Posted by: Natalie | May 24, 2010

Quintessential English

Image from: jameshollow.posterous.com

What a stunning weekend! I defy any of you to have not enjoyed the wonderful weather the fascinating British climate bestowed on us! We were doubly lucky in that we got to spend Saturday with the marvellous Lynne and Pete and their little Jack Russell pup, Scrumpy. Since they have relocated to somewhere not entirely inaccessible by transport (I’m not really sure Dunblane counts as inaccessible, but it is a bloody long way!) we were able to meet up in the Cotswolds for some sunny fun!

Bourton-on-the-water was perfectly English in every way – gorgeous little chocolate box houses groaning with  Wisteria and Laburnum, children paddling in the river, a central green surrounded by quaint little shops and tea rooms and hoards of morris men jangling their bells to the joys of a village fête. It was so gorgeous. We felt like we had stumbled onto the set of Midsomer Murders and were anxious to stay clear of the death omens that are Joyce and Cully Barnaby!

It was a breath of fresh air, watching families interact and play and picnic beneath the dancing shadows of the tree leaves. The water of the River Windrush was icy, but so enticing and the ripple of the current between the toes transported me right back to childhood. I was a little girl again, stood in the sparkling sunshine water eating a lemon meringue ice cream that tickled my tongue in the same way the river did my toes.

I think the very English-ness of our day out was capped off with a visit to the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms where Steve forewent the standard lunchtime fare to indulge in a typical cream tea. We sat outside along the river drinking flat coke (again, a quick trip back into my own childhood, I love flat coke! They did explain the coke was flat, it wasn’t that poor a service!) and soaking up the atmosphere which was bustling without feeling like it was too busy – I wouldn’t want to be going on a bank holiday weekend though! The inside was how you would expect, quite old fashioned but with framed images of the original Alice in Wonderland tales adorning the spiral stair case.

It was perfect.

But then, on Sunday, I experienced a very different type of English-ness, one that is seems to be overtaking this perfect picture of summer time living. Having spent a couple of hours sat in the shade of my garden finishing The Silver Blade I decided to take a little walk around the park at the bottom of our road. For those who don’t know, I live in suburban Birmingham and therefore come across a very different segment of ‘Britain’ than those experienced in the Cotswolds. The park is very pretty. It mainly consists of one large pond (lake I suppose) and the grassy path around it. It is full of water fowl and trees as well as small family groups soaking up the sunshine and enjoying their quality time together. It is sometimes hard to believe that it is mere minutes from the second largest city in England.

But there are certain aspects that bring you startling back to reality.

I looked across the crystal water to the ducks happily playing and smiled as the smell of elderflower swam into my system. As I closed my eyes to relish all joys that summer weather brings I was rudely alerted to the couple walking ahead of me. Effing this and effing that and F* you and S**t this and you’re an effing ************. I was struggling to discern a single word that wasn’t an expletive. The couple seemed on the edge of a break up, but what really distressed me is all this language was in front of the small child that was being dragged along at the side of the very angry lady. Thankfully they pulled up to sit on one of the shaded benches and I could continue my pleasant stroll.

A stunning young girl then crossed my path and walked a little way ahead of me. She was petite and bronzed with luscious raven curls pouring down her back. The coral sun dress complimented her Mediterranean complexion but she did not look pretentious or conceited. I was swept away to some ancient Grecian village of small whitewashed houses, the not too distant sound of the sea crashing onto a pebble beach. Then another sound. A manly snort, and throaty hack and then this brown skinned beauty turned to gob a huge pile of spit onto the pavement. The image rudely snatched away from me by the equal rudeness of this tiny woman. Why? I ask!

The trees gave up their shade to families and young girls with their babies. Here and there students slumped heavy into the novel in their hands. Small groups sat in the blazing heat animatedly conversing in Patois. Some young lads kicked a football around laughing. There were so many heart warming sights and sounds to make me smile. But then there were those that made me laugh – inwardly!  There is a certain breed of man who finds it necessary at the first baby breath of summer to strip half naked and drink cheap lager from a can. These men are usually (I am still waiting for an exception to the rule) white-British, patriotically tattooed, moob bearing (possibly pierced), backwards baseball hat wearing, rather unattractive looking males. They are either eerily white or painfully red in their colouring – neither a good luck. But they also come across rather intimidating despite their comical appearance. Only the British summer time can conjure these creatures into being. Well maybe Benidorm might do it too! (spot the snob!)

Two summer days and two very different sides of the English coin. I know which one I prefer, but that is just the snob in me. There is still something completely joyous though about these suburban niches and the community that suddenly appears within them. The sun does not just bring about better moods and attitudes; not just a ready excuse to eat ice cream at random times of the day; not just an excuse lay around doing very little; but it brings out signs of life that the winter months fail to show. I love to see families having fun together and children playing about with melted ice cream plastered around their faces. I love listening to the sounds of friends laughing and enjoying their time out in the fresh air. I love the smell of Barbecue.  No matter whether these be in a small tatty Birmingham park or a beautifully kept Gloucestershire village, it is these sights and sounds that, to me, signal a very quintessential English summer.

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Responses

  1. Lovely post, beautifully put!

    But I don’t think prefering the version of English summer without the spitting girl in it makes you a snob… 😛

    xx

    • aw thank you sweetie! I suppose you’re right about the snobbishness, I suppose it depends on your take on the word – it worries me though how many people think it is appropriate behaviour to spit in such a manner! Its a vile thing to do and almost ruined my walk! Had it landed on my flip-flopped feet it may just have ruined my day! Nxxx

      • Lol, had it landed on MY flip-flopped feet it would most certainly have ruined HER day!!! Then again, maybe that’s just the yob in me….having spent all of my formative years in and around that same park.

        I drove past it last week and marvelled at the number of swans still making it their home, at the wildness of the Witton end where there used to be a stream in which we spent hours paddling and catching tiddlers, at the beautiful willow trees lining the lake, and so on, and felt real jealousy for the people who were lucky enough to live close to such an oasis.

        However, I do acknowledge that had I gotten out of the car and taken a stroll around the mere (hence the road name?) I too may have encountered the modern-day equivalent of me and my rowdy bunch of feral chums, and then my wistful memories of happy childhood summers “over the park” may have lost some of their warmth. 🙂

      • Heehee! I can just imagine the chaos you tried to cause!! Bet it was great fun growing up with the park just there. We had the top ‘rec’ complete with white lightening drinkers and dog poo!

        I think its so pretty down there. Especially the willow trees. But I am massively confused by the giant pigeon statue – why a pigeon?! Of all the birds to pick, Brookvale chose the equivalent of flying vermin! Might say something of the area?!!

        Thanks for reading Lesley, hope you’re well!

        Nxxx


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