One of the reasons I was keen to visit Gill in England was to meet her close friends — the eclectic mix of people that I both love and hate. I love them for providing Gill with a family away from home; I hate them because I know how close she has become to them and thus has ties in that land far away– ties that might make it difficult for her to return to us. But she is, for the moment (until Brexit screws things up with immigration), happy in the UK and I am relieved and grateful to these friends for looking out for Gill when her family of origin can’t.
It was a bit like meeting your future in-laws for the first time. You’re nervous that they won’t like you– as much as you want them to. Will you seem too eager, too loud, too needy, not as wonderful as your build-up has been? And I’m sure Gill’s stories of me included the fact that I am an unabashed bird freak, threatened to kidnap a penguin when in Australia, have hysterical laughter as my default’ setting, have strong opinions that I do not hesitate to voice, am outgoing and love meeting people.
But these meetings with Gill’s new ‘family’ were fun, everyone had wild stories to share, and, knowing everything goes better with alcohol, we kept the drinks flowing! Gill had told me so many stories about her friends that I felt I knew them even before we set eyes on each other. I guess the nervous-making part was that I knew that Gill had regaled them with tales about ME, her Weird Mom and sometime partner in crime. I could only hope that she didn’t tell them some of the more unsavory stories– such as the embarrassing bird-smuggling incident in the 70s, my early foray into journalism in Berkeley when I was stalked by a Satanic leader, my volunteer efforts in fundraising for my Alma Mater (wherein I became the talk of the campus for my silly props, costumes,and exposes of student pranks), and my eagerness to dress up in a flamingo costume (with Gill and her siblings) for ‘talent’ night at our local pool party. All the stuff of legends but perhaps embarrassing for someone presenting herself as a mature, sensible mother. Okay, I admit that was never going to be me!
I obviously couldn’t disappoint for the first meeting–a pub lunch in London — so I donned a blue shirt with pink birds all over it… a favorite of Mrs. Beeton’s (my pink parakeet). Even though I automatically assumed that one should dress up a bit when in this world-renowned city, Gill assured me it has become, over the past decades, very casual. No, if I’m being honest, she practically refused to be seen with me if I wore anything flappy, fussy, or blinged up. And under no circumstances was I to wear shoes with heels. So my concession to her was to wear the same jeans I had just crossed the Atlantic in, Puma runners (casual yet they still matched my bird shirt), and the by now notorious fuchsia raincoat –in case it rained, got cool or I got lost and she needed to find me! Trust me, the color works as well as any beacon…
The Artist, his partner the Psychotherapist/foodie blogger, and Madame P the screenwriter were our table mates at the lunch. As soon as we greeted them, I remembered how ‘uncouth’ and lowbrow I had felt on my first trip to England decades ago. This time I was prepared to give everyone a big hug, North American style…only to be greeted with a kiss on each cheek. Oops! I had forgotten that was the appropriate European style of greeting. Years ago, my embarrassment had come from my constant use of the word ‘yeah’ instead of the proper English ‘yes’. Although I was highly educated, I felt slovenly in my speech patterns. But I managed to receive graciously (I think) the kisses whilst (I hope discreetly)tucking away my arms that were flailing about looking for a body to hug.
Next up, back in Bristol, was an evening with Gill’s friend Tate Lady. We met at a nice wine bar/restaurant that just happened to have an extensive wine list and, wait for it, gin list! I had no idea there were so many different kinds of gin. I know of four — beginning with backyard hootch and working up to Beefeater. But no, this list had at least a dozen — with each name followed by a description of said gin. “Fruity and crisp, a hint of lemon zest, with an aftertaste of vanilla.” It reminded me of those snooty descriptions some posh restaurants give for wine: “Vibrant, full-bodied flavor with a whiff of oak from the left side of the vineyard on the sunny side of the second hill from the right.” We were confused as to which one we should try, so the manager was summoned. He was a lovely, friendly young man who came to the table, sat down to join our ‘Girls’ Night Out’ and proceeded to tell us everything we ever wanted to know about each variety. I opted for one that combined gin, saki and orange blossom.
I couldn’t restrain myself. I had to ask, fearful of making an embarrassing misstep that might insult Queen and country:”Uh, I hate to appear gauche, but is it acceptable to mix this lovely gin with something as lowly as, uh, tonic?”
I was cringing as I said it, but he said, “No, of course not. You could have it neat but it is perfectly acceptable to mix it with tonic…and a slice or orange.” (Well, ‘neat’ was never going to happen — the only time I drank genever straight was in Belgium years ago and I swear it almost blinded me for life.)
The stories got better and the laughs more boisterous the closer we got to the bottom of our glasses. And then, because we could and we were not driving (just trying to wobble home on the uneven cobblestone streets with shaky legs), we sampled some wine.
The evening spent with Italian Lady at an Italian restaurant was everything I had hoped it would be. Wonderful food, conversation and laughing as if we had been BFFs for years and then, the final icing on the top of the cake, a serious discussion on Hormone Therapy. Gill had warned me in advance that this might come up and that Italian Lady wanted to ‘pick my brain’ on the subject since I am a real advocate of HRT.
By the end of the evening, I had unloaded everything I knew on the subject. And Gill? Oh, she was cowering, covering her face with one hand, while guzzling her drink with the other, trying to ignore a conversation she neither condoned nor wanted any part of. Well, after all, isn’t that what mothers are for? To embarrass their children? Mission accomplished.