Welcome to Scotland

Back to my summer abroad.  Sam and his little family arrived home in Eton from Minnesota, we hugged and chatted, then off I went to the airport to fly to Scotland.

Scotland has a population of about 5.3 million, out of a UK total population of 65.6 million.  Seventy-percent of Scotland’s population lives in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the smaller cities of Aberdeen and Inverness.  Glasgow has the highest population density at 3,289 people per square kilometer (.39 square mile) vs. the Highlands where Lynn and Richard live, which has nine people per square kilometer.  If my math is correct, which is always questionable, that means every person in the Highlands has 2.5 square kilometers, or almost one square mile to his or herself.

It’s ideal for people who like their personal space.

Ninety-three and a half percent of Scotland’s residents were born in the UK.  Lynn and Richard are part of the 8.7% who are English born.  About four percent were born in countries outside the UK or EU, notably India and Pakistan.

Ninety-six percent of Scotland’s population is white, 2.6% are “Asian” which in the UK means Bangladeshi, Pakistani, or Indian.  The remaining 1.4% are a head-scratching mix of labels including Asian Scottish, Black Scottish, African British, or Black British, which I believe is akin to our US label “African American.”

Do the Scots consider themselves British?  That’s a complicated question. It’s not like asking if Minnesotans consider themselves Americans. That would be a dumb question.  But Minnesota was never a separate sovereign country.  Scotland “only” joined with England in 1707—300 years is the blink of an eye in UK time and some Scots still nurse resentments about lost battles and English injustices going back hundreds of years, as well as suspicion that the governments in Westminster or Holyrood—seat of the Scottish Parliament—do not have their best interests in mind.

In the 2011 census, up to 72% of people in rural Scottish shires, or counties, considered themselves “Scottish only.”  In Aberdeenshire, where I would spend the month of August, the figure was 61% who considered themselves Scottish only.  About 18% consider themselves Scottish and British.  British, meaning a citizen of the United Kingdom.  Lynn and Richard would be in the eight percent who consider themselves British.

Reflective of the conflicts over millennia, Scotland has more Catholics than the UK as a whole, but today they are only 16% of the population as compared with 38% who are Church of Scotland or other Christian denominations.  There are a smattering of Jews and Sikhs and Muslims, but the largest religious identity is No Religion, at 43.5%.  This category has grown by 10% in 10 years.

There are two languages other than English in Scotland: Scottish Gaelic and Scots.  Fewer than two percent of people know any Gaelic but amazingly, almost 38% have some ability in Scots.

A dialect, Doric, is known in Aberdeenshire.  In fact there’s a hotel in Aberdeen that uses a Doric voice in their elevator. Phrases include “Gyaun Up” (Going up), “Gyaun Doun” (Going down), “atween fleers een an fower” (between floors one and four). This reminds me of an elevator in Dublin that spoke with an Irish accent which rendered “third floor” as “turd florrr.”

Here’s a simple map of the UK and Ireland.  The UK is everything except the gray.  I flew from London, in the south of England, to Aberdeen, in the north of Scotland.

Richard met me at the airport.  It was really good to see him as it had been some years.

We then drove from Aberdeen for 45 minutes into the countryside.

This is Scotland.

It feels vast and vertiginous.  The constantly changing weather makes the scenery look different from moment to moment.

The roads curve and dip and rise and I was grateful I didn’t get motion sick this time.

And then, just when you think you’ll never get there or maybe Richard got lost (an impossibility) and missed the driveway, he took a hard right and we were there—driving down the tree-lined drive to the welcoming committee of Lynn, five dogs, and two cats.

This is not Lynn and Richard’s drive, but it gives you the idea.

 

High Rolling

It’s Super Bowl Sunday.  Yawn.  I don’t care about sports but I’ll watch the game because it’s in Minneapolis and I want to see how Minnesota is portrayed in the media.

