Here is a truism: Not all fish and chips are created equal.
I know, I know. Seems like if you take cod, cover it in batter and drop it in a basket of hot oil for a couple of minutes it would all come out the same. Not so. I’ve had some fish and chips that had a higher grease content than Andrew “Squiggy” Squiggmann’s hair. Didn’t take me but about three servings of fish and chips to determine: A) you will drop dead from a heart attack within a month if you have no more than one servings a week and B) once you’ve had Shepherd’s Pie you’ve pretty much exhausted the available indigenous British food options. (But fortunately England is home to some of the best Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Thai, Greek, Italian, Argentine, Belgian, Lebanese, Afghan and Nepalese food I’ve ever eaten – and I’ve been to several of those countries).
Okay, that statement about British food is unfair. There are more than two options (there are actually three), and fish and chips is part of my Top 10 UK moments (I wrote about the first five earlier). Here are the second five, again in no particular order of importance.
6. London. London is just a cool city. We’ve made several trips to London and it is impossible to take it all in even then. Pick an age in history over the past 2,000 years and London has a story to tell. That story begins en force in 43 AD with Londinium, the Roman settlement established after Claudius’ army conquered tribal groups. The stone walls they built are still evident across the country, but most notably near the Tower of London (built by William the Conqueror who used the remains of the giant Roman wall as part of the original castle wall). Everywhere you turn in London there is significant history: Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and on it goes. Throw in all the personalities (Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, Winston Churchill, William Wilberforce, John Newton, Charles Spurgeon, more) and the place is truly a history lover’s delight.
7. The Southern Coast. We’ve made the trip south several times since we live only an hour from the coastal city of Worthing. The water there is technically The English Channel, with France on the other side. It was along the southern coast where in 1066 William of Normandy landed, defeated the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings and became known as William the Conqueror (and crowned king of England). The white chalk cliffs that make up the famous White Cliffs of Dover and The Seven Sisters are spectacular (I’ve crawled toward the edge to get a better perspective of the drop. Yeah, it’s a long way down). It was in Worthing that we ate the best fish and chips we’ve had to date. Crunchy, not greasy, and steak fries (uh, chips) as big as Texas.
8. Brownies. Girl Guiding is (CAUTION: English hyperbole ahead) massive in the UK, because well, it started here, just like Boy Scouting and in fact by the same person: Robert Baden-Powell. I loved Boy Scouts (earned Eagle Scout when I was 14) because of the opportunities it gave me to grow personally. I love Brownies too, mostly because my daughter loves Brownies. She has absolutely excelled at it and that has created a thrilling UK moment for me. In the 16 months she’s been a part of her pack she has earned 13 merit badges and five other special badges. Last year was the centennial for Girl Guiding so there were a number of unique opportunities for her to be involved in-once-in-a-lifetime events. The thing that has made Brownies so great, though, is a great leader. “Barn Owl” as she is called has a scouts heart and has been involved in scouting all her life. Her love for Brownies feeds my daughter’s love of Brownies…and I love that too.
9. English use of English. One of the things I LOVE about Brits is their use of language. Many have a broad vocabulary and put combinations of words together that make this English speaker feel like the language gods have rolled in a buffet of fresh catch and invited this mortal to a word feast. It’s this linguistic gymnastic ability that makes British humor so funny. Mention this and most people’s minds quickly drift to their favorite Monty Python, Benny Hill or Mr. Bean scenes. Frankly, Americans, for the most part, don’t get the extremely quick and dry wit of Brits or their ability to poke fun at what they see as absurdities in their own culture. (Here is an example. Side splitting stuff…if you get it). A deft use of the language makes it possible and it has been a highlight for me.
10. Castles. It would be impossible to list Top 10 UK moments without listing castles. They are everywhere and it is hard to believe that some are nearly 1,000 years old, like the Tower of London or Leeds Castle. Windsor Castle is no shack, and neither was Bodiam Castle. And this doesn’t even include the amazing castles in Wales or Scotland, none of which we’ve been to. The interesting thing is that most of the castles never saw action. They were built mostly by the Normans after they conquered the Saxons to show power and to quell rebellion if there were uprisings. There were some attempts during the English Civil War, but for the most part the castles were a show of force that worked.
There have been several other high points to our nearly two years here and we certainly didn’t come close to seeing all that England has to offer. But the best thing about England is the people. If you come, be sure to take time to get to know a Brit, maybe over a plate of fish and chips. After all, it is a national food.