May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


Editor’s Pick
JUNE 3, 2010 7:49AM

This Doesn't Happen in England

Rate: 32 Flag

12 people were shot dead in England yesterday by a taxi driver, who drove from town to town in the [county] of Cumbria, picking off those he saw as they went about their day-to-day lives.

In their white starched dresses
In their pitiful white dresses
On their foreheads and breasts the little round holes where death came in as thunder while they were playing their important summer games

(Norman Rosten, "Guernica")

This is not the England of my childhood. 

This is not the England of gun laws, a Parliament, that, after the mass killing of kindergartners in Dunblane swore never again. 

Dunblane is branded on my memory. My own child was four, a pre-schooler, and for weeks afterward, the idea that some man could walk into her class and randomly fire at them, picking those small bodies off, one by one, tortured me. 

This is the England of my childhood:


 I was nine when we moved back to England. Our last American home had been Indianapolis, where my only friend had been a boy, Jim, who wore heavy-framed dark glasses and had sandy brown hair and a slight build. Each day after school, Jim and I would go over to his house and hang out in his basement. We were intrigued by things beyond our ken, but we were in fourth grade, in Indianapolis, and had to use our imaginations to fill in a whole lot of missing information.

Though just eight, and going on nine, I was in fourth grade because I had skipped a grade—second. When people asked me why I had been moved up a grade, I never told them it was because I was smart. That was always their assumption. "Wow. You must be really smart to have skipped." No, I would say. It was because we moved so much, and the school districts were so different.

We had moved from an excellent school district in Michigan to a not-so-good one in Illinois, and, after two weeks in second grade, I was complaining to my parents that I was bored and "already knew all this stuff." A meeting with the principal established that I should be in third grade, and there I went. And so I was always a grade ahead.

            I was small for my age: my mother is not quite five feet tall, and my dad is only a touch taller, so as a nine-year old fourth grader, all of my classmates towered over me. One of my report cards from that time reads: "While Lorraine is small, she frequently makes up for her stature by asserting herself with her classmates." Makes me think I must have acted like a banty rooster—puffed beyond my size--all the time.

            Truth was, I was scared. I had a horrible fear of being beaten up. Each time I switched schools, the first day of sitting in a classroom where no one knew me was enough to make me feel as if I was about to throw up. I'd wait in silence, hoping the teacher would enter the room soon, and that I'd sit unnoticed in the meantime.

Once a teacher introduced me as the "new girl," things would be easier, because other girls would introduce themselves to me. If I was really lucky, someone would instantly declare us friends, and invite me into her circle of girls. Other times, I felt like a mushroom growing in a forest of tall trees: alone, in the dark, and hoping no one would step on me.

            But in fourth grade, Jim and I found common ground. We were both interested in science and reading. We would disappear into his basement and, with his microscope and lab set, conduct our own science experiments. Or we would play ping pong.

Sometimes, we told each other stories. Jim claimed to have seen the forbidden A Clockwork Orange, which, in his own fantastic version, included Joe Namath and a naked Raquel Welch. Years later, having finally had Malcolm MacDowell actually scare the bejesus out of me, I realized that Jim had never seen the movie. He had, instead, been spinning a web of schoolboy bravado.

            I knew, more than once in that basement, that I wanted to kiss Jim. I'm not sure we ever did. (I would remember if we'd kissed, right? ) But I do recall when my parents decided in the middle of the school year that they were sick of America and were going home… And that for weeks afterward I wrote in my schoolgirl diary how much I loved Jim, and how much I missed him. Turns out, I never lived inside of 500 miles of him again.

            My dad did not immediately come with us to England. Rather, he had to stay and finish his Indianapolis assignment, and then join us in June. My mother wrangled me, my five-year old brother Steve, and Tony, who was a toddler, through three different airplane changes: O'Hare, Toronto, and Heathrow, before we got to Manchester, where her mother and step-father lived. These were still days when one wore one's best clothes when flying: really, it was like appearing at a fine restaurant. Women wore heels and dresses; men, suits and ties; and me—well--I was in some sort of skirt and knee sock combination (I never wore pants). So far as I knew, girls didn't wear pants if they were dressing up.

