“England as one’s native land; England as home:” – a definition of Blighty gleaned from an on-line dictionary. The word is actually based on a Hindu word “bilāyatī” meaning home or homeland. British troops based in India would use the word to refer to Britain (their homeland). In the First World War, British troops who got a wound serious enough to get them out the frontline and back to the UK for hospital treatment, would refer to such a wound as “a Blighty one”.
From military usage, the word Blighty has become a slang term for all Brits returning home. My annual trip “home” is a return to Blighty, though the place is no longer my home, and very often a trip to Britian feels like going to a foreign country.
I would actually be wrong to talk in terms of the UK or Britain– our pilgrimage is to that strange land called “Ingerlund,” that place populated by tribes of obese, binge-drinking, knife-wielding savages who loathe foreigners – looks like not much has changed since Caesar’s day. Before the emperor’s first forays into the “sceptered isle” in 55BC and 54BC, Caesar was informed that the locals were a “wild, savage and quarrelsome” lot. My equally jaundiced and even misinformed view of England is also based on reports – mostly from the pages of British national daily newspaper, The Daily Mail. I both love and loathe reading the Daily Mail. It paints such a negative picture of Britain as a violent, crime-ridden place, that it would almost put anyone off going there for fear of being mugged or murdered.
To follow, a few ex-pat observations on modern “Ingerlund” gleaned from personal experience and from the pages of the tabloid press.
- · WHEN THE TEMPERATURE GETS ABOVE 15°C (THAT 65°F IN OLD MONEY), EVERYONE FEELS OBLIGED TO WEAR SHORTS AN START EXPOSING VAST EXPANSES OF THEIR FLESH. MANY MALES OF THE SPECIES ALSO FEEL OBLIGED TO WEAR “TOO TIGHT” TEE SHIRTS, WHICH CANNOT CONTAIN THEIR MASSIVE BELLIES. STOMACH OVERHANG HAS BECOME AN URBAN FASHION FEATURE.
- · IN THE NATIONAL PRESS, THERE IS ALWAYS A SURFEIT OF ARTICLES ABOUT “HOW LOVELY IT IS TO LIVE IN FRANCE” – A FEW PAGES LATER THERE ARE ALWAYS COPIOUS COLUMN INCHES GIVEN OVER TO FRENCH BASHING. IN THE TRAVEL SECTION THERE IS ALWAYS A COMPETITION TO WIN A “HOLIDAY HOME IN FRANCE.”
- · IN SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS, NO ONE ACTUALLY SPEAKS ENGLISH. ALL THE STAFF ARE FOREIGN AND COMMUNICATE IN SOME WEIRD FORM OF ERSATZ ESTUARY SPEAK. WHEN I TRY TO CONVERSE WITH SUCH PEOPLE, THEY NEVER UNDERSTAND ME. LUCKILY, NOWADAYS MOST RESTAURANT MENUS CARRY PHOTOS OF THE DISHES, SO WHEN CONFRONTED WITH A WAITER SPEAKING MARTIAN, ALL THE CUSTOMER HAS TO DO IS POINT AT THE DESIRED PICTURE ON THE MENU.
- · THE SERVICE IN RESTAURANTS IS ALWAYS LOUSY (UNLESS YOU ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO GET AN AMERICAN WAITER). THE FOOD IS ALWAYS EXPENSIVE AND HAS A BLOODY SILLY NAME . “HONEY ROASTED PARMA HAM WITH PROVENCAL PICKLE, SERVED ON HOME MADE FRENCH RYE BREAD” – IT’S ACTUALLY JUST A HAM SANDWICH RETAILING AT NEARLY £7. HOW CAN THE “FRENCH” BREAD BE HOME MADE, WE’RE NOT IN FRANCE.
- · EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS EXPENSIVE. THERE SEEMS TO BE A NATIONAL TREND – IF IT AIN’T EXPENSIVE, IT’S NO GOOD.
- · OLD PEOPLE ARE REALLY OLD AND THEY MAKE THEMSELVES LOOK EVEN OLDER WITH BLUE RINSES, ZIMMER FRAMES AND ELECTRIC BUGGIES. ALL OLDIES HAVE BUGGIES NOWADAYS – EVEN THE ONES WHO CAN STILL WALK. THEY WHIZZ UP AND DOWN THE STREETS IN THEIR BUGGIES, THEY EVEN DRIVE THEM INTO SUPERMARKETS. SAINSBURYS AND WAITROSE ARE MINO RACING CIRCUITS FOR “CRINKLIES” IN BUGGIES. THEY ZOOM AROUND THE AISLES, COLLIDING WITH OTHER SHOPPERS. A RIP TO THE SUPERMARKET IS NOW A VERY DANGEROUS EXPERIENCE.
