People often ask me: What do you miss the most about Britain? The obvious answer is certain people, particularly the bevy of nieces and nephews who are now producing offspring of their own. Beyond that, it’s actually a hard question to answer. How to describe the misty grayness of an October morning in London; the dulcet tones of a BBC radio announcer; or the deep satisfaction of a properly brewed cuppa. The following list is personal, idiosyncratic, and incomplete, and may not make sense to anyone who’s never been to the UK.
In no particular order, here’s what I miss the most about Britain:
1.Accessible wilderness that’s not all that wild: places like the Lake District, Snowdonia, the northern Cornish coastline, most of Scotland, and the fells of East Anglia. Places that may be only an hour or two’s drive from wherever you are, and none of which include bears, mosquitoes, or having to wear fluorescent jackets to warn off hunters with guns.
2. Public footpaths and the whole concept of rambling.
3. The National Health Service.
4. Good public transport systems in major cities.
5. Certain places like:
– the lovely villages of Leicestershire
– seaside towns like Whitby, with its grey stone buildings and steep streets and seagulls screaming overhead
– the graceful curve of a street of Georgian era houses found in most larger towns
– Leicester’s Clock Tower and covered market
6. London. Pretty much anything and everything to do with London.
7. History everywhere: Roman ruins, iron-age barrows, a landscape indelibly marked by thousands of years of intense human habitation.
8. Imprecise weather forecasts like “sunny spells and scattered showers” (which is likely to be apropos for most of the year)
9. Certain foods like Marmite, McVitie’s digestives, proper chocolate, and really good chips. Not french fries, chips. Fat, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and preferably served in paper with salt and malt vinegar.
10. Place names that resonate with 2,000+ years of history (if it ends in “…cester” it’s an old Roman military settlement; names ending in “ …ton” reflect a Saxon heritage; those ending in “…by” likely were founded by Vikings)
11. Pubs: particularly older ones with a sense of place and time that can’t be found anywhere else, places where the emphasis is on socializing with friends and family, maybe with some pretty decent food thrown in, and really good beer.
12. Being able to find vegetarian options in most restaurants (at the very least, people who don’t look at you like you’re some kind of mutant weirdo because you ask, “Is there anything vegetarian on the menu?” They may not have it, but there are enough vegetarians in the UK now that most establishments can take the question in stride.)
13. Real ale, served at room temperature, with just a slight head, pulled fresh by a publican who knows how to keep and serve beer properly. (“Light beer” is right up there with “iced tea” in my lexicon of Things That Should Not Exist)
And just for good measure, here are the four things I definitely do NOT miss:
1.The dead weight of history: “But we’ve always done it that way”
2. The weather: unlike here in the eastern US, you often can’t tell just what the season is
3. The unspoken class judgement that many strangers make about you, based on your accent and educational background
4. The giant spiders that invade every home, every September, no matter where you live. I’ll take the current springtime mouse invasion over the autumn arachnids any day.