Wedding Cake and Role Reversal

Wedding Cake and Role Reversal

Cake IMG_20180519_122901Today I watch the royal wedding with billions of others around the world. The joyous scenes of castles and bunting and English flowers and beautiful veils and adorable bridesmaids never gets old for me. But I can usually watch these occasions with a sense of separation; that this vision of life is not part of my world. Today is different.

Today I watch the lovely Meghan become an expat and I understand the consequences of that decision. For all she gains, she will have time over the years to reflect on the joys and anguishes of exchanging a birthplace for a different culture.

Meghan and I reverse roles. I ‒ a Brit through and through, never dreaming I would ever give up my life in England ‒ married an American. The 1989 ceremony was held in an ancient church on Exmoor. English tradition and bridesmaids in Wedgwood blue dresses all spoke to me of my homeland. The heavy wedding fruitcake, standard fare in the UK, was a novel experience for my husband. He tapped his slice of cake on the side of his plate to see if he could chip the china with the icing. He assumed there’d be something vanilla sponge-like under a thick layer of buttercream, apparently. (He should have married Meghan. She’s having that kind of cake.) Turned out our cake was only the first of many surprises as my husband learned about British culture through my eyes ‒ and stomach. It’s been a fascinating journey for us both and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. That said, it’s not always easy to live as an expat and days like today are the hardest.

I enjoy every moment of the wedding and marvel at the sunshine and the glory of Windsor Castle. I hold my homesickness at bay. Until the bells.

It’s the church bells that break the teary flood gates. That quintessential English peal of wedding bells from an ancient tower moves me like nothing else. I can’t pretend I listen to them from inside a church very often, but they stir memories of Sunday evenings, birdsong, cobbled lanes, hedgerow flowers, teaspoons tapping gently on china tea cups, cottages and … home.

I wish Harry and Meghan all the best. I hope they find home together, wherever that is. I hope they discover the best in every culture, as I’ve tried to do. But those church bells – they call me back to England. It’s time. Luckily my husband understands and is ready for our own role reversal. We’ll make the journey together, as he becomes the expat.

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Traveling and Settling

If you’ve been with me long, you know I love to travel ‒ to places both familiar and new. But you’ll also know I struggle to settle anywhere. Wherever I am, I’m planning to be somewhere else. This causes some friction in the Gemmell household. My nomadic tendencies appear to be both my joy and my sorrow.

To alleviate this friction, I decided to focus all my attention this year on my creative writing home, rather than my physical space. No sooner had I made this decision, travel opportunities arose en masse. So many, in fact, that 2017 turned out to be the greatest travel year of my life! Funny how that happens; you finally decide to dictate to Life and Life just laughs at you and says ‘Look, lady, this is what’s actually going to happen here …’

Anyway, I found myself in Hawaii, England (twice), France, the South Pacific Islands and the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Fabulous trips, all. But in amongst the luggage, airports, hotel rooms, and about a billion digital photos (no selfies ‒ there will never be selfies), I found myself deep inside that creative writing space I can truly call home. That home just happens to involve multiple locations.

I don’t think I could ever write about places I haven’t been as I need to feel a setting in my heart before I can see it on a page. So, I end the year with three photos from my creative world, all places that have grabbed my heart with their beauty, but more importantly, their welcoming vibe. Maybe that’s why they keep spilling out across the page, dictating my writing, just as Life dictates to me.

 ex-porlock-bay National Parks UK

‘Dunster’s Calling’, my first novel, is based on Exmoor in England. This tiny corner of the world is still the brightest flame to my moth. Glorious scenery, steeped in history, and of course, enhanced by the exquisite Exmoor pony. There is nowhere like Exmoor.

 Arenal Volcano Flickr wallygrom

My second novel, ‘More or Less Annie’, complete and working its way through the publishing channels, is set in stunning Costa Rica. Beautiful beaches and volcanic topography are only a part of the magic. The eco-friendliness is just as big an attraction.

 Valensole Provence Flickr Matheus Swanson

My novel-in-progress features the splendorous lavender fields of Provence, France. I find myself almost trance-like in this part of the world, drinking in its Roman legacy and its Medieval chateaux; not to mention spending more than a little time in its vineyards and lavender fields. This may have to be a looooong novel. Leaving will be hard.

I may still be predominantly a traveller more than a settler, but my creative endeavours have seen me delightfully ensconced in a sense of home. My friction leads to fiction. Gratitude doesn’t even begin to express my feelings for being able to do what I do. And I’m enormously grateful to you, too, for taking this journey with me. Let’s see where we end up next year, shall we?

