Oh America

Oh America, you frighten me.
But you were my first love, my childhood fantasy -and I can’t let you go.

I dreamed that I could live in one of your small towns in a wooden house with big rooms and so much space outside to play.
I loved your accents, your clothes, your music. I longed to belong to you - your great majestic landscapes. Old and new blending so neatly. Problems yes, but always resolved, a happy ending, in films, songs and stories.
Your people handsome, charming and sociable. Or sometimes troubled, but sexy and Cool. Even your mess, your chaos, your scandals, your discontent, your riots, your guns, even they were Cool.
I felt clumsy, awkward and dull, here in England’s drizzle, it’s cramped little terraces, mean ugly blocks of flats, abandoned trolleys, prams, rubbish blowing around the pavements.
I was a girl in cheap jeans, Lady Di blouse and hand-me-down trainers, but in my head I was James Dean.
I sought out open prairies, but just found bits of wasteland... Durley Dump with tyres and rope that children dragged in to hang from the trees and swing over the stream. The stream that you could jump across most days, while I dreamt of the Mighty Mississippi. I looked out for horses, herds of buffalo, bears, but you were lucky if you saw a cat.
My London accent embarrassed me, it sounded tuneless and unemotional. I longed to speak like Brando, the Fonz, the kids in E.T.
Boys fought, and sometimes girls too, but it had none of the romance of a Western Bar Brawl or a Cowboy gunfight. It took place in car parks and playgrounds, blood poured from noses and clumps of hair were left on the concrete. Tears were shed and children laughed. I went home feeling ashamed.

While your kids on the telly roamed in glorious isolation on sprawling farms and prairies, I went to ‘The Croft,’ only to bump into everybody from school, and be quickly led astray. No riding my pony back to the homestead, just a wobbly ride home, muddy and stoned, on my brother’s old Chopper.

In your songs, films and stories there was always somewhere to run to. You were, indeed, “Born To Run.” I wanted to run away too, but where to go? Southend? Hastings? They’re only an hour away, and it’s always cold and raining…
I could’ve jumped on a train if I was American, and traveled a thousand miles away through dazzling scenery…. windows open, cheery older waiters bringing refreshments. “What Can I Get You Ma'am?” Then on to a life of freedom and adventure.

Your schools did scare me, I won’t lie. But there was no uniform, the canteens looked amazing and though there were terrible bullies, they always got their come-uppance, sometimes they even reformed. School for me was brutal, lawless and drab. And Bullies never got their come-uppance. They just grew up and had to be avoided in pubs and supermarkets. 

Even your Faith was pure. My ugly little church - Methodist, sparse and square. Two spotty teenage boys strummed guitars while us Cubs and Brownies shuffled reluctantly up the aisle with our tiny flags and baggy socks. Brown skirts, bruised knees. No-one really sang except for the vicar.
No clean bright dresses, smiles or complete families. No white teeth. No one who actually believed in God and Jesus.

Oh America, I knew your terrible past, but I believed you were healed, through the power of songs and valleys, wide rivers, dances, great cities, honkytonks and milkshake bars. Dylan, Springsteen and Motown. 

You were a land of heroes - always a righteous battle to be won! So clear who was good and who was Bad! And the Goodies always won! Not like here… where everything was so complicated, good and bad in everyone, two sides to an argument… so difficult.

Like all Heroes do, you disappointed me. 
But I know now that I am cool too… I think I’m fab, splendid, marvellous. From my place - cloudy and small, somewhat reserved. That is me. But I’m you too, how could I not be? Did you not see our TV in the seventies? Hear our Radio shows?
I’ll keep my accent and tastes. I love my gentle hills and little rivers and ancient towns. Shakespeare, The Beatles, Radio 4. Real ale in proper pubs. But I’ll be wearing Levis, humming Country songs and welcoming words, tunes and lines of Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Grease, Stevie Wonder into my now, mellowed, 50 year old head.
Oh America, good luck to you. I’m saving up my pounds, and who knows, if better times come, I might see you in the flesh some day and marvel at the vastness of your land, walk on the edge of your canyons, gaze upon your mountain ranges and the monuments of your First Nations. Sit in your bars and immerse myself in your music, sit on your porches and drink your moonshine and whiskey. 
Real or imagined, you run through my veins, whether I like it or not.

2 Comments

  1. See David Bowle’ s “Young Americans” for his own dismay at idolising US in his youth only to be confronted by the grim reality of the American Dream..

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