Travel is akin to science fiction because the grossly unfamiliar constantly mixes with the real. One not only traverses space but also epoch and culture. My first impressions: a large number of old people, an abundance of charity shops, turtle-shaped women, not many cops around but road cameras everywhere, twice as many cars, a lot of obvious wealth by comparison with other countries and a strange kind of stick-in-the-mud aggression coming from somewhere.
Consumer products always look very new. I spent money like water. For some reason I felt nervous in talking to strangers – my fault? Or a visitor’s subliminal awareness of the psychic field in which the British now live as a set of warnings: (“Don’t get too close to my intentions.” “Don’t challenge my individualism.”) But then oddly moderated by their contrastive cheerfulness or a pumped-up bonhomie, a bit like the advertising, (“Have it your way”, “Live your own life.”) Strange signs in pubs invoking people to be joyous. Nobody gets up until 9am, so I usually had three hours of peace and reflection. Wonderful clean cold air. I tried to remember the names of plants.
The British are now under a lot of pressure to live in a certain way – almost an imposed individualism. (How about that for a puzzle? – a totalitarian individualism.) Things happen pretty fast. There is too much of everything. Moderation can only be construed as failure. The roads have been changed into white-lined lanes where imposed snap decision making causes the driver to think he is being perpetually channeled into something.
Many old people whistle around on electrical wheelchairs, each frowning and heavily involved in their situation. Once country roads now white lined and traffic ingested. Four pounds fifty for parking. Overpopulation. Strange “social” schemes run by supermarkets. Grey hair abounds everywhere amidst over consumption and bad eating habits. Children look bewildered and a little pale.
I had the constant feeling I was “up against something”, I avoided television or listening to the radio in our car. I did not read the newspapers beyond the first page. (The only media I felt I could trust was Private Eye.) I was not sorry when we boarded the plane to return home. I felt my own Englishness had been outdated and extinguished over time. My own subjectivity had become insignificantly freakish with all my interests in history and “literature” – What sort of Englishness is that?
Who am I? Who is everyone?