The First Last Words

August 6, 2009

Well, here we are.  It’s been two years since I left the UK, and a lot has happened in the mean time.  But, I’ve always been meaning to write a summary of my experiences: the good, the bad, the ugly and the sublime.

Back when I was in High School, around the age of 15, I went on the first of two trips to Europe with my mother.  This was one of those If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium -type of pre-planned tours, and I had a wonderful time.  After the tour, we spent an extra week on our own in London.  I loved London back then.  Mother hated it.

Apparently, she used to live there at some point shortly after WWII. (Her father was an Army officer.)  I know this because she assured me that she knew the city well, as we wandered around on endless wild goose chases, looking for this museum or that shopping street.  Like any city, I think a lot had changed in the intervening 40 years, and the changes frustrated her.  Not to mention that after a month of tooling around Europe on a very cramped bus with about two dozen other hapless American tourists… well, I think by the time we got to London she was simply tired from the whole experience and felt ready to go home.

Shortly before the trip, the film A Fish Called Wanda had come out in theatres and Mother seemed to have a real affinity for Kevin Kline’s character (or at least his deadpan wit).  There’s a scene in the film where he spitefully (yet very humorously) splashes the water in Michael Palin’s fishtank, yelling “Wake up, limey fish!”  Whenever Mother got frustrated with anything in London, she would mutter “limey fish” under her breath.  I didn’t really see the point of this.  After all it is their country.  We’re just tourists.  By the end of the trip though, as my luggage containing a month’s worth of dirty clothes and a pile of souvenir guidebooks was being rifled through at the airport (because, you know, a 15-year-old American kid travelling with his mother… what could be more suspicious?), I have to admit I turned to my mother and conceded, “limey fish” (much to the confusion of the people examining my dirty socks).

But, that was 20 years ago.  And, as I mentioned, you can’t really judge a place as a tourist.  So, how would I describe Britain after nearly two years of living and working there?  It’s impossible to sum it up in one word, sorry.  So, I’m going to give you a list.  Three lists, actually.  The “best of…”, the “worst of…” and the “I’m still trying to makes sense of…”  Admittedly, these lists will end up saying a lot more about me than they will about Britain, but at least I’ll have answered those two most frequently asked questions: “What was it like?”, and “Do you wish you could go back?”