when I went running in a Cambridge mud field

February 6, 2011

…were torn leggings from la Redoute and a range of pieces from my personal a/w anti-sex line:  a granddad raincoat, a jumper my husband rejected, Virgin Atlantic flight socks – the ones they hand out on board with a toothbrush and a cheap pen — and an iridescent pair of Nike trainers, which my daughter says are sad and hideous.  The pug, lolloping at my side, was chic.  She was wearing her leopard-print halter and the black leather leash I got in Manhattan.

The shop where I bought the leash was in the West Village, the gay center of the universe.  Coincidentally or not, the pet accessories on offer looked like bondage gear: studded muzzles, spiked collars, leather harnesses and tight little butt-baring sweaters.  Originally, I had planned to get her one of those wool-and-nylon affairs with Velcro straps, the kind of proper dog coat you see on whippets and greyhounds in English parks.  I thought it would make me more acceptable to the other dog walkers in Cambridge, that it would help me pass.  But standing in the pet shop in New York a few hours before my flight back to the UK, surrounded by pint-sized bits of chain and leather — it was like being in an S&M bar for midgets — I realized I didn’t care about fitting in.

The first year I lived in Britain I worried about it, constantly.  At the time, fitting in was all mixed up in my mind with how lonely and homesick I was.  I had discovered that English society was governed by a host of unwritten, unspoken rules, all of which I kept breaking.  I was too earnest, too outspoken, too eager, too friendly, like one of those big yellow dogs with a lot of saliva — a lab or a golden retriever — that keeps jumping around and getting its dirty paws all over everything.  I was convinced  people were thinking badly of me: my co-workers, my husband’s colleagues, the man who fixed my bike.  I resolved to conform.  I bought wool skirts and pale cardigans, and a pair of fat green Wellies – gumboots — in which I clomped around like a pygmy farmer.  All of this only made things worse; I was trying too hard, and the Brits hate that.  So exhausting, they say, with a horrible little laugh.

So I gave up.

I reverted to my New York self.  I wore my sunglasses and my leather jacket and stopped trying to control my American accent.  I pushed ahead in lines, and refused to call them queues.  If I didn’t want to do something I said no, instead of that long drawn out we-ell the English use to show their scorn and distaste.

To my surprise, the more I snubbed the British way of life, the more my acceptability quotient seemed to rise.

People started hanging around my desk at work.  The grande dame who lived down the street, the one who terrified all the kids in the neighborhood, chatted me up in the supermarket.  I acquired women friends — English women who had previously frozen me out with their thin smiles and clipped syllables.

It took a bit of time, but I finally worked out what had changed, what was different in the way people saw me.  It was simple: I had become a licensed eccentric.

It’s still a shame culture here in Britain.  People embarrass easily, and they’re scared of it.  Even the most drunken lout is squeamish about speaking up, doing anything that might call attention to him.  That’s probably why he drinks so much; he needs to be legless in order to feel free to talk above a mumble, barrel through a crowd and complain about lousy service in a shop.  When he’s completely loose, he throws punches that don’t connect.  But an eccentric, like an idiot savant, is free to do all that, in fact, is licensed to do just about anything  — without judgement or a hangover.  And the Brits like that; begrudging about so much else, they secretly admire anyone who doesn’t seem to give a toss.

I don’t jog seriously; it’s a start-and-stop business with a certain amount of hand flapping: girly running.  The pug is better at it but after 20 yards she starts to retch and pant like a drunken asthmatic.  It requires effort to run through muddy grass, I’m either slipping or losing a shoe in the muck.  After one length of the field – it’s a short field — I decided to go home; any more was trying too hard.

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4 Responses to “when I went running in a Cambridge mud field”

  1. Rupert Says:

    I went for this. I’ve spent my adult life in the
    USA and I’m still annoyed by how unrestrained people are. Not greatly, but every once in while,
    I find myself marveling at what somebody said
    to me. My unspoken reply usually being:go screw.
    The mysterious thing about Brits is that half the
    time the politeness factor forbids saying anything
    that would hurt your feelings, but the other half
    results in blunt criticism that would devastate
    the American desire to be nice. There are two
    differing codes operating here. One has to do
    with British manners(which it is left up to foreigners to find out)and the American way which
    consists in telling you exactly what I feel, no
    holds barred. But at the same time, don’t take offence, because this is the way we operate.
    When I return to Britain, rusty, untuned antennae have to quickly revivify in order to take in the
    unspoken conversation which can be as important
    as anything actually said to you. Subtlety and
    irony are not prized virtues in American conver-
    sation, but you know where you stand. British
    conversation is much more like a fencing match,
    now direct, now an oblique feint. Silence is
    meant to convey a point, whereas in America people
    merely think you’ve lost it.

  2. Joshua Says:

    In defence of being English, most of us are bemused by irony, raised eyebrows, and silent pauses, thus we retreat into hobbies [train-spotting, gardening], where we feel safe. Exceptions include the blunt Yorkshireman, [who stands his ground and is thoroughly respected for his no nonsense attitude], the self confidant Aussie, and the educated American, who often knows his English literature, history, et al, far more than rest of us [not something that we English usually admit].

  3. Yasmina Keynes Says:

    Why does the pug get all the best clothes?


  4. As the personalized action exploration practitioner develops in her use of the several techniques (discovery, measurable action, and reflection) there will come a time to go back and revisit knowledge that possibly will have been overlooked or missing. So it was for me in the drop of 2010 when I set off for the Collaborative Action Researching Network (CARN) convention in Cambridge. In addition to a great conference with new concepts, a great many of which I will write about in other sites, I identified Cambridge, in the United Kingdom as a pretty area to visit in the drop. This piece bargains with just one woman’s options about wherever to go, what to see and do in Cambridge. These will be drafted less than the context of the AR a few ways, so discussing what I identified, the steps I took, their relative success, and my reflection on the good quality of the town by itself.

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