Pages of my life…

Best Of The United Kingdom

Posted on: August 18, 2009

The opinions I could express and stories I should share about life in England number far too many to include in a single blog.  I have scoured the land from one end to the next and lived in East Anglia for a number of years…where I owned a home and gave birth to two children.  I was in the country less than two weeks before I found myself cooking British food in a pub kitchen to help a new friend assemble meals for large wedding receptions and make pub favorites in mass quantity for quicker service in the weeks to come.  The last thing I would have ever considered was to buy a home in another country.  Of course the very first thing I actually did was to buy a home…or bungalow as it is properly called.  I lived in the country in the middle of nowhere in a village so tiny the only road went past…not through it.  The "housing estate" was not far from multiple buildings proudly standing since the 15th century.  The old church and cemetery were wonderful.  I had a regular two and a half mile walk that took me past a farmers pasture…where my friend "Bessie" the cow watched with interest.  Moles hung on wire fencing for blocks on end so the farmer would know the mole catcher was doing his job.  I played on a trivia quiz league where pubs from across the country participated in an organized and highly competitive series of formal quiz events played in various locations.  I was a rugby "tea" lady feeding the masses of rugby players after all the matches for the day were done.  I made so many friends in such a short amount of time that virtually every day of my calendar was filled with warm and loving people whose friendships would become treasured for life.  It did not take much of a math genius to figure that I could not possibly afford to buy gifts for everyone in the village at Christmas time…so I began preparing early in the fall.  I saved Pringles containers for their tall slender stature.  I grew Christmas cactus for all the baby plants it would produce.  I made a large quantity of Victoria plum jam from the trees in my garden.  I put aside apples in a crisp location to be transformed into deep dish apple pies for eighty hungry rugby players.  When Christmas rolled around I was prepared.  I filled the Pringles containers with homemade American candies and cookies…wrapped each one in bright Christmas paper and put a lovely bow on top.  I tied a ribbon around each pot of plum jam and labeled each one with contents and date.  I bought a stack of tiny peat pots for twenty pence and transferred the Christmas plants to small pots and wrapped a bow around the perimeter.  I handed out gifts everywhere I went and brought the remainder to the pub for my friend and her husband to distribute for me.  The pub…in keeping with tradition had plaques noting faithful customers places in the bar.  One gentleman had a twenty five year plaque and another had one for fifty years of patronage.  If there is no where to sit…it is acceptable to park yourself in one of their spots…but if they come in…etiquette notes the polite thing to do is vacate the seat they have earned over time.  The one gentleman was a jolly fellow who loved pretty much everyone.  The older of the two men hated foreigners.  He hated Londoner’s and anyone not born and raised in the village…as the village belongs to the villagers.  So…the day before Christmas you could not imagine the surprise on my face when I heard the unmistakable rumbling of a tractor coming into the housing estate.  At my front door stood a transformed older gentleman… softened by sentiment.  He wore Wellington boots as tall as his thighs caked in mud.  In his outstretched arms was a beautiful Christmas bird.  It was still warm…and I could imagine it had been merrily wandering around the garden only a half hour prior to being delivered.  The Merry Christmas greeting from the most hardened soul in the village was one of the more touching and memorable ones I have ever experienced.  A tear graced his cheek as he recalled the joy of having someone reach out to be so kind to him.  We sent drinks back and forth a few times and celebrated the birth of my two children in the next two years…but his effort that first Christmas set the stage and changed a lot of things within the village. My neighbors on one side were Scottish and very funny.  We had a small retaining wall between our homes in the back garden and every night the ritual was the same.  Over the wall came the neighbors knocking on the back door of the sunroom.  They were very generous in sharing food and drink…both of which flowed continuously.  A British home barbeque experience normally involves cooking a variety of different meats…chicken, steak, burgers and ribs…all at once.  Drinks would be filled before they were empty and invariably ended with a little bit of help being needed to escort the neighbors back over the wall at the end of the night.  They were a wonderful couple and very social.  When my youngest child was born…my neighbor volunteered to watch over my little boy while I was at the hospital.  As friends and relatives called to see if I had given birth yet…they were told "Aye…it’s a wee girl".  The word girl sounds more like "geddle" with a thick Scottish brogue…and by the time she finished sharing her excitement…not a single person had a clue what kind of child I ended up having.  First steps and babies only a few days old were videotaped by our senior neighbor on the other side.  Across the back garden was an amazing lady whose children had been killed during  world war bombing.  She felt as though the two little rascals belonged to her as did everyone in the village.  Dual citizenship was not offered for both parents being American…but according to the British…my kids were born in the United Kingdom…and will only ever have British birth certificates…so in their eyes…they are British with National Health Service cards from the day they were born and the right to come back and fight with the Royal Air Force or Her Majesty’s Navy if they so choose.  People think that other than the obvious…(driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road)…speaking English means we speak the same language.  In fact…nearly all the functional words are different.  Jelly is jam and napkins are serviettes…and cloth napkins are linens.  Jello is jelly…a small stroller is a pram and a bigger one is a buggy.  Tea is dinner…potato chips are crisps and french fries are chips.  Tennis shoes are trainers and sneakers are plimsoles.  I could go on and on and on…but I think you get the idea.  For all that is different…and the many times I embarrassed myself getting in on the wrong side of the car and pretending to be looking in the glove box for something while my neighbors peeked through curtains shaking their heads…there are a million things to love about this island kingdom with ill tempered weather and royal roots.  My next excerpt on the United Kingdom will include specific areas and regale stories from each place.  My list of personal favorites is extensive…food, drink, locations, landmarks, people… places and memories of intriguing events.  For now I will simply say ta (pronounced taa) which is the basic version of thanks.  I hope you come back again when I revisit all things British.  


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