Tag Archives: UK

Travelers and Travellers

Lynn proposed taking a break from driving for a day, so we took a bus to Abbottsbury, home to the world’s largest colony of mute swans. Yes!  I know you’ve been wondering where the world’s largest colony of mute swans is, and now you know.

We Americans are so car dependent.  Thing is, on many routes you can see so much more from trains and buses.  This was the case on the route from Charmouth to Abbottsbury, which wound through gentle rolling hills overlooking the sea.  It was a double-decker bus and in addition to the views, we had the double-decker bonus of an entertaining and slightly menacing fellow passenger.

This guy was sitting in the front left bench on the top of the bus with his dog.  A young boy was slumped in the bench on the other side.

“I’m a Traveller,” he turned to announce to us in a phlegmy smoker’s voice.

I capitalize Traveller and use two “ls” because Travellers are what we in the States might call Gypsies, which some consider a pejorative term for the Roma people.  Irish Travellers are an ethnic group, while the British term Traveller seems to be a catch-all for nomadic people who might be Irish Travellers, Roma, new age drifters, or others of indeterminate origins.  Some of them travel in family groups in old-style wagons or caravans.  They take over farm fields or urban vacant lots and are reputed to steal anything local that isn’t nailed down.  They don’t send their kids to school or use the NHS or work except for odd jobs. After a few days or weeks they skedaddle, leaving behind mountains of trash for the land owner to pay to remove.

Our Traveller was clearly agitated—on drugs?  He turned and yelled at Lynn to ask where she was from—it was like I was invisible, which was fine with me—and when she said north London that was all he needed to go off on a rant.

“I’m a Traveller,” he repeated, as he stood up and began removing his shirt.  “I got my best friend here,” he gestured at the dog.  “And my kid over there,” he waved his hand dismissively at the boy.  “My partner’s had a baby, so I thought it’d be a good idea for us to go off and leave ‘er alone for a while.”

Yes, every woman’s dream—to have a baby and be left alone, probably in a filthy squat, with no medical care or support of any kind.  Maybe I had it all wrong.   Maybe she was in good hands.  I hope so.

He peeled of his shirt and rubbed his hands all over his torso.  Yes, he was high.  He had an almost-gone splif he kept putting in his mouth, holding his lighter to it, then remembering he was on a bus and putting it away.

He went on about London—how it had changed, how everything is different now, how expensive it is.  He talked about his dog and what a good friend he was.  The boy sat silent in the corner of his seat.

We passed through Chideock and Eype, then stopped in Bridwell, where the driver announced we would wait for 10 minutes.  The Traveller jumped up and ran down the steps to smoke his splif, leaving behind the dog and his kid.  The dog started wandering down the aisle.  The Traveller reappeared, yelling and cursing at the dog to “get yer feckin arse” back on the bench.  He put his shirt back on, then took it off half way, then sat down and was quiet.

Lynn and I and the two other passengers, an elderly stone-faced couple, proceeded to enjoy the tranquil scenery.  These photos are from some small town; it could have been Litten Cheney, Littlebredy, or Puncknowle.

I love how the hat shop is proud to be “known in both hemispheres.”

The Traveller and his entourage disembarked somewhere before Abbotsbury, which was a relief.  There isn’t a lot to say about the swannery, except that it was peaceful and good to learn there is a job called “Swanherd” that probably doesn’t involve sitting at a computer or in meetings all day.

Erratic Posts, Jurassic Coast

I used to take pride in writing enough every weekend to load up the blog for an every-other-day, always-the-same-time post.  With traveling, vertigo, moving, and sleepless nights due to restless legs, I’ve become untethered from that discipline.

I don’t know that it’s a bad thing; I stopped reading articles like, “Top 10 Tips to Promote Your Blog,” long ago.  No tip I ever tried made the blog stats Boom.  The stats did boom here and there, but I couldn’t tell why.  I pay $99 a year for the WordPress platform and haven’t been curious enough to pay more to maybe find out why someone in Russia or the UK is reading the entire blog—475 posts as of this one.

I never expected to be able to monetize the blog.  What company wants to advertise on a blog about prison, which is how it all started?  I usually only mention specific hotels or airlines when I’m ripping on them, so I don’t see corporate sponsorships in my future.

