28 September 2009

What's so Great about Britain?

Camper van parked and pitched near Coniston Water; Late morning breakfast of eggs, toast, tea and bacon hash (a D.E.B. specialty); D.E.B. tooling about the camp site, hammer in hand, like a keen Boy Scout; beloved Border Collie snoozing soundly at my feet; pile of books at the ready (Robert Lacey, Ed Stourton, Alison Sims) waiting to be read, as a heavy grey sky looms over head, and soft rain begins to drizzle (perfect Wellie weather). A typical late summer holiday in the Lake District, in the north of England…

What could be more British?

Recently, columnist Carla Carlisle explored the concept of ‘Britishness’ for Country Life magazine. “Is it still great to be British?” was the question posed to Ms. Carlisle, who seems, in many ways, uniquely placed to answer such a question: she is an American-born writer, married to an Englishman who was born in Wales, of Scottish parentage.

Carlisle begins her commentary by stating that the word “British” does not “fit easily” into her mouth, and says: “Like ‘Happiness,’ ‘Religion,’ ‘Beauty’ and ‘Justice,’ ‘British’ is a word that eludes definition and has defied attempts to hijack it.”

As this term does fit easily into my mouth, I wonder if a part of her hesitation is generational. Many of our points of reference are very similar, but in some instances reveal a few generational differences, one of her culture references in The Beatles, whereas my equivalent would be Wham! Or, Duran Duran.

At the end of day, we both agree, without hesitation, that Britain is indeed still very, very Great.

Like a convert, I see the flaws, but feel passionate about all that is good. – Carla Carlisle

So, what is so Great about Britain?

Here is a short list from me, in no particular order…

Cricket – Adorably handsome men, dressed in dazzling white uniforms, playing an elegant, though utterly incomprehensible game, that can go on for weeks on end and still finish in a tie; there are no “half time oranges” in this sport, they take very civilized breaks for tea. What’s not to love?

The Queen - Like Carla Carlisle, I agree that The Queen is “the human face of Britishness,” and that she “unearths in us feelings of loyalty, based on history, civilized manners, morals and shared values.”

The National Trust – history, culture, gardens, in perpetuity. Splendid. (www.nationaltrust.org.uk)

Newspapers – The five, outstanding daily newspapers one has to choose from living in Britain, is surely a by-product of the undeniable, long-term love affair Britons have had with the English language and the written word:  i.e., Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bront√ęs, Beatrix Potter, JK, and etc.

The BBC, TV & Radio - Three words: “The Shipping Forecast.” The nightly mantra that has lulled Britons to sleep for countless generations. And, also: “Woman’s Hour,” “The Archers,” “Desert Island Discs”…

NHS – Health care can be good, free, and for everyone.

The Lake District

W.I. (Women’s Institute)

The Cotswolds

Pantos/Village Hall Theatrics – Anyone who knows me will confirm that I have held a longstanding aversion to amateur dramatics. I’d rather be hung, drawn and quartered than forced to sit through the 8th million local, am-dram attempt at Oliver, Guys & Dolls or West Side Story. However, living in England has changed my mind about this, completely. Amateur dramatics can be good. Really good. The difference, here at least, is that there is a careful consideration of producing  engaging material, entertaining scripts with compelling narratives. Not just dusting off the age-old chestnuts that will guarantee ‘bums on seats.’

Pubs – More than just a local watering hole, where “everybody knows your name,” the pub is an important feature of British life, especially in villages. It is a meeting place for friends and family, a sort of community centre with excellent beverages and food on offer. Pubs often offer a variety of entertainment and events such a Quiz Nights…

Quiz Nights – Britain is a trivia lovers haven!

Tea – What on earth were we thinking, dumping all that precious cargo into the Boston Harbor?!

Real Ales – locally brewed, hand drawn ales that are as unique and distinct in taste and character, as the locales they come from. (Just discovered a gorgeous Stout brewed here in the Lakes, just of Coniston Water.)

Sunday Lunch – gathering round the weekly roast is something no civilized person should live without.

Last Night of the Proms - "Rule, Britannia!" indeed!

Men – Of course, it goes without saying that one of the greatest things about Britain is British men; and American women seem uniquely susceptible to the charms of the British male. (See posting: “American Women & British Men,” 1 October 2008)

20 September 2009

Holiday, celebrate

Excellent day at Coughton Court yesterday! Even ended up as a "Live Spot" on BBC1 "Midlands Today".

Full details upon my return!

Off with the D.E.B. for a week's holiday in the Lake District until 28 September.

Until soon...

18 September 2009

The difference a year can make

Early morning jitters.
Cup of tea in hand, 
Waiting for the sun to rise over my quiet little corner of England...

It is quite remarkable, the difference a year can make.