            My grandparents, Hilda and Arthur, were living in a mobile home in Haslingden, a tiny dot on the map just north of Bury, where I was born, and not too far from Blackburn, made famous by the Beatles: "Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. And though the holes were rather small. They had to count them all. Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall."

            Once again, I was starting a new school, this time, mid-year. Though school was a ways from my grandparents' home, I loved those walks to and from classes. Farmers' stone fences and walls traced across the countryside, marking that quilted patchwork English hillsides are famous for. I'd been told the walls were built by the Romans, who, to tame the heathens, constructed roads and aqueducts and, most famously of all, Hadrian's Wall.

These farmers' fences were patterned in alternating horizontal and vertical stones. Each wall's top comprised a series of flat stones separated, at intervals, by similarly cut stones set vertically.  Walking the tops of these walls, I needed to carefully negotiate each vertical stone, then slap my foot securely on the next flat stone.

I could walk the entire route to and from school this way, playing the wall, filling my journey with all sorts of imagined adventures. My view from the top of the wall was glorious: dark green patches of moorland interspersed with heaths. At certain points, the drop-off on one side was steep and sharp; any slip would injure me, and--in all that time walking--I never encountered another soul. It was as if I had the English countryside to myself. From my wall, it was not hard to see myself as Jane Eyre, or Bess, the Innkeeper's daughter from Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman."

Best of all were the days I thought that, if I kept my head down, I would bump into a person traveling my wall in the opposite direction. That person was usually one of the Queen's younger sons—Andrew or Edward—and I would carry on clever conversations as the two of us continued on to school. He would be so enamored of my American accent that he would invite me to the castle for tea, and I would be taken into his royal conclave.

(from my memoir in progress)


These are the details I think of when I think of the England of my childhood: the patchwork countryside, those walls, the walk to schoool, Jammie Dodgers, tea, Flakes. 

Nowhere in those memories are there guns. (Except for the bogey men of the IRA, a situation I was too young to understand)

I think of English schoolchildren today. Perhaps our children have become inured to this sort of thing. After all, we have mass shootings several times a year. 

But this doesn't happen in England. 

And now it has. 




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It was such a horrific story yesterday, Lorraine, incomprehensible. It doesn't fit with the England of my experience, either, and I've never lived there as you have.

Peripherally, I'm fascinated by your story of multiple moves, particularly multiple school moves, again so foreign from my own experience since I never moved once during those formative years. It's fascinating how it shapes us, and I can imagine how frustrating it was for you to be jostled around, place to place, grade to grade.

I enjoyed this very much.
It seems to be going around. In China the murderers don't even have guns but make do with meat cleavers. Your memoir, of which I've only seen snippets, is fantastic. If not the best writing you have ever done it's at least my favorite.

May all spammers be drowned in their own fundament!
Horrible tragedy! Beautiful rememberance of your childhood!
Gods. I will never understand this sort of "human"... behavior. Hard to believe he is made up of the same stuff you are, huh?

Loved the"Clockwork Orange" bit...that was my favorite film (until I saw "Brazil") ....for a long time....Joe and Raquel huh?...that's sort of touchingly hilarious.

I have wicked fantasies regarding what I would do if I were in charge of everything....I best not share them here...this
So very sad. But at least this is still a statistical rarity and a shock in England. Here, all too common, as are the guns.
Yes, what happened there is unimaginable. However, I'm guilty of all that disappearing from my mind as I read the lovely piece of your memoir. Just beautiful, Lorraine. Beautiful sentiment, beautiful writing.
An unbelievable tragedy--for the people and for Britain!
It's a bizarre story, as more details emerge.
I,too, grew up in two countries - Scotland and the US, and I'm always shocked when gun violence occurs "over there". I was reading about this last night on the internet, and things got venomous. I always felt safer in England and Scotland - something perhaps in my mind knowing that most people weren't armed?
Beautiful memoir - and something I share with you - memories of a peaceful place to be a child.
(Prince Andrew was MINE!)
Yesterday you said you couldn't find your words, that they were hiding in a Void. And I read and teared up because I have some idea how important it is to you that you write, communicate through words, that your thoughts are like gold dust in a cold and fast-moving stream--coveted but sometimes hard to find.

