In the wake of Downton Abbey many people are feeling a lack of the mother tongue in their life. A dowager deficiency. A countess conundrum. I like to call it PDSD – Post Downton Stress Disorder.
As a Brit myself, I suffer less than most. I have relatives I can call for a smattering of Hugh Bonneville language, and a Great Aunt who could easily pass for a modern day Dowager, the wonderful aspects that is. In a pinch, the friend of a friend is the personal assistant to the current residents of Highclere Castle so I can live vicariously through that distant and somewhat random connection.
For those of you with the misfortune to speak the language of the colonies, here are a few things that I imported from England and inserted into my American life, somewhat. They might come from the village more than the big house, but they might just help with the Downton Blues.
1. Proper tea bags. We’re not talking Lipton, I’m not even talking Twinings here. Your standard British household will more than likely have a box of PG Tips, Tetley, or Typhoo, or their equivalent store brand. All of these are readily available on Amazon. Tea should be taken hot and internally at least once every two hours.
2. A bacon sandwich. For a proper bacon sandwich, you will need the thickest, most un-American Bacon you can find, and some nice white bread. And no, I do not think Canadian Bacon is a decent substitution. For the pièce de résistance, you need to invest in a bottle of “Brown Sauce.” Much like Twinkies, this condiment will survive the harshest nuclear disaster, and should be used liberally with bacon.
3. Start your day with a nice bubble bath instead of a shower. In my entire childhood, I knew only one person with a shower in their house. Everyone else had big bath tubs. So if you want to stew in some Britishness, a bath is your best bet. But make sure you use appropriate bubbles, and don’t just pour your shower gel under the tap/faucet.
4. NPR might be the closest thing over here to the British Broadcasting Corporation, but with the availability of Internet Radio, I would suggest the following British Radio programs not to be missed:
- The Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2. More chat than music, and definitely on the inflammatory side of the conversation.
- Elaine Page on Sunday, on Radio 2. For the latest from the West End Musical, with a smattering of Hollywood.
- Ken Bruce Tracks of my Years on Radio 2. Each week a different artist recalls ten songs that have meant the most to them. Recent guests include crime writer Ian Rankin, Bruno Mars, and Rick Astley. Ken’s entire show is great, but you have to be up rather early.
5. Several words should be inserted into your daily vocabulary. These include, but are not limited to “rather,” “quite,” “queue,” and “lovely jubbly.”
6. When eating a sandwich, be it an Italian or a Meatball sub, you should always spread butter liberally on both pieces of bread before adding the fixings. An old trick to stop the juices of the contents leaking into the bread. Note, the aforementioned “Brown Sauce” is only for use on sandwiches involving Bacon.
7. Walk somewhere. This is not appropriate for the northern states, but a daily jaunt is an inevitable part of life across the pond. Walk to the corner shop (gas station), the post office (if you can find one), or the bookie (casino) if you can. And always take an umbrella; it will rain.
8. Have a pancake breakfast, but your pancakes should resemble crepes and not be fluffy. They certainly should not include buttermilk, and should come nowhere near maple syrup. A teaspoon of sugar and a decent quirt of lemon juice is sufficient topping for a British pancake.
9. A duvet on your bed is a must. The kind you stuff inside a duvet cover, not the kind that is pre-printed with something pretty. No matter the weather, there must be something with weight and fluffy thickness on your bed. Multiple blankets will not do, standard American comforters will not do. Something with a 9.5 tog is recommended. I have found that the standard British duvet most closely resembles an American mattress pad.
10. Use public transportation. Okay, this one I haven’t translated to my American life because I live in Maine, and public transportation is virtually non-existent. But dagnabit if you can’t get anywhere in England by virtue of rail or bus. It was one of the joys of my youth to get a day pass with friends and go “bus hopping,” an activity that would terrify most modern parents!
Also don’t forget to cook your steaks badly, neglect to clean your teeth, and keep a picture of the queen on your nightstand, ahem.
If these aren’t quite your cup of tea, try checking out some other classics of British television, that you might not have been exposed to before:
- Porridge. Starring the late and great Ronnie Barker, Porridge is a half hour comedy about the prisoners of HM Slade Prison. It aired between 1974 and 1977.
- Open All Hours. Another Ronnie Barker classic; you can’t go wrong with Ronnie Barker. A half hour comedy about the exploits of a penny pinching grocer from Yorkshire.
- You Rang M’Lord. This could probably be described as the Three Stooges of the Downton Abbey world. A lot of slapstick and raunchy humor in this one.
- Carry On... The Carry On movies were a hugely popular franchise in Britain during my childhood and for decades prior. Again, the raunchy humor rules, but several of the movies give you a decent look at Britain in the seventies. Think Mel Brooks with a British accent.
- Black Books. The eccentric life of a cranky bookstore owner and those close to him, in proximity that is; he’s far too cranky for friends. If you like Simon Pegg, you will love this show. He’s in it once, it’s not his show, but you will love it.
- The House of Eliot. From the creators of Upstairs Downstairs. Two sisters, left penniless by their father, attempt to find independence and self-employment in the 1920s.
- To The Manor Born. The original Mary and Matthew, watch as Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton and Richard De Vere butt heads and then… no spoilers here.