The International Writers Magazine: What happens when you leave
Hill on British parents
British parents with a disposal problem on the scale of nuclear
waste. Its as though we are born with an expiry date printed
on our arses:
"Warning: child valid for 18 years only."
It begs the question, why did you give birth to me? So you can spend
the rest of our lives acting as if I am blocking your view of the
Allow me to explain.
I called home yesterday from Spain, where I live, enthusiastic about
a recent accomplishment.
Those prissy UK ring tones waft the aroma of tea and muffins down
the line. Garden parties. Apologetic insularity. Driving on the
left. The insane worship of cats.
Someone answers. I identify myself.
"Airw, hellairw! I thought about you the other day."
Words like liquid nitrogen. Suddenly I remember whom I am talking
"Warning: child valid for 18 years only."
should have been here the other day when..." or "We missed
you so much...". No upbraiding for not having called for weeks.
I was thought of. Once. In passing. As you might remember someone you
once sold a car to. If she does think about me more often, shes
damned if shes going to let on. After all, she wouldnt want
to spoil me. Oh no. You see, I have a classic British mother.
Wow, you thought of me? Really? Well thats the most extraordinary
coincidence, because Im your son, you rose-pruning bag of frozen
Its not that Im a brat, you must understand. Rather, I have
lived away from British strangeness for long enough to see why Brits
are considered cold. For people from most countries, their parents are
the undisputed rocks of their lives, and children the apple of their
parents eye. But my mother has always handled me wearing the emotional
equivalent of safety goggles and rubber gloves. When I once, unwisely,
expressed mild misgivings about my mother to a Spaniard, he was horrified.
What I had said was much worse than blasphemy or even vegetarianism.
He stared at me open-mouthed and told me not to talk about my mother
like that. He seemed ready to turn me in to the police. It wasnt
his mother I was criticising, you understand, but my own. To the Spanish,
all mothers are sacred.
I was visiting Tonys house in Norwich for the first time a few
months ago and we were in his garden putting up a fence (British hospitality:
come and help me with my domestic chores. If youre lucky, I may
throw a cookie in your general direction). As we wrestled with the fence,
an uncertain-looking white-haired lady came into the garden and said
something, to which Tony grunted with his back turned. She projected
the vague curiosity of someone browsing a market stall. After satisfying
herself on some minor issue or it may have ben a major issue,
how can you tell? she left like a ghost.
"Nosy neighbour?" I assume out loud.
"Mother." Says Tony.
I was aghast. I had failed to guess that this woman was his mother because
there were no signals to that effect. Nothing. No mother-son chemistry,
so instantly recognisable in most countries of the world.
Offspring in the UK are treated as mere acquaintances. Sons and daughters
leave home as soon as they can, and if they return home for a while
they are routinely charged rent. Compare this with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean,
or North American families, where parents are genuinely delighted to
have their kids home for a while, send them air tickets or train fares
so they can come, and when they are away send them a care package every
week filled with goodies. It doesnt hurt.
I think UK really stands for UnKind.
When you have lived among Middle Eastern and Spanish people, who will
literally give you the last bit of food in their cupboard, no matter
how poor they are, the selfishness of Brits is all the more obvious.
My fiancée was born and raised to age 16 in Iran. She feeds me
all day long, often cramming food into my face before I have had a chance
to swallow what came before. At dinner, most of the food on her plate
ends up on mine, despite my protests that I am absolutely stuffed. I
have even tried covertly returning as much as I can, but she doesnt
miss a trick. If I look away for a second, I turn back to find my plate
piled high again. And this is not just horseplay. Every day is the same.
She simply has no selfishness. Now I have learned something of the art
of giving, I always give her the best-looking strawberry and take a
mouldy one for myself. She replies by giving me the last of the good
wine. But here is the important bit: neither of us is expecting anything
in return. And food is just one example. Its delightful, it goes
on for ever, makes every aspect of life together fluffy and bouncy,
and Brits really should try it some time. The instinct to give and give
and never stop giving is highly noticeable when I am outside the UK.
That does not cast a favourable light on us.
Brits give a tiny bit and consider their work done. The occasional card
or a small gift here and there, then they are off the hook for a while.
It just doesnt come from the right place.
My mother spends more time, and certainly more money, on her three cats
than on her son. She sends me photographs of them in various poses.
She adds anthropomorphic captions to the pictures. Of course; cats are
dumb so its easy to put cute words in their mouths and treat them
as pretend people.
Our family album contains three pictures of me: one when I was brand
new, another when I won an archery championship at 15, and another on
my graduation day. Of the cats there are endless albums. The house is
full of cat paraphernalia. Their litter tray has pride of place in the
kitchen. The stink doesnt bother my parents. Love is blind, after
Next time I go there Ill try crapping on the kitchen floor and
check the reaction.
Cats dont answer back and have few needs. Ideal replacements for
children. Maybe if children were soft and furry and never spoke it would
be easier for British parents to love them.
Brit readers may have no idea what Im talking about, because they
have never experienced the warmth and boundless love of good, giving
parents. I have, by proxy, through my travels, and it makes me laugh
and cry at the same time to think of the sad excuse for parenting that
is part of, and which perpetuates, the British character.
in displaced David's hammock!
© David Hill Feb 2004
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