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, Brontës, 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)
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)