When you think about a particular country, you tend to think of particular things. For example France: Eifel Tower, men in stripy skivvies and berets riding bicycles and selling onions, dog poo. Or Australia: red deserts, life guards, kangaroos, deadly spiders, Border Security.
It’s called stereotyping I suppose. It’s lazy thinking and it definitely makes for lazy travel writing. After nine months of living in England, my impressions of the country should be slightly more nuanced. And they are. But the fact is, when I came to writing a list of all the things I will miss most about the UK, most of them fell pretty squarely into the cliché bracket.
The things that I love about this country — and for that matter the things that I hate — are all pretty much the things that you are supposed to love or hate about England.
Never the less, here they are, in no particular order:
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Fish pie. Good fish pie, from a country pub. For lunch.
The way dogs are encouraged in pubs.
Double decker buses. More specifically the view from the top level of the bus, through people’s windows and down at graffiti written on the top surface of bus shelters and visible only from this unique vantage point. Example: “If you are reading this you are sitting on the left hand side of a double decker bus.”
The way the old lady shop keepers in Devon call you “my lover” when they give you change. The way the old men enquire about “my maid”, meaning my wife.
Radio Four. Radio Four quiz shows. Meeting lovely, erudite, witty people who sound like they are on a Radio Four quiz show.
Being able to visit a stunning exhibition of Ife bronzes at the British Museum, then pop over to the Tate Britain to see the Henry Moore show on the same day, without feeling like it was anything surprising to have two such great things on at the same time in the same city. Going to two more, equally good shows the next day.
Startling deer in the forest on my lunch break from work. Having to stop for deer to cross the road in the industrial estate because there is good grass in the middle of the roundabout.
Cider. On tap. Four different kinds. Brewed local.
The way when the sun comes out in London everyone, EVERYONE, goes to the park.
Chips served with breakfast. Crisps served with lunch.
Quiet carriages on the train.
The way people can tell almost exactly where in the UK someone else was born, just by their accent. The way I will never be able to acquire this skill in any but a rudimentary sense.
Taking tea seriously.
History. Everything is old; it is only a matter of degrees. Everywhere has a story. A little brown plaque. Everything is a reminder of that quote by G.M. Trevelyan: “The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone like the ghost at cockcrow.” Only an Englishman could write that.
That’s not anything like all the things I like about England, but it’s enough to paint a picture. I was going to write a list of things I didn’t like, to give a more balanced view, but I don’t think I will. If there is one thing the English do well it is nostalgia, and while that’s not something I necessarily like, on this occasion I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
So long merry England.
Living overseas and travelling overseas are two similar but actually completely different things. Your understanding of a place changes completely once you stay there, rent a place, find a job, make local friends. The series Gentlemen of Leisure — nope we’re not being sexist, simply referencing Norman Lindsay’s iconic Magic Pudding — is stories of Australians living overseas. Got a post you’d like to pen? Email [email protected]