The other day, my friend Carl called Joe and me, and we made plans to see each other. We’re all vaccinated now, and it’s been a very long time. Besides, Carl was very excited to share with us the little hobby he picked up while isolating over the past year.
Carl is now a beekeeper.
Early in the pandemic, wild bees had established a hive under Carl’s shed. He called some professionals and watched, from inside his house, the removal of the hive and the queen — all of which was transferred to an available hive at the pro’s location.
Carl was fascinated and literally became as busy as a bee. He researched, read books, asked questions, and ordered supplies. He now has two hives in his backyard and spent his COVID year sitting near the hives and watching the bees — oblivious of him — do their bee things.
For Carl, it was meditative — and I completely understand. In slow motion, it’s a bit like a sloppy dance, but every bee knows the work that has to be done. Still, I couldn’t help consider the question: What did I do during my year off?
Many people, just like Carl, pursued new hobbies or learned new skills, from painting to learning another language to perfecting the art of sourdough.
What, though, did I do? I collected cuttings from my plants and harvested seeds and made do with whatever I was able to grow on my own. I made a lot of lists of what I wanted to do once I was vaccinated and felt comfortable enough to visit nurseries. I also did a lot of weeding and reading, and I recently had a record number of Atala butterflies, a Florida native, emerge — but that last one really had more to do with the butterflies than with me.
Was there something new I could bring to the table, something I could share with friends when we all got together? When I think about it, I can honestly say that I watched a lot of television during COVID — and that’s when it hit me.
Over the past year, I became British.
The transformation began early on with “Escape to the Country,” a British show that’s a lot like HGTV’s “House Hunters” — only better. The premise has urban Londoners looking for a more peaceful, greener life in rural England. They’re given two houses to explore and a mystery house (usually my favorite), and in-between the buyers and hosts take some educational, local flavor excursions. Unlike the American show, there’s no guarantee the buyers will make a decision at the end of the hour. In fact, they very often walk away from all three houses — but despite the disappointment, everyone remains civil and well-mannered.
It’s those last two items that have really struck a chord with me. If you’ve watched the news over the last few years, it’s been a stressful, rude, tense, far-from-civil time in the States. In my opinion, COVID succeeded in shining a bright spotlight on the worst of America — from low wages to healthcare to divisiveness.
When I found a station that aired four consecutive episodes of “Escape to the Country,” Monday thru Friday, I was overjoyed. The show, along with Jules, Alistair, Jonnie, Nicki, and others (yes, I’m on a first name basis with them), provided an escape from my country. It got to the point where I could identify each host just by hearing his or her voice — and I would quiz Joe to do the same. He improved as the year went on.
We even found ourselves learning new words. A home that’s “homely,” for example, is a good thing in England — not so much in the US. Similarly, a British yard — even one devoid of flowers and landscaping — is a garden, but in America, a garden is in a yard, while a yard without a garden is simply a yard.
Joe and I also wondered if we could live in the English countryside — and would we want a barn conversion or an edge of village location? Personally, I don’t think I would want too much land, but I would like a manageable garden and to be in walking distance to village amenities and the pub. I would also need a “snug.” I’m not exactly sure what that is — I think it’s essentially an American den, but snug sounds so much cozier, like a room built for reading whilst (see how I dropped that Britishism in there?) wrapped in a warm blanket. I think every house should have a snug.
Although I was in steaming hot Florida, for the hours I watched television, I was in seasonably cool England. I wanted Doc Martin as my GP. I wanted to be friends with Nessa on “Gavin & Stacey” and to say things like “crackin’” and “what’s occurrin’?” I wanted to live in England in another time thanks to “All Creatures Great & Small.” I wanted to have a conversation with the two lead actors on “Ballykissangel” (technically, I know this took place in Ireland) and beg them — spoiler alert — not to leave the show. I still haven’t recovered from that shock.
Not even crime shows, like “Broadchurch” and “Endeavour,” could dissuade my wanting to uproot and transplant myself in England. I’ll take my chances with a serial killer, thank you very much, as long as I can have bluebells. I must have bluebells — and a snug, of course.
Speaking of bluebells, I haven’t forgotten that this is a gardening blog and I must give a special acknowledgement to Monty Don, aka My Favorite Gardener. One of the books I read last year (I found a used copy on Amazon) was The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption. Co-written with his wife, Sarah Don, the book looks back at their pre-gardening life, a successful jewelry design business, his mental health issues and financial difficulties, and their escape to the country. The book is named for one of their garden rooms — a collection of jewel-toned flowers, a nod to their earlier life. The book inspired me to fill my own garden with jewel tones, some of which I’ve used to illustrate this post.
Because I’m obsessed with all things Monty, it’s really no surprise that he’s responsible for completing my British transformation. While bingeing my way through more than 20 seasons of “Gardener’s World,” I said to Joe, who was in the kitchen, “Look. Monty is moving his banana trees into his garden.”
Only, it came out as “ba-nah-na.” As soon as my voice left my mouth, I knew Joe was going to hear my very British pronunciation. Could I be a victim of my very own Peppa Pig effect, the one American parents say happened to their toddlers after watching the animated English children’s show?
“What . . . did you . . . say?” a perplexed Joe asked, looking up from the dinner prep.
“I just said, “Look. Monty is moving his banana (American pronunciation) trees into his garden.” As much as I hoped I had recovered from my foible . . .
“No, you didn’t,” Joe said before I could finish my thought. “You said . . .”
“I know,” I caved in a split second. “I said ‘ba-nah-na,’ okay?”
Joe looked at me, we both laughed, and he said, “You’re watching way too much British TV.”
I’m sure British shows sell a version of England as much as American entertainment sells an image of the USA to the rest of the world. Still, could Joe be correct? Was I watching too much British television — to which I also ask, can one ever really watch too much British television?
I think not. In fact, I think it’s brilliant and so instead I have chosen to: