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Trip Report My 25-Day Journey Through England with AncestralVoices

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DAY 1, technically DAY 2 (after a day-long departure)

LONDON, PART 1

Even our happening upon the Changing of the Guard didn’t yet push into me where I actually was. The old bobby herding the Russians, the Polish, the English of course, the Indians, the Scandinavians and Asians to fashion the proper pathway was just a tourist spectacle to me, distant and valuable only as fodder for our digital camera at the time. We had just spent an entire day and an entire night on a journey from the daily grind of Cincinnati, OH to the utterly unfamiliar world of London. At least for me. My travel companion Kip (whose version of this epic tale you can find and probably have already read on this site) had been here some years ago. I was sort of like a chicken with its head cut off in that I was walking English streets, doing very English things, and it felt like just another day.

We had arrived at Heathrow in the morning, emerged from customs and hopped right into a taxi driven by a hard-bitten older man with a Cockney accent, drove on the left the entire way to Rubens at the Palace. Kip breezed on through the customs gate, but for some inexplicable reason I was interrogated for a good minute or so by some square-jawed young English agent with the most graceful and self-possessed accent I might’ve heard on the entire trip. I think it was because I had a blank passport. This was the first time in my life I ever needed one. This was the first time in my life I’d done any of the things that I was doing from minute to minute. And yet neither Kip nor I had any endurance left in our overindulged Midwestern bodies. We were running on fumes after 24 hours of travel. But we were intractable. We had been anticipating these moments for the better part of a year. So we just kept moving from the second we finally checked our luggage at Rubens at the Palace.

Our room at the Rubens wasn’t ready yet, so we had no choice at first. Waiting for a handful of hours until we were allowed to occupy a room with bed sheets and home-like comfort of any kind, we traversed much more than a handful of yards, from the Changing of the Guard which to my incredulity was right across the street and a block up from the Rubens, to a park where sleeping disheveled vagrants seemed to share the same space as a young students eating sandwiches with a good book, and up and down myriad crowded, bustling streets. The journey ended with perhaps the smallest elevator I’ve ever occupied.

When we’d rejuvenated ourselves, we began a second journey through London. It would’ve been represented by an upward spike if we were to put it on a chart. It started with such disappointment, but then suddenly took off with wonder and thrill at everything we saw and did. We found what looked like a prototypically English pub called Bag O’ Nails just up the block from the Rubens. It was a very centrally located hotel. The Royal Mewes were directly across the street. We were served by an incredibly disorganized Russian. Our stomachs were growling and he had us waiting nearly fifteen minutes before coming to our table. We had fish and chips, a kick-off to the narrative of our English culinary adventures, and my first meal off the continent. And what felt like my first real meal in 12 hours or more.

I dug in. No taste. I thought, Is my American tongue so spoiled that if I don’t have enough food in a day’s time, I lose my sense of taste? I poured a mountain of salt on this fish, and a mountain on my gigantic, rectangular chips, and continued scarfing. Maybe I’ve been smoking too much. I notice my sense of smell hasn’t been too potent recently either. But no, Kip agreed. It was like we were still in Ohio having dinner at TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s. I never thought I’d say an American chain restaurant has more taste than a British pub. Fortunately, I was later to stand overwhelmingly corrected, as I immediately began to hope. I had plenty of time to start doing that as it was a battle getting the waiter’s attention for our bill. We fought this battle, and barely won. It was more like a truce.
Only that night, when we walked through a shockingly lonesome night-time London, did I truly grasp how far and wide we walked after the debut meal. I must’ve just been so starstruck by being in and around Westminster. My actual feet were actually touching the ground of Westminster Abbey. It was made all the more unreal when reality intersected with this exotic but so classically familiar place. Kip’s mother called him, and she got to hear the ubiquitous bells of Big Ben. At that same time, I noticed signs of the strike against the Conservative government’s tax hikes, benefit curbs, and spending cuts I’d heard so much about the day immediately before we left Cincinnati. Yes, both places were real: Home and here. And I applaud that very action and cause no matter where I am, so it was all very exciting.

We then began to spread into the surrounding places. We saw an old bobby bound by duty, and nothing but, to the guard post at a gate. Nothing deterred him, even me standing next to him and having Kip take my picture with him. What’s he going to do? If something actually did happen that was a real security breach, could he still move from his post? And then when it turned out to be nothing and he comes back, a thief or someone got through because he didn’t guard the gate. No amount of effort, I don’t think, could cover all the variables, but I still admired the profound sense of duty and implicit trust instilled in this guy, who could almost be his own metaphor for England on the whole. Those were qualities that seemed to permeate the whole country in all different aspects, from pumping BEFORE you pay, to there evidently being no mandatory tip expected from patrons because the owners pay their staff sufficiently, to various other things that will probably be inherent in the story of my trip if I can allow myself to stop sidetracking.

I can now say I’ve been all over England, literally. I’ve traversed the country, north, south, east and west. Along the way, I’ve taken over a thousand pictures, some good, a few awesome, but I still wish I could’ve gotten this trio of Jamaican guys on that very first day. They were leaning by the Thames, rocking all-black suits, complete with G-man hats, even the one with one leg, resting his stub on his crutch. The middle guy had horn-rimmed glasses. Everyone over there’s got class, but of course leave it to the black guys to set the bar high for coolness.

Anyway, somehow, we ended up approaching Trafalgar Square. I think Kip was intending to find it, but I never had any idea what was next. Kip was the man with the plan, and I was tagging along. This made it all the more disorienting when, passing a McDonalds which was one of myriad shops, restaurants, pubs, ad infinitum on this increasingly bustling street approaching Nelson’s Column in the distance, we heard a shocking cacophony of screaming and crashing dishes. It began to be overlapped by some enraged yelling. Kip and I peered into the McDonald’s warily, and shirtless young man was brandishing something I couldn’t quite distinguish, and a flock of young “chav” girls hustled out onto the sidewalk, shepherded by one of them, who was continually screaming profanity at the top of her lungs. Still inside, it seemed two uniformed servicemen were very calmly ordering their food. One of them was standing in front of the hallways that must’ve led to the bathrooms, perhaps because the shirtless aggressor had followed his rage into one of them. Kip and I carried on, I think feeling like we’d gotten a healthy, refreshing shock to sustain our full wakefulness, but it was only the beginning of what is surely the most concentrated chaos I’ve ever beheld in my entire life.

I’ve been to Times Square. No explanation or comparison required, except that at least on this particular night, Times Square had to have looked like Monument Valley in contrast. We gathered from interactions throughout our travels that the term chav apparently refers to a certain variety of hostile and arrogant teens and young people of underclass background, who occupy their time street drinking, abusing drugs and being rowdy and confrontational. That we had to ask this question after facing hoards of them storming the Square this very night, occasionally offset by drag queens and effeminate gay caricatures. Offset, meaning they were the more normal element to me. That’s something I never expected to see, especially the very first day I set foot on other soil. That an unending procession of teenage mosh pits sharing whole bottles of wine and straight whiskey, wrestling, spraying each other, and pantomiming sex acts covered every inch of the National Gallery’s front lawn is a spectacle all its own I never expected to see in my life.
And this doesn’t even count the literal thousands of pigeons, possibly feral, the incessant traffic pushing and weaving angrily through heaps of j-walkers and curbside loiterers, and of course, the fights! One chav was so incensed by a passing car, she managed to punch the window as it passed. The people occupying the car were so incensed by her being incensed, the car screeched immediately to a halt as a passenger emerged and engaged in a dance of swinging fists, not one of them landing, until their respective companions hustled them away from one another. The elderly couple crossing the street in front us: “Bloody chavs.” Mind you, since the sideshow at McDonalds, this has all transpired in a span of ten, fifteen minutes.


And yet, neither Kip nor I felt even remotely scared or alarmed. Somehow, despite our identities as a vulnerable American tourists, neither of us seemed to sense much in the way of fear about our personal safety. These people didn’t seem dangerous or intent on any malice or harm, just wild and reckless and all in the same place. We even ate dinner at a remarkable pub just around the corner. The names of the place and the indigenous beer we drank have completely escaped us both. But the brilliance of the Ploughman’s Board meal has not. It’s the most perfectly, meticulously balanced meal I’ve ever eaten. So healthy, so quaint.

And indeed (one of the many words I have a newfound enthusiasm for since this epic excursion; most of the other ones I should probably refrain from using here), that walk back to the Rubens was a long and eerily solitary one. Once we were clear of that central vicinity of Trafalgar, people became uncannily scarce. Gradually, the more we walked and the less clear we were on where we were and which direction to go, the more it felt as if we owned the city, like it was just ours and we could roam freely. We did, of course, find the Ruben’s and fell into a deep, practically transcendental sleep after a long double-day of nothing but new things, one after another, and never slowing down in between.

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    << Somehow, despite our identities as a vulnerable American tourists, neither of us seemed to sense much in the way of fear about our personal safety. These people didn’t seem dangerous or intent on any malice or harm, just wild and reckless and all in the same place.>>

    Sadly, based on my time in London that's not always the case.

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    Joe, thanks so much for beginning "the rest of the story" You and AncestralVoice have a wonderful sense of description. Thanks for sharing! And please don't quit until the end!

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    Irish--Joey will probably not be very speedy in getting this done, but he will complete it eventually. We are opposites. I would write a day or two of my version of the trip report quickly and without checking it over, and Joey will take perhaps hours with each day. His will be much better written and more descriptive than mine, but it won't come quickly.

