1. i haven’t been back since 2010, not sure why. When i have free time i prefer to stay at home or visit Juniper in Kassel or even go to Finland. England is 33 years of bad memories and rejection and chavvery. Nonetheless, i go.

On the shuttle bus from Munich Airport to the plane. Some Bosche, some Brits. i can see the difference immediately, confirmed when i overhear conversations: the Bosche are expressionless, or rather look vaguely irritated at everything, the Brits look glaringly aggressive or vaguely apologetic. i recognise the pre-emptive let’s all get along smile frequently dispensed by Brits as a societal lubricant, so if you bump into someone you smile apologetically and say Sorry; the Bosche just ignore everyone, or stare flatly.

The little bus is packed, i offer to swap standing places with a woman in her 50s, as i have a rail to cling to and she looks to need the support. To my surprise, i speak in a West Yorkshire accent i’ve never really used in my life.

2. Deeply strange to be in Manchester Airport, stranger than Oulu. Everyone queues to slowly go through Immigration, however i note machines for automatic scanning and try these, put my passport in a slot and am amazed to see a huge live image of myself staring at myself, i shake my head and start muttering, Amazing, then a guard behind the glass screens asks me to take my glasses off. i remove them and continue shaking my head at my own image, a red light flashes, the screens open, and they ask me to go to a desk. A grey-haired guard examines my passport, me, and says genially, You fooled us with your specs, then you kept moving about. i laugh and proceed to the next desk, where another grey-haired guard says, Derek gave you the speech? Yes, i say, Sorry, never seen one of these things before. We’ve got jet engines now too, he says, and waves me through. i reflect on the daily banter of English life, the half-apologetic smiles, jokes, utterly lacking in Germany.

3. Regional train to Manchester Piccadilly, stopping everywhere. Train conductor jokes with passengers, i miss the words but catch the laughter, the good humour, reminds me vaguely of the regional train i took to Kochel a few weeks ago. And on into Piccadilly. Chavs everywhere. Ethnic diversity everywhere. i pass quite a few Shane Jenkin-lookalikes on the mile. Everyone seems tattooed. There are tattoos in Germany but usually just an ankle or wrist; here it’s like the population have been dipped in woad and emerged with disfiguring and rapidly fading coloration. i attract a few glances, not because i’m half-Indian as it would be in the Reich, but because i am scowling at everyone, and muttering things like Sordid and Degenerate.

i stop to have a fancy burger (ostrich or lion or something) at a street market and note a pair who look like Shanes eyeing my shoulder bag and suitcase as i eat; my old watchfulness has by now clicked into place after 5 years of Germanic sleep, and as they circle me i circle to keep facing them, not exactly looking at them but always directly looking their way, till they snarl and plod on.

i buy trousers, a near-impossibility for a man of my dwarfhood in Germany. i stop into a whisky shop and note that almost everything costs a good 10-20% more than in Germany, chat with a sales assistant, mention chavs and he says, If you go up to Piccadilly there are chavs galore. It’s now 1100, i’ve had a burger, so when he offers “a dram” i say Why not, and end up buying a bottle of Glenturret for 45 quid, no age statement but it’s a fine whisky, fruity and light with a surprising peaty finish.

i need lighter fluid for my Old Boy, having drained it before leaving home, so go to Alston’s, a pipe shop, ask the counter guy for the cheapest, saying i just need it for a week and will leave it behind when i return to Munich. Well if it’s only a refill you want, we could do that now, he says, and it takes me a second to understand that he’s offering to do it for free; i’m so shocked i say, No no, i would feel bad if i don’t pay for it, and leave with a 2 pound can (cheaper than in Munich).

4. Train to Huddersfield, i read Thomas Bernhard’s Beton, in German, feeling, I need to maintain my spiritual supply lines to Germany, i must never forget that i belong there and not here, must not stay here, must return. Meanwhile i note that i haven’t once used my usual Queen’s English, that i have without thinking spoken West Yorkshire the whole time – doubly strange since i never had a local accent, but it now feels unnatural and difficult to speak here as i do to my students or American colleagues (i have almost no British colleagues). i realise that most of my readers probably don’t fully grasp the intricacies of North of England accents, so let me present DJ Smile of Huddersfield:

This is basically what i sound like.

My mother & stepfather pick me up and we walk across Huddersfield to their car. i haven’t walked these streets in over a decade. It is small town, not exactly squalid but certainly a little grim. i find one single good photo opportunity, which doesn’t make it look like it is:

england july 2015 (138)

5. i lunch with my mother & stepfather in their scenic little village – which is much more idyllic than i remember it, i say Weren’t there lots of teenage hoodies hanging around here? and my mother, They all grew up and moved out. In the evening they drive me to my father’s (nearby) house, where i find he’s in good health for someone who’s nearly 84, and not dying at all. i resist the urge to say, If you’re not dying, why the hell did you tell me i had to visit now and it was urgent etc? The full sordid tale will be divulged in my next post, if i can get around to it.

Advertisements