(On a plane from Boston to San Francisco) I spent every childhood summer in England–in a different home almost each year–and have returned there repeatedly in adulthood. Whenever a long time passes without a visit, I feel subtle nostalgia growing. Here’s the kind of thing I miss:
A summer morning, cool enough to require a sweater and jacket outside. The sky has been light since 4 am. The bathroom window is almost always a frosted pane of glass on a hinge, set in a thick stone wall. There’s no screen, because there are hardly any mosquitoes. Open the hinge and damp air flows in, carrying strong smells of pollen, rich soil, and new growth–even in the heart of London, although there you can detect engine exhaust as well.
The hot and cold water flow from separate taps, the hot coming directly from a gas heater overhead. It steams in the sink. There’s never a shower, just an elaborate coil of metal pipes that hangs on the side of the tub along with a steel basket for the soap. Because of the high voltage, the electrical outlets are big plastic boxes with on/off switches. Layers of paint cover old wallpaper; wires are tacked to the baseboards. Cleansers give the room an ineffably British smell.
The staircase is long and narrow. Bacon is thick and intensely salty. Tea is strong. The insides of the mugs are tea-stained. The grass is luxuriously thick and green. Cumin wafts from restaurant doors, and the glittering cement pavements are sticky from last night’s spilled beer. An unmarked white delivery van rushes past, pinning you against a bowed stucco wall. Tattered music billboards, surveillance cameras, Oxfam and Barclay’s Bank on the High Street, black fences topped with spears, zebra crossings, beds of lavender and rosemary bushes.