    Ozarksbill---I am Ancestralvoices(Kip), Joey's travel companion. I had already submitted my trip report of the same name "Our 25 Day Journey..." and so Joey just added my screen name to his title so that anyone who'd read mine may know that this is the same trip but seen through another journeyman's eyes.

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    " Those were qualities that seemed to permeate the whole country...from pumping BEFORE you pay"

    How about just straightforward commercial sense?

    If a petrol "buyer" drives off without paying, his car plate's photographed anyway, and the owner of the car is legally required to give details of who was driving at that moment. So, since virtually all customers are going to postpay, they'll come into the shop at their leisure, and spend a fortune on sandwiches etc. In virtually all petrol stations, at least from 0600-2100, the incremental profit from the non-fuel sale far, far, far outweighs the cost of the odd thief filling up a stolen car. Which only the dumbest thieves will do anyway, because their photo's then recorded at the wheel of a stolen car

    If the oil company's so mismanaged as to obsess, universally, on drive-offs it'll have fewer thieves. But, because every customer is then prepaying, the company (and its franchisee) will forfeit the income from the profitable side of the business. But for the oilheads with MBAs who run US downstream oil businesses, avoiding the humiliation of being stolen from matters more than making money.

    Never attribute to moral superiority behaviour that's explicable by common sense.

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    Flanner, we knew that there were speed cameras, but didn't know about cameras at the petrol stations. We are simply not used to them.

    Yes, paying before pumping is the norm in most cities here.

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    Yes, paying before pumping is the norm in most cities here.>>

    not here - for the reasons flanner gives. we like to browse the shelves of over-priced groceries that we normally would't give a second glance, and buy some chocolate for the kids to smear over the seats. my personal favourite is to use the flea-ridden loo.

    we'd much rather do all this for the pleasure of paying after we've fled up, rather than before.

    strange but true.

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    Pumping before paying means you can fill up your tank, hence fewer trips to petrol stations, making sense especially in a rural area.

    There is a superb chocolate shop three doors down from my house so I have no need for petrol station offerings. This is a boon or a danger depending on whether I am waxing or waning.

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    Day 2 RYE

    This was like a trip within a trip. London was like the exposition before the action got going, not to say there wasn’t a surprising amount of action in that one evening in London. But this was going to be a day of driving, meaning Kip was going to be driving on the left for the first time in his life. This dread was at the hub of our anxiety bobbing and weaving through hoards of people at the fascinating Victoria Train Station (so it’s like an outside inside? Or an inside outside?) and onto the train which darted to Gatwick, where we collected a car that I’ve never seen or been inside, called a Vauxhall. We sat in the car, and yes, it’s true, Americans. You feel like you’re supposed to be the one driving when you first get in that passenger seat. But that feeling, frankly, quickly dissipated, luckily for me. The issue was unilaterally Kip’s. Dutifully, he deferred to those to whom he never in his life normally allows himself to defer: Anybody. Simon (our computerized English-accented GPS guide who served as Charlie to our Angels) and I could’ve been world-renowned philosophers and it wouldn’t have mattered to Kip, a man whose pride in his self-sufficiency can be perfectly exemplified by his own stories of previous European experiences, as a collegian, stories for which you should pry him (again, screen name AncestralVoices).

    The very first thing we experienced as motorists on English roads was a roundabout. Normally, it would’ve been fascinating to experience the company of an individual whose body and mind were so defiantly divided, were I not as tense as he was. However, after the first five minutes and onto the blur of motion that is the Motorway? Those were the last five minutes I ever spent on English roads truly anxious for my safety, even including the brutal accident upon our arrival, of all times, at The Mermaid Inn in the otherworldly village of Rye. Brutality is indeed the word for an explosion of vomit bursting onto my side of the windshield from the pale, fleshy face of an obese stranger upon arrival in an utterly foreign place, driving on roads not only lethally narrow to my naïve American eyes but cobbled as if by a person equal parts blind and indiscriminate, so crude and bumpy was the ground beneath us and the indelibly grotesque woman before us. A long indentation caused a small, temporary panic for Kip the insurance provider, thanks to that entire welcoming committee of a person, obviously drunk and stubbornly in our path to what turned out to be one of the most amazing places I’ve ever spent the night, though not a single deceased smuggler haunted us. I was a little offended to be frank.

    It’s a quaint little building of black and white timber and tile, dark oak and carved stone. Squeaky, rasping floors, clandestine staircases that were uneven (very uneven after having been drinking a bit), and a maze of passageways and rooms for lounging, all surrounded by wood aged by centuries. I didn’t have wi-fi in our beam-ceiling room overlooking Mermaid Street on the second floor through diamond-paned windows, but it was uncanny letting my friends in Cincinnati on Facebook know of my whereabouts from an elaborately carved chair in a 600-year-old lounge. Sorry, forgot it was updated. Make that 500 years. However, the cellar, built in the 1100s, remains untouched by such modern amenities.

    Being in a town like Rye feels so insulated, but not in the way that an American small town is insulated. We truly felt as if we had genuinely dropped off the face of the earth and into this perfect, long-ago idyllic world of flowers, foliage and rough-edged rock, where we kept more intimate company with wild birds than with people. Henry James’ crib, Ypres Tower, the Church of St. Mary, all kept just the way they left them. We were reassured of our being in satisfactory enough physical shape when squeezing through the untouched staircases leading to the Church’s belfry, where we were given the ultimate reassurance: That this whole town and landscape was utterly real.

    At the center of the town, we came upon a cemetery where an elderly woman sat on a bench. Her name was Eddie, as Kip learned after approaching her politely. Eddie opened up about some droll historical facts about the town, and recommended the local pottery shop. I decided to take a picture of the two of them. She asked if we wanted a picture of the two of us. SWOOSH This lady eighty-plus years of age proved herself quite un-self-consciously spry. She looked at the picture I took of her with Kip and remarked upon how short she is. “I should’ve stood up on my toes,” she said, demonstrating with ease! More on old ladies with unexpected physical capabilities further along in the trip.

    It was late in the day, but Kip was eager to squeeze in a drive to Beachy Head to climb the Down towards the lighthouse and wade into the sea. Certainly stark in contrast to our wade through Trafalgar Square. What I remember most vividly about that experience, both on the edge of the ocean and as close to the edge of the cliff as it felt safe enough to go, was the texture of the ground. It always felt like it was moving with me, adjusting to my weight and the consistency of my shoes, and in the case of the pebble beach, my bare feet. Later, I read that the cliff was in the opening scene of The Living Daylights, the James Bond film, where 007 parachutes from a jeep which overshoots the top of the cliff. I guess this kinda-sorta maybe compensates for a later disappointment in the removal of the James Bond Museum from Keswick.

    When we returned to the medieval parish of Rye, every pub and restaurant was done serving food. I wonder what would’ve happened if that Indian restaurant were not still open. Would we have simply gone to bed with growling stomachs till morning? Does that happen often to people in England who don’t manage their time well enough in accordance with the schedules of other businesses? The Indian restaurant was the complete reward for a truly awe-inspiring day, nonetheless. What seemed to be a father and his loyal team of sons managing and serving this luscious feast might’ve served us the best Indian meal either of us have ever enjoyed. I can’t be sure because I tend to order the same thing every time I eat Indian, so it all runs together. For me, it might’ve simply been the appetite having aggressively mounted after an exceedingly active day of incessant new experiences, but for Kip it was a dream come true, because it was one of a very small handful of times I’ve ever seen him satisfied with the level of spice in an Indian meal.

    The only other party at the otherwise tranquil restaurant was a large group of jolly inebriated folks. I remember them colorfully because it was the first time I’d had the opportunity to sit and listen extensively to the accents and idioms. They actually weren’t Sussex accents either. They sounded, frankly, like the East End Londoners I grew up hearing in all the Guy Ritchie and Ray Winstone films. By now, I was veritably starting to comprehend that I was really here, in the United Kingdom. By the end of the trip, it would be the sound of American voices that would have this effect, as I became so very accustomed to hearing the graceful sound of English tongues.

    Other than this jolly bunch, Kip and I were once again the only ones awake in the town. It was uncanny. Two nights in a row, the first two on foreign soil for yours truly, and I had the mysterious privilege of closing down two amazing new places.

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    I wonder what would’ve happened if that Indian restaurant were not still open. Would we have simply gone to bed with growling stomachs till morning? Does that happen often to people in England who don’t manage their time well enough in accordance with the schedules of other businesses? >>

    Jo - this happened to us last week, on my birthday!

    we were rescued by what turned out to be a very good restaurant that enterprisingly was still serving lunch at 2.15.

    What recession?

    i love your description of Rye and your experiences there.

    keep them coming!

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    tarquin...different people do differently. I now hand the attendant (around here most stations pump for you) a twenty and he pumps. Used to use Discover/Master/American Express credit card but scaling back due to possible fraud. Back in Missouri I routinely filled tank myself. Many years ago I had several gas company cards.

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    >>I wonder what would’ve happened if that Indian restaurant were not still open. Would we have simply gone to bed with growling stomachs till morning? Does that happen often to people in England who don’t manage their time well enough in accordance with the schedules of other businesses? >>

    In small towns, yes. Most people don't eat out that much, and often the Indian or Chinese restaurant is the only place that opens late - and is known to, so no-one else bothers.

