Someone I knew once remarked that they couldn’t go to the US on holiday. ‘Why?’ we asked.
They then went to cast the US as people as all to some variations of Ronald Reagan. Surely, we countered, they could imagine us all extensions of the personality of Mrs Thatcher? I think the point was made.
Let’s get this very clear. I love the USA. I love the landscape, I love the music and I love people. I don’t begin to like the policies of their government – but then I rarely agree with my own…that’s usually the way things are!
There are many reasons why I like the America but the main gist of it is this. I grew up enthralled by music. I loved the names. Raleigh, Memphis, Birmingham, Houston…..all the way to the promised land. I learned the geography from Chuck Berry. More than that I didn’t know. One day in 1975 or 76 an important political awakening happened to me. I had a geography teacher who had grown up in Poland. A very bright man he clearly knew a thing or two about life under Soviet rule and contrasted that with his experience of Scotland. At the time the US political system was hanging its head in shame. Ford was the president who had been sworn in to help the country recover from the shame of Nixon and Watergate. The geography man loved it all. What did he like most? He loved the fact that we all knew, that there was endless debate in public and that ultimately there was system (a constitutional system at that) of sorting it out. I often tell this story to people who tell me this country doesn’t need a written constitution – it’s good to know people like Gordon Brown are finally listening! He also knew what many of the left in this country liked to pretend they didn’t: that similar corruption could never have been exposed in the East.
The second thing that happened to me was going to America. I had to wait until I was thirty – but boy did I appreciate it more. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Washington were the only places I really got to know at all but they have all been amazing places to visit. The biggest impression that has been made upon me however has been the people I’ve met on these journeys. They have always been so generous, kind and welcoming and, call me very old fashioned here but it’s true, always so polite.
I say all this because I’m looking forward to seeing some of my oldest friends there in a couple of weeks time when we go on holiday. People we first met on a beach in Santa Cruz will all gather for a wee soiree with our old best pals and we’ll enjoy catching up over a glass or two of California wine. Roll on the holidays. In the meantime, to all of you stateside having a holiday, Happy 4th of July.