May 23, 2004

Welcome To Surrey, Just Keep Your Dog At Home

[ROSIE PHOTO TO BE ADDED]

I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the difference between living in Cornwall (which is 4 1/2 hours south-west of London) and living in Surrey (which is just 30 minutes south of London), and I’ve been having the darndest time. The differences are in fact quite dramatic, but reeling off a long laundry list of differences really wouldn’t do it justice. I needed an example. Just the right example. And today I got it.

“I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t let your dog run down the street again” I heard a very clipped and ice-cold voice saying behind me. I turned around to find a highly-coiffed and well-dressed older woman in her mid to late 60’s standing in our driveway. “Excuse me?” I said. “That’s right, your dog was just in my garden and I don’t like dogs, and I want you to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

We’d just gotten home from all day away, and the garage door was open as I moved a futon into the au pair’s bedroom (yes, an au pair, yippee says Rachel!), and I was having a hard time imagining that in the less than 2 minutes I was upstairs Rosie had run all the way down the street, and this lady had walked all the way up the street to complain. I was about to call her a liar, but thought better of it, and said “O-K” slowly and deliberately. As I looked at her she continued in that very clipped upper-class voice (you Brits know what I mean, and you Yanks may have heard it on programs like “Upstairs, Downstairs", or in the movie “Remains of the Day” or “A Passage To India", that Upstairs, Etonian, nasal, look down one’s nose at you, talk to the servants kind of voice) “This is the second time she has come into my yard, and the last time there were small children there, and I didn’t like it one bit.”

Now Rosie is a very friendly dog, which is code for “a bit licky at times", and I could well imagine that she had gotten right into the little people’s faces and stuck her tongue out to see what they tasted like, and that this had frightened both the children and the old lady. And in normal circumstances I would have been happy to apologize…but I just couldn’t get the words out of my throat, not in the middle of the dressing down I was getting.

“Just see that it doesn’t happen again.” “O-K” I said a second time. “Welcome to Surrey,” I thought, “now keep your damned dog at home.”

In Cornwall I don’t think that scenario would have happened, not with the Cornish anyway. We would have first talked about the weather. Then I would have been asked where I was from. Then the subject of the dog would have come up. And both parties would have been apologetic. And both parties would have gone home feeling better.

And that my gentle readers is the difference between Cornwall and Surrey(*).

As I was writing this piece I started to wonder why. Why is this? What causes these differences? And why are they so pronounced?

I went back to the States a couple of weeks ago to do some consulting, and I found the differences between Cornwall and the States quite stark, and similar but even more pronounced than the differences between Cornwall and Surrey. My sense of being in the States was one of rush rush rush, hurry hurry hurry. I would drive in the slow lane at 55 to 60mph, one of the slowest cars on the road, and watch the fast lanes fill up with bigger and bigger SUVs traveling bumper to bumper while my lane would be mostly empty (and sometimes moving faster than the “fast” lanes).

And many of the same things are true here in Surrey. Too many people. Too many cars. Too many choices. Too much to buy. Everyone breathing the same air. Everyone trying to maintain what little they’ve got.

And as I write these words a part of me longs to be back in Cornwall where on a Saturday night I can take my violin to the Trewarmett Inn and play along quietly trying to learn some good Irish and Cornish fiddle tunes. Ahh, the simpler life. Has it been hijacked temporarily or permanently? Stay tuned as we try to figure it all out.


(*)To be fair, Rachel just reminded me of two things: First, on Saturday two very nice families around the corner here in Surrey found Rosie and took care of her for three hours after we’d left the door wide open in our rush to get to Nathaniel’s school open house on time – which means that all of Surrey isn’t mean and nasty. Second, Rachel was yelled at on the beach in Cornwall by someone who didn’t like Rosie licking her kids. “Yes” I said. “but wasn’t it half-term, and didn’t we say at the time that she was probably from Surrey?” “You may have a point” laughed Rachel.

Posted by: Frank @ 8:13 pm — Filed under:

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