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    Day 3 BATH

    The day began as we roused to a massive Old English breakfast in The Mermaid Inn’s picturesque dining room. This was the inauguration of one of Kip’s many recurring commentaries. The deep, dark orange of the yolk in England’s eggs are definitely a difference from the pallid, supermarket yellow of our corn-fed Stateside eggs. He was certain that this indicated the freshness of the former, and thus the contented lives of the initial hens. Personally, I was stricken by the glorious taste of the sausage and bacon in the Queen’s country. In the States, I’ve never been particular on either, though I’ve never been too terribly honest about that even with myself. I suppose it’s always merely depended on when and where I had a meal that included them. I was finally disabused when I bit into my first link in the United Kingdom, and the bacon isn’t a piece of charcoal over there like it is in America. Instead, it’s juicy, streaky and flavorful, as was the black pudding, about which I knew nothing of the content until near the end of the entire trip. I have a harder time eating tomatoes and mushrooms than congealed pig blood, I guess. There’s also the pleasant surprise of baked beans. The toast is just toast, as I’m sure it is everywhere else on earth, but the butter had a subtle difference that, like the eggs, sausage and bacon, was not a one-off Mermaid Inn thing but a literally national distinction. Though porridge, here and elsewhere, seemed like a redundancy, like a meal in itself, this mammoth bounty allotted us ample protein for lingering, dynamic days. This particular one I’m not confident in my ability to describe. Subjective, interpretive adjectives are frankly impotent regarding the city of Bath. I’ll just focus on the facts and events as best as I can recall.

    Simon shepherded us along our lengthiest car ride, I believe. It’s already inexplicably unreal just approaching the World Heritage site, because the slender, long-drawn-out countryside road along which we had to continually evade sheep offered no signal whatsoever of the textile of theatres, museums and several other artistic and sporting venues we reached at the other end of it.


    Bath is so purely and uncompromisingly preserved that I can’t recall any other carparks except the one we chanced upon at the anomalous edge of town, where modern buildings humbly sat. Indeed, the host of the Three Abbey Green hotel came to fetch us by foot. We saw her approaching, a smiling, congenial woman whose body was agile and sexy, clearly owing to the amount of walking that is not only the customary means of transport in the country, but in this particular city, we were about to see that cars have always been more or less outcasts completely. It didn’t seem like we were walking from one part of the city to another closeby; it was as if we were marching through a shifting backdrop as suddenly golden-colored stone stretched towards the sky and honey-hued facades beamed at us with elated welcome. In the hundreds of years these churches, houses, archways and countless public buildings have stood, no matter what cafes or shops they’ve become, the warmth and effervescence in their color remained immaculate. Consistent with the distance we were walking from our Vauxhall, one square after another was car-free, just as I imagine it must’ve been in the 18th century.

    Quite a bit older still were the arched windows and passionately detailed carvings of the ruddy-complected Bath Abbey cathedral, the beating heart at the center of Bath, and Three Abbey Green was very nearby, in its own intimate square which could always rely on the faithful 200-year-old tree in the center. We followed Friday up several carpeted flights of stairs, at the top of which always seemed to be book cases or chairs settled alongside the guest rooms. How could something so seemingly residential exist in such a bustling inner-city landscape? It was like Bowman’s synthetic fantasy earth abode at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. We reached the top floor, where Friday introduced us to our view overlooking our own little square, which I admired briefly before relinquishing our luggage and bursting back out the door to saunter through this immersive tangle of squares and shuts, stained glass and stone ladders, monasteries and monuments.

    I mentioned when I began this trip report that no matter how grand and new everything was, it still hadn’t truly, physically dawned on me that I was actually here. Well, wandering deeper into the city, we were drawn by an enormous tree with various shaded stumps. Like a pinwheel, it was at the center of a perfect, giant circle. You spin yourself 360 degrees around and you see nothing but mind-bogglingly symmetrical townhouses curved to accommodate the exemplary concrete ring, divided into impeccably proportional segments from which cars would slither from one division and out of sight into another. And no matter which one from which it entered this hypnotic architectural tour de force, called The Circus as I’m sure most readers have already guessed, each of the curved segments faces one of those entrances. So no matter where you come in, you’re directly confronting a classical façade. It’s like a Da Vinci creation. It’s hard not to be throttled from your normal paradigm and into another when you’ve never seen anything like this, and were not expecting to even moments before doing so.

    The same is true of the Royal Crescent, to Bath dwellers just a residential road of a couple dozen or so houses, seamlessly connected and laid out in a semi-circle. One may think that it’s only half the majesty of the Circus, as it’s only half the circle. But ironically, the Royal Crescent is the best of both worlds, those two worlds being the public frontage facing the sprawling architectural nuances of the town, and the inner façade which makes separate an evenly hedged delta of green that the enviably contented public used as a park. But not so fast! There is a trench slicing geometrically across the green, and the portion of lawn nearest to the townhouses is off limits. We weren’t certain why, though we analyzed. Kip guessed it was to avoid any interruption of the view from a park further ahead. Whatever the reason, no matter what we saw these outdoors people were doing---children playing tag or something similar, teens passing what was presumably a joint, adults of all ages reading and sharing the air with each other---they all implicitly obeyed the understood embargo of the trench.

    At some point during this experiential elation, we stopped and had dinner at Riverside Café, the kind of bohemian coffee place you see in all the grungier or collegiate neighborhoods here, except this one just happened to be literally right on the edge above the River Avon. As I relished a brilliant meal---something I happened to be primevally craving for some reason with clams and chips---and tea, we watched the ongoing turf war between the seagulls and the pigeons. The seagulls had the definite upper hand. Frankly, a seagull ruthlessly drowning a frantic pigeon was the most indelible sight we took in on a marginally eventful Avon cruise, arguably more than being encouraged to look in the general direction of Shakespeare’s birth town.


    Upon our return to Bath, the town had exploded to life with street theatre, musicians, crowds of all colors, accents and sexual orientations melting together. We didn’t get to close the town all by ourselves like we strangely happened to do in London and Rye so far, but we were alone and yet part of the mishmash. I called my parents from an outdoor pub watching the lavender twilight paint the out-and-out contrast between the promptness of Bath’s streets, squares and terraces with the rural nature adjacent, surrounding and altogether coexisting. The puzzlement of our drive here was ultimately being clarified. I listened to my mom’s eager voice, my dad’s deadpan puns, and for the first time since setting foot in England, that which was familiar to me now felt shockingly fresh. I was now fully “here.”

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    The deep, dark orange of the yolk in England’s eggs are definitely a difference from the pallid, supermarket yellow of our corn-fed Stateside eggs. He was certain that this indicated the freshness of the former, and thus the contented lives of the initial hens.>>

    I don't want to disillusion you, but the colour of the yolks IS due to the feed, [which is sometimes dyed] not to the freshness of the eggs. free-range hens will generally have deeper coloured yolks due to the grass, worms and other protein the hens consume as well as the chicken feed and/or corn they are given.

    that aside, great writing. I'm enjoying reading about your trip through your different perspective very much.

    keep it coming!

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    Day 4 BATH, PART II

    Our Full English was served in the antiseptic basement dining hall of Three Abbey Green. Today, Friday was upstaged by another hotelier named Nicki. Actually, we learned Friday’s name was Nicki, too. However, in order to differentiate between the two, Friday took her evident nickname. Anyway, we first began to notice Nicki after overhearing two older American couples from Virginia, if I remember correctly from distantly absorbing their now foreign-seeming conversation. Wherever in the States they were from, I seem to recall them insisting upon the artificial butter that we Americans are accustomed to being served in small plastic packets, rather than the butter I described when telling the previous day having breakfast at The Mermaid Inn in the quaint haven of Rye. Nicki accommodated them, as well as Kip and me, with the reproduction butter. But Kip insisted upon the butter she would’ve rather served initially.


    Kip insisted we visit the fresh-looking public bathing site of the Roman Baths center, I guess because it seemed like the eponymous attraction, a must-see. Sort of like if you’re a movie buff but you’ve never seen Braveheart. The Baths themselves are below the contemporary street level, with various features and artifacts from the Roman era, springs, offerings to goddesses, a pump room and of course numerous international tourists. It was a brief visit, but not as brief as our visit to Bath Abbey. A university graduation ceremony occupied the cathedral and the courtyards around it. We couldn’t even step foot inside. It intrigued how the night before, in that very courtyard, was a lonely street musician playing a sad old folk air on a penny whistle and being attended by his plainly loyal dog. So touching and melancholy.

    But one thing I forgot to mention in Part I was the incessant ringing of its bells. Just like the center of attention to be constantly calling more attention to itself. I saw an adorable little girl walking with presumably her mother and singing the melody in one of its short-lived intervals of silence.

    Oh, and that park whose view of the Royal Crescent is protected by the trench. We strolled through, and savored each and every moment. Some young Jamaican guys occupied a skateboard ramp. A few couples played tennis. There was a boating pond and a colossal botanical garden, but most of all: Green, green, green, green, green. No developers building big box stores on it, no crass condominiums or shopping malls. Just green. Green for tennis, green for putting and golf, green for open-air concerts, green for children running around freely and playing tirelessly.

