By Sarah Pridgeon
Since I arrived on these fair shores and began absorbing the joys of a new culture, my mother has sought to remind me at every opportunity that I am, in fact, still British. She has found various innovative methods of doing so aside from the obligatory bristle when I use the word “awesome”.
For instance, her gifts these days all seem to bear a Union Jack somewhere about their personage. I have a number of mugs with the design (which seems appropriate, considering I use them mostly for tea), as well as plates, shirts and handbag decorations.
I have several actual flags, though it seems like asking for trouble to set up a pole for them – the casual viewer might assume I was declaring a new colony. I also have packets of tissues, passport holders, place mats and even a spatula proudly sporting the (other) red, white and blue.
Then of course you have my signature funny voice, which continues to mark me out as “not from around here” all this time later. I still can’t fake a local accent, though I’ve tried; apparently I sound like a cat with its tail being trodden on.
What I’m saying is that, thanks partly to the gifts my mother gave me at birth and partly to the ones she’s been sending ever since, I feel I am doing my part as an ambassador of all things Cool Britannia. I hope I have proven that we can definitely be friends, even if, like my sister-in-law, you can’t understand what I’m saying on the telephone.
I am currently feeling outshone, however, upon learning of a fellow expat who lives in Germany. He, too, hails from the birthplace of the English-speaking world and he, too, wishes to reach out from one culture to another to make friends and influence people.
Originally from Lincolnshire, Gary Blackburn has been living near Bonn for 27 years. For most of that time, everything was fine, but then Brexit happened.
Mr. Blackburn panicked, not to put too fine a point on it. Like me, his major concern in the aftermath was that all our European neighbors would assume we didn’t like them any more.
And so he began a mission to create a haven of all things British in his back yard. The man used to be a tree surgeon in Sherwood Forest, which you may recognize as the stomping ground of a certain Robin Hood, so he does have an appropriate pedigree for the project.
He says he started by collecting the iconic red telephone boxes that are sadly no longer in use back in the homeland. I am fascinated to know where exactly one goes to collect a telephone box as I’ve never seen a single one on eBay.
He continued by installing models of the Queen’s guardsmen in fuzzy black hats and other notable figures, human and otherwise, including Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck. He then drove two red London buses onto his property, parked them near the picnic table and announced they were available for rent.
Elsewhere you’ll find a green Mini with Mr. Bean painted on the side, white turtledoves, Merlin the wizard, models of cows painted with the Union Jack, a tea hut and some medieval shields. Quite the slice of history, all in one back yard.
Things get a little stranger once your eyes alight on the hut containing a lifesize model of Queen Elizabeth II sitting at the Round Table. A few metaphors appear to have been mixed here; nor am I convinced King Arthur ever insisted on a tiered tray of biscuits to dunk in his cup of tea.
One of the larger features of the Little Britain museum is an actual centurion tank weighing 52 tons, which Mr. Blackburn says represents peace and remembrance. He bought it from the Swiss, he says, and it has been demilitarized, but I suppose it will come in handy for road trips now he has it working again.
He had to make sure it was functional, you see, because he received some complaints about the museum (and the tank in particular) and local authorities stepped in with some advice that would help him keep it open. One such piece of wisdom was that a static tank needs building permission.
Despite the complaints, Mr. Blackburn says people have come from all over the world to see his museum. Dozens turns up in May, for instance, to celebrate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in an appropriately themed venue.
I can’t work out whether I’m impressed or agog by the efforts of my fellow ambassador, but I do feel a twinge of shame that he’s gone to so much more effort than I have. Of course, one might argue that this column is an example of making a spectacle of oneself for the sake of international relations, but that’s beside the point.
I feel it’s important to note in my defense that, at least so far, I have subjected none of you to a terrifying waxwork of the Queen or driven a tank along Cleveland. Of course, Mr. Blackburn has lived in Germany for over three decades and I haven’t been here yet for one, so check back with me in a little while and we’ll see what I’ve managed to cook up.