There are those who understand the general deal with moving to a different country, and there are those who don't. An example of the latter would be the relative who spent ten minutes yacking away about some special cheap phone rate she'd arranged with British Telecom, then thoughtfully suggesting that I too might look into getting that same deal, seeing as how I was about to move away and everything.
'I don't think they have British Telecom in America,' I told her, because it was the only answer I could give.
'Oh! Do they not?' She seemed genuinely surprised. I don't know if she ever watched The Royle Family, but I have a feeling she would most likely have given it a miss. It's just people talking, she would probably argue. Who wants to see that?
This is the kind of person who has understood my migration to another country mainly in terms of what I'll miss about England, or rather what they think I'll miss, somehow imagining that the two of us are essentially the same and with the same tastes.
I wonder if they show Stars in Their Eyes over there.
I'll just have to take the chance.
I could be moving to a land where the President greets me in person at the airport, bequeathing me the equivalent of millions of pounds in local currency in advanced thanks for culturally enriching his nation, and he'll give me a house too. Beer will be free forever, and the national anthem is different each year, but always something from Machine Gun Etiquette by the Damned; yet if I want to eat Findus crispy pancakes, then I'm screwed.
Fuck that! Stop the plane! I'm staying put!
I'd be an idiot if I'd moved to a different country in the expectation of it being exactly the same as the one I'd just left, but nevertheless, there are aspects of living in England which I've missed, or at least things I've occasionally felt like eating; then again, missed is perhaps an overstatement. There's nothing of which the absence has given me a sleepless night, leaving me crying, why oh why oh why over and over as I sweat and claw at the spectral form of a can of Batchelors mushy peas I've hallucinated above my bed. That said, there are certain things I've made a point of stuffing into my face whilst visiting friends and family in England, making the most of them whilst I could.
Bread. I ate bread during my time in England, but it would be an exaggeration to say that I stuffed my face with it. I ate bread in the form of toast most mornings, and on Tuesday the 11th of April I ate a sort of smoked salmon and a fried egg on toast thing - as it is described in my diary - at a pub called the Forest in Dorridge, a small town on the outskirts of Birmingham, a few miles south-west of Solihull. I cycled to Dorridge as part of a pilgrimage, because it turns out that John Wyndham was born there. I found no blue plaque, and the waitress who took my order had never heard of him, or even of Day of the Triffids. The waitress who brought me the smoked salmon and a fried egg on toast thing actually had heard of Wyndham, and even recalled having read Chocky at school, but hadn't realised he'd been born there.
The reason bread makes the list is that it's mostly shite in America in so much as that it's difficult to get decent bread - decent bread being any bread which doesn't prompt an exclamation of what the fuck is this? when you put it into your mouth. Tortillas excepted, baking is not generally something which is done well in the States, and we seemingly take our cues from Mexico in this respect; and much as I love Mexico and all things Mexican, the use of flour in a recipe doesn't mean you additionally need a pound of fucking sugar.
I have surmounted this problem by limiting my purchases to the one brand of bread which doesn't taste like it wants to be a cake when it grows up.
Chocolate. We seem to be somewhat limited in our range of available sweeties here in America, possibly due to loaves of bread occupying the same ecological niche. Hershey bars are okay, but they're not Cadbury's. Butterfinger and Three Musketeers bars are decent, although cops have been known to mistake the silvery wrapper of the latter for a firearm and shoot the
Doner Kebabs. I had a period of at least a year, possibly as many as twenty, during which I more or less lived on doner kebabs; and it's hardly a coincidence that these were also my most sociable years, an era in which I took great pleasure in getting shit-faced in the pub at least once a week. Not only is a doner kebab exactly what you need at two in the morning when you're full of beer and likely to burst into song*, but it's also a near foolproof hangover cure when eaten cold next day. We have doner kebabs in Texas but they're not the same. The pita bread is always strangely puffy and I can't get used to it, plus the thing needs to be drowned in chili sauce, which no-one observes on the grounds of everything else in Texas being drowned in chili sauce. The Texan doner kebab - which for all I know may well be closer to some Turkish original than its English equivalent - is pretty decent, but I nevertheless planned to eat five or six doner kebabs a day for the duration of my return to the old country. In the end I forgot, aside from one I had at the Istanbul Restaurant, at 17, The Butts, Coventry, the consumption of which came reasonably close to constituting a religious experience; and yes, The Butts is what the road is called, owing to the presence of the former residence of the man who invented arses.
Dunn's River Nurishment. Okay, I'll admit - I probably would have voted for Donald Trump had he promised to bring Dunn's River Nurishment to the shelves of our stores and supermarkets, or I would have done had I been registered to vote. Dunn's River Nurishment describes itself as a nutritionally enriched milk drink and may be considered the oil upon which south-east London runs. It comes in a can, tastes like heaven, cures hangovers, probably cures cancer, and the vanilla one turns your pee dayglo. Needless to say I was guzzling this elixir more or less non-stop for most of my visit.