The game has temporarily escalated prices for everything, and people are scrambling to take advantage.  My landlord rented out the duplex above me to two Canadian brothers in town for the game.  I’m sure she’s getting a packet o’ money.  If they want to borrow a cup of sugar, it’s gonna cost ‘em $500.  Just kidding!  We Minnesotans are as nice as our neighbors to the north.

My mind has been casting back to Super Bowl 1992, which was the last time Minneapolis hosted.  I had ended a long-term abusive relationship with a rich man by getting a restraining order against him.  I lived in St. Paul and he lived in another state but he still managed to stalk and harass and beat me.  I fully acknowledge my participation in this; I got on planes and flew out to see him.  I allowed him to stay in my apartment and Vince was exposed to things he never should have been.

I can’t believe it was me.  It’s like it happened to another person.  I was a zombie.

The last time the police had taken photos of my bruises they had urged me to get an order for protection.

“We can’t touch him because he lives in [another state],” the cop said.  “If he was a loser, an order might escalate the situation but with rich guys who’ve got a lot to lose, it shuts them down good.”

And it did.  I knew the moment the order was delivered because the phone rang and after a long silence, click, then nothing but peace.  Release.  I started my life over.  To be on the safe side, literally, I bought my little first house and made sure the address was unlisted.

A few months later, on Super Bowl Sunday, I opened my front door and there he was on my door step.  Not in person, but in a front-page full-color edge-to-edge photo in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The image is emblazoned in my mind.  He was posing with one foot on the bumper of a limousine, raising a glass of champagne toward the camera as if to say, “Ha ha, Anne!  Look at the lifestyle you spurned!”

The article was nauseating.  He really had terrible taste.  Me—I may not have a lot of money—but I have good taste.  There are certain things you can’t buy: good taste, depth of character, a clean conscience, wisdom, kindness, pride, joy, and love.

People like him don’t have the bracing travel experiences I’ve had because they never stay in hostels, or take the bus, or meet normal locals.

I’ve told a few people this story lately because the Super Bowl is all anyone is talking about.  I began to wonder if I imagined the whole thing, but I didn’t.  The archive where I just had to pay to download the article didn’t include the photo and that’s probably a good thing.

Published: January 26, 1992
Section: NEWS
Page#: 01A

The weekend belongs to a wave of high rollers

By Randy Furst; Staff Writer

Meet Dr. Dale Helman, Monterey, Calif., self-described high roller.

The 32-year-old neurologist was tooling around the Twin Cities Saturday afternoon in a blue-and-gold chauffeur-driven 1962 Rolls that rents for $1,200 a day.

He’s here for the Super Bowl and because he needed someplace to spend some money.

He says he made the trip to the Super Bowl because he needed a $10,000 tax writeoff: “On Dec. 30, my tax accountant said I have 36 hours to get an entertainment deduction.” In a New Year’s Eve rush, Helman bought four tickets to the game over the phone from Ticket Exchange, a ticket broker in Phoenix, Ariz.

“I offered him the 40-yard line, but he said it wasn’t good enough,” said John Langbein, owner of Ticket Exchange. “I offered him the 50-yard line, three rows up, but he said that was too low. I offered him the 50-yard line, 30 rows up; he said that was too high. I finally got him the 50-yard line, 20 rows up.” The price: $1,550 a ticket.

Helman wanted only the best seats. He said he’ll write the trip off because he’s taking three neurologist friends to the game and plans to discuss neurology with them “in the limo. . . . Maybe at halftime we’ll talk about the neurology of football injuries.” He also went to Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center yesterday afternoon in his limo to interview a neurologist for a position on his staff.

“It is rare that I get a weekend off, but when I get a weekend off I play hard,” said Helman, who flew first class from San Francisco on Friday night. He and his buddies went to a Champps sports bar, where they met some Buffalo Bills cheerleaders.

He calls his visit “clean fun.”

He was headed last night to the Taste of the NFL, a $75-a-plate dinner.

