Sunday, 14 August 2005

A remnant of the past

This afternoon I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme called “Gardeners’ Question Time”. I don’t have a garden – I’ve never had a garden; I don’t even have a pot plant at the moment, but I love that programme. I started listening to it in 1969, when I first came to this country (I worked as a French Assistante in a school that year) and I’ve never really stopped. The panel of gardeners has changed over the years, but the ambience is still the same: that of a well-mannered meeting in a church hall 40 years ago. The audience ask polite questions about flowers and plants and insects and strange diseases; they are answered politely and with humour; they applaud politely. And so it goes on for half an hour and, at the end of it, I always feel like everything’s all right with the world. For a few minutes, at least.

Yes, it is middle-class. Yes, it is old-fashioned. But England was like that, even in 1979, when I moved here for good, and it was a great place to live. People were more relaxed than in France; you didn’t have to conform like in Paris; the pace was slower; politeness and consideration for others ruled. And now? Now, it’s like everywhere else. It’s rapidly losing its special charm; the thing that made it so different. It’s got tough, coarse, impatient, selfish, heartless somehow. I don’t recognize it and there’s no doubt I wouldn’t have left France if England had been the way it is now in 1979.

Perhaps it’s partly the fault of the Eurostar. I never thought a tunnel would be built under the Channel in my lifetime. I was over the moon when it was finished – I get seasick on boats and I hate flying – but maybe it has accelerated the demise of the England I knew.

So I’m slapping whatever it is that changed England beyond recognition.


  1. Love Radio 4 and long live all the programmes!

    Sorry that you feel this way J about the change in the UK! I hated London from late eighties to early nineties (when I first started visiting there).
    I found London truly victorian in many ways.

    Yes London has become much more cosmopolitan - I almost rarely hear English spoken in some areas including the west end! Well Paris is not any better to be honest - there are still WAY too many conformist French here. Maybe you can send some of the Londoners here?

    Slapping all the conformist French!!


  2. i so agree, J - there is a tremendous lack of courtesy nowadays. It's difficult to find places where profanity, violence and sexual innuendo are not the order of the day. We must cherish those places when we do find them - in our workplaces, neighborhoods, shops, and in the media. Perhaps a well-worded letter to the BBC indicating exactly why you tune in to that show?

  3. N, I'm aware it's not specific to London and England in general. I wouldn't move here now because there isn't much difference between the UK and the Continent any more. If I were living in Paris just now, what would be the point? When you live in the country of your birth you just accept its faults; when you've been through the enormous upheaval that moving countries entails in order to seek something else, which you think is better, it's rather disheartening to realize some of your reasons for moving are gone.

    I enjoy slapping the French - anytime. Slap!

    D, a while ago I decided I would never again, say, in a supermarket, give money to a cashier that wasn't actually looking at me at that point, but I haven't been able to do it: I'd be standing there for minutes on end with my money or card in my hand if I waited for them to stop chatting with their colleagues or doing whatever it is they do in order to avoid eye contact with the customers. That's for shops; I don't have a workplace to go to and my neighbourhood is Shepherd's Bush, which says it all.

    The BBC know how we all feel about Gardeners' Question Time - that's why it's been going on for so long. Ah, nostalgia! :-)

  4. Do you remember, though, when the only cheese you could buy was Cheddar, and Cheshire or Lancashire or Danish blue (heavens!) were really exotic?

    I think gardening itself may keep people courteous and sane. Gardeners out there, do you agree?

  5. Yes, I do! LOL! And olive oil was sold in a tiny bottle in Boots - for syringing ears.

    It's all true, but we gave up a lot in exchange for more choice.

  6. Lulu, i'm in complete agreement re: the gardening-sanity correlation!
    Gardening keeps one humble - *humus* being the Latin root!

  7. what TV dictates people do. Violance, sex & stupidity is the message it is sending these days...

    no gardening

  8. I've never been to London or Paris, and all I know of London I picked up in books describing the century before the last one, so I just imagine coal-smoke smeared urchins picking pockets and that kind of thing. OK, I lie, but truly, that's what I think of. Or Shakespeare's day, and the bear-baiting pits. I know, you're sick of me--all I ever do is say, "Well, things have been worse..." ;)

  9. I am beginning to think that a real slap is much funner than a nice handshake, J!

    At least this is how I feel today.

    Hope you are well.

    Wish we had Radio 4 here.

  10. dr o2, England still has the best TV and the best radio in the world. It's gone down quite a lot, but it's still ten times better than anywhere else.

    LOL!, Tania, you will be disappointed when you finally visit the UK: most of the quaint things are gone and there's no smog any more. Neither of us would have wanted to live in the periods you mention, I'm sure. Things have been worse... and better at the same time.

    Told you, B, slapping is fun. :-)

  11. I've never been to London or Paris either but the same feeling is going on here. When I was little they used to play cartoons all morning long (A.M. to Noon) on Saturdays.

    I don't know when this practice ended but now there are all these infomercials and news programs on instead.

    There is also an onslaught of crude programming airing earlier and earlier. I'm not a prude but even I was shocked by some of the things shown.

  12. The media are, of course, a reflection of what's going on out there, but they should be a force for good.


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