Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Upon hearing that I was returning to England for yet another long-distance walk, a friend asked if I was an Anglophile. The question was raised in a denigrating, accusatorial tone, suggesting that Anglophilia ranks right next to pedophilia. I imagined myself thought of as lurking in the dark recesses of Tesco, waiting for an unsuspecting Brit to pass by.  “Pssst. Want some fish and chips? I have a nice malt vinegar.”

To my friend’s query, I responded unequivocally, “Oh, I don’t think so.” 

Indeed, there are many things I don’t like about Britain. I don’t like their plumbing — especially separate faucets (“taps” in England) for hot and cold. I don’t like black pudding or fried bread. I especially don’t like their bank holiday weekends and infernal festivals that make it nearly impossible for a walker to find accommodations. I admit to admiring James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, and especially Ernest Shackleton, but I can’t help if they’re British.

Of all the cars I’ve ever owned, my favorite was a red 1975 MGB, manufactured by British Leyland. It was love at first sight. As I drove it from the dealer’s showroom into an uncommonly dreary and drizzly California day, I thought “How classically British.” When the inevitable California sunshine returned, I lowered the ragtop, and even the February cold couldn’t induce me to raise it again. 

1976 image restoration courtesy of Ann Smith
A few days later, all of the MG’s gauges began swinging wildly back and forth, as if strangely possessed. It was an omen of things to come. Among the car’s many defects was a radiator the size of a postage stamp, perhaps suitable for England, but not nearly adequate to cool the engine in hot California summers. The engine’s uncontrollable overheating quickly ruined all the seals and gaskets, and fluids leaked everywhere. Breakdowns were frequent. I once injured my ankle kicking the car in a fit of road rage. “You [expletive deleted] piece of [expletive deleted]! Why the [expletive deleted] I ever bought such a [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]!!!  [Expletive deleted.] [Expletive deleted.]”

My mechanical aptitude is only slightly higher than that of an earthworm.  As a result, the MG spent more time with the mechanic than with me. My love-hate relationship with the vehicle finally ended after 15 years, when my mechanic’s children graduated from college and he moved to Pebble Beach. With nowhere to turn, I disposed of my beloved MG. I never got over the empty feeling of having parted with it, so a few years later I bought a Land Rover Discovery — from the very same British Motor Car dealer who had sold me the MG. I suspected the worst when the Land Rover’s gauges started swinging wildly back and forth as I drove away from the dealership.

Fortunately, the Land Rover’s frequent repairs were all covered by a 4-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. Shortly before the warranty’s expiration date, the Land Rover label was acquired by Ford. I had several telephone calls with the Ford representative asking (pleading, actually) that the warranty be extended for all the time the vehicle was out of service and because numerous uncorrected defects still plagued the vehicle. Probably having heard it all before, he told me to “[expletive deleted].” My infatuation with British automobiles ended when I disposed of the Land Rover upon expiration of the warranty.

Ralph, the salesman who had sold me the Land Rover, was the quintessential English gentleman — right down to his Oxfordshire accent and his tweed sport coat. He could have walked off the set of Downton Abbey. Tragically, Ralph died two years after selling me the Land Rover, shot dead by his wife’s lover — a married police chaplain, no less. I am not making this up.

Indeed, I am not making any of this up — except for the part about the Land Rover’s gauges swinging wildly. They were actually warning lights, incessantly flashing.

Perhaps my experience with British cars explains why I’ll be walking this summer in England. But it’s not because I’m an Anglophile.