High rollers in cabs Some high rollers don’t like to walk or find the temperatures a bit too bracing for a stroll. Many hail cabs for one- or two-block trips. Cabbies complain that many of the visiting bigshots are playing it cheap, too, with tips in the $1 to $2 range.

Rollers on the rocks

As many as 900 of the highest of high rollers ventured onto Curt Carlson’s frozen private lake yesterday for an exclusive party outside Carlson Companies headquarters. A 130-seat TGI Fridays was erected on the lake so partygoers could eat and drink. Outside, they rode snowmobiles, a hot-air balloon, horse-drawn sleighs and an eight-dog sled. Former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill gave skating lessons, and polar explorer Will Steger narrated a slide show about his Antarctic expedition.

Some praised the advantages of the cold weather. “The germs are all gone,” declared Norah Farris of Dallas. But not everyone was dressed for the occasion. Nina Pellegrini of San Francisco tried her hand at ice sailing in a full-length white fox fur coat. The party was sponsored by Carlson Companies, CBS and Coca-Cola. The plutocracy was out in force: CBS President Howard Stringer, Curt Carlson, Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, Northwest Airlines Cochairman Al Checchi, financier Irwin Jacobs and First Bank Chairman John Grundhofer.

Rollers come first, uh huh!

At the Winter Carnival ice slide near the State Capitol, there was nearly a revolt yesterday when Pepsi officials reserved time on the slide at 10 a.m. for Pepsi executives. Pepsi contributed $1 million for the ice castle. But by 10:30, more than 100 average citizens had lined up at the slide and weren’t being allowed to take their turns. Some angry people started shouting, “Coke! Coke!” After about 15 minutes of failing the good-taste test, Pepsi execs decided to let common folks ride, too.

A fitting feast

A 600-glass pyramid of cascading champagne opened the Taste of the NFL yesterday at the International Centre in Minneapolis. The program raised $100,000 for the poor, but the participants didn’t do too poorly, either. About 1,500 people dined on alligator, duck pastrami and assorted delicacies. Admission was $75. Organizers overcame several last-minute crises, including a case of the missing scallops, needed for 1,100 entrees prepared by a chef from Cafe Annie in Houston. It was miraculously delivered 10 minutes before the 6 p.m. opening.

Ice jam Traffic congestion became a nightmare in St. Paul yesterday thanks to the Winter Carnival Grande Day Parade. Shuttle bus service was backed up much of the day, requiring waits of up to 90 minutes. And bus service from the ice palace to downtown Rice Park was stopped for several hours during the parade. 

Your taxes at work

Super Bowl fans will be treated to some high-flying antics, including a possible coin toss in the weightlessness of space, by the astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery, according to the Associated Press. The astronauts plan to make a brief television appearance during the pregame show.

CBS Sports commentators Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw will chat with the shuttle crew in a TV hookup arranged by NASA.

Oops!

On Jan. 15, 1982, shortly before the Dome opened, an article appeared on Page 1 of the sports section in the now-defunct Minneapolis Star. It began: “If you think the Jan. 24 Super Bowl in chilly Pontiac, Mich., means that Minneapolis might someday be host for the football ritual, don’t bet on it. According to officials of the National Football League, the city’s nearly completed Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is just too small to hold a Super Bowl crowd.” The author of the article was Randy Furst. Oh well.

Staff Writers Jean Hopfensperger, Joe Kimball, Dave Phelps and Ellen Foley contributed to this article.

Signs and Wonders

Before I leave England for Scotland, I want to share a few favorite signs and sights that made me wonder.

Like this one, on the back of the toilet stall door at the Waterman’s Arms.  The Clansman function room?  I know it’s clansman with a “c” and I realize it’s probably something to do with a Scottish clan, but still.  In the US there would be protests over this sign.  I guess the word clan just doesn’t have the same association with the KKK as it would in the states.

Speaking of bathroom signs, I always got a kick out of this one at the leisure centre.  Probably some fool had ignored the first sign, which just had words, and they needed to literally paint a picture.

