The original taste of Britain in 2023

Try this. Take a banana and cut it into small pieces. Add blue food colouring. Walk around your house/flat for a few minutes. Come back and pop a piece in your mouth. You will taste banana as though for the first time. The visuals will confound your expectations radically, and banana is the last thing your brain will expect to taste. After all, it’s blue. The taste of banana will be a real surprise to you.

Now try this. Make the journey from the southern suburbs of Oslo to the airport, way out across the fjord, and hop on a plane back to the UK leaving at 10.55. Here’s how me and my brother, Barry, just did it. Our other brother, Larry, lives in Oslo and over dinner the previous night he planned our journey. Leave the house at 7.45am for a 4 minute walk to the bus-stop. Bus arrives at 7.52. There’s a 7-minute ride to the local railway station, at speed over smooth roads – we arrive at 7.59 with a 30 sec move to the platform, for a train that arrives on time at 8.03. The train takes us to the central city station arriving at 8.20. There’s a 3-minute walk to platform 11 where we catch the 8.26 train to the airport. We arrive at 8.55. We have a coffee, say our goodbyes and enter security checks at 9.10. Six minutes later we are through and seek out the lounge. We board at 10.30 and the plane takes off at the due time of 10.55. 

Arrive back in the UK.

We exit the plane and join a queue in the arrivals corridor of about 300 people. After 30 minutes of shuffling we thread through the maze of barriers to check our passports. During the shuffle we check the Guardian website for today’s news. Brexit is still being ‘done’ – talk of more chaos…Lidl announces rationing of salad items…Shamima Begum suffers ultimate cruelty of statelessness as a punishment for being trafficked as a girl…energy bills set to rise for households while the government saves money from its fuel subsidies…999 call handlers talk of trauma of managing failure of ambulance response times and people dying as a result…crumbling school building injures woman…’Boris’ Johnson planning to take a wrecking ball to Sunak’s policies…Deliveroo driver collapses after being denied access to building where he was delivering a gourmet meal…rescuing homes from pandemic of damp and mould…US hedge-fund company asset-stripping Morrisons supermarkets…Tory minister blames the Labour Party (last in power in 2010) for the energy crisis…

…and so on. We leave the airport in my car, drive over pot-holed roads and through motorway roadworks that have been there for the past two years…past familiar yellow declarations of the UK meme, ‘diverted traffic’, weave through heavy motorway traffic displaced by a crumbling public transport network…and so on…and so on.

We taste the UK’s crumbling or downright broken state for the first time, as the cruel expectations of a smooth-running Oslo quickly wear off. Like tasting banana for the first time – except this taste is just not pleasant. Given an open choice – where, truly, would you want to live right now?

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