Monday, 15 August 2011

How's Life in Texas...

It's different to what I expected, that is to say I knew living here would be a quite different experience to simply visiting, although by the time my great masterplan came into effect (or specifically the great masterplan formulated by my wife and I) my view of Texas had changed considerably in comparison to what it had once been. I knew this due to friends and acquaintances coming out with the sort of rubbish I'd dismissed some years before. Gormless comments, if annoying, can at least serve as pointers by which we mark our own progress.


Perhaps I'm being a little harsh, after all, those of my peers subscribing to a view of all Texans as either J.R. Ewing or Daisy Duke grew up with the same distorted image of Texas as myself, and it's only through chance that fate has chosen to set me straight on a few things. In case the previous sentence suggests that English children spent much of the 1970s speculating upon the reality of Texas, and whether or not Bonanza should be regarded as Cinéma vérité, I should probably point out that this was not the case. Although ironically, our sketchy impression of Texas suggested a race of ten-gallon-hat wearing cowpokes who imagined we spent a lot of time thinking about them, their rodeos, and their cactus-strewn landscape.


Desperate Dan, although never to my knowledge identified as originating from a specific state, is a long-running children's comic character who may be broadly taken to represent the English child's view of an archetypal Texan. He first appeared in The Dandy in 1937, arguably a wild-west variant upon Popeye (whose national characteristics seem less obvious to us foreigners), sort of like five John Waynes in one, a man who regularly dines on cow pie, uses phone poles for toothpicks, and yet still lives with his Aunt in Cactusville for reasons that don't really interest you that much when you're eight years old. In the event of Dan's escapades (shaving using a meat cleaver and blowtorch and so on) proving too understated for English youth, TV Comic brought us Texas Ted (renowned for the girth of both his cranium and accordingly his milinerial ornamentation, as the legend had it). Texas Ted would brush his teeth with a broom, drain a lake when thirsty, eat uranium for chuckles... you get the picture, and in case you didn't he had some sort of weaselly English sidekick (identified by the bowler hat) to point out the obvious by complaining about anything he considered too big... or some deal like that. Then of course there were Texan Bars and Toffos... sweets (that's "candy" to you lot, or rather to "all y'all") advertised by cartoon Texans in the Desperate Dan mode, lots of cacti on display, wild-west style shoot outs, granted last requests of a packet of Toffos to chew upon whilst the firing squad stand around twiddling their thumbs because, as the slogan had it, a man's gotta chew what a man's gotta chew...


Then came Dallas and The Dukes of Hazzard and we amended our image of you... of all y'all (sorry - keep forgetting) to encompass oil barons and good ol' boys, whatever they were; then the BBC cast Joe Don Baker as Darius Jedburgh in an exceptional television serial called Edge of Darkness which prompted my friend Andy to suggest that if one really must be American, then you should at least make the effort to come from Texas.

So, with such a wealth of historical and geographical information, it's probably no great surprise that so many of my English friends should have a lop-sided view of the place in which I have chosen to lay my bowler hat. I try to keep this in mind each time someone asks me about the rodeo, or the cacti, or the snakes, or George Bush, or the UFO abductees, or McDonalds, or kids who've never heard of France, or anything else of vaguely American caste which some underinformed individual has decided to blame on Texas.

So, in answer to any English people reading this, specifically any English people who may have fallen prey to any of the above mythology, the answer is no.... no they don't, they haven't, they aren't likely to, and you're probably thinking of somewhere else.

No-one in Texas really makes balloon animals with Zeppelins; and whilst there may be cacti strewn liberally here and there, it isn't a desert; Texans in my experience seem not only generally lacking in boastful tendencies, or evangelising tendencies, or tendencies necessarily leading to the election of whichever US President you happen to dislike the most, but for a people obliged to put up with 105 degrees Fahrenheit for two months of the year, they're surprisingly amiable.