Back in the land I lived in for 51 of my 64 years on earth. Everything is so familiar, from the donut shops to the way people say and talk about things here. You can’t beat familiarity. I’m here with my best friend for my mum’s Memorial service. I am now officially an orphan. But the last thing mum would have wanted was for me to sit around and mope about her no longer being here. I’ve shed the tears and felt the loss, but now life continues. It does indeed. Everywhere I look. Especially at any Tim Horton’s donut shop we’ve been frequenting while here. Boston Cream Death as an old associate of mine used to say. But I love it. Nothing like it in England, not even the Krispy Kreme’s they’ve allowed into London, England. I’ll take Timmy’s any day. I get it there. Feels right.
Like so many things in the land where I spent most of my life. Not just Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s for those from elsewhere reading this), but any of the shops, services and institutions I grew up with. You never appreciate it all as much as when you leave and come back. When I lived in France for 5 years in the 1980s, I went back to Canada with a new found love for my mother tongue. Explaining anything in French took so much effort that doing the same in English became a delight. Bantering with Canadians is much easier for me than it is in England. I understand Canadians….most of them anyway. That doesn’t mean I agree with them or understand them all the time, but the frame of reference is the more familiar to me.
I have attended a few of the pub quizzes they love in England. The competition is fierce. But the questions are inevitably about trivia that English people know, having lived in England all their lives, like obscure music groups and songs, TV personalites and other cultural icons….animal, vegetable and mineral. I ace any questions that involve Canadian trivia, as few and far between as they may be. I feel like a dummy at those English quizzes. No one likes to feel that way. I’m one of them. I don’t do English pub quizzes any more. Who needs that kind of humility? But then I don’t like any trivia games. I can never think quickly enough and my brain tends to freeze when put on the spot. Some of us are slow chewers of information. And look out when we actually grasp a concept. We’ll run it into the ground.
My best friend is usually my chauffeur in England. I am an impatient driver at the best of times, but driving in England would send me over the top. Madness could easily set in and I would probably end up with a bad bout of road rage. Have you driven there? Winding, narrow roads that make no sense. Roundabouts with roads that branch off to everywhere, usually leaving the novice heading somewhere he or she doesn’t want to go. The bane of any driver. A few roundabouts where I live are very small. No one seems to know who has the right-of-way and I’ve seen many accidents occur on them. The concept of stop signs and three and four way stops seem to elude the Brits. Either that or they are too stubbourn to try the concept. Having said that, the configuration of streets makes it difficult to use stop signs. The North American grid pattern of roads works well with them. Besides, there are already way too many signs on British roads to allow the addition of a few more. The narrow roads contain parked cars that make it nearly impossible to drive all the way down a road without having to stop a dozen times to let someone by or be allowed to do the same by the other driver. Needless to say, I don’t drive there. My chaffeur does, remember?
On this side of the pond, I am the road king. My best friend is as impresed with my prowess on Canadian roads as I am of my best friend’s ability on the roads of London, England. And they drive on the other side of the road there. That alone is a reason not to drive in England. Especially if you are used to driving on the right side of the road. I once drove in Ireland, on the left side of the road. My perspective and road sense were shaken because my brain is used to seeing the centre of the road to my left. Some may adjust more quickly. But as I said earlier, my brain processes things more slowly. I knocked a few wing mirrors off parked Irish cars and hit more curbs than I care to remember. So, a chaffeur for me.
The biggest difference between my native land and my adopted country is space. Room to breathe with wide open areas. England is tiny compared to my adopted Province of Ontario. Streets are wider, properties have more open land surrounding them. Fresh water is everywhere. Even the sky seems bigger. It isn’t, of course, it just appears to be. The storms are bigger and more fierce. The seasons change more dramatically in Ontario and it takes much longer to get anywhere. The scenery is diverse and more rugged in Ontario than in England. But England is always more green and has a more moderate climate. The south of England is especially blessed with better weather than in the north.
Speaking of space, one thing that fills it up more than anything else is people. When you live in London, England, there are always more people around at any given time of day than there are where I’m staying at the moment in London, Ontario. When you go shopping at a grocery store in London, England or visit a mall, the crowds of people are ever present. On the streets in central London, England people are often shoulder to shoulder, especially in the big tourist areas like Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus. In London, Ontario, you could shoot canon shells down the aisles of stores on any given day and hit no one. Try that in London, England and, well, disaster. I was in Masonville Mall in the north part of London, Ontario on two different days this week. Hardly a soul. Try that at Bluewater in Greenhithe, Kent (Greater London). Impossible to avoid people at any time of the day, any day of the week.
Oh Canada, for its space and fresh water lakes, its forests and wide roads, its small cities and friendly shop keepers. So, the inevitable question is, why not just move back here? Why stay in an overcrowded country with silly streets and tiny gardens? The answer is simple. It’s the home of Robin Hood and the Beatles, some of the funniest people on earth, fresher food, a better (and free for me) public transportation system and it’s where my best friend lives. Just don’t ask me anything trivial about the place.