    Before leaving Three Abbey Green, Kip began to strike up conversation with Nicki, while Friday---now dressed in what looked to me like nurse scrubs---acted as custodian and dishwasher after the guests’ breakfast. Kip is always the more outgoing one, when he and I happen to both be meeting someone, but Nicki was very interested in engaging Kip on the cultural differences we’d already begun to notice. She must not have many opportunities to vent about her experiences with the majority of her American guests, mainly women, for whom she had a laundry scroll of critical adjectives, including “needy,” “pampered,” “ignorant” and ultimately, “quite a bit arrogant.” She spoke generally of particular instances, but was also urgent in going on record with her acknowledgement of the many exceptions, noting that she has indeed hosted some “perfectly lovely” American guests.

    As the vibe started to verge on our return to the carpark at the comparatively grotesque modern edge of town and subsequent departure to the Cotswolds, she educated us on the correct pronunciation of Llandudno. She said she went to college in Wales. And when Kip mentioned our indecision regarding a visit to Blackpool, she recommended it for the sheer kitsch of it. She likened it to Las Vegas in certain respects, mainly its supposed tackiness. Frankly though, the most indelible particular item from our long dialogue with her, for me, was that when Kip demonstrated his English accent---informed by decades of BBC and past experiences in the UK, and admired by countless American friends---she laughed and said he sounded like Dick Van Dyke. What a paradigm shift for us!

    I suppose that’s enough about Bath. Kip described Bath in his trip report with much more succinctness and straightforwardness than I have, namely when he talks about the difficulty of capturing the place in photographs. One can only be present there first-hand to truly be subjected to and have a handle on the absolute awe. Not to say illustrating my time there was a waste of your time, because hopefully my reaction has portrayed that difficulty in fuller detail.

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    Annhig---regarding the eggs---I asked that very question. We were told in Rye, Cotswolds, Lakes and Yorkshire that only free range hens eggs were served, so the deep orange that we consumed was due to the freshness(and happiness?) of the hens.

    I have a some observations that I forgot to mention in my own version of this trip report.

    Do people in the south drive faster? We noticed that in Yorkshire the driving pace slowed down considerably.

    Also, we were struck by the lack of roadkill in the south. We saw no dead animals on the road, but then in North Yorkshire we were shocked to see many many dead rabbits on the roads. One right after another.

    Finally--why did we never happen upon any railroad crossings? It seemed strange that we didn't cross one train track during our drive through so much of the country.

    Good job, Joey! I'm enjoying seeing our trip through your eyes. It's allowing me to remember things I had forgotten.

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    I've been puzzling over this new "trench" in front of the Royal Crescent, never having noticed it. Do you mean a ha-ha, a steep change in level originally used to keep livestock at a distance from houses?

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    >.why did we never happen upon any railroad crossings? It seemed strange that we didn't cross one train track during our drive through so much of the country. <<

    That's an interesting observation. I suspect the answer lies in the fact that in Britain, railways had to be inserted into the existing uses of land, in both town and country. They and their promoters were regarded with a lot of suspicion by landowners, whose approval would be needed for a new line to go through. It caused a lot of disruption, and there was a great deal of concern over the potential impact on livestock and the like, so bridges over and under existing roadways simply became the norm. (In modern times, it's not unknown for special little tunnels to be built under new roads for wild animals to be able to follow their usual trackways in safety, rather than let them get squished).

    There are a fair number of level crossings still (and occasionally accidents at them) - but these are usually on very quiet by-ways.

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    It's a pity that so many tourists only experience fish and chips in pubs. I suspect that the microwave often has a lot to do with it.

    The place to get fish and chips is from a proper "chippy" preferably at the seaside. A typical one will have a queue outside and steamed up windows. Inside, a group of busy people will be dipping fish in batter, lowering it into deep fat fryers and then scooping it into racks before serving it piping hot to customers. Most chippies will have a place where you can sit to eat your meal, but the vast majority of customers will take away parcels of warm aromatic fish and chips to eat at home or strolling along the pavement.

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    >>Also, we were struck by the lack of roadkill in the south. We saw no dead animals on the road, but then in North Yorkshire we were shocked to see many many dead rabbits on the roads. One right after another.<<

    It may be either that rabbits are less plentiful in the south, because of the nature of the landscape, or heavier pest control, or conversely that life is easier for them so that they don't cross roads so much.

    To live up to regional stereotyping, they could be the kind of cunning, sly, soft southern jessies that made a killing on lettuce futures and found themselves a nice big field with all they need on tap. Whereas the hardier northern types have to hop miles each day looking for grass ("Grass? Looxury! We 'ad nobbut a bit of withered thistle to nibble on"), and have a tendency to stand their ground and speak their mind, thumbs in weskit pockets, plumb in the middle of the road if any fancy southerner comes poncing along in their plush car.

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    when Kip demonstrated his English accent---informed by decades of BBC and past experiences in the UK, and admired by countless American friends---she laughed and said he sounded like Dick Van Dyke. >>

    LOL - probably NOT a compliment! and sorry to be pedantic but the yellowness of the yolks STILL has nothing to do with the freshness of the egg!

    and I can tell you that deep down in the south west we are over-run with bunnies and they frequently end up squished on the roadside, along with foxes, badgers, crows, etc.

    ever played roadkill cricket? you score a run for every leg of the roadkill on your side of the car - eg a crow is 2 runs, a rabbit 4. endless fun on a long journey.

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    Annhig, re roadkill cricket: just the sort of twisted game my relatives and I love! I must introduce it on our next journey! (Can we change the name to roadkill baseball?)

    Joe, I am enjoying your writing and observations! Looking forward to more. Thanks for sharing!

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    tarquin-- it was probably what you described. Joey described it as a "trench" and that's not the best word to use. It was more of a "break" in the lawn. We were amused that it was not crossed by even one person. Like an invisible wall.

    Patrick---thanks for the explanation. I had expected more rail crossings because your rail system is so much more extensive than ours.

    Missprism---that Russian/English Pub was our only bad fish and chips on the entire trip, but we did have it from a few chippies later in the trip.

    annhig--you're not being pedantic, you're just being a Virgo!! but I still disagree with you even though I love Virgos! My Grandfather ran a pheasant hatchery and farmed for most of his 99 years of life. He said(and others agree) that chickens which are free range will eat more greens which gives them more beta carotene which causes the yolks to be darker.

    "Beta carotene, or xanthophyll both are natural plant pigments. When hens are able to eat green plant material or yellow corn (factory farm hens are sometimes fed yellow dye or other supplements to color the yolks), the beta carotene concentrates in the yolk making it dark sometimes even orange." http://coyotecreekfarm.blogspot.com/2007/04/color-of-egg-yolks.html
    You're right in that some are fed colored dyes, and that is why I asked about the hens at some of our B and B's. Whenever I go to the farmers market and buy eggs(not often) the yolks are always that deeper color. When I purchase from the store(even organic)--pale yellow. I can usually tell even by the firmness of the yolk. I am very picky when it comes to eggs, butter, etc. Virgo ascendant, you know!

    Nicki told me afterwards that my English accent was like someone who lives in Essex. I have no idea what that means or what they sound like, but there it is. The Dick van Dycke was when I purposefully exaggerated it(Mary Poppins). Nicki was terrific, but Joey is correct when he wrote about her opinion of American women. She said that other B and B hostesses would agree with her, but not feel comfortable in admitting their true feelings. We were sorry that her father was out of town during our visit because she said his personality was exactly the same as the John Cleese character in Fawlty Towers!

    Have you decided yet on your Netherlands holiday with your mother?

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    But AV I'm AGREEING with you about the eggs - what you originally posted was this:

    We were told in Rye, Cotswolds, Lakes and Yorkshire that only free range hens eggs were served, so the deep orange that we consumed was due to the freshness(and happiness?) of the hens. >>

    ie you were told that the colour was due to the freshness not the feed, which as you indicate is not correct. i agree that free-range eggs usually have deeper yolks for the very reasons you given but as you say it is not an infallible rule as some commercial chicken feed has dye added to it to give the same results.

    thanks for asking about the trip to Holland with my mum. it's sort of planned - flights bought, hotels booked [not sure about my choice but there didn't seem to be much that ticked all the boxes], but we are off to Germany next week so any more planning will have to wait till we come back.

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    ha annhig I think I get what you mean. Maybe we just have a different interpretation of freshness, then. FInding out that they were laid a day or two before consuming means fresh to me. I noticed that eggs are sold in your stores un refrigerated and in smaller batches. Over here they are sold refrigerated with an alleged long shelf life and with more eggs per carton---and almost always with a pallid yellow yolk.

    What part of Germany? I know a few things... if you happen to be near The Eifel region(near Belgium) have a stop in Monschau. If you're in the north or Harz mountains area then DEFINITELY take a peek at the beautiful town of Quedlinburg! PLease let me know where you're going==joey won't mind a bit of thread hijacking!

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    ok, AV, here goes with the hijack!

    we are actually going on a lawyers' trip to a place called Naumburg near Leipzig. we are due to stay with our hosts [who are both judges] for 5 nights and there are visits planned to Halle and Leipzig, as well as Naumburg, plus a dinner, wine-tasting, another dinner - you get the idea.

    we are topping and tailing the trip with a day or two to ourselves - from Berlin, which we fly into, we are driving to Potsdam where we will stay the night and then tour [Sanssouci etc] before we set off for Naumburg in the afternoon, and when it's over, we've planned to drive to Dresden, and spend a night and the whole of the rest of the next day there before we fly home.

    so at the moment, no room for Quedlingburg or the Harz - if we'd had longer I'd have loved to have gone there but there isn't time to do everything! However, any ideas will be gratefully received.

    ref those dratted eggs again, yes of course i agree about freshness as we have our own hens and rarely use any egg that is more than 2 days old. Heaven knows how old those supermarket ones are, and i doubt if refrigerating them makes any difference to the shelf life. did you know that you can test for the age of an egg? put it [in the shell of course!] in a bowl of tepid water and watch what happens - if it is fresh, it will sink on its side to the bottom. the older it is, the more the rounded end sticks up until an old egg will be standing upright.