Walking home from the leisure centre, I would pass this sign.  It was tempting to hang a right to find out if there would be liquor barrels bigger than a man.  But the path led to a deserted-looking industrial area and I was always in a hurry, so I will never know.

At home, I kept glancing at the cover of the teacher’s union magazine that arrived in the mail.  The cover story was an important one.  Teachers need to be aware of the effects on children of being involved or even just hearing about traumatic events like the inferno at Grenfell Tower or the mass shooting in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert.

But I also smirked at the acronym for the organization, and its placement, with rendered the title “The Teacher NUT.”  It seems a bit inappropriate, but it is memorable.  In the US, we have several bland acronyms: NEA—National Education Association and AFT, American Federal of Teachers.  I think I would prefer to be a member of the NUT.

Out on my walks, I would often pass this van.

It could be worse.  It could be Farter & Son.

At the playground in Windsor.  What an optimistic sign.

In the Eton Museum of Natural History.

Do a lot of contractors wander in off the street to use the toilet at the Natural History Museum?  Are contractors considered an inferior type of person, not worthy to piss in the same toilet as others?  Did some contractor create a situation in here, and no one is brave enough to confront him in person so they put up this sign?  I was careful not to make a mess in case there might be a sign “This Toilet is NOT to be Used by Americans” upon my return.

I passed this ominous poster in Windsor, stood a while taking photos of it, then realized I was right outside a military installation and moved along.  I’m sure it doesn’t appear ominous to the target audience—young men with lots of testosterone.

It’s a recruiting poster for the Coldstream Guards, the oldest regiment in the British army.  There is probably a recruiting office here because these are the “guards” as in “the changing of the guards” at Windsor Castle, which is just a few blocks away.  In this role, they wear what’s in your mind right now—the tall black furry helmets and red uniforms with brass buttons.

And this, in London, didn’t make me wonder. It made me feel admiration for a country which had only decriminalized “homosexual acts” in 1967.  Fifty years.  That’s not so long.  Maybe in 50 years’ time we in the US will have decriminalized immigrants.

Julie and I treated ourselves to a couple nights in a room above The George. The only room left was the top floor suite. Julie chose the master bedroom with a spectacular view of the Thames bridge and Windsor Castle.

Unfortunately this room turned out to be the one beneath which smokers congregated and drunks hung out at closing time.  I was in a nook off to the side and with ear plugs I didn’t hear a thing.  I slept fine in my narrow bed except that the floor in the 270-year-old pub was so slanted that every time I rolled over I kept rolling, into the wall.

This was our last supper, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in the back garden.

Last Hurrahs

It had cooled down, with highs in the low 70s (low 20s Celsius). I checked the weather in Scotland daily and that gave me impetus to get outside as much as possible.

This was late July, for the town in Scotland I was destined for shortly.  Fifty-five Fahrenheit is 12 Celsius.

There were signs advertising something called a Brocas Fun Fair all over Eton. One afternoon after editing a proposal which described torture and the use of mass rape as a weapon of war, I thought, “Now is the time to visit a Fun Fair.”

I was still experiencing vertigo and my Restless Legs Syndrome was getting worse.  Poor sleep combined with vertigo added up to a continuous feeling of physical disorientation, which may have enhanced my Fun Fair experience.

It was a Thursday afternoon, so the place wasn’t doing much business and many of the stalls were closed.  A couple of 10 year olds who were probably skipping school climbed onto a ride and a carnie yelled at them to bugger off, instead of directing them to the ticket booth and inviting them to come back.

In case you thought Americans were the only ones obsessed with guns, there were three booths with shooting themes.

Another depicted what someone must have imagined was a “real American road scene,” complete with truckers and maybe a Harley rider, with skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty thrown in for good measure.  Then there’s the toy-like boat in the foreground … I’m sure this would all feel magical to a five year old.

I was surprised the political-correctness police hadn’t demanded that this be redesigned—whatever it was.

Wandering back slowly through Eton—the college—I got a laugh from more finger-wagging signs.

