Utilitarian cheese

Ye gods!

The rain.

I forgot what a bloody nightmare it was doing anything in the rain when you have glasses. I also regret my “cheapest lenses possible” policy, as what with the coating of water and the steaming up (and the dark and a failing headtorch) I constantly felt like an Italian cruise ship captain struggling to stay on course.

At least I didn’t trip into a lifeboat. (Too soon?)

Still managed 10km, but I’d pulled my back out a bit as I woke up and since I’ve been out running it’s been absolute agony. Hopefully it’ll sort itself out overnight.

I thought today, rather than take a few more cheap shots at the French (tempting though that might be) I’d list the five things I most miss about the UK. (What this amounts to is another thinly disguised list of things I don’t like about the French)

What I miss most about the UK

1) The BBC

You pay a licence fee in France. Or at least some sort of charge for having an ariel on your house and it’s roughly the same amount as the UK licence fee. But while the UK offers multiple commercial-free TV and radio channels for your money, as well as a suite of on-demand and catch up services online, the French licence TV basically appears to just allow you to watch fat, sweaty men discussing politics, or badly dubbed German cop shows interrupted with adverts every 3 minutes. I can’t stress how wonderful the BBC is, and you only really appreciate this when you don’t have ready access to it. Thankfully, tuning to the World Service in the car I can have a little oasis of Britishness in the middle of Franceland, but when I hear people complaining about the licence fee (especially people who pay 25 quid a month for Sky) I want to scream.

2) People in villages

Bit of a strange one, but I really miss the general “life bustle” of the UK. In France if it’s cold; dark; raining; hot; windy; foggy; October through February or lunchtime nobody leaves their homes. It’s genuinely weird. Most villages in France, most of the time, look like they’re preparing for a zombie attack. Houses will have their shutters closed and only the occasional stray dog will break the silence as it skips through the tumble-weed. In contrast people in the UK make the best of any opportunity to go outside. If the weather tips the right side of hurricane then villages are packed full of people wandering about, gossiping and passing the time of day. The contrast is so striking, whenever I cycle through the UK into France it always makes me feel very homesick.

3) Cheddar

You have to accept that the French are largely going to consume their own homegrown cheeses. Cheddar isn’t a big thing here. Our local supermarket carried a couple of UK brands of cheddar for a while but you couldn’t help notice that week after week the shelves remained fully stocked, and fairly soon they gave up on the idea. Inevitably I’ve had to transition to the French equivalent of cheddar known as Comte. It’s the same sort of utilitarian “works-with-everything” cheese as cheddar is, but it tastes a little more…. complicated. After a while you get used to it, but I miss a nice plasticky Tescos cheddar.

4) Takeaways

I used to live in Scotland near some quite scummy towns. As everyone knows the worse the town, the better the takeaways, as they can’t afford to sell bad food or they’ll get their windows stoved in. Nothing on the planet matches a dirty, MSG-laden Scottish Chinese. I’ve been back to the UK many times, and I’ve often found myself in Portsmouth or Dover with time to spare, desperate for a decent Chinese takeaway, but there isn’t one. In fact, thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve found a single decent Chinese takeaway anywhere in England or Wales. You can get Chinese takeaways in France but they aren’t the same. They take them a bit too seriously – they’re a little too healthy and you can’t get egg fried rice. The French also don’t understand kebabs. I once had an argument with a kebab “artisan” near Caen that hand-making his pitta breads and putting organic salad in the kebab was missing the point entirely.

5) Driving

Generally driving on the continent is pleasant. Less speed cameras. Better maintained roads. Less traffic. But I crave driving with people who understand roundabouts. Where priority is always given to the person on the main road, not a random punter merging from the right. Where flashing your headlights to say thanks rather than “get out of my way” is the norm. Where people can overtake without pretending to be Ayton Senna. I also don’t like changing gear with my right hand.

So there you have it. My ideal day would be driving through some heavily populated villages, listening to Radio 4, eating a cheese sandwich and patting a bag of hot, filthy Chinese food by my side.

I am a simple man.

4 thoughts on “Utilitarian cheese

  1. sazzle80 says:

    Meme si je suis francophile, je suis d’accord avec ton commentaire…very very funny. French Saturday evening TV is even worse than British offerings, that’s for sure.

  2. Vachement bien!

    You cannot beat mild, value cheddar, sliced very thinly, then piled high in a crusty roll with Branston pickle. We call this type of preparation “wappy cheese”, since if you drop it, it’ll make a distinctive “wap” sound when it hits the floor.

    No “wap”, and you’re either not slicing it thinly enough, or you’re wasting your money buying good cheese.

  3. Kenny Scott says:

    The Germans have a good idea when it comes to overtaking people on motorways. If you are in the fast lane and someone in front of you is in the fast lane but they are only doing 100mph (remember, this is Germany), you just have to indicate left (remember, they drive on the right, British readers) to “ask” them to get out of the way. In the UK, the only way of doing this is to repeatedly flash your lights, which is quite aggressive in comparison to simply indicating that you want to pass. Do they do this in France? That’s honestly a question, I really don’t know. When I drive to Strasbourg, I deliberately drive the entire way south in Germany on their autobahns (I’m addicted to them), ducking into France at the last possible moment, so I’m not that experienced in French motorway driving technique.

    As for Sky being £25 a month – I wish. But that’s all my own fault for having a variety of daughters who all want their own Sky box. I’m just a big softy. You’re right about the BBC. It’s fab.

  4. runningthomas says:

    In France they flash their lights to mean “get the f**k out of my way” at any speed. On a motorway if a French driver wants you to pull in he’ll drive 2cm from your rear bumper and gesticulate madly. They are dreadful drivers in the main – lane discipline, understanding how to use roundabouts and avoiding mowing down pedestrians are not in the French driving manual.

    Never had Sky, wasn’t sure how much it was these days…. more than £25???! Blimey.

    I have Freesat, all the fun of British TV at zero cost!

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