The countryside in the South of England is as attractive as ever and remarkably unspoiled. Traffic on the roads is fierce and moves fast both on motorways and country lanes. Don’t expect to drive and view the scenery. There can be lengthy traffic jams in towns and on major roads. The South seems prosperous and many families have two or more cars while, as in other rich countries, complaining about the traffic.
The quality of food and coffee in restaurants is much improved though not cheap. While in 2010 you can buy a pound for C$1.60, as opposed to C$2.20 in the past, food seems expensive as does petrol. A litre of gas costs almost C$2.00 in the UK and to fill up my rental car cost three times the daily rental rate. While there are many fuel efficient cars there are numerous BMWs, Audis, Range Rovers and Mercedes Benz careening down the motorways. Speed cameras are pervasive; whether they are turned on is another matter but cars slow down in posted zones. Drinking and driving is taken seriously and some will take a taxi home rather than drive after drinking. This is more the case among the younger generation but all are fearful of prosecution.
The British seem to be continuously on cell phones or text messaging – more so than in the past but perhaps the same as in Canada. The trains are clean, fast and seem to run on time. The cost of visiting London in terms of time and money is cheaper by taking the train. Traffic seems to move in London with the pricing scheme in place, although there is much whingeing about it. There was an underground strike while I was there instigated by union leaders who seemed a throwback to the Thatcher years, or some she did not vanquish.
England has its share of foreign workers, some who immigrate and others who come as temporary workers. Working in restaurants and stores are temporary foreign workers from Eastern Europe as hourly wages are much higher than in their own countries. These people may return home. Migrants from India, Nigeria and other places on these continents are mostly in the UK to stay and in some cities there are racial incidents. Where I visited in rural Dorset there was little sign of a multicultural society. In London there is a wide mix of races and many languages heard and spoken.
Parents are especially conscious of the need for children to score well on national tests that determine which universities the children attend. Fees at private schools are high and some boarding schools which are increasingly mixed genders levy additional charges for students to take part in extracurricular events.
Overall in the South, the country seemed prosperous and well organised. Tourists were welcomed and service is friendly. The National Trust organises heritage sites and are well worth visiting as museums. Preparations are underway for the 2012 Olympics in London – so far reported to be on time and budget. I left England in
early postwar days. Today the country is impressive, but expensive even at the current exchange rate.