Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Things I miss from England

I always said I never missed anything from England but if I think very hard.... apart from my loved ones who are not many (and though I love them I cannot say I miss them), the things I miss from England are literary conversations, Pears' and Wright's soap, the Oxford and Cambridge Club, the late Monsignor Gilbey, suet pudding, the annual 1830s or 1840s pantomime at the Players Theatre and a very few drinking places, like Gordon's in Villiers St. and El Vino's in the Strand.  (A rather self-consciously old-fashioned list I concede, apart from literary conversation.)

But literary conversation and suet pudding are very rare pleasures even in England and the Monsignor is dead and the Oxford and Cambridge Club now lets women in (and the wives and girlfriends of Oxford and Cambridge Club members are not the life and soul of a party). A servant told when I was last in there that it is like a two star hotel these days. And actually I prefer Arab laurel soap which I stocked up on in a Moroccan shop in Brussels. I am also well stocked with Atora suet for that point when I have got back to 13 stone, which sometimes seems a semi-mystical concept like the Marxist doctrine of the withering away of the state.  (That joke would have been much funnier during the Cold War.) The Players' Theatre with its ancient jokes and spotted dick on the menu is no more. Worst of all, according to Mary Kenny they have a television on nowadays in El Vino's.

Writing these words puts me in mind of the hauntingly elegiac opening to an article I once read almost a decade ago about the death of the Young Fogey

They’re playing rap music in the jewellery department at Christie’s South Kensington. In T.M. Lewin, the Jermyn Street shirtmakers, you can dip into a fridge by the cufflinks counter and have a frozen mini-Mars.....

But who is left to mourn these things?

England is something you carry around with you. The England of books and films actually might even mean more to me than the England of flesh, blood, out of town fitness centres, soap operas, footballers and homosexual marriage. (I do like the multiracial East End but even that is being gentrified). As Bevan said of Churchill, perhaps I hear the drumbeat of history so loudly that I don't notice the noise of the traffic.


  1. Nicely put! Of course I disagree on the desirability or otherwise of women being allowed in to what's-it-called and gay marriage.

    None of those things would feature in my list - I don't even know what most of them are. And yet for you they represent the best of a country that I call mine. Showing what an arbitrary construction our individual conceptions of our homelands are.

    Out of town fitness centres? Are they a new phenomenon? I have noticed many more gyms springing up in England but most of them are in towns.

    Literary conversations can be had anywhere - even on Facebook. It's more about the people than the place.

    I find it depressing how many intelligent people in the UK watch dreadful talent and reality TV shows. I understand why they would be embraced by the masses but surely thinking people should disdain them? Yet many don't. Sad.

  2. These things do not represent the best of the country at all, just the few things I very slightly miss if I think very hard. The best of the country? Oh, so many things. Oxford and Cambridge, cathedral cities, second-hand bookshops, kindliness, irony, the food, sexual conservatism, honesty, the countryside, modesty, gentleness, politeness, decency, the weather, the class system, on and on. I just don't happen to miss any of them particularly.

  3. Well of course I miss honesty and probity and public spiritedness, and queuing and drivers not thinking it cool to jump the lights, etc, but this is another conversation

  4. Yes, I would concur with most of the items on your "best of" list. Not the weather; drizzle is very dreary. Not sure about the class system - it causes a huge amount of damage and division but then it is so very interesting to discuss.

    Probity! You don't hear that word enough.

  5. I use lots of good words. Even 'lassitude'and 'amorous'.Martin Amis said writers are always twenty years out of date with the language but the language I speak and think in is more out of date than that I think when i do not want to use Wardour St English. Class system - a porous kindly one is fine but it can also lame people. But it gives people a sense of belonging which is useful in an age of huge immigration and other social changes.

  6. Actually I really don't think I MISS anything except clever literary conversation of the kind I very rarely have in England with in-jokes and allusions to English culture that Romanians would not get. Perhaps I mix too much with businessmen here. But there are certain things I like when I go to England.