Familiar ground

Jun 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Personal Columns

There wasn’t much choice about what to watch on television during the 1970s -BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV – not even Channel 4 in those day. Maybe it was because all the resources were focused on three channels, but the programmes tend to stick in the memory.

There was a science fiction film where the final scene remains in the mind. The characters are transported to a parallel world, which is identical in every way, except the planet where they have arrived has two moons that shine together in the sky. They attempt to return to Earth, but are unsuccessful and the film closes with them standing staring at the two moons. It’s not their home, but neither is it alien.

There was a two moons feeling the first time I crossed the Atlantic in 1998. Standing outside of a phone box on the edge of English Bay in Vancouver on our first trip to Canada, the film came to mind. Eight hours of time difference from home, thousands of miles of flying, it was not home, but then, neither was it in any way alien. The Canadians speak better English than the English; Queen Elizabeth’s head was on all the coins; everything was familiar and friendly; it was a good place to be.

It was strangely reassuring to feel at home so far away.

Landing in San Francisco this afternoon, the first time I have ever set foot on American soil. There was a strange sense of the familiar.  The immigration official smiled and chatted about ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’.  A lady helped us with the ticket machines at the station; the road signs on the motorway beside the railway were in English and the distances in miles; stepping out of the station into a warm Californian afternoon, there was a feeling of familiarity.

The television channels that brought us the science fiction land of two moons brought us also ‘The Street of San Francisco’ and the other views of 1960s California; the city streets with the antique trams going up and down the hills seem like scenes from childhood stories come to life.

The sense of familiarity brings with it also a sense that something is missing.  Is the whole world now the same? The same shops, the same brand names, the same same experiences, maybe the problem of the land of two moons is not its similarity but that it’s not different enough.


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