Holiday in England – By ROBERT LYND

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Sep 11, 1948

Holiday in England

I wonder how far visitors to England this year have been disappointed in their holiday.

Perhaps, having heard of England as a land of perpetual fog and chill, they were pleasantly surprised to find that, even while they were being drenched with rain, the landscape was visible and the weather no chillier than it has sometimes been in February.

Or perhaps they felt that it was a rare and memorable experience to encounter weather so vile as this and that it would give them something to talk about to people at home, making them envious of travellers who had been soaked by the most disastrous rain since Noah.

Do we not always feel envious of anyone who has beaten a record—has experienced, for example, the worst Channel crossing within living memory? I always do; and I have always felt enviable myself when I have made the worst Channel crossing within living memory—which, I may say, I have done regularly.

Will visitors boast in the same way of the badness of the food they have had while in England? I notice that some of the women competitors at Olympia protested vehemently against the food they were given; but in retrospect may not English cookery come to seem one of the monstrous and incredible things that one would not have missed for worlds?

Of course, there is a great deal of nonsense talked about English cooking. There are plenty of good hotels and restaurants in England, and even in the worst English hotel I have never tasted worse food than I sat down to every day for a month many years ago in Le Touquet. But the standard in England is low, so that even in a famous hotel you may get a meal cooked in the spirit of Mr. Squeers.

I was given such a meal the other day in a once noble hotel in Surrey, and felt sad to think that French or American visitors might get their chief impression of England from such culinary wickedness.

I feel equally sad for the cigarette smoking visitor who sees the shop windows full of every known brand and, on going inside, finds the place as bare as Mother’s Hubbard cupboard.

I am a strong supporter of the “under-the-counter” system for regular customers. It seems to me perfectly just. But I fancy my sense of justice would become perverted if I were a stranger.

Still, it must be pleasant for a foreigner to visit England, if only to see that another country can be quite as uncomfortable as his own. The Americans, distressed by the un-American activities of certain people at home, will tell himself philosophically that it is better to live among un-American activities than to have to carry about a ration book in order to buy a small portion of sweets.

The Frenchman may be worried about the state of the franc, but he will comfort himself with the reflection that at least he has not to live in England, where nobody knows how to cook vegetables.

How Col. McCormick, of the “Chicago Tribune,” must have cheered up during his visit as he looked around and compared the state of Great Britain with that of the U.S.A. Here he found nobody travelling by train and a movement in Scotland to secede from Great Britain and become incorporated in the United States as the 49th state.

Perhaps, if he had had still sharper sight he would have discovered that the English people are reverting to savagery and that large numbers of them are secretly resorting to the practice of painting themselves with a woad.

There is no telling what strange things a visitor to England will discover if he keeps his eyes shut and his imagination in top gear—things still stranger than restaurant cabbage or England’s collapse in the competition for summer weather, or the fact that though most of us have too little money, we are at the same time suffering from having too much money chasing two few goods, or the petrol system, or the good temper of most people and the bad temper of the others.

Given a properly conditioned imagination you can see sea serpents in St. Ives Bay and democracy in Russia. I hope all the foreign visitors at present in England will go home with plenty of illusions. If they have illusions favorable to England they will enjoy their holiday still more when they have recovered from it.

If their illusions are unfavorable, like Col. McCormick’s, they will be all the happier to be back home.

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  1. […] Holiday in England – By ROBERT LYND […]

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