The Rose-Tinted Glasses
It has been drawn to my attention (by my no doubt well-intentioned husband) that this patriotic expatriate’s descriptions of home are somewhat distorted by sentimentality, and that I fail to present a fair or objective case. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand accused of wearing rose-tinted glasses when it comes to my reflections on Great Britain.
It is inevitable, surely, that one’s vision of home becomes distorted during a prolonged stay abroad. After all, following a summer holiday somewhere exotic and exciting, the actual memories fade very quickly. It is not long before one forgets the tedious hours at the airport, the limbless cockroach in the salad, the god-awful constipation, the stinging sunburn or the suspicious-smelling, lumpy pillows. One’s memories soon shrink to the sum-total of the week’s photographs: a pristine beach, happy faces around the table at a seafood restaurant, cheerfully grinning locals, bright blue skies above ancient architecture, and a dramatic sunset. In the same way, my brain has – on its own initiative, mark you – filtered out a multitude of miserable recollections. Austerity measures, the M25, extortionate gas bills and dark, wet winter mornings have all been giddily withdrawn from my memory bank like so many ill-invested Euros, and have been replaced with some sort of rosy, blurry, hopelessly idyllic montage of moments from The Wind in the Willows and Brideshead Revisited. With Elgar’s Nimrod as the soundtrack.
It strikes me that my husband has done the exact opposite of this. To reprise my summer holiday analogy, he is the one sitting stubbornly in his armchair, shouting, “Are you utterly mad, woman? I’m not bloody going back there! Don’t you remember the suspicious-smelling, lumpy pillows?! Or the LIMBLESS COCKROACH INCIDENT?!” If I am indeed guilty of wearing rose-tinted glasses, he is equally guilty of wearing… mud-spattered blinkers?… But it’s not really his fault.
On my visits back to the UK, I plan trips and excursions designed (albeit subconsciously) to reinforce my idealistic vision of my homeland. I go to castles, stately homes and tea-rooms; I camp in the countryside, climb hills and visit sites of outstanding natural beauty; I eat delicious local food, shop at farmers markets and go to fancy British restaurants. In short, I do everything I never got around to doing when I actually lived there. On returning to England, I am essentially a tourist and can pick and choose my activities to feed the hungry hollow of my homesickness and sustain my selective memory. My poor, long-suffering (and, as he has asked me to add, extremely handsome) husband doesn’t get nearly as much holiday time as I do, so his whistle-stop trips home tend to be fleeting and functional, consisting almost entirely of recovering from jetlag, battling with public transport, corresponding with the Inland Revenue and holding other people’s screaming babies. In the rain. No surprise then that our perceptions of home are perhaps a little out of whack.
I think what he likes about life out here is just how un-British it all is. He actively delights in the lack of heating bills and cold, wet winter mornings and, indeed, in the absence of an Inland Revenue to correspond with. It has been great for his career too – he is a rapidly growing fish in this significantly smaller pond. I, on the other hand, feel more like a fish out of water here and, like any hapless trout, I cannot help but think fondly of the cool, green Eden I have left behind: “slushy green undergrowth, where the roach swim; here we keep our larder, cool and full and dim.” Sorry, I appear to have drifted back to Wind in the Willows again, folks… “Everyone for what he likes, we like to be, heads down, tails up – dabbling free! High in the blue above, swifts whirl and call; we’re down a-dabbling, up tails all!” Oh, it may be idealistic, nostalgic, romantic and downright unrealistic pastoral nonsense, but it’s just so… nice. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court: I do indeed wear rose-tinted glasses. And I’m not bloody taking them off.