While the kids were getting their hair cut recently, the grandpa of another little boy there heard my accent and starting chatting. He’d taken a trip to England and wanted to tell me all about it. Or at least he wanted to play a kind of geography-themed Twenty Questions with me.
Clue 1: the main place they’d visited was a little south of London. Here he looked expectant while drawing a vague air circle which I took to include anywhere from maybe Dover to Salisbury. I hazarded a guess at Stonehenge as a common vacation destination, but got a blank look.
Clue 2: it was a pretty place beginning with the letter C. Croydon and Crawley sprang to mind, but neither could be described as pretty, even by a misty-eyed American tourist. I shrugged apologetically.
Clue 3: there was a church there. His ancestor had been a preacher in that same church a long time ago, and the church was still there! So, a picturesque place with an old church, in the south of England. Not narrowing it down much, especially when you’re as geographically challenged as me. Was it a large place or small, I asked, thinking perhaps he’d been to some hamlet unheard of except in a ten mile radius.
Clue 4: it was a what-do-you-call-it? Not a town. A village? No. A county? Yes! A township. He’d obviously misheard me. At his hopeful look, all I could do was shake my head and apologize again.
A sideline of conversation had meanwhile revealed that during this vacation they had also travelled through the Cotswolds, Normandy and Ireland. And that our roads over there are real narrow. Privately, I wondered whether this mythical location was even in England.
The grandson was being dusted off and unsheeted from his haircut. Grandpa was still snapping his fingers in frustration and I was feeling as dumb and pathetic and culpable as only a Brit can in this kind of situation, when he had an epiphany.
“Canterbury!” he said. “That’s it. Canterbury.” Upon which, smiling broadly, he thanked me for the conversation, and left.
And now I’m wondering, were this family really descendants of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Could you describe the head of the Church of England as “a preacher”? And Canterbury Cathedral, “a church”? At times this common language of ours raises more questions than it answers.