Sunday afternoon and Iâ€™m walking in the drizzle along the Exe Estuary. Itâ€™s not raining hard enough to put up the umbrella, just enough to gently bead water on the right side of my glasses from the soft tail wind.
I am supposed to be at home editing stories or photographs, but I need to get out. I need to be out of the house, to be somewhere else for a short time.
My excuse is baseball. The Angeles are playing the Red Sox in the third game of a playoff series. The Angeles won the first two, and could will it all tonight. Adding vague credence to this excuse, is that most of the games are at three in the morning here. While this one is at five in the afternoon.
The reason I am walking into Exmouth is the satellite system in England. It is a monopoly called â€˜Skyâ€™ which is owned by Rupert Murdoch (also of Fox News ownership). Almost all the sports are an extra package added to the basic package, which my parents donâ€™t have. None of the pubs in Lympstone have it either.
I donâ€™t have a problem walking all the way to Exmouth for the game, itâ€™s really just an excuse to get out, I donâ€™t really care who wins, I just like the excitement, the emotion of the playoffs. Itâ€™s just an added bonus that the Angeles are my home team, the one my brother has season tickets to.
Thereâ€™s a pub called â€˜The Dukeâ€™ just steps away from the train station in Exmouth, with large we-have-HD-sports-here signs.
The pub is empty on a Sunday afternoon. It was not the cozy warm classic British pub, but open and spacious, with at least eight flat screen TVâ€™s scattered on the walls and above the bar.
There was a man, who might have been in WWII sitting staring at his pint on the bar, he was missing some teeth and completely ignored me. When he spoke to the bartender, I couldnâ€™t understand what he was saying. The bartender said I could watch the game and poured me a pint. When the time for the game arrived, I asked if he could change the channel of the screen in the corner, but he said that because of the licensing laws from Sky, they could only show one type of sport at a time. They would need two licenses to show two games, and that was expensive, so they didnâ€™t do it.
I questioned him if this was all right, because no one else would want to watch the game, but he said there were no other sports this afternoon so I was fine.
So I sat at the bar.
After an inning or two, a young man came to the bar, and obviously knowing the bartender, asked why we were watching this. The bartender said there was an American who wanted to watch it, and pointed at me.
The young man was instantly smiles and came over to chat.
â€œWhere are you from?â€
â€œI went there once, I stayed in Inglewood.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not a very nice area.â€
â€œYea, I just wanted a place to stay near the airport, didnâ€™t I?â€
He was of average height, and slim, but with an aura of hidden strength. A man who drinks and smokes, but looks like he works outdoor, or with heavy lifting which keeps him in good shape. He stood at the bar, ignoring the empty stools, lightly moving from foot to foot with nervous energy the whole time we talked.
He looked up at the screen with me, â€œThis is one hell of a complicated game, one of these days I have to go and see a match, to try to understand it.â€ So I tried to describe the game to him.
â€œSo how many people come up per inning?â€
â€œWell it depends on how many runs they score.â€
That ensued a five minute convoluted conversation about outs and runs and people left on base.
After he seemed to somewhat understand that, we watched a few moments in silence.
â€œWhy is he just walking down the line?â€
â€œHe was walked.â€
â€œHe doesnâ€™t have to hit it?â€
â€œNot if they throw him four balls.â€
I tried to describe the theory of balls and strikes.
â€œOk, then why wasnâ€™t he out then?â€
â€œBecause there were two strikes and you canâ€™t be out on a foul ball with two strikes.â€
â€œThis game has a lot of rules, doesnâ€™t it?â€
We talked of other things.
My new friend, Daniel, talked about how he loved the Lord of the Rings books, but was disappointed with the movies. â€œThey changed it around,â€ he said, and then he went off describing something to do with how the character Galadriel was different and how it changed the story, I tried to understand, but suddenly realized that he out geeked me on the Lord of the Rings. I hadnâ€™t expected that from a guy sitting in a pub on Sunday afternoon, but who was I to judge, as I was doing the same thing. He discussed how The Lord of the Rings should have been 15 one-hour episodes, and then we discussed the whole final battle in the shire and how it should have been inthe movie.
Then he talked about when he was in the army. He wasnâ€™t in very many firefights in Iraq he said. â€œBut this one time, the bullets were whizzing over our heads, and we just kept pointing our guns over the bank and shooting back.â€ That was when one of his friends was shot. â€œThe bullet when in the front corner of his skull, and blew out a big chunk of the back of his head, but he just kept firing, holding on to his gun not knowing what was going on. One of the other guys went and picked up a chunk of his skull that was lying on the ground, â€œwhy are you picking that up! Keep shooting!â€ I yelled at him. But heâ€™s fine now. Just went in one side and out the other. Lives a normal life just like us, and has the piece of skull on his mantelpiece.â€
I had no idea what to say to that.
â€œWhen I lived in England 20 years ago,â€ I asked Daniel, â€œeveryone flew the Union Jack, but now everyone seems to fly the one, what do you call it? With the red cross on white?â€
â€œSt. Georges Cross. Itâ€™s the English flag.â€
â€œBut what is the Union Jack?â€
â€œItâ€™s a combination of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish flag, while St. Georges Cross is the English Flag.â€
â€œSo St. Georges Cross is a British flag?â€
â€œNo, Itâ€™s the English Flag.â€
He went on to explain it this way. The Union Jack is the British flag for the empire. The Canadians, the Australians, and all the others that the British Empire once ruled over are part of the â€œBritishâ€ Empire. St Georgeâ€™s Cross is the flag for the â€œEnglishâ€. He then pulled up his sleeve to show off the St. Georges Cross tattoo on his left shoulder with â€˜Englandâ€™ written underneath.
