The flag of my home nation.
Do I have to go to jail now?
An evening of fun in the metropolis of your dreams.
Wire, On Returning
Oh England, my lionheart.
Kate Bush, Lionheart
“Well,” he said. “I’m back.’
Last line of The Lords of the Rings
The first thing that happened when I set foot in England was that my money was no good. After customs and immigration – all automated now – I high-tailed it to the Gatwick Wetherspoon for a pint of London Pride, proferred a fiver, and was told that those days were over. They’ve changed the five-pound note. When did that happen? Turn your back for five minutes and they are buggering about with the currency. Still, they exchanged my bluey with a cheery smile at the bank, and I was pleased to see Churchill’s scowl on the back and not Benjamin Zephaniah.
Prior to this jaunt, and absent the original three months I had spent in Costa Rica, the longest time I had ever been away from England was two weeks. Fourteen months, then, seems a very long time indeed. It seemed a little unwordly, as though I was watching a familiar movie I had not seen for some time. Train, two trains, to Purley and into The Foxley Hatch, possibly my favourite Wetherspoon. I like J D Wetherspoon pubs (a chain of UK hostelries, for my American readership). I like them because of the people who don’t like them. I used to use people’s attitude towards Wetherspoon as a little litmus test to find out whether someone is worth talking to or not. They are unpretentious and affordable, pub grub and ale, and you don’t see hipsters there, which is all to the good. The boss of the chain, Tim Martin, also writes a regularly incisive and entertaining – and anti-EU - editorial piece in the pub magazine. I went to five or six while I was there. Fish and chips, fry-up breakfast, Abbott Ale. England, my England.
I spent the first evening at a band rehearsal, the band being one in which my brother has played drums for twenty years and I sang with for ten. They are strictly amateur, but with a more professional attitude than some of the self-described pros I have played with here in Costa Rica. They have made a lot of charity money over the years, and had a lot of good times. They happily let me belt out some of my old specialities: Mustang Sally, Get Ready, Hard to Handle, Rock and Roll (The Zeppelin one, but not, I hasten to add, in the original key for obvious, Robert Plant-related reasons). A good time was had by all.
Next day was an early start. I met my two friends and drinking companions – aka The Flying Martini Brothers, collectively – at Victoria Wetherspoon at 11am, and off to the Kent coast we did hie. It was one of those weekends which come back to me now in the manner of Proust watching the shapes cast by his magic lantern on the wall; a shape here, an outline there. But I believe that, as Kent coastal jaunts go, it was up to house standard.
To my brother’s the next day where I did something I would never usually dream of doing. I watched a grand prix. It was actually quite absorbing. I must seek help. We also drank Long Island Iced Tea, my brother’s other hobby.
The rest of the week was spent at my mother’s, pottering about among what is left of my library, talking to Mum, walking her dog and mucking about with her new cat Charlie, and strolling across the cow-field to the pub. If this sounds wonderfully bucolic, then for perspective I ought to tell you that my mother lives in a tiny council flat. Whatever other things I have had in my life, money does not number among them.
I went to London for one afternoon, to buy various musical items. I saw no acts of violence and, actually, no real sign that the city of my birth fears terrorist attack. The underground was as horrible as ever, and the air smelt putrid with exhaust fumes. I remembered how attractive English girls are, or can be when not dressed like sluts. The Costa Rican girls have perfect skin, lustrous black hair, pearly teeth and smiles that would cheer the flintiest heart, but they are not my type. Not my phenotype, I suspect, because not my genotype.
I had hoped to meet up with a fellow Tweeter, but it got too late in the week, which was a shame. Perhaps we can meet up on my next visit, with more notice. There was really only one more notable experience during this sentimental journey, something to set against the rolling hills of Surrey, the pleasing bite of pale ale, playing guitar in a Kentish pub, seeing family and friends, and finding my copy of Heidegger’s Being and Time in my mother’s attic, alongside a pair of Mexican lizard-skin cowboy boots; television.
I had watched no television in 14 months, with the exception of a handful of football matches and some children’s cartoons to try to improve my woeful Spanish. However, Mum is a semi-religious TV watcher, and I got more exposure to the tube than I have had in a decade. If I had to sum British television up in one word, I would have no hesitation; psychotic.
Full disclosure. My mother has fully mastered the recording function on her telly, and had recorded some programmes for my viewing pleasure. I watched a very passable documentary on Nietzsche, a very good documentary on the artist Turner, which focused on the role of scientific discovery and the Industrial Revolution on the work of that genius, and a collection of interviews with and sketches by the great Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. But it is not specifics that concern me about the idiot box. It is the presentation.
Televisual content is packaged as though its target audience were hyperactive special-needs children. The migraine-inducing graphics, the paint-by-numbers news items, the weakness of the wit and humour. The whole medium is still the same carcinogenic antibody – and anti-brain – it ever was. And the BBC, as though you needed to be told, is still shot through with reflexive anti-Right-wing bias in the same way as a stick of rock says Brighton all the way down.
I enjoyed my stay, on the whole, but I was pleased to get back to my gal, my dogs – who mobbed me on returning, as they should – and cats, my guitar, and Costa Rica. As we drove through the rain forest in the dark, I had a thought, neither unpleasant nor pleasant. I didn’t realise it, but I’m prepping.
The next day, at dawn, as I sat on the porch watching the strangely silent jungle, the smaller of my two cats, little Missy, was watching too. She, however, could probably see something I could not, a vole perhaps, or a gecko. She was waiting for it to make its move, and then she would make hers. I had another thought.
We’re all watching the jungle to see what is going to come out.