British remains (Running out of gear)

So far, so furry

So far, so furry

Things are falling apart. Specifically, British things. The stuff we brought with us, it’s not lasting forever, and I feel irrational surprise each time something we brought with us breaks or wears out. British stuff didn’t last forever in Britain, but it feels worse to see it degrading in the US.

Questions remain over key items we neglected to bring:

  • Beds
  • Dining room furniture

These things would have lasted, probably. And we liked them. And yet we left them, because they were big, and they were going to cost  a lot to ship, and we didn’t have the mental space to imagine our USA life with this stuff.

As for the things we did bring, some made sense:

  • electric toothbrush
  • electric shaver

Both of these require an American adapter to plug in, making us look like permanent tourists in our own bathroom.

My electric shaver was on its last legs back in Scotland. It’s worse now, it’s noisier, shaving is an exercise in patience.

This is the shaver I kept at work. I should be glad to toss it, but every quarter I oil the blades, hoping for one more run before the thing finally seizes up or delivers me a shuddering scar.

And some of the things we brought were just sad: 

  • stationery
  • batteries

And yeah, this stuff is running out now. I mail our rent check inside a Tesco envelope. And it cheers me, sending something so American in something so British. But I have 3 left. And what am I supposed to do? Buy envelopes?

Rebecca theorizes that I’m suffering from permanency-shock. That replacing our British tat means we’re staying, we’re stuck here whether we like it or not.

But I think it’s just that I’m cheap. I resent the fact that I brought  a 9 volt battery all the way to Tennessee only for it to fur up when I need it. Batteries are expensive here. I can’t bear to spend money on such things, and everything needs juice here. (Do they sell wind-up smoke alarms?)

I have a pencil leftover from my Scottish Government days, which says “No point to racism” (not my idea) and I take it to my classes, curious to see if any of the students will prefer it to the American (Made in China) #2 pencils on offer. It’s never chosen. It sits there, blue among the yellow, neglected.

English: Disassembled Philips electric shaver ...

English: Disassembled Philips electric shaver rotary head.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also brought four clocks.

(This made sense, because they have time here as well. They think they have less time, but really, it’s the same amount.)

The one clock that survived the journey and is thriving, is doing just fine thank you, is the British birds clock, with hourly chimes ranging from the charming blackbird to the frankly terrifying nightingale.

Three of our clocks have broken. We patched one back together, but the other two are hopeless. We took them to a clock repair guy, and he kindly explained that he repaired real clocks, not crappy ones we were keeping for sentimental value.

And perhaps this is the reason time has felt so elastic here, that two years have seemed like a blink, like a decade. I’m not sure what to do with these British scraps but I can’t throw them away.

Maybe Rebecca’s right. Maybe I’m afraid of staying here. Nothing’s standing still, we’re all getting older, all of us, all changing, my language adapts and acquiesces, and I’ll suddenly realize that yes, trunk does make more sense than boot.

We were supposed to bring the best of us along for this American treasure hunt. That was the idea, and I think it happened. But there’s baggage as well, there’s rust and scars, and I’m scared to let it go.

Even my British passport is ready to fall apart. It expires this year, threatening to leave me laughably without papers, if I don’t cough up the $250 renewal fee.

There’s a pair of pottery cats that we kept in our front bay window in Scotland. They made the trip just fine, but it’s been smash after smash since we got here. House moves and high winds leave our long-tailed objets repeatedly in pieces.

They’re sheltering upstairs these days, on the top of the filing cabinet, away from the weather and human interference, and I seek to fill the gaps with Loctite repair putty.  I can glue tails back together but they’re still away from home, and that was the plan, but I’m still afraid of doing this forever.  And I guess the only trick to this is to live it.


Bringing it back (UK treasure)

angel delight

Image by hmmlargeart via Flickr

So America is fine, America has all kinds of good stuff. I hate to mention the teeny-tiny areas where it is lacking. Such comments are usually met by (a) the not-travelled with genuine astonishment, and by (b) the travelled with a list of reasons I’m crazy for wanting to live here in the first place.

So don’t get mad, it’s okay. I could’ve lived without the following items, but seeing as I didn’t need to, I’ve chosen to live with them instead. Courtesy of purchases at Sainsburys, Boots and Heathrow, I filled the non-existent gap in my suitcase with the following:

4 packets of Angel Delight (butterscotch flavour)

This is like American pudding except for one thing: I want to eat it.

There is nothing of  nutritional value in Angel Delight. The first ingredient is sugar and the rest are a canny blend of emulsifiers and anti-caking agents. But I do love it. My brother also loves it and we are both old, old men.

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Home for the Holidays (Scotland at Christmas)

United Kingdom: stamp

Image by Sem Paradeiro via Flickr

We were gone 8 months. Not so long, some people (some civil servants) have vacations longer than that. And nothing in Britain has changed. Except everyone got 8 months older. And the roads got narrower, and less reliable, and the supermarket aisles got more crowded.

