Rearview: Home from home with Kathryn Jenkins
Challenges of reconnection
A friend once remarked that having two homes was a breeze. “I don’t even pack a toothbrush,” she said, “because it’s all there when I arrive.”
“Sounds great,” I said, thinking of my other home, mum’s bungalow in Yorkshire. En route my toothbrush and I get 10 whole hours of airborne solitude, time just for me, plus, I get to pack a wardrobe for every season England can throw at me. I reckon I’m the lucky one! It’s midnight and I’m mid-Atlantic when my vocabulary abruptly shifts gears. It does this automatically in order to match what I’ll encounter over the next three weeks. My Yorkshire accent becomes just that bit stronger. Brits smile at those Canadian-isms I cannot relinquish; Canadians in turn are flummoxed when I ask to borrow a biro. “What the heck is a biro?”
I’ve lived in Canada now longer than in England so when I go back there I tend to forget things. Important things, like converting back to miles and Fahrenheit and remembering my brolly is in the boot — that sort of thing. On my last visit to York, I popped into the first facilities I could find before realizing I had no change. “Spend a penny” is literally out-of-date, it’s so “last-century;” now it’s more like “how much do you need to go?”
The attendant was unsympathetic — another customer trying to sneak in without paying. To her, I sound no different than my fellow shoppers and should know better.
Childhood expressions surface from a lifetime ago. One of my favourites is: “See you later.” It crops up — a lot. Short conversations with a shopkeeper, a bus-driver, the chap walking his ferret on a leash, all end with a cheery, “See you later.” I won’t see any of these people again, but it’s a nice thing to hear. It’s familiar, a bit touchy-feely: it’s what you might call — homely.
I still feel comfortable driving on Britain’s roads, though today’s traffic often proves challenging. A car approaches on a road barely wide enough for one of us. He pulls into the side, which is my cue to keep going, pass carefully and raise a finger (a forefinger) off the steering wheel, meaning “Cheers! I’ll do the same for you tomorrow. See you later!” It’s heartwarming and every time I return to Canada I try it out, hoping it will catch on. I just need to find a road small enough.
I’m less comfortable when I’m on foot. I know how to deal with zebra crossings, one-way bridges and roundabouts, of course, but the traffic seems to get busier every year. As a kid, a lane was for skipping down, a back alley was for hula hooping and a main road was for catching the bus. Today fewer allowances are made for pedestrians, so I take my elderly mum’s arm, as much for my personal safety as hers.
In pubs I soak up the atmosphere and wait patiently for a server before remembering where I am and what I must do. Walk to bar. Wait a lifetime. Die of thirst. Order drink. Eyeball loo. Drink and repeat. I feel a foreigner in my own birthplace. Some folk, bless ’em, take me for local, others assume I’m the village idiot.
Touring the countryside is a big plus, but enjoying it comes at a price. This is England, parking is painful! Brits think nothing of parking in a field, miles from anywhere, and paying for the privilege. Oh, and look. A handy-dandy toilet, a “Pay As You Go.” I get it though: little cramped country, stunning scenery. Someone has to shell out.
And forget about museums and stately homes. I visit supermarkets. Mum finishes her weekly shop in a flash then waits in the cafe while I nose my way through every aisle, drooling over the cheese and fish counters. Affordable Stilton! Icelandic crabs! Treats, savoury and sweet, from yesteryear. Wow!
I tell anyone who will listen that grapes and peaches grow well in the Okanagan Valley. They’re all ears until someone asks how far I live from Vancouver. Six hours. And the Coast? Same. They’ve relatives in Toronto. How far’s that? Can you drive there? They start to lose interest. And that’s when I hit them with it: we’ve beaches on our doorstep, friends with boats, lots of free parking, and — it never rains!
Canada is suddenly not that far away.
“Can we come and visit?”
Sure. See you later.