I am profoundly grateful that I stayed awake through all my history classes — otherwise none of the scenery here in England would make much sense to me. This is because England is oozing with history. (Actually, it oozes quite a lot anyway, mainly because it rains so much, but that’s another column. )
Indeed, there’s so much history here in Britain, that you can quite literally trip over it. For instance, in Oxford, you can’t get to the Radcliffe library, which is itself a few hundred years old, without first stumbling across a set of dinosaur footprints in the front lawn. In Chichester, you can’t wander the cathedral, which is nearly 1000 years old, without tripping over a bit of Roman mosaic flooring. And in London, you can’t cross historic Trafalgar Square without crashing into several hundred pigeons, some of which have been happily living on tourist handouts since about 496 BC.
Even when there aren’t several layers of history to worry about, visiting an original site can be hazardous. This is because of a little known English law that says a historical attraction must include either A) At least 3256 narrow, winding, worn stone steps or B) Very low doorways. I suspect this law was the work of the restaurant and souvenir lobby, because by the time you finish touring a site you have either worked up a tremendous appetite or been conked on the head so many times you’ll buy anything.
Where there aren’t original sites to be had, Brits put up museums to keep all their miscellaneous bits of history. These places teach you lots of interesting facts. For instance, it was at the Commonwealth Museum in Bristol that I learned that those white safari hats are called pith helmets because they’re molded from the pith of tropical plants. I’d always thought they were called that because in England it’s forever pithing down rain.
The sheer amount of history here means that the locals can sometimes be a bit blasé about it all. For example, I recently had a chance to visit a beautiful church that is so old, it’s been there since the Norman invasion, around 1066. I was hushed and amazed by it’s durable construction. I was awed by the fact that this one church had been around longer than my entire country. I was stunned when a gaggle of children came screaming in for their post-Sunday school tea. In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from making one of those slow-motion desperation dives to catch the bits of marshmallow biscuit they were dropping on the floor.
Of course, this slightly casual attitude toward old buildings can be an advantage too, because it means that tea rooms and restaurants can be located in the most unlikely of places. Which leads me to one of the best reasons for visiting England: the food.
I know what you’re thinking — the English are not supposed to be famous for their cooking. Personally, I have come to believe that this is a nasty rumour started either by the French out of jealousy, or by the Americans to market their fast food.
In any case, England is the land of thick cream and jam on scones, chocolate beer, fish and chips, venison sausage, Balti curry, the fry-up breakfast, roast goose, and sticky toffee pudding. And yes, as a matter of fact, I will be exceeding the weight allowance on my flight back to Canada.
Even better, the English still have proper sit down meals, with several courses, each accompanied by a drink. For example, before dinner, you can have a glass of sherry. On special occasions, this might be followed by rolls and champagne. The red meat course is pair wish a red wine. De white meat ish paired wif a luvley white wine. And deshert of coursh must (hic!) have a schweet vine and lader you want to pash the port to the lest. The lest. The left. Yesh.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I’ve been tripping so much. Never mind.