Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Feeling a bit homesick

I’ve been feeling a bit homesick lately. It all started when I read a post on Ravelry about Guy Fawkes. I’d forgotten the date completely. I thought about standing in a dark, muddy field, waving a sparkler, drinking warm lager out of a plastic glass. The smell of hot dogs, gunpowder and woodsmoke. The anticipation: will it be a total washout like the year when smoke hugged the ground and no-one could see the fireworks; or will it be the spectacular display we’ve been promised? The ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ from the crowd, irony giving way to delight. Then after the display, walking back to the car, squashing spent sparklers and the empty tubes of rockets into the mud, and waiting half an hour for the person who blocked us in to come and move their car.

I’m missing watching the leaves change colour (actually, scratch that: I’m missing leaves). I’m missing hunting for the last few wild mushrooms in the woods. I’m missing a cosy pub at the end of a long walk. I’m missing a log fire and roast parsnips. I’m missing crunchy frost and the sun struggling to shine through November’s low cloud on a workday morning. I’m missing being able to see my breath. I’m missing wearing a coat, for crying out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying life in Qatar. But it took something as uniquely British as Bonfire Night to make me think about what it’s like to live not just away from my home but also away from my culture. Rob had a similarly thought-provoking experience. Gordon Brown visited Doha last week and Rob saw his aircraft land. One of his Indian co-workers asked why Mr Brown and his colleagues were all wearing red paper flowers, so Rob explained about Remembrance Day and what it meant.
I suppose it gives us a new angle on things we take for granted. Explaining things makes you think about what they really mean. That said, when we had the first dead parrots at work, I didn’t even begin to explain to my staff why I was laughing.

An incomplete list of other things I’m really missing, in addition to those mentioned above:

Composting and recycling. I cringe every time I throw potato peelings or a bottle in the rubbish bin.
A postal service
Doorstep milk delivery
Seasonal veggies
Polite drivers
Proper trees with branches
Grass, especially if it’s got dew on it
Country lanes
Channel 4 News
Bookshops and yarn shops

In case it seems like I’m painting a very chocolate-box view of life in Britain, here are some things I’m really not missing:

Jeremy Clarkson
High tax, fuel prices etc.
The Daily Mail

Note to non-British readers: Bonfire or Guy Fawkes night is celebrated on 5th November and commemorates the capture of the Catholic Guy Fawkes (or Guido Ffoukes, etc) and his cohorts as they attempted to blow up the Anglican King and his Parliament in 16-something-or-other. (My history is a little hazy. 1605 rings a bell.) Anyway they were caught and executed which is why an effigy of Mr Fawkes (the ‘guy’) is burnt on the bonfire. Harry Potter fans will recognise the inspiration for the name of Dumbledore’s phoenix. I think Bonfire Night is the reason that Hallowe’en isn’t such a big deal in the UK as it is elsewhere. There’s a rhyme: Remember, remember the Fifth of November / Gunpowder, treason and plot / I see no reason why gunpowder treason / Should ever be forgot. Hear hear.

Remembrance Day is celebrated on 11th November (the date of the signing of the Armistice which ended WWI) or the closest Sunday. It’s co-ordinated by the British Legion who sell red paper poppies to raise money for ex-servicemen and women and their families. It’s a day to remember the sacrifice made by members of the forces in the Great War and subsequent wars. Services of remembrance are held in every town and village around the country, and the Queen lays a wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph in London. It’s very moving to watch, especially to see the last few living servicemen who survived WWI and are now in their very late 90s or early 100s.

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