Queues, stately homes, gin, pantos ... The great British traditions we love
PUBLISHED: 10:39 23 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:05 23 March 2019
What does the “best of British” mean to you? Cream teas, cricket, stately homes or panto? Here our staff and readers look at what our green and pleasant land means to them.
Cricket, Olympics ... and David Niven
“I play cricket with my dad for a village team in Suffolk,” John Nice, owner of Nice PR Ltd, writes. “Occasionally we get to bat together which is a rare treat. Cricket is quintessentially British. Any game that requires people to stop for tea at the halfway point is fine by me.
“There is so much about being British that is good - although the fact that we rarely shout from the rooftops about how great we are is one of the reasons it’s so good to be British. When we do shout from the rooftops, it’s a joy to behold and the 2012 Olympics encapsulated what can happen when we positively unite as one. This was also the time I met my wife, so this era will always have a special place in my heart.
“If I could sum up Britain in a person – I would choose David Niven. He was a raconteur, smart, well turned out, he liked a tipple or two and was great in a crisis, as evidenced by the way he coped with a streaker on stage when presenting an award at The Oscars.
“Not only that, he reminds me of my grandfather who was the very very best of British – how nice it would be to share one last tipple (or two) with him.”
Our NHS - ‘diverse, fair and welcoming’
“Perhaps my ‘best of British’ will come as no surprise, but for me it’s the NHS. How lucky we truly are to have a health care system that’s free at the point of care for all, and is the envy of the rest of the world, “ Dr Stephen Dunn, chief executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, writes.
“I am the (very) proud chief executive of our ‘Outstanding’ NHS trust, but it’s also made a massive difference to me and my family. My daughter Katie needed an urgent operation to save her eye, and her life. My son Harry has been treated for not one, but two, punctured lungs. And the compassion shown to my father-in-law by the NHS at the end of his life has stayed with our family. This is why I would recommend West Suffolk to my friends and family.
“We have a brilliant local hospital, one of the best in the country in fact, trying to deliver that care and compassion to local people every day. Diverse, fair, and welcoming to all – that’s the NHS, and that’s true Britishness.”
The Church of England
James Marston writes: “It might come as no surprise to those who read my columns and some of my features that, as a trainee priest, I cannot help reflect on the Church of England as one of my own favourite things about being British.
“This great institution, for all its flaws, divisions, problems, and mistakes, remains for me an institution through which God’s grace flows. The ancient and remarkable parochial system enables the church to reach into the lives of all of us. It remains a constant in a changing world, it welcomes new lives and enables us to say goodbye to those no longer with us. It has kept the Christin faith for countless generations and continues to do so for future ones, whether they turn to it or not.
“Holding such global treasures as The Book of Common Prayer – the majestic gift of the Church of England to the English speaking world – the Church of England also offers its places of worship and its message for all.
“And that’s not to mention its glorious cathedrals, music, traditions, its centuries old fight against injustice, its voice of conscience in a dangerous world, its remarkable ability to compromise, the hymns, the charismatic worship, the liturgy, the incense, the bells, its international reach, its community engagement, charitable giving, unusual clothes, eccentric clergy...
“The Church of England is part and parcel of Britain’s past, present and future.
‘Diversity makes me a proud Briton’
Brendan Padfield is owner of The Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, an award-winning restaurant. He writes: “Maybe I partially define what it means to be British. I was born in Kent, but was brought up in Wales and had a Northern Irish mother and a father from Somerset. I went to university in Durham and law school in Chester.
“I could be said to be a product of the diverse geography that makes up our British nation. It is that very diversity that makes me a proud Briton.
“Whilst racism can and does raise its ugly head in Britain, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that the rich tapestry of differing peoples and cultures that make up the British nation normally rub along together very well. That is a product of basic tolerance, understanding and respect - characteristics I think partly define a Brit and which I hope will, in the end, reunite what is currently a nation fractured and confused by the uncertainties of Brexit.
“What do I love about being British? So very much. I love British irony and particularly that Americans tend not to understand it. I love our marvellous accents and the fact that ‘Hello my lover’, in Bristol, ‘Hiya luv’, in Manchester and “Are you alright pet? in Newcastle Upon Tyne all mean exactly the same thing. Indeed, I generally swoon on hearing a Geordie voice and immediately think of the most beautiful Norman cathedral in the world - Durham. I also love British architecture - the Gherkin in London and Harlech castle do it for me.
“My favourite place on earth will always be Shingle Street in Suffolk - its isolation, desolate beauty and vast East Anglian skies are simply unbeatable. But what I love most is our food. Some of the very best produce Britain has to offer is luckily on our doorstep at The Unruly Pig whether it be Tuddenham asparagus, Orford lobsters or Rendlesham game. The mere whiff of beef and oyster pie baking in our kitchen can send me into raptures. It is another reason to make me a proud Briton!”
