Dont you cor blimey luv-a-duck apples-and-pears guvnor me my good man.

Before this gets lost in the wad of words that will inevitably make up the semi-story/part-rant that will make up the post below, I just want to state here and now that on the day the events therein took place I, Anna Pickard, ALSO won a game of darts legitimately for the first time ever, against my beloved, with a double top so perfect I have learnt the term Double Top just so I could describe what it was I somehow managed to do.
In fact, yes, why not, before I get on with the rest of this post, heres a picture:

doubletop.jpg

We were playing 301, where you start with 301 points and subtract the numbers that your darts hit. When you get to within striking distance of 0, your very last dart has to be a double – which means getting it in the very outside ring, or the very centre of the dartboard. I have always known these to be the rules in theory, but have never managed to actually turn that into practice, no matter how much practice I had.

Nevertheless, without knowing precisely HOW I did it, that day, with forty points left to get me down to zero, I (with consummate ease), tossed a dart which, artfully, almost in slow motion, as if it had wings, drifted over to the wall and sunk itself into the double twenty bit of the board, PULVERISING my opponent (who was, in this case, also my darling Best Beloved).

Ive told bits of this tale on the brilliant Shift Run Stop podcast, by the way, and will be doing more similarly, hopefully

But thats not the story I came here to tell (though you should remember it when I come to the bit of the story I have come here to tell that will sound something like then we played a game of darts, and think for yourself about the honour and the glory hidden behind that simple phrase) so Ill get on with that instead. Thank you.

In December, I was feeling a little out of sorts. Combined with a bunch of other stuff going on, I missed my friends and family in the UK, and wanted just some touch of my own traditional festive things to make me feel Christmassy, whether it was the taste of a mince pie and mulled wine; or the sound of the kind of carols traditional to my country rather than another one; or just the idea of sitting in front of a real fire eating miniature sausage rolls, drinking little stubby bottles of Belgian lager and watching some godawful family film from the mid-eighties and trying to think of any reasonable excuse not to get dragged out for a healthy walk by my lovely little mother. It wasnt so much of a yearning to be in the motherland (I could have, if Id wanted to, after all), as much as just wanting something familiar to grasp on to that would make me feel comforted and Christmassy.

Somewhat unrealistically, I formed the impression that the best thing to do would be to go to the Ye Olde Super-Traditional Dickensian Briddish Victorian Holiday Fayre And Retail Extravaganza (NB: Not quite the name, perhaps) happening in a set of concrete exhibition halls by the name of Cow Palace, south of San Francisco.

It was, of course, a complete clusterfuck of misery and rage. Hundreds of official Fayre employees, dressed in crinolines and ruffles and chimney-sweeps coats and top hats, sometimes all at once. Top of the morning to you, Guvnor! they would say, if you approached their food stall Can I innerest you in a English Bang-Gerr? they would continue, waving a pale imitation of a sausage at you with a pair of spectacularly greasy tongs.

In one room were a bunch of pirates singing traditional Dickensian Victorian Christmas songs, so we stood and listened for a while. After a couple of minutes, and not recognising even vaguely the song they sung, I realised the only words I could pull out of the rabble-rousing lyrics were travellin on the railroad and pickin on a banjo, and became convinced at this point that this probably was not the traditional British Christmas music I was looking for.

I wandered through the many many shops. the fancy corset shop, the dried flower shop, the dried corset shop, the clockwork parts and tat shop. I picked up a plastic cup of cider (no, alcoholic cider. yes, heres my ID) and through more halls, one containing a medieval band with dulcimer and an ocarina – stuck in top hats to adhere to the historical period of this months fayre. In the next was a room full of wooden toys, for bored tantrummy toddlers, or the suddenly despondent. I was both.

Talking to people had one of three effects.

– The first (and nicest) was that they would look at you, stunned and impressed at how good YOUR accent was: My Gahd they would suddenly whisper, reverting to their real voice Your accent is GREAT! Have you been practicing laaang?
Oh, a while we would say, and smile.
Aaahhhsome

– The second (and the one Im most used to from living here) was that they would be pleased to find a real specimen of Brit, and ask whereabouts you were from, and tell you about the year they spent on exchange in Notting Ham, or about their son or daughter who had moved over to the UK for a jahb, and asking what you were doing here, and whether you liked living here, the similarities, the differences, all of that. And that was really lovely.

– The third was by far the weirdest. It was the preemptive-aggressive response. Ask a question, or just request one of the thing they were selling, and the third type of Fayre employee would hear your accent and suddenly get on the defensive, apparently convinced that I was an agent of the accent squad and was going to charge them an on the spot fine. And frankly I only wish Id thought of that before they did, because I could have made a mint if only I had a shiny ID.

Not that they would have been convinced by a fake ID. Theyre very strict about such things here.