Today you write this--and again I cry, though not for the same reasons. That last post was painful to read because your own pain came through and stained my screen--and this one because of the horror of the news item juxtaposed with your dear memories of a place and a time that are gone, never to be experienced again.

I seem to be more shocked by this shooting in England than I am when it happens down the street from me. Probably because, as others have pointed out, we in the U.S. live with personal violence every day--and we understand that England isn't infected with the same virus--usually. But it makes my heart hurt for all who were personally touched by this senseless act. The fact that the shooter killed himself so there can't be a person to blame and prosecute makes it even worse, I think.

But I do love the texture of your memories of living there, Lorraine. I hope we see more of this memoir. It must have been incredibly difficult to move so often, to always be the "new girl" and not have long-term friendships like most kids do (or think we/they do), but when you write about it, it makes me know that it's "do-able" and people who do it right grow into amazing adults with insights far more profound than those of us more stationary kids will ever have. Thank you. Rated. D

P.S. (for your eyes only) Is the above the correct spelling of "stationary?" Or is it "stationery?" I ALWAYS get those 2 confused..........
Thank you, Lorraine. Reading your lovely memories of a far away and long ago England passes a soothing hand over the upheaved heart against the dreadful news. Where is our world heading to? ~R
At work, I stream a radio station out of Britain, and heard the news through that . . . damn. I hate to hear of such things happening anywhere, but I can see where it's a serious "disturbance of the force" when it happens somewhere familiar.
I want to say, to the shithead spambot, that I find it entirely disrespectful that you would place your asinine advertising on blog posts dealing with the human tragedy of mass murder.
Kindly go fuck yourself.
my niece lives outside Londonand they are shocked; in fact, it's hard to imagine how very shocked the national conscience is over this incident. As Seer noted, the British are relatively calm in the face of terrorism but random violence with guns is shocking. Whereas here in the wild west called the United States, gun violence is a fact of life; terrorism, not so much (yet).

How beautiful are your memories. R
To all of you who have commented.
I spent time growing up in the north of England, in the English countryside, which, as Padraig points out, is bucolic, not violent. Imagining a taxi driver with a gun driving through there would be like one driving through the Finger Lakes or Red Rocks, places where people go to find solace. The Lake District is such a place.

But again, I'm left wondering why we continue to cling to the madness that guns should be available to anyone who wants one. Other than hunting (with the proper equipment), what purpose does a handgun serve other than to kill another human being? And why do we cling so tenaciously to the idea that taking away our guns is the equivalent of taking away our freedom?

These, by the way, are rhetorical questions. I've heard the counter-arguments so many times I can recite them in my sleep. I am unmoved by them. Please don't come onto this thread and try to convince me that owning a handgun is a good thing. Today, I can give you twelve tragic reasons why it's not a good thing to own a handgun.
It shouldn't happen anywhere. It just shouldn't happen. When I first heard the news, I seemed to catch it in snatches. I must have been roaming in and out of rooms. Then I heard Cumbria and that made me stop to listen. I have such memories of peace and beauty when I think of Cumbria.

Was it last year when Andy Murray was doing so well that I saw a special feature about him? Until that moment I had had no idea that he was from Dunblane and had been a student in the school when that madman decided to blow so many lives apart. That story made Murray's brashness and need to be known as a Scot so clear to me. How do we find ways to protect our vulnerability especially when innocence is taken so early... regardless of the way in which it is taken.

So many pieces today take me on different paths to a similar place.
Love and peace: why so difficult to achieve in ways that would bring us all security and acceptance?

