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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

"A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
So
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die..." ~ Don McClean, American singer/songwriter
   Some folks will read the lyrics above and wonder what on earth it has to do with me or this blog. Others may grasp the hidden meaning in the lyrics that fit my life so well. When Don McClean was asked recently what the lyrics really meant he divulged the following: She was as American as apple pie; it was about a time in America when our innocent ideology about the world and our place in it was giving way to cynicism. Society was heading in the wrong direction...Let me make this quick disclaimer: I will do the next blog about America with just as jaundiced and critical an eye about my dislikes so please Brits, don't think I am being an ugly American and unduly criticizing your wonderful homeland. 
     While living in England for over eight years has changed me and made me a person whose heart and soul is bifurcated between Britain and the USA, I am at my very DNA, as American as apple pie. Still, life with a foot in two countries makes me even more complex than I was before ever I fell in love with my Best Beloved Les and chose to follow him back to the cut.
    Both of my countries are suffering through existential political and social crises which cause me additional grief. When I lived in Britain there were things about the country that drove me mad, like the mindless petty bureaucracy that could quickly F*** up one's day, and the mindless shrugs of Brits who simply take each days bureaucratic bungles as part and parcel of life in general and do not question why such crap occurs each day as they queue up quietly and wait with the patience of saints for life to move ahead one more step. 
   The general lack of customer service for the average Joe or Jane was another thing that could drive me to a homicidal rant. Six months and seven visits to the bank to have my name added to Les' bank account is a prime example along with the requirement that I make an appointment with a "bereavement counselor" at Halifax bank in order to have Les' name removed from our account after he died, and the need to wait three months for said appointment, only to show up, be kept waiting twenty minutes and then be told said counselor"was unable to make it in today and you will need to reschedule your appointment..." aaaarrrrrghhhh!!!!! 
   The British and possibly European desire to have everyone jump countless hoops and spend many hundreds of pounds and a third of one's life getting NVQ's (National Vocational Qualifications) level 1, 2, 3, 5, 57, 116, etc. etc, etc. which do not prove one is actually the best person for the job but does prove one can waste innumerable hours "learning" pendantic facts and common sense  behavior such as "When working in a classroom with a teacher and pupils one must always bear in mind the safety of all students." Really???? I thought I was going to be there to inject a little edgy excitement into their day with knife throwing followed by teaching them how to eat fire.
   The British penchant for parking along the side of the road facing in either direction, playing chicken with each other on narrow lanes, including with double decker buses, is something from which I will never quite recover several lives, 'nor will I ever recoup the years I lost to traveling left around Roundabouts in order to go right. And Let me not forget plastic money; not as in a debit card but actual five and ten pound notes made out of plastic. 
     I won't go into details about the sacred cow that is the British NHS. When the NHS gets it right it does so beautifully...when it gets things wrong--which happens too often for a small island under one national government--people die, often from simple neglect. 
   And then there is the bloody British dog thing; their over-the-top love affair with canines and one is hardly ever never enough. But that is just me; 'nuff said! 
    There is the dissatisfying lack of ways in which one's breakfast eggs might be prepared when eating out and the sad little mini-buffet dish of three green leaves, a couple of celery and red pepper sticks accompanied by one small tomato which passes for a salad too often on British plates. And don't get me started about the lack of salad dressing choices or indeed dressing itself other than the occasional vinegar and oil or the ubiquitous packets of salad cream (Miracle Whip for you Americans ). Top this off with chips (fries) with everything and I do mean bloody everything, and the British need not to make a spectacle of one's self by complaining about crap food served with even crappier service many times, and I begin to lose the will to live, as Les used to say when something got him down. 
     On the plus side of the British equation is first and foremost for me, the canals and the amazing community living on and alongside them. I know of no other community like it. 2000 miles of canals and navigable rivers, and a community of mostly lovely folk who choose to live a counter-culture life and which I was immensely privileged to share in for eight years. The cut is a place to lose yourself and find yourself anew.
   Number two on my list of British sublime is the countryside. Much of it is breathtaking and Brits know this and support their countryside. Unlike most Americans, Brits actually get out in their countryside on a daily and weekly basis for a short five mile hike just to get their blood moving and make use of the public footpaths which criss-cross the countryside.      This leads me to number three: the smallness of everything and I do mean everything, from bottles of shampoo, face cream, medicines and sauces, to gardens, automobiles, the average home, and parking spaces. Brits are adept at fitting a car into the space an American would only consider applicable to a bicycle, and then managing to squeeze out of the doors like squeezing toothpaste from a tube. I still find it a marvel that I never tire of watching. Parking in Britain is a highly refined art and one ridiculously under-appreciated.
   Next up is the British ability to not only appreciate history and preserve it but also to live amidst over 1000 years of history as though it were yesterday or last week. 
    My favorite awesome British thing is their way of playing with their language and not taking themselves too seriously. We Americans could and should take lessons on this point. I dearly miss hearing the mish-mash of dialects, British slang, and the easy way they take the mick out of total strangers and everyone knows what is going on and laughs along. The Brits know how to have a great, good larff. 
     I totally miss a British behavior that used to drive me doolally and that is their inability to say a simple goodbye and ring off the phone. I remember the first time Les ever called me, back in October of 2010. When our conversation came to a conclusion he seemed to have difficulties hanging up, repeating in a soft and slightly melancholy voice: "Goodbye goodbye; good-bye...goodbye... goodbye." I remember thinking to myself that he must be really keen to meet me if he had that much difficulty saying goodbye! I had no idea ALL Brits do this. Five goodbyes are about the average for a phone call and it makes me feel like a rude, abrupt, and manner-less American when I say, "Okay. Goodbye"/click! And I hang up while whomever on the other end is still gathering their goodbye momentum. 
     I miss the incredible vistas across furrowed fields and millenniums, strolling along a country lane in Stoke Golding at Twilight, holding hands with my husband, our laughter warming the slight evening chill as we made our way down and around from the White Swan pub, to the warm haven of our bloat, moored and sitting silently in the gathered dusk, one golden light shining through the curtain announcing, "You are home." 
     I--a self avowed introvert--actually miss the way Brits will approach anyone and have a moment of their time. How they will pitch in at a moment's notice when someone is in need of real aid be it small or large. I miss the generosity of Brits, in heart, mind and spirit; and the many good British men especially who are comfortable with showing genuine affection to those they love in public or private.
   I miss the quaint, the amazing, the surreal experience of weaving through small villages with a thousand years of history and knocking around London with Les who knew it like the back of his hand, sleuthing out the strange, the incredible, the awe inspiring blend of ancient and modern as we excavated layers and layers of history to find just a tiny fraction of Britain's stories.
     Crikey I even miss the British total preoccupation with the weather and how this very necessary skill keeps folks tied to nature in an immediate way that does not exist in many other places around the world and certainly in large swathes across North America where weather is often moderated by the large landmass on which we live, as opposed to the near continual atmospheric vagaries churning along, across and over the small islands of Britannia. 
     I miss the blessed green land of my ancestors. I miss driving through Wales with dear loved ones eager to show me "their" Wales in Pembrokeshire and the magnificent coast. I loved the bilingual road signs with Welsh first. The signs make excellent Welsh/English flashcards as one travels along very modern roadways from England and the Border towns. I miss the very fact that driving without a GPS of some kind in Britain is simply not on--in fact it is bloody stupid. I loved the unit in our rented van which mispronounced the Welsh so badly that it mangled the name of a bridge--bridge-over-some town, into Glnylldydllidll! I am so grateful for seeing the magnificent Welsh Atlantic coast in a Halcyon moment and witnessing the sun setting in the Western ocean for Les. It was one of the last things he wanted to do with me before he died. 
     Oh how I miss the steel skin of NB Valerie holding me within--my safe haven floating somewhere in the heart of Britain, the land of my heart's favorite soul. 



Les' sunset over the western ocean in Wales. 

5 comments:

Nev Wells said...

Another lovely read, beautiful insightful emotional - when is your book coming out ?

Take care

Nev

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Nev,
I always think and hope I am on a final draft and then I find one more thing that needs tweaking. My academic advisor and instructor who also happens to be a well published author once told us she edits each chapter in her books no less than 56 times before handing it over to a publisher. So I am still working on it, and feel I am close to handing it off if I can find a publisher who will take it.

Thank you dear friend for always offering caring encouragement and kindness through times bright and dark. Les and I were and are blessed to know ye!

Love Jaq xxx

Fun60 said...

'American Pie', one of my all time favorites. I will be singing that for the rest of the day. It is always interesting to hear another person's view of your nationality. Very brave of you to air your views in print. I wouldn't dare put into print some of my own views of other nationalities. What you have written is a great insight into britishness but I'm pleased you recognise a number of our qualities too.

Anonymous said...

Lovely Jaq ... your ability to put words to all this is beautiful. I so feel all the emotion and wistfulness. The photos are very touching too. Karen in Pullman

Judith nb Serena said...

What a lovely read Jaq. Everything you say about us brits is so true. You have such a way with words, I always look forward to your next post.
Love and hugs Judith nb Serena

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs