Books about England
Eccentric Britain

One of the first parties I attended in England celebrated a man's death ... a fairly gruesome death, too. Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn and quartered for his (failed) attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and everyone in it with gunpowder.

So why - over three hundred years later - are the English still celebrating that fact with annual bonfires and fireworks parties?

Because the man failed? Or to remember a deed that almost succeeded?

England's been my home now for almost 20 years, but I still don't know the answer. Over the years, I've seen other - equally confusing and amusing - spectacles and heard stories to match:

  • I've stood for a few hours outside a cathedral one Christmas morning to watch a crowd of men in jeans and Doc Martens engaged in a rather violent-looking (though nobody was injured!) game of street rugby.

  • I've watched people run as fast as they can down an unbelievably steep hill, chasing a truckle of cheese.

  • I've seen grown men dress up and operate a tiny steam railway ... to the delight of all visiting children.

  • I've been told about nettle eating, pudding throwing and pancake tossing contests. I've heard stories of grown men serenading apple trees.

  • I've visited buildings that can have no earthly use for a human and stood before the tomb of a man buried - not decently laid out as is the custom - but head first.

What are the odds that you can find such a motley collection of foibles and follies anywhere else on earth? Or in any of the many books about England, for that matter?

The Brits - and especially the English - have always had a reputation for being a bit eccentric. And in this book, Benedict le Vay has collected the evidence. Unable to hide his heritage, he gleefully catalogues stories and anecdotes, lists landmarks and recounts impossible-sounding events.

I'm an unashamed anglophile and reading this book was a bit of a roller-coaster. It had me crying with laughter in places and smiling wistfully at things that no longer are - or even never were - in others.

But this book isn't just a collection of stories ... with its detailed descriptions and directions it also makes a wonderful guide book.

So whether you want to chuckle about the eccentricities that have made England a byword, or go and explore the quirky customs and usual sites for yourself, Eccentric Britain by Benedict le Vay should not be missing from your collection of books about England.