Growing up with an adopted family in Gravesend, England, I had always imagined my real mum to be some wealthy wife of a lord from the Victorian era, like Lady Bellamy from Upstairs, Downstairs. Or, to use a comparison to something you Yanks are in a tizzy over, Downton Abbey's Lady Crawley. I imagine I was orphaned because the truth would have gobsmacked the country: Perhaps, I reasoned, my real papa was a valet or chauffeur.
Turns out, the mum who bore me was from a strange, faraway land called Texas. Fort Worth, to be exact. She was apparently shagging a lad who visited Texas in the 1970s, and then moved with him to England, where he knocked her up and then told her to sod off. She was alone and preggers. Why she gave me up and then moved back home is a puzzlement, but I'm willing to forgive and forget.
So I came to Texas in 2006, hoping to find Mum and reunite. But a funny thing happened along the way: I fell in love with Fort Worth and stayed in North Texas, freelancing as a Texas correspondent for a British media company.
It makes sense. You Texans aren't so different from us Brits. You're attracted to our accents, and so are we to yours. We love fried food (especially fish and chips, or fries, as you call them). Of course, you love it a wee bit more -- you even put it on a stick. We love hanging out in a pub with a good brew, and so do you. We have Big Ben, you have Big Tex. (Don't worry, chaps. He'll be back.)
And like us, you recognize that our brand of comedy is more sophisticated (and funnier) than yours. From ' Allo 'Allo! to Ab Fab, you love Britcoms. And Brit-drams, like the aforementioned Downton Abbey. It's as if some of you have just realized that we Brits, who come from the land of Shakespeare, can really act.
Admit it. You love us, and that turns out to be good for us expats. When we get homesick for sticky toffee pudding or to see a cricket bowler knock down a wicket, we can do that here in North Texas.
It's nice to see my countrymen adjusting so well. Take my mate from across the pond, Christopher Hackett. He's a London-born Army brat and son of Irish parents who has been in Dallas for 20 years, and is setting ears aflutter as a daytime DJ on KDMX/102.9 FM. He married a "crazy Cajun" from Louisiana whom he met here, and he has watched -- for longer than I have -- Texas' love for British culture and food grow. There are more restaurants and British-style pubs in the Metroplex, and the selection of English cheeses, sweets and other goods is expanding at Central Market and even some Kroger stores, not to mention the area's longstanding resource for all things British: Grapevine's British Emporium.
"It used to be that you were kind of isolated here in getting that stuff," Hackett tells me. "You had to have a relative send it over, or you stocked up on trips [home], or you had a special relationship with a shop back there.
"Now, you can live in North Texas and watch British television, listen to British radio, eat British food and read British newspapers."
With that in mind, we decided to round up the many ways expats and Anglophiles alike can revel in British-ness, right here in Dallas-Fort Worth (we're only including a few things billed as Irish, Scottish or, if there were something, Welsh).
So it's time to go Grantham style with our own "Cowtown Abbey." You'll have to add in your own soundtrack of Dame Maggie Smith bon mots. Cheerio!
A nosh and a pint
Christopher Hackett says there was a time when The Dubliner, the Irish pub on Greenville Avenue in Dallas, was the only place to find a decent selection of fare of the U.K. and Ireland. "Now every suburb has two or three," he says.
Although it's widely agreed among British expats that there isn't one that's terribly authentic, there are plenty to choose from, with Hackett doffing his cap to the Fillmore Pub in Plano (www.thefillmorepub.com) for having pretty good fish and chips.
Many of these British-style pubs, in fact, have fish and chips as their one U.K. tribute on a menu littered with bar food like chicken wings, cheese sticks, pizza and burgers. And, oddly enough, considering that you can't step into a British pub in England without finding at least one "curry" (Indian dish) on the menu, that's as rare here as a Yank who doesn't giggle when we say "full monty."
In Fort Worth, Baker St. Pub & Grill (www.sherlockspubco.com) on the west side is a decent place for fish and chips and bangers and mash, crowded in with quesadillas and other American bar fare. There are also locations, called Sherlock's Baker St. Pub & Grill, in Arlington, Dallas and Addison. They all have good selections of beer, in case you're in for getting pissed.
At From Across the Pond in Colleyville (3809 Colleyville Blvd., 817-428-2332), you'll also find a shepherd's pie of which Downton Abbey's Ms. Patmore would approve, beef and Guinness stew, and "Beckhams" bangers and mash, which features hefty Cumberland sausages. As for the "Beckham" part, we'll leave that up to your imagination. A bar is built in, but as of now, it's BYOB. Just don't insult the place by bringing in a 12-pack of Bud Light.
