The Best of British – B&Bs, brollies, black pudding, beer… all beauties. But these are some of my B-favourites.
Britain is bloody marvelous at boxes – mail, telephone, hedge, picnic*. Just spying a sliver of the iconic red and I’m down the rabbit hole, following bears and big surprises into the woods today. I will cross streets and fields to peruse an English mail box which traditionally carries the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation. Foxtwist is equi-distance from two lovely mail boxes. The one down the hill is a Georgius Rex (George IV 1820-1830), part of the former post office’s outer wall (now a house) and the other is up the hill, a Victoria Regina (QV 1837-1901) post box built into the Pensax estate wall. We have just been to Scotland and my post box poking and peering came to naught. Rex /Regina marks are not used in Scotland, the boxes marked with the Scots Crown or simply “Post Office” preventing vandalism. The local view is that if the current Queen Elizabeth is indeed Scotland’s regent, she is certainly not the Second.
A chance discovery during a recent weekend in Lyme Regis, Dorset lead to a wooden post box, exact age unknown. But construction in the street began in 1700s and the post box is considered one of England’s oldest surviving examples. It’s like Thing’s Box on The Adams Family – I feel as if a shaky gnarled hand might slide out and clutch my mail before slowly withdrawing back down into the sorting depths.
“Bloody Blair,” a woman said to me not long after my arrival in the UK 2010. Iraq, I thought? Middle East Peace? Cherie? Nooooo, fox hunting. Around Foxtwist Way, people keep hounds, wear pinks and hunt. Tony B instituted the Hunting Act 2004 which banned the hunting of wild animals with dogs in England and Wales. One of Mrs May’s 2017 election Manifesto promises for safe and stable government included repealing the legislation. But it was dropped like most of the manifesto in the wake of the Ballot Box Bugger-up and the subsequent implementation of Tory Party Plan B.
Every now and then a fox tentatively emerges from the woods behind Foxtwist. There’s a flash of slender orange, her elongated nose followed by a lush tail. She lopes alone across the field, unhurried but vigilant. Tony Blair has since said he regrets the Hunting Act legislation (but not Iraq).
John and I fulfilled our duties as lawn mower-er and floral arranger respectively at Foxtwist’s local church in May. St Andrew’s is Norman, 1120, and stands in an unusual semi-circular Saxon churchyard because it was once a fort. Thomas Walshe (1593), whose father was chancellor to Henry VIII, is entombed under its 14th century timber nave.
What a glorious month to be allocated! I collected bundles of buttercups and cow parsley and pink clover from the hedgerows, and arranged them in sweet bunches, bringing the meadows outside to in. My delight was somewhat tempered however to find I may have acted illegally. Apart from the three flowers I mentioned I can’t tell A Stinking Goosefoot from an Adder’s Tongue, both amongst countless other meadow flowers protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
British raspberries, a fraction of the cost back home, blackberries collected daily from the canes around Foxtiwst, strawberries which can bought in matched sizes and plunged into creme anglaise to form a perfectly symmetrical summer flan… how will I live without these jewels in times to come?
In the glens around Killen, County Stirling we were eating the very last of the wild Scottish raspberries. The fruit likes the loamy soils, long summer daylight hours and relatively moderate temperatures found in Stirling, Perthshire, Angus, and Bute. Not unfortunately the hot, dry sandy soil common to much of Astraya.
In Stirling Castle Kirk I was entranced by an exhibition about the King James Bible, translated into English between 1604 and 1611. The translation eventually supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture and became the most widely printed book in history. What I loved, loved, loved though was that the KJB translation is the source of still current catchphrases.
“No other book, or indeed any piece of culture, seems to have influenced the English language as much as the King James Bible. It’s turns of phrase have permeated the every word of English speakers, whether or not they’ve ever opened a copy.”
“Turned the world upside down” – Acts 17:6
“God forbid” – Romans 3:4
“The powers that be” – Romans 13:1
“Filthy lucre” – 1 Timothy 3:3
“No peace for the wicked” – Isaiah 57:21
“A fly in the ointment” – Ecclesiastes 10:1
“Wheels within wheels” Ezekiel 10:10
“The blind leading the blind” – Matthew 15:13
“Feet of clay” – Daniel 2:33
BRENDA from BRISTOL
*You may have noticed ballot boxes did not make my Best of British B-list under “Boxes”. In 2011 Westminster introduced fixed term elections guaranteeing freedom from the blah blah blah for five years from 2015. But one large legal loophole and two years later meant a second election was called since the Bill and Ms May’s relatively safe and stable government boxed itself into a stupefying and stilted manifesto. Sharpen your 2Bs, for many predict perhaps one little by-election within the next 18 months and we’ll be in for new Tory Party leader and a third election. Boris anyone?
But Brenda from Bristol does make the list. Brenda was vox popped by the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme (which definitely makes the list) at the moment Mrs May called the election. Brenda became a cult hit, her reaction reflecting what many people felt. So at the end of the blah blah blah cycle, as the media blackout curtain was about to fall, Radio 4 asked people with a variety of British accents to repeat Brenda’s words. T’is wonderful!
In between of course there was the other B – Brexit – which doesn’t make this best of B list either. The constitution of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, unlike the Aussie one doesn’t include rules about referendums and how winning is decided when you’re a map-mix of joined up countries. Voting is voluntary, the Brexit pass mark was 50% and the implications for each unitary sovereign state / devolved administration to vote differently didn’t seem to occur to anyone. At last! in amongst the bright berries, balletic buttercups and blue-ribbon boxes something to be Antipodeanly smug about** and relief that at least these glories are Brexit proof.
** Section 128 of the Australian Constitution requires a “double majority” —a majority of states (at least four of the six), and a majority of all the electors from combined states and territories.
Travel Notes to Self
- It’s been a while since I put finger to blog. I have been otherwise mentally consumed by an eye operation yet to be scheduled but looming large in my pysche. And running…. one week until the Worcester Half Marathon. I taper next week. Looking forward to it (the tapering that is).
- June: Prague – Happy Birthday to me, HB2Me, HB2Meeeee, HB2Me. Thank you John and Sally and Bill. Happy days.
- Touchstones to home – visits by Liz and Poppy, Hector and Sorrell, Ellie, Lauren, Sonia and Phil, Kath and Mal, The Gentlemen’s Choir, Kings College, Cambridge (two billeted with us after a charity performance). Thank you for coming.
- A week in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival thanks to the generosity of Alison who loaned us her lovely apartment, just around the corner from Holyrood. And a few days in the Highlands. Perfect. Thank you A – x.
- Weekend at Yeovil, Parkrun “tourist” at Montecute House, Somerset; a wet day at Corfe Castle, a better day on the beach at Lyme Regis thrown in.
- Open garden weekends in Ludlow with Rosie and Dan (a fellow republican!) and Astley Burf with Kath and Mal.
- An amazing night of music in Sally and Bill’s fields with American singer songwriter Haley Reardon.
- Physio on Mondays with Russell, still. One year commemoration of my broken shoulder July 26 2016.
- Volunteering at the Hay Festival – five star festival, two star volunteering experience. Another lovely year volunteering at Cleobury Mortimer Primary School and Great Witley Church.
- A fab fun corporate junket to Heidelberg.
- Caught my niece, Kelly and My sister in law Deb as they passed through London on the way to deliver Kelly to the Hamburg Ballet School. X