He summed it up this way. â€œThose who come over and live here, they are British. Those of us who were born here are English.â€
Now I understand why at the English football matches, they fly the red and white St. Georgeâ€™s Cross. The Union Jack is a conglomeration flag. While the cross is specifically English.
It seems to have nationalistic undertones. It seems to say â€œFor those of us who were born in England, for those of us who are truly English, we fly the St. Georgeâ€™s Cross. For those not truly English, you can fly the Union Jack because you are just British.â€
I have never been very comfortable with nationalism. I tend to believe in human beings, and the world, rather than one country being intrinsically better than another. So the rise of the use of the Cross of St. George makes me a little nervous.
But there might be another way of looking at it. The Union Jack was a symbol of the British Empire. Itâ€™s world domination, which is now gone. England is now just a part of Europe, and the Union Jack is not the correct symbol for their place in the world. The red and white cross is the symbol for the space between the southern border of Scotland and the English Channel.
Maybe thatâ€™s how it should be.
The game continues and Daniel and I continue to talk. Three men arrive and sit down at the bar next to us. They ask the bartender why there is this on the television. He motions over to me and says the American wants to watch it.
The man farthest from me, and facing me, had a tall gawky demeanor, with black Buddy Holly glasses. He smiles and said something lighthearted about baseball and America.
The man closest to me was facing away, and never turned. I never saw his face.
The man in the middle, facing the bar was in his early forties, short and wide and strong. He was bald on top, with just a crown of hair around the edges.
At this point Daniel and I were on our forth, maybe fifth, pint of beer.
The man in the middle leaned over at me and said, â€œThen why do they call it the World Series?â€
I looked over at him smiling, with a sarcastic grin on my face, and said, â€œBecause itâ€™s the greatest nation on earth.â€ And laughed.
Metaphorically, the needle skipped on the record and the pub went silent.
I instantly realized that this was not the right thing to say.
Daniel whispered to me that it was not the right thing to say.
I looked over at the man â€œHey, I was being sarcastic. It was just a joke.â€
He did not smile or look in my direction.
He started to mumble about how â€˜Youâ€™ would have never won World War I without â€˜Usâ€™, or that â€˜Youâ€™ would never have won World War II without â€˜Usâ€™. There was nothing I could say, and I was getting nervous, as now the drunken Daniel was whispering things at my face and lightly bouncing on his toes. He whispered things like: â€œbackcountry cuntsâ€ â€œthereâ€™re just a bunch of wankersâ€ â€œfuckinâ€™ ignorant wankers.â€
His whispers were not very quiet.
Was I about to get in a fight? Were these three guys going to beat me up for being American? I felt the adrenaline in my fingers, and my drunken fuzziness dissipate.
The man in the center was still mumbling things, when he mumbled something about a damn peace prize. I jumped back into the conversation, assuming the Nobel Peace Prize Obama received two days earlier was something we could agree on.
â€œHe hasnâ€™t deserved it yet,â€ I said, â€œbut weâ€™re all hoping that one day he will.â€ But the man kept mumbling while staring at the bottles behind the bar. Then the man in the Buddy Holly glasses said, â€œHey, heâ€™s agreeing with you.â€
This seemed to pull the man out of his mumbles so I plunged on, â€œYou know, the only reason he got it is because heâ€™s not Bush.â€ That got a small smile from everyone, so we spent a few happy minutes bashing George Bush, and all seemed to be forgiven.
But I couldnâ€™t help notice that the bald man kept giving me weary looks.
The attitude of the pub had changed, what felt open and clean earlier, felt cold and forbidding now. I looked around the bar and noticed that it was mostly young men in the bar, and they wore rugby or football jerseys. I suddenly realized that I was in a local sports bar, and the drinkers were probably not overly friendly to any sort of foreigner.
I suddenly got the feeling that someone was going to walk up and say â€œyouâ€™re not from around here, are you boy?â€
Daniel whispered he wouldnâ€™t mind getting in a fight.
It was now the seventh inning of the game and I went outside to have a cigarette. By the time I came back in, all the screens were showing darts.
I looked at the bartender and quietly said, â€œI guess Iâ€™m not watching the baseball any more.â€ He avoided looking at my eyes by staring at the floor, saying he had had some requests for darts.
I finished my pint, said goodbye to Daniel, and left the pub.
I walked quietly, with my hands stuffed in my pockets, and was in a foul mood. Damn that asshole for being ignorant and stupid. Heâ€™s the one that ruins it for the rest of us.
I sat slumped on the train watching the black night grey with drizzle. The conductor, after checking my local discount car, and hearing that I was just traveling one stop up the line, told me to not worry about it, and walked up the train with out making me pay.
That made me feel a little better, but I was still in a foul mood and didnâ€™t want to go home. At The Swan, next to Lympstone station, I ordered a pint and pulled the Terry Pratchett out of my pocket to relax.
I had never officially met the bartender, but my father knew him from working on local building sites. The bartender was tall and slim, with large shoulders, and was missing a few of his front teeth.
My mind-in-a-foul-mood assumed him as another laborer/drinker/unthinking type.
A few minutes later, when I glanced up from the book, he asked â€œWhich one?â€
I answered with â€œGuards! Guards!â€ and he smiled, saying that that was one of his favorites, but also liked â€˜Feet of Clayâ€™ and â€˜Moving Pictures.â€™
We chatted for a few moments about the Diskworld books until he went off to serve another customer.
I smiled because he was something I didnâ€™t expect. I had placed him in a category, but he didnâ€™t fit in it. He was a human being, not a category. And I realized that I had used the same stupid stereotype that the asshole in the other pub had used. I just hoped that I would never be as angry and blind as he was.
I felt better about the world, as I went back into the Terry Pratchett, and found out later that the Angeles had come back in the ninth inning to win. I wish I could have seen it.