Dispatches From the South – Not Like New York

Coming up to the 4th of July now, one of the two holidays that never fails to make me nostalgic for the States (the other is Thanksgiving).  I supposed that’s because, unlike a lot of the other holidays, rather than being celebrated, but in a different fashion, they are totally ignored: no parade, no Independence Day barbecues, no pool parties in 90 degree heat and, most noticeable of all, no fireworks.

There is nothing like sitting on 15th green of the local golf course with 437 of your closest friends, stuffed with hotdogs and potato salad and feeling the glow of a soon-to-be-major sunburn, and watching the fireworks light up the sky across the Hudson river.  Or, if you choose to brave the crowds of downtown Albany, you can watch the show exploding and booming directly over your head while “Proud t o be an American” blares over the loud speakers, and there is nothing like that, either.

Of course, in Britain there is, quite literally, nothing like that.

So thoughts of home are in the forefront of my mind these days, but this year the weather co-operated by giving me a tiny taste of a real Upstate New York summer in the form of a two-day heat wave and a thunder storm.

Summer, in Britain, usually consists of about three hot days.  We just had two so we’re looking forward to an early autumn.  The heat wave came at the end of a protracted period of rainy, cool weather, so we were all ready for it, expecting it and looking forward to it.  The Met Office promised it for this past weekend, and when my wife and I went shopping last Friday, the store was noticeably crowded with shopper buying a remarkable amount of groceries.  I can’t be sure whether this was to stock up on backyard-party fare, or to get the shopping out of the way before it was too hot to be arsed, or a mad dash to buy anything before the abnormal heat brought the British Empire to its knees (again), but whatever the reason (my money is on option number 3) they were all there and a sense of anticipate hung in the air.

Saturday, however, dawned disappointingly cloudy and drizzly and did not improve much until the evening.  Then Sunday made up for it with full-fledge, hot, humid, stifling summer weather which lasted through the night and into Monday (just to give the people a who had complained to their families all day Sunday about how hot is was a chance to complain to their work-mates, as well).  Then, at 4 o’clock Monday afternoon, summer ended with a five-minute (but, admittedly respectable) thunder storm.

Still, it did me good; the stifling heat hung around just long enough to remind me why I like the summers in Sussex, and the booms, cracks and lashing rain were reminiscent (however briefly)of the thrills and excitement of an actual thunderstorm.  An hour later, as I walked to the bus, the air was cool and thick with the scent of recent rain.  It felt good; it felt like New York.

Then I arrived home.  The news was on.  The top story was about “the storm.”  They reported on the storm’s path, showed where lightening had struck, displayed photos people had sent in and cut to on-location cameras for eyewitness interviews.  In all, they devoted ten minutes of air time to a storm that had lasted half that long.  Admittedly, they do cover storms in New York, but they have to be something special, although, given the rarity of thunder storms here, I supposed that was something special.  It was, however, not like New York.

So summer is behind us, the temperatures are back in the more seasonal seventies and Monday is the 4th of July.  Experience tells me it will be much like any other day and will likely pass by without any notice.  It would be nice to see some fireworks, but I think those five stormy minutes of yesterday afternoon brought all the flashes and bangs I am going to see for some time.

Enjoy the 4th of July, where ever you are; and if you are an American, enjoy your Independence Day celebrations.



The paperback version of my book, More Postcards From Across the Pond—dispatches from an accidental expat, is being released on the 4th of July (how patriotic of me).

Find it on:


Amazon UK





  1. avatar says

    On July 4th 2005 just before noon I was standing in the queue to enter Westminster Abbey with my nephew. Out of the corner of my eye I spied something strangely pink in the sky. As I turned to look, I saw smoke trails of red white and blue smoke pouring from three jets flying over London. “I never expected the British to be celebrating the 4th of July,” I remarked to my nephew with a great smile, “How nice!”

    Of course it was only later in the day, as I passed a newsstand, I realized the that flyover had nothing at all to do with American Independence Day. The red white and blue smoke trails had been in celebration of the announcement just moments before, that London was granted the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games!

    • avatarSteve Gillen says

      We have fireworks Mike, and a barbecue at home tomorrow (well the 4th is a work day…) with hot dog & hamburgers, potato salad and Barbecue beans – honestly what you Americans do the the poor humble baked bean is unbelievable! We do this most years – hope you can make it here for the party one year Mike?

  2. avatar says

    When you think about it, we Brits have no reason at all to celebrate July 4th. When US independence happened, it was independence from us! Pardon us if we’re not too thrilled about that ;-)

    As a Brit who has been in the US for the last 14 years, Thanksgiving and the 4th July are a little bit sad for me too, because they’re reminders that I don’t belong. For me, fireworks belong on November 5th!

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