England Swings!

By Neil Earle

(Ed. – People here in 100 degree Memphis, TN are "ready for September." And that month brings a warm mellow smile to my lips. 50 years ago I remember a stress-filled August with Democrats in disarray in Chicago and Red Army tanks pummelling Czechoslovakia – grim times. But private life can be better. September brings to mind these adventurous years of leaving Newfoundland/Labrador for England in 1968. Taken from my writing class, 2012.)

In the fall of 1968 I fulfilled a two-year ambition by being accepted at a small English college twenty miles north of London to finish off my education. I had already taught school near the NATO airbase at Goose Bay, Labrador, for about 1½ years and was ready to see more of the world. The chance to study just outside "Swinging London" that September was hard to resist.

Since age 12 I had been a fan of the great British statesman Sir Winton Churchill. This was courtesy of an ABC-TV series "The Valiant Years," which covered the eventual victory of the Allies in World War II. Naturally I tended to see England and the British people through heroic eyes – Dunkirk, the Blitz, D-Day, etc. – and my bridled enthusiasm made me the subject of some teasing among the Americans, Australians and Europeans whom I studied alongside in England.

Still, I have never been a fan of being completely "with the times," so my trips to history-anointed landmarks such as Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square, Blenheim Palace – Churchill's birthplace, Shakespeare country and that deep, rich English greenery almost everywhere, this left a lasting impression. Tennyson's poems were in my high school reader and it captured this green world of Englishness: "On either side the river lie/long fields of barely and of rye/And through the field the road runs by/To many-towered Camelot."

Yep. That was England for me. Our college was set in Hertsfordshire in the rolling English countryside which only accentuated that sense of mystical England. At the college music was highly emphasized and I sang in a choral group and teamed up with an Irish banjo player from County Down in Ireland where we blazed a new reputation as the local version of Simon and Garfunkel... with a Celtic twist.

Teeming London had lost most of its swing by 1968. In 1969 we saw an early release of the movie "The Battle of Britain" and I still revel in some of those opening scenes on You Tube. Tom Brokaw covered this slice of history very well on his Olympic report this summer, much to his credit. The tough Brit slogan, "Keep calm and carry on" was resurrected from its 1940s haunts.

In the summer of 1970 our college was invited to participate in a major archaeological project at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The volunteers included some 25 students from a college in East Texas with a lot of American coeds in the entourage. So…when they published the names of who was coming I looked up the girls – as any 23 year old boy would – and thought, "Nope. No, no one there for me."

Was I ever wrong about that! At our first group breakfast/orientation I saw Susan sitting at the same table and – it was infatuation at first sight. Her flowing auburn hair and strong wholesome Scotch-Irish features with those deep brown eyes drew me in completely. I had a physical reaction ("twitterpation" from Bambi) that by age 23 I was wily enough to cover up. Slowly over that summer in Jerusalem we got to know each other better with me the very active ingredient. This was, we say, the most memorable summer of our lives.

Somehow even with a college bill (gasp!) I pursued her across an ocean and half a continent back to Texas where we sealed the deal. We married in July, 1972, and haven't had a cross word to say to each other. (If you believe that last line I have a bridge to sell you ...in London, in Not-So-Swinging England.)