Thought of you a few weeks ago when a storm caused our flight to go north and for the first time I could see the Finger Lakes. Breathtaking. Glad to hear your voice and love this bit of your memoir.
While I've spent time in England and will again fairly soon, I think I often lived there in my mind as a child, especially when we were poor and lived in the craziness of Jim Crow era D.C., where I had to be reassured frequently the things I saw out our front window were not things that happened to good boys like me. Then we moved to a place where I was able to live in that dream, and your words, excerpted here, strike a chord from deep within me, the Holy Ground of safe childhood and the blooming sense of wonder. You evoke powerfully Thomas Traherne's "Centuries" and an England he knew first as idyllic too: "...young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die...The city seemed to stand in Eden."

Then something happened. Something always happens, only not in England, not the England of your youth nor my imaginings nor Traherne's 17th century recollections. But it does. And they are born, those magnificent beings, and they bleed and they die.

But not there, not then. That, like Traherne's "immortal wheat" cannot be taken away by a madman or a poisoned milieu. It is this backward glance which must support our hopes and dreams of a pastoral future, for our children, maybe even for ourselves.

You have set down a standard by which we may dream a better world, and you have done it in a way which transports the reader, takes him back to forgotten dreams -- and maybe even a forgotten kiss.

You have extracted gold from dross. Thank you.
I had no idea, as I simply forgot to watch the news yesterday. A horrible thing.

And yet, like 1 Mom says, as I read your story I became aware only of your words. You've taken me to a place I would dearly go to and yet cannot, at the moment. When you decide to publish this, please let us know. I'd love to read this book.
Horrible story, and yes, it was strange to think of it happening in England, a country I loved for a long time before I finally got to travel it, and even more so after I did. I loved reading your remembrance of living there -- would enjoy reading more.

I have particularly fond memories of the Cumbria/Lakes region, which I stayed in during late fall when all the tourists (local and non) were gone, things were closing up and the heather had changed color. I had memorable rambles in fields such as you describe, where my only company were cows or sheep.
"I want to say, to the shithead spambot, that I find it entirely disrespectful that you would place your asinine advertising on blog posts dealing with the human tragedy of mass murder.
Kindly go fuck yourself."

You keep asserting yourself, hon!
A beautiful memoir. I sure wish England was like it was in your memories. What a horrd tragedy.
Horrible and completely strange...and horrible that I realize how completely UNstrange it is in America.

(In both this apartment and my last, people have been shot dead within a block of where I live...and I live in nice neighborhoods. I've been held up with a gun before. Most people I know here have. I've heard gunshots at night. I've found spent bullet casings just laying in the street. I've grown to where I'm pleasantly surprised if no one's murdered in my city in any given day and absolutely shocked if we make it a week without anyone being shot down.)
I got lost in your words for a few moments, Lorraine, only to come back to the horrific tragedy again at the end. To transport us up and away is nothing short of magic. Your writing really is magic..._r
such a rich patchwork of memories, solidly bound to the walls of the countryside of England. I hope you are able to tread lightly in both of your worlds, which have until now, seemed worlds apart. As a sign of the times, I agree to the Nth with Hatchetface who says it so well ...,"May all spammers be drowned in their own fundament!" I'm heartened by the rapid response on the 4 hr feed issue - the next matter to be tackled is the stunning tolerance displayed by prior editorial staff for this shitting in our faces. It's a small thing in light of the holes in the breasts of children, I know. Bless the families, and all of us who carry on in the face of violence that is so debauched, and so devastating that we can't really take it in.
I like how the fears you have an as adult are the fears I take on as I watch the child that was you walk through this memory you paint of her. How terrible to imagine a gun man picking her off that wall as she walked, dreaming. Hand guns make me sick to my stomach.
A terrible thing. The America of my youth no longer exists either--the one safe for children to trick-or-treat or bike alone to school.
I love your Writing. I am both engaged and horrified by the material.

I want the world to be different. I want the most disturbing thing for children to be fantastic stories about Joe and Raquel. Jane smithie recently wrote about her son's reaction to being told yes, there really are massacres at schools. We have to re-do this world. Perhaps un-do some things.

Brady Bill is a good start.
It's strange to weigh a past of first kisses against this kind of senseless violence. rated.
What is this world coming to? Lovely memories despite the sadness you discussed at the beginning. R
I need to start writing again (it's been an odd month) because this is not the Britain I am used to. Argh.