I had never really thought about Britain before.
All that changed quite completely though when, after 5 years living in this country, the quiet, unhappy-looking, beautiful Greek girl I had met in a summer school in Winchester and had fallen hopelessly in love with, decided it was time for her to leave Britain and return to her home country. And to take me with her. But before we depart these shores for the last time she told me she wanted to go on grand tour of the whole country. To see all the places on this island she hasn’t seen before and to feel like she’d really embraced Britain and Britishness. To return to Greece feeling like she properly understood Britain. And for me, she said, it would serve as a long goodbye to my homeland before we sailed away for good.
After 40 years of living in this country I realised I hardly really knew a thing about it either, really. So I agreed, and then began to wonder just what I would see on this tour. Even in its duller moments it would surely still be of interest to me, what with the knowledge that the backcloth to this journey – the countryside and towns and people and culture of Britain – having contributed something, in someway, to who I am. But would I find it frustrating? Never living up to my idea of what the country should be? What I hoped it would be? Would seeing many of these places in my home country for the first time, plus through the eyes of my accompanying Greek travelling partner – my Giristroula as they say in Greece for a girl who likes to wander – give me a unique view into the land of my birth? Or would it leave me as dispossessed and disoriented as her? We all know the clichés of the character of the country: drink tea, walk dog, talk weather, turn up, muck in and form orderly queue. But is any of it true? And would meeting my fellow countrymen, alongside my Giristroula, give me some new insight into this idea of Britishness, or would it leave me as clueless as before? Well, we shall find out.
So with no real set plan, aside from a vague idea of an orbit of the UK – taking in all these places we’ve heard of, made assumptions about, but never really bothered to visit – we set out to see this kingdom by the sea. This isle of noise. This land of Yorkshire terriers, Lancashire Hotpot, London Pride and the Glasgow kiss.
The last chance to see.