Having just spent a week in England, I feel entitled to make several snap judgments with the confident air of someone who feels like he really gets British culture because he took a can of Coke into the elevator and thought, “I’m holding an aluminium can in the lift. Brilliant!” That’s what they say, you know. Everything’s “brilliant.” Sometimes they say “bril.” I took to saying “brih” in case they’d shortened it even more since I was there last year.
1) Everyone is against Brexit. This is based on a survey of three people who thought Brexit was “mad” and blamed the Remainers for not talking about all the good things EU membership provided. I offered that the problem was the EU itself, specifically its name, which sounds like a reaction to a bad smell, but also its overweening intrusion into national matters large and small.
Being a confident Yank who thinks he knows everything because he’s from the States, I offered a theory: Two years ago when I was in England, there was a row over an EU proposal to regulate the speed at which a kettle could boil water. To save the earth, of course. Unless kettles were hobbled, the earth would burn, the seas would rise and boil, hedgehogs would burst into cinders, etc. Nothing seemed to sum up the EU project better: To combat climate change, Europeans will have to take twice as long to make tea.
I suggested that most people otherwise disinclined to care about the EU one way or the other felt a clammy Belgian hand in their trousers and began to sidle away from Europe. Remainers scoffed, but I asked: What if the EU banned dogs? That was different: Blow up the Chunnel and nuke Brussels.
Kettles today, I said, dogs tomorrow.
2) The trains are supposedly getting worse. Everyone says this; they speak wistfully of the old days before privatization, when your train wasn’t canceled for maintenance reasons, but canceled for a strike. At least no one went anywhere in that case; everyone was in it together, just like the war.
I personally saw no evidence of this, and thus I conclude the trains are fine. My train for Suffolk left promptly and made the connection at Dipswitch without incident. I was later informed that the Dipswitch connection is now utterly unreliable and one can expect to sleep rough on the platform for a night until one underpowered engine that sounds like an American lawn mower deigns to show up, but this is contrary to my experience, so it may be safely ignored.
Belay that: Just remembered the coffee machine was out. Nationalize it!
3) The hotel lobby every morning had a stack of newspapers that goggle a Yank used to thin sheaves, and they didn’t even include the tabs that had page-three birds all starkers, if I may use the local lingo. The letters pages made you think: Ah, there’ll always be an England, full of eccentrics on bicycles spreading mustard on pickles and yelling about the bloody Jerries.
A previous letter stated that a potato, placed at the end of the bed, may prevent cramps of the limbs. My grandfather (RA, BPE, VC, ret., dead) placed a divot of peat on the nightstand to achieve the same effect. He claimed that it worked, but also said it made him thrash the help with a weighted cobble-wod when they mentioned Edward Heath before noon.
4) Terrorism fears are a bit overblown. Nothing happened while I was there, although while I was in Suffolk a man drove his car into pedestrians outside Parliament. It couldn’t have been too important, because the papers were all full of news about Boris Johnson making disparaging remarks about the niqab.
5) Pub life is alive and well, based on a few visits of places around tourist spots where you can get fish and chips. There are still places like the Rooster & Thistle, the Pig & Knickers, the Fife & Carbuncle, etc. But I was informed that pubs are closing at a rate of 18 per week, because you can’t smoke anymore, people prefer to drink at home while staring at the telly with glazed eyes, and darts are frowned upon because sharp instruments are viewed as dangerous by the local bobbies. (This is slang for the local Roberts.)
If true, that’s a pity. One of my favorite places in the world is a pub called the Anchor, in Walberswick. A row of gleaming taps, a snug room with benches whose cushions have been polished by a generation of locals. Dogs welcome. Coronation chicken on the menu.
For a year I’ve dreamed of returning to the Anchor. It’s been a rough summer, to be honest; daughter graduated and fled the nest for South America, and after 18 years of daily parenthood, I felt as if I had been sacked, as they say. (It’s slang for being fired, and refers to the days when excess workers were put in a bag and dropped in the river.) The trip to beloved Blighty was the salve at summer’s end. The long flight across the pond, the clattering train north and east, the sunset stroll up the High Street to the familiar pub, the reward poured out from the good auld golden pipe.
And so it was. I put a coin on the bar and said, “I’ll have a pint of Ghost Ship,” that being a local ale of exceptional quality. “I’ve waited a year for this,” I said to Alex, the bartender. “I dreamed of this.”
“’S a pity,” he said. “We’re out.”
I’d rather be told that in an English accent than in any other tongue on earth.