A little bit British

A little bit British

I went to England on my summer holidays last week. The irony of that statement is not lost on me. But I was desperately in need of two things: to speak English and to be with friends. I didn’t care so much about the weather. Living in Germany for the past four months has been wonderful, but I’m a social creature and not being near friends was starting to ‘do my head in’ as the Brits would say. On that note, I have to confess that something odd happens whenever I touch down on UK soil: I become a little bit British.

I realize that’s not exactly a huge shock since that’s my heritage on my father’s side, but I’m surprised at how quickly I slip into Brit mode. I even adopt this faux British accent and find myself greeting everyone with ‘y’allright?’ and answering with a ‘yeah’ that sounds ever so slightly Kate Winslety. There are people who think I sound a bit posh already but you’ve been fooled – this, people, is a good old-fashioned Drama School accent courtesy of the late, great voice coach Margaret Heale. It took her two years to rid me of my Aussie twang (I started school there) and my overall lazy South African diction. I was a first-class mumbler, and it used to drive her bonkers.

Anyhoo, back to Blighty. There is something so comforting about being in the UK, and I can sum it up in two words: ‘telly’ and ‘biscuits.’ All I want to do when I’m there is watch trashy British telly, and eat Hobnobs. I also want to get a sandwich from Marks and Sparks – cheese and onion on multigrain bread please – pop in to WH Smith for a squizz at the books, dash into Boots for make-up and shampoo, then nip into Monsoon and Next, for a quick look-see. In other words, I just want to wander down a High Street and my entire holiday is made. How bloody sad is that?

It’s the predictability of British life that soothes me. And a High Street makes me feel safe. Yes, I know what I just wrote, and I’ll be sure to ask a psychoanalyst what the hell that means. It’s like coming home to your mum’s house for tea and biccies and having her dote on you (especially if your mum is a mumsy mum in a British sitcom). It seems to me that most British families have a tendency to stay together – the older generation seems to have ‘stuck it out’ and even though it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily happy, they just seem to get on with it, and there’s something I like about that. Not the dysfunctional part, the predictability part.

BUT…

As we well know the Brits talk incessantly about the weather as if it’s some kind of phenomenon that only occurs in the Northern Hemisphere, or changes radically from day to day.

THE WEATHER DOESN’T CHANGE THERE, PEOPLE!!!! IT JUST GOES FROM ONE SHADE OF GREY TO THE NEXT – COME NOW!!!

Also, if you make the fatal mistake of overhearing their conversations, you will want to saw your ears off with a carving knife. I sat next to a mother and her two teenage daughters at the airport at Pret a Manger (another High Street winner in my book), and after five minutes I snapped. The conversation went something like this:

Mum: What seat you in?

Daughter 1: (texting on phone, not giving a flying fuck) Dunno.

Mum: Well, I could sit at the window and you could sit at the aisle seat.

Daughter 2: (giving mum daggers) I hate you mum, why don’t you just leave us the fuck alone?

Mum: Or Mike could sit next to me, and you could sit next to each other.

Daughter 1: Shut up mum, I don’t care.

Daughter 2: Yeah, just go away.

Mum: Or I could take the aisle and you two could sit in front, and Mike could…

I’ll spare you the rest. It was excruciating. It didn’t help that Mum’s tone of voice came with an extra helping of whinge. Her teenage daughters had zero respect for her – it was a bit pathetic to watch – and made me once again glad I didn’t have children, because I would definitely have given them away at sixteen. This is just one of many inane conversations I have had the misfortune of overhearing in England: Once on a bus while visiting my grandparents in Kent, I sat next to two old ducks who spoke about the weather for forty-five bleeding minutes…

I was writhing in my seat in agony by the end of the journey. In my head I was pleading with them to talk about something else – ANYTHING ELSE!!! Eventually they did, and the conversation turned to something equally riveting like how a letter had gone astray in the post.

Here’s my post-holiday observation: This is a nation that will not easily let its past go. It was disturbing to see that they were commemorating the Great Fire of London – are you serious? Was that really something to remember? “My God I remember the way the smoke just took young Betsy – it was quite a day.”

I mean, what’s next? A day to commemorate the Great Plague, or the Black Death?

In fact, while I’m on this rampage, I’m calling on a ban on all countries to stop commemorating horrible things – it’s bollocks if you think we learn from our past mistakes, we don’t. We just bloody don’t. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the Brits do not like change (Brexit alert!!!) and I’m convinced they need to learn to leave their past behind – as most of us have been taught to do in therapy you eventually realize that it’s a bit unhealthy after a while to drag your past behind – and MOVE THE FUCK ON!!!

This explains why they never change their TV presenters – Zoe Ball and Devina McCall are secretly a hundred years old but the BBC still pays for their face lifts, and Ant & Dec actually live inside a TV studio because they’re on every single show (I’m not complaining, I adore Ant, or is it Dec, who knows). And let’s face it, they practically had to wheel Bruce Forsythe out of Strictly Come Dancing before the bugger would leave (and before rigor mortis set in) – crikey…at least they’re not ageist I know, but still…

To illustrate my point, there was the play I went to see in London: John Osborne’s The Entertainer. I really just wanted to see Kenneth Branagh in the flesh – his love of acting and commitment to the craft is what excites me. That, and that devilish chin of his – ooh-la-la.

But again, I felt I was sitting in the living room of a typical British family, each one more complain-y than the other – I know the play was written in the 50s but is just didn’t seem to hold any relevance to my life today. So I left at interval. Sorry Ken, you were amazing, but it didn’t feel like the most exciting choice for a play, even though I love me a good modern classic. Now I sound whingey don’t I? Dammit, I told you I was a little bit British.

Okay okay, so there are times when I love a good whinge, when I’m not always fond of change, when I also battle to leave my past in the past, why I find myself babbling on about the bloody weather for no reason, and why I generally just can’t be arsed to do much. And that’s probably why I will always be a little bit British.

P.S. I’m off to Portugal in a few weeks’ time for a retreat and I’ll let you know if I find myself becoming a little bit Portuguese ????

Kelley Thorrington
natalie@thecreativelab.co.za