There was a sort of a review of someone’s new book in one of the papers recently.
Sorry. I know that sounds like “Vaguest News” but this week’s gone by in a flash and I only remember the general thrust of the piece which is “What Makes Britain Really Great?” (I’ve since found it was the Indie and it’s here)
There were some odd things and some expected things like the Tunnock’s Tea Cake and the wholly unjustified Bacardi Breezer representing alcopops – alcopops being one of those things that contributes hugely to Britain not being as great any more.
As usual, they missed out the aspects of life on this island that actually do make Britain great. I’m looking forward to hearing your views but in the meantime, here are a few of mine…..
Remembrance Sunday: Not just the gathering of thousands of people to pay their respects all around the country but the way it’s organised with incredible precision and attention to detail which makes me feel proud that we, in this country, have always known how to accomplish the ceremonies that matter with immense dignity and respect.
The Classical Picnic: You would think that in this country, with its unpredictable weather and summer constantly dodging about all over the place, the notion of gathering an orchestra, singers and several hundred people together in a field would never get further than the drawing board. But these events are proliferating. You can take a flask and some sandwiches or you can go the whole hog with a couple of bottles of fizz, glasses, candelabra or storm lantern, smoked salmon, twiglets, picnic chairs and tables, full evening dress plus a tartan wool rug, Peter Storm cagoule, a golf umbrella or better still, fisherman’s tent. A couple of bearers come in handy.
Glastonbury Festival: Bit like the classical picnic but with wellingtons instead of the candelabrae (sic) you stay over in a mud-spattered tent and gather with thousands of others to watch bands on a teeny stage about a mile away. I’m told the atmosphere is fantastic and there are tears of joy.
The Horticultural Society Show: Annual event in country villages. You may never seen marrows like these; enormous, firm and bulging with health and you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s a bloke – could be the Society treasurer – who’s been putting his heart and soul plus several pints of his own urine, into growing these babies.
The Village Fete: The great and good all turn up; Squire, Vicar, Parish Council Chairman, even the local councillor if you’re really unlucky. Splatting the rat and lobbing wet sponges at the vicar are always good fund-raisers. And who doesn’t want to buy someone else’s slab fruitcake from the bring and buy cake stall?
Model Railways Enthusiasts: Special sorts of blokes unashamedly indulge their hobby, which is littered with engineering technicalities even though these trains are actually too small to carry anything but teeny model people. Oh and never call them train sets. The penalty is stoning – with thousands of teeny stones.
Volunteers: Britain is full of them. Hospital volunteers, litter wardens, conservation volunteers, you name it, we got ’em – nice, caring people who give their spare time freely to attempt to make things better for all of us.
The Womens’ Institute: Unquestionably the best cake makers in the land. Competitive, nurturing, intelligent, enquiring. Don’t mention the ‘garden on a plate’ competitions.
Ramblers: Millions of them including remarkably fit older people who are living breathing adverts for getting exercise in the open air – even if they are addicted to woolly socks. You find them in the most unexpected places and it’s always a little disheartening to get overtaken on a Lakeland Fell by a couple of hearty septagenarians following in the footsteps of Wainwright.
Marmite: You love it or hate it. A by-product of the brewing industry. Marvellous source of B12. Spread it too thickly and it goes up the nerves in your teeth. No idea why. Maybe the saltiness of it? Answers below if you have any.
The Shipping Forecast: II probably heard my first shipping forecast before I read my first Blyton. Very early memories of the classic BBC announcer intoning gravely “There are warnings of gales in Dogger, Tyne, Fisher, Forth and German Bight…” It was impenetrable, mysterious, fascinating. And my first Atlas of Great Britain had all the areas marked in pastel colours around the British Isles like a patchwork blanket. So at last I knew where they all were.
These days, probably best to avoid the whole subject of Dogger.
Heinz salad cream: Tomato and salad cream sandwiches used to be so yummy. I doubt if Heinz salad cream is acceptable fare anywhere else in the world and actually it is no longer acceptable once you discover the more fattening joys of garlic mayo.
Fish and Chips: Coming home from anywhere overseas has to involve a fish and chip supper within the first five days. Although I only have fish and chips about half a dozen times a year – you have to keep “special” things special – this would be the single thing foodie about Britain that I’d miss if I lived abroad. Proper fish and chips involves plate and cutlery, slices of thin white bread and butter, mushy peas, plenty of salt and vinegar and a pot of tea. But probably the best way to eat fish and chips is to get it straight from that shop on the quay at Whitby and sit overlooking the harbour picking soft, fresh flakes of North Sea cod from the gentle embrace of abrosially-crispy golden batter with a little wooden fork.
Elgar and Vaughan Williams: The entire works of.