 Image credits:

Porlock Bay, Exmoor: National Parks, UK

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica: wallygrom

Valensole, Provence: Matheus Swanson

 

 

Changed, But the Same

sunset-landscape-1031769_960_720Pixabay

Old friends are like favourite books. You can read them over and over again and never get bored with the plot or the characters. When you move around a lot, as I do, those friends take on even deeper meaning. They’re not only entertainment during the good times and a shoulder during the bad, they ground you somehow in a way your unfamiliar location can’t. They remain a constant in your ever-changing time-space continuum.

I just got back from a nostalgic trip to England with two friends I first met in 1978, while training with horses on Exmoor. We’ve remained firm friends, though live thousands of miles apart. They are both from the United States and one hasn’t been back to England in thirty-nine years. We visited our old haunts, reacquainted ourselves with the local cuisine—that would be cream teas—and brushed off the cobwebs of vague memories. Was that hill so steep back then? Oh, what was her name? Are you sure this was the place? Remember when …?

We attempted to relive our glory days on horses. We used to be able to ride fancy dressage moves and fly over fences. Let’s just say those days are gone. Despite the aching muscles and weary bones, it was still great fun. On our last day in England, we met up with another student from the old days; one who’d gone on to great success in the equestrian field. We were jealous as we wondered around his beautiful stables and stroked the noses of majestic horses.

What if? What if the three of us had stayed with horses? What if we’d stayed in England and stayed young and stayed …? Just stayed. Doesn’t matter. We didn’t, and we all gained new lives and interests and homes and families and friends. It all turned out as it should. But, boy, do we miss the old us at times.

Our worlds collided on Exmoor, then we splintered off into space. We got one delightful chance to reconnect almost forty years later in a place that will remain in our souls for life.

Exmoor and us. Changed, but the same.

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Apostrophobia and Expat Fears

apostrophobia Haroldsplanet.com

Perfection. It doesn’t exist. You know that, right? Not in a single geographical location. Not in writing. There’ll always be a compromise, an error, room for improvement.

Much of my week has been spent pondering an apostrophe. You see, it’s in the wrong place. On the first page of my book, ‘Dunster’s Calling’. How many times have I read that line and not seen the error? How many other people have seen it? How many have since told me not to worry, as they didn’t notice it either? Are they just being kind? Should I recall every book? Refund every purchase? Are the goods so damaged as to negate the entire purpose of the book?

Just stop it, Tracey! It’s an apostrophe, for crying out loud! Look at what’s going on in the world. Should I really be spending another single minute worrying about an apostrophe?

Yes, actually. Because that’s what I do. I write, and there are rules for writing. And I know the rules for apostrophe usage. An errant apostrophe means I have no street cred. I failed.

Now I’m questioning everything. Confidence has fragile wings. If I can’t get the small stuff right, can I be trusted with the big stuff, like where I live? Am I not really suffering from hireth? Is Exmoor not really the perfect fit for me? Have I missed a thousand geographical apostrophes that, if I’d noticed them, would have directed me to consider moving somewhere other than Exmoor? Should I just maintain my expat status here in the US?

flickr jk rowling

J.K. Rowling saves me. She tells me I can fail and still be okay. I can move back to England and if it’s a mistake, I can go somewhere else. I can miss typos—okay, not too many—and still be a writer. I can try again, fail better, live as an expat, or not, in the liberating knowledge that a perfect decision doesn’t exist.

But imperfection still stings. After all, it’s my name on the cover of the book, or on the relocation decision. The Buck Stop’s Here.

Damn it! I hate apostrophes.

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Hireth-Tinted Glasses

Rose tinted glasses Derek Gavey

I’ve just returned from a visit to England. I wore different glasses on this trip. Not rose-tinted—or is that hireth-tinted?—glasses, but realistic, magnifying, research glasses. I was on a mission to find answers to some important questions: Is Exmoor really the place my husband and I can live? Permanently? With purpose? In harmony with both the natives and each other? All very different questions to the ones I’ve asked over the last few decades: Can we have a great time on holiday? Can the children ride a pony? What time does the tea shop open? Tee shirts or raincoats for the hike?

I began this visit by looking at the area through the lens of a Californian. My husband’s birthplace offers the Pacific Ocean and endless sunshine. Exmoor offers the Severn Estuary and no one’s idea of a perfect climate. I worry he’ll notice. But he’ll also notice the sparkly clear skies and the scent of heather that leave his smoggy air and car fumy smells in the dust.

Big issue: he doesn’t like clotted cream. How could I have missed such a basic character flaw? But will that flaw grow into a major fault line when he lands in this creamy mecca? Will it turn into nights on the couch? Marriage counselling? And is there even a marriage counsellor in Porlock? The organist at our Porlock wedding years ago was the local milkman. Is the counsellor the post lady? I think I need to do more research …

But enough about husbands. What about me?