Fish and Chips. I didn't really realise that I'd missed fish and chips. I ate fish and chips when I lived in London, but only if I was too knackered to cook and wanted a change from doner kebabs, and only because there was a decent fish and chip place on Underhill Road, decent fish and chip shops having more or less disappeared from London towards the end of my tenure, replaced by establishments such as the Sea Cow on Lordship Lane. The Sea Cow is fish and chips for people who don't actually like fish and chips, charging a couple of quid for a pizza box containing seven or eight hand crafted potato rhombusoids fried in oil sourced direct from the pores of this really amaaazing native woman we met when we went kite-surfing in Tunisia. I never had fish from the Sea Cow because it was too expensive, and Robert Elms used to big them up on his London radio show, if you're still not convinced. Anyway, fish and chips has been one of those things for which I might experience an occasional craving, and the craving usually disperses as soon as I start eating them, so it's not such a big deal.
'Do you make fish and chips for yourself?' one of my wife's friends once asked in an amusingly ostentatious display of what I'm sure she considered cultural sensitivity. I can't remember what answer I gave, but it's easy enough to get fish and chips in Texas providing you don't mind the chips being called fries, and there's an endearingly corny nautically themed restaurant chain called Long John Silver's which does fish and chips at least as good as most places in London, possibly excepting the one in Underhill Road.
All the same, I was in England for about three weeks, and I seemed to find myself up at Gabriel's chippie in Earlsdon High Street almost every other day. I guess I had missed fish and chips after all.
Fry's Turkish Delight. I scoffed one of these more or less every time I happened to pass through a supermarket, newsagent, or any other shop selling them. I'm sure I've seen them on sale over here in America, but I guess they never caught on and remain popular only amongst exiles and anglophiles. I don't suppose anyone has much room left after all that bread.
Marmite. Contrary to the mythology, Marmite is reasonably easy to procure in America, being sold in snooty stores such as Central Market, which is probably our Waitrose. That said, similarly contrary to the mythology, I'm one of those people who simply thinks Marmite is okay. I can take it or leave it, and at seven dollars a jar I usually leave it. I didn't think about Marmite at all whilst visiting England. Those who just can't live without Marmite probably have some obscure medical condition, and are to be pitied.
Old Jamaica Ginger Beer. See Dunn's River Nurishment, apart from the actual description, qualification as the oil upon which south-east London runs, and the bit about it turning your pee dayglo. America seems to be the home of disappointing beverages, at least when it comes to anything implying beer. We have root beer for the kids, which carries one of those flavours you'd associate with perfume and doesn't seem to refer to anything existing in nature; and the grown-up beer is similarly shite, requiring that we import the real thing from Mexico. We have ginger ale, which isn't even worth discussing, and admittedly you might occasionally find some designer label bottle of the good stuff for about a million fucking dollars, but it's never a patch on Old Jamaica.
Pork Pie. My dad introduced the family tradition of a pork pie on Christmas morning back when I was a kid. Apparently it had been a tradition in his family when he was growing up, although no-one else I've spoken to has heard of it. He later abandoned the tradition following a tour of a pork pie factory. I believe it was the vats full of eyelids, arseholes, foreskins, and ball bags which put him off. Still, I wasn't there, and his description wasn't so vivid as to bother me, so I still find myself hankering for a pork pie on Christmas morning. In Texas we traditionally have pork tamales on Christmas morning, which I suppose is the same but with a corn husk instead of a crust. Nevertheless I'd still rather have a pork pie, which is unfortunate because you can't get them in Texas. There's a mail order company selling individual pies at a decent price, but the refrigerated postage is something like seventy dollars, and whilst I like a pork pie, I don't like them quite that much. One a year usually does me. My mother got one in when I was staying, and it was nice, and it was enough.
Steak & Kidney Pie. When Don Maclean first sang American Pie on an episode of Crackerjack broadcast back in 1976, he was referring exclusively to baked goods with fruit-based fillings. It seems that to most Americans, introducing meat - or indeed anything savoury - into a pie makes about as much sense as pork and lamb ice cream would to any English person with the likely exception of Heston Blumenthal. There are anomalies such as chicken pot pie and Hot Pockets; but chicken pot pies are probably the American equivalent of tripe and onions or something, and Hot Pockets - which are actually quite nice in an artificial sort of way - are basically meaty versions of McDonalds apple pies aimed exclusively at skateboarders and people who like to do ordinary things prefixed as extreme so as to make themselves seem really, really peng and fire.
Growing up in England, I never really thought about steak and kidney pie, but the idea that there might ever be a time when I found myself circumstantially prevented from eating one would have filled me with horror. Texans are obviously big on the whole steak aspect, but the rest of the cow is apparently mysterious to them - excepting culturally Mexican Texans who curiously seem to maintain the dietary habits of folk in nineteenth century Lancashire, albeit with more chili and less rainfall. This means that should I require kidneys, then a Mexican butcher will be the man to sell them to me, which is a relief because I'm obviously going to have to make my own.
I'm sure it can't be that difficult.
*: Usually Who Gives a Damn by Sham 69.