Although being hailed as the English Bill Bryson, Stuart Maconie has a distinct advantage over his American literary brother in his search for that mythical realm called Middle England. Whereas Bryson comes at the subject matter as an outsider (yes, he is an Anglicized Yank, but a Yank nonetheless) and seems to revel in being baffled by our quirks and colloquialisms, Maconie embraces them. As a Wigan lad, music buff and pop culture commentator, many would expect him to attack the subject with a veiled sneer or a certain amount of contempt for the land of hunt meets, maypoles, church fetes, garden parties and Daily Mail subscriptions, but he is more astute and open minded than that. Instead of clinging on to these cliches, many of which are Fleet Street fabrications in the first place, he instead sets out to prove that Middle England is in fact a warm and accommodating place
Through a series of journeys to towns that on paper at least suggests what Middle England might be he examines its habits, its literature, its antics and architecture, its hobbies and habits. Although the conclusion is really that Middle England is not a class or location, more a distilled Englishness, to quote Buddha, it is better to travel well than to arrive. And in Maconie’s jovial company we travel very well indeed. It may be more Titchmarsh than A A Gill, but his style is ideal for the gentle nature of the subject matter. (I suspect the results of a similar journey by A A Gill would read like a cultural bloodbath.)
Each chapter manages to explore both geographically and culturally what Middle England might stand for, be it following in the footsteps of Jane Austin around Bath, examining how Grantham spawned Margaret Thatcher, looking for a parallel “Good Life” in Surbiton, pitting the fictional Brent against the words of Betjeman for the honor of Slough and much more besides.
If you think that Middle England begins and ends with Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells, Political Correctness gone mad, close mindedness and solid tradition, then Adventures On The High Teas is just the book to make you re-evaluate what you think you know and does so with warmth and humour.