Sweet, sweet Oliver played by Mark Lester with such deep vulnerability at 8-yrs old. That sweet, sweet face, the teeny little nose, the brown eyes, and of course that pre-pubescent and lilting girly voice.
“Where is love?” you wondered so sadly while being held captive by the horrible Mr. Bumble? It was right here in America, Long Island to be exact, embodied by, well, me. If I couldn’t be there to comfort you, I’m glad that the very buxom Nancy was there to hug you to her very impressive and heaving breasts, and to keep you away from that scary pedophile yet somewhat well- meaning Fagin, not to mention that horrible brute Bill Sikes.
Sweet, dear Mark Lester who ended up sleeping with my best friend many years later and more recently claimed to be the father of Michael Jackson’s daughter, you’ve become quite a trainwreck.
How can a person NOT fall in love with England after seeing and hearing the milkmaids of London in “Oliver” singing while twirling around a mews, and butchers who dance with their slaughtered animals? Did all English people, both posh and working class take part in grandiose dance numbers on their way to work where everyone sang in perfect harmony? If so, and I had no reason to believe otherwise, my life suddenly sucked in comparison.
Many years later I kind of fell in love with Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder in “Brideshead Revisited,” who had such a DESPARATE crush on Sebastian. I am so sorry you had to live a life of closeted compromise. You deserved so much more. But really, when you think about it, why would you fall in love with a man who carried a teddy bear?
As my great luck would have it, I soon had endless opportunities to meet REAL English people, like 3-dimensional English people who didn’t randomly break into song (much to my disappointment). At summer camp there was a program that “imported” them as counselors who generally were either ignored by the kids or mistreated by senior staff. For me, however, this was my chance to attract my fantasy man, someone who would adore me and take me to their country estate (more likely their sheep farm by the looks of them, except for one with the very fancy name of Alistair Perkins who I used to watch longingly as he sat under a tree writing in his journal.) It was an Englishman from Derby who was the first man to write a poem for me. He even had a pet name for me—“fruitbat—“ also, according to Wikipedia, known as “Megabats” because they are “larger than other bats and have a great sense of smell.” He never kissed me despite luring me to a spot on the last night of camp with tears in his eyes. Must have been my “unusually large wingspan.”
My second job out of college I worked for an Oxford-based publishing company with an American office in Cambridge, MA. This was an anglophile’s pot at the end of the rainbow. On the days when the editors would come over from Oxford and stay for a week or so, or when I got to attend a conference in some random city in the U.S. with one of them I felt privileged. Yes, they were just people with FANTASTIC accents and funny names like “Pippa,” but they were smart and funny in a way that most Americans didn’t seem to be. It was a treat for them too, most of them in their mid-20s at the time, coming to the U.S. on the company’s dime having me help to get them acclimated to the nuances of New England, American t.v., and helping them to get over their incredulousness of why people would eat something like maple syrup first thing in the morning (I now counter that question with “Why would ANYONE, at ANY time of the day, spread yeast extract on toast?” If you ever want me to leave a room, just chase me with a spoonful of marmite.)
Eventually, it was my turn to go on my maiden voyage to the U.K., to visit the Oxford offices for a week. I think the expectation was that we would actually WORK while we were there, but I don’t remember one second of actual work. I remember visiting with people in their offices and their homes, obsessively shopping for bath and body products at Boots, and bringing home muesli from Neal’s Yard Whole Food.
Back in the States I was introduced by some English friends who were postgrads at Harvard to a friend of theirs who was visiting from England. He was brilliant and funny and I felt that he was very charmed by me. When he left we wrote weekly letters to each other, and I would wait, breathlessly for the mail on Tuesday which is the day of the week most of his letters seemed to arrive. I read every single word deliberately, spending endless amounts of time to see if he was interested in me in the way I was in him. Really, to this day, I have no idea if he was. (In the end I actually quit a contract job and lived in my friends’ empty Oxford house for three weeks to assess the situation in person. I ended up getting stuck in the Tube on the way to see him, waited for hours for him to kiss me, and when he didn’t, I made my way to Marble Arch at sunrise and fell into a sobbing heap on a bench.)
I have extraordinarily BRILLIANT friends in Oxford, economists, neurologists, concert pianists and editors at prestigious publishing houses. Sometimes I look back on my time there and wonder if I was sort of the American court jester, the one who brought some rough-edged wackiness into their artsy and magnificent homes. I want my own conservatory with plants and a long wooden table to eat my breakfast and read the papers and to host lovely and lively dinner parties. I want whimsical artwork and the perfect blue paint color in the “Blue Bathroom.” I want to like French press coffee. I want a reason to use the electric kettle I bought the weekend I got back from my last trip across the Pond, even though I only drink tea about 4 times a year.
As an homage to my authentic love for the United Kingdom, I have a Union Jack tattooed on my right shoulder blade. It was, at the time, the only tattoo that I would consider (what I didn’t consider was how red and blue clash with a lot of clothes.) I have since been swept away by a gorgeous Puerto Rican man who knows that I dream of a Bloomsbury-type thatched cottage and am ready to somehow make the owners of a SPECTACULAR Tudor-style home in my middle-class town “go missing.” He’s been sucked in by “Downton Abbey” in all its glory and lets me ramble on about twisting cobblestone streets and follies. I really can’t wait for the chance to take him over there to meet my friends and have them give him the kind of driving tours they gave me. I want him to experience a proper quiz night in an actual pub. I want him to see slaughtered chickens hanging in windows that are right next to stalls full of stunning flowers.