The Abbey Inn (www.theabbeyinndenton.com) in Denton is more upscale (Denton Abbey?), with things like tarragon haddock and "royal rib-eye" on the menu, but also Scotch eggs, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and fish and chips made with Atlantic haddock. (That's something to watch out for; some of the fish and chips around here use Gulf fish, not cod or haddock.)
In Dallas, the British Beverage Co., or BBC (www.bbcpub.com), in the Quadrangle is new, and serves several varieties of fish and chips (including traditional, herb brioche-crusted and a Texas-inspired jalapeño version), plus terrific miniature Scotch eggs, made with quail eggs.
Other area options, with varying degrees of authenticity, include:
Abbey Pub in Fort Worth (www.abbey-pub.com), which sports an ace shuffleboard table.
The Londoner has locations in Addison, Uptown Dallas, Allen and Frisco, with pubs in Colleyville and Fort Worth coming in 2013 (www.londonerdallas.com).
J.R. Bentley's in Arlington (www.jrbentleys.com).
The Holy Grail Pub in Plano (www.holygrailpub.com).
Fox and Hound has locations in Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas, Lewisville and Richardson (www.foxandhound.com).
Sheela Kadam, who was born in Bombay and raised in London, runs Grapevine's British Emporium, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary. There have been other options for British (and Commonwealth) imports in North Texas, but none as consistent as this place, which occasionally hosts a Monty Python festival in Grapevine, including a "silly walk" down Main Street. She says the event will return this spring or summer, and that Brit expats love Grapevine's Main Street because it's one of the closest things to London's High Street, with walking and shopping in a historic setting, that you can find around here. And that's not just codswallop.
One of my American journalism colleagues, DFW.com and Star-Telegram art critic Gaile Robinson, said the British Emporium was a haven for her visiting British son-in-law. "As soon as he found that store, he knew it was safe to visit," she told me, "because he could always find his breakfast cereal, condiments and weird bacon."
The British Emporium also has a fine selection of cheeses and frozen foods, including bangers (sausage), British sodas (try the dandelion and burdock) and shelves chock-a-block with foodstuff and other goods, such as pickled cockles, spotted dick, Madras curry powder, Tiptree preserves (including diabetic-friendly versions), scones, shortbread, Devon cream and other sweets. The Emporium even carries a product that Kadam says is becoming hard to find in Britain: Gentleman's relish, a spicy anchovy spread that was common in Vicky's time (that's Queen Victoria to you). And, of course, there's a huge selection of tea, and Kadam is happy to provide tips on serving a proper high tea.
There are books, memorabilia, toys, teapots, DVDs and more, including several Downton Abbey items that she can't keep in stock.
"Lots of folks came in for supplies for their Downton Abbey watching parties when Season 3 began," she says. Brilliant.
A bushel of games and sports originated in England, from darts and shuffleboard to tennis and soccer. For more on North Texas' professional soccer team, FC Dallas, which begins its season in March, visit www.fcdallas.com. But you can play in Cowtown by joining the Fort Worth Adult Soccer Association (www.fwadultsoccer.com). And that phenom known as curling, made more popular at the last Winter Olympics? You can do that here, too (www.dfwcurling.com).
Rugby is the rough game folks associate with Britain, and there are plenty of teams in North Texas, including the Fort Worth Rugby Club (www.fortworthrugby.com), which meets and plays at Gateway Park just east of downtown.
But for sports, it doesn't get any more tea-and-crumpets-y than cricket, that ball-and-bat game that can last for days, it seems. The league called the North Texas Cricket Association (www.ntcricket.com) formed in 1998, and there are about 20 cricket fields in DFW, with nearly 50 teams.
"Cricket is one of those things that one culture created and another perfected," says Hackett, and he's of course referring to the game's huge popularity in South Asia.
In fact, probably 90 percent of the North Texas players are chums from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, says Satendar Bhatia of the Southlake United team. Recently, the team played the Irving Cricket Club at Irving's Wyche Park for the Winter's Cup. But there are British, Australian, Dutch and players of other nationalities in the league.
The main season runs from March through September; but if you're desperate for your cricket fix, there's a match at 10:30 a.m. Sunday in Grand Prairie. The NTCA offers youth programs, various levels of adult play. There's a membership fee to join, but it's free to watch. Just be prepared for a long sit -- the games can last up to seven hours.
