In my first year of university I made friends with a group of girls, two Americans and a Belgium. I vaguely recall them flailing about the quirky buildings that now inhabited book stores, cafes, restaurants and pubs. At the time I figured it was just a tourist thing – I like to take photos when I travel too. It never occurred to me, that for them, this might be the first time they ever experienced a medieval church, a tudor building, a painting that out-dated their country or a tapestry that was sewn for a king. It never occurred to me that for them, this could be the oldest building they ever stepped foot in. At the time I was completely ignorant to their wonder and amazement. Having recently visited the states for the first time. Now I GET IT! Admittedly I visited Florida, which is not a reflection of the whole of America, however I noticed after a few days that something felt like it was missing. I missed the authenticity of Europe. I missed the haunting buildings that have withstood the test of time, I miss the imperfections of chipped bricks and things feeling REAL, not purpose build houses for purpose built lives.
I was recently asked by somebody in Lithuania if I would describe to him what it is like to live in the UK. As I was writing a response to this individual I realised for first time, how much I had taken life in the UK for granted. My fiancé lives and works in Toulouse (South France). His job is pretty exclusive to this area of the globe, apart of loving him means accepting that his legacy, for the moment, is here. For now I split my time between France and England for my studies. When I have finished my degree I plan to move here premaritally. Visiting a place for a holiday is very different to living somewhere, and although I have no doubt Toulouse would make a mind-blowing tourist destination, living here has some set backs. For instance the blazing 40 degree heat is exactly what you want for a holiday, but after a while I started to miss the drizzley rain and bitter wind of England. Getting hold of everyday food products becomes impossible, and for the first time I realised that it is called English bacon, and an english breakfast for a reason!
As my experiences broaden, so does my understanding of the world. So this is how I would describe the UK to somebody that has never been. It is Tiny. It is like walking into an art gallery and seeing various land, sea and city-scapes placed next to each other. If you wonder too far through any of them you inevitably bump into the next. Finding any of them in isolation feels impossible, but maybe that is the beauty. It is like walking through a museum and seeing history unfold like a well presented timeline. I can see remnants of battles long finished in the scared architecture they left behind. I can walk into a cathedral and see the glorified tombs of victors or a tower and see the desolate tombs of the defeated. It is like peeling off a layer of wallpaper and finding a trail of various papers and paints that were there long before and instead of ripping them all off, you just accept that someone else was there before you, patch it up, and add a new layer that suits you. That is how buildings that once housed great poets, detectives, murders and love affairs are now book stores, tea houses, libraries and museums. That is how I walk into a Jack Wills or a Top Shop and look at the clothes, while my friends from America marvel at the building that inhibits them.
The UK is tiny, maybe that has spoiled me. It’s riches and wonders are so easily within reach. After all people do not question what it would be like to live without skin because when you are born with something, it is always just there. Until it is not anymore.