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    Oh shoot I have never been to the areas you are visiting! Darn. Can't help at all. but it sounds like you will be in good hands and it's always a benefit to stay with locals. Sounds like a great trip! See, this is what I dislike about living here---what are our choices for a 5 day away? Still mainly within our own country. You can hop on over to Germany one week, France another, Norway....

    You have just made my day with the egg age test!!!! I've never heard of it but you can trust that it will become a ritual in my house. I love eggs but can also be very easily disgusted with them. VERY easily. It's almost a neurosis! Perhaps I had some sort of incident with an egg as a child lol. My granddad also had turkey eggs on his farm. Never liked them--but I do believe that eggs, honey, and apples can help to promote a long life(granddad and his siblings all lived into late nineties and early 100's.).

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    Well said MissPrism - fish and chips have to come from a chippy or seaside cafe - no point having them at a pub. In fact, I'd make it compulsary for visitors to Blighty to buy a good pub guide in advance so they can guarantee getting a decent pie or ploughmans, rather than Iceland's finest offerings reheated in the microwave.

    Nice report Jo, though I hate to break it to you that the Essex accent is not generally one to aspire to ;-)

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    There used to be a rather grotty looking place in Felixtowe by the old harbour that served wonderful fish and chips, lovely crisp batter and good chunky chips. Sadly, the last time I was there, it seemed to have closed. It proudly advertised "Freshly caught fish and chips". I had this lovely picture of all those chips running for their lives and being pursued with butterfly nets.

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    but I do believe that eggs, honey, and apples can help to promote a long life(granddad and his siblings all lived into late nineties and early 100's.).>>

    I'm not overfond of honey but I'm doing my best with the eggs and apples.

    we are lucky that we can just "hop over" to "continental europe" as some people quaintly call it. Norway's a bit far, but France, Holland and Belgium are definitely possible for even 3 day trips. in fact now I think about it, we've done just 2 nights in Paris before now, and 3 nights in Prague Budapest and Madrid c/o easyjet or ryanair.

    but OTOH, New York is quite a long way!

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    Day 5 THE COTSWOLDS Part I

    After roughly an hour and half of driving from Bath, we happened through Bourton on the Water en route to our goal of Snowshill. Throughout our stay in the Cotswolds, this eclectic, level valley parish proved the most frequented of the villages, though that says little. The diversity of people didn’t cloud the picturesque High Street, nor the long wide greens and river lining it. It seemed to have less visitors than residents, but the visitors we saw and encountered at the tea shops and park benches and crossing the humble arched bridges shared the collective welcome and gracious disposition we were discovering to be the broad-spectrum temperament of England’s South. For the busiest village in this range of hilly counties, we managed to be served our tea luncheons rather quickly.

    Over the course of our three-day stay in the Cotswolds, we twice visited this small, historic co-mingling of natural beauty and old-fashioned commerce. According to Kip, it’s viewed as a bustling tourist center, but the only evidence of that which I saw was actually yet another example of the sublime temperance of the United Kingdom as I experienced it. The scenic streets were indeed lined with shops and trinket stores of various kinds, many involving the heritage of the village as well as the Cotswolds on the whole. And yet, not a single inch of natural beauty was compromised in its favor. For a village of day-trippers and sightseers, there was never a moment on those charming strolls or wandering through those quaint little shops when anything caught either Kip or me as cheap, vulgar, gaudy or crass.


    Nevertheless, after this first lunch and stroll in this three-day spine of rolling hills and stone, we were due at our bed and breakfast in Snowshill. We arrived at a sheep farm. Stepping out of the car is still a tangible moment for me that I won’t soon forget, no matter how long it’s been since returning to the humid, smog-filled air of the US. The wind was so robust, the sky was gray, the air clean. The blustering breeze coolly caressed my shirt and resounded across my earlobes as I stood in awe of the endless pasture of gently sloping knolls and farm fields peppered with sheep, roaming freely like a bleating convention that stretched for miles.

    The second house on the property, where we stayed, was a modern structure, the only one I’d been inside in five days, an extraordinary amount of time for an American not to have a relationship with surroundings built in his own century. But each of these three mornings, we emerged from it, crossed through that blissful, gusting current where we would be greeted by charitable proprietor Tim Harrison’s free-roaming, endlessly playful dog and entered their home proper. His modest, gracious wife Jackie would serve us the warmest, most plentiful morning bounty of Full English, porridge and fruit. Our array of coffee, tea and juices were waited on by the most beautiful young dark-haired girl working for Jackie. She held her head low, smiled meekly and I don’t believe we ever learned her name.


    Once we’d arrived that first day, we abandoned our luggage in the antibacterial home comforts of our room and board, and after that first run-around with Tim’s dog, one of the very happiest I’ve ever met in my entire life, Kip led our first footpath, beginning directly through the Harrisons’ back gate, through which pasture I remember thinking about the sheep while watching my every step, “I’ve never seen a living being, human or not, so unconditionally free that they are thoroughly, unreservedly surrounded by their source of sustenance (grass), can excrete it out their back ends any time and anywhere they like (grass)! It’s the simplest, most inconceivably stress-free existence that’s even possible, I’m sure!” Meanwhile, Kip was reacting to my minding each step through the poop-ridden grazing land and exhorting me, “Quit looking down! Look out and absorb the experience!” It somehow never occurred to him that I didn’t want the only shoes I brought with me on a three-week vacation to smell like feces. That aside, it was an easy, peaceful excursion.

    And the town of Snowshill was a paradise not merely in the hyperbolic conventional use of that word. With truth to the letter, for a residential township, with a famous manor home open to the public, it was rare that we saw a single human soul outside The Snowshill Arms. And even in there, we found only two or three unassuming parties of local folks. This place was untouched, unsullied, by anyone, as if we were walking through a scale model, one that was as alive as possible with scents, currents of the freshest air, the living sound of stillness and silence. It’s a shift of one’s day-by-day paragon when you realize just how alive the world itself is, without the bustle of human activity. The earth would be A-OK without us.


    That evening, we realized how convenient it was that Snowshill felt centrally located in the Cotswolds as Kip drove us a winding but very short distance to the village of Broadway. There, we discovered a three-century-old pub called The Crown and Trumpet, where I savored two delicious faggots in my mouth and for the rich, gooey extra treat at the end of that succulent indulgence, I relished a spotted dick. Having gone outside for a well-earned cigarette, we took notice of the American accents murmuring across the front area of tables and benches.

    After what had already seemed like a whole trip in itself, our ears seemed much sharper and more discerning when it came to our indigenous dialect. Kip struck up conversation with Malcolm and June, who were living in the American Southwest, though she was from Canada. They, like us, were evading the blistering ozone reduction of the States, though on top of that, they were also eluding what Malcolm claimed was the third largest forest fire in Arizona’s history, wind blowing smoke from the flaming pine into New Mexico and Colorado. Though we had Cincinnati’s several consecutive days of smog alerts and 90-degree weather to offer, they clearly took the cake in regards to the Great Escape from the States. Notwithstanding, little did we know at this early stage, there would not be one subsequent day in England when we wouldn’t discover that vehicular emissions and other industrial fumes in Cincinnati were at alert levels.

    We’d acquainted ourselves comfortably enough with this genial young couple that they offered to buy us a drink. Thus began my hot-cold relationship with Scrumpy. Oh, my Scrumpy, how you toyed with my heart. I must’ve had three pints of delicious Scrumpy as Kip and I continued to socialize with Malcolm and June and the four of us began to pal around with hilarious old goiter-sporting Englishman Bob, his ebullient Scottish wife Betty and the dog they treated like their child. Kip wound up spending a great deal of time talking to an earthy middle-aged woman named Lorraine before being egged on by the lot of us to play the pub’s lonely old upright piano.

    Malcolm, having learned Kip composes as well as teaches music, encouraged him to start with an original piece. I recall feeling almost astrally projected hearing music I and very few other people on earth are familiar with, and yet being in a completely, utterly foreign place with completely, utterly new people. Then, for dessert, he played the great drunk white people song Piano Man by Billy Joel before launching into Elgar’s quintessential British anthem Land of Hope and Glory, with which the whole pub sang along, as proud as ever of being British, as they very well should be.
    And, just like a wanton woman, I awoke to find Scrumpy had left me with an immense ache. I'm not easily hung over, sincerely. But Scrumpy. Ooooh, Scrumpy...

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    Day 6 THE COTSWOLDS Part II

    Inside the first hour of the second day in The Cotswolds, Kip and I found ourselves engulfed in a crushing sea of the boldest lavender. Rows and rows and rows and rows. At the same time I reacted with awe, I felt oppressed by the powerful minty scent. Intermittently while Kip painstakingly staged the perfect photograph of himself looking swallowed up in the bounding waves of flowers against the azure sky and intrepid clouds, I was preoccupied with the busybody bees and other insects hovering about the lavender and seeming irritated by our presence.


