When Auden and Isherwood left Britain for America in 1939 they attracted much opprobrium and many brickbats. Evelyn Waugh portrayed them as Parsnip and Pimpernel, lily-livered pansy traitors who left their country in its hour of greatest need (though how exactly Great Britain needed two literary types like Wystan and Christopher he didn’t quite explain) and many red-blooded patriots to this day still shake their heads at the mere mention of their names.
So now I have a monstrous confession to make. I am quite as much a cowardly wuss as any who has ever abandoned his homeland in times of trial and tension. As I write this I am 38,000 feet above sea level, hurtling towards New York City at 533 statute miles per calendar hour. Happily Alan, the captain of the plane, has personally popped down to tell me the current cricket score – my chosen career and its attendant baggage of fame have their advantages (carry-on baggage of fame, I suppose one should term it). The flight deck had tuned in to the BBC’s 198 longwave transmissions of TMS to receive the news that England were 100 for 3. No loss of wickets yet. But at this moment we’re too far over the Atlantic for broadcast radio reception and are now relying on Shannon’s ATC tower for updates, which are achingly slow in coming. For all I know we’re ten wickets down at lunch and Australia have launched a devastating counterattack.
But what can have motivated a so-called cricket lover to abandon his country at so momentous a time? You’d better have a damned good excuse, Fry. The answer, in fine, is the DHS. The time has come for me to renew my Green Card. Now that the US Department of Homeland Security has taken over the Immigration and Naturalisation Service this involves biometrics. The date for an appointment for me to register my fingerprints and unique retinal striations was announced and, maddeningly inconvenient as it is, coinciding with the final test and with my birthday, who am I to question it? If you can picture the response of a US immigration official asked to reschedule a biometric session because it clashes with a game of cricket then you can picture a stolid stare of stony disbelief.
I wish I were at the Oval, I wish I were sitting in front of the television, I wish I were anywhere in England with the radio on. But there is something marvellous about the nervous excitation we all feel aboard this aeroplane. When is one ever more a proud patriot than when away from one’s country and cut off from vital news? The anxiety gnawing at my vitals is in fact a kind of Homeland Insecurity, the proudest and most painful sensation a citizen can endure.
Stop Press: A message has been passed down to me. England declare on 373 for 9. A lead of 545. Ten minutes to landing. I shall skip to the custom’s hall like a spring lamb. And yet, and yet, that insecurity is still gnawing. What if Australia … ? I mean they couldn’t. Could they? Could they? Could they?