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Island Girl

london, england, st pauls cathedral, thames river

A bubble-gum pink plastic case. Spinning like a top. Watching it blur on the turntable made it a moment, branded like a fiery poker on my eight-year-old brain.

People often wonder why I’m such an Anglophile. It’s simple, really. It happened one sunny Saturday in a liquid, hotter-than-hell July in the formal living room of my next door neighbor’s red brick ranch house.

She was an English mother. Her daughter was my age, my golden-haired, tomboy friend. We used to sit on the bed and ‘teach’ her poor mispronouncing-everything mother how to talk.

Say it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhlllllllllllllllllll.

Ooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhllllllllllllllllllll. She had a walloping dose of Southern accent stirred in there, but the exotic quality, the othernnes, still leaped through the notes to me.

All this ‘oooooohhhhhhlllllllll’ing made me curious about my friend Beth’s upcoming trip, a month-long return to her mother’s home in England. 1977. A different Jubilee.

That desolate summer month, I dragged my despondent chin around the house, imagining. What was Beth doing in England, a place where they said ‘saint’ for ‘something’ and substituted ‘aah’ with ‘ooh’? The minute I saw their bullet-shaped station wagon lumber up the drive, I ran next door, hoping the foreign molecules – something, anything – would rub off on me.

Spinning in a raised bed of hot pink, a song blasted from the solo speaker in the background when Beth’s mom summoned me.

I got you saint to mark the trip, Andra.

Elton John belted out “Island Girl” on a 45, a diva on a grooved disc. Her motherly English eyes weighed the seriousness of the moment. She placed a shiny round coin in my childish hand, its bigness obliterating my palm. She was heavy, the regal lady who rode on the back of a silver-cast horse. An Island Girl I would never forget.

I can still feel the weight of that coin in my hand, my otherworldly Island Girl serenede.

Especially on days like yesterday.

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sooo, turns out the Cyber Ninja Carnell was in actuality your next door neighbor in drag…now we understand the penchant for all things English in the both of you.

    March 3, 2012
    • Oh my stars. I always wondered why Mrs. Gibson and Carnell never appeared in the same room at the same time…….

      March 3, 2012
      • OK go out-of-town for one day and this is what happens?! Besides, I don’t even like Elton John.

        March 3, 2012
      • Neither does MTM. We were having a conversation over dinner last night, as a woman played the keyboard and crooned Elton John covers in the background. I was complaining about how I sometimes feel like I am on such an island, all alone. Which led into Island Girl by the singer. Which brought back this memory.

        March 3, 2012
  2. What an amazing rooftop view of London! Andra, where were you when you took it?

    Gifts from afar are talismans that rather than ward off trouble, bring us whiffs of the future…perhaps more shamanistic entreaties to bring the word we want to us.

    How wonderful to discover England this way and through your friend’s mum.

    A grade school friend brought me a silver coin from Guatemala which I had made into a charm for my charm bracelet (which I have since lost or was stolen in a robbery years ago…I don’t know which…) I’ve always fancied seeing it since then.

    But I fancy Scotland, England and Ireland more, then there’s Italy…and I could go on.

    March 3, 2012
    • I could go anywhere. I never met a trip I didn’t like.

      A shame you lost the coin bracelet. My poor coin disappeared with my ex-husband, though I found several last night on eBay to replace it if I want.

      The photo is from the lookout on the dome of St. Paul’s, my favorite building in London. I have pictures from the tippy-top, but this one is more striking.

      March 3, 2012
  3. England, London in particular, is one of those places I always thought to visit “someday.”

    That someday never arrived, and today my reality dictates I most likely will visit places accessible only via our sturdy, four-wheeled transportation in the carport. :) There are plenty of those places and I look forward to them. However, your travel adventures and photos (and Kate’s blog) are always a treat.

    March 3, 2012
    • Lots of places to go on four wheels, Karen. I hope you’ll share those adventures with me.

      March 3, 2012
  4. Very thoughtful post, Andra. I have a love for “all things British” but mine came through my grandmother. As part of my “all about me” month I plan to share more about that, because it is a definite influence! I hope the storm front is not blowing you around too much, but as long as you’re safe, I think you’d just turn it into a wonderful writing experience! Good weekend to you–Debra

    March 3, 2012
    • Debra, I spent the better part of the past two days in a conference. We are driving in some rain, but nothing stormy.

