“Half memoir, half travel, A Yank Back to England...is an absolutely wonderful book, not only about going home again but also about love and family and tradition and the passage of the years.”
—Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic (Washington
To see the entire quote, click here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What England means to me, part II

(The following is the second half of an essay I wrote for What England Reads to Me. For Part I, see previous post.)

And yet...
Once I got settled, the pull of England, the occasional tugs homeward, became more frequent. I found myself listening to more Vaughan Williams, more Britten and Holst than ever before. And I rediscovered meat puds and toad in the hole; even beans on toast made it back on the menu. I started to garden. To garden! (The world may think all Englishmen are itching to leap out of the closet but I think we're more prone to come out of the woodshed in a pair of wellies.)
Anyhow, this Englishness grew. And now it knows no bounds. I even find myself riding my bike and singing along to the chorus of The English are Best. I'm glued to the telly whenever the most insipid period drama is aired. Just as long as it's English. On the box recently, I heard someone say, "Oooh you are awful...but I like you!" And, quite suddenly, marvelous Dick Emery dug a smiley faced crease in my memory.

It gets worse.
I can't hear Jerusalem without getting a wet glob in the eye. And Churchill's wartime words embarrass me with a feeling of pride-or is it that odd, misunderstood emotion expats label as misplaced patriotism? I've started re-reading Mapp and Lucia, Saki, Somerset Maugham; and rediscovering the glories of Golding, Durrell, Fowles, and Bainbridge, to name but a few.
Time for tea? I found local shops that import PG Tips, even Typhoo! Assorted British sauces, pickles, sweets, and sundries. Gentleman's relish? Piccalilli. You can get it all here. And I do.
Somehow, America has become a receptive, dimensional canvas cleverly shaped liked that familiar little spec in the North Atlantic. So I happily dip into a paint box labeled Albion and splogged on the oils in big thick swirls, brushing out the unpleasant bits from the green and pleasant. Yet, for all that, my picture of England isn't as bland as one might expect. The colours ring true. They are as vibrant and lush as the music of England's countryside, as dense as a sherry-soaked fruitcake, as majestic as our literature, as lyrical as our poetry, and as magical as a kid's memory of a Christmas panto with Arthur Askey.
England means more to me now than it ever would have if I had stayed. Moving back, I think I might lose my exuberant imagining of the place I once called home. I would take it all for granted again. And long for other landscapes I would rather not imagine, let alone paint, let alone call home.


Daffycat said...

You write so beautifully, Denis. I can feel your heart swell and the lump in your throat.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

Denis, you have written the very words I could have spoken myself.
Looking back, there was a period, when I first lived in the USA when I wanted to discover everything new. My Englishness was shoved aside, I was learning to appreciate a new country, with new customs, new rules.
After I felt comfortable with those new customs, I felt something missing, it was my own heritage, somehow it had gotten lost in the mix.
I live and feel more English than I believe I did living in England. Everyday, I embrace my upbringing, my country's heritage. I listen to anything on TV that is British, eat English foods,read English authors. We have the best of both countries, it's a thing to celebrate.
Love your writings , you hit the nail on the head.

Sarah T said...

This is a lovely piece of writing. Thank you for posting it, I really enjoyed it. As an American about to move to England, I wonder if living there permanently will inspire me to embrace parts of my native culture that I've never really paid to much attention to. It's interesting to wonder about.

Expat mum said...

Gorgeous. And so true for many of us!

tally said...

I first left England as a 17 year old in 1967 when I joined the merchant navy. Being English, was until recently not something the English discussed or navel gazed.
I found that I did not become consciously English until I first set foot out of England.If someone said "are you british" I would nod the affirmative, now I say no I'm English.I have lived out of England most of my life but I have made a point of keeping my strong northern English accent.The English tend to disappear once they live in other countries.They don't seem to get together and form associations like other groups do but I'm hoping this changes over time.
All the best from Australia.
was heal

Mike said...

Denis a cracking read along with part one. I can so identify with so many things. Going native so to speak is not really on my agenda nor is a colonialist attitude.

I am just proud of a heritage that had I not move overseas I would have lost in the fuddle of everyday life back home.

Rule Brittania-last night of the proms-trying to explain to my Thai partner what made Britain great.

Maggie said...

This is one of my fav posts that you've written (so far!)

And I gave you an award if you want to stop by and "get" it!

Linda said...

After reading this post (and having just read all the prior posts) I realize I am not going insane with belated Anglophilia. The difference is I have lived here 40 years, ever since I was a young bride who married a Yank(English humour), and am now divorced and jobless courtesy of the economy. Too young to live without health insurance, and all my family "back there" so I anticipate, if I cannot find work, and it certainly is not looking promising, moving back to good old Blighty later on next year. It is going to be very interesting...
I shall avail myself of your book now I have heard of it, and if it is anything like your blogs, I shall love it!