Saturday, 7 July 2012


I spend so long dreaming about travelling to distant parts of the world, I often forget how much there is to see and do in my own country, whether that's England as a whole, Great Britain or indeed the whole of the UK.
Every time I go anywhere, be it rain or shine, I never fail to appreciate the beauty of where I live.





West Yorkshire

I'm very fortunate to live in the middle of the Pennines, on the border between Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and have the countryside on my doorstep. Although I do find it difficult to get anywhere (for example, in my new job in Leeds, it takes me 4 hours to get there and back on public transport, whereas it should be an hours' drive!!), the scenery more than makes up for it.


I still take it for granted however, as much as I appreciate it. I don't go out walking as much as I should do (though I'm now limited in time because of my commute to work), and I don't make the time to go out and explore. For example, there's a hill you can see from my living room that I've wanted to climb for ages, purely for curiosity, and it took me 6 months to actually get around to doing it. In the end, I couldn't actually get to the top anyway, because I took my dog, and being a big lummoxy labrador he struggles to get over some stiles, and there was one right at the top that he couldn't manage, but it was a beautiful walk, and I found places close to my house that I didn't even know existed, and it only took me 2 hours altogether!!

We British are very good at whinging and moaning about our country - about all the things wrong with it (myself included) - and wanting to get away to more tropical places - but we rarely take the opportunity to actually look around us and appreciate what we have.

This year is perhaps the best to do so. All eyes are on us this year, after the successful (albeit drizzly) Diamond Jubilee weekend (kudos to Gary Barlow for an incredible concert, just wish I could have been in London for it!), and now the run up to the Olympics (20 days to go apparently - can't decide whether I wish I lived in London or am very glad that I'm well out of the way for this. I know what a lot of Londoners think!!) and it's time to show them what we've got.

The weather's been doing an admirable job the past few weeks of showing the world what a British summer really is, perhaps to a more extreme level than any of us were really expecting (could have done without the floods thanks!), or maybe it's just getting all of the rain out of the way before the world descends on us. Who knows. But it made me think - what does it actually mean to be British? (I'll try and avoid the cliches but they're there for a reason!) People visiting for the Olympics - this might help you adjust to our weird quirks and traditions!

1. Queuing
Sorry, I know I said I'd avoid the cliches, but this one is my favourite. Dan Izzard tweeted one of my favourite things when England went out of the Euros on penalties (yet another English tradition): 

"Penalty kick - the English way to exit a tournament. Queuing."

It's so true! We queue for everything - there's even a Wimbledon Guide to Queuing! When people (usually tourists who don't understand the importance of a queue) push in front however, there's no public outcry or rioting. Just mumbling, tutting and eye rolling, as well as a fierce glare at the back of their head (but never make eye contact). 

2. Self-deprecating humour

We Brits know we're a bit odd and actually, we're quite proud of it. We know we're rubbish at most sports, and the ones we're actually good at (cricket, and occasionally rugby) no-one really cares about. There are never parties on the streets when England win the Ashes, and although a few people got a bit excited when we won the rugby World Cup a few years ago, it never really recreates the atmosphere of when we lose miserably in the Euros/World Cup.

However, a miserable defeat in the quarter finals and everyone gets drunk and celebrates the fact we even got that far and, hey, at least it wasn't against Germany! When Murray does well at tennis, the first thing everyone does is take the micky out of him for showing a bit of emotion. Brilliant!

3.  Comedy

The Americans will always be the best at sit-coms, but we're fantastic at panel shows and stand-up comedy. This links to our fondness of self-deprecating humour; topical panel shows do nothing but take the mick out of the news and the British way of life. Mock the Week, Have I Got News for You, Would I Lie to You - all involve a large quantity of self-deprecating humour and we're very good at it!

Americans are notoriously proud of their country which is why such shows wouldn't work there, but not us Brits! We love slagging ourselves off, and laughing at stereotypical (but true) humour! Same goes for stand-up - observational comedy does nothing but take the mick out of the odd things we do in everyday life, and us Brits love it! That's why comedians such as Peter Kay, Michael McIntyre and Dara O'Briain are so popular!

4. The Great Outdoors

Ok, so we might not have spectacular beaches, huge mountains or anything to shout about, but that's not the British way. Our hills, rolling green fields and reserved features are nothing to shout about, but beautiful in their own quiet way. We don't have to yell about our rugged peaks like the Americans and the French, or our stunning tropical beaches like Australia and south-east Asia. We simply accept that our quiet, modest countryside is beautiful in our own little way. There is still plenty of walking, rock climbing and other adventurous stuff to be done; the difference is that, although it's not quite as good as everyone else's, it'll do for us and we have it to ourselves!