      Looking forward to reading all about you during our mutual birthday month. That will be fun. :)

      March 3, 2012
  5. Lucie Mitchell #

    GORGEOUS photo! I can’t wait until Steve and I trek off to places unknown (well, mostly unknown to me as he’s an Air Force brat). Until then I’ll live vicariously through your travels. :D

    March 3, 2012
    • This was from a trip for my 40th birthday three years ago, Lucie. I always wanted to go there because of my neighbor, but it took a while to finally make it.

      Steve needs to book a surprise, non-bike trip for you. ;)

      March 3, 2012
  6. A couple of weeks ago my daughter (Asperger’s with serious ADHD issues) had to sit in the assistant principal’s office and miss a fun program. (The reasons behind this infuriated me; her teacher and I are not on good terms). The AP tried to be inandout, but Caroline had plenty of time to get into everything.

    And she did.

    Ohhh she did.

    Knowing that the AP, who has travelled a lot, takes around a collection of coins any time the kids are doing something geographic in nature, Caroline found a key, unlocked a desk drawer, and made off with several British and one Danish coin.

    And they would never have been missed if I hadn’t caught her and known we owned nothing of the kind. Fortunately, the AP knew part of the problem was in a lack of supervision, which LIMITED the amount of trouble daughter got into (and this was fully justified trouble, unlike the thing that had landed her there in the first place). Still

    March 3, 2012
    • It is good to hear that Caroline is a curious child, interested in the world. :)

      March 3, 2012
  7. That is a world-class photo, Andra. Saint for something: I never thought of that before…have you come across slater? See you later? The coolest of us say ‘laters.’ Estuary English has its charms :-)

    March 3, 2012
    • I’ve never heard another English person say saint for something, even my Cockney friend Clive, the king of swanning around. I’ve not heard slater or laters, but I will definitely remember them. :)

      March 3, 2012
      • I was surrounded by saint-ers at my state primary school. They were oddly sparse at my convent secondary, though…

        March 3, 2012
      • It has to be geographic, doesn’t it? Like we Southerners say y’all.

        March 3, 2012
  8. loved it!

    March 3, 2012
  9. I’m another Anglophile, Audra, but I can’t pin it on a friend’s mum or anything like that. Just always have been, though digging up some family roots seem to take a part of my own mom’s maternal family back to the island. Hmmmm!

    March 3, 2012
    • Penny, I have distant ties back there myself. My grandmother on my mother’s side was a Wells, and one of her brothers did a lot of research into their genealogy. He put them coming from Lincolnshire.

      March 3, 2012
  10. I love that photo of London with the Eye in the background. Wow!

    And thanks for the song . . . I’m an Island Girl. I’ve lived on three islands in three different states!

    March 3, 2012
    • I’ve only lived on an island once. When I first moved to Charleston, the serial rapist was on his rampage. I rented an apartment on the only populated place he never hit, an island only accessible by draw bridges.

      March 3, 2012
  11. That’s a beautiful shot! One of my childhood best friends had an English parent, too, but it was her father, and we put him in the category of “insane foreign-born fathers” along with my father and several others. (That’s what happens when you live in a community full of engineers.) Somehow that was a lot less romantic.

    March 4, 2012
    • But, the stories you must’ve concocted from that category, Annabelle. So, so funny, the things little kids do.

      March 4, 2012
  12. arbohl #

    There always seem to be the ONE place that reeeally sticks out and finds a special place with people when they’re young. For me it was France when I was little. Strange obsession with everything French.

    March 4, 2012
    • Hey there! Good to see you. I’d been wondering how you were.

      I used to beg my mother to let me be an exchange student to France. We had one come over when I was in high school, a guy. He got a crush on my very same neighbor with the English mother. He kept asking her to the cee-nee-ma. She kept refusing, until I explained to her that it was the movies. She went, and he made a pass at her, and she never spoke to him again.

      March 4, 2012
  13. I can’t seem to click on the ‘like’ button any more. It asks me to ‘log in’ so I do that and then it asks me again. Bizarre. grrrr!

    Anyway, ‘I like’. :)

    March 7, 2012

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