- · BRITISH WORKMEN NEVER CHANGE. THERE ARE ROADWORKS AND HOLES EVERYWHERE, BUT THERE IS ONLY EVER ONE MAN STANDING IN THE HOLE. THE OTHERS ARE ALL STANDING ROUND SMOKING OR DRINKING TEA, UNTIL IT IS THEIR TURN TO GO DOWN INTO THE HOLE. WHY DON’T THEY JUST DIG A BIGGER HOLE AND THEN ALL STAND IN SMOKING AND DRINKING TEA.
- · IN THE PRESS, THERE ARE ALWAYS STORIES ABOUT OBESITY. THE BRITS ARE ALL TOO FAT, ESPECIALLY KIDS. TO TELL THE TRUTH THOUGH, I NEVER SEE MANY FAT KIDS IN BRITIAN. NEAR-ANOREXIC GIRLS SEEM TO BE MORE COMMON.
- · THE BRITISH PRESS AND POLITICIANS ARE ALWAYS MOANING ABOUT THE EDUCATION SYSTEM. KIDS ARE THICK, EXAMS ARE TOO EASY AND THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IS FAILING.
- · ON THE SUBJECT OF KIDS, THEY ALL CARRY KNIVES AND LIKE TO STAB ONE ANOTHER TO DEATH ON THE WEEKEND.
- · BRITISH MOTORISTS ALL SUFFER FROM ROAD RAGE. IF YOU UPSET A MOTORIST IN BRITAIN, HE OR SHE IS LIKELY TO GET A SHOTGUN FROM THE BACK OF THEIR CAR AND SHOOT YOU.
No doubt about it, if the politicians and powers-that-be do want to cut down on immigration, they should get all future immigrants to read the tabloid press.
White cliff thoughts
There’ll be bluebirds over,
The White Cliifs of Dover
Tomorrow, Just you wait and see.
The immortal lines sung by World War Two British songstress, Vera Lyne. Known as «The forces sweetheart», Ms Lynn recorded this idyllic song in October 1941. Though the Battle of Britain had finished, the worst of the London Blitz was over and any serious threat of a German invasion of Britain had faded, the British still stood «alone». The song was a good «propaganda» boost in the still dark years of the War.
For all ferry travellers to and from the UK, the White cliffs are the first (and last) sight of the British Isles. For many British people, they have symbolic value – facing towards continental Europe at the narrowest part of the English Channel, they form a «bastion» against invasion from the continent
I wouldn’t say that my heart misses a beat when I see the White Cliffs, neither do I get over-emotional. I am merely out on deck for a quick cigarette, before heading down to the car deck, getting into my car, and spending the next two or three hours bumping along a pot-holed motorway, before turning off into the madness of the interminable, stop, start London rush hour traffic.
The White Cliffs are just one of those clichés that we have made up to symbolise the «best» of England. On a personal level, they are not an essential part of any homecoming.
Thoughts on a Strange Land
Culturally Enriching Electro Shock
After a couple of decades in my chosen land of “exile”, I would qualify any visit to Britain as, a culturally enriching, electro shock pilgrimage back to the land of my birth. Increasingly I really am a stranger in a strange land. All contemporary cultural changes accentuated by my ex-pat status. I used to know the place inside out, and now I am outside in. Britain has become a foreign, country.
London – The Twilight Zone
When I say Britain, I actually mean London. It takes roughly a day to travel from the relative peace and quiet of my French comfort zone to the Twilight zone that London has become. it is not real. I can remember living there, but on every trip it feels more and more as if I had never lived there at all. It’s an experience not unlike a big budget, science fiction Hollywood blockbuster, – travelling to the other end of the universe and setting foot in some sprawling, monolithic, futurist city, where alien races mingle in an asphyxiating cacophony.
As a mere tourist it would be easier – wide eyed and dumbstruck at the variety, splendour, and decay of the place – but I knew the place before, and whereas the tourist might “take it all in” I find it harder to take anything in. “Gobsmacked” or simply smacked, awoken from my ex-pat torpor by a giant London slap around the face. I suppose it is the same for all ex-pats, appalled and enthralled by the visible (and invisible) changes. So fast and far-reaching are the explicit and implicit transformations that you say “I could never live here again.”
“Never say never” goes one cliché, but then there is the full circle idea of heading back to one’s roots or quite simply ashes to ashes and dust to dust. I might go back “home” one day, but (still in the cliché mode) “Home is where the heart is” and my heart is in France. Perhaps I should look to Rupert Brooke for some comfort – “There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” (not sure that this will be my epitaph)