My kids have never seen Ross Kemp.
It's more than likely that my kids will grow up and live forever in the US. A huge majority of people born here (or brought here as wee babies) pretty much stay within the Lower 48 their whole lives. Bar a few trips to Canada to gawk at completely-naked strippers on a stag night, or the odd cruise circling all the poor foreign people in the Caribbean most people from here live here into old age.
This has just dawned on me in small ways. Today my kids - one of them still cycling through end of the ups and downs of whatever weird flu we all had - are with the in-laws. I've been at home doing a few little things that I've been meaning to do for a very long time. One being renewing my passport (and until I print the thing out and mail it then it isn't actually done). I have no real intentions to go home at any point but it's 2 years expired already so you know - get on with it. At some point today I also read a comment from an acquaintance of mine - also an American expat - about how she was sat at home with her children watching Coronation Street with the kids and how they all think a certain character is great. In fact her cultural life consists mainly of British television and radio despite having lived in the US for a long time - so her children have been thoroughly exposed to it as well. I've also just finished some odd all-in-one catchup of a ton of UK comedy panel shows (QI and 8 Out Of Ten Cats mainly) and have been bombarded with a ton of cultural moments I would have been incubated from otherwise. For example I would have avoided the utter punch-in-the-soul that is Jedward had I not seen their irritating pastie-like faces on the later one. On the other hand I have come late (fnar) to Rachel Riley due to her appearances on that and now understand the weird, creepy, "oh yes I bloody would" commentary a lot of my online social-media friends were constantly chuffing up in early 2009.
Anyhoo - I digress. It suddenly hit me that not only is it odd that a friend of mine's teenage children - whom have never once set foot in the UK - are well versed in the cultural goings-on in the UK, but that mine haven't the foggiest. And likely never will. I don't listen to Radio Two or watch BBC America. I didn't listen to or watch most of the cack on that when I lived in the UK. I do watch stuff online (football and comedy stuff mostly) and have a few choice things I enjoy. But mostly away from my kids. And as I barely watch any television over here it's not as if I've replaced old habits with new ones.
For some odd reason this triggered a memory of an old bloke who lived up above a flat I had in Bristol. He wore a tweed suit wherever he went, ate kippers from breakfast every day and you'd often see him come rumbling back from the off-license with a bottle of Thunderbird. Then the real gravity it dawned on me - my kids will likely never have any idea what it means to grow old in the UK. It'll have no meaning for them whatsoever. No notion of grans at the bingo. Or grandad down the club. No spurious memories about "the war" in spite of it mathematically not have been possible to have occurred at their age. No popping around someone's house to check in on their elderly Dad and finding him watching the Edinburgh Tattoo and drinking Mackesons or engaged in a bit of Bishop's Finger (not a Catholic refernce, I'm glad to say). My kids will never hear a joke about getting a free bus pass. And they'll never feed the ends of a pastie to a pigeon.
For a brief moment I had the wave of, "I think I'm not supposed to be here" before having a vivid flashback to the last time I moved home. The smallness. The endless acreage of dog shit everywhere. The stink of stale piss and beer seemingly all over town early in the morning. Yes there were wonderful things about being home (eventually - by the time I left Bristol I'd come to like it very much) but when I first arrived back home I was rigid with culture shock. I'd been eagerly waiting to go back to a country that actually has celebrated intellectuals in the public eye that everyone recognizes. I'd become quite pompous about it. But that first night I was home I somehow ended up catching a few minutes of that season's Big Brother before anything else. What with the UK being a much more progressive and sophisticated country obviously you can guarantee that the producers of the show have shunned cheap tatty gimmicks. Which is why in amongst all the other delinquents on the show they'd also chucked in a well-worn porn star and someone with Tourette’s. That is the kind of sophisticated European culture that America is missing – daytime porn and laughing at the disabled. I'm sure you can picture the historical television moment now – the porn star writhing around on the tourette’s sufferer’s lap screaming “talk dirty to me!” and him yelping “twatting piss flaps!!” yet having no idea he’s said anything at all. Then the tourrete’s guy speaking privately into the diary camera about how he feels embarrassed because he just doesn’t have it in him to talk dirty to a woman before randomly yelping, “wanking ringpiece!!” before wiping away the tears. I'd left the UK with glee initially because I had soured of the drink-sodden, tabloid nature of British life. And I'd returned home hoping to embrace the parts of the UK I'd deeply missed - only to see the very thing I'd reviled seemingly being celebrated and exploited on TV the same day I arrived back.
Then - for reasons that completely escape me - I imagined Ross Kemp. I don't think I've ever done that before mainly because there's never been a reason to. I've never been asked to name someone who looks exactly like a potato. And if I did I'd likely go with Colm Meaney or Dara O'Briain. Needless to say the very fact that Mr. Kemp violated my inner mind made me feel unpleasant. Then I realized that my kids have never once seen Ross Kemp. They have no idea who he is. So while it fills me with sadness that they don't know who Stephen Fry, or Nigella Lawson, or Billy Bragg, or Jeremy Paxman, or Alan Bennett or whomever are - it is a strange fact that they have no idea who Ross Kemp is either. Which means not knowing about Kerry Katona. Or Danny Dyer. Nothing against them personally but there are plenty of insipid, vaccuous people who are famous for no reason at all in this country for my kids to also have to juggle the British version of the same - usually involving more drunkenness, a lot of very loud swearing and with their nipples on television.
I suppose what I've taken from today is that although there are lots of things I wish I could share with my kids regards the UK, they don't know anything about it really so don't know what it is that I miss. The differences between where we live and Bristol are huge. Actually when I returned home last time it was to a small Welsh town I'd spent a big chunk of time in and the culture shock there was so great that I felt like a foreigner. I recall wandering past two Canadian Mormons stood in the high street hoping to speak to someone - and me feeling an affinity with them for no good reason other than I used to live right near the Canadian border in Grand Island, NY and having obsessively watched Rick Mercer (John Stewart has nowt on Mercer, let me tell you) on CBC.
But the two things my kids will likely never experience is the pessimism and the, "there's nothing that can be done" attitude that smacked me in the face when I went home. There's plenty I loathe about where I live now, but pessimism doesn't exist here (and they'd probably spell it with three Z's anyway) and people would go mental if they were told nothing could be done about something. I will never forget my second day back in the UK and walking into a tiny, old parochial HSBC branch in Bridgend and asking them to finish transferring my US account over to the UK. Fairly standard stuff for expats to engage in and I knew how it went - they just had to do it at their end in the bank. Upon asking to do it the, “personal banker” (a 16 year old girl dressed like she was at a drum and bass dance club, who met me at the bank door lest I dare try to approach a counter) and replied, “...Ooh I dunno….” Which was intended to mean that I should just leave. At that time my 4 years in the US had rubbed off to instill the attitude that if the service is provided and being paid for, then it better bloody well be provided. So I asked again. I thought I’d asked to change my address and finalize my account transfer. From the woman's reaction it seemed that it had actually gone a little bit like this-:
Personal Banker: How can I help you?
Me: Hi, yes. I was wondering if I could get a photograph of your hymen.
Personal Banker: ……….(stern face)……
I did get my address changed though. However it involved the bank employee going to ask someone else if I could, then having her superior come and check if I really did want to see her colleagues’ vagina. I cleared up what I meant and wandered off to go throw a Gregg's pastie at a pigeon in an attempt to seem like a local.