This time last year, I was exploring my new world, trying not to look back on what I'd left behind, keen to make a fresh start, and anxious for what the future might hold. And, I started this blog, which has been a saving grace in so many ways. 

That seems such a long time ago, as I look upon myself now. There are still things yet to be discovered and chronicled, to be sure. The journey has just begun. 

The coming year will undoubtedly be no less adventure-filled than the one which has just passed. It begins today...

Last year this time, I went along to magnificent Coughton Court for the Throckmorton Literary Festival. This year, this morning, I will be speaking there as a feature author. I am sure I must be dreaming, but I hope that no one wakes me till its over.

But more than the dizzying high of being in the company of such illuminati as Kate Adie and David Starkey, what I am aware of most profoundly is a deep sense of wholeness and love.

I cannot fully describe what I mean, beyond saying that I have never felt so loved and supported in my life. This morning, my inbox was peppered with cheery messages of encouragement from friends and neighbours here in Barford. Other Barford friends and family made cheerleading phone calls or left rallying voicemails for me yesterday.

Practical support has come alongside the moral variety. The Darling D.E.B. has taken the day off work today. Not only is he planning to come along to cheer his little Wifey on, he's volunteered to be one of our Elizabethan waiters. 

We are serving samples from our cookbook as part of our session today. The D.E.B. in floppy shirt, short trousers and tights, a la Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in "The Tudors"...lovely!

Our wonderful Sally arranged the costumes; sweet Hannah--who sang 'our song' at our wedding--has stepped in to be Elizabethan Server #2. (I've decided to call them "Romeo" and "Rosalind"...let's see just how twee I can get today.) 

Maggie, from the Barford Heritage Group, phoed with good advice, prompting me to think about having our session recorded, which in the great mix of things had escaped me. 

I could go on and on, and name dozens of other Barfordians have been here for me with pep talks, cups of tea, and hugs that have helped bring me to today. And not just "today" in the literal and date specific sense, but Today. This Life.

That is the difference a wonderful, English year can make. 

Thank you, dear Reader, for sharing this journey with me.

09 September 2009

The Scarlet Letter

The apple trees around Barford are blooming once again. I have mentioned before how much I covet my neighbour's apple tree. (See: "Deadly sins and Green-eyed monsters".) However, these days my pangs of envy are veering in a new direction. 

Today, as I walked through the quietly buzzing streets of our little village, I felt branded, not unlike Hawthorne's heroine, Hester Prynne. In Hawthorne's epic novel, The Scarlet Letter, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet "A" emblazoned across her chest, to indicate publicly her shameful status as an Adultress. 

The letter I feel I'm wearing is a Scarlet C, for Childless.

The other day was the first day of school here, and as I walked to the gym for my daily swim, I maneuvered through a swarm of adorable schoolchildren. It is such a cliche, isn't it? The "adorable, English schoolchildren." 

But, it is true! They are adorable! In their little red uniforms. The girls in late summer gingham, red and white, checkerboard print, down to their knees, and just a touch of lace detail on their collars. The boys in red summer jumpers, little white shirts, and dove grey short trousers. Adorable.

Sonia, the Lollipop Lady, was there of course, ushering them safely from one side of the road to the other. She's magic! A cross between Mrs. Santa and the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. Love her! (More on her later.) 

One little boy, clearly starting his first day, was unsuccessfully holding back tears as he parted from mummy and daddy for the first time. Near by, another first day pupil, running with glee from his mother's side.

My own eyes filled with tears, as my senses were assaulted with a longing I have not felt before. 

Later, in the Village Shop. A gaggle of "Yummy Mummies," gathered around sharing stories and a cup of coffee outside the shop, in the late morning sunshine. I felt awkward and out of place. In the words of DCI Gene Hunt, from the brilliant TV series, "Ashes to Ashes," I was "more anxious, than a nun at a penguin shoot."

As I have fallen in with the W.I., my interactions with the "Yummy Mummy Brigade" have been negligible. When I'm with my W.I. chums, I'm the youngest of the bunch. To tell the truth, I never even think about age in that context. I love my W.I. chums and that's all. I don't think of them as older, younger, what have you. They just are.

But, when I see the YMs, I am reminding instantly that time is not on my side. That there is a giant clock in the sky ticking above my head. Perhaps, to add to my dismay, I should start wearing a giant watch around my neck like the rap star, Flava Flav!

(Oh dear, this is getting quite maudlin indeed.)  

On one hand I think I'm ready, and I know the DEB is (more than) ready for children. But, on the other hand, I do enjoy the freedom we have now. Pets, as much trouble as they are worth, are so much easier to manage in lots of ways!

So, that means even more "C's" for me: Cautious, Contemplating, and Comfortable.