I have lived in Australia for 15 years. A third of my life. I am an Australian citizen but do I feel more English or more Aussie?
When I write do I describe gum trees, tall with red, green and ghostly trunks, grey green leaves? Or Kookaburras and Galahs and their forceful cries across the land. Truth be told I’m more likely to write of tenement estates in large industrial cities than of wallabies hopping across the paddock. Strange. I’ve never visited a tenement estate except from the sofa when the watching The Bill.
Sometimes I hear my voice, in shops, with friends, fighting for my right in a queue. “Excuse me. I’m sorry (when I’m not), I think it was my turn next.” “No really, I think it’s me. I’m English, I know about queuing.” I hear the plum in my mouth, selling tickets on itself.
When I arrived in this sun burnt country I was told I sounded like Princess Diana or Patsy from Ab Fab. “I love your accent,” they said. Accent I thought, I’m not the one with the accent. But as languages go, I love what you Aussies have done with it. The English language that is. You haven’t just scooped it out of the punnet. You’ve enriched it, coloured it in. “What’s a bludger?” I asked in puzzlement in my first job in Sydney. Delighted squeals of laughter filled the air. “Someone who’s happy on the dole.” Here’s a few more for the uninitiated. Cobber is a bloke, Ocker is an unsophisticated person, Larrikin a harmless prankster. Mongrel is a despicable person and we all know what a Pommie is. But my favourite expression has to be ‘To come the raw prawn,’ which means to be generally disagreeable, as in “don’t come the raw prawn with me.” Alas I don’t hear it very often.
I couldn’t get away with anything when I arrived here from Old Blighty. My voice echoed across the partitions in the office and I could always be found. My upright consonants and well behaved vowels gave me away every time. I had trouble with the weather too. “It’s too beautiful” I told my new husband while he looked over the small print on our barely dry marriage certificate. Friends back home were bewildered. I asked them to send me postcards depicting big, ugly London buildings. Where was my overcast sky, my skeleton trees, my beloved Battersea Power Station?
Homesickness overwhelmed me for many years but over time I realised I was pining for a land that didn’t exist anymore. No, your UK hasn’t dropped off the face of the earth. But mine has. I had sworn I would not become one of those people who leave their country but get trapped in a time warp. People who left the old country (wherever that may be) in the 60s. Who still wear turtle neck sweaters and say, “That’s cool daddio” or ‘Groovey”, while smoking cheroots and leaning on street corners. That wasn’t happening to me, no way.
So why, when I think of home, is England still in the grip of the Brit Pop invasion. Liam Gallagher is where it’s at and John Major is still in charge. Of course I know that Nu-Labour took over a month after I left my green and pleasant land but I’ve never experienced living under it. And that’s gone too. The Etonions are holding the wheel now. I do love Boris Johnson though, even before he got into politics and was still on the comedy circuit. I watched his Olympic speech three times last week.
Which brings me up to date and how I found an outlet for my frustrations. A thing of beauty and art that brings me to my knees and connects me with my English heart, feeds and nurtures it. You didn’t think I meant the Olympic Games did you? No. I’m talking of course of ‘Downton Abbey’. Me and the husband, he never did find a loop hole in the marriage certificate, have finally given in. Me because I love Hugh Bonneville (Boris Johnson’s more sensitive brother?) and everyone else I know and love has watched it. The husband was led by me. Unsure and expecting it to be one of those awful costume dramas the BBC loves. Three episodes were consumed last night and I think we’ll be winding the clocks forward to trick the kids into going to bed early tonight. We’ll have gone through the lot by the weekend. Luxury. I slip and wallow in the class system in safety, from this side of the planet. Which brings me up smart to the wonderful line from Dame Maggie Smith in her role as the Dowager Countess of Grantham. “What’s a weekend?” What indeed.
When I left England my Dutch boss who lived in London for a spell told me that I would belong nowhere, that I wouldn’t have a country, when I moved to the other side of the globe. I thought the same but as the years go on I realise that I love both my countries. And who knows one day I may be lucky enough to live in another. Italy would be good. I’ve seen all but one of the Inspector Montalbano series so I’m ready. To join the police force in Sicily and shout a lot at least.