“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 Post) To see the entire quote, click here.
Kent has some dramatically rocky and jagged coastline, punctuated by a few Victorian seaside resorts seemingly preserved in briny aspic. Here, in this southeasterly part of England, a visitor can easily discover oyster beds laid down by the Romans, forts with crumbling battlements, the grassy foundations and outlines of Roman temples and soldiers’ barracks, and part of a road that runs as straight and true as the shadow Caesar once cast over this part of Britain.
“And you never have milk in your tea?” Mum said it sympathetically, finding it hard to believe. “Never. Tastes better. Really. You should try it,” said Frances. “At my age! Tea without milk.” She laughed, then tried one more time. “Frances, you never had milk in your tea? Not ever?” Frances confessed to drinking her coffee black too. “Oh, well, coffee, yes, but tea? Funny, really. Oh, well.”
Those of you who've been following this blog for a while know we lost our handsome and well-loved Oscar Wilde earlier this year. Well, Prodigal Wife's birthday came around, bringing along a lovely new kitten. We've named him Daggers (see last post). It's the perfect name for him--he's a tough little lad, even though he's not much bigger than my hand. He's friendly though and, at least so far, we haven't seen any English-style reticence (a little bit of demure wouldn't be so bad!). So join me in welcoming our new family member--and wishing Happy Birthday to the Prodigal Wife, of course!
“Dagenham? You can’t possibly come from Dagenham!” a flamboyant acquaintance in the West End of London once told me. “You simply must tell people you come from ‘Darn-em’ and you must place your hand over your mouth as you say it, just in case.” Just in case? In case of what? I felt an urge to defend the place, but then thought better of it. Dagenham. “Call it Daggers,” said another wag. Well, I called it home.
“Let’s order some wine?” I said. “Thought you’d never ask! God, it's hot, isn’t it? Or is it me?” “No air conditioning,” I said. “Oh, I’m used to it now. Well, I should be. I’ve lived in England, what – twenty years?” Adelard was originally from Canada. “You have to get used to it. But I’ve come prepared. I’m Roget-Gallaired from stem to stern. And, as Bette Davis would say—” Adelard puffed on an imaginary cigarette and whisked the air with his paw. “Body odor offends me!” Adelard emitted a long, theatrical sigh quivering with happy recollections. “Aaaah, we don’t have stars like that anymore, do we? And the ones we have left – dropping off like flies, aren’t they?”
We have been hoarding wonderful awards like squirrels hide nuts before winter, but now it's time to reveal all...
The lovely Helen, A.K.A. The Machinist’s Wife, awarded me the "Honest Scrap" award, which really made me smile. You're supposed to list ten honest things about yourself, then pass it on to ten other deserving souls. Well, the reason it made me smile is, since we're being honest, I've already revealed quite a bit about myself on this blog and anyone who wants to get in deeper is going to have to, well, read the book!
I was honored to discover that the Transylvania-loving Rebecca of Living a Life of Writing me worthy of the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Apparently, these amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. What can I say other than thank you!
The lovely Michelloui at Mid-Atlantic English , who is living my life in reverse—she's even married to an Essex boy like me—and whose blog we admire very much gave us this coveted award, which is given to writers with a “continually creative (“kreativ”) way of keeping their blogs interesting." Thank you very much—and ditto.
And, last but in no way least, our book-loving friend Carol at The Writer’s Porch gave us the "your blog is bloody brilliant" award, which is for bloggers who inspire, whether through laughter, grace or just darn good writing. This award, of course, was originated by the wonderful Melissa at Smitten by Britain, who is our first nominee for the Kreativ Award. (And wasn't I clever, picking the cupful of roses—now I have both!)
In fact, since some of these awards have been out and about, I think I will follow Melissa's lead and let our nominees pick their own award (though I do have some thoughts about this, let me know what you pick so I'll see if I was right!). So here we go. The award of choice goes to:
Beyond the main exhibits, near the entrance, was a gift shop. Among the various bits of Roman memorabilia were genuine individual oil lamps, found onsite. There were hundreds of them and quite reasonably priced. The shop also sold recipe books and jars of condiments locally made from original Roman recipes. One contained a kind of poultice of compressed raisins and apples, another was an intense anchovy paste with a musty flavor. Bravely, we took a chance and got a few jars as souvenirs.
Despite Frances’ enthusiasm, I was not all that keen to explore another ruin. Roman arenas and aqueducts and arches were one thing, mosaics under glass quite another. But I kept my thoughts to myself. Frances had been such a good sport about hosting my parents, I could hardly complain about a little sightseeing. And, I had to admit, some of the sites she’d picked had turned out to be a better kettle of fish than I had imagined.
Gareth at What England Means to Me sent us this lovely photo of The Jacobean Bell Inn in Burwash (Sussex), which was featured in Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill:
“And while I am tearing my hair over this, Ticehurst Will, my best mason, comes to me shaking, and vowing that the Devil, horned, tailed, and chained, has run out on him from the church-tower, and the men would work there no more. So I took ‘em off the foundations, which we were strengthening, and went into the Bell Tavern for a cup of ale.”
Kipling lived at Bateman's in Burwash, of course, and you know how much we love literary travel! If you're wondering about the proximity of the graveyard to the pub, you see that a lot in English villages, where the pub and the church are right next to each other and the heart of the community. And of course, old pubs in England invariably started life as inns, where weary travelers rested their heads and their horses.
From Thurloe Square, it was a short walk to the Natural History Museum. Our timing was perfect. It was after four o’clock, and the entry was free. This famous Victorian museum was enormous and smelled as old as the fossils and dinosaur bones it contained. We walked around one of the newer exhibitions featuring dinosaurs covered in plastic skin that roared and clicked and made slobbering sounds. Kate was fascinated by dinosaurs, as most young children are, but even so, she was a little disturbed by their realistic look. And yet she was quite unperturbed, once I picked her up, by the huge, life-sized, animated Tyrannosaurus Rex we encountered in the high-ceilinged atrium by the museum teashop. Odd to see a fearsome dinosaur swishing a huge tail, roaring and swooping about as weary museum-goers drank their tea and did their level best to ignore it. In England, dinosaurs should not make scenes in tearooms. It just isn’t done.
We parked the car back at the hotel and strolled to the old part of Windsor, just ten minutes away. We swung by a sedate Regency street that led to Windsor Great Park, in fact Windsor Castle’s back garden. And what a garden it was, seemingly going for miles. The road from the castle to the park was covered in tiny yellow pebbles and not open to the public. Cars speeding down that thoroughfare probably contain a royal. At the end of the road, and across it, we noticed garlands of spiky chain, just in case someone did not understand royal protocol.
OK, this is not exactly the type of England photo we usually post but, as you know, the Prodigal household has been celebrating the lovely endorsement from Michael York, and it's a holiday weekend too, so... when Meagan of Lady Whole Lunches sent on this photo it seemed like just the thing. Here's what Meagan says: "It was a particularly sunny day in May at a wedding in the Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire. The champagne had been delivered to the table, but no one was there to drink it, as they all went to watch the attempt at cricket. I love how it is the older men who are off running to get the ball, and the children seem to be idly inching forward." Thanks Meagan--and Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!
“I was good at maths,” Lew said, casually. “You what?” I blurted, “Didn’t I tell you? When I was in the artillery, I calculated gun angles, so the shell would land on the target. Six guns, I had. Different elevations, different targets, distances... Lot of things to take into account. Logarithms – did all the calculations an’ that in my head. We had a contest. I had my guns set up and ready to fire when everyone else was farting about trying to calculate the range. I won. Monty himself came up to me personally, congratulated me, he did.” “You never told me.” “About Montgomery?” “About the math.” “It was a long time ago. Mind you, I can still do all your mother’s bets.”
Standing, from L to R: Lew (Dad), Frances (Prodigal Wife), Denis (The Prodigal Tourist), and Jessie (Mum). Floating: Kate (Prodigal Daughter).
About this blog
You are reading random vignettes, deleted scenes, and other extras from and about my book, A Yank Back to England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns. Enjoy, let me know what you think, ask questions, and thanks for your support! Cheers, The Prodigal Tourist
Years ago I shed my Cockney accent and left London's blighted East End for America. Since then, I’ve only returned to see my increasingly cantankerous parents and assorted relatives. Until my American wife comes along. She wants to tour, see the sights. No thank you. It’s not for me. But she insists, and I become a reluctant tourist in my former homeland.