Do Not Travel to the UK – Read! – Instructions for Happiness

The UK is always better in books than real life which is a helpful fact in these difficult times.  I love England, Scotland, and Wales in books; I love London in books. I love the moors, the heath, Bath, Cambridge, the Thames, Penzance, and York on paper. Viva 34 Charing Cross Road!

But… however… on the other hand…in person? London is a complete disappointment. Oxford a horror, Hadrian’s’ Wall? Crushingly boring.

Only Scotland (and some parts of Wales) can hold up to the hype. Yes to St. Andrews, and Edinburgh is perfection.

But… however…on the other hand, in my adoration to St. Jane I concede to no one, but Bath? Ick. Cotswolds? Just say no. Lake District? Hell no. Mousehold and St. Ives? Ho hum. Stratford-on-Avon? Ghastly. And don’t get me started on Oxford. There is not enough blech in the world to describe Oxford. Leeds wasn’t too bad (proving the farther north you go the better).

Every square meter of England is over-inscribed, fussily looked-after, everything has layers of meaning, of cultivation. In some places, this works, walking into a tiny room in Westminster Abbey and seeing that it’s Henry V’s grave, that was a moment. But otherwise, it’s just lots of reminders of ‘X was once here and now it’s gone, have a squash and a bacon butty.’

Scotland still has wild enough areas that you can breathe in but now it’s getting on for winter so it will be cold and really, do you want oatmeal for breakfast every morning? I thought not. So be happy you can’t travel!

I was raised on UK books. I ran through Nancy Drew, The House on Mango Street, Judy Blume, To Kill a Mockingbird, E. B. White, The Women of Brewster Place,  E.L. Konigsburg and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry but the important books, the real books, the books that mattered were English: Narnia, E. Nesbit, Tolkien (who can’t write suspense but I guess that’s forgivable), Wind in the Willows (which I left until far too late, I loved it but kept wondering where happened to the women, and I should mention The Willows in Winter, that rare sequel which catches the spirit of the original), Roald Dahl, Arthur Ransome and then on to Jane Gardam (damn, can that woman write!), Penelope Lively, and for fun Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Dick Francis, P.D. James, Ian Rankin and Sherlock Holmes.

Yes, I keep a toe in American waters (Simone St. James! Carl Hiaasen!) but UK writers…sigh… bliss, and not even going to the classics, just the everyday writers: Beverly Nichols, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, F. M. Ford, George MacDonald Fraser.

Darling, if I put you in a locked room with the top 20 current bestselling books and a Robert Louis Stevenson, you would be on Treasure Island and no doubt about it. Trollope is what everyone reads when no one is looking.

Yes, yes, yes to James Thurber and Mark Salzman but really, Darling, Three Men in a Boat, that’s what will get you through next January. Hunt up your old Tony Hillerman’s of course, then settle in with Sir Walter Scott. Robert Crais and Lincoln Child/ Douglas Preston all you want, but in the end… Cooking with Fernet Branca is the book that will help you survive anything the world can throw at you.

Put on some L’Occitane Citrus Verbena, Fresh Sugar Lemon, Guerlain Limon Verde or Clinique My Happy Splash, make yourself a Pimm’s Cup and tuck yourself into The Moonstone. Auntie knows best. Auntie always knows best.