The promised barbecue summer did not materialize but hordes of tourists arrived in England. I love England and make no secret of it; but I find that most non Brits; even Sri Lankans who attack both the British and Britain grab any chance to get there. The roads, shops and public transport are all packed with non Brits. The met department was taken severely to task by both the public and the media but there was only one day of very heavy rain in the month I spent there. It would rain for short periods with sunshine and clear skies in between and we did have some days with no rain at all. The English take pride in their gardens and these are at their best in the summer.
The English countryside is very beautiful; rolling hills, forest glades, flowers growing in glorious profusion , green valleys with cattle and sheep grazing contentedly. One is steeped in history in England. Home of English literature, proud birthplace of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Jane Austen..I visited the home of the past named in Hampshire; walked through the rooms; saw her writing bureau; chairs she used to relax in,her bed and some of her clothes. I love British pubs and went to two on this visit. Had lunch at one next door to Jane Austen's home;this does a thriving trade as most visitors to her home eat there. The other one Tony and Charmelene took me to before I left was the first of its kind for me. It was 'The Orange Tree' in Hertfordshire and was a Gastro pub--- a traditional pub with fine dining. I do not agree with the general assumption that English cooking is bland and tasteless. Their roasts, Yorkshire pudding, pies and traditional puddings are hard to beat. My favourite English pud is Summer Pudding. This is made of three or four kinds of berries stewed in sugar and water. One lines a bowl with thin slices of bread pours in the stewed berries, covered with a heavy plate and places it in the fridge overnight. The next day it is unmoulded and eaten with cream. Had great fun making one to a new recipe with Charmelene. We made so much that Tony and I ate it for days as Charmelene doesn't like berries. Apparently this pud originated with housewives collecting berries during the summer and putting them in a vessel to stew and store for the winter.
The British media are forthright and fearless and never mince their words on any issue. The Labour government is on a bad wicket at the moment with the recession and the expenses scandal being exposed on a daily basis by the media. Some MP's have even resigned over it. Can't see that happening here! The Tories seem to be riding towards an easy victory at the next election.A rising star in the Labour party is David Milleband's 39year old sibling. Harriet Harman, Deputy Prime Minister acting for Gordon Brown during his summer vacation made her presence felt with statements that warmed my heart. She said that there should never be an all male Leadership again in the Labour party, said that if banks had more women at Management level there would not have been such reckless lending and demanded more stringent laws and punishment against perpetrators of rape. Lord Mandelson in a fervent appeal to Labour MP's, appealed to them to stop infighting as this would deter their fight against a common enemy.
Having lived in Britain in my youth and been a regular visitor, I strongly dispute the belief that they are unfriendly, cold and arrogant. I have never suffered from any discrimination and even strangers have gone out of their way to be kind and helpful. This time too in Church, everyone came up and spoke to me, even offering to drop me at my abode. Once when Charmelene and I were about to park in a fee paying car park a young man about to drive out gave us his parking ticket and wished us a good day. The taxi drivers I used never failed to say God bless you and wish me a happy holiday. The English are polite and helpful; never intrude on one's privacy and are not curious. I think they are the most tolerant people in the world. Who else would tolerate soap box orators in Hyde Park attacking Britain.? In buses and trains, people of other ethnic groups talk at the top of their voices in their languages which annoyed me. But the British take all this in their stride without batting an eyelid. That is the essence of tolerance to me. In the larger more expensive shops, the recession is obvious as there are few shoppers. I found that food and travelling have gone up a lot since my last visit in 2007. But clothes are the same or sometimes even cheaper.
Their Television is excellent. I have always been a 'Coronation Street' fan and enjoy Eastenders too. But there are other excellent programmes.The best was a series called 'How the other half lives. Several true stories about wealthy families reaching out to the less fortunate by sponsoring them and helping on an ongoing basis. Another series I enjoyed was called 'Come dine with me'. Four people are chosen and given the funds to host a dinner each in his or her own house. The dinner has three courses and they give each other marks. The winner gets a thousand pounds as a prize. The food, the ambience, the entertainment are all taken into consideration. One group had celebrity Edwina Currie taking part. I was amazed to hear her constantly referring to her affair with John Major. A comedian in the same group said he was going to call John Major to say that he had lost an excellent cook!
Although scenic beauty is a feast for the eyes, the quality of life comes from human relationships. One reason I keep going back to England is because of my friends who have given me so much and been there for me in the ups and downs of my life. Charmelene and Tony with their children Richard and Lara head the list but there are others too who play their part to give me a memorable holiday. Juliet Cornwall, Peter White, Imogen Barker, Michael Lethbridge, Hugh and Clare Richards are among those.
It is always a sad farewell when I leave England. At this stage of life, I don't really know how many more tomorrows will be mine. Whether I visit England again or not is in the hands of God Almighty. But to me it will always be a home from home. 'There'll always be an England and England will be free'.
By Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne
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