An Englishman Abroad
First, thanks to Brad for inviting me along. I hope that I don’t disappoint, at least not consistently. I’ll indulge myself with a short piece to start off, as I’d hate to wear out my welcome too soon.
This post is all about me. Sort of.
An Englishman by birth, I was born and raised South of London. I flew the nest at the tender age of eighteen and spent eight long years at university in the West Midlands and the Shire of Bedford.
During that time I learned a few lessons about myself, crowded towns and how we don’t generally get on. So I settled as far away from civilisation as possible, in a small village called Chedworth, in the South-West of England. There I spent many a happy year, enjoying the simple life in a four hundred year old stone cottage, indulging my loves of folk music and real ale, visiting the local pub most evenings, enjoying the stories of amazing people I’d never meet in the big city, and soaking up the history and nature that was all around me. I later moved further West, to a different stone cottage in a different Cotswold town, but the things I sought were much the same.
As much as I loved my immediate surroundings in the UK I felt I was being dragged down by its people, its politics and my increasingly allergic reactions to them. So it was with very mixed feelings that I bailed from the UK in 2001, took a great job in Auckland (New Zealand), met my soul mate and spent the next nine years enjoying the familiar-yet-different-enough Southern Hemisphere lifestyle. I’m still not used to barbecues at Christmas, but it’ll come in time.
In this happier, warmer, friendlier, simpler existence I didn’t really think very much of my feelings about ‘The Mother Country’ until late-2010 when I had the accidental fortune to download a 24-and-a-bit minute song by some band I’d never heard of.
Big Big Train’s masterpiece ‘The Underfall Yard’, and the album on which it was so perfectly presented, rekindled so many positive memories within me on first listen, and still does to this day. It gets a spin on average once a day, but usually more – it brought back memories I had buried over time, perhaps through negative experiences, failure to focus on the important, and the pressure of working, living, breathing, sleeping, etc. Things can drag you down and you end up hating your environment, even though that environment doesn’t deserve to be hated. This album helped me realise that.
The Underfall Yard cleared the way for me to reconnect with everything I loved about England – it brought deep, rich history; regret at the loss of simpler times; epic stories of ordinary people. I lived all of those things in the UK, and I loved all of them at the time. How could I have abandoned them? Once again I could smell the Victorian Brickwork that used to surround me, I saw and regretted what Dr Beeching did in my village, I was transported back to my stomping grounds around the Bristol docks.
I lived the album, and it transformed me. Never have I connected so closely with a piece of art. It reminded me who I am, what I and my country had, and have lost.
Don’t get me wrong – there are many things about the UK that still disappoint me and leave me with a feeling of absolute disdain but when I think deeper on the matter they are ephemeral, immediate concerns, people-focused, media-biased and utterly unimportant. Another generation will sweep them clean, hopefully for the better, although I won’t hold my breath.
Meanwhile I will embrace the good and the great, “the grey and the green and the bold and the brave”, as the lads would sing.
My eternal thanks to Greg, Andy, David, Nick, et al for giving me this opportunity.