On Being British
A generous friend just contributed $777 to my Enlightened Leader crowd funding campaign (hey, you can contribute too if you want to go to heaven: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/42779-the-enlightened-leader ) because I made him laugh with my silly stories about The Magic of Seven. He says my sense of humor is kind of British, even though he knows I’m not British.
Which is true, but I might as well be. I was born in the eternally holy land of New Zealand, aka Aoteraroa, and lived there mostly for the first 20 years of my life. But my heritage and early influences could hardly be more British.
My parents emigrated to New Zealand from England five years before I was born, so I grew up thinking of England as home and getting letters and presents from English aunts and uncles and grand parents I’d never met. Every couple of months we’d receive a huge box from Harrods, full of stuff you couldn’t buy in New Zealand. I think my mom’s father was afraid we might starve out there in the colonies. One of our favorite items in that box was a British breakfast cereal called Frugrains, which we called, Dogalogues…
When I was four, and my brother Christian was seven, we decided to sail to England on an upside down table. It was red, and there was just room for the two of us if we scrunched up and folded our legs. We had to seal some gaps between the boards with plastercine to make it sea-worthy, but I thought it was a good plan, though we never fully implemented it.
We moved to Wellington when I was five, and I remember seeing land in the distance across the water. It was so far you could hardly see the houses. I thought that must be England. Then one day we drove there and I realized is was actually connected by land and was just the other side of Wellington harbor. Thus I was forced at a tender age to re to re-evaluate my concept of distance and scale.
When I was sixteen my mother finally took me to England and it felt like home. I had a wonderful time exploring my cultural roots, seeing Shakespeare live (not the actual Shakespeare himself – just several of his wonderful plays), staying at country manors, visiting real castles and abbeys and ruins and cities from the stories I’d grown up with. It was like a dream, as though I’d lived there in a past life.
I spoke with my mother’s upper class British accent so that everyone at school thought I was English. Once when I was about fifteen I answered the phone, and my mother’s best friend mistook me for her, and said, “hello mother of four.” I politely explained to her that I was one of the four.
I grew up reading English books set in Britain, I listened to great British rock music and watched British TV shows like The Avengers, Dangerman and Dr Who. I was not a complete purist. I enjoyed a couple of American shows including The Man from Uncle, which I used to retell to my mother at such length that she gave in and started to watch it herself, claiming that it took less time than hearing me tell it. I suspect she secretly liked it. I don’t think there were many native New Zealand shows in those days, apart from The News.
Then it was British Comedies like Yes Minister, Black Adder and of course, the glorious Monty Python! Hence the British humor.
I’ve been living in California for six years now, and I wake in fear everyone morning, wondering if I’m developing an American accent. It was a sad day when I agreed to publish the new edition of my meditation book, Close Your Eyes & Open Your Mind in American English (barbarian English), abandoning at last the British English (Real English), with all its illogical spelling. These Americans are so practical it is annoying. I especially hate it when they are right.
So now I’m in America, on a British passport, feeling more or less at home, but not quite sure. I have no choice but to forgive California all it’s manglings of the Queen’s language and its materialism and lack of British humor, because of the sunshine and the redwoods and these friendly, generous, practical people, and of course the sea otters.
Leave a Comment