I am happily ensconced on the sunny shores of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, and enjoying the first holiday I've actually deserved in a very long time.
For the first week, we're staying with old friends at their wonderful cottage on Bruce Beach, a holiday community set up in the early 1900s by vacationing families of Scottish descent. This is still very apparent, with the Saltire flying over many of the cottages. There is even a mysterious bagpiper who appears over the dunes and pipes out the sunset – although he seems to turn up only if and when he fancies it. It is about as perfect a summer destination as exists in the world and we are blissfully happy.
There is, however, one problem. The couple we are staying with happen to be both of English descent although neither has lived in the UK, as quickly becomes clear when talking to them or any of their triplet offspring. Sadly, like most North Americans, their view of our fair land and how we plough our daily existence seems to derive almost entirely from Mary Poppins and the bastardised accent promoted by Dick Van Dyke in said musical monstrosity. Every time they lapse into a "British" accent to tease us, the words "guv'nor", "old bean" and "old chap" are never far away. However many times we try to persuade them that nobody has used the term "jolly good show" for decades, or that none of my children works as a chimney sweep, we are roundly ignored. It is astonishing how they view the UK as some kind of Victorian playground, full of bad-toothed ladies and gentlemen who will call a "bobby" at the drop of a top hat, should trouble be in the offing.
This reference to British police as "bobbies" is a favourite across North America. If I'm ever describing an incident that required official assistance I am invariably asked whether I called "the bobbies". This will normally be followed by an inquiry as to whether our "bobbies" still use "truncheons". This is always done to show me and anyone listening just how familiar the speaker is with Britain. Before I can reply, they will turn to any nearby third parties to announce, "The British bobby cannot carry guns. And did you know that they only have three TV channels?" Because shows such as Geordie Shore or the UK version of Big Brother never air over here, they are left with an extraordinarily rosy view of the UK.
The only properly modern references Canadians have of us are either the recent royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (an atypical British couple if there ever was one) or gross distortions on shows such as The Simpsons or Family Guy. When the Simpsons came to the UK who can forget the toe-curlingly awful appearance by Tony Blair, playing up to our uber-polite, squeaky-clean image?
The irony is that Canadians are the politest, nicest people imaginable, but they still look to Britain – the land of Jordan culture and the grumpiest service industry on earth – as some kind of fairy-tale idyll.
Back on the shores of Lake Huron, I return from an early-morning stroll on the beach to be welcomed back with a curious "Top of the morning to you, guv'nor" from one of the triplets. I try to explain that "top of the morning" is an Irish, not British, cliché – and that nobody uses it there, either – but it falls on deaf ears. Two of the girls shout "Pip, pip, cheerio", and cycle off to the Sugar Shack, a local candy store where they will load up with sweet things in an attempt to develop "British teeth". It's all very depressing. Somebody needs to beef up our PR, and fast.