THE BLOG

Why Britain's Still Great, By Someone Who's Leaving

22/08/2017 16:59
Alija via Getty Images

It's fair to say 2017 has been, to quote our monarch in her 1992 speech, an "annus horribilis". In fact, these last few years have been anni horribiles for the people of the UK.

I've found myself taking a deep breath before clicking on the BBC News updates which pop up hourly on my phone, like ceaseless bleeping harbingers of doom. The union jacks that adorned the country in 2012 - year of Olympic and jubilee-induced pride, have since become symbols of far right xenophobia.

My family were among the thousands who, on the morning of 24th June 2016, Googled 'emigration' to either Australia, New Zealand, Canada... or the moon. And in a few weeks we'll fly 10,000 miles to take up residence in sunnier climes. Sunnier, you could argue, in both literal and figurative terms.

However, maybe it was the finality of hitting confirm on our one-way flights but a long buried patriotism has been roused in this quintessential POM (I'm pear-shaped, pale-skinned and perpetually self-deprecating). Maybe I've been remiss in my Britain-bashing.

We may be politically-divided, with a slowing economy, a 'severe' national threat level and have just become the fattest country in western Europe but in many ways the UK's still winning.

We know small (subtle and sincere) is beautiful
Inhabitants of this diminutive island know that small things bring the most happiness, making for an easier contented nation. Bumping into someone with the same breed of dog or watching people baking cakes in a tent on TV, will do it.

We're not big or brash. Our rolling hills and valleys are more gentle than dramatic and our birdsong is soothing rather than operatic (plus our wildlife won't kill you). Though our cities are diverse and exciting, on a global scale their skylines are low-rise and modest.

We like our landscapes, grub and people to be humble and authentic. Tea (milk in last), vinegary fish and chips (ideally consumed while sitting on a wall) and a good b*tch about the weather - these are a few of our favourite things.

We love our weather really
We feign exasperation and spend hours confabulating about the weather but we secretly love to hate it. You can measure the sheer gratitude for rare warm summer days in the packed beer gardens, charcoal sales and reddened shoulders of the nation. It's not just the fine days we excel at either, on any UK beach on any damp August day you'll find scores of rugged-up, stoic families with wind-break fortresses, refusing to succumb.

And while Danes think they invented cosiness, with their blankets, fires and candles, Brits have been doing this since the dawn of time. They call it 'hygge' we call it September to May.

We have polite roads
Nowhere else in the world have I witnessed a driver raise a hand in thanks to another driver, only for the recipient to return the gesture, followed by a further acknowledging wave from the original driver. It's incredible that UK drivers get anywhere and aren't caught in endless cycles of polite hand gestures or headlight-flashes, just because they were allowed to pull out.

Our roads signs too are oh-so-ordered and lucid. The font was designed by typographic experts to ensure a very British sense of clarity. There's a comforting hit of nostalgia from passing that 50-year-old triangle-framed image of a girl leading a small boy across the road, or the workman wielding a shovel. Though I always imagine the workman's really an English gent struggling with an umbrella.

We're silly
Our sense of humour is unrivalled. We're the kings of the pun, irony, innuendo, satire and borderline inappropriateness. We know the importance of silliness in diffusing the bleakest of situations.

American, Bill Bryson says "humour is such an important feature of life in Britain and it's a special quality. It's so ubiquitous that we tend to take it for granted but in the world at large, really high-quality humour is hard to come across".

See: Monty Python, bonkers pantomimes and the practice of grown adults chasing a 9lb cheese down a 1:1 incline hill in deepest, darkest Gloucestershire.

We do good chocolate
Forget sickly American Hersey's and Asia Pacific's chalky, melt-proof offerings. Belgium and Switzerland's confectionery's delectable but too posh-to-scoff in any quantity. British Dairy Milk (although currently manufactured in Poland) trumps the lot. It's the perfect blend of creamy cocoa-y-ness. I've seen this stuff (along with chocolate Hobnobs) change hands for considerable amounts overseas. Those precious purple-wrapped slabs are like gold bullion to sweet-toothed expats and travellers alike.

We're cool
Five of the top ten best-selling artist albums globally are by UK musicians. The London art scene is second only to New York in scale and our fashion industry's worth £26 billion. We are cool Britannia and our brilliant high street is testament to this. Even if fashion's not your bag, I have three words for you: Marks and Spencer. Try purchasing decent quality baby grows, a five pack of pants and a lasagne from a single shop anywhere else in the world. St Michael truly was a saint.

We know how to do pubs
Asia and America have generic bars, continental Europe has café-tabacs and Australia has soulless, brightly-lit sport-broadcasting venues. Nobody does pubs like the Brits.

Our pubs are multi-purpose hubs and centres of communities. There are low-ceilinged, sticky-carpeted locals with a smelly dog by the fire, serving pints of Sheep Shagger or the Dog's Bollocks. There are Farrow-and-Balled gastro venues, where you can take the family for a surprisingly good meal... served on a piece of slate. There are beer gardens crammed with weather-beaten picnic tables and seldom-mown grass - possibly the most idyllic places in the world to drink shandy in the company of friends, on one of those rare cloudless days.

I don't have the word limit to cover the NHS, Mo Farah, broadsheets, strawberries and Joanna Lumley.

Britain, Britain, Britain: still 'great', just encountering a temporary glitch.

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