Has it Really Been Ten Years?

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Tomorrow at 11:00 the movers arrive, and the final steps toward my departure from Dagenham, Essex, are taken. It’s only now, after spending a few hours earlier tonight with the people from the St. Francis Hospice charity shop where I’ve worked for the last 2 1/2 years, that I’ve realized the scope of the nearly 10 years I spent in this town.

In April 2003, I was working at the late, lamented Jongleurs in Bow, East London, when I met wife #3 and a whole new group of people that were unknowingly going to have a major effect on my existence. The marriage thing was the easy part at the time, as I was looking for the missing piece of the puzzle that was going to solidify my reasons for leaving my homeland and bringing my entire life to the country that I’d been curious about since 1964. In that ensuing decade, I’ve been married, divorced, and widowed, and now I’m moving to where I originally intended to be when, some 13 years ago, I innocently sought some kind of respite from the doldrums of the Hollywood scene I’d spent over 20 years trying to figure out.

What I say goodbye to is pretty all-encompassing, a decade only interrupted by an 11-month stay in the Walthamstow section of London. I believed at that time (early 2009) that I’d seen the last of Dagenham, and even refused to shop at any ASDA supermarket, because that was where I shopped when I was married, and I wanted to liberate myself from any reminders. In addition, ASDA is owned by Walmart, so for that alone, they are part of the Axis of Evil, to use a Dubya term.

Ah, but in 2010, guess what? My solidarity was interrupted by an eviction, and the only place available to relocate was in, maybe unsurprisingly, Dagenham!  So there I was, someone who had lived in cities from 1971 to 2003, now being drawn back to this suburban town where consonants go to die. I knew all the Essex Girl jokes, so it was easy enough to take the Jewish-American Princess jokes and cut and paste. Thankfully, my ensuing relationships would be with native Londoners, who spoke some form of English that I could interpret. And yes, I resumed shopping at the local ASDA.


Thanks to Eileen, I got to know some wonderful people in the Crouch Hill section of North London, and I’ve recently been accepted into a shared living situation that, while it recalls memories of the many room-mate follies that we all dealt with unless we married right out of high school, I have no reason to think those petty differences are ever going to manifest themselves here. They have accepted me into their co-op, and I’ve discovered that in the two and a half years I’ve been involved with these people, I know and relate to more of them in this tiny one-block area than I’ve gotten to know in 10 years in Dagenham, population 100,000 or so.

Which is not to disparage Dagenham, The Little Suburb That Could, if only a lot of things were different. My time with the St. Francis Hospice was great, in the sense that I had almost a cultural advantage. When I’d be talking to customers at the shop, there would be the inevitable question: “You’re not from here, are you?” Or maybe it would be “Are you Canadian?” And a few times it was “Are you Irish?”  Once it was established that, yes, I’m not only American, but Californian, the next question was often, “So what the fuck are you doing HERE?” So even the locals don’t think that highly of their stomping grounds!

The whole era ends when the van shows up tomorrow, but I don’t leave here with any disdain or bitterness. It’s not where I should have been, maybe, but I don’t regret the time I spent here. I didn’t give myself any air of superiority, though I’d find myself listening to people talk here, and gloating over the notion that I happened to have read a book or two.

This is probably the first of several reflections on my time here. I always found it interesting that Eileen was a native Londoner, yet before she met me, had never been to Dagenham, or any place even remotely close. In her mind, there was no reason to venture this way. Though it’s officially designated as “London Borough of Barking & Dagenham,” the town relates to London as Millbrae or Burlingame might relate to San Francisco, or El Monte to Los Angeles. I think that’s all you need to know.


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