All I used to need from Exmoor was a horse—make that multiple horses—a place to dance and the occasional train ride to London for more exciting options in entertainment and shopping. Look at me now: a former horse-riding expat, who’s grown used to robust water pressure in showers and twenty-four-hour pharmacies and grocery stores. Dancing? Unless it starts at four in the afternoon, the volume is turned way down low and there’s a selection of fruit teas at the bar, you’re not going to find me in any nightclub. Is Mr. B’s nightclub even still open in Minehead? If I asked a local youngster, he’d probably look at me like I was a visiting professor of prehistoric history. Hey, kiddo, I used to get up at five in the morning, show horses all day, then dance until two the following morning, often repeating the process that same weekend. Oh, and I danced at Studio 54 in New York, by the way. What? No, I don’t need help crossing the road. Clear off! Cheeky blighter.

But seriously, before packing the shipping container with all our worldly goods, we must look long and hard through multiple lenses at our lives. What do my husband and I need to feel settled now? Does Exmoor check new boxes that weren’t even the tiniest consideration decades ago? Like a small community that knows us: check. Opportunities to volunteer, with both local and national endeavours close to our hearts: check. (The National Trust and endangered Exmoor ponies are top of a very long list.)

Montacute Gardens Geograph

We need a place the children will want to visit: check. They’ll be back often—maybe too often. (We stupidly offered to pay airfares.) A place to write: heck yes on that one. And stately homes and beautiful gardens and stone walls and bluebells and cottages and teapots and no one thinking I have an accent and … and … a connection to my heritage. Check, check, and check again.

Oh, and one more thing: peace. We can find that on Exmoor in spades.

My research from this trip tells me Exmoor will work. Unless my husband’s clotted cream issues interfere. I need to go and talk to the post lady. Wish me luck.  

If you want to help the endangered Exmoor pony, visit  http://www.exmoorponycentre.org.uk/. Tell them Dunster sent you.

IMG_8164

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Images: Rose-tinted glasses by Derek Gavey, Montacute Gardens by Geograph, Exmoor pony by author

Coddiwomple, Meet Hireth

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I haven’t been this moved by a newly-discovered word in … well, forever.

When “coddiwomple” first came across my Facebook feed, I burst out laughing. How could I not? How could anyone not? Just say the word several times. Experiment with accents, like Downton Abbey posh, Scottish Highlander, Texan, Australian. See? You have to laugh.

I’ve taken to wondering around the house saying “coddiwomple” with a Yorkshire accent. Yorkshire is the birthplace of my father. The word becomes a grand substitute for “nonsense”: “Coddiwomple! I don’t believe a word ya saying.” Or maybe it’s a Yorkshire delicacy. I can hear my Great Uncle Dennis now: “Would ya like coddiwomple wi’ that, chuck?”

Why, yes. Yes, I would. (I grew up in Hertfordshire so can’t produce “chuck” with any kind of authenticity. Out of respect for my ancestors, I won’t even try.)

I now find myself using “coddiwomple” multiple times a day. When you work from home, the dogs are the only ones listening, so it doesn’t matter. They understand. But the inevitable happens: I accidentally say “coddiwomple” to the FedEx delivery driver.

“No, no.” I assure him. “It’s not rude. It just means …”

And that’s when the laughing stops. For me, anyway.

Coddiwomple: “To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague, or as-yet-unknown, destination.” It’s now a serious word, a word to contemplate, a trigger for soul-searching. My eyes look to the horizon.

Is that what I’m doing? Am I traveling in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination? Is this another hireth moment?

I am a coddiwompler. I am coddiwompling. Because hireth says I must coddiwomple. I’m striding purposefully towards my vague destination.

Latitude N 51° 12′ 32″ Longitude W 03° 35′ 37″. Porlock. Somerset. United Kingdom.

That’s a bit specific for a vague or unknown destination, surely? True. But not true.

When I really think about it, my destination is unknown, or at best, vague. Do the latitude and longitude for Porlock match the Porlock in my head? The Porlock from thirty years ago? How old will I be when I get back there to live? Will I regret the move? Will friends and family regret my move? Will I fit in?

So many unknowns. So much vagueness. Like taking a familiar path into thick fog.

But, you know what? One serious word is enough. If I want to get all homesicky, I’ll stick with hireth. I’ll save coddiwomple for good laughs. Maybe I’ll start a coddiwompling club. We’ll coddiwomple free, like the Wombles of Wimbledon Common.

“Underground, over ground, coddiwompling free

The Coddiwomples of Withypool Common are we …”

For non-Brits, or those under a certain age, The Wombles was a children’s TV show about a band of furry characters who cleaned up the rubbish on Wimbledon Common. Great theme song! https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=wombles+theme+song&view=detail&mid=F63DC279D804930E3591F63DC279D804930E3591&FORM=VIRE

Pathway into fog image used with permission: Stuart Warstat. For more stunning images of Exmoor, visit http://www.stuartwarstatphotography.co.uk/