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.