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I’d had enough. “Let me tell you something, Tony. You’re full of shit,” I said with as much conviction as I could muster. The room fell silent. “Don’t tell me you know anything about America. You know nothing about it. I’ll tell you something else. America is the finest country in the world. It’s a place where you get a fair shake in life. And I’m an example of that.”
I was just getting started. I stood up and pushed my chair back. “And let me tell you something else, Tony. When I lived in England, I had a cabbage between my ears. That’s right, nothing in my head but cabbage. But after I went to America, I developed a brain. They encouraged me to develop a brain, and to get rid of all that bloody cabbage."
Croxley Green is a suburb of Watford, which is in the north end of London. In those days, it was an idyllic country village, complete with a village green—the kind of pastoral setting you’d see in a Hollywood movie from the 1940s. Think Mrs. Miniver or, even better, Hope And Glory.
That’s what Croxley Green was like.
Once we all climbed down from that lorry, I can remember looking for the first time at the sheep in the village green, and running into the house. We had a front door, a side door off the kitchen, and a back door into the garden. I’d never seen anything like that before, because we used to live in a rowhouse, and the idea of so easily getting from the front yard to the back was, for me, the most amazing thing in the world. I’d run the cycle: in the front door, out the back to the garden, around to the front, and out the back again, and again, and again … and again. I am not making this up.
The year was 1938—and as marvellous as that day was, dark clouds loomed on the horizon. Our world was about to change; dramatically so.
I mean me, not the sheep. I ran into the house.
In the near decade that followed my return to Coventry from the Far East, my disenchantment with life in England continued to grow. So did the realization that if I didn’t do something about it, the life I had come to know in my 20s would continue unchanged. I could expect nothing more than the same old same old, into my 30s, my 40s and, God forbid, beyond.
Sure, I was having a good time with my mates, and thanks to Carol, I had love in my life—something you can never take for granted—but honestly, even all that seemed to follow an all-too familiar pattern. Was that any kind of life to look forward to? Secretly, I knew if I was ever able to accomplish something meaningful in my life, if I was to realize my potential and fulfil my ambitions, I wasn’t going to be able to do it in England. The classism that was rampant in British society would never allow it.