It’s an age old complaint that the only news is bad news, and that the British love nothing more than grumbling. But the endless elections and referendums of the last 3 years have left the UK feeling a particularly gloomy place of late. Politics has got nastier and more divisive, even whilst the general public do their level best to switch off from the umpteenth identikit Brexit news report the overall odour of negativity in the national debate is hard to ignore.
This week with the end of summer doldrums and return to work for many, and the North Koreans threatening a nuclear winter some might be forgiven for thinking such an outcome would be a blessing in disguise. So here are some of the many good things about life in the UK I was recently reminded of on return from exile in the former Duchy of Brabant:
- We have some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, all within easy reach. Recent trips to the North Wessex Downs and East Anglia were a great reminder of the astounding variety and beauty of the British countryside. On a (admittedly rare of late) perfect summer’s day it is as close to heaven on earth as I have ever found.
- British food has undergone a revolution over the last decade. Gone are the obsession with salt and the stodgy processed meals of childhood memory, now almost everywhere you go there is a profusion of choice, with beautifully cooked and presented food using high quality ingredients from all corners of the globe.
- Our accents are wonderfully wacky and varied. Yes, there are other countries with famously varied regional accents, but travelling across the English regions this summer was a testament to the patchwork multitude of local accents. Long may they thrive, without doubt they contribute to the richness of the English language.
- Our writers are amongst the best in the world. Summer is always a good time to catch up on reading and this year was no different, a brilliant journey through an exhibition of the versatility and sheer readability of so much of the current and past British literary canon.
- We no longer suck at sports (apart from men’s cricket and football). From last year’s incredible Rio performance, to the English women’s cricket, rugby and football teams recent success to Jo Konta’s dazzling Wimbledon run, British sports is in a healthy state at present.
- Our history is rich and abundant. From the mysterious power of the stones at Avebury to the majestic beauty of our great Cathedrals such as Ely, and a visit to the plague village of Eyam this summer was a reminder of just how much the UK has to offer the history nerd.
- If British food has undergone a makeover as dramatic as a Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen Changing Rooms creation then British alcohol today arrived from another planet. Aside from a plethora of local craft ales to discover in every town and village, I started sampling cider for the first time since my University days and found an incredible range of fresh, crisp fermented apple beverages on offer. The gin revolution has also led to more varieties of botanical spirits in your average local boozer than even in the days of Hogarth.
- British radio remains a joy, from an hour of uninterrupted experimental jazz, to spy thrillers, historical documentaries and financial advice; there is never a shortage of something to engage our aural senses.
- British people respect personal space. Trust me, if you have ever lived abroad, being given your 24 inches of breathing space is not to be taken for granted.
- Yes, it’s a cliché, but we know how to respect a queue, no scrums to grab a decent café américain or board the bus, just a civilised and orderly line. If you wanted to go on an assault course you’d have signed up to the TA.
- British films make cinema seem magic again. The likes of Dunkirk manage to be both a sensory overload and thought-provoking, an achievement Hollywood only rarely seems to accomplish. There is something about British film-makers that consistently deliver a truly cinematic experience.
- British customer service may still lag behind our American cousins (if you enjoy getting to know the entire family history of your waiter) but it is infinitely superior to the Gallic shrug of indifference one normally encounters in Belgium. We also believe in letting customers shop when they want to, so if you need to do an ice cream run at 9:30 on a sweaty summer evening you can. That was once called progress before we started to take it for granted.
- Our sense of humour really is the best in the world. As dry as the bottom of death valley and as deadly to the slow witted.
- For all its faults and irritations, it remains quite simply the greatest city on earth. Combining pretty much all of the above (even countryside in the likes of Hampstead) with a 24 hour beating heart of life. If a man is tired of London he is tired of…
So next time you’re fed up with the cold and the grey and the whining, maybe reflect that things could be a lot worse. You could be Belgian.