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Andy Bluff the Film Buff

The British Bulldog

by Andrew Smith

When my alter-ego, Andrew Smith of London, England, tentatively suggested I, Andy Bluff, write a column on Britain for the benefit of our American friends, my immediate reaction was to tell him, "Piss off twat-head. I can't be arsed." But then I thought, "well, why the heck not?" It's not as though I lack the credentials. I have lived my entire life in Britain, except for an initial 9 month gestation period in a womb (but by God, it was a British womb through and through). I have visited every part of Britain, other than the bits I haven't. As a proud citizen of the United Kingdom I pay my taxes and use my vote, apart for the times I didn't vote because I hadn't paid my taxes. And to top it all, I have strains of English, Scottish and Welsh blood coursing through my veins, making me a tight-fisted snob with bestial desires - in other words, an all-round Brit.

So who is better qualified to deliver withering satirical comment on a once all-conquering nation that is now known as "that wet place just north of France?" Nobody, that's who, and I'm nothing if not nobody.

Eh?

So here's an overview of the country I call home.

SIZE
Britain is the size of a pea. And a small pea at that; a dried and shrivelled pea you find underneath the fridge-freezer. In contrast, the United States IS the fridge-freezer. Or something. The point I'm making is we are a tiny nation in the scale of things. Not much bigger than Florida, I'd guess, though our population is less evenly spread out. There's about 55 - 60 million Britons and 50 million live in England, many of them in the south, within torturous commuting distance from London. Tinned fucking sardines; I wouldn't be surprise if we began tilting south-east into the sea.

Because of this population density, solitude doesn't exist (or if it does it is soon full of wealthy Londoners searching for a second home to get away from the 'rat-race' they've helped create). It's also why Britons love the countryside so much - everywhere else is full of people and petrol-choked air. Our motorways are often as busy as central city roads at rush hour. All these factors affect our perspective. We are in awe of things other countries wouldn't give a second thought. A 100 mile journey by car or train is a seriously big deal over here; in Canada this would be called popping out to the shops. It's the same with natural wonders: Lake Windemere, the largest body of water in England, is nearly twenty miles long! My God, just think - that's about a 30 minute drive (traffic permitting). In global terms our highest mountain, Ben Nevis, is a mere nipple; to us it is the pinnacle of the earth itself. It even has snow on top in winter.

FISH AND CHIPS
Britain is notorious for having a cuisine as exciting as Al Gore's sex life. Other European countries with more culinary cultivation (notably France) like to disparage Britain as nation of stodge-chewing barbarians. There's some truth in this. The English breakfast, for instance, is one of the more unhealthy creations to grease a plate. Consisting of fried pig skin, fried pig gristle, fried chicken embryo, fried toadstools and fried pigs' bruises (called bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms and blackpudding in polite company), this morning repast can choke up your heart before you can say "I feel a shooting pain in my left arm." Our national dish is similarly fat-laden. Fish and chips - the fish coated in batter then deep-fried in lard, the chips being the things you call fries, only chunkier - is a proud tradition that in recent times has suffered from fancy foreign competition (kebabs and curries). Should you ever wish to experience fish and chips in the British style - and I heartily recommend you do, as much as my flabby heart will allow - please go to what southern Britons call "The North", by which I mean anywhere north of Sheffield (and they mean north of their homes). For some reason, people in the south, in addition to their many other shortcomings, cannot make fish and chips properly. The batter is soggy, the chips aren't cooked, and the fish tastes of wet nothingness. And it costs twice as much. Which leads me nicely to...

THE NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE
Let me discard Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the time being. There, that was easy. England is divided economically into North and South. There is no actual boundary, it's just the way things have panned out (if there were a line it would run diagonally north-east to south-west, roughly from The Wash to Bristol - like you care). On the whole, The South is rich, The North is poor. There's probably a statistic available to prove this, something along the lines of "95% of the wealth is concentrated in 5% of the country, but I'll be buggered if I'm researching shit like that. Anyway, since the disparity rich and poor is greater than ever, not only are people in the south generally richer than people in the north, they are even richer than them than they were before. And what does this mean? It means if you own a house in London you can sell it, move north, buy a castle or two and become Lord of the fucking Manor. If you own a house in some northern industrial town, you can sell it, travel south, treat yourself to a nice meal out, and then realise you've run out of money. It also means there's an unhealthy degree of antagonism between northern and southern Englanders. Southerners regard northerners with superior disdain, believing them uncouth, provincial and stupid. Northerners think southerners are stuck-up wankers. None of this stereotypical crap it true. Except for the bit about southerners.

As an honest northerner who says what he sees and then swears for no reason, I confess to bias. But I live in the south, in London; it is not as though I am slagging off places I have never visited. Yet this is precisely what an alarming number of southerners love to do. "It's grim up north," they'll assert from their shithole flats in grubby, rat-infested London. "And it's cold and wet," they'll add, pulling on a jumper and searching for their umbrella. "And what's more," they conclude, "it's full of factories and council houses. And most of all, northerners," though by that time I've usually conformed to type and silenced them with a punch to the mouth. Given our county's tiny geographical dimensions, I find it laughable that so many people have never thought to travel 200 miles northward, even if all they expected to find was "grimness". In fact, it's anything but grim - the countryside of northern Britain is infinitely more beautiful and varied than that of the south, generally people are friendlier and even if there is less to do in some of the towns, it costs less to do it. I admit, I have a chip on my shoulder about this. But at least it is cooked to crisp northern perfection.






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