Josna Rege

262. Oh, to be in England

In 1960s, Britain, Immigration, Music, Nature, places, seasons, Stories, travel on April 17, 2014 at 9:39 pm

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910


Robert Browning’s poem, Home Thoughts, from Abroad (read here by William Hurt), written in 1845 when the poet was visiting Northern Italy, has been voted one of the U.K.’s most popular poems. The speaker is clearly longing for England (which for British colonial civil servants always remained Home, no matter how long they were away), and imaginatively seeing and hearing the beauty of an English spring as unsurpassed by any other. In my view, though, the last line is jarring, the line in which he describes the humble buttercups as far more beautiful than “this gaudy melon-flower,” as if English flowers naturally had an unadorned, unassuming beauty, while the Italian flowers were gaudy—showy in a tasteless or vulgar way. Nevertheless, the poem’s language and images are quite moving in their simplicity, even if they do tend toward the sentimental.

P1050913Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

But if Browning’s poem is sentimental, the take-off “Oh, to be in England” (also known as “Aachaa England”) is a hilarious corrective. According to the blog, Black South Asia, few people know that the person who sang the song in Blake Edwards’ 1968 comedy, The Party, starring Peter Sellers (see TMA #123, That Funny Accent for more on Peter Sellers’ Indian accent), was in fact Bill Forbes, born in (then-)Ceylon in 1938 and living in Britain since 1955, who recorded it under the name of Kal Khan. It’s not only Forbes’/Khan’s exaggerated accent and the ability to laugh at himself that is funny, but the way it turns the tables to observe strange British customs from the perspective of a South Asian immigrant.

P1050914Yinglish people sleeping in the sun to get a tan
Pouring oil upon their face just like a frying pan
Funny thing about it is they all go rosy red
Next day when the peeling starts they are crying in their bed.

Chorus: Oh, to be in England
Now that spring is here
Oh, to be in England
Drinking English beer.

Boiled potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding too
That is all you’ll ever find upon a set menu
They don’t know that I can make an Anglo English Fry
Tell me have you ever heard of Snake and Kidney Pie?


British people watching television every day
When the kiddies go to bed they show a sexy play
They don’t know that washing powder showing on the screen
Turning coloured clothing into white you’ve never seen.


Funnily enough, I am visiting England at the moment, and in April too, after many years of home thoughts from abroad (although for me, “home” and “abroad” are by no means settled or singular). Spring here, even in London, is beautiful, in a distinctly English way. These photos, taken on the streets of North London, may give you a little taste of it.


Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

P1050915 2

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

  1. Looking at this now in 2020, I am still absolutely sure that that blue flowered bush is a Ceanothus – or California Lilac! I had some in my garden and they looked just like that with
    the wonderful crenellated dark green leaves!


  2. I never thought about it, but you’re right about the last line!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting, Gary. Neither had I, as I recall, when I first started writing that post. But it ended up being all of a piece with the song! Missing England all the more this spring, when there’s no way I could just jump on a plane and go there. Be well, J

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know where you are, Josna, but a friend just moved to Lisbon, where he reminded me Henry Fielding is buried. Fielding — now there’s a “roast beef of old England” guy — I heard he spent his last days sorely missing England after his docs had sent him to Portugal for the climate.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t know that Henry Fielding had lived and died in Portugal, Gary. But yes, so many of those whom we consider quintessentially English writers actually lived elsewhere for large parts of their writing lives–in the colonies or in Europe–Spain, Portugal, Italy–for reasons of health and economy, or to get away from stifling British social mores. The list is very long. I’m based in the U.S., and feeling very claustrophobic with the current travel bans. Wishing you good health and safety, wherever you are. J

          Liked by 1 person

        • One final note. Fielding lived almost his whole life in England. It was just in the last months that his doctors advised him to go to Portugal.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the update. I know nothing about Henry Fielding’s life. In this he was like many other Britishers, whether writers or not, who have been advised to move to warmer Continental climes for health reasons.


  3. You picture of the blue flowered bush looks very much like a California Lilac!


    • Marianne, these bushes are everywhere here. I will find out the name–actually my cousin told me but I have forgotten. They are absolutely stunning when they’re in full bloom–I have more photos of them now.


  4. April has been quite good in Atlanta this year. If you aren’t allergic to the pollen. It started off with the pale green little leaves and now the trees are looking like summertime. The bushes and trees are still flowering.


    • I love that pale Spring green. This year I;m particularly appreciating the Spring. Perhaps it’s because it’s longer and slower in Europe; in New England it seems to go from mud season to steamy summer in the twinkling of an eye.


  5. Love your post Josna.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: