(Photo taken at: 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 200)
My Nana is staying with us for a couple of weeks, visiting from Rhode Island. It’s the first time she has been in this country since I was about 8 months old. I like having her here, I’ve missed being around family outside of my brother, my mum and myself.
One thing that has struck me is seeing our life through the eyes of someone who is unused to our way of living. To me, we live in a dingy council estate in a dull and lifeless town. Our house is little and ridiculously built in a country full of rain and grumpy people.
But through her eyes all the houses are different from what she’s used to (“Look at the roofs, I’ve never seen anything like that!”). The town is exciting, and our house is beautiful, comfortable, and cozy enough for her to comment regularly on how lucky to live somewhere like this, and in such a quiet and nice neighbourhood as well. The weather is perfectly decent (incredibly we’ve had next to no rain since she got here), and she can’t get over how friendly everyone is. It’s making me think about the way I see my life.
My mum chats to everyone. I like to talk to people and tend to get on well with strangers and new acquaintances, but nothing like her. If I leave her for a second in a shopping mall or anywhere really, I’ll come back and discover she’s made new friends and usually in the brief time I was away has somehow managed to tell them my entire life story. On a street where everyone minds their own business, she knows most of the neighbours around us, and leaves notes for the milkman with information she’s found on his mother’s medical condition.
Now I know where she gets it from. Nana is the same. She’ll start talking to anyone we run into in a shop, café, street, anywhere… and the wonderful thing is that in this supposedly dreary, straight-faced country and town, everyone she talks to is more than happy to stop and chat awhile. She keeps telling us how friendly everyone is here, and I can’t help wondering how much of our interpretations of the world are the result of preconceived ideas. I’ve lived and/or worked in London for the past five years and my experience tells me that most of the population are in a rush, with little good to say about anything. But now I’m wondering how much of that experience is accurate, and how much is because that’s what I expect from our bustling capital city.
The other thing Nana is astonished by is the sheer age of everything around us. In the States they’ve had no time for anything to get truly old, nevermind ancient, whereas England is steeped in history. I work next to the remains of the largest Roman town outside of Londinium. Last night, after having a perfectly English cream tea in a small building built in the 1500s, we happened to drive past the Long Man, who has been on the Sussex hills since Stone Age times. We have endless documentaries on TV about ancient British history, medieval stained glass or even the surprisingly interesting history of British ceramics. Just as a few examples.
Her amazement at these things has made me realise how much I take for granted around us. I’ve always loved old, pretty things, but have never really considered how these things are our heritage. Museums and National Trust sites are not just a source of entertainment and curiosities, they’re a precious way for us to see how our culture has changed, developed, merged with other cultures and developed more over thousands of years.
Showing Nana around our country and our immediate surroundings has given me more pride in the British part of my identity. Of course there’s the inescapable futility of politics, the grey, grey days, the smog that is returning to London with a vengeance; but there are the things to be proud of as well. To balance out the grey of winter, we have a glorious array of colours in the spring. The rolling countryside even a few minutes outside town is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere, and living in our countryside and cities we have a wonderfully eclectic population.
Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to be American or British, and to be British often seems to mean taking on the self-depreciating demeanor so recognised and accepted as part of our culture. But seeing our country and people through fresh eyes has made me feel quite proud of our strange little nation, pretty darned patriotic in fact.