I could just hear the Pink Floyd song The Wall playing in my head.

Wrong, Do it again!
If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding.
How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?
You! Yes, you behind the bikesheds, stand still laddy!

I read this one three times, then gave up understanding it and walked on.

I spent a day shopping with Julie in Windsor.  She especially enjoyed the grocery stores.  We went to an upscale one, Waitrose, and a tiny local one called Budgeons.  At first glance, a grocery store in the UK looks the same as one in the US.  But if you look closely; if you pay attention to every item individually as though it is a meditative exercise, you will see many things that make you go hmm ….

Or in my case, shudder at the words, “With Jelly.”

For all I know, my local grocery may sell tubs of pork drippings with jelly.  However when I shop at home it is like a military strike—hurry in, grab the same items I buy every time, get out as fast as possible.

We had lunch at the Waterman’s Arms.  Fish and chips for Julie, lamb and mash and a half pint of cloudy local cider for me.

We visited a card shop near the flat.

Part of my new-employee orientation at Oxfam had been to read the communications style manual, which included a directive to “avoid creeping Americanisms.”  By contrast, we have many, many “creeping Britishisms” in America and we love and embrace them.  I could write a whole post about this.

There was a series of cards that mimic illustrations from beloved children’s books combined with adult themes:

Other cards in the series include “The Acid Trip,” “The 12 Step Programme,” “The Halfway House,” and “Bouncing Back.”

I took Julie to Daniel, the department store.  Here she is in the toy section.

I went in to London one last time, dropping in to the Victoria and Albert Museum only long enough to buy my son a tote bag and other Pink Floyd-branded items.  The line for the exhibit itself was a mile long.

I searched Hamley’s, the gigantic toy store on  Oxford Street, for Sylvanian families badger figures for my nephews.  I was distressed that, like Daniel, they were out of badgers so I had to settle for a pizza-delivering hedgehog and a mouse dentist.

 

 

Flights and Boats and Ships

As my month in Eton and Windsor drew to a close I stepped up my sightseeing.  If you’re a traveler, you know that tension between, “I want to see it all; I may never be here again!” and “I want to savor and enjoy my moments here; I may never be here again.”  This was a time for the former.

My friend Julie had never been to England, hadn’t traveled internationally in years, and that had mostly been on tours.  I figured she’d be nervous arriving at Heathrow—jet lagged, disoriented, tired, and excited—I always am.

So I met her there, in the “Love Actually” arrivals hall.

Ingrid had met me at Schiphol in May.  Maki had met me in Addis Ababa in June.  Lynn was there when I arrived at Heathrow from Ethiopia. It’s nice to see a familiar face at the airport.  I don’t mind traveling alone, for the most part, but it feels a little sad to arrive and have no one waving to greet me.

Julie’s flight was delayed so I watched people arriving—scanning the waiting crowd for a familiar face, then lighting up with a smile when they spotted their spouse or friend or business associate—waving, then shaking hands or kissing and hugging.  It was an endorphin boost, just watching.

Julie’s arrival gave me a push to re-see some old favorites.  We spent a day at the Tower of London.  I hadn’t been there for 30 years.  Based on binge watching The Tudors and reading Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, I knew just enough to probably misinform Julie so she would possibly be laughed at if she quoted me.

Afterwards, we did one of my favorite London activities, the boat ride to Greenwich.  It’s a cheap way to see the city from the river; we left from Tower Hill but you can start at Westminster or even further beyond for all I know.  It had been raining all day so the thought of sitting inside under a clear Plexiglas canopy appealed.  It only costs £10 for the round trip, and there are so many boats plying the Thames that it’s not necessary to book in advance for a specific time.

We waited in line with a couple Tajikistan who were honeymooning.  They had flown in via Moscow that day.  They were spending two days in London, taking a day trip to Oxford, then flying to Edinburgh for two days, from whence they would work their way back home via Paris and Prague.  Good thing they were young and had lots of stamina.