    Not only have I never seen anything of the like anywhere in the States, there was yet another experience unique to my life immediately after Snowshill Lavender when we happened upon the Cotswolds Falconry Center, where nearly every species of owl, falcon and other birds of prey could be seen, up close and personal. Many were intimidating as they looked at you with cold, black eyes. There were even vultures, befittingly housed high above the ground to look down upon us like a quarry. A lanky Cockney demonstrator gathered us visitors to exhibit and expound upon the flight methods of a handful of these fascinating animals. He fed them little chicks right before us, one falcon unabashedly ripping out the innards of one carcass and gobbling them down. He would release the birds into the sky. As I squinted and teared up at the sunlight, the falcon was but a blemish in the bright blue, and yet the lure offered by the Guy Ritchie-sounding demonstrator on the ground would invariably affect the direction of the little winged speck. Also, the owl he exhibited, “a rubbish flyer” as he so succinctly put it, flew so close above my head that his talons grazed my hair.


    Tea and scones in Bourton on the Water preceded a drive to the quaint, wooded village of Stanton, where we parked and wandered in a rambling, gradual circle uphill into Stanway and back. Having become a couch potato and media junkie in my daily American grind, I’d forgotten just how much I adore a protracted walk. It was one of many that consumed several miles and several hours.


    After rewarding our lazy-by-nature selves with the snug refuge of our Sheepscombe digs to indulge in our internet connections, we attempted to repeat the remarkable night of social joy we’d previously had by venturing just a few yards up the hill to Snowshill Arms for good ol’ fish, chips and pea mash. We looked around for warm conversation. No such luck. But I did reunite with my old flame…sweet, voluptuous Scrumpy. She came at me in curves. I drank her like apple cider after a long, arduous day at the office. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it’s true, so help me. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps.


    Back in our Sheepscombe lodgings, falling asleep to the numbing ecstasy of that apple-flavored tramp from a long line of tramps, I began to reflect on the sounds of those enviable, bleating wild fleece. You know, I always thought the bleating sounds made by sheep had a choppy, brute jingle of “baaaaah!” Not these sheep. They sounded literally like stoner surfer dudes from California saying, “Muh!” I remember, one said, “Mah!” Then another said, “Muh!” And back and forth like that. It sounded uncannily like an argument over pronunciation. That’s all I remember before Scrumpy left me again with a throbbing that only made me want her more. She knew how to put the moves on me.

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    You have clearly fallen heavily for the Cotswolds, and it must be wonderful the first time you come across sheep eating grass. However, your enthusiasm for Bourton on the Water and Broadway is a little misplaced. These are tourist destinations - very attractive, well maintained, and the shops sell a better class of tat - but they exist for their visitors and the visitors come to them for what they are. Other Cotswold towns and villages are more authentic in that they have a real role in the neighbourhoods, and their attractive arhictecture is sometimes compromised by industry and commerce. Cirencester, Winchcombe, Painswick and Chipping Camden are in that category.

    Three pints of scrumpy? Are you sure it was the real stuff, and not just ordinary cider? That amount can lead to madness, blindness and worse.

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    Three pints of scrumpy? Are you sure it was the real stuff, and not just ordinary cider? That amount can lead to madness, blindness and worse.>>

    worse? a desire to read the Daily Mail perhaps, or to try Morris dancing?

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    Day 7 THE COTSWOLDS Part III: The Golden Years


    Blenheim Palace or Sudeley Castle? Kip had already been to Blenheim before, but I thought Winston Churchill’s place was worth a look despite that. I dunno, maybe it’s just me. Arriving there in our rented Vauxhall, we had one of the longer walks of the week just ahead of us. Indeed, the grounds were so vast, so shamelessly expansive, that there were literally shuttles of tourists being taken from the parking area to the front gate. And there are people who own this property and live inside it.

    For those of you who haven’t been, it is by definition a bona fide palace, and it stands monumentally in the center of a literal park, undulating from one elaborate garden to the next, adorned with rows of statues, columns, even a bridge over a lake, into which water surges from a cascade. This is not what surrounds the property. This is the property. And there are people who own it and live inside it.

    After being dwarfed by his house, which was built for giants, I believe, and his gardens thick with rows of naked stone men, none of which seemed to resemble the Churchill family as seen in the immense portraits in the mansion, Kip and I set off for a refreshing change of pace in the categorically modest Slaughter villages. They’re so modest, in fact, that I still don’t know the difference between Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. But modesty is a beautiful quality, I think.

    And any village with a water mill has that trait, especially along the natural route of such a gentle, pastoral walk that felt timeless. Timeless is the perfect word, I think, for a place so populated with slugs. No matter how dutiful and persistent they were on their own respective little journeys, the time it must’ve taken them to get as far as they’d gotten could’ve been the age of the village itself. They were like little hourglasses. Oddly enough, listening to the loud, pontificating American in the Chipping Campden tea shop we stopped in was like staring at one. But all the same, time flies when you’re enjoying the luscious ritual of tea and scones.

    What meal would that be in American terms? The remaining sour cream and onion Lays chips in your car? Or did you make that arduous trip all the way to your car, all the way down the block and deal with the gross inconvenience of waiting behind the exhaust-jetting Dodge Ram barge at the drive-thru for a steroid and processed starch burger?


    That night back in Sheepscombe, after our final stroll through the hideaway paradise of Snowshill, Kip and I lay on our beds taking in our final gasps of the heavenly lavender sky, the sounds of the sweet, free and innocent surfer dude sheep, and the wind caressing the unsullied fields.
     

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    Day 8 LITTLE MALVERN TO SHREWSBURY


    I’ve never been anywhere before, I feel certain, where an attendant at a joint petrol station/motor repair knew the burial site of a Romantic classical composer. But that’s where Kip and I stopped. After awaking to the rain resuming itself after reserving clear skies for our beautiful stay, we ordered Simon, our GPS, to guide us to Shrewsbury. On the way, Kip felt compelled to mess with Simon’s chi by stopping in Little Malvern. Sir Edward Elgar, composer of one of the most traditionally instilled march melodies in the Western world, whose likeness is illustrated on a sterling bank note, a statue of whom stands in Worcester, is buried in a plot practically scrunched up against the back of a small church on the side of a back road as the petrol station/motor repair. On the stone, his wife gets top billing, and in larger-size words. The Sir Edward Elgar Museum is in a weedy cemetery at the edge of a large field. We were its only guests during our visit to it. But remember what I said about this country’s modesty and understatement? They don’t compromise those qualities under any circumstances. Unless the tea is tepid.


    Before arriving in Shrewsbury, what overhung in my mind the most was that at Elgar’s boyhood home, locating behind the museum, there lay the grave of his two beloved dogs, complete with a large gravestone and words meant for both dogs, as loyal individuals.

    I think the fundamental difference between England and the US is that we tend not to do or change certain things because our cultural rationale carries the possibilities to outrageous extremes. In England, they eat tons of meat, but everywhere you see sheep and cattle roaming and grazing freely. Why? Well because they’re healthier and live better lives, and you don’t always necessarily have to mow the enormous breadth of grassland. Tell American agricultural companies not to cage livestock knee-deep in their own bile so we can ride around on our combines and tractors and get paid to let highways cut through miles of beautiful grassland, and we hear notions like cattle running loose in the middle of the road and into town. But that strangely never happens in England. The only livestock met in the middle of a road are sheep. I don’t mean to take a glass-half-empty view of my homeland, but with the amount of helpless deer, squirrels, cats, raccoons and even a couple of dogs that I’ve seen pulverized on expressways, highways and indeed residential roads just in my time as an American driver, I can’t help but find it shocking not to have seen a single solitary “flat meat” carcass of theirs in the entire 3-week sojourn.

    I hadn’t even seen road kill nearly to even a fraction’s extent of that in Ohio, where every day I irk at deer, raccoons, squirrels, etc. mashed into the manufactured pavement. With the exception of the Yorkshire Dales later in the trip, where I saw tons of rabbit casualties for some odd reason, the only things they seem to mash in the UK are their peas. Another instance, much more relevant: Taxes in Britain are a huge bite (and they all gripe about it with effective reason), but the US dollar is practically worthless when exchanged for pounds. Likewise, OUR taxes are lower than they’ve been in half a century, and THEY’RE the ones with light rail, its all-around service trade has seen a hearty expansion in the past twenty years, signaling a falling off of the manufacturing industries that plague the diet oligarchy that is the US, and don’t let’s get started on healthcare. And despite the decline of Britain’s manufacturing trade, it exports tons of beef and all the food at the pubs is from farms only a few miles down the motorway. A country the size of Idaho is without these major humanitarian problems in a country fifty times that size, and also without the preventive measures to those same problems.

    In the States, we can’t even embrace the implications of our own deficit reductions, let alone deeply ingrained social customs. But I won’t get started on that. I was insatiably refreshed by not being inundated with the debilitating crisis of our political state of affairs, even though the more I see how unique our superpower nation has unconsciously become, the more dangerous one realizes the rise of free-for-all enterprise and rah-rah nationalism really is.

    If I recall, this was what Kip and I mostly talked about on the ride to Shrewsbury, only to realize how quickly we’d come to the part where Kip was going to need full attention on both our parts on the directions to the Catherine of Aragon Suite. Ultimately, after getting ourselves lost in the thick of the town, we resorted to calling our soon-to-be host, who exercised the true extraordinary limits of English patience in guiding us, two exasperated American tourists.

