Only 54 years. It only took 54 years for the circumstance of my life to align so I finally, finally get to go. I’m not blaming anyone (except myself) but let’s just say the people in my life, mostly those I married and those I manufactured in my uterus, made things hella tough to put my traveling hat on and beat feet down the holiday highway. I could tally up all the dumbass sacrifice, all the ways I prioritized everyone and everything else first, but that’s all behind me now because…I AM FINALLY GOING!!!!
Where? England, possibly with an overnight (or two!) in Paris.
How long? 9 or 10 days depending on when the best deal for my flights are.
Who’s going? This is the best part…just me.
ME! MY time! MY priorities! MY schedule! Mine! Allllllll mine!
Do I sound like a jerk? A selfish twat? Good. Because I can tell you exactly when the last time I had more than a few hours to myself was – Aug 12-13, 1994. I went to Seaside on the bus. Aside from a sleep in my damp somewhat musty motel room I spent that 37 hours on the beach sunning and thinking and being at ease. Okay, there was also that one Christmas right after the ex and I split up that he took the kids and went to Texas with them just to be a dick, but being abandoned on Christmas just for spite is hardly happy jolly stuff, you know? And anyway I still had to care for the pets and the house and field phone calls from Mike’s clients. Whee.
This adventure though is all kinds of wonderful. And it’s not entirely a solo gig. I am going to visit my friend, Anna, and enjoy her hospitality until she’s more than ready to boot my ass back to America to have her life and her sofa back.
When you tell people you’re taking a trip their most common response is to ask what you plan to DO. And here’s the funny part, I don’t know. I have a list but not a plan. Obviously as it gets closer to time Anna and I will cobble together a rough idea of what and where, especially if there are things requiring reservations and/or pre-payment, but mostly I just want to be with my friend and walk and talk. Some years ago she spent five days here and we never even made it out of the yard.
For certain there are things I want to see but the idea of some kind of frantic rabbit race bloody itinerary where all we do is rush from thing to thing so’s not to ‘waste’ my time over there…yuck. Not for me, thanks. But this doesn’t mean I’m one of those ‘off the beaten path, hang with the natives’ snobs who’s too cool for typical sightseeing and guided tours. Far from it, in fact most of the stuff I’d like to take in is really tacky and I’m not embarrassed about that. I’ve led dozens of friends and relatives around the schlockiest, most touristy parts of NYC and never minded a bit. Top of the Empire State building? Sure. Rockefeller Center? No prob. Time’s Square? Step right over here. Barneys, Macys, Saks 5th Ave, Bloomingdales? You want to stand outside the ‘Today Show’ window? See ‘Phantom’ or ‘Cats’? Hey, I’m your girl. I totally understand.
So to that end here’s a list. A by-no-means complete or prioritized list of …
Stuff I’d Like To See Or Do In England.
Buckingham Palace. Not a tour or anything fancy, I’d just like to see it from the outside. With the Victoria Memorial, please.
Lunch at a pub. Actually there’s several things about pubs- cool pub signs with terrific names like ‘The Buttered Bum’ or ‘Alfie’s Poodle’, watching a darts game in person or a footie match on TV with a partisan cheering crowd, petting the pub dog or cat, buying a round and (briefly) listening to bullshit stories from the old coots, trying a shandy. No Guinness, thanks, I don’t care for dark beer.
Beach huts. Stone strands. Stripey canvas chairs. Brighton Pