When I was asked if I would write a column about the Florida lifestyle, I jumped at the chance. Of course I want to write about all the wonderful things us expats do now we have made the big move to the good old USofA. My excitement built as I thought about all the golf courses I could play, beaches I could visit, parks I could queue up for and happy hour cocktails I could drink. However, my phone was beeping with emails and calls from the office so I got back to work and my excitement somewhat diminished as I got back to the drudgery of everyday life. Contrary to popular belief, my friends and family at home normally, I actually do not spend my days basking in the sun, I have to make a living and at the end of a very busy week, there is little time or energy for all the wonders Florida has to offer. However, when you do get the chance to relax and enjoy, there is something very special about the Florida lifestyle. So I hope you find my columns interesting, please send me any comments and suggestions of anything you would like to see me write about or if you know of a good event that you feel I should go to, just drop me a line.
Making the decision to move to a different country comes with a choice; do you leave behind the life you know to step into the relatively unknown? For most of us, the ‘grass is always greener’ gamble pays off, and our new life in our new country is better than the one we left behind, especially for us Floridian expats who enjoy year round sunshine, beaches, golf and multiple theme parks. Sometimes however, you can’t help feeling nostalgic for good old Blightly. I must admit, I struggle to hide that little stab of jealously when I see posts on Facebook announcing a cracking new curry house find, or enjoying a few drinks with pals down the local on a Friday evening after work. And I’m sure I speak for the majority of us, when I say that the homesickness really crept in on Friday 29th April as the UK celebrated the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The same will be true, I suspect, when the UK hosts the 2012 Olympics – although from what I hear you have a better chance of getting hold of tickets from outside the UK anyway!
One of the British traditions I have missed the most since my move to Florida is Guy Fawkes, or Bonfire Night as it is more commonly known in the North. I remember the cold, dark nights, collecting wood for the bonfire and then the Fire Brigade coming into school with ‘Wellington’ rambling on about fire safety, but then shocking us into compliance by showing us graphic pictures of burn victims (surely they aren’t still allowed to do this?). Then the night itself: freezing cold weather, with no rain (if we were lucky!), dogs going crazy at the sound of fireworks going off, the smell of burning wood, treacle toffee and candy floss in the air and the general excitement of being allowed to legally set off fireworks and light fires across the UK, all to celebrate the thwarting of one of the first terrorist plots and the ceremonial burning of Mr. Fawkes – perfect. So it was with a heavy heart I decided, that even though leaving the UK would mean giving up my most favorite British tradition, I would make the move to the Sunshine State and say goodbye to Guy…or so I thought!
On November 5th 2011 I went to, what I believe was, unless someone can correct me, the biggest Guy Fawkes event held in Florida. It seems I am not the only person who had been missing Bonfire Night, as over 2000 expectant fans turned up at Champions World Resort in Kissimmee. But could a Florida reenactment really hold a candle to my childhood memories of Guy Fawkes nights gone by?
Firstly, the weather seemed to cooperate. That is, the temperature dipped to the high 50’s and we were lucky enough to get wind gusts near 35mph. Not quite freezing, but certainly enough to give us a somewhat British ambience. The parking getting into the event was a little crazy, not really part of the British tradition if you were attending a local village or town event that you could walk to, but definitely a memory for those who used to attend the bigger events that you had to drive to and were forced to fight for a parking space at, back in the UK. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of good old British food on offer, but not the lines we had to wait in and I would have liked there to have been some British drinks on offer – although I can’t quite recall what the traditional Guy Fawkes beverage is? And then it went dark and the bonfires were lit. Many wondered why there were 3 smaller ones, instead of one large one, apparently no-one had tried to light a 30ft bonfire in Osceola County before and there were no ordinances to allow it. At the last minute, when it looked like the entire event may be shut down, Commissioner Michael Harford saved the day, albeit with 3 smaller bonfires, and it was fabulous! Sparklers glowed in the sky, kids ran around trying to get a better view and adults pushed nearer to the fire to try and get warm. The wind made the fires catch quickly and the 3 fires did work well together. Then it was time for the fireworks. To be honest, I was not expecting very much, what with living in Orlando, so close to Disney’s over the top displays, but again, I was pleasantly surprised. In between the fire and the fireworks, you could wander around the booths, take part in a medieval jousting tournament, take on the climbing wall, jump up and down on the bouncy castle like a maniac (why are they only for the kids?) and generally have a good time with the family, whilst being entertained by fire-eaters and stilt walkers.
So was it exactly like I remember? Not quite, but then, how could it be? There was definitely no old furniture being thrown onto the bonfire late on in the evening (imagine getting a burn permit for that?) and I did miss my piece or two of treacle toffee, whilst catching up with people from the town that I may not have seen in a while. But this is the choice we made when we decided to leave the UK. Now opinion is not of course the final one, as fellow expat Carol Dudley from Orlando raved:
BRILLIANT,STUNNING,FANTASTIC, SUPERB and the BEST EVER.
It was so good it was like being back at Guy Fawkes Night back in the UK.”
Who am I to argue? How nice, though, to see so many expats come together to enjoy a very British event, in very British tradition, so far from home. I couldn’t help smiling as the Brits explained to their slightly baffled American guests why we were throwing Guy onto the fire and I loved seeing parents sharing the tradition with their children who are too young to remember, remember the 5th of November.
Well done to everyone involved, and we’ll see you again this year…but please try and find some treacle toffee for me.