    For sure, when Tony Walters entered the picture, this grey Englishman in purple and pink emerging on the cobblestone street to switch seats with me in busy traffic, arriving smoothly to our destination from, I think, the only parking garage we came across anywhere in England we went. This jolly, cultured and giddy man humbly ushered us down the street to his enormous old home, where we met his stout, equally ebullient wife Mary. One shouldn’t imagine being any less jolly if one were the owner of The Old House Suites. To live on property like this in a town like this was a feat I never thought possible.

    We literally stepped back in time. Our said suite was a full three rooms and a bathroom that flushes with a lever hanging from a wooden box. I haven’t seen one of those since I was a child and my grandma still had her house, which was a far cry from the warm, vivid rugs and dark, certain wood and high ceilings here, where Tony and Mary had left us champagne from their own son’s vineyard and flowers dedicated to our welcome. What’s more, arriving up the narrow steps to this suite, which felt like the top floor but turned out not to be, we had cursory glimpses of the house’s library, it’s corridors, paintings, tables and stained glass windows.

    Despite the stress at the tail end of our journey---it always was when Kip had to navigate an intricate urban area in a psychologically startling driving situation---the ride to Shrewsbury felt short to both of us, and we leapt back out onto the streets almost immediately after relieving our luggage to the comfortable confines of Catherine of Aragon. There was a noticeable increase in modern storefronts. There was even a mall. But guess what it’s called? You’ll never guess. And if you’re American, you’ll be taken aback. The Charles Darwin Shopping Center. Normal teens seemed to be hanging out in there. I wonder if they’re all going to hell? I learned that Shrewsbury was Darwin’s birthplace. At any rate, however many progressive businesses seemed to reside here, they managed not to spoil the uncanny geometry of this town. This was true even though everything felt so close together, tight and intimate. That may have had a bit to do with the town being tucked in the rain shadow of the Shropshire Hills, but more to do with the gardens and courtyards tucked to the offside of so many shuts connected the often up or downhill sidewalks.

    It wasn’t long before we had made relatively quick work of our fish and chips, served to us by an excited young girl who had never met Americans before. If I remember, Kip’s after-dinner smoke was shared outside with her, where she expressed worry that her manager would find out she smokes. She was like 17 or thereabouts. We began browsing tucked-away courtyards and gardens as if they were shop windows, and settled on one, where we got ourselves a couple of pints and met a very amiable and educated social circle whose diverse array of relationship dynamics unfolded to us over the course of this very ecstatic night. We met them where you meet most interesting people: in the area where they allowed smoking. It began when Kip struck up a conversation with one exceedingly charming professor named Alice Stanley, who happily welcomed our company by showing us the little half-hut in the back of the pub where we drank and smoked with her as her friends and colleagues came and went. One information-gushing older professor, energized by his drunkenness, we met in the courtyard explained to us in lively tones that the town’s two churches, St. Alkmund’s and St. Julian’s, despite being so close together as to virtually be on each other’s property, were at constant odds.

    Generally, our single-serving circle of mates were intrigued by our presence. Why would Americans visiting Britain come to Shrewsbury? That very same older professor seemed to correctly express the novelty of our presence when he said something slurred but nevertheless to the effect that there’s no one culturally pervasive item in Shrewsbury that would call its attention to anyone outside Shropshire. Kip’s impetus for coming here was to experience the inspiration of the poets who lived here and wrote about it, A.E. Housman and Wilfred Owen. Sure enough, Alice and this older colleague of hers could quote a Housman verse in unison. They were accompanied by other colorful chaps and birds, such as a younger colleague and his very young German girlfriend. Kip chatted for quite awhile with her. I engaged more with Alice and a lanky, bespectacled young colleague. I think I’d become fixated on her company because she’d explained that she taught in Italy and had a boyfriend there, and she and he had been to Reggio di Calabria, where my grandfather’s family came from. She was able to describe the mountainous character of the region in a way that elucidated it more specifically in my mind than anytime before that. And then there was Louie. Oh, Louie, Louie. Was there one thing we talked about that wouldn’t be too distasteful to include here? I’ll save those stories for my friends on Monday nights.

    It was late when we finally returned to Catherine of Aragon.

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    Ok give us an American view on Darwin? Surely there arn't any more people in the states who dis-believe his theory? I'm sure I saw a film about the court case but that was Jimmy Stewart (I think and a Brit) and he has been dead for ages.

    Still I love the "Catherine of Aragon Suite", sometimes we are just too twee.

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    I am truly enjoying your report! It helps me remember all the wonderful people I met and all the interesting places I visited in that part of the world. You have hit some places I missed and your story is making me know that I want to go back to England--not that I really need any excuses!

    Thank you for sharing!

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    I stumbled across your thread and have spent this evening/early morning reading Kip's account of your travels.

    Wonderful that you both have different writing styles (he's certainly quicker than you at getting things down on 'paper' :) ) but you both have the same story to tell in a way that makes me keep popping back to his post to compare the two.

    DO get a move on :D I want to know what you thought of my birthplace - Yorkshire.

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    @bilboburger: Wow. American views of Darwin? Sir, do you happen to know what something called the Creation Museum is? Let me explain it for you and other readers fortunate enough to live somewhere where such a thing is laughably inconceivable. The Creation Museum is a place founded and dedicated to presenting an account of the origins of the universe, life on earth and early history in keeping with a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. At this place where parents take their kids to be educated and people in their seventies and eighties go to reinforce genuine lifelong beliefs, the exhibits reject all or most scientific findings about evolution, and maintain that all life on earth, including earth itself, was created 6,000 years ago over a week’s time. This includes the assertion that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark.

    There are miniatures of the Ark as it supposedly was precisely designed. There was at one point early on an exhibit of a dinosaur with a saddle on its back. Still there is an exhibit of a human standing next to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is eating leaves. Kids can take turns riding a little mechanized triceratops near the front. Is it all meant as an offer of open interpretation, you ask? No, the museum depicts war, starvation and natural disasters as the results of God being angry that so many people believe in evolution. There are educational video screenings for kids that teach that boys looking at porn and girls getting abortions as direct results of lifestyles not based on Biblical literalism. Though homosexual couples or normally ejected by security, the museum has nevertheless hit the one-million visitor mark in only four or five years of being open. I live forty-five minutes away from this place. That’s why the Charles Darwin Shopping Centre was refreshing.

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    Day 9 Shrewsbury, Church Stretton and One Long Mynd

    We never saw Mary, really. Save for that cursory but very big-hearted introduction upon our arrival, the only relationship we had to Mrs. Walters was through the unqualified satisfaction of the breakfasts she sent to our living room. Tony was the humble courier his wife’s serialized breadth of banquet. Just after ribbing me about my obviously hung-over need for the coffee he’d just set down for us, he reminded us of his offer to give us a tour of the house. Judging by how glad he seemed to be when we expressed excitement about it, this is surely one of this eccentric man’s very favorite things to do.

    Or maybe he’s not eccentric. Maybe he only seems that way to me. From my limited life experience, an old Englishman invariably dressed in pink and purple who knows everything about everyone who’s ever entered his house, whose every room contains its own epic, wildly convoluted novel of historical intrigue, is a definite eccentric. I’m disappointed in myself, looking back, hardly having retained a single word of the thrilling stories he told us. I would love to revisit him someday and take the tour all over again. I only vaguely can recall the larger-than-life adventures of the most craftily deceitful politician who may have ever lived, I remember thinking at the time with full grasp of how much of an overstatement that must be. But whoever he was, step aside Rove, move over Cheney, and get outta here Nixon.

    Here’s how limited I am. The one story freshest in my mind, and Kip’s for that matter, is that one of Tony’s sons played the boy Melanie Griffith cared for while posing as a maid or something in Liam Neeson’s house in the American film Shining Through, starring Michael Douglas. It came out in 1992, I believe. But now, Anthony Walters is an adult who works as a respresentative of Goldcrest Pictures and worked as such on Tropic Thunder, Eagle Eye, Twilight and Knowing. That’s the extent of my incurable couch potato-ness: No matter how extraordinary it was to be in a house linked to pivotal narratives of European history, I remember virtually none of it, and instead have retained our enthusiastic, quite hilarious storyteller’s son’s IMDb page more dependably than anything Tony spent something like 2 and a half hours telling us. Maybe it was interesting to me on a more first-hand level because Anthony had passed me in the upstairs hallway covered in nothing but a bath towel, not 20 minutes before I learned that I’d seen him in a Hollywood movie.
    Anyway, standing for 2 and a half hours the morning after hours of drinking and smoking did absolutely nothing whatsoever to benefit me on our walk up the Long Mynd.

    Squeezing out layers of sweat with every step further on up, we hiked and weaved through an immoderate half hour of abrupt, grassy valleys, rocky outcrops and broken slopes, populated by untroubled vagrant sheep and Europeans in such good physical shape that some even peddled bicycles up and back down the Mynd. But arriving at the top felt so gratifying. I honestly felt more complete than I had in quite a long time. The plateau at the top was like we’d climbed to an exclusive altitude of life. I swear the clouds must’ve only been a couple of hundred feet or so above us. Heather, bracken and sheep droppings were never released from the effortless might of the barren winds. Descending the hill was easier, though that’s not to say it was “easy.” It was actually difficult sometimes keeping control of how fast I would decline as gravity became a little greedy with me.

