First, the bombings in Boston on Patriot’s Day prompted a surge of nostalgia and bonhomie among me and about a dozen fellow Boston University graduates. All of us sharing the same basic sentiment: that was a great time we had, and a great city we had it in. So we agreed upon a reunion of some sort next year – realizing, in the process, that September 2014 will be a full decade on from when we all first met. How did that happen?!
Second, I got a phone call at work from our graphic designer, Jennifer, who helps us out remotely from California. For the most part, Jennifer works with two of us – and the both of us are called Jon (the other one adds a superfluous ‘h’ to his name, but let’s not split hairs). When I said “Hi, it’s Jon” – this one time at least – she didn’t realize it was me. Because of how I pronounced those three simple syllables, she thought I was John… the American one out of the two of us.
Both of which (among much else besides) forces me to conclude that, more and more, my past truly is a foreign country. Since that extraordinary year when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918, I’ve near-as-dammit lived continuously in America – and England, home for the first 22 years of my life, gets a little fuzzier every time I think of it. (As if, somehow, to emphasize the point, I type these words while passing the Phillies ballpark on an Acela train bound for Washington, D.C., on my way to a work-related training.)
I talk and email regularly with many people back in Blighty. I read the Guardian online, watch almost every Arsenal game on TV, and listen to BBC6 Music and a load of British podcasts (Frank Skinner on Absolute, Desert Island Discs, Kermode and Mayo, The Danny Baker Show, and so on and so on.) But still all the familiar sights and sounds of ‘home’ seem increasingly indistinct.
And whenever I’m back in town on holiday (or should that be vacation), and each time a little more so than the time before, I can’t fully escape the sense that I know what’s going on, but not as much as I used to. It’s weird. I changed and it changed, and we didn’t do it together.
For instance, wasn’t there some sort of ad campaign featuring meerkats? I think so, but what was the product and how did the whole thing seemingly slip into the cultural mainstream? Likewise, someone singing opera for something called Go Compare? Compare what, though? Insurance rates, I’m guessing… but I couldn’t say for sure. In any case, was Go Compare funny, or annoying, or simply ubiquitous? No clue: just some blurry bits of it filtered through to my unwitting subconscious.
What else is a big deal these days? Quiz shows Egg Heads and Pointless, I think – but I’d be hard-pressed to say anything else about them (someone in one of these has a brother in Suede).
Does everyone still go to Nandos a lot? (I’ve never had the pleasure.) Is UKIP slowly ruining everything, or will better sense prevail after all? (Ultra Konservative Idiot Pinheads, right?)
Or did people stop saying anything about Nando’s about three years ago? Urgh. I’m clearly flailing. (Ronnie won the snooker, at least. That much I do know….) Am I as English as I used to be, or no? Or am I, in fact, sort of, you know, American?
And to cap it all (I’m writing this last bit on the train back from D.C.), there was a woman from Bristol at the training. Just like an American would, I really loved the accent.