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In the years since the first ones opened at Newport Pagnell and Watford Gap in 1959, they have become, for many travellers, a necessary evil. Yet despite being the butt of criticism and jokes - about the high prices of the food and drink in their cafes, the poor standards of service by their staff and the dull décor inside buildings that are frequently uninspiring and little different from one another - a recent survey has revealed that some of our motorway service stations are actually very good.

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Last weekend saw the finale of this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, which has brought bibliophiles and culture vultures from across the country to Evergreen and This England’s hometown. It was a marvellous 10 days of events featuring authors, historians, politicians, actors, comedians, musicians, journalists, poets, photographers and many more. On Saturday afternoon I joined a packed audience to see an interview with a lady whose face symbolised a decade and became part of Britain's cultural history. She was – and indeed still is - a style icon and, like many who made the headlines at the time, she captured the youthful spirit, creativity and British quirky charm, which characterised that era. She is Neasden’s most famous daughter. Any ideas?

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There are certain things that, due to technological progress or changing tastes, we no longer tend to see in everyday life. But every now and then you come across a refreshing glimpse of yesteryear amid the 21st-century. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago during my lunch-hour as I walked into Cheltenham town centre. Outside a shop, I saw a tall gentleman, smartly dressed in a tweed suit. He had a contented and reflective look on his face as he engaged in a seldom-seen pursuit and I instantly thought: “Now, there’s a sight you don’t see very often these days.” At once the memories started to flood back. I have seen him on several occasions since, doing exactly the same thing and, as I walk past him, I know that he is enjoying a moment’s peace within the frantically paced world. You see, dear reader, the tweed-suited gentleman of whom I write, is one of a particularly rare breed in these times; he is a pipe smoker.

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I have been travelling a lot by bus lately, and rather like a naturalist who leaves his Land Rover behind and heads off to explore the local countryside and its flora and fauna, or a war reporter who forsakes the safety of his armoured vehicle in order to get closer to the action on the ground, it has given me an opportunity to encounter life up close on the front line: England’s front line.

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Back in 1979 I recall my parents tuning in to a new programme one Sunday afternoon on BBC1. By the time the credits rolled they were hooked and the subsequent series became a "must-see" in our house. All these years later my parents are still watching and I too have become a keen viewer. The fact that the "Antiques Roadshow" has just embarked on its 40th series is testament to its enduring appeal and success. Like many objects featured on the programme, it has become a much-loved treasure and I think that is largely because it is so wonderfully and reassuringly British. Where else in the world would people queue patiently, in all weathers, to have their collectables and curiosities valued?

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They have gone down in history as the Maastricht Rebels - the band of patriotic Conservative MPs who, in 1993, putting their country and the concerns of their constituents before their party and their own careers, voted against the government of Prime Minister John Major on the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union). Although the Treaty was eventually incorporated into British law, passing even greater powers of national self-government to the EU and continuing the relentless drive towards a United States of Europe, having stuck their heads above the parapet and set an example that gave strength and encouragement to Eurosceptics across the land, the rebels continued their guerrilla war against further European integration. There were 26 Conservative MPs who voted against their own governing party in the House of Commons and a further 19 who withdrew their support from the government by abstaining in the vote. A year later, because of their opposition to the EC Finance Bill, eight of them had the Conservative whip withdrawn and were expelled from the parliamentary party.

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Just like sand in sandwiches, sticks of rock and wrestling with a windbreak on a windswept beach, sending a postcard has been an intrinsic part of the British holiday tradition since the 1900s. It coined the expressions "Wish you were here" and "Having a lovely time", and generations of holidaymakers have penned and posted a few lines to the folks back home from much-loved resorts and destinations across the country. From souvenir shops and beach-side kiosks we would purchase scenes of coast, countryside, towns, villages, famous landmarks and customs, or even throngs of happy holidaymakers - like ourselves - paddling in the briny, basking in the sun or savouring the bracing sea air. And, among the picturesque panoramas and subtle watercolours who can forget those cheeky colourful cartoon postcards famed for their own saucy blend of humour!

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…and here are a few items that caught my attention:

A survey by the Office for National Statistics revealed that the most popular boys’ names in the United Kingdom in 2016 were: 1. Oliver, 2. Harry, 3. George, 4. Jack, 5. Jacob, 6. Noah, 7. Charlie, 8 Muhammad, 9. Thomas, 10. Oscar. The most popular girls’ names were: 1. Olivia, 2. Amelia, 3. Emily, 4. Isla, 5. Ava, 6. Isabella, 7. Lily, 8. Jessica, 9. Ella, 10. Mia.

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We love books here at Evergreen and in each issue we feature articles about much-loved or lesser-known literary creations and their authors. All types of reading material are represented on the Evergreen bookshelves, from adventure to historical fiction and detective novels to the great classics. In our forthcoming winter edition, published on 22nd November (click here to order your copy), our regular “Literary Pilgrim” series will be turning the pages of some spine-chilling tales of the supernatural by the likes of Charles Dickens, M.R. James, Bram Stoker and Edith Nesbit. The latter, of course, is famous for her children's literature, so it is fascinating to discover her literary exploration of the ghost world.

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We have just received the first copies of our 2018 This England Annual, a 100-page treasure chest of articles, pictures and poems (with a quiz to test your knowledge of England and a page of jokes to test your English sense of humour!) that many readers of the magazine now regard as a welcome “fifth issue”. As Christmas approaches, a lot of people also find that the Annual makes an attractive, great-value stocking-filler for friends and relatives. At the centre of the Annual we have included an eight-page “Seasonal Journey Through England”, a selection of stunning colour photographs depicting the English countryside in spring, summer, autumn and winter. The rest of the Annual is packed with articles. Highlights include:

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