I had my hair cut last week by a lovely chic young lady. I assumed she was from Poland, or Slovakia perhaps. Most European ladies in the UK are from central or eastern Europe. But she was French, it turned out. I should have guessed. She was chic, and chic is French. Her name should have been a give-away too, but maybe I didn’t notice the sign until later. Delphine. Not Delphinski. We chatted a little. More than I usually do. I’m not one for pointless small talk with strangers. I’m not from Europe, after all. Very British, for good and bad.
She likes England. She’d recently given Canada a try, but it wasn’t to be. And she was happy to return to England. And why not? When the sun is out, there is no country on earth more beautiful than England. Her words, not mine. She’s not the first person from foreign shores to say such a thing to me. I am always a little surprised. It’s a bit like someone confessing they came to live in England for the food.
I find these comparisons difficult to quantify. England is no more and no less beautiful than any other number of places on this little speck of rock floating around the universe. The most beautiful scene is the one around you, if you look carefully enough. Although it must be said, the sun does need to be out and shining brightly for that beauty to come to view in Blighty. What does England offer to earn such flattering comparisons though? Our mountains are not terribly high, our canyons are mere scratches in the soil. Our forests were turned into French bashing warships centuries ago. Delphine probably knows that, but she seems forgiving.
We do, however, do green wonderfully well. In summer, England is a blanket of the richest, lushest most vibrant shades of green. Green grass, green ferns, green trees, green mosses. I’ve eavesdropped on many a conversation on the National Express bus out of Heathrow as we head out of London. Look at the green! Have you ever seen so much green? I soon lose interest in their conversations once I realise they are referring to the surrounding flora.
For us natives, any beauty is largely taken for granted. It’s the same for natives in their homeland everywhere isn’t it? To a certain degree, anyway. For us natives here, the beauty is in the contrast. The contrast of the foreboding greys of winter and the bright sun splashed colours of summer. Sometimes spring works its magic oh so slowly if the climate isn’t favourable. The buds of spring delay, pause and retreat in the cold.
Other years, such as this year, when temperatures are kinder, the countryside explodes into life and colour. The bare branches of Chestnut trees are smothered with new foliage. Cherry blossom blooms. Spring flowers rapidly cycle through snow drops, daffodils and bluebells. And then there is the all enveloping green. But most of all we look forward to a deep blue sky and the almost forgotten sensation of feeling sunrays .
And we abandon the green of the countryside and get straight down to the beach. With a beer. And a barbecue. An English beach can be a beautiful thing. Just settle in to a deckchair, relax and gaze out to sea. Listen to the gulls swirling overhead and the waves lapping at the shore. You could be on any Caribbean beach if you just let your imagination go. Just don’t get into the sea. You’ll ruin the illusion in an ice cold instant.