Side note: So strict on ID things, in fact, that I should really have got an official California ID card by now. Because they ask for ID in bars all the time, and if you havent got it, no matter how old you look, youre not getting a drink. So I should have got one but I didnt. See, I was going to get a driving licence, which would do the same job, then I failed the test that December, and before long we were thrown into the whole not sure how many more weeks/months wed be here anyway so not sure if theres a point in spending more money on driving lessons/tests/longterm commitments/real life things bit, and since weve been there ever since, Im accustomed to just carrying my passport around with me instead, as foolish as that might be.

So we carried on walking around, and eventually, in the room right at the back, there was a little side room with a row full of dartboards, mainly ignored, and there we stopped, and played darts.

After our game, I wanted another alcoholic cider – or, as it is known in normal circles: cider – to celebrate having found one thing that reminded me of being at home, among other things.

But then, after a conversation with a busty barwench including the words please and cider and ID and Madam and Ill just need to check with my manager that we take this as ID, I was confronted with a man with a moustache and a monacle and a watch hanging by a chain from his top pocket. He was employed in the role of Authentic Jolly Pub Landlord (Cockney), and, in character – and clearly firmly in the third group of accenteers detailed above – informed me that he couldnt accept the ID I had proffered as valid, and hed have to see a driving licence instead.

But thats my passport
Yesssss, Muddum! But thats not a valid form of Oi-dee!
Actually, its one of the most valid forms of ID you can get. Its a passport
Do you ave a drivin licence issued by the state of California, or any uvver state, muddom?
No, I havent, I dont drive. I have my credit cards, my checkbook in here, but nothing issued by the State of California. But I have a passport, which is issued by Her Majestys Government.
Well, its not a valid piece of official identifffy-cayshun, milady

he said, pushing his accent further and further past maximum the more officious he got.
The funny thing is, I dont think I would have got so riled up by the situation – regardless of the fact that Im traditionally horrific at any kind of conflict or argument – if he hadnt been telling me I was from some kind of illegitimate, made-up country while simultaneously sounding for all the world like someone taking the piss out of the very same place.

Well, leaving aside for a moment the fact that this biometric passport is one of the most official pieces of identification you can get, they didnt seem to have this problem when I ordered a drink from the bar three halls ago
No, muddum. We carnt accept that as Oi-dee. None of the bartenders ere would have accept that as oi-dee. Because it asnt got your height and weight printed on it, so it AINT legal ID. So they wouldnt ave taken it.
What?!
You carnt ave used that as oi-dee. Anywhere in ere.
But I did. About half an hour ago.
No, Muddum.

I stood back, and stared at the man, feeling like I was balancing on a knife edge with a big ugly monster representing losing it and shouting a lot on one side, and a small broken toy representing crying like a child who just wants her mummy on the other, not knowing which way to fall – although suspecting I might be able to go both ways at once, with only a little more provocation.

My beloved, now recovered from the shock and devestation hed experienced during a recent game of darts, stepped in.

Never mind, Anna. This is getting us nowhere Now. I quite fancy a drink. Can I get a cider please? The alcoholic one. Heres my driving licence. Do you want anything, Anna?
Coke I mumbled, reversing the order wed tried to put in only minutes before.

The Authentic Jolly Pub Landlord (Cockney) eyed us suspiciously. He took My Beloveds driving licence, examined it like he thought it might have been scrawled on a napkin, then handed it back. He stood there, as sullen and officious and disgusted with us as could be. His Authentic Jolliness was out of the window now.

I WIW get you vis drink, SURRrrrrr he said, straining his pissy jollity through gritted teeth like Dick van Dyke being put in a headlock by a bear, But if OI see you parsing it off to ANYONE he said, his pupils punching the corners of his eyes hard as he looked at me for the briefest second possible I WIWW Cut. You. Affff he finished, threateningly, losing it completely at the end (accent, temper, marbles, everything).

By the time he actually came to find me with the drinks, I was halfway down the next hall, trying to watch some kind of attempt on Punch and Judy with not NEARLY enough casual domestic violence, though finding it hard because the hot prickly tears too hot and prickly to stay inside any longer.

The funny thing was, I hadnt felt so far from home until then. I love it here.
I love living here, and I love my little San Franciscan friend-family, and I feel at home. But I hadnt realised how much visiting a hollow plastic version of something resembling home would reinforce just how far away I was. And I stood there, and cried and cried because I had managed to achieve the precise opposite of what Id intended. There wasnt an element of home I could hang on to here, as much as everyone else seemed to be enjoying it (and good for them, all power to their arm, etc), and Id never felt more alien, or more distant, or further from the people and the mulled wine I was missing.

Oh, AND the cider was fucking dreadful.
But thats clearly not the real point of this story.

No, the point of this story was that I won a game of darts.
Double top, ladies and gentlemen. Double. Buggering. TOP.