I was going to write about our day in Manchester, and then hours later it was on the news. So I'm interrupting the regular schedule for a special post. T. came up with only three things she won't miss about her native country. In return, my Things that Make Britain Great.
- Top 3, seriously: These people aren't fazed by anything. Terrorism is terrible, but they've been there. British people have been handling bombs going off since before most of us were born.
- Guns? Even the police don't carry them.
- Whatever you're dealing with, Britain has been dealing with it longer. If I had a big sister who inspired equal amounts of annoyance and affection, she would be Great Britain.
- Marmite. The quintessential "love it or hate it" item. Plenty of native-born Britons don't like it, but I have acquired the taste.
100% vegetarian (you're thinking of Bovril.)
- "On toast." That is, Marmite on toast, beans (more on those below) on toast, etc. I would never have eaten these things let alone put them on toast, but somehow in this country, it's comforting.
- Heinz baked beans. They are not baked beans, in the way that Heinz beans in North America are (baked). They are a particular kind of runny item that Britons love, too soppy to do anything with but bake in something else, or eat on toast.
- The BBC News. Especially Radio 4. No "newsreaders" will ever compare to the glorious Charlotte Green and Harriet Cass, but hearing the news on the BBC is still pretty bearable, as the voices present it so calmly. I always imagined that if the world were ending and everyone else were hysterical, the BBC newsreader would still just take a breath and move on: "Now sport."
- Britain (and Ireland) are always green. These islands don't turn brown or frozen in the winter. That's because of all the rain, damp, moisture, whatever; but it's a benefit.
- Indian food. What is called "curry" in this country has become the national dish, as much as fish and chips. Of course you can get Indian food in many other places, not least India, but it's not the same as here. (Chinese food is also different here from anywhere else, and probably from China, as well.)
- Place names. Sure, every country has them, but Leighton Buzzard? Hooton Pagnell? Only in the U.K.
- Nobody can pull off a celebration like British people. Where else do you see ladies' hats at a wedding? Or women, dressed to the nines in high heeled shoes, falling over trashed at a horse race? These people can party.
- Again, they handle the weather. Is it freezing and pouring down rain? No problem; we're going to have a cookout! Just light the chiminea, put up an umbrella and wear fleece. The British let nothing spoil their day.
- Kettles. Every kitchenette in the country has an electric kettle that boils shortly after being plugged in. It must be the most efficient device ever invented, and I have no idea why they aren't more common in North America. Kettles are the reason the British are happy with instant coffee, but their real love is...
- Tea! Only in this country could Lily Allen sing: "Beans on toast with a nice cup of tea/ Then we'll get a Chinese and watch TV." See beans; Chinese. Tea is the national drink and what keeps people so calm. Big rough builders drink tea out of flowery china cups. Groups of motorcyclists "queue" up at roadside stands for cups of tea. It's amazing.
- The Ramblers. Hundreds of groups of hikers, many of them retirement age (who get free or reduced public transportation), spend every weekend and some weekdays as well trekking across hills and fields in every part of England, Scotland, and Wales. Thanks to them, public footpaths and rights of way are kept open no matter what village, farm, or busy built-up area they are in. It took everything in me to keep up with the Ramblers.
- Sheep. Yes, other countries are better known for sheep and other cultures eat more lamb, but seeing sheep (rather than cattle) in pastures is emblematic of Britain for me.
- The National Trust. For a membership fee you get free entry to how many parks and properties all over the country? And countless stately homes, woodlands, etc. are preserved rather than bulldozed over. Bargain of the year.
- "Post" boxes on sticks or set into stone walls. For that matter, stone walls.
Victorian post box. Note "V R" indicating who was queen.
- Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, pork pies, Sunday dinners. If you're vegetarian they'll have a roast for you too. Even not eating meat is old hat to them.
Hats off, Britain.
|John Rylands Library, Manchester. Free to all|