Eau de roast beef

Posted by D

When I came back to Britain after nearly a decade living in Europe with Americans (see, its starting to make sense now, isn’t it?) we seemed to be at the height of Cool Britannia. Lock, Stock had made east end gangster movies the height of cinematography (followed by innumerable wastes of celluloid), Oasis were the darlings of New Labour and Blur had dominated underground rock. It seemed to me a very good time to be British.

Only… I never could project that Britishness, that essence of Brit, that je ne sais quoi that personifies Johnny Brit.

Johnny Vaughn’s got it. John Cleese too. Tony Blair’s a little too slick to have it but I suppose he does by default of being the Prime Minister although the image of those red demon eyes has been etched into my brain. Elizabeth Hurley, Kate Winslet, Nigella Lawson, there’s just no mistaking them as anything other than British totty (well Nigella is totty as far as I’m concerned, have you seen her lick a spoon?!)

Now make no mistake, I am not talking about that bumbling character Hugh Grant always plays, the “terribly sorry” type who has a heart of gold hidden behind ineffably stupid clumsiness and verbal dithering. Although tentatively there may be some truth to that Mr Bean-esque Chaplin comical quality; doing something with the right intentions for the wrong reasons.

Did Britain ever recover from losing an empire? And yet its not like we lost it, we didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and collectively start looking down the back of the couch… sorry, sofa… or behind the fridge. We did the right thing, for the wrong reasons. We gave the people their indepedence (albeit with a little bit of a struggle) and in return they promised to thrash us at every sport we’ve ever invented except golf. All it took was a skinny man in a nappy making salt and refusing to fight back to show us the error of our ways.

Tea. What could be more essentially British than tea? There’s an art to making tea I learned from Douglas Adams. Still makes tea taste like distilled weeds but my sister seems to appreciate a good cup of char every other minute… its a drug, isn’t it? I managed to escape the country during those formative years where you’re all put on Earl Grey drips and forced to sniff tealeaves, right? Not that coffee is such a huge leap up the scale, its just soggy ground up beans. I’d be quite happy if Starbucks just sold cups of warm brown sugar water so long as it came with whipped cream and a biscotti.

So I can’t emulate our British celebrities, I can’t sympathise with our politicians, I can’t understand our social order structure or class system (am I upper middle-class, lower upper-class, middle upper-class? Can I look royalty directly in the eye?) and I don’t like tea. I think I’m probably just a failure as a Brit altogether. Terribly sorry about that.

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