New England is brown. The cloudless sky is periwinkle but the rest of the world is universally brown. Leafless trees, pavements, roads, winter-weary grass, and mud-coated snow blend in to one. Soon the roads will be punctuated with burst of neon spray paint outlining the vast potholes, ready for construction workers waging their eternal war on Mother Nature, but till then the world is brown.
To combat this monotone I buy daffodils, English ones at that. New England doesn’t really get a Spring, indeed this year it is still snowing in April. In contrast, English Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year. Our garden at home bursts into life with snowdrops, crocuses, and boundless daffodils. The Tesco garage sells 10 daffodils for a pound, and my Mum, who firmly believes that daffodils should not be displayed in less than multiples of 30, always has a large vase of them in the lounge. Daffodils smells like home.You can imagine my surprise and delight when I found that Trader Joe’s sells daffodils here. Ten for $1.49, when you factor in the exchange rate this means you can buy English daffodils in Boston for the same price as the Tesco garage! I don’t know if I was more thrilled with the beauty of the flower, or the economy of the purchase.
While staring at the vase of daffodils, I am reminded of one my biggest questions about the American psyche. It is eternally puzzling to me that so many Americans want to visit Ireland. I understand that many feel an ancestral pull to where their family came from. However, there are many more who have no such connection and yet feel compelled to visit the Emerald Isle. My boyfriend’s sister for example, who has no Irish blood whatsoever, recently told me about how much she wanted to visit Ireland. When I ask people what they want to do in Ireland, the answer is always the same; drink Guinness and drive around and see the countryside (though naturally not at the same time). Now I have no particular ill will towards Ireland, however, I can’t help thinking if you are flying all the way to Dublin you should just got the extra 30 minutes to England instead.
After much deliberation and discussion, I have concluded that many Americans do not know about England’s beauty. My boyfriend pointed out that most contemporary movies set in the UK concentrate on London or other major cities. Period pieces such as Pride and Prejudice demonstrate England’s rural beauty, but perhaps this has unwittingly suggested that such rural idylls belong to a bygone era. I hope that new dramas such as Broadchurch and Poldark will help to correct this fallacy. Indeed I cannot imagine a better advert for Dorset than Broadchurch’s sweeping shots of pristine sands and rugged cliffs.
The land of Keats, Austin and Wordsworth is still there for the taking, and the UK Tourist Board is missing a trick in not selling the wonders of England to America. Instead of campaigns that solely stress the cosmopolitan multicultural appeal of London, we should equally be touting the beauty of the countryside. Having recently been back home for Spring break, I got to experience the English Springtime in all its glory. We live about 30 miles from central London and can be in the city in 25 minutes on the train. In 15 minutes walk, however, you can be surrounded by fields, wooded trails, and country smells. One of my favorite local walks passes the ruins of a 12th Century Priory dissolved by Henry VIII, the cottage of John Donne a 17th Century poet, and a church built in 1140 where Elizabeth I worshiped. The walk ends at the most incredible coffee shop, Pinnocks, which looks like it should be found in Diagon Alley and serve lashings of Butterbeer. While Butterbeer and pumpkin juice are in short supply, it does deliver the most delicious white hot chocolate in the world, and a daily assortment of scrumptious cakes served in charming mismatched vintage crockery. Americans, forget what you have read and heard about British food, it is not the bland monotonal grey fare you are expecting. Avoid any place with union jack paintwork, serving “real English food” in central London. They are guaranteed to be awful, and I suspect are the reason why Britain has a poor food reputation abroad. Instead look at the restaurants and food carts on the Southbank. Try The Swan restaurant for modern British fare in the shadows of Shakespeare’s theater, or the OXO Tower Restaurant overlooking London’s glittering skyline. Go to Borough Market and work through the wide variety of food stations; get pie and mash or a curry, a pasty or scotch eggs. Sample incredible cheeses, charcuterie, artisan breads, olive oils, French pastries, and Turkish sweets. As you wander off the beaten path in England look at the daffodils, the crocuses and the snowdrops that spring up in the grass verges, or under in the shade of a tree, or beside a railway station. Be thankful for the yellows, greens, and vivid sunshine, and think of New England’s dull lifeless earth.The next time you dream of adventures in Ireland, do yourself a favor and go to England instead. See London but also hop on a train to the country. Follow one of the many public footpaths and explore the countryside, pretend to be Elizabeth Bennet walking to Netherfield to visit an unwell Jane. And if transatlantic travel is not in your plans, go to Trader Joe’s buy at least 30 daffodils and dream.