Monday, 16 January 2012

Ode to England

I have a great deal of puzzled affection for Malaysia. 

It's been almost three years and still there is food I haven't eaten and festivals I haven't attended. 

Uncovering this country, I happily forget my own.

But going home this year, England, you glittered for me... 

And I'm not exactly wishing to return to the grey skies and Jeremy Kyle. 

But in how many countries, when the bus stops for five whole minutes, waiting for an old lady to find her bus pass, would you find a disgruntled passenger exclaim, in the queen's best English,

"Driver, perhaps you might at least go to the next bus stop?"

Or where could you walk into an ancient but renovated stable and find a second hand book shop owned by a cockney bloke, looking like he just stepped from the pages of GQ?

"Need any help?"

"I just like the old ones…"

Because I do. Old books are beautiful, especially English ones published in the early 1900s. Wow. 
And then imagine - he disappears, only to come back with something more beautiful,

"Thomas Hardy, first edition."

A certified collectors item, so easily at hand? 
I flick through its old pages and pause,

"Is it really £150?"

It was and I didn't.
But it's the principle - I could have. And the English love principles. 

When my friends were dividing up mini-packets of breakfast cereal, some are inevitably better than others. So when one person picks two good ones before someone else has picked any,

"You can't do that."


"You've picked two before she's even picked one. Put it back."

"Yeah, I might want that one."

"Well fine, whatever, do what you want."

And she stalks off, rejecting them both. And the kitchen is quiet. And the friend who was originally left out, picks a different cereal, leaving the "good ones" for the friend who originally chose them. 

"I didn't want them anyway. It was the principle of the thing."

A fine sense of justice. 

And even the most upstanding members of the community have a rebellious streak. If the rules don't make sense - sod them!

Like the chairman of a bank I met at the airport, who doesn't like to pay for those trollies that only unlock if you put a £1 coin in (which you get back when you re-lock the trolly). He had a little metal gadget that bypassed the need for a coin at all,

"Neat little thing. I picked it up in Norway. People don't like it but what are you going to do? Arrest me? It's not illegal!"

Or the gentle old sir, volunteering at the Abbey. In all his robes, welcoming us to the Church, 

"There's no charge but you might like to make a donation for the upkeep. Unless you're Chinese. Then you probably won't. I shouldn't really say that, but I'm bitter!"

Such friendly aggression. You might even think he was joking. Unless you're English, then you would know. "Many a true word is spoken in jest". 

And England, this is why I will always love you.

Because you are so charming and ridiculous. 

And you explain me so well. 

My dear England, How do you do?


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