“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.
My new Christmas pudding is happily imbibing as I write, happily awaiting the big day. Here is a photo of last year's, before we doused it with brandy. And ate it, of course. If you'd like to try your hand at this traditional taste of Britain, my recipe is posted here. It takes a bit of effort, but it's worth it...and Tiptree puds are $30 this year!
Until the middle of the twentieth century many East Enders, and those who lived south of the river, in the poorer boroughs of London, went hop-picking every year. It was quite an industry and a practical way to earn a few pennies, enjoy a family vacation, albeit a working one, and breathe clean country air. Of course, the descendants of those hop pickers are now barreling down the motorway in their land cruisers, roaring past those old hop fields and disused kilns without a second glance, as they head to the Channel Tunnel and the promise of warmer, richer pickings on the other side.
Prodigal Wife and I have discovered Doc Martin, a quirky Brit show about a surgeon who can't stand the sight of blood so he takes over a small practice in beautiful Cornwall. The villagers aren't exactly warm and friendly, but, oh, the scenery is spectacular!
A gnarly old lemon-colored rose tree gripped a rotting trellis, fighting its way clear of the laburnum. The standard roses, of which there were several, had an easier time getting to the sun. Lined up like sentries with bulbous cockades of crinkly white and red petals, Mum's standards stood to attention right along the dividing fence between our home and the next door neighbor's. "Look at my roses, look at the foxglove! And look, look at my potentilla!" It was a huge sunburst of yellow. "And my hydrangea. That'll be out soon!" Six feet across, covered in green leafy frond-like leaves, Mum's shockingly pink hydrangea flowers would soon dominate the small garden and might even eclipse the potentilla.
Somerset Maugham renamed Whitstable "Blackstable" in one of his first novels. He had grown up there and hated the place. I sort of, understand, visiting a seaside place is nothing like living in it year round. And the sea around the British coastline is mostly mackerel gray, which in summer can be offset by the occasional bluish sky but in the fall and winter or in a rainy spring the grayness is omnipresent, inescapable. But as you can see from this lovely photo we found at twinisles.com, the sun does occasionally shine on Whitstable, which is not without its charms. And, indeed, we very much enjoyed our day in the coastal town.
I literally threw the book in the corner of the room. Frustrated, angry, and very annoyed. After a few moments, when my seethe had come off the boil, I realized something. The book I was reading was a good one. And something else. I was not annoyed at the book but at the main character’s flaw: his spinelessness. In his quiet, beguiling way, Somerset Maugham had hooked me, lured me into his world. The book was Of Human Bondage, and I carried on reading it, only to admire, in time, the character’s dogged determination. Talk about beguiling.
I love this old photo we found of Viking Bay in Broadstairs, my favorite English coastal town. Straight ahead is the Albion Hotel, where Dickens once wrote—and where Jesse and Lew imbibed while we ambled up to Bleak House, which we assume is the narrow building all the way to the right on the cliffside. It was obviously expanded later as it is much grander now.
Well! It's been a year since publication of A Yank Back To England, and it has been quite exciting. I've done over thirty book readings and lectures, ranging from small book clubs in people's houses to bookshops, even a champagne brunch at Fort Meade and dinner at a baronial manor house brought brick by brick from England! Regardless of the venue, the response has been overwhelmingly favorable. Mind you, I have also been brought to earth a couple times, and quite dramatically! One event, for a group of seniors, sticks in my mind. I spoke after lunch and, despite my Dickensian efforts to read with bombast and, dare I say, a certain élan, my audience fell into the arms of Morpheus before I could say Ghrrrr! Most disconcerting. As you can imagine, I wrapped up the reading very quickly. At least, when everyone came to, a few books were sold! So that was all right.
Also, during the past twelve months, Frances and I have been really overwhelmed by the letters (well, emails) we have received and the comments readers have left on our website. Some say they've read the book more than once! We've been especially touched by those readers who fell in love with my funny old folks, along with my extended family and some of the oddballs we met along the way. It is so gratifying to discover the book has hit a familiar cadence with so many. Of course, not everyone has aging Cockney parents, but most everyone seems to have family experiences my story helped evoke.
Apart from the family story, our travels have also resonated with a good many readers. We have received quite a few notes from readers planning to take Yank on their next trip! Very gratifying to think that a lot more people will be discovering the wonderful literary landmarks and fascinating historical sites we found on our travels in Southern England (I encourage everyone to avoid Dagenham though, but few listen to my words of wisdom).
I hope you'll forgive the indulgence, we thought we'd post here a few of the comments and observations we've received (we won't mention names, but these are real quotes from real people). Many were accompanied by personal stories and memories evoked, which we enjoyed very much.
"The perfect blend of humor, poignancy, history, culture, and character. Well BLOODY done!!!!"
"I hated to come to the end, so I have read it over several times...thanks for sharing your family & your travels with us. I fell in love with them all!!"
"Wonderful book, but so painfully close to home as I struggle with my own aging parents and recall my own version of an English childhood. I connected with this on so many levels!! Couldn't put it down."
"I bought (Yank) simply because I like travel writing and it sounded interesting. But your book connected with me in ways I did not expect at all."
"I spent some time in school (in England) and get back every few years... so reading your descriptions of places, food and feelings brought back a lot of good memories--although I don't miss the Archers!"
"Wonderful book, I relished most every part of it."
"As a Brit who became a Yank and now takes his family back to the UK every year to visit family it really struck a chord."
And the very first personal note we received, which said, in part: "I am almost at the end of A Yank Back to England and I will be sorry when it's over. I have thoroughly enjoyed the book and getting to know your family and your travels." (This lovely reader wrote again when she'd completed the book! Very nice indeed.)
Of course, the book was not everyone's cup of tea. But that's okay by me. After all, not everyone likes tea with milk! But regardless of how you take you tea, thank you all for taking the time and trouble to write to us.
For those of you who haven't heard, I'm also pleased to report the book has now been reprinted. And yes, I'm still doing events. Meanwhile, do continue to write and tell us if the book inspired you to take a trip to the Green and Pleasant. And don't forget to tell your friends! If they can't make the royal wedding, they can still catch up on a couple of royal events and discover the other Kate--the one in A Yank Back To England.
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.