A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.
– Joan Didion
I’ve taken a lot of crap for my Anglophilia, ever since I was fourteen. Now that I think about it, it’s fine that I should take it now but I shouldn’t have had to then. I was fourteen. Fourteen is its own excuse. Maybe it was the way my passion for all things British manifested. If I had just done something like getting St. Andrew’s Cross tattooed on my bum, they would have called it a phase, but no, I had to write a novel (which ends up just as permanent. Maybe more so.). Where I lived in London. In Kensington. Where I’d never been (and wouldn’t be until 1997). My husband used to refer to it as The Great American Novel Which Lost Its Visa. In it, not only the emigre American kid (me, of course) spoke the slang of 1978 New Jersey, but so did its various Cornishmen, West Enders, and the extended family from Sussex. If I could have teleported back then, it might have been some help, but by the time I actually got there I would have still needed to teleport, back to 1978, to get London then. The music was all wrong, for one thing. And the Greyhound Pub, where I’d set scenes, was downright respectable in 1997 when I’d imagined all kinds of decadence in the seventies. I squirmed my way through Kensington Market but for God’s sake these vendors had Web addresses.
Then in 2009 I traveled, alone, to Oxford to participate in a literary roundtable. I presented my paper on a highly American subject and made a bit of a jerk of myself at the Bodleian Library because they asked for my academic title and I showed them my badge that said “Instructor of Humanities” and I was informed by a person who sounded like my Sussex people should have sounded like in my book but didn’t that the only “instructors” they had in Britain were driving or diving. “You should be called ‘lecturer,'” I was told, and I winced, because I have, and not in a good way.
Today’s a double reminder of that day. It’s the birthday of a friend I made there in Oxford, one of the first persons I’d met professionally or personally who got all my arcane literary references, and it’s a Tuesday afternoon, and I gave my paper on the Tuesday afternoon, and later my new friend told me that she’d had the Moody Blues running through her head all day. A consummately British band, from my seventies and my London, visiting us in Oxford. For just a moment the book didn’t seem so far off. England teleports itself to me, because no matter how little any of my writing actually sounded like Kensington, 1978, it will always be there.