Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Abroad? It's not all bad

‘Abroad’ is an important concept to an Englishman, who generally sees it starting a lot closer to home than one might imagine.

For most people in the South East of England – which people who live there like to suggest is crowning glory of the nation, while others think of it as the bottom of the country – the wild lands start north of Watford, which is practically an outer suburb of London. By that measure, my home in Luton, is definitely foreign though it’s only forty miles from the capital; then again, the curry houses and Sari shops of Bury Park make it easy to believe we’re in another country, but I rather like that.

Once you get up to what we often simply call ‘the border’, the one between England and Scotland, then you really are reaching another country, culturally for now, but perhaps even technically in a couple of years when the Scots hold their referendum on independence.

One of my sons, my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter live in that uncouth land. Strictly speaking, the word ‘step’ should be in there, but ‘step-daughter-in-law’ just sounds stupid so daughter-in-law she will remain.

They came down to spend a night in the relative civilisation of Luton the other day, on their way to take a holiday in that even more foreign part, France. They’re spending a couple of weeks near Bordeaux, where the locals believe July should be sunny and warm, something we’ve rather lost sight of over here, where we spend our time digging out jumpers and looking for shelter from the latest downpour.

They got to their destination on Saturday, the 14th of July, which was excellent timing. It is of course the French national day, celebrating the fall of the Bastille prison to the ragged poor of Paris in 1789. As you’d expect, it’s now a holiday where all that is rich, together with all that is mighty including the army, decks itself out in its pomp and parades around for the simple populace to gawp at.

Happy birthday to my daughter-in-law
And, accessoirement, joyeux anniversaire to France. Of course
Curiously, it also happens to be my daughter-in-law’s birthday, so she had the wonderful experience of being in a country all of which was marking her day with parties and fireworks. She could watch what must have been the most spectacular celebration of her birthday she’d ever witnessed, sipping one of the world’s finest wines and enjoying a glorious summer evening.

Funnily enough, I too could have a whole nation celebrating my birthday, but I’d have to go to Australia. Still, Australia’s not really abroad. On the two occasions I’ve been there, I’ve taken great pleasure in informing the natives that Australia was just Britain with better weather.

Strangely, it wasn’t clear to me that they appreciated the extent of the compliment.

Even so. Britain with better weather? In January? And the wine’s not bad either.

I could perhaps be tempted.

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