I pitched the blog to some publishing agents as a book idea and never even received a form reject email in response.  I pitched some of the story lines to local and national publications—most notably Vince’s observations about My Pillow production inside prison (“Made in the USA!”  Yeah, behind the closed doors of prisons, by people who net about 25 cents an hour.  That’s what Makes America Great, right?  We still have slave labor.)  Anyway, there would be initial excitement, then no follow through.  To be fair, there are lots of stories about corporate and political corruption to choose from.

So I just keep writing because I enjoy it.  If a couple hundred of you follow along, that’s great.  Thanks for reading, even if my posting has been patchy lately.

I came across this flyer in one of the many piles of stuff I am packing.

These stats were on a gigantic sign at the entrance to the Eden Project.  Lynn and I stood there for a long time contemplating it.  I can’t remember if the hand edit was there when I picked it up, or if I did it.  Apparently, the number of rich people who own almost everything in the world has shrunk from 20 to two since 2009.  The Great Recession was great—for those two people.

At work yesterday, a coworker and I were lamenting about our ailments.  She tore her meniscus ligament and had to have a transplant from a cadaver.  Yeesh.  I’m glad my ailments only involve no sleep and feeling like I’m on a rocking boat all the time.

“But at least we’re not in a refugee camp,” I said.

“No. No—we get to have problems.  A torn knee and surgery and a year of PT are not ‘first-world problems,’” she replied.

Our first full day in Lyme Regis.  Lynn and I walked into town and had a beach day.

Now, when I say “beach day,” don’t imagine sun and beach umbrellas and people in bikinis and speedos.  Here is a photo of Lynn attempting to use the combo washer/dryer in the public toilet. Note she is wearing polar fleece.

I was tempted to call the toll free number on the machine and ask for help.

This is the town of Lyme Regis.  The sign on the white building notes that Catherine of Aragon slept here in 1501, followed by King Charles II in 1651.  Just imagine.

Yes, it was grey skies in one direction and white puffy clouds with blue peeking through in another.  And they both changed every 10 minutes.

The area is called the Jurassic Coast because you can find 170-million-year-old fossils there.

There was a small, well-done museum and a café serving fresh crab salad sandwiches and tea.  A woman my age had brought her elderly mother for a day out and was yelling over and over, “Ja wanna saaannie ‘n’ a noice hot cuppa, mum?!”   (Would you like a sandwich and a nice cup of hot tea, mother?)

This plaque described, euphemistically, how the locals were “exceedingly hospitable and generous” to US troops, resulting in many trans-Atlantic marriages.

The scenery was stunning.

 

Rolling Along

The days rolled along.  Lynn and I visited scenic places in the morning, worked in the afternoon, and watched movies or TV at night.  We went to Padstow, which has become a tourist draw due to the presence of celebrity chef Rick Stein.  He’s got at least three restaurants in this small town, ranging from a fish and chips shop to a white linen place.  Lynn and I had the fish and chips and agreed it wasn’t any better or different from fish and chips anywhere else.  But Padstein, as it has been nicknamed, was a lovely town.

We visited The Eden Project, an educational and scientific environmental enterprise.  The exhibits are housed in enormous geodesic domes.  Each dome features a different region of the world, from South American rain forest to Australian outback.  They had a great gift shop where, believe it or not, I bought some environmentally-friendly underwear so I would have at least one pair that wasn’t blue.

Once I was past the shock of having to shout over disco karaoke to make myself heard in a work Skype meeting, the remote work wasn’t so bad.  I would do things that required concentration, like editing, at the cottage.  With no internet, I was not tempted to check my email or distracted by pop ups.  Then I would walk over to the lodge and send emails or have Skype calls.

We ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge and became friendly with the cook and waitress.  We learned the resort had been struggling financially and had been sold to a new owner.  All the employees were holding their breath to find out if they would have jobs in a month, or scrambling to find new jobs.  The waitress told us that her passion was theater; she had just handed in her notice and would be gone soon to run her own theater nearby.

The cook reminded me of Vince, my son.  He had creative cooking aspirations in a place where people only wanted fish and chips.  Every morning he would offer us something new—the crayfish omelets were memorable.  We would enthusiastically accept and show appreciation for whatever he made, which seemed to make him happy.  He told us he was waiting to see which way the wind blew with the new owner.  He had a new menu up his sleeve with imaginative dishes and he was prepared to roll it out here or take it somewhere else.  Both he and the waitress had other jobs on the side.  It was a typical rural employment situation, where people were hustling to cobble together a living and also striving to do creative things to stave off boredom and keep from going crazy.

