On Sunday I will head off to England for a short visit to attend my sister’s funeral.
I’m looking forward to going. It will be a sad event, but Denise loved England too and loved an Englishman. The visit will be homage to her life and to my own love of the damp lands.
I have such mixed emotions about England. I spend twenty five years of my life there. Just before we moved back to the USA I had spent longer living in England than in Murika, and if I am sometimes sad about England it is because I love England not because I hate her.
So here from the archives is my classic list of what I love about England.
Walking the South Downs Way with a black labrador. The Long Man of Wilmington. Visiting castles. Fawlty Towers. The North Cornwall Coastal path. Sausages. Mustard. Sticky Toffee Pudding. Custard. Flemish paintings in the National Gallery. Staying in farmhouse Bed and Breakfasts and eating lunch in country pubs. Watt and Co, Little St Mary’s, Cambridge. A pint of English bitter. Dad’s Army. Really good fish and chips. Rievaulx Abbey. St Laurence, Bradford-on-Avon, Choral Evensong at New College, Oxford. The upper reaches of the River Thames. WH Smith. Westminster Cathedral. Christmas Cake, crackers, pudding and carols. St Ethedreda’s Ely Place. Canals and canalboats. The Church of St Mary and St Alphege, Bath. Roast potatoes. Downside Abbey. those gas water heaters they have over their bathtubs that sound like engines on airplanes. Glastonbury. Tea with old ladies. Brown Sauce. Squash (the game, not the drink) Anglo-Catholic Churches. Medium Dry Sherry. The Isle of Wight. Lawn Tennis. Tintern Abbey. The Bird and Baby, the Perch, the Turf and the Trout all in Oxford. St Mary Magdalene’s, Oxford. Old Libraries. Pusey House. Jaffa Cakes. Mesopotamia. North Oxford. Private Eye. Merton College, Those soldiers with bearskin hats and scarlet tunics. Yaverland. BBC Radio 4. The Belles of St Trinian’s. Denis Thatcher. Christmas pantos. King’s College, Cambridge. Stonehenge. Charity shops. The Daily Telegraph. Gin and Tonic. pre-1985 Anglican vicars, Strawberries and cream. The Royle Family. Newman’s Rooms at the Birmingham Oratory. St Aloysius, Oxford. Croquet. Little Gidding. East Coker. Blackpool. Quarr Abbey.
And what do I love about the English themselves? Tweed jackets and trousers that are too long. The suicidal tendencies of their old ladies on bicycles. That their lawyers wear wigs. The Queen’s squeaky voice. Public schoolboys in uniform. Their stiff upper lip. The blitz spirit. English barmy sense of humor. Their patience in queues. Their ability to sit on your lap on a crowded train and pretend nothing is wrong. Their women are frumpy. The way the men wear white button down dress shirts for sports. The way they ignore the Welsh. Their reluctance to enter the twentieth century. Their attachment to the ‘airing cupboard.’ Their fondness for mystery stories. Their appreciation for gardening. That they like to hike wearing shorts, sturdy shoes and a hat. That they maintain the footpaths. That they complain a lot. That their national game takes four days, and no one can explain what’s going on. That they treat language like a poem. That they like trains. They like a bargain. That they are suspicious of religious enthusiasm.
And which of the English do I love best? C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, T.S.Eliot, Edith Sitwell, Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, Alec Guiness, Jeremy Irons, Margaret Thatcher, Charles I, St Thomas More, George Herbert, St Etheldreda, John Donne, Richard Crashaw, Philip Larkin, Elizabeth Jennings, St Richard of Chichester, the Venerable Bede, Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Sayers, J.M.W.Turner, Henry VI, Samuel Palmer, the Wesleys, Cardinal Newman, William Blake, Christopher Smart, Emma Thompson, John Cleese, Edward Elgar, Tallis, Ronnie Knox, Byrd, John Betjeman, Judy Dench, Brian Blessed, Maggie Smith, Hugh Laurie, Les Dawson, G.K.Chesterton, Francis Kilvert, Parson Woodeforde, Hilaire Belloc…
…oh, and my wife.