Two Months in England – Bigger and Newer are not Better
‘Having just completed my second month in the UK two fundamental concepts in America are in jeopardy. When I was growing up in Texas in the 1950’s I learned that “bigger is always better”. That’s because up until 1959 Texas was the largest state in the United States of America. And all Texans know that Texas is by definition the best state in the Union! Thus, bigger and better clearly go together. “Smaller” simply can’t be better. (It’s probably against Texas State law!)
In America “new” is always better as well. It must be because all the advertisements tell us that it is, at least 25 times per hour on national television. But there’s a problem with “new” – it isn’t (new) for very long. By definition, new is perishable. Nothing stays new. By contrast, old gets even more so with the passage of time. Since time only moves in one direction (as far as we know) then “new” is always perishing while “old” just keeps getting better.
What does this have to do with life in the UK, you ask? During my two months here I have become a student of the contrast between “new” and “old” and between “bigger” and “smaller”. Everywhere you look in this country there are monuments to at least 1000 years of carefully recorded history. Towns and cities are built around massive stone cathedrals and churches that often took four or five generations of workers to construct over several hundred years. Everywhere you find structures that have withstood hundreds or even thousands of years of natural weathering and human wear and tear. These are not simply tourist attractions, but vital centers in the daily operations of the community. There is a universal respect for the “old” that I find very reassuring. At the beginning of a tour of the Tower of London one of the Beefeaters asked, “How many Americans are in the group?” Several hands went up. In response the Beefeater said, “Just think! All of this history could have been yours.” While I am proud to be American and have great respect for those who fought for America’s independence in 1776, the Beefeater’s comment made me a bit envious to say the least.
There are plenty of great new things in England. I find the quality of television programming in the UK much superior to that in America. Traffic on the roadways is much better managed with roundabouts instead of four-way stop and red light intersections. And here the stoplights turn yellow before they go green as well as before they go red – believe it or not that really helps. I suppose it’s the way the “new” and the “old” are blended together that impresses. Houses are built to last several hundred years without needing a new roof or other major upgrades. There is an appreciation for maintaining what you have rather than simply building all over again in a new location and abandoning the old in place. Looking at a cathedral built in 1023 AD gives a since of permanence and comfort – it’s stood the test of time and will be there when I come to visit again in 5 years, or when my grandchildren want to visit 50 years from now. Looking at a new American shopping center, my first thought is, ‘I wonder how long before all the shops move out and leave it sitting empty.’
Bigger is better if you have infinite space and natural resources. That’s the assumption in America – there will always be new land to build on and an infinite supply of bricks and mortar. Well maybe so, but is that really better? Or is it just cheaper for the builders? Spend an afternoon sometime counting the number of empty abandoned shopping centers and storefronts in the average American town or city. When space is at a premium refurbishing is the better option for many reasons, cost being just one of them. Forcing American builders to pay for demolishing their buildings as well as constructing them might change the American landscape for the better.
Some of you may remember Dinah Shore. She was a popular singer in the early days of television when advertisements were in integral part of the TV show. “See the USA in your Chevrolet” – that was Dinah’s trademark catch phrase. At an average cost of 1.4 GBP per liter ($8.56 per US gallon) it’s very expensive to “see the UK “ in your private car. I’ve found traveling by bus or train in the UK is much less expensive and much more enjoyable. “Seeing the UK” in a Hummer would not only be prohibitively expensive but physically impossible. Small cars (if you find you really need a car at all) can negotiate the narrow roadways that would be impassible for a Hummer or large American SUV, and they get twice the miles per liter (gallon) as American cars. Bigger is better in the UK when 50 people can ride instead of only 1 or 2.
Watch this page for my third month in the UK.’
When Larry was very newly arrived, one of the first things I said to him on the way back from the airport, was ‘Think small’. I was anxious that he would find the cottage too small and overcrowded for comfort. We have no closets for clothes so one of the first things Larry had to do was to buy a wardrobe to put his (much reduced) clothes in to. He also had to get used to the idea that things needed to be moved around a lot. For example; if you want to get to something, you need to move at least one or two other things out of the way first!
As the time has gone by, I have been keen to introduce him to places of space. We have visited St. Albans and seen the marvellous cathedral there and last Friday we took Dylan to Dunstable Downs, an area of extensive chalk hillside where the view is spectacular.
So far so good!