

    And if you want a Wallace & Gromit cheese tour of England & Scotland, I'd gladly lead it, and share some of my fav places to visit and eat that you will not (in all possibility) find in any tour guide book.

  5. A cheese (or local food) tour and/or a local booze tour of the UK sounds fabulous. While there in the 1970s, I visited a pub that specialised in hard cider in different strengths, made from different kinds of apples. Amazing. I'm sure a knowledgeable person would be a better guide than a book! I can imagine a tour combined with EAA con, followed by a quiz or writing exercise (write an episode of Wallace & Gromit focusing on cheese, or write an erotic sonnet about the beer at Pub X). :)


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