It takes less than an hour to get to Greenwich.  We passed under bridge after bridge and stopped at multiple piers on either side to let people board or disembark.  I always look forward to gliding under Tower Bridge, splendid even in the rain.

There’s a lot to see in Greenwich, but I always tack my visit onto the end of a day so everything is closed when I arrive.

There is the Cutty Sark, which is not just a brand of whisky.  The original 147-year-old ship can be toured but I’ve never done so.  It’s the last surviving clipper ship in the world.

Greenwich is home to the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT, still used as the standard time zone reference.  If you have ever planned a trip somewhere outside of your own time zone, you have likely seen “GMT + 4” or whatever to indicate the local time.

There is also the Royal Naval Museum which I’m sure is fascinating but which I’ve never seen, and a wonderful covered market which is always just closing down when I arrive.

Note to self: Plan a day in Greenwich next time.

On the return boat ride we got distracted by a drunk guy who wanted us to guess his nationality, which turned out to be Polish.  This may have triggered a few stereotypes in me.

We missed our stop and got off at the next one.  The Pole got off and followed us. It was deserted and dark.  I was debating whether to scream when he came abreast of us, gave us directions to the nearest tube station, and stumbled away.

A Long Day

I had six days left in Eton before I flew to Aberdeen to join Lynn’s household.  The weather continued hot and sunny.  I resumed my routine of work and walks.  A friend from Minnesota was coming to England for the first time so we made plans to go sightseeing in London.

I had spent a lot of time sitting on the bus and in meetings during my two-day trip to Oxford, so it was time for a long walk. Or should I say, The Long Walk.

There is a path leading away from Windsor Castle called The Long Walk.  I could Google it to find out exactly how long it was, or I could walk it.

The Long Walk is part of Windsor Great Park, the Queen’s 5,000-acre backyard.  There were no amenities. No signs, picnic tables, food vendors, or even toilets. I kept walking because there was something at the end of it.

As I later learned, The Walk was 2.65 miles (4.26 kilometers), one way.

There was no signage identifying the statue, but Lynn’s husband Richard informed me later that it was “George II, the second Hanoverian King, the last British monarch to lead his army in battle.  Luckily he kept his horse, unlike another monarch who ended up under a car park in Leicester.”

He is referring to Richard III.  I have a hard time keeping the kings and queens straight, but I remember Richard III because he had scoliosis, as I do, and there was a PBS documentary about him where they made this poor guy named Dominic—who has scoliosis—stand in for Richard III to see how much suffering and abuse he could withstand.  It really makes me cringe, watching the teaser for this show.

Back to The Long Walk.  The statue was graceful, as statues of monarchs go.

I heard Polish, Spanish, and Japanese around me; only we foreigners were suckers enough to walk all the way to the end.  There was nothing else to do then, but turn around and walk back.

Undoubtedly the place will be throbbing with revellers for Prince Harry’s wedding in May.

Eton College has three museums: Antiquities, Eton Life, and Natural History.  It was Sunday, and though I was weary from my walk, the Natural History Museum was only open Sundays from 2:30-5:00.

It took me a while to find it, but I enjoyed some more sign-seeing along the way.

I’m not sure what bollards are, but there are a lot of signs about them.

I found the museum before I got swept up in any bollard-related escapades.  The museum was founded in 1875 and was just as I had hoped—small and jam-packed with 15,000 displays of dead things.

Someone had meticulously collected, sorted, categorized, and labeled everything from shells to moths. Someone who needed OCD medication.

There were lots of birds.

And dioramas of dead birds doing life-like things, like eating escargot.

This was a nice little scene of a ship chasing a giant puffer fish.

A glassed-off room contained a horse skeleton and dozens of skulls.  Were they human?  Apes?  There was no explanation.  But I did learn that horses’ front legs aren’t attached to the rest of their skeleton.

This poor owl, named Ollie, was sucked through an airplane’s somethingorother duct. He seems to be in awfully good shape for having met such a tragic end.