    Upon our sweaty return to Church Stretton, we found a sign for a tea shop. We followed it into a house. It felt residential. We went up the steps to the top floor, where what could’ve otherwise been a bedroom was a counter, a few tables and a kitchen. We ordered afternoon tea and went back down and into the backyard, where a few tables rested among a kind of floral forest. As we engaged the delicious custom, which we’d earned considerably, birds perched three and four feet away from us. Unafraid. What a peaceful world we were in.


    Peaceful isn’t how I’d describe my feeling seeing the Church of St. John the Baptist, what with the whole idea of being beheaded. Simon did a well enough job getting us to Stokesay Castle, where we admired that and the nearby Gatehouse, which was starkly different in that it was quaintly decorated with carvings. I still don’t think I’ve taken the initiative to understand the history in the walls of this centuries-old fortification I had the privilege of visiting first hand, but its jagged gravestones and overall remoteness will probably stay in mind for years.


    I think I wasn’t as interested in the details of the things we did on this day because I was still reeling a bit from the night before at The Old Post Office, the pub hidden through a shut on one of the main streets of Shrewsbury. The conversations we had, the pints we shared the revolving door of interactions with Alice, Stephea, Rosa, old James, younger James and Louie the Welshman. You’ve never met a teacher like Louie. No teacher I’ve ever talked to outside the decorum of a classroom has ever been this fun-loving, candid and raw. We traded exceedingly R-rated thoughts on exceedingly NC-17-rated subjects, which was the closest I felt to being in a social situation at home with people my own age. And all these first-time or highly unusual and unexpected experiences all day for so many days is obviously thrilling and awe-inspiring, but it does take you further and further out of your element. Talking with people as far removed from any circle of people I’ve ever met so far in my life, and yet being able to get hip to how to engage and entertain one another on a casual, comradely level in such a succinct, fulfilling amount of time was a rush.

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    The conversations we had, the pints we shared the revolving door of interactions with Alice, Stephea, Rosa, old James, younger James and Louie the Welshman. You’ve never met a teacher like Louie. No teacher I’ve ever talked to outside the decorum of a classroom has ever been this fun-loving, candid and raw.>>

    and in the nicest way, i am sure that they remember you and Kip too!

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    Thank you so much for posting your impressions of the Welsh Border counties, as you rightly say, so rarely visited by Americans.

    Shropshire is my favourite county in all England, and I live in the glorious (and rarely-visited-by-Americans South Cotswolds).

    I lived close to Ludlow for 3 years in the 1990s, and before that for 7 years just a couple of miles from Elgar's birthplace. I know EXACTLY what you are talking about in this part of your TR, and I'm loving it all.

    Please continue.

    BTW, although you stayed at Sheepscombe (B&B, there is a particularly pretty village called Sheepscombe south of Gloucester/Cheltenham, tucked away in a little valley near Painswick.

    And like annhig, I wonder how you managed to drink 3 pints of scrumpy and still be able to remember most of what you did! It must have been the commercial stuff, certified fit for human consumption.

    The real stuff, which you can rarely find these days due to elf'n'safety, usually has had a lamb carcase or dead rats chucked into the mix to add flavour (!!!) and is incredibly intoxicating. I refuse to confide details of what I do recall after my nights on the scrumpy when I were a young lass and they sold it in the local pub...!!!

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    Day 10 Llandudno, North Wales


    I don’t know whether to say we left Shrewsbury that morning, or that we left “Shrowsbury.” It’s hard to tell when everyone in England uses an arsenal of historical knowledge to back up their claims even on something as trivial as a fight over pronunciation. In America, we almost let ourselves default by not raising the debt ceiling, and no one involved mentioned that the previous administration raised it for the 19th time just a mere few years ago. Historical facts is to England what football fandom is to America. Really, you could say that the Brits who believe putting the clotted cream on the scone before the preserves and vice versa are like the Americans who want the Steelers to beat the Cowboys this season and vice versa.

    We seemed to arrive in the seaside North Wales town of Llandudno so gracefully, simply connecting like tape on a spool to a wide curving roadway divided from a Victorian promenade of dreamlike color and symmetry by a ribbon of garden, and parking, as luck would have it, for free right outside our hotel, the last of the many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts at the end of the Parade, bringing us full semi-circle. It was The Waverly, where we were greeted by the wide-eyed, smilingly unassuming proprietor, Bob. He made every concession for us, treating us to a room with a bay window that saw straight back across the promenade on the shore to the Great Orme, or the Little Orme. Now we had come full semi-circle.

    We were hungry so we immediately set out for fish and chips at a pub on a street off the promenade. Of all things, it played American rockabilly and played a teen pop concert on a TV. What an incongruous sort of thing to see in North Wales, I thought. The whole town began to feel like a kind of fantasy as we began to explore the grand, populated boardwalk and the glittering, outdated arcade on the pier. Before I knew it, hardly even noticing the transition occur within me, I began to feel very sad. I’d been feeling homesick intermittently throughout the trip so far, despite how much I had indulged the unreal thrill of it all. But this was a much more intense feeling going through me. I began to feel like I could hardly hold my head up. It was inexplicable. Could it be that what I was seeing cast a gloom over me? The town really was a fantasy, populated by people who seemed to be living in a fantasy.

    Though I suspected maybe I was to blame for Kip’s mood following suit, he and I began to realize we were both thinking the same things about this seaside reverie. We both felt as if we had stepped back to the 1940s, but the nostalgia didn’t feel like a fascinating novelty, or a return home, at least to us. It literally felt like we were surrounded by a forlorn yearning for the past. Everywhere we went had a sort of beaten-down humility smothering it. We peeked inside the Grand Hotel. The paint on these grand walls was peeling, the grand carpet was old, dusty and linty. But people of old age, some interlocking arms to see their lifelong vows to the bitter end, some sauntering to the grand dining hall alone, didn’t seem to expect much. It began to compel me back to the room in the Waverly, and Kip as well, because such a feeling of melancholy just made my separation from my home environments and attachments much too intense and it became a level of distress for me.

    It was baffling to feel this way in what was truly an overpoweringly beautiful location. What’s more, now that I’m back, and I’m writing this on a beautifully overcast, gently windy autumn day because I’m such a slow, undisciplined writer, and thinking about how it felt in Llandudno. It was only a bit wetter, and the surroundings were much more akin to the fall mood. That film noir mood, almost. The nostalgia, melancholy and the transient clarity of a dream. So it was still a richer experience of environment. But still, I remember this unexplainable pressure crushing me into a diamond.

    By evening, we’d found ourselves back on the pier, where the town brass band was about to play to the town, here on the pier with the waves behind them. A town choir had already accumulated a congregation around them singing hymns. We found ourselves sitting down on one of the long benches as the noble Llandudno Town Band started to play its repertoire. In between songs, the dauntless band leader would make subtle jokes when commenting on the day and the next piece. Like all band leaders, his jokes were bad. Believe me, I know. I was surrounded by them growing up. They share the same shamelessly low-brow “How round was she?!” sense of humor. Not this guy. I was surprised to find myself catching his quips as they just about flew over my head with the seagulls. He had the driest delivery, as if the jokes were meant to go undetected.

    A buck naked child ran across the pier at one point, I remember, by the time Kip and I had in the most elusive instant become surrounded by elderly townspeople, all lifelong couples sitting arm in arm very close to one another. They were singing along to hymns they would’ve known in their sleep, but they didn’t sing back at the band. They were singing as quiet as each other’s earshot. They were singing to each other. So many of them had dogs, who just sat patiently, and contentedly at their feet. I think it was about when they were singing Abide with Me that I was just overcome. Purely and simply, I just cannot remember the last time I was at such a loss of emotional control in such an open, crowded place. Maybe it was the intimacy this entire town had with each other that signaled me to such a candid betrayal of my gushy center. The band leader in due course said farewell to the people, finishing then with the British anthem, for which all stood, even the very oldest folk. We did, too.

    I don’t quite recall whether or not it was me urging Kip or if we both agreed that we needed desperately to stop playing Mrs. Miniver and bury ourselves in our room at The Waverley for the night. It was a great night, because instead of staring at the screen of my Toshiba for hours until falling asleep, Kip found from Bob that Bob’s son ran the most discreet bar probably in the world out of his little office right across from our room at the front of the hotel. It was only appropriate that we buy the two most urgently needed pints probably in the world. Outside on the porch directly in front of our window, we found ourselves talking to the most friendly, peaceful young couple either of us had met in what felt like forever. It wasn’t just two of them. They had a baby who slept like one the whole time. They were Danish.

    Kip talked to them about the parts of Europe he had gone to when studying abroad, and their viewpoints were always so modest and good-humored. They laughed quite a lot, and their English was charmingly burdened with their accents. Kip knew how to speak to them in simplified, sensitive and pleasant terms. I found myself laughing with them quite a lot before chiming in, which admittedly was mostly when conversation trickled into pop culture. But I’m part of Generation Text, whether I like it or not, and being able to engage them on subjects common to those in my mingling at home, was an urgent retreat back to soothing, uplifting normalcy from the overpowering vulnerability I’d felt all day.

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    The Llandudno portion of the above report is mine. Kip and I share the same desktop and he had not signed out when I posted. Sorry for the confusion. I'll stick with my laptop next time.

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