At the end of a week, we pulled out of the killer driveway for the last time and headed to Charmouth, which is near Lyme Regis, another town you’ve probably never heard of.  Both are in Dorset, the next county east of Cornwall.  Specifically, they are in west Dorset.  This became apparent when we moved on to Devon a few days later, because the local maps we’d acquired only included the western half of the county.  So we drove to the edge of the map and then had to switch to our atlas.

Anyway, we stayed at the Fern Hill Hotel for a few nights and this was our favorite place.  It was smallish (think Fawlty Towers) and family-run.  There was a sign on the desk stating that Robert Plant, front man for Led Zeppelin and rock god, had stayed there.  If it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.   I couldn’t resist sending Vince a message that I might be sleeping in the same bed as Robert Plant.  I know, inappropriate, but he liked it.

The lovely woman at the front desk gave us minutely detailed instructions and maps for walking into town.  As per our usual routine, we found ourselves on a golf course and then a muddy cow pasture before winding up in Charmouth.  After we had a wander, Lynn figured out how to take a bus back to the hotel.  We celebrated this navigation victory with drinks on the patio.

Moving, Here and There

In real time—September 1, 2017—I just woke up in my own home for the first time in three months after living, traveling, and working abroad.  It’s disorienting.  My place feels the same, yet different.  Maybe that’s because I sold it right before I left, and as soon as I unpack my suitcase I will need to start packing everything to move in one month.

This will be my third move in two years.  This one will be hard.  I love this place—its location on The Hill near all the mansions and shops and restaurants, and the character of the condo itself—with beveled glass, graceful curved woodwork, exposed brick walls, fireplace, high ceilings, and warm wood floors.

When I woke up at midnight last night to the creaking and thumping of my upstairs neighbor walking around on his wood floors, I smiled and knew I had made the right decision.

I’ll be moving into a duplex on St. Paul’s east side.  You know what they say about rents and real estate: “Location, location, location.”  And it’s true.  The duplex is very nice but there’s nothing much nearby except other duplexes.  Therefore it’s cheap.  I’ve signed a 10-month lease and I can lay low there until I decide what to do next.

I am lucky to have the choices I do.  I knew that intectually, but spending time in refugee camps made it visceral.

I arrived at Heathrow from Addis Ababa at 7am.  I had barely slept due to my cold and, well, having to sit upright in a cramped airplane seat.

There was Lynn waiting for me in the arrivals hall—the one where they filmed the opening scene in Love Actually. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a sweet montage of people meeting people at the airport.  Friends, families, business associates … smiling, waving, hugging, laughing, and then walking off to start whatever lay ahead for them in London or beyond.

I transferred myself from Maki’s good guidance to Lynn’s.  I am a “take charge” person but Lynn is even more so, and we were on her stomping grounds now.

First stop, Boots, the chemist, which is like a prettier version of Walgreens. I loaded up on sore throat spray, cough drops, and tissues.  We got a cup of coffee at Costa and found the car rental kiosk.  Lynn bought all the insurance they offered, which would turn out to be a good thing.

This was supposed to be the vacation part of my sojourn—two weeks of driving around the southwest of Britain, starting in Cornwall.

Until recently, I’ve never had a problem logging off of work email and not checking it while I’m on leave.  I crossed a line somewhere and started doing that, and when I did, at Heathrow while Lynn was making the car arrangements, there was an email about an opportunity for us to submit a concept note to DFID, the UK’s Department for International Development.  It was due in less than 10 days.

A concept note is like a preliminary sales pitch to a potential funder.  You send them 3-5 pages summarizing your big idea and hope they ask for more, in the form of a full grant proposal.  Thing is, you have to put almost as much work into a concept note as a full proposal because you have to give them a top line budget number, and to get that requires, basically, developing the full project and budget.

I was really glad we were going for this, and I wanted to work on it.  I had met with a DFID representative two years before when I was in Amman, Jordan.  We had tried to stay loosely in touch with him, and if we are funded, it would be almost a textbook example of how development/fund raising works.

But the timing that was inconvenient.  Lynn doesn’t need anyone to entertain her, but I thought it would be rude to be constantly checking my email and on Skype while she was having a G&T by herself on the patio at the resort in Cornwall.  Being online too much would turn out to not be a problem.