“I don’t want to go to the suburbs,” I complained. “It’s creepy. Everyone wears tracksuits and trainers like they’re in a cult.”
It’s true. The tiny swimming pools in the front lawns disturb me too. They’re too small to accommodate humans so who are they for? The horned miniature beings they’re trying to summon forth, that’s who.
A Canadian friend, Shanti, had invited me along to a British import store on the outskirts of town. I could not think of a single thing that could persuade me to visit such a place.
“Come on,” she said, “they sell those cookies you’re always on about.”
We got into her car.
In a strange hinterland between the airport and Ikea stood a proud little strip mall unit with a red telephone box outside it.
The popular exports were all represented there: Monty Python posters, Royal wedding commemorative china, Beatles albums. What I hadn’t anticipated were the Man about the House and Doctor at Large DVDs, the multi-packs of Penguin biscuits, and the life-sized plastic statue of Geo Compario, the opera-singing corporate insurance mascot.
A video screen showed an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show featuring the Rolling Stones looking like medieval peasants with barely a tooth between them, and a young Tom Jones strutting his hairy stuff. It struck me as incredible that Wales had landed a man on America as early as early as 1965. I think they faked it and filmed it in a quarry near Llandudno.
The crosses of Saints George and Andrew hung festively from every available surface. At the centre of one was a miniature portrait of Hilda Ogden.
It struck me that at least one Canadian visiting this shop must have taken Hilda Ogden to be our queen.
Coincidentally, you can fit the lyrics of “God Save the Queen” into the metre of the Corrie theme tune precisely. Try it and see.
I also wondered what these artifacts told the Canadians about my home. There’s only so much one can divine from a display of remaindered Susan Boyle records and a bucket of Jif lemons made to resemble Jeremy from Airport. On the other hand, maybe it’s all you need to know.
“Hi! I’ll take all of these,” said an anglophile to the young woman at the cash register.
Onto the counter, she bundled a fluffball of Welsh dragon, Loch Ness Monster, and Lil’ Peter Sutcliffe plush toys. I may have made up one of those items for my own amusement. See if you can spot which one.
“Look!” said Shanti, holding a familiar pink shape, “Clangers!”
“Great!” I whispered.
“Why are you whispering?” she boomed.
“Because… Because I don’t want them to hear my voice.”
I gestured towards the other customers. I had no desire to become the central attraction at this house of Britch. They’d have me stuffed and mounted, glass eyeballs staring eternally at the Mr Bean video carousel.
“What a disgrace,” one of the customers said to me in a Mancunian accent, “Twenty-two dollars for six Kinder Eggs. Where are you from, love?”
I sighed. Rumbled.
“I’m from Dudley,” I confessed, “but I lived in Glasgow for a long time”.
She was from Salford and had been in Canada for thirty years, her husband having being headhunted for a Canadian oil company. I was interested that she’d retained her accent after such a long time. I’ve only been here for two years and I can feel the aitches being restored to their former beauty as if by magic.
“Phew! Ten dollars for frozen pikelets” she laughed, “Whatever next”.
She described herself as an expat and asked whether I was one too. Bureaucratically speaking I’m a permanent resident, but I’ve never considered myself an expatriate. When I say “expat” I think of middle-aged white people in South Africa, wearing panama hats and duck suits and calling the embassy every five minutes about how they can’t get a copy of the Mail on Sunday.
“If you live here,” she said with a tone of finality, “you’re an expat.”
I didn’t want to be an expat. It implied I’d be here forever, longing for home like a disgraced army colonel, wistfully following the World Service and being entertained by the mark-up on imported Tesco Value baked beans.
Shanti drove me home with two packets of hobnobs in a Union Jack carrier bag. Not bad for eighteen dollars.