Magazine article The Spectator

American Notebook

Magazine article The Spectator

American Notebook

Article excerpt

AMERICAN NOTEBOOK As we landed at Houston, I suddenly thought of my first visit to America in 1965 duringn what we didn't then call my gap year. Forty-eight years does seem a long time, but my fascination with this country is undimmed. The occasion of this trip was to talk at the British Studies seminar at the University of Texas, which has become a regular gig over the years, and Austin is now a nest of old friends.

This time I made a new pal. Holly McCarthy is a graduate student, who became my cicerone, offering to take me across Austin on the back of her motorscooter. After a deep breath, I cheerfully accepted. Really, it's much the best way to see the town.

With all my American friendships and happy professional connections, on every visit I think yet again of what G.K. Chesterton said, that nowhere on earth does an Englishman feel so much a foreigner as in the United States. If nothing else reminded me that this is a different country, there's language, and sport, not to say sporting language. A New York Times preview of last Saturday's Kentucky Derby, an event I was once lucky enough to attend, described one horse as 'the pick of the backside'. Eh? Then came a headline in the New York Daily News reading 'La La makes scrub eat his words'. Surprisingly enough, I know who J-Lo and LiLo are, but who was La La? She is, it transpires, the wife of a basketball player, and her husband had been insulted by 'trashtalking Celtic scrub Jordan Crawford [who] had revived his teammate Kevin Garnett's lewd claim that La La "tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios".' Enough already, but by my next visit, I must find out what a 'scrub' is.

My single most memorable experience in Austin was being taken the other autumn to a Longhorns game - the college football team.

There's no point in pretending that I understood much of what was happening on the field, and it was a long afternoon, 60 minutes of official play stretched out to more than three hours, under a baking sun. But a happy afternoon, what with tailgating - beer and food out of the back of the car - at the lengthy halftime. The crowd was friendly, and included all sorts; a group of Sikhs sat next to me in turbans and orange Longhorns shirts. But most astonishing of all was the numbers. That game was attended by 98,442 people, and soon afterwards the Longhorns' crowd passed the six-figure mark. Old Trafford is the largest club stadium in England, where Manchester United played last Sunday in front of 75,500. …

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