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The great escape

Fry-ups, crumpets, and the essence of Britain

Julie Andrews: best of British. GAB Archive/Redferns

My nine-year-old daughter, who lives in Italy with her mother, has arrived in England for the first time since she was a baby, says Robin Ashenden in The Spectator. I have a week to enthuse her about all things English. “But where do I start?” Sunday lunch, obviously, and a fry-up. Crumpets with honey, anything with jam. Then there’s the world of English chocolate. Mars bars and Bounties are global, but she’s never tried Revels or peppermint Aeros or Crunchie bars. These are things I want to pass on, “far more than the music of Elgar or the designs of William Morris”.

In London, I suppose we’ll have to do open-top buses, Beefeaters, the Changing of the Guard and the Natural History Museum. We’ll take a walk down Burlington Arcade and up Jermyn Street – “that retail museum of classic English style” – and in between, the “unavoidable reek and grind of London” will teach her a little about capital life. Harder to communicate are the “actual textures of Britishness” that evade description. “Knowing who Victoria Wood or Julie Andrews are”, for instance, or the pleasures of washing up while listening to Desert Island Discs. How to explain that James McAvoy is to be commended, and James Corden deplored? What I really ought to show her is a crowded Tube that grinds to a half-hour halt, a cyclist careening along a pavement, and an XL bully dog. There’s usually an abyss between the life we dream of and the one we get. “I shall just have to warn her to Mind the Gap.”