When Hitler ordered his Luftwaffe murderers to strafe London (and indeed Britain as a whole) beyond recognition, young members of the RAF would scramble themselves aboard Spitfires, in the full knowledge that they might be flying to their deaths. What, one wonders, would constitute an equivalent mode of such gallant behaviour today? As our happy-slapping, kebab toting, ever increasing infestation of chavs continue to blight a Britain that is clearly no longer Great, one is hard pressed to find a strand of morality, let alone gallantry. And there's a great section in this more than amusing book by Stuart Maconie, called 'Green Ink and Pleasant Land,' in which the author addresses this very shift of social character and conduct: ''Where once stoicism and 'musn't grumble' were the watchwords of Middle England, it now seems that whatever upsets us, even inconveniences us – from the weather to cold-callers to radio programmes we don't like – someone must be to blame. Teachers, the government, pop groups, footballers; someone somewhere should pay for the fact that the world is not just how we like it.''
Indeed, where once upon a time, we as a nation, were resolute in constitution and more than regal in relation to others, modern day behavioural currency is centered around nothing other than the self: ''Once we'd have done something about it. Maybe switched channels, maybe thought hard about stuff, maybe exercised a little patience or equanimity. Now we want someone else to do something about it and fast. Someone should be sacked, someone should be carpeted, someone should apologise. An apology we won't accept, of course, our arms folded, our ears closed [...]. We have become monstrously self-regarding [...].
The self is now the sacred cow... self-esteem is sacrosanct.''
From Jamie Oliver to George Orwell (who once called England 'a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly'), from turkey twizzlers to binge drinking: ''Binge drinking is nothing new. When gin was popularised in the 1700s, it was said that half the nation was pissed at any one time,'' Maconie's mayhem thwarts it and tells it as it truly needs to be told. Of the relatively recent, huge influx of Polish workers into Britain for instance, he writes: ''In the two years after EU regulations were relaxed, half a million young Polish people came to Britain in search of work and many of them came right to the heart of Middle England: to the Wolds and the Shires, to wait on our tables, build our conservatories and fold down the top sheet on our hotel beds. Polite, hard-working and frequently possessed of fabulous cheekbones, they were no problem for me. For others they were. Even that paragon of liberalism Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee claimed that supporting economic migration was an act of treachery to the indigenous British working class. Having seen The Jeremy Kyle Show, I was less convinced that Jacek and Ludmila were putting Jason and Kylie out of work.''
Affectionate, colourful and at times, polemical, this is a real treat of a book. If you've ever wondered who or what or where Middle England is, I cannot recommend Adventures On The High Teas more highly, other than saying it ought to make for obligatory reading - especially for all those who either frequent Bingo Halls, belong to the BNP or read The Daily Mail (and if you happen to do all three, let me say here and now that it most definitely makes for far more appropriate bedtime reading than Mein Kampf).