25 February 2007

Britain, Britain, Britain

Last night I returned home from my farewell (for the moment) tour of England. As you already know from the last post, I spent the first few days in Bristol. We spent the second half of the week in Aldworth, a tiny village (small enough to fit the entire population into one photograph) in rural Berkshire. It served as a base from which to check off two of the major items on my "Things to See in England" list. The first was Avebury, which we visited on the way out of Bristol. Avebury is the stone circle to end all stone circles, and is leaps and bounds beyond Stonehenge because of its size (most of a village fits comfortably inside it), because of its extensive earthworks, and because of the relative lack of tourists. The other big item I can now cross off my list is Oxford, where we spent Thursday. My general impression was that it ranked slightly behind Cambridge on the charm scale but had excellent museums that make you feel as though you've been transported back a century or so. Both places are well worth the trip if you ever get the chance. We managed to see more than Avebury and Cambridge, of course: we also went to Castle Combe (often considered to be the ideal English village), the Uffington white horse (possibly the oldest chalk figure in England, and right next to the hill where St. George is supposed to have killed the dragon), Blenheim Palace (one of the most spectacularly ornate palaces I've seen in Europe and the site of Churchill's birth to boot), antique stores aplenty (if you sense my dad's hand in that one, you're right), top-notch gastro-pubs in Chinnor and Goring, and a "normal" pub in Aldworth that might well be the best in which I've ever had a drink. It was a hectic week, but a good one, and it certainly reminded me just how much I'll miss England. With that in mind, remember when I closed out my old blog with a series of "Top 7" lists about my favorite things in Britain? I promised I'd make one more, and whether you want me to or not, I'm now going to keep that promise with my list of the top 7 things I'll miss about England (and yes, I do mean England; sorry Wales and Scotland, I just didn't spend enough time in either place to get too sentimental).

7) Transportation
This may sound odd, but one of the great joys of my time in Bristol was that I could leave it so easily. This is not because I dislike Bristol (see below) but because I love to travel, be it by train to London or Cambridge or by plane to Madrid or Hamburg.
6) Place Names
Seriously, how can you not love a country that comes up with names like Chipping Sodbury or Wootton Bassett?
5) Pubs
No, they're not just bars, at least not in principle. You don't just go to a pub to drink (though I won't deny that plenty of that takes place, sometimes to excess), you go to sit down and have nice, long conversations with your friends over some beers.

4) Bristol
I'd just as soon not go back to many English cities (I'm talking about you, Gloucester), but Bristol never got old. It's got it all: an historic harbor, beautiful parks, a medieval core (albeit a very small one), a magnificent Georgian neighborhood, and enough pubs and restaurants to keep going out from getting stale.
3) The Landscape
Being quite a Pacific Northwest chauvinist, it's rare for me to rave about any countryside other than my own, but I've found myself oddly nostalgic for England's rolling hills and grassy pastures. The most striking things about it is its perpetual green-ness, a color that is striking even in the middle of winter and is almost overwhelming in spring.
2) Old Buildings
Even in Bristol, which was gutted during the war, it's not uncommon to run across a centuries-old building. Head ten minutes away by train to Bath and you'll see one of the most gorgeous collections of 18th Century buildings in the world. Coming from a country where a 19th Century building is considered ancient, that's nothing short of remarkable.
1) The English
Mind you, I won't miss everything about the English. Like any group of people, they have their faults. However, there are a great many qualities of the English personality that can be chalked up in the plus column. They can carry on a conversation masterfully, but they don't waste words. They will be unwaveringly polite to you, even if they hate you. Most of all, they have the best sense of humor in the world. This is an underappreciated side of English culture, I feel, but it is also true. I know several people who would disagree but, well, they're wrong. Sarcasm is funny. Deal with it.


Michael Bowers said...

In person, they're hilarious; I'll give you that. I'll even throw "on stage" into that category. But on TV or in movies, British humor is NOT funny.

J.D.O. said...

...said the man who lists "Love, Actually" as one of his favorite movies...