I’ve had some good moments during our visit back to the UK. The flights were easy, all 3 of them, as we bumped to Toronto, London Heathrow, side-stepped to Gatwick and then bumped one more time to Inverness. Anything was better than the Checkers taxi ride to Nashville airport, driven by a guy whose sanest comment was “The Government ain’t telling us everything” and quickly went downhill to “The moon is hollow,  that’s the only possible scientific explanation.” He was big on science, this cabbie. He was also big on telling you the same thing twice. I’ve never enjoyed tipping someone less. Ah, you Americans with your conspiracy theories, there’s a good reason the rest of us think you’re nuts.

Ah, you Brits, you appear so much saner in comparison, because you keep the spooky thoughts to yourself.

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Driving in America Pt.1 (Mysterious love affair)

Tire on mapLast week we took a 7-hour road-trip with 2 hours notice. This kind of formula is alien to me. Before, I would’ve demanded a month of planning. I would’ve been Googling roadside attractions, Hampton Inn locations.

In those 2 hours between knowing about the journey and beginning it, I took the car for an oil change and found time to buy water wings at Wal-Mart (not for myself), while Rebecca spent her time packing up and finding baby-sitters for two nieces (they got the water wings – both sets identically pink and ruffled, because there sometimes just isn’t to subvert gender stereotypes) and packing up the two dogs that we were taking with us.

During the 7 hour journey, we passed an enormous, brilliantly lit crucifix, listened to some emotionally chilling talk radio, and passed through what I became convinced was the same strip of land a hundred times. Thank you, Illinois.

At the end of our journey, we picked up Rebecca’s mother, spent 10 minutes walking the dogs, and then took another 7-hour drive home.

This is the American car journey. It’s last-minute, it’s fickle, and it’s based on logic that does not stand up to any level of scrutiny. But when you’re here, you roll with it.

I roll, I roll a lot more than I suspect my American buddies give me credit for.

But this is taking some getting used to:

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Conversations with Americans Pt 2: In Defence of the Realm

Teabag caddy9 weeks into the rest of my life, I’m losing the knack of explaining my first 39 years. I don’t know how to paint Britain.

Rebecca and I have both been answering the “What’s Britain like?” question (to which I am on the verge of reversing –  what’s America like? What’s it like to live right here, every day. Is it good?) with “Cold. Wet. Gray.”

It gets a laugh, but they don’t get it. You don’t get it unless you go.  Rebecca’s ten years in the UK will never be understood by the locals; it’s barely understood by me. Her 2000s were in a different world.

Besides, does anyone here really need to know what Britain is like? A lot of them think they already know, with preconceptions ranging from “everyone living in castles” to “everyone living in castles and having bad teeth” – what entitles me to burst their bubble?

But the question doesn’t go away, and you only get one chance. While  I realise that some of the time there’s as much genuine curiosity behind it as with “how’re you?”, I still I want to get it right. Continue reading

Goodbye Scotland (That’s us away, then)

Photo of Edinburgh, taken on George IV Bridge

Horrible traffic, horrible weather, but cool old thing in distance. Pretty much sums up my Scotland (and particularly Edinburgh) experience

Rebecca and I sat on the front lawn of our home for an hour yesterday evening, waiting for a taxi. “Five more minutes, five more minutes.” It felt like a final – and necessary – irritation before we left Scotland.

After a day spent gutting the house of furniture and sentiment, of selling the beloved car (and leaving it in the car-park of a Wester Hailes housing estate – my inner class-snob wept but it seemed safe enough) we had said goodbye to my parents, the neighbours, and my cat – dead since last October and still making my jaw clench and eyes smart with guilt over my inability to save his life.

It seemed a fitting end, sitting on the grass, watching the neighbours arrive home from school and then work, giving them a bashful wave, as if we were squatters, Gypsies, as if we didn’t still own the house, lounging on the lawn with our six suitcases. And somehow, it wasn’t even raining. Continue reading

Missing it already (You can’t get that at Wal-Mart)

Gregg's Sausage and Bean Melt

Gregg's Sausage & Bean Melt. Just 28g of fat, but tasting like so much more

My wife posted online about some British items she’ll miss when we leave, an impromptu list which caused a well-meaning reaction from family and friends along the lines of “Don’t worry about X, we have plenty of Y here”.

And hey, talking about things you’ll miss before you’ve even left? Sounds like someone’s changed their mind, sounds distinctly like cold feet.

But both these reactions are to misunderstand how we’re feeling as our departure date grows closer. Rebecca doesn’t think Tennessee is negligent in lacking any of the Scottish things she’ll miss, whether it’s Radox Sleep Easy bubble bath or an IKEA within driving distance. Nor will she search for the next best replacements when we get there (aside from an electric kettle, but that’s just a basic United Nations quality of life issue). It’s just…stuff, stuff that exists here right now, that reminds us where we are and what has made the last ten years a particularly British experience.

In a fit of marital solidarity, here are the 7 things I’ll miss just because:

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