I knew I was in England when I saw a swan gliding along a stream. And gladioli growing up against a whitewashed cottage wall. And when I saw the Hampton Waterworks, built in 1852, I thought, You don’t see architecture like that in Texas.
From my sister’s hilltop house in Lewes I saw the familiar swell of the Downs, and below me the church steeple and the higgledy-piggledy rooftops. We walked the dogs on hills full of wild thyme, and blackberries waiting to be picked.
Pots of old English roses sat on the lawn before my mother’s cosy flat in Worthing. The plane tree in the centre of it was quite glorious though my mother insisted it needed pruning. “Its bark looks like army camouflage,” I commented. She looked up out of the window and chuckled, “So it does,” then asked if I’d like another cup of tea.
Seagulls flew over the bowls club during the local championships. My mother, no longer able to play, sat contentedly on a bench, commenting on each player’s move. “They’ll have to be careful of the wind,” she said, pointing to a fluttering Union Jack.
Crabapples lay on the pavement of the avenue that led down to the beach. The trees lining both sides were already turning orange and brown.
“I don’t know what sort of colour to call it,” Mum said, as we looked out at the sea. “It’s a sort of pearly green,” I suggested, and recalled a similar conversation with my late father a couple of years earlier; after some thought, he decided on greenish-grey.
Later that week, the sky, which had been a constant blue, was to turn violet following a rainfall. Climbing up to the site of an iron age hill fort, I saw a field full of what looked like yellow sneezeweed that grew in Texas. On top of the mound a dozen wild horses grazed.
Into my shopping basket in Marks & Spencer went bakewell tarts, pikelets, egg custards, smoked mackerel, watercress and a bunch of blue and mauve stocks – all things you don’t see in San Antonio. Nor the lamb roast served at the Rose & Crown Pub on Sunday, or fish and chips from the local chippie, curries like those served in the local Indian, an English breakfast cooked by Mum.
At Midhurst we saw Tudor ruins and a restored walled garden with an orchard of different varieties of cooking apple trees. “That’s something you can’t get in Texas,” I said to Mum: “Cooking apples.”
At Horsham a row of houses dated back to 1616 – just three years, I mused, before the first slaves came to America. In the ancient church built in 1247, I lit a candle for Dad.
The next day, a red fox appeared in my mother’s garden. “I’ve only seen a grey one in our garden in Texas,” I said.