We’ve been watching the political-melodrama U.S. TV series Madam Secretary. But you don’t need to know the details of the program to get this post. I thought I’d use it as a basis for some “fun” today – it’s Friday – mostly due to the episode we just saw and because, as you probably know, my wife is English (and we have been married for, uh, quite a few years).
In that episode from its 3rd season, the U.S. Secretary of State’s twenty-something spoiled, mouthy, annoying pain in the neck for the previous two seasons and now continuing to be so apparently daughter has returned to Washington recently after a summer in Oxford with her English fiancé.
In the kitchen, unexpectedly she gets all emotional and reveals to Mom (the Secretary of State, I repeat) that she was like wow really unhappy with her English husband-to-be when they were in England. Suddenly, she announces she doesn’t want to live there. She says she hated the place.
The other day we watched Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film, Bridge of Spies. You may know it stars Tom Hanks, playing the idealistic American he can portray so well. The film also well-conveys the tenor of its times – the espionage, mistrust, and especially pain, suffering, and even brutality, in a Germany divided between non-communist West and communist East as the Berlin Wall is erected in 1960-61, leading to the separations of friends and loved ones that would last often for nearly thirty years after.
Much of the film is historically reasonable. Yes, some minor plot points drift a bit from the historical record. For example, the episode involving the American graduate student arrested in East Berlin by the communist East German authorities deviates somewhat from the experience of the actual student.
But inaccuracies like that do not diminish the film’s contribution. With action taking place on screen as we watch and that reality making it difficult to show concurrent plotlines, and jammed into two hours viewing time or less, nearly any film that attempts to be 100 percent “history book” precise will probably be unwatchable. The key to a good historical film is it must capture the essence of the characters of the day and the spirit and general flow of events being dramatized.
I had a haircut in the village yesterday. The woman who cuts it regularly has previously told me she’s 22 years old. She also has a half-brother who lives in the United States (in the Midwest) and is married to an American woman.
Let’s call her “Sophie.” I don’t know much about her non-work life, only that she grew up in, and lives in, nearby Hitchin. But I was surprised when she told me that despite where her half-brother lives, she has never been to the U.S.
I had increasingly taken it for granted that most English younger people travel on some level internationally, especially to the United States. She said she has been to “the continent” – to France and to Spain. But that’s it.
I’m flying to New York (alone) next week for a 10 day visit to check on my father in Pennsylvania and also check on our house and “lock it down” for a Catskills winter – where temperatures can easily fall to -10C (14F) for days on end. Hopefully, no “local guests” have eaten it completely since I was there in June! You may remember what was awaiting me the last time…
This dawned on me as well as I explained that plan yesterday while I was answering a message from a cousin in Connecticut. Now married with two young sons, she and I grew up living around the corner from each other on Long Island – where none of our families now live any longer. With my mother’s one year anniversary upon us, she’d written me asking how my dad is doing these days.
We went to a family funeral on Thursday in north London.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife’s uncle-in-law died at home in his sleep at 85. While there is naturally sadness, at the catering hall gathering that followed the church service and cemetery his son reminded me (perhaps he was also telling himself this as a way to deal with the loss) that his dad had been 85 and he had had (as they sometimes say in this country) “a good innings.” And his mother was coping okay so far at least.
I also bumped into a guy there I had not seen since he was at my wedding in 1999. His late father had been German, his mother (a close friend of the widow) is Irish/English, he himself raised in Switzerland and he lives there now with his wife, who’s Canadian. In case you are keeping track. (His wife did not come to England for the funeral.)
As you may have heard, a man with a knife slashing at people killed sixty-four-year-old American Darlene Horton and injured half a dozen others in London’s Russell Square on Wednesday evening. If learned, as of this writing his motive has not yet been made public. (“Mental health” issues have been cited by police.) As to a description of him circulating in British media, including on the BBC, ITV news’s Charlene White took issue with it on Twitter:
"Norwegian national of Somali descent"
Which technically makes me a "British national of Jamaican descent". Not just…you know…British.
Via Wikipedia, one uncovers that Ms. White was born in London. That same source also states her parents were “Black Carribean.” Given her tweeted reference to Jamaica, I will assume for discussion’s sake that means they were born there and moved here to the United Kingdom.
Ancestry.com is after me again. This below is from an email I received this morning:
A few years ago through Ancestry, I found one of the ship manifests that included my maternal great-grandmother as a young adult sailing to America. She had traveled with about a dozen other people of varying ages, all from the same village in Sicily. My great-grandfather was in America already, awaiting her arrival.
She was born near Syracuse (as was he). She departed Messina, stopped in Naples, stopped next in Marseille, and from there journeyed to New York’s Ellis Island. It was typical for the time and their nationality.
This is quite a serious post. There is no levity in it. Based on what I’ve seen – we’ve all seen – in the last week and a half, I simply want to say this.
United Kingdom voters, as you probably know, voted on the 23rd of June by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union.
That EU referendum, we all also know, has bitterly divided politics here in Britain.
It’s decidedly one thing flinging insults at total strangers you disagree with – “insane,” “idiots,” “racists,” “Hitler,” “old white trash” – on social media. But this? We’ve discovered friends of ours – she, a non-British EU national and staunch “Remainer,” married to him, a British national and vocal Brexit “Leave” supporter – are practically on the verge of divorce over the referendum’s outcome.
We don’t see this sort of thing happen in our lives too often. These next few weeks? Remember them:
For American readers, “luvvies” is British derogatory slang for….
a person who is involved in the acting profession or the theatre, esp one with a tendency to affectation
As you may know, on June 23 British voters will be asked to answer this referendum question, Yes or No: Should the United Kingdom remain a part of the European Union?
The arguments for remaining vs. leaving are now all over the airwaves, filling newspapers and the net. British voters are being deluged with opinions. As with those entertainers Sky presenter Kay Burley tweets about, it seems most every figure is voicing a view.
Taking no public position either way myself (I’m not British, so I don’t feel it’s appropriate), I will say I’ve noticed two major tendencies that broadly underpin both sides’ arguments: