HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
“Happy is England!” wrote John Keats, “I could be content/To see no other verdure than its own.” Few of us, surely, cannot relate to that fine sentiment. Even if, like Keats, we might occasionally long “for skies Italian” or “to sit upon an Alp as on a throne”, it is the familiar appeal of our island home — no less alluring for its familiarity — that surely moves the heart most of all.
With Keats in mind when recently asked about my “carbon footprint”, putting aside debate about the concept, I reflected on the irony that many of those who agonise most about the use of cars and complain about HGVs are the first to rush to airports, to board long-haul jets bound for far-flung climes.
It seems that the more distant the location, the more desirable it is for the bourgeois Left. Perhaps it’s guilt and doubt about the wonders of our blessed isle that makes the draw of this kind of remote destination so strong for such types. Yet what is more glorious than the coastline of Britain? From unspoilt Northumberland beaches – think of the splendour of Bamburgh – to the Jurassic coast of Dorset, from Kent’s Broadstairs – home to Morelli’s ice cream parlour, unaltered since my boyhood – to Southwold in Suffolk – perhaps the perfect seaside town – idyllic Pembrokeshire and Betjeman’s Cornwall, not to neglect our Lincolnshire coastline, of course, the British beach holiday is an institution. It involves taking a chance with the weather, but the lovely days are all the lovelier for the fact that they are not routine!
The appetite to be elsewhere feeds a desire to travel which seems common to most of us, yet the memory of home is at the heart of the charm of being away; what Browning called “home thoughts, from abroad.”
Perhaps an appreciation of what is familiar flourishes as absence makes our hearts grow fond. I wonder whether the ease of travelling far away – now greater than ever before – has diluted the pleasure of doing so. For, in part, the joy of going away is the thrilling expectation of discovery, the ardour of finding a place previously unknown.
Perhaps, like so much else, travel has been vulgarised. Certainly, feckless trips for boozy nights out on the Continent are miles away from the pages of Baedeker, and packaged visits to places that boast provision of fish and chips served in “English” pubs are a world apart from the spirit of Elizabeth David, who wrote so beautifully about the delights of seeking out new, foreign culinary pleasures.
I’d rather have my fish and chips in South Holland and the Deepings – where there are so many fine purveyors of the fish-fryer’s art – or enjoy one of our excellent local pubs than wait in a crowded airport to endure an inauthentic version of what I can have better at home.
Wherever they choose to go, I wish all my constituents a pleasant break this summer. For those who are, like me, staying at the British seaside, I hope that they enjoy, in Betjeman’s words, “Seaweed smells from sandy caves/And thyme and mist in whiffs, /In-coming tide, Atlantic waves / Slapping the sunny cliffs, / Lark song and sea sounds in the air / And splendour, splendour everywhere.”
It would take a lifetime of holidays to explore and know the coast of Great Britain, not to mention Ireland. By and large, with occasional indulgent exceptions, that’s more than enough for me.