Robin Ashenden

The full English: how to fall in love with this country

Robin Ashenden has narrated this article for you to listen to.

My nine-year-old half-Russian daughter has arrived in England for the first time since she was a baby. As she knows almost nothing about British culture apart from Peppa Pig and Willy Wonka, my job is to put together a week-long programme before she goes back to Italy, where she currently lives with her mother, my ex-partner. They were living in Russia but left following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ideally, my daughter will go home enthused about all things English and wanting a lifetime more. But where do I start?

Peppermint Aeros and Crunchie bars are the things I want to pass on, far more than the music of Elgar

First, there’s the question of food. I shall insist on her trying a Sunday lunch – something with bread sauce or stuffing (preferably both) and plenty of gravy. There will be an English breakfast too, though I’ll expect some resistance. Black pudding, which you must learn to love, shall be kept firmly at the back of the fridge during this first-ever fry-up. I shan’t expect much credit for baked beans. Even bean-obsessed peoples, like the Spaniards, spit on our garish, sugar-heavy way of serving them.

I’ll want her to try crumpets with honey, and scones with clotted cream and jam. The great Elizabeth David said roasts and jams were among the few things the English were good at. We will eat fish and chips straight from their wrapping on a blustery East Anglian seafront. 

Then there’s the world of English chocolate, of great interest to a nine-year-old. Bounties and Mars bars are known internationally, but she’s never tried Revels or Fry’s Chocolate Cream, peppermint Aeros or Crunchie bars. These are things I want to pass on, far more than the music of Elgar or the designs of William Morris.

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