Who doesn’t love a hedgehog, especially with a hawk on its back?  Really, my photos should win a “World’s Worst Photos” contest.

A badger, fuzzier than normal due to my poor focus.

There were students there, on field trips. This young lady was learning about the journey of the Beagle and Darwin’s discoveries in the Galapagos, which led him to formulate the Theory of Evolution.  If you believe in that kind of thing.

This painting depicted a 14-year-old boy, Horatio Nelson.  While on a journey to the North Pole, he fought off a polar bear with his musket because it wouldn’t fire.

Like natural history museums everywhere, there were freak animals.

It was a tiny place, which was fine with me because I can only take so many long walks and four-legged ducklings in one day.

Peddling and Paddling

At last, by luck, I spotted the Oxfam building through a gap in a hedge.  I scrambled through using a dirt path worn by thousands of feet before me whose owners were seeking a short cut, in the process adding dust to sweat and possibly arriving with a twig in my hair.

I was late—only by five minutes or so, but I hate arriving late.  Lynn had arranged the meeting, and she was there ready to usher me through the security gates.  There was no time to take a look at myself in the bathroom.  I did what one does when one arrives late, flustered, and not sure if there is a swipe of dust across one’s face—I pulled myself up straight, smiled, and walked confidently through the gates.

Mark (not his real name) was kind of a big kahuna at Oxfam GB.  When I had mentioned his title to a coworker, she had asked slyly, “So is this a partnering meeting or a job interview?”

Without leave to remain in the UK, working for OGB is out of the question, and that’s kind of a relief because I could focus on why I was really there—to “pitch” my organization.  That sounds crass but it’s what it is.

The meeting was to last a half hour.  That sent me a signal that I wasn’t to waste Mark’s time.  We settled onto a settee in the staff lounge and I launched into my spiel.  I could tell he was really listening, which I appreciated and which helped me to slow down and be real.  After I finished, he talked about how he had recently returned to Britain after many years working in disaster zones.  He totally “got” the need for rehabilitation—I didn’t need to explain psychological trauma to him.  He talked about Oxfam’s priorities and thought out loud about how we might find ways to work together.  He was very kind, considering that my organization is so small.  Our meeting went a bit longer than planned.  If I did have a smudge of sweaty dust on my face or a twig in my hair, he pretended not to notice and didn’t hold it against me.

Afterwards, I checked in with Lynn and thanked her for making the connection, then walked back to the bus stop to take the #3 along the Iffley Road for a late lunch with a former coworker.

I hadn’t seen Jane in 10 years, and it was great to catch up.  She had been a new graduate—21 years old—when I’d first met her and she still had a beautiful English rose complexion.  She had left Oxfam to become a primary school teacher, and she and her man were going to do a charity bike ride the next weekend. She hadn’t been on a bike in years and was a bit concerned about the borrowed set of wheels she would ride.

“That reminds me of the time I did a charity kayak trip,” I said as I munched on my cruelty-free vegan sandwich grilled with organic olive oil hand pressed by refugees. This was east Oxford, after all.

“I had never kayaked before.  I borrowed a friend of a friend’s kayak, which turned out to be heavy as a bathtub.  We were supposed to paddle 44 miles along the Mississippi, through the locks in downtown Minneapolis, camping overnight at an old fort—Fort Snelling—and finishing in St. Paul.  We were kayaking on the river with barges and paddleboats and houseboats!  How hard could it be?”

Jane’s face fell as I spoke.

“Maybe I should go on a test ride before the big one,” she said thoughtfully.

“Yes, probably.  I made it to the half-way point and dropped out.  The only kayaks behind me were the emergency medical technicians.  I finished 427th out of 427 and I could barely pick up a pencil for days because my shoulders were so sore.”

We reminisced for a couple hours, then Jane hopped on her borrowed bike—which appeared to be approximately one hundred years old—and peddled away.  I walked back to the guest house to put in some work hours, and left early the next morning.