Hacking the BBC to watch London's New Year's Eve fireworks. This proved to be a melancholy moment.
Someone just posted a photo on Twitter of the north London sky. It was pretty ordinary—I've seen better, frankly, in New Mexico—but I got sad, in the homesick way I do whenever I see someone post on Facebook about something they're doing in England. Because I'm not there, and every day it gets further away.
One year ago today we were packing our bags, trying to stuff everything that couldn't be sent with the shipment into seven suitcases and one dog kennel and fretting about how to get all of that to Heathrow. (Fortunately a friend volunteered, and then it turned out we needed her husband too—it took four adults and two cars to get us out of there.)
It's odd the things I miss—not the sky, but the ground. The pastures, the parks, the green grass. The roads—the motorways and the A roads, and especially the "grey" roads as I called them, because they were grey on a map. (Yes, I always used a map when I lived to England, because technology can't convey how many ways there are to get to Amersham in quite the same way.) I miss skating through roundabouts, peeling off at the right exit and applauding myself for getting it right. Well done, you!
I'm still not used to hearing American accents coming from strangers—British accents were the norm for so long. My American-sounding neighbors must wonder why I smile to myself when I hear them calling their children with Southern drawls. There's no longer that "odd duck" feeling when I open my own mouth, knowing that my voice set me apart as "not from 'round here". Unless you've lived abroad, you probably don't know what it's like to be identified as "other" as soon as you speak, and how you attempt to defy the stereotypes your countrymen have earned every time you do. Mustn't be loud! Mustn't not get British humor! Mustn't use the phrase "24/7".
I miss the transportation system, the ease of hopping on a train in my village, and being in Paris a couple hours later. Or Brussels. Even though mostly I just went to London, which suited me just fine. There is no better city in the world, for people watching, or museum seeing, or play viewing, especially once you've figured out the indoor maze of the National Theatre well enough to hit the toilets before the queue forms during the interval.
This might sound strange, for anyone who's actually been to Slough, but I miss the beauty of England most of all. There was a time when I didn't know what was so awful about suburban sprawl, because that was all I knew, and then I moved to England, and found villages and town centres and high streets with their jumble of shops and the odd thatched roof much more appealing. Now I live amidst suburban sprawl again—miles and miles and counties full of it, and it's truly ugly. Why would anyone do this to the countryside? Why does no one want to live close enough to the post office to walk, or to the beauty shop or the library or the optician?
Maybe because walking through the heat and humidity of summer, and the freezing snow covered sidewalks in winter, just isn't pleasant. But I wouldn't know, since the idea of walking to the optician, ten miles away, isn't something I'd even contemplate in this new country. I'd love a ten mile ramble through the Chilterns, though.
I'm homesick for those hills, those walks in the Autumn, the lush overgrown paths of Summer, the flowers in Spring. Sure, there are woods aplenty here, parks of some renown, trails just waiting for me to explore them.
But they aren't the same. I found this out when I went to a nearby park, with several trails all promisingly named after nature. We chose one that led to a viewing platform over the marsh, but when we got there we realized that was the end of the trail and the only way back was down the same way we'd come. The poor dog was so bored he didn't even bother pulling on the lead, which of course he was attached to, because mustn't let dog off leash!
And get this—dogs aren't even allowed in the National Mall! Imagine Hyde Park without dogs! I bet you can't.
Three years ago I was overcome with emotion as I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, after a summer "trapped in a perverse jet stream", under monochrome skies, my mood "grim". Like that, with a spectacle designed to show off England in an unseemly show of—yes, emotion, from a famously unemotional country—I was smitten by Britain.
It's really too bad Washington lost its bid to host the Olympics, because it appears to take an Olympic-sized ceremony to endear a place to me. I need that bold reminder, a jolt of pyrotechnics, maybe an aging monarch dropped from above, before I can truly fall in love with a country, even my own.
So that's it, one year on: my memories of England growing fainter every day, the green and pleasant land growing greener and more pleasant in my homesick imaginings. I don't think I'll celebrate this auspicious date, but if someone wants to set off a pyrotechnic or two I won't complain.