My furniture arrives in eight days, a three-seater sofa bed and a mattress, both bespoke. Which means, in UK speak, they were made for me. I’ve rarely had clothes made for me, much less furniture. I’ve gone posh, as they might say in my newly adopted country. Well, maybe not the ‘gone posh’ part. But really, I do live in the poshest neighborhood of a very posh town, and it’s all because I’ve gotten lucky. Very lucky. Someone has been sprinkling fairy dust on my life. Or sweeping the ice for me, as if I were an emerging curling champion. Or maybe it’s Ganesh, remover of obstacles, one of several gods I had the good fortune of celebrating a week ago at Diwali in Leicester, the biggest Festival of Lights in the UK. It was a field trip for students at the school where I lecture, a funky, lovely university housed in an old boys’ college. My office is a converted dorm room where boys preparing to become lecturers once slept and dreamed and stirred in the night. Does it sound magical? It is, and I don’t know how all this magic is coming my way. I am so, so grateful.
It’s been nearly three months since I arrived, and still, every day, I notice little (and big) differences between here and and the States. My recent favourite is the phrase, ‘was sat’. As in, ‘I was sat on a bench reading a book’. One British friend thinks it’s laziness, says it’s clearly the wrong way to say ‘was sitting’. But I’m curious about it–I prefer a descriptive approach to grammar, not prescriptive. Is it a regional variation? Is it common to the West Midlands, my new home? Another difference I’ve noticed: the letter ‘h’ is sometimes pronounced like ‘haytch’, as in my bank, HSBC, ‘Haytch Ess Bee Cee’. What’s this about? And ‘zee’ is now ‘zed’.
Okay, now for a big difference: folks here don’t carry guns. Ever. Unless, that is, you’re talking a pheasant shoot in the countryside, but that’s another matter. I talked with some guys on a train recently on the way home from seeing As You Like It at The National Theatre. This group was headed home after a football match (aka soccer). One of them admitted he was a cop, and I asked if he carried a gun. He was, he explained, one of the few cops who does carry a gun, but only while on duty. I said, ‘So you don’t have a gun now? Concealed under your jacket?’ He and his companions looked at me as if I were crazy, and then proceeded to go on about how, indeed, Americans and their love of guns does seem crazy to them. I don’t love guns, but I did try to explain why it is that some Americans want to have guns, the paranoia about the government, the fierce independence, the hypermasculinity. But, really, I don’t even get some Americans’ love of guns, so the best I could do was try to assure these Brits that, yes, it looks crazy from the outside, but if they had grown up in the USA, they might want their own guns, too. Especially if they lived in Texas or the South or maybe the Southwest. In talking to these guys on the train, I realized for the first time that I’d been walking around the UK assuming people around me might have concealed weapons, but this is clearly not the case. Until now, I didn’t know I looked at everyone as a potential gunman, but I did. I don’t anymore, and I feel just a tiny bit empowered.
Since moving to the UK, a new form of writing has emerged into my life. It’s poetry. I know lots of poet friends, have read lots of poetry, but would never, back in the States, have considered writing poetry myself. The folks I know who write poetry are serious, have studied for years, have books to their credit, broadsides, featured poems on Poetry Daily. Here in the UK, I’ve been invited by new colleagues and friends to attend poetry workshops and open mics, and it feels like a new way to play. With words. For me, stories and essays are serious business, but poetry, oh, poetry is for playing. And for writing to an audience of one. And poems, the ones I write, are small enough to fit inside my head. I like to write and rewrite them in my notebook, changing the line breaks, a word here, there, and I like to imagine the person I’m writing for. To. It’s a lovely, playful way to muck about with words. And now that I’m in the UK, I can visit places like Tintern Abbey, made famous by Wordsworth’s poem of more than 200 years ago.
It’s cold outside, parts of the UK dipping down below freezing today for the first time this season. In online posts from friends back in the States, I see snowmen. I see fat flakes falling from the sky. A world away. I’ll leave you with a little music to warm your bones, a new song by British singer/songwriter Newton Faulkner to help with ‘takin’ on the weather’.