Music, humour... and dogs
“So many greats have come out of the UK. Radiohead and Pink Floyd - in fact The Dark Side of the Moon sounds so new and fresh, it could have been released today,“ says Owen Hargrave, 17, from Stradbroke, a student at One Sixth Form College in Ipswich.
“Britain also does festivals like no-one else. Glastonbury is my favourite, as my parents always take me there as our holiday. Seeing Muse in 2010 when it was really sunny sticks in the memory.
“I think British humour also defines us. It’s at the core of our identity. People like James Acaster don’t really work anywhere else but in Britain.”
Another student at One, Blake Rickards, 17, adds: “I really like the British countryside. I’ve got two dogs. They are black Labradors called Pedro and Ember and I take them on a two mile walk most days. Overall, my happy place is Felixstowe. My gran lives there and you can’t beat fish and chips on the beach.“
Culture, sport and queues
Alan Pease, the Deputy Principal of Suffolk New College, writes: “I love the history and culture of Britain. The access we have to the arts - from provincial theatre to the West End - is immense.
“I also love sport and I’m always proud of Britain’s sporting achievements.
“I think Britain is unique because of our diversity. I also like the fact that our propensity to queue up in any given situation is world-beating. It’s our favourite pastime.
“Finally, my favourite place in Britain would have to be home - my home is my castle. I also like walking my dogs and going out to eat. I can access food from at least six different cultures from within a mile of my house.
Heritage, history and literature
Helen Johnston, owner of Hales Hall & The Great Barn, a wedding venue in the Norfolk countryside, writes: “Having grown up on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, but then travelled all over the world and lived in Hong Kong, Russia and London, I confess I’ve spent several years longing to be slightly more exotic than half Norfolk and half Suffolk, which is what I am!
“Fast forward a few years and I’m happy to say I am now completely at ease with who I am and feel that an essential part of being British is the ability to get on with everyone in this wonderful multi-cultural era, no matter where you hail from.”
Helen says the thing she loves most about being British is: “History, of course! You can’t be the custodian of a magnificent Tudor hall and great barn without feeling immensely proud of our heritage. Hales Hall was built by the Attorney General to King Henry VII in 1478. That’s 14 years before Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas and about the same time as the Italian renaissance.
“The architectural masterpieces we were producing up and down our land even then was breathtaking. What I love about being a modern Brit is the fact we have managed to preserve so many of these buildings, either through the likes of the National Trust or private enterprise, and have opened them up to be enjoyed by all.
“Literature has to be another reason to take immense pride in being British. I studied English at Edinburgh University and now work as an editor in London. I feel so fortunate to come from the land of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Wordsworth, Shelley, Austen, Dickens, Orwell, Hardy, Woolf... I could go on.
“Growing up in the heart of East Anglia I’ve been blessed to have easy access to many places on the glorious British coastline. From the sweeping sands of Holkham beach and the beautiful oozy mud flats of Blakeney and Stiffkey to the single shores of the Suffolk heritage coast there is so much to enjoy. And of course, I also love our ability to enjoy these beaches and many more no matter what the weather might throw at us. Who needs tropical sunshine when we are surrounded by the drama of the seas and the skies on every side?”
Rugby and inventions
Digby Chacksfield is the director of Rural Enterprise East – a business centre based at the Otley campus of Easton and Otley College in Suffolk. He writes: “I’m a huge fan of rugby so I always enjoy the Six Nations tournament. Hearing teams belt out their national anthems before the game really stirs the soul. These giants of the game with tears in their eyes showing passion for their country is a sight to behold.
“The Six Nations tournament showcases many qualities that I admire about this country. Determination, commitment, fairness, respect – these are in fact many of the characteristics we promote at my place of work (Rural Enterprise East).
“In my career, I have worked with many Americans and one of the things that they have pointed out to me about Britain is the amount of charities that we support. I think as a nation, we are perhaps one of the most generous in the world when it comes to our benevolence.
“Finally, working with businesses everyday I’m proud of our capacity for business ingenuity both historically and right now. From the lawnmower to the lightbulb via the wind up radio and the World Wide Web – people from this nation continually make a global impact thanks to the things that we invent.”
English country gardens
Nicola Barrell writes: “How many kinds of sweet flowers grow in an English country garden? Whether it is watering a pot plant or landscaping our garden, we are a green fingered lot.
“From championing native species to the resurgence of traditional favourites, there is a particular focus in 2019 on UK-grown plants and flowers.
“The picturesque garden style emerged in the UK as part of the 18th century Romantic Movement. Garden designers like William Kent and Capability Brown emulated the landscape paintings of European artists. Capability Brown remodelled the estate and created a new lake for Sir Edward Astley, at Melton Constable and his designs can still be seen in the grounds of Holkham Hall and Kimberley Hall.
“There is still plenty of inspiration out there thanks to the National Garden Scheme and the opportunity to visit the grounds of our region’s stately homes such as Suffolk’s Helmingham Hall, Norfolk’s Hoveton Hall as well as the Hidden Gardens of Bury St Edmunds.
“Whether we talk to our plants like Prince Charles or use more traditional methods to encourage growth, we can thank a research team at Norfolk’s John Innes Horticultural Institution (JIHI) They developed a compost recipe to share with the public as part of the post WW2 ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. It certainly was time saving compared to a 19th-century compost recipe - two parts goose dung steeped in bullock’s blood, two parts baker’s sugar scum, two parts night soil, three parts yellow loam, the soil cast up by moles plus two pecks of sand per barrow-load.”
Stately homes of England
Nicola is also an admirer of stately homes: “Even if we live in more humble abodes, thanks to the National Trust and events such as Heritage Open Days, we now have the opportunity to peek behind the luxurious curtains of the stately homes across our region including Holkham Hall and Ickworth House.
“Raynham Hall is one of these historical gems hidden in the heart of the Norfolk countryside with interior design by William Kent. As with many private stately homes, Lord and Lady Townshend are throwing open Raynham’s doors to members of the public to raise money for its upkeep. The couple, who moved into the property five years ago, consider themselves custodians of this 17th century house and are happy to share their home.
“They are surrounded by the antiques and magnificent portraits of their Townshend ancestors and employ a few members of staff to help. But their day-to-day lives are much less glamorous than expected – whether it’s painting or reupholstering 18 century furniture or organising recitals to raise funds - most of their time is spent ensuring that this national treasure can be appreciated by future generations.”
To book an Open Day at Raynham Hall visit www.raynhamrecitals.co.uk and for National Trust properties visit www. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Panto - challenging ideas of ‘Britishness’
Lynne Mortimer writes: “For a nation often defined by its stiff upper lip and dignified reserve, the art of pantomime offers something of a dilemma.
“It defies gender norms and political correctness, flinging itself into anarchy and slapstick... all within the strict confines of boy (girl) meets girl (girl), they fall in love, marry in the finale and live happily ever after.
“The origins of panto are in the Italian Commedia dell’arte although they have been given a very British twist.
“Having co-written pantomimes since 1973 I can attest that, as a nation we love to see:
“Men dressed as women (we are particularly fond of a five o’clock shadow and size 13 feet); Women dressed as men (usually the principal boy in fishnets and stilettos); Comedy duos (the ugly sisters (men); the police officers in Aladdin (men or women); The comedy lead (Aladdin’s brother, Wishee Washee; Cinderella’s best friend, Buttons); Assorted villains some of whom are immortals; Good spirits; A slapstick scene; A “behind you” scene; At least one current pop song; References to popular culture and news.
“In the course of a panto, sweets will be thrown into the audience (less often these days due to sugar content) and the audience will cheer, hiss, boo, join in the panto song, and call back when required.
“In short, audience behaviour is as much a convention as the pantomime itself and the jokes? It doesn’t matter how old they are: Ugly sister 1: I had some knickers made out of a flagpole. Ugly sister 2: Weren’t they uncomfortable? Ugly sister 1: Not once I’d taken the flagpole out.
“What we love about panto is that it challenges many pre-conceived ideas of ‘Britishness’. What panto proves is that we are not “buttoned-up”... but, having had one panto performed in America, it also proves our strange sense of humour doesn’t necessarily travel.”
Bangers and mash, fish and chips ... and trifle
“Whenever I go on holiday, I yearn for the food of Great Britain,” Charlotte Smith Jarvis writes.
“Our cuisine is a melting pot of cultures and ingredients that has expanded exponentially over the past 100 years. We have been inspired by all four corners of the globe and that has seeped into our restaurants, pubs, cafes and home cooking. Who’d have thought 50, 60 or even 70 years ago chicken tikka masala or lasagne would practically be considered our national dishes?
“Those examples aside, there are five delicious things I always consider as quintessentially British – regardless of their origins.
“Bangers and mash – a glorious meeting of proper, meaty, savoury sausages from a decent butcher, smooth, silky mashed potatoes and thick gravy to bring it all together. What more could you want mid-week?
“Pie – anything encased in pastry is a winner in my book. But the champion of champions is surely steak and ale?
“Fish and chips – who else keeps up the tradition of fish and chip Fridays at home? This is comfort food at its best. But the chips have to be crispy on the outside and fluffy within, and the fish fresher than fresh. Personally I like a bit of curry sauce on the side!
“Sunday lunch – no one does a Sunday roast better than the Brits.
“Victoria sandwich – that most classic of cakes. Tradition dictates it should only be filled with jam but I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like a smear of vanilla buttercream inside theirs too. “
Nicola Warren adds: “What could be more British than the triumph that is trifle? Where else could you find sherry soaked sponge fingers and fruit studded jelly, custard, whipped cream and topped with, well whatever you like really. Flaked almonds and glace cherries is my personal favourite. (I can just imagine my husband’s face cringing in disgust as I describe it). For me, the boozy, creamy, sugar-rich dessert is just the thing to take the edge off a family gathering.”
From mother’s ruin to modern tipple
Nicola Barrell writes: “There is something quintessentially British about relaxing with an afternoon G&T. Gin festivals, gin menus and even a Ginstitute hotel. There is a renewed passion for all things gin with 66 million bottles sold in the UK alone last year.
“The Brits’ gin craze began in the 17th century, when William III introduced a tax break on distilling - making it cheaper than beer and affordable for the masses. In London there were more than 7,000 ‘dram shops’, and 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled annually in the capital.
“And although there was a subsequent crackdown on gin drinking (regarded by Hogarth as the scourge of London) it wasn’t too long before our love affair resumed. During the Colonial era, English sailors brought quinine rations to prevent malaria and Schweppes produced Indian Tonic Water to make the taste of quinine more palatable . Winston Churchill once declared, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
“The rebranding of mother’s ruin to a cool modern tipple has seen the number of UK distilleries double over the past five years to 315; all producing a fantastic variety of gins; from baked apple and salted caramel to those infused with African botanicals.
“Tours of Adnams Copper House Distillery provide fascinating insight into this grain to glass process. Even if we haven’t got the weather or mosquitoes - you can drink to gin being one of the nation’s favourite and more staple tipples for years to come!”
‘We’re just not very good at the drums and trumpets of it all’
Martin Newell writes: “British seasons are one of my favourite things. Four capricious. and beautiful sisters. The winters can be a little tough, I know, but it’s pretty hard to get bored here. There’s something new on the menu everyday: especially in East Anglia where we have those shifting skies that Constable and Gainsborough depicted so well.
“It makes our countryside an ever-changing theatre-set, with those westerlies which arrive in March and September, acting as the stage hands.
“I also have to note that for almost six decades now, Britons have consistently produced great pop music which is the wonder and envy of the world. For a rather cramped little island, we punch well above our weight as a musical nation.
“We’ve produced Beatles, Stones, Bowie, Queen, Smiths, Dusty Springfield, Amy Winehouse and too many other great original talents to list. I sometimes think that other nations must wonder how we do it. “It’s easy, when foreign powers sneer at us, as they do from time to time, to start thinking badly of ourselves. Actually, we have plenty to be proud of. Our people are great scientists who’ve invented jet engines, hovercrafts, penicillin, cats-eyes, the internet and much else.
“We’re just not very good at the drums and trumpets of it all. Nor do we always market and distribute ourselves well. Boasting about things does not usually sit comfortably with us.
“The facts are that we British are an admixture of dreamer and pragmatist. This is an alloy long-tempered in history’s fire. It may surprise some of you too, but Britain still has an empire. Not a military, industrial or trading empire, but a cultural empire. For over half a century, now our films, music, literature, art and comedy have been conquering the world by charm. We should think of ourselves as a great little country. Because it’s what we are. Can we get on now please?“
Queues, weather, taxes, cliff edges - just some of the joys of being British
Summing it all up, Rowan Mantell writes: “I’ve never thought of myself as particularly patriotic, but marvel at my astonishing luck in being born British. Not only was there enough to eat and drink and somewhere warm to live, but so many battles had already been won.
“And not just actual battles, so that I was born into a land of peace and plenty; but also battles for healthcare and education, a vote and equal access to jobs.
“Also, I love queuing. Not the actual waiting - it was to beat standing in bus queues and sitting in traffic jams that I began cycling - but I adore the fairness of the concept. It’s why taxes are great too. Not the cash careering out of my pay but the idea that we’re all in it together – giving a fair proportion of what we have, to fund the stuff we share, and support people who can’t support themselves.
“Now there’s a cliff edge. I really like those too. Definitely not in the sense of falling off; but one of the many joys of island Britain is its coastline. There is so much of it, and even at the very centre of the island you are only 70 miles from the sea.
“British weather? Another sunny smile from me. It changes. We get snow and scorchio. Wet and dry. How dull, and dangerous, would it be if Britain was forever stuck in some dusty drought? Instead we can still boast of green and pleasant land, from rolling mossy moors to forests and water meadows.
“Sing it out in one of our awe-inspiring medieval churches. Britain is alive with history and we are the lucky recipients of centuries of artistry, invention and construction. To be British is to be part of a fair isle, with more than its fair share of weather, wealth and waiting in line.”