I get asked a lot about my Union Jack tattoo. Mainly, "why?" My answer? "Why not? I just like all things British and Scottish, okay? Geesh. Leave me alone!" But the real answer is bit more complicated. Those stories, those places just always captured my imagination. Growing up in Northern Idaho anyplace outside of my corner of North America was exotic in my book. Or perhaps I should just give the simplest answer, which is, "I blame my parents."
kucinski on flickrMy father was a professor and my parents loved to travel. Thanks to them I've lived in India, Turkey and travelled all over Europe. After all that, my small hometown just seemed, well, small. So why don't I dream of more exotic locales? As much as I enjoyed India at the age of 7, what I remember most besides the people and places are the intense smells and unrelenting heat. I remember arriving in London from India and getting on the night train for Edinburgh. The summer air was crisp and cool and all the signs were in English. I felt like I was home only with way better accents. However, what has always fed my obsession from childhood onward aren't my travel memories but the books, films, TV series and music of the UK.
I must have been 5 or 6 when my mother gave me her copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Little Princess about a rich girl in London turned orphan turned scullery maid turned princess again. I LOVED that book! But as much I loved it, it doesn't hold a candle to Burnett's most famous novel The Secret Garden. That novel about a spoiled orphan girl who finds a home and a bit of earth at her Uncle's Yorkshire manor house is an all time favorite. My mom was very good at Yorkshire accents and imitating the wind as it whistled down the moors, which came in handy when I moved onto reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Since then I have always been a sucker for historical fiction set anywhere near the British Isles and any and all gothic romance. The novels of Jane Austen, Daphne Du Maurier, Victoria Holt, Sharon Kaye Penman, Rosamunde Pilcher, Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer and most recently Kate Morton, have always been particular favorites.
Loch Arkaig on Wikimedia CommonsOn that same first trip to Scotland we went on a loch boat cruise. While I can't remember which loch (there are A LOT of lochs in Scotland!), I do remember that it is when I got my first kiss. He was Scottish and older. 10? 11? His dad was performing in a band during the cruise and he thought I was cute. Even then I fell for the Scottish accent! I'm so predictable. My 12 yr old sister was so scandalized when she found us tucked away on the boat making out. Anyway, this might explain why I love Scotland so much. I also have Scottish ancestry but I like to think it was a kiss(es) the sealed the deal. So whether it's the romanticized version of Scotland from Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Braveheart and Monarch of the Glen or the more grittier version seen in the novels of Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks, the films Trainspotting and Shallow Grave and the Jackson Brodie Case Histories TV series, I'm hooked. (P.S., Ewan McGregor and I are totes soulmates. I just know it!)
Castle Howard on Wikimedia CommonsWhen I was in college I visted Castle Howard in Yorkshire. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. I LOVED the series of Brideshead Revisited and had wanted to visit its famous setting. My friend and I rented bikes and decided to take the shorter, back way. However, it didn't take us to the entrance so instead of biking all the way back round we trespassed on private property and ended up getting our bikes confiscated. To get them back we had to apologize to Lord Howard himself. Yeah, not sure I will ever be welcomed back! Thanks to my parents' love of British TV (according to my Dad, if the actors have accents it's just "better"), I grew up watching Monty Python, Fawlty Towers ("BASIL!"), The Young Ones, Are You Being Served?, Upstairs, Downstairs, Flambards, The Flame Trees of Thika, Love for Lydia, A Town Like Alice, Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie series and many many more. Later I would discover my own shows: Absolutely Fabulous, The Vicar of Dibley, Pride & Prejudice, North & South (probably my all time favorite!), Berkeley Square, Northanger Abbey, Middlemarch, Spaced (pure genius!), Foyles War, Inspector Lewis, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Sherlock Holmes (the Cumberbatch years), Doctor Who, Life On Mars, The Forsyte Saga, Cadfael, Red Riding, State of Play, Skins, Downton Abbey... too long a list really to put here!
I hate to admit as well that when it comes to movies—if it takes place in the UK I've probably seen it. The good, the briliant and the so trashy it's good. I was probably the only teenager in Moscow, Idaho obsessed with the films of Merchant/Ivory: Room with a View, Howards End, Maurice. Then of course I fell in love with all those British romantic comedies starring Hugh Grant: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Englishman Who Went Up Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, About a Boy, Love Actually. I also love the oddly terrifying comedy Withnail & I and the beautifully quiet films of Mike Leigh. One film that had a big impact on my imagination was Antonioni's Blow Up—after seeing it I was obsessed with Swinging Sixties London—the clothes, the music, the politics—you name it. I've seen so many UK films its hard to keep track of them all. Some favorites are Bend it Like Beckham, Pride & Prejudice, King Arthur, Remains of the Day, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hysteria, Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging. One recent British film that holds a special place in my heart is Hot Fuzz a Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright collaboration (see also Shaun of the Dead) that somehow manages to send up American cop films and British cozy mystery series. If any of them read this—I want them to know that I want to have their sure-to-be very funny babies!
When I was six I received the Beatles Yellow Submarine album for Christmas and it was true love! Finally a Beatles album of my very own! I grew up loving the Fab Five, The Rolling Stones, The Who and when I got older my sister introduced me to The Clash and The Sex Pistols. In the '80s I discovered new wave, ska, punk and prog rock: Roxy Music, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Yaz, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, General Public, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cult, Billy Idol, Level 42, Tears for Fears, Wham!, Simple Minds, OMD, The Psycheldelic Furs, Joy Division, The Police, David Bowie, The Smiths, Erasure, XTC, Madness & Modern English (just to name a few)—who can forget "I Melt with You"? Then in 1991 I heard the song "There She Goes" by Britpop group The La's and a musical obsession was born! From that point on I was all about '90s Britpop: The La's, Blur, Oasis, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, The Verve, Cast, James, Radiohead, Stereophonics, London Suede, Supergrass, Sleeper, Elastica, Manic Street Preachers etc... I remember being in a small Seattle club and two feet away from Damon Albarn and Blur who were performing onstage. A definite highlight of my life! But as obsessed as I was with Damon and the Gallagher brothers of Oasis, my all time favorite Britpop band has to be Pulp. I wanted to be their lead singer Jarvis Cocker. He was slick, effortlessly cool and that debut album A Different Class and the song "Common People" always left me singing and dancing. As much as I love Britpop, Brit soul and indie rock I still find love for British boy bands and girl bands: S Club 7, Take That (oh Robbie Williams!), the Spice Girls and of course my current obsession the boy band One Direction— a love which knows no bounds!
And these are just a few of the reasons why I got my Union Jack tattoo. So, umm, yeah, I definitely blame my parents.