"Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens."
You may be surprised to learn that this passage is by George Orwell, and that he was describing Kent from the boat train home after his misadventure in the Spanish Civil War. But you could well agree with his sentiment. As spring elides gracefully into early summer, where on earth could be more pleasing than England?
How about Australia?
If you go down to the post office today, you could be in for a big surprise, and be tempted to book a holiday on the far side of the world. The Royal Mail, like the postal authorities in other nations, celebrates our history, nature and culture on its commemorative stamps. In recent years it has produced some beauties, such as the series of aerial photographs championing the British coastline, from a Hebridean beach to Padstow harbour.
Stamps such as these persuade more of us to holiday at home, and entice people overseas to come here. On Thursday, a set of stamps went on sale to extol some of the British locations that have made it on to Unesco's World Heritage List. Hadrian's Wall and Blenheim Palace are there, as are Stonehenge and "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" (which rolls off the tongue less easily than "Stonehenge"; inevitably it will some day be known as "Orkhenge").
The new issue includes four natural wonders - all of them Australian . If you were wondering how good the island continent looks, just wait for Monday's post. With luck, a glimpse of Uluru (Ayers Rock), tropical Queensland, Western Australia's Purnululu National Park or the Blue Mountains near Sydney will drop through your letter box. If you are particularly popular, you might get all four.
Is it an outrage that our stamps are promoting another country? Not quite. Philip Parker, the head of stamps for Royal Mail, says that this is a like-for-like deal with Australia Post. "They have issued the same set of stamps simultaneously, replacing the Queen's head with 'Australia Post'. Hopefully, some Australians will be persuaded to come on holiday here."
So do your bit for Britain by mailing missives to pals Down Under. If you're short of inspiration, allow Mr Orwell to step in: "The posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen..." Just make sure you leave out the linking passage between his two quotes: "The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth's surface."
* A COUPLE of matters arising from recent columns on flying - starting with British Airways' increasingly frugal attitude to catering. Last August, Fraser Ferguson took a Sunday morning BA flight from London to Glasgow - a one-class service, which the airline used to say was up to Club standards. "The flight was full of weary transatlantic passengers, split between tourists or exceptionally rich American golfers on their way to the Open at Troon." Mr Ferguson found himself sitting next to the multimillionaire Justin Leonard, who knows a thing or two about clubs.
"We were unable to believe the food offered on what was the first Shuttle of the day: a slice of apple pie. Justin asked, in his broadest Texan accent, 'This is pie?' Hardly a shining example of BA hospitality," says Mr Ferguson.
Perhaps they should have booked Livestock Class. After my suggestion last week that horses flying around the globe endure even worse treatment than economy-class humans, I was put right by a senior airline executive (who has to remain anonymous):
"Even if they don't get a film, they certainly get better service than we humans enjoy. A groom is required to attend every three or four horses and that's a better ratio than you or I will ever achieve in the passenger cabin."Reuse content