Charlie Brown Christmas in the UK

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After five months in the UK, my crowning achievement is that I usually know where I am when I wake up. If not, it doesn’t take quite as long to fill in the blanks as it did this fall. My unconscious doesn’t seem to have caught up though, as my new-ish husband doesn’t yet appear in my dreams, nor does England.

Instead, I dream about the school where I used to work, the English/Literary Arts department and shades of my days there. Maybe snippets of those I left behind in Virginia. My decision to leave and to marry C. happened so quickly that once it was decided, there was nothing but a very long list of things to do in only a few short months. Realizing what the bleep had just happened would have to come later.

So, the little home I’d slowly made for myself back in the States is gone, but I do get to see my husband every day. Much less pining and adolescent rushing home for a Skype call. Very simple things like being able to sit next to him while we watch the news, or a visit to the gym together, can be pretty spectacular after subsisting on phone calls for months at a time.

Still, day to day life is a constant challenge. I am forever figuring out train schedules, train stops, and which way to go once I get to my destination. I call C. about five times a week for directions, which I’m sure is precisely the reason he married me. Who doesn’t want to be a live, on-call GPS system? He loves it when I tell him that I’m “near a Vodafone shop, a Boots, and a Café Nero.”

In-between bouts of mad self-promotion in cover letters that I imagine are all going to the Island of Lost Job Applications, I sometimes indulge in a serious helping of self-pity, sitting alone in the house on a dreary day. (And most days are dreary.) This time of year, no one says it better than Charlie Brown: “I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

Oh, Mr. Brown. You’re the Charlie Browniest.

Speaking of Peanuts characters, last year I’d all but insisted that C. watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, as he’d never seen it. I was curious to see his reaction, as well as to The Grinch. Of course, as a fellow curmudgeon, I was hoping that he would be delighted with the Grinch’s meagre little heart enlarging and breaking the frame, and that he’d appreciate the whimsy of the Peanuts dancers.

Two Sizes Too Small.

Peace, love, and happiness.

But when he didn’t react at all (nada!), my own fairly Grinchy heart sank, and I wondered if the non-love of the Peanuts dancers would come between us. In the end it didn’t, but for many Americans, it’s a consistent point of connection. Add a little “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch….” and you can bond with even the most Scroogey American stranger. C. didn’t get Charlie Brown’s introspection, and Lucy’s faux analyst role. What he loved was Sally’s “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” Ah, entitlement. Schulz really manages to cover quite a bit in a 23 minute piece of animation–existential malaise and dread, unrequited love, stages of child development, religion, materialism, psychoanalysis, individual alienation, and peer relations. I’m sure I’m missing something. With such a wide range of issues, why wouldn’t any of them ring true to a Brit? Is it just because we watched the show first as kids? Maybe if I’d only seen it as an adult, I’d be straight-faced too, but I don’t think so.

I love the dry British sense of humor, and also feel like there must be something bright in my local landscape, despite the infinite shades of gray, and rows and rows of terraced houses surrounded by drifting garbage. I just have to keep looking. I also haven’t quite figured out what joy looks like in reserved England. A few weeks ago, while in the city for a visit on my birthday, C. and I happened on some carolers in Trafalgar Square. I was beside myself, as I’d been wanting to hear the Christmas classics–“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Silent Night,” all that, but we kept missing the local services. Some of the singers looked pretty into it, and one even bordered on animation during a few notes, but all in all folks caroled in a very sensible manner. Of course I was waiting for the one unbridled number where everyone went for it, belted it out, gushed, got jiggy, whatever. I guess this sort of sums up my experience of being in England–I always feel like I need to take it down a notch, especially in comparison to the reserved Brits. What would George Costanza or Elaine Benes look like in England? Probably pretty uncomfortable, as they would definitely stand out and I can’t imagine people commiserating with them about anything. Strangely, one of the things I love about C. is that he never complains, but I will never be so stalwart. Having perfected the art of complaining in the last thirty-some years, I do miss a solid complaint session with another skilled devotee of This Horrible/and or Embarrassing Thing That Happened to Me. C. never got Seinfeld at all, so sometimes I catch myself when I start to make a reference to an inspired holiday like Festivus.

In another Peanuts-related episode, while checking out a possible relocation neighborhood last week, I played the snowflake/ice-skating song on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack, hoping to conjure that whole magical wonder thing. Instead of winter la-la land, though, I had to stop and consider the blocky renovated council flats of this not-so-inexpensive commuter spot. A few strands of lights blinked on and off at random intervals in scattered windows, and a few Santa outlines, slapped onto dark brick, cluttered with reindeer and a sleigh, offered a gas station/convenience store sort of cheer. Spotty Happy Holidays lights in muted yellow glowed like ads for cheap beer at a roadside bar. I turned the music off. It didn’t go.

I knew I was spoiled in Richmond (VA), as it’s a gorgeous town with incredible architecture, and one can live a reasonably decent life there on a humble wage. The general consensus about Medway is that it’s pretty bleak, and bleak places tend to look more bleak when lit by a few random strands of lights. C. calls our town the Hell’s Kitchen of the UK, and I think he’s right.

Can Santa fit a new place to live down our chimney? C’mon, Santa. We’ve been extra good this year. Just in case, I’d better get going on some cookies, and make sure to leave out some seriously spiked Nog.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DaDartle
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 15:48:13

    Doesn’t like Charlie Brown?!? Doesn’t like Seinfeld?!?

    He’s suspect!

    btw, I’m an expat too, well, not an expat, I live to your left left across the irish sea and stumbled upon this looking up pics of Shultz’s classic characters


    • taramoyle
      Dec 09, 2011 @ 15:17:21

      Hey Darryl,

      Cool that you stumbled on my blog looking up Peanuts characters. They’re really timeless aren’t they?

      Where are you in Ireland?

      Thanks for reading!


  2. Mary
    Dec 25, 2011 @ 09:56:49

    Hi Tara
    I stumbled on your blog as well looking for Charlie Brown Christmas. What’s up with “international laws” not allowing you to watch it online? That is our ritual – watch CB, Grinch, Rudolph.
    I’m an US expat (Wisconsin) in UK – Buckinghamshire area. Love reading your blog!


    • taramoyle
      Dec 26, 2011 @ 00:21:50

      Hi Mary–Thanks for reading! I know–those have been my rituals for decades too. Play the dance tunes from Charlie Brown to any Yank and we’re instantly happy. 🙂 Re. the international laws–there are a lot of sites that are blocked here, like Saturday Night Live/NBC, hulu, and other network sites. Pandora is blocked too, just when I’d created some amazing stations for myself…grrrr…. Hope you’re enjoying your expat life and Merry Christmas! Tara


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