Snow in York





Loch Ness


Blackstone Edge

Glyder Mountains




Lake District




These are all photos I’ve taken on various trips around the UK in the past four years, in England, Wales and Scotland (haven’t yet made it over to Ireland unfortunately). The British countryside is stunning and we need to appreciate what we have.

5. Tradition
We laugh at people who do it, but in reality we’re all traditionalists inside. Whether it’s a bit of Pimms i the garden in the summer, Christmas decorations on the 1st December, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon or just a pint of beer in an evening, it’s all very stereotypically British!

Of course, if you wanted to take it one step further, one could have a fry-up for breakfast, a picnic for lunch and a cream tea in the afternoon, but that’s entirely up to you! One of our biggest traditions of course is the Royal Family. Love them or hate them, they’re not going anywhere! Personally, although I wouldn’t call myself a royalist, I quite like them. They’re a huge part of our history and, although they don’t play a pivotal role in today’s society, and some argue they’re a massive drain on our resources, but we’d certainly notice if they weren’t there.

What do tourists come to London to see? Buckingham Palace and the Queen? What always happens on Christmas Day? The Queen’s speech. Who would we laugh at if not for Prince Phillip’s racist comments, and Harry’s ill-advised Nazi costumes! Again, it all comes down to the self-deprecating humour. We know they’re  a bit poncy and a bit silly, but we wouldn’t be without them. A comedian (I can’t remember who – think it was Jimmy Carr but I could be wrong) once likened them to someone’s Nan; they’re old, archaic and a little bit racist, but you can’t help but be fond of them and glad to have them around.

6. Community Spirit
I live in a little part of the Pennines that houses one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. Hebden Bridge. It’s a gorgeous little town filled with independent businesses, little cafes, jewellery shops etc, set next to a canal and a river in the heart of West Yorkshire. I’ve been going there ever since I was a small child (my Mum’s best friend used to own a shop there), and I love it. I take anyone who ever comes to visit me and they all love it too. Unfortunately, it’s situated in the Calder Valley, and when we have a month as wet as we’ve just had, it tends to flood. Last weekend however, it had the worst flooding it’s ever experienced and many shops, cafes and other businesses were very seriously affected.

It started to get bad quite late at night, so by the time the flood sirens were going off, most people were stuck outside Hebden and couldn’t get to their businesses. Those that could were handing out sandbags and quickly trying to get their stock above ground level, but some to no avail. Most businesses in that little town lost a huge quantity of their stock that night, and their shops were ruined.

As they’re independent, they have no-one to fall back on but themselves, and loss adjusters told quite a few shops to gut the contents and start from scratch. Can you imagine how heartbreaking that must be? To have built up a beautiful little business from scratch, and have it completely ruined overnight? Even those who could salvage the contents faced long hours of cleaning, re-building, re-making stock, painting and generally making the shops look like shops again.

Despite the heart-break that everyone faced however, people clubbed together, and it’s things like this that make me proud to be British. People were keeping each other informed through social media of the situation whilst the flooding was happening, then all the shop-owners were on scene in the early hours of the next morning, far before the Council or the Environment Agency, to survey the damage and start clearing up the mess. Those who owned cafes kept people going by supplying coffee and chocolate; volunteers came from far and wide to help with the cleaning; shops such as the Yorkshire Soap Company were selling imperfect products, not to provide funds just for their business, but to help ALL businesses affected by the flooding.

Throughout the next week, whenever somebody had a carpeter, an industrial cleaner, or something that others might fund useful, it was offered through social media throughout the community to help get the town back on its feet, all provided out of the goodwill of the business owners to each other.

A primary school was one of the worst places affected by the floods, but as a result of a stream of helpers and volunteers, it was open to pupils again within a few days.

I went to Hebden last week, and it’s an odd sight. Driving through, there are still houses with furniture piled up in the front garden where they’ve obviously had to get rid of the whole living room. Some businesses are unfortunately still boarded shut, having to gut their entire shop and start again. Most however, after a hard few days, are open for business and proudly so! The town was busy with people wanting to give back to the struggling business-owners and keep the town going!

 A hand-made parade was planned for the weekend of the floods, but it wasn’t cancelled, and went ahead the very next weekend! The community spirit of each business allowed Hebden Bridge to keep going as normal, limping slightly but still proud of who it is.

It’s things like this that make me proud to be British.

Please support local, independent businesses where you can; if you’re anywhere near, please support Hebden Bridge or Todmorden and Mytholmroyd which were also badly affected) by visiting, or buying things from any of the shops online or visiting their websites:

Element Jewellery -
Heart Gallery -
Yorkshire Soap Company -
Spirals -
A White Room -
The Book Case -
Hebden Bridge Tourist Information -
Organic House -

1 comment:

  1. Hi Soph.Greetings From Hebden Bridge,England's very own Little Venice!