So, here is in and here are the old boasts and the old gripes. This is the Preface to the “Shell Guide To England (1973)” by none other than J. B. Priestley. And what do we find? None other than the same old kant and moaning. He claims an unnamed German traveller (who he has since, determinedly, out-travelled) said to him when he asked what the most beautiful country in the world was : “England”. But of course, he says “only, of course, what we have left of it.”
He continues: “And between the England that German had seen and admired and the England we see now there stands, like a mountain of trash, the dreadful legacy of the ‘thirties, surely the most determinedly tasteless of all our decades.” (9, Shell Guide To England 73)
So he has used his pulpit to bash, to moan, to brag – to belittle – to Romanticise and be a Classicist. What could be more English? No wonder they kicked off this weighty tome with this diatribe. Or did they, like now we might, sit and snigger at the moany old Brexit man who delivered his scant essay five weeks late and then probably had a side-swipe at the publishers?
“We may not have done our best to ruin our enchanting country, but have undoubtedly had a devil of a good try.” (10)
“In large countries you can go two hundred miles along one valley, three hundred miles across one monotonous plain. These are countries for which the jets were invented. Fly – and get done with them. Even the English should not fly over England.” (10)
Well, there you have it! Not that I intend to fly. He is quite right, that this small (very small) island vanishes at the hands of a jet plane. You need a shit car, a horrible snarled up M road, a terrible service station and many sad-eyed people to feel the true magic of England. Let me enter my Mk1 Megane Cabrio. Let me feel it.