Amy Boucher Pye moved from the USA to England when she married Nicholas, an ordinand in the Church of England. On the occasion of their first meeting in Washington, she had no idea what an ordinand was and had to ask him, in several different ways, what he did before she could make any sense of it. The first few years of their life together were spent moving from place to place, from the tranquility of a Cambridge college, through seve
ral Home Counties parishes, and eventually to a vicarage in north London. It was here, at an Association of Christian Writers Writers Day last month, that I finally met Amy, whose inspirational Bible-reading notes in ‘New Daylight’ I have been reading for almost a decade. Her talk at the ACW Writers’ Day was insightful, and, to prove it, I have the notes I wrote on my iPad using my stylus and Evernote Penultimate. Amy spoke, not only about her own career in editing, publishing and, ultimately, in writing, but also about how we should all give ourselves permission to write, as against all the other demands we have on our time. She refuses to be just a vicar’s wife – a VW as she calls it.
On the same day, I bought the book ‘Finding Myself in Britain’ from the ACW bookstall. Me? Book? you ask. Isn’t this the woman who reads everything on Kindle or Overdrive? Well, yes, but Amy – herself in person – autographed this one. I could’ve bought it an e-version if I’d wanted to, but not from the ACW bookstall.
As the title suggests, ‘Finding Myself in Britain’ is all about an American adjusting to life this side of the pond. The overarching point (can a point be overarching?) was how much Amy missed her family in America and how homesick she felt at times. On first arriving in Cambridge, feeling everything to be very other and strange, and longing to contact her family back home by email, she plugged her laptop into a 13 amp socket and fried it – I wept for her! The point she made, over and over again, is that things in the US and the UK are different. She could cope with her children starting school at an earlier age than their American cousins and, even, to them wearing school uniforms. She could adjust to the lack of the American yellow school bus, and ultimately enjoyed walking to school with them. She was pleasantly surprised that British schools may be affiliated to churches, take school assemblies and present nativity plays – unlike in America where separation of church and state is total. (That was something that I didn’t know about the United States.). However, initially, Amy did not feel accepted by the mothers at the school gate, sensing, rather, that she was ‘that crazy American woman’.
Like Winston Churchill’s American mother, Jenny, over a century before, she struggled with the damp cold and British central heating. No one has radiators over there. Having grown up in Minnesota, she was fazed that the Brits were fazed by an inch or two of snow. She has come to appreciate the NHS, even that having a free-at-point-of-use service means having to wait, also the British point of view about citizens possessing guns, but she misses mixer taps, a good strong spray in her shower and Thanksgiving. (A Canadian student once asked me why we didn’t do Thanksgiving in England. Answers on a postcard, please!)
Amy’s book, its chapters divided according to the church year, is honest, thoughtful and provoking. Living in the UK made Amy delineate not just the English but her own Americanness. She found, for instance, that some of her family cooking customs, which she regarded as traditional, were unknown to other Americans. A very good read for anyone interested in how everyday life is lived in England and the United States.