You'll find British artists at most area art museums, although the Kimbell Art Museum probably has the most important work. Its collection includes paintings by Turner, Raeburn, Leighton and Reynolds (www.kimbellart.org). The Dallas Museum of Art, where admission for the general collections is now free, has four paintings by Winston Churchill. Yes, that Winston Churchill. In his spare time, he painted landscapes and flowers (www.dm-art.org). And for contemporary art, look no further than the Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas' Design District, which has shown exhibits from Damien Hirst, and has a show by Dan Rees in April (www.gossmichaelfoundation.org).Currently, there's a photography show by Canadian Bryan Adams. Yes, that Bryan Adams.
Shall we talk theatre? There's no dearth of works by British writers in the area, especially with the Shakespeare factor. Fort Worth's Trinity Shakespeare Festival (www.trinityshakes.org) has been stealing the show locally when it comes to the Bard. For the fifth season this summer at Texas Christian University, look for The Taming of the Shrew and Julius Caesar. Also in Cowtown is the Stolen Shakespeare Guild (www.stolenshakespeareguild.org), which has The Winter's Tale coming up.
The area's oldest Shakes fest is Shakespeare Dallas, which not only does an outdoor summer festival (this year it's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Pericles, with The Winter's Tale in the fall), but last year started an exciting initiative with the AT&T Performing Arts Center called "The Complete Works," in which the group will do (mostly) monthly staged readings of all 37 works over the next five years. This spring, look for all three parts of Henry VI, a title you never see performed.
The chaps at Fort Worth's Stage West (www.stagewest.org) are also big-time Anglophiles, especially this season. Their current production of Moira Buffini's Gabriel, set on the British Channel Islands in World War II, is the dog's bollocks (relax, that's a good thing). In April, they'll also do Willy Shakes' Shrew, and later in the year, a return to their popular series of plays based on two veddy classic British characters, Jeeves and Wooster, with Thank You, Jeeves. (Mark Shum, who is on our cover as our Lord Grantham, has been in three of the Jeeves shows.)
Amphibian Stage Productions (www.amphibianproductions.org) shows simulcast productions from the National Theatre of London, one of the world's great theater companies. It also has several Brit writers in its season, including Nigel Planer's On the Ceiling, a reading coming up. The NT Live series will be at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The spring offerings are:
The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero (and starring John Lithgow), 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 13
People by Alan Bennett, 2 and 7 p.m. April 3
This House by James Graham, 2 and 7 p.m. June 19
And how could we not mention Dallas-based Theatre Britain, which every Christmas does a traditional British panto at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano. They'll have an additional show, Albert's Anthology, this summer. Check them out at www.theatre-britain.com
Also of interest: 2013 marks the 100th birthday of great British composer Benjamin Britten. Catch his opera Albert Herring at Southern Methodist University in February (www.smu.edu/meadows). This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the first production of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw's quintessentially British Pygmalion, with iconic character Eliza Doolittle (although no productions of it or its musical version, My Fair Lady, are planned as of now).
You can catch another quintessential British heroine, Mary Poppins, in musical form at Dallas Summer Musicals (www.dallassummermusicals.org) in March.
Where would rock 'n' roll be without the influence of British music, from the Beatles and the Stones, to Dusty Springfield, the Smiths, Radiohead and Coldplay?
There's also a Rolling Stones tribute touring the country, called Satisfaction, which you can catch Feb. 7 at, of all places, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (www.rollingstoneshow.com).
As for British musicians and bands invading North Texas in the next few months, look out for:
The xx, Feb. 13-14 at Granada Theater, Dallas
Morrissey, the former Smiths frontman, Feb. 18 at Palladium Ballroom, Dallas
The Moody Blues, March 13 at Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Alt-J, March 16 at Granada Theater
Guitar legend Eric Clapton, March 19 at American Airlines Center, Dallas
Prog-rockers Yes, March 21 at Verizon Theatre
Boy band One Direction (which has members who are British and Irish), July 22 at American Airlines Center
Musical diva-turned-pop star Sarah Brightman, Oct. 12 at Verizon Theatre
For British car lovers, check out the North Texas Austin Healey Club and the Jaguar Drivers Club of North Texas.
And although these aren't specifically British, look for the following spring festivals, at which there's bound to be Brit vendors, food and culture:
North Texas Irish Festival, March 1-3 in Fair Park
Texas Scottish Festival & Highland Games, May 3-5 at UT Arlington
Dallas International Festival, May 25-26 in the Dallas Arts District
Well, I'm off to look for me mum. Toddle-pip for now!