Tag Archives: British

The British invasion

Some things are just inescapably British – ideas or products that you would just never think to see anywhere else in the world. Try to describe an Eccles cake to an American, for instance, and you’d probably see a wrinkling of features and a look of disgust reserved for farmyard smells and cat vomit. Dandelion and burdock is clearly one of the tastiest fizzy popssodas around, but that doesn’t mean it would make sense to a German. And while the likely identity of the the Christmas number one is debated in pubs and TV shows across the land, nobody else in the world cares what tops their chart on December 25th.

If there’s one country that’s peculiarly averse to all things British, it’s France. Government rations the amount of English language music that can be played on French radio, while there’s a constant war waged against the creeping Anglicisation of the language. Put simply, the French are a proud nation and would be perfectly happy to have nothing to do with the British if they could possibly avoid it.

Which makes the presence of this packet in a local supermarchegrocery store all the more surprising:

Fisherman's Friend

I can’t remember the last time I saw these things in the UK, let alone in a French supermarket. Menthol pastilles with more kick than an angry donkey, Fisherman’s Friend are British enough that you practically expect a rousing chorus of Land of Hope & Glory every time you open a packet. And now they’re in France. Next they’ll be eating Branston Pickle with their croque monsieurs, and salad cream with their fromage et jambon baguettes.

I was so shocked, I had to buy three packets. The Special One and The Young Ones won’t know what’s hit ’em, I can tell you.

There’s no place like home

For somebody who isn’t remotely patriotic, has no celebratory mugs bearing images of the Queen or Prince Edward, and wouldn’t be able to tell you which way up a Union Jack flag is meant to be even if you paid him, I have to say that ‘being British’ is something I enjoy and am proud of. OK, so I’m not willing to defend our violent colonial past, our role in the Iraq conflict or our responsibility for the meteoric rise of the Cheeky Girls, but on the whole I have to agree with Grand Lake Ink and her assertion that “I think I won the lottery of life being born British.”

Britain has many faults, regardless of who has political power at any given moment. And any country which has more votes cast for a pop talent show than for a general election should always consider a long hard look in the mirror. But it’s also an incredibly beautiful place, with (as one American friend once put it) “Roman shit and old stuff everywhere”. And there’s at least an attempt at a duty of care towards its people, which you can’t say about many countries.

Of course, being away from your homeland only heightens those feelings of affection. It’s not out of any lack of love for New York either – if any city can put you in a Christmas mood, it’s this one. But emigration kits come equipped with rose-tinted spectacles. If I was in the UK right now, I’d be moaning about the weather and bleating about the failures of the economic system. Instead, I sit on the subway dreaming wistfully of low-lying moisture laden clouds and fog, and an interest rate that’s at least above zero (for the moment, admittedly).

The strangest thing about not being in Britain is that it makes you pine for things you never bothered much with when you were there in the first place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a biscuit as much as the next man. And the man next to me right now is called Mr McVitie. But back home I’d probably go six months without eating one, and certainly wouldn’t buy them in a supermarketgrocery store. Now I have vivid dreams involving custard creams and bourbon biscuits, and I’d kill for a Garibaldi.

Similarly, the Christmas spirit has me longing to go to a pantomime. I haven’t been to a pantomime since about 1987, when Angie from Eastenders played a thigh-slapping Aladdin alongside Derek Griffiths from Play School and Play Away at the Pavillion Theatre in Bournemouth. But right now, I’d be more than happy with a slapstick cry of “he’s behind you” and the last five minutes of fame for a Big Brother star from three years ago.

Earlier this week, the pangs reached a new low when I found myself in the kitchen making Cornish pasties from scratch. Without a recipe. I have never made Cornish pasties in my life. Love them though I do, they’re a convenience food that you pick up when you’re hungry. Making them yourself is much less convenient, let me tell you. Back home, there would be more chance of me eating pencil sharpeners than there would be of making my own Cornish pasties, but here it just seems like a perfectly natural thing to do.

Anyway, enough of this. I’m going to see Oasis tonight, and I’ve got no idea where I’ve put the tickets.