Bradford on Avon. September. I’m looking over her gently terraced garden, sitting at the desk of an old friend in her honey coloured Georgian house. The sun peeking out from an angry, black cloud. Gold finches at the bird table, brambles growing into the Kent Cobb Nut tree, blackberries ripe and ready to harvest. Beyond this garden there are 18th century terraces built of crumbling bath stone. There is a freshly planted parterre, the tiny box hedges won’t be ready for another two years. Box grows so slowly. All over the English countryside gardeners tend their neatly trimmed topiary, privet sculpted into elegant forms. The muscles in my back and neck are still tender from the last few months of anxious reckoning.
From my home in the USA… things are grim. That’s that. AMERICA. Every day the news gets worse. Trump’s white supremacist vision for the USA. Unpicking every half-hearted Obama achievement. Making the point of his white presidency to undo a black man’s legacy. Indisputable evidence… I escaped at the right time. I can’t understand people who stick around. What more do they need to see or hear before they leave that god forsaken Trump hole?
The most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.”
Thankfully I’m home. Home in England. I left my friends in Chamonix after we enjoyed a few days vacation in Northern Italy and yet another adventure on the Tuscan coast. I drove to Paris, left Dude with my friend Mary and the following day Little Dog and I caught the P&O ferry to Dover where I met my sister Roya. A few miles later I was sitting on the sunny lawn of my friend’s lavish Queen Anne mansion reconfigured in 1911 by Edward Lutyens.
It was the first time I’d met my sister, we’d spent a few years skyping since she introduced herself online. Now, here she was in all her lesbian glory with her delightful girlfriend drinking champagne on the velvet lawns of the English countryside. I’m sure she felt anxious. I’m sure she felt confused. We have ten brothers and sisters.
I’ve avoided England. Voting from afar, now I return. I must admit… I’m in love with you, the English, in love with you all. I understand you, you are gentle, even the hardest amongst you. You’ll never be as inflexible and humorless as the Americans. On the ferry home I listened to two middle-aged couples describing their lives on the roads of Europe. Motor homes. I envied them. On the road. Free. Unencumbered.
For the first time, however, the British have been divided. Not along lines of class or political affiliation but whether one is a brexiteer or not. Tentatively enquiring when one meets a friend if they voted for or against brexit. They might be that kind of person. Yet, as I waited at the traffic lights in Camden Town I saw a river of diversity. So unique, colorful… so English. Evidence just there on that grimy North London street: thousands of years of cultural amalgamation.
Our leaders seem so terribly out of step with the people they lead.
The English are very sweet. A ready smile, a polite greeting, they have a charming disposition. Drivers thank you for courteous driving, we stick to the correct lanes on the motorway. The British are engaging and inquisitive. After so many years walking streets in the USA, I gave up saying good morning or smiling at strangers. Here is a nation of men and women who without hesitation are eager to trust, eager to forgive and desperately want to smile whenever they chance upon a stranger.
Perhaps it’s me? Perhaps I am so happy to be back they recognise my unbridled happiness? I don’t think so. It’s them, the British, naturally optimistic, even though they are unaware of their optimism. They can’t see it. They would disagree if I told them to their face.
I was excited to see my home town, but I was too tired to drive to Whitstable the night I arrived. I planned to go after my sister and her girlfriend left but instead I crept into a huge bed with the Little Dog and slept soundly. In the morning I found the wonderful Barham Community Store, read the newspaper then headed up the M2 to the north Kent coast.
I parked the car on Harbour Street and had coffee at Dave’s Deli, he was adorable. His sister works there. We talked about Richard Green. He has been very sick. Everyone I met seemed delighted to see me and hugged me or shook my hand vigorously. People I’d known all my life. Half a century or more.
Yet, for all the time passed since I first cycled up Harbour Street at 7 years old on my red tricycle… not much has changed. There’s more money but there’s more money swamping the south-east, all the way to Margate. I explored the town and lingered outside all three of my houses. They were just as I left them. The house on Island Wall has a very smart garden and the house next door has nice new Victorian sash windows. Number 3 Seaway Cottages on Wavecrest (owned by Peter Cushing before me) is a little forlorn. The owner hasn’t been there all summer and the garden has overgrown terribly. Number 2 Seaway Cottages has been renovated several times since I left, they have built a 20 foot kitchen onto the back of the house. Thankfully they kept the expensive door handles and light switches.
I didn’t miss the houses on Whitstable beach, not one little bit. They were mine, I sold them for a huge profit and I moved on. People ask if I miss the money they would be worth now and I remind them they are only worth money when you sell them. I miss them not at all, they gave me the oppertunity to move on in style. I have never wished to be there again, no nostalgia… no regret. Not like Malibu… I hanker after Malibu.
Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Some uppity British people are very eager to remind you of your place in society, reminding me of my own ancient history… but I’m an American now so those archaic rules don’t apply to me.
More of that when I return to my desk tomorrow.