I left England at time when gainful employment was not all that easy to gain. Mind you, I was quite happy to gad about surviving on the odd song royalty or the occasional writing job. Reaching the dangerous age of thirty, I suddenly realized I had better try and get that thing I had, until then, steadfastly refused to search for: a proper job. Besides, several adventurous but potentially lucrative projects in music, film, and theatre had either crashed and burned or simply petered out rather ingloriously. So the time had come to look.
I tried to get into advertising as a junior copywriter. Unfortunately my spotty resume as a lyricist, magician, and aspiring playwright impressed no one. Even being a member of a prestigious writers’ workshop did nothing to improve matters. “Fink you can amble out the Aldwych and get a job in advertising, who do you fink you are –– Jack the bleedin’ lad?” I thought I was an out of work writer, and certainly not one bit of a lad, Jack or otherwise. But I was thought to be slumming. Oh well.
I could have emigrated to Canada or Australia, but I came to America and the Washington D.C. area. I liked Washington from the time I had spent there a decade before, as a kid in the magic game. And there was another reason: Washington was on the Eastern seaboard, which gave me a foot in the pond, an uninterrupted horizon, with good old Blighty hiding just beyond it.
Americans I met were friendly, supportive, and very encouraging. Even my threadbare resume raised interest instead of hackles. Yes, the accent helped a lot. I sounded cleverer than I was. But folks gave me a chance, and I took it: I got a job. I was allowed to try things, be creative, and within a couple of years, I was senior writer at a major agency. Five years later I met Frances, we formed a small marketing business of our own, got married, had a lovely child. And now live happily in suburban Maryland. All’s well that lands well, as they say.
Once I got settled, the pull of England, the occasional tugs homeward, became more frequent. I found myself listening to more Vaughan Williams, more Britten and Holst than ever before. And I rediscovered meat puds and toad in the hole; even beans on toast made it back on the menu. I started to garden. To garden! (The world may think all Englishmen are itching to leap out of the closet but I think we’re more prone to come out of the woodshed in a pair of wellies.)
Anyhow, this Englishness grew. And now it knows no bounds. I even find myself riding my bike and singing along to the chorus of The English are Best. I’m glued to the telly whenever the most insipid period drama is aired. Just as long as it’s English. On the box recently, I heard someone say, “Oooh you are awful…but I like you!” And, quite suddenly, marvelous Dick Emery dug a smiley faced crease in my memory.
It gets worse.
I can’t hear Jerusalem without getting a wet glob in the eye. And Churchill’s wartime words embarrass me with a feeling of pride—or is it that odd, misunderstood emotion expats label as misplaced patriotism? I’ve started re-reading Mapp and Lucia, Saki, Somerset Maugham; and rediscovering the glories of Golding, Durrell, Fowles, and Bainbridge, to name but a few.
Time for tea? I found local shops that import PG Tips, even Typhoo! Assorted British sauces, pickles, sweets, and sundries. Gentleman’s relish? Piccalilli. You can get it all here. And I do.
Somehow, America has become a receptive, dimensional canvas cleverly shaped liked that familiar little spec in the North Atlantic. So I happily dip into a paint box labeled Albion and splogged on the oils in big thick swirls, brushing out the unpleasant bits from the green and pleasant. Yet, for all that, my picture of England isn’t as bland as one might expect. The colours ring true. They are as vibrant and lush as the music of England’s countryside, as dense as a sherry-soaked fruitcake, as majestic as our literature, as lyrical as our poetry, and as magical as a kid’s memory of a Christmas panto with Arthur Askey.
England means more to me now than it ever would have if I had stayed. Moving back, I think I might lose my exuberant imagining of the place I once called home. I would take it all for granted again. And long for other landscapes I would rather not imagine, let alone paint, let alone call home.
Originally from London’s East End, expat Denis Lipman is the author of the upcoming A Yank Back to England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns.