Loving England

I was in love with the country from the moment I stepped outside into the cold and  almost constant drizzle. I loved the way the moody pen-and-ink skies would suddenly burst open just long enough to reveal muted golden hues from a distant sun then close again. While Joan flapped her arms like a penguin to keep warm, I reveled in weather so different from what I’d been used to my entire life: sunshine, sunshine, sunshine. From the middle of Africa to Southern California. The cold felt good, energizing, renewing. The picture below is of me on my first day in the pouring rain trying to get to close to two little lambs. I didn’t mind getting soaked at all.

The other thing about England was that I felt like I’d come home; the same feeling I had when I first landed in America. How could that be? But it makes sense. My schooling and the customs I grew up with were almost entirely British, and that’s where most of my ancestors are from—my mother’s father was from London, and my other grandfather was from Scotland. When I told Joan how I felt about England, she hopped on it. “You’re moving here. You can stay with me. First thing is you need to do is re-establish your British citizenry.”

Well, that’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, as I had to give up my British citizenship to become an American citizen. Joan wouldn’t hear of it. She urged me to write to my Uncle Percy in Umlhanga Rocks, South Africa to see if he has any evidence of my parents’ British ancestry. This way I could re-establish my British status and live part of the year in England with Joan. Don’t you just love it?

However, you need to wonder just how long I would last. You see, I’m a bit of an iconoclast.  I like to mix it up. While I loved the historic buildings, ancient traditions, quaint shops—some with mannequins from the sixties—and radio programmes that broadcast listeners’ personal birthday and anniversary greetings, to the solid genuineness of the people, I was afraid I might end up finding it stifling. But hey, it would only be for part of the year, right? Well, that’s if Uncle Percy has those documents.

Here We Go!

This is what I remember of our two hour journey to Morland: overcast skies, lovely drizzle, non-stop texts from Joan on Donna’s cellphone –did you find her, where are you? what are you doing? where are you now?—and the two of us chatting like I don’t think we ever did. So many aha moments when we realized how much both of us had yearned for the history-laden English countryside we learned of in Enid Blyton’s books as children. A world of hedgerows (we just had plain old hedges in Africa), badgers, ancient vine-covered castles, deserted lighthouses, porcelain Calico Cat figurines on mantelpieces, “high” tea at four o’clock in the afternoon, secret club houses hidden at the bottom of lush overgrown gardens, and kindly Bobbies in their round flower pot shaped helmets. This was where The Secret Seven and The Famous Five solved crimes, ferreted out secrets and had a jolly old time. Why had we never spoken of these yearnings as children? I thought I was the only one.

I don’t remember much more of the journey until we entered Morland, past an ancient church with gravestones that tilted this way and that, past a giant topiary squirrel holding a yellow posy, past eighteenth-century flat-faced stone buildings with chimney pots that looked too small for those little smudge-faced chimney sweeps of yore and around a tight corner.

There, to the left, was the pub I’d seen on Joan’s laptop screen a year earlier—a pub she and her ex-husband ran for awhile—and further down, the tiny brook (I soon learned is called a mill race) alongside the larger stream, I’d also seen on her screen. Opposite, I recognized Joan’s row house, which I later learned used to be a pub complete with an iron ring in front where the men tied their horses while downing a pint or two. We pulled up and Joan charged outside. She was wearing heels.