You must do your research before you visit England these days. In a country gripped by the Brexit Blues, it is very easy to cause unintended offence, as I found out on my ride from Heathrow Airport to my hotel in the traditional town of Windsor.
A few minutes into the drive, I saw my cabbie repeatedly looking into the mirror and I could tell he was gasping for the chance to speak to what was undoubtedly the first foreigner that he had ever met. So I asked him what he thought of Brexit. He told me that he had voted in favour of it and I replied, “Doesn’t that make you a racist?” Unfortunately he didn’t note the irony in my voice, so after cursing at me in his local lingo, we sat in silence for the rest of the ride. I had so much more to explain to him about Brexit, but not to be.
After a good night’s rest, I met my local guide in my hotel lobby, which had a distinctly Bubonic smell to it. I could tell immediately that Albert would be a wonderful companion. His wizened sea-green eyes and careless dress sense told me that this was a man whose knowledge of England might rival mine. He expertly wove through the shrieking crowds of tourists, darting through chaotic traffic to bring me safely to The Long Walk, a park that led Windsor Castle.
Swarms of revellers had come out to pay tribute to the Queen, some of them travelling for days by primitive transport for a chance to glimpse their unelected leader.
Albert led me to the fenced-off field where a plane had once landed. With a hint of fear in his eyes, he explained that this fence was a strong reminder to residents of Windsor of their history. When he grabbed my arm I knew he was trying to tell me that dissidents once had their heads displayed on these spikes. It's easy to see that fear of this punishment has still not truly left England.
Harsh regulation is enforced by the state in an attempt to restore order to post-Brexit England. Since voting to leave the EU, this already drunken, loutish and uncontrollable nation has sought solace in the national pastime, known locally as gowin downtha pub, or inebriation to you and me. Note the traditionally passive-aggressive, insincere Thank you.
To avoid the wrath of an angry mob in England, never criticise wars – past, present, or, indeed, future. The armed forces hold a position of veneration second only to the Royal Family, and this respect must be observed at all times. Even criticising the government or politicians that ordered the war can be interpreted as wishing calamity upon individual soldiers. Note the armed guard in the background, there to ensure – no doubt – that no anti-war sentiment is expressed openly in the street.
Today’s traditional red letterbox (centre) is juxtaposed with Queen Elizabeth’s father’s blue post box (right). These shrines offer a place for revellers to pay respects to their current and former unelected rulers, in a physical dance, or act of veneration, known informally as posting a letter. Note that the female ruler has a red box, while the male ruler had a blue one, paying tribute to the centuries-old tradition of gender stereotyping and gendered colours.
Speaking of gender, once I had gained his trust, Albert was very happy to talk to me about his relationship woes. Or rather, relationships woes. You see Albert, as he divulged, has both a wife, and a girlfriend. I asked him how they felt about the arrangement and he told me, in his colourful English way, that they have no idea. I gritted my teeth but forced a smile – I must not bring my Eastern judgement into this very Western scenario. Who am I to judge how Englishmen treat their womenfolk?
An ancient well, from the Olde English word welle, (meaning I don’t speak Spanish so I’m just going to shout in English) that once provided water to King George V. My guide, Albert told me proudly that he shares a first name with King George. I didn’t have the heart to tell him but your name is Albert as I think he may suffer from that prevalent English spelling impairment, dyslexia.
After a long, grey winter, the villagers of Windsor take to the streets at the first glimpse of the spring sun. Still drowsy from their state of hibernation, many people find it difficult to stand until they receive some much-needed vitamin D. Albert told me that a lack of exposure to sunlight can lead to depression or unusual behaviour, which I took as explanation to the man in the back doing the English cultural dance of Heads, shoulders, knees and toes.
For lunch, I demanded that Albert lead me to the best place in town. He gestured to a nearby market café and said ‘this place is alright,’ in his charming, non-committal English way, that told me that this café would be the best in all of Windsor, possibly all of England. Now I’m an adventurous type so I opted for a local dish, chips and fish and it was the most intense, fragrant dish I had tried since getting to England. Fried potato infused with freshly-picked sweet English garden parsley, and cod oozing with aromatic sunflower oil. The scents set my nostrils alight in way that I’d never experienced with food back home. This was, no doubt, the best fish and chips in the entire United Kingdom.
On our way back to my hotel we passed this questionably-structured house and as I stopped to observe it for a moment, I felt a tickle in my eye. I thought of the hardship that the builders of this structure must have had to endure – constructing this edifice with little to no equipment or expertise, in the year… all those years ago. These Brits really know how to be optimistic about their future, despite the odds that are against them. I wiped tear off my cheek, hoping Albert hadn’t seen, because I’m humble like that.
I’m sure he must have seen though, because Albert took me down this road and muttered something in his crude Windsor way about needing a dump. He disappeared and I suddenly noticed the name of this street. Sheet street. Albert had gone to have a sheet. I laughed through my tears and that moment filled my heart with poignancy. It was his way of cheering me up, that pun. We humans aren’t so different from one another after all.
To all you travellers who hope to visit England one day, I urge you to avoid the tourist trap of London, and come to the off-the-beaten track town of Windsor. It’s tree-lined streets and charming ancient houses will leave you with a smile on your face. It’s odd-ball characters will find a way, through their own culture and traditions, to connect with you.
And if it does turn out to be a boring trip, just remember no matter how insignificant and uneventful the experience, it’s easy to turn it into a good old presumptuous story about an entire nation.