The funeral took place on a Saturday, a beautiful, mild April day and afterwards a group of friends and associates returned to the family home to eat and continue to extend consolations. For Julia Tyler this was all, in a way, and in a way she felt conflicted about obviously, Manna from heaven. All these ancient Communists shuffling around, with their grim, craggy faces, hairy ears and impenetrable northern accents. Despite her years of studying and listening there was still something in a seventy seven years old ex-miners voice at full tilt that she found hard to process.
She feels bad about being so pleased to be there, especially given the tragic circumstances, but in a way she couldn't have hoped for more from her first week in Britain. Out of respect for the family they are staying at a hotel in the centre of Birmingham near the famous Bullring and she has already taken about three hundred photos of it from every angle on her phone. She’d send them to her mom except that she can't get access to US infospace at the moment or at least hasn't found a provider that will allow her to send information between the two, well she almost said worlds to herself, perhaps sphere would be be a better word, countries perhaps, to speak in the old way.
The older men are drinking and one she half recognizes from books on the period of the British Autarchy from 77 to 82, but exceptionally wizened now, is asking her a series of polite questions about America and her interest in Britain and the Post-Capitalist world, how had the arrangements to visit gone? Smoothly he hoped. She had explained, suspecting that he was having as much trouble understanding her as she was him that it had been reasonably easy, she was a phd student in European History and it was accepted that as such she would visit the area, perhaps spend many years here, though yes of course that meant a lifetime of surveillance both overt and covert, carried with it a degree of danger, that one would always be viewed as a potential subversive, a possible domestic extremist. And why Britain and not Russia? he asked. Russia’s the place you want to be. Marvelous what they've achieved.
I have kind of a romantic interest in Britain she explained with a laugh and gestured across to David, who nodded back at them both.
The old man chuckled. How was she dealing with the locals, could she understand them?
Two countries divided by a common language? she asked.
He smiled. The divisions are bit more than those of a common language these days lass, he said.
Oh yes of course, she said, oh my god, of course. She actually blushed slightly and wondered whether she might not have a shot of the vodka that was going around. She was in danger of embarrassing herself, ridiculously, getting all fangirly over some British Communist pensioners. Calm down Julia. Keep it cool. Don’t be the hysterical American.
Can I get you a drink? she asked the gentleman. Aye he said, I will have another. She pressed through the group around the table and got the vodka, poured herself a large one. It was tough, Britain generally being so dry and the horrible warm beers. All of Europe really, even Russia they said had strict controls on the alcohol supply and now one of the highest levels of longevity in the world, up there with Japan and achieved partly through studying the Japanese diet and collaborating with nutrition specialists at the University of Tokyo. Meanwhile back home they were in the throes of an obesity and meth epidemic.
Though actually they had the Japanese to thank for the meth too. Andrew caught her at the table. How’s it going he asked quietly, his hand touching her lightly on the elbow. Well I worry I am making a fool of myself, she said.
Don’t worry, we all worry about that. Remember me in San Francisco. It was a shock.
Oh my god! Suddenly she realised who she had been talking to. Is that Charlesworth? she asked, her voice down low. David glanced over and nodded. The first head of the Republican Workers’ Committee of 79.
She took a sip of the vodka. Really? Charlesworth? I asked him what he did and he said he was an ex-miner,old trade unionist and supporter of the workers’ cause.
David leant in, adopted an exaggerated Yorkshire accent .He’s no airs n graces that un.
Yes, there was no denying that America had come as a shock to him, as an exchange student he was granted every courtesy of course and was the object of much discreet and some less than discrete even openly hostile questioning as a representative of the British state. At one point Amy took him out on a drive past the Windsor family’s massive estate in California, He had seen photographs of course. the attempt to recreate features of the ancestral piles and palaces that had been raised to the ground, to remodel the vast estates that had been reclaimed and returned to the commons. Private property. He was astounded and offended by the grotesque, wasteful excessive luxury of some homes and the squalor and dilapidation of others, by the obvious colour and ethnicity bar, by the levels of obesity and drug addiction, by the scale and frenzy of the consumption and he immediately pined for the starkness and simplicity, the radical equality and the sobriety of the North and Scotland, of his old university town Aberdeen. He felt that he had stepped back into the past, he had read about in numerous histories of the States, back to the gilded age, as though America, instead of progressing, instead of pushing forward on some of its gains after the second world war had collapsed back in on itself, imploded, a wormhole sucking in technology and resources out of the future, the endless phones, computer tablets, 3D vast TVs, the desperate dependence on oil, the dirty technology the tar-sands and natural gas, the nuclear power stations, the monumentalism of the buildings, the craziness of the cultures’ nihilism, its glorying in destruction and ruin, in death. All the feverish nightmare forms of Capitalist left not just to run its course but elevated to a religion.
Strangest of all of course was the appearance of money and the whole bizarre, barbarous ritual of standing in a line and handing over pieces of paper in exchange for goods, pieces of paper one received from an employer in return for “selling” ones labour time. extraordinary to think that such a system still existed in the twenty first century and in one of the most powerful nations on earth, and he supposed that Anne of course was experiencing equal difficulty with the European system in which there was neither compulsory work nor money, nor private property. Picking her up from Birmingham international, the austerity and functionalism that to him seemed beautiful would strike her as severe, cold, too visually plain, the peoples’ dress and manner, sober, yet for him there was a glamour here far beyond the childlike obsession with shiny things and outsized, cartoonish commodities.
They were from such different cultures, had taken as peoples, as nations such different paths and yet, here they were, in love.