Getting Coached

(more from David's adventures in London ...)

This week and next, we'll have another couple of episodes continuing the thread of the story of my year in London after dropping out of university.


Back at the beginning of this series of stories about my 'adventure' in England, I mentioned that my father had given me the telephone number of a friend of his - a fellow musician he had worked with for many years - in case I needed assistance. But as our family had emigrated from England to Canada only about fifteen years previous to this trip of mine, surely I must have had relatives over there; why not give me their contact information as well?

Well he did actually, but it was a very short list. I was in the rather unusual situation of having very few relatives. Both of my parents were 'only children', so I had no uncles, aunts, or cousins. Both of my grandfathers had been dead for many years, and I had no memory of ever meeting them. The 'list' of relatives came down to three people: two grandmothers, one of them living with her brother.

These three people were all living in the town where I had been born, a place called Halifax, up in the north of England in Yorkshire. It was quite a long way from London, too far for casual visits, but it seems that one of the grandmothers, perhaps suspecting (accurately) that I would be held fast by the magnet of London, invited me up for a visit around Christmas time. She went a bit farther actually, and arranged for me to join her and her brother on a holiday 'coach tour'.

So after letting my landlord know that I would be away for a couple of weeks, I took the train up to Yorkshire, and a couple of days later, found myself on a coach tour headed for Exmouth, a seaside resort town down in the southwest of England. I was in my early twenties, and of course everybody else on the coach was probably in their seventies at least. These were all people who had no family nearby, and not wanting to spend the holiday home 'alone', took a tour like this so that they could enjoy the season together with others.

Now as you might expect, a tour for a crowd of 'old folks' wouldn't be expected to be particularly exciting, but there were a couple of highlights that I can still remember. One was of course the Christmas dinner. 'Dinner' to me had always been an evening meal, but a traditional English dinner like this was held at mid-day, and when a holiday hotel advertised a Christmas Dinner, they knew that their customers would be expecting a 'spread', and they certainly complied.

The menu held no surprises, and that's exactly the way the customers wanted it: plates of roast turkey and roast beef, trays of sausages, and of course endless helpings of Yorkshire pudding. Dishes of boiled vegetables filled out everybody's plate, and gravy poured on top tied it all together. Dessert was a giant mounded flaming plum pudding with custard, and we all pulled Christmas crackers to finish off.

The next day, we were taken out to the local theater for the second highlight of the tour - the Pantomime! I had no idea what this was all about, but my neighbours eagerly explained it to me - a madcap performance based on medieval plays put on by travelling players at festival time. Just like the dinner, every aspect of the performance was determined by tradition, and nothing could be left out - the Grande Dame (played by a man), the Handsome Prince (played by a young woman), and any number of set sketch pieces. At one point, a number of the characters sat on a bench on the stage, and everybody in the audience instantly started shouting at the top of their lungs "It's behind you! It's behind you!" And yes, a gorilla then appeared from backstage, which none of the actors noticed as they played out the sketch, despite frantic warnings from the audience. It was a couple of hours of complete silliness, and everybody enjoyed themselves immensely, my grandmother laughing until she cried.

As I write this - nearly forty years after that coach tour - I sit in a small room in my Tokyo house, a very long way indeed from a traditional English environment. Although my birth certificate shows that I was born in Yorkshire, and thus am technically 'English', I am of course quite divorced from English culture, having emigrated when I was only five years old. So although I didn't realize it at the time, that coach trip with my grandmother was actually quite valuable in 'connecting' me with some traditions, and perhaps she was thinking of this when she suggested the idea.

I'm not actually sure what to think of these things; am I English and Canadian and Japanese, or am I perhaps none of them? I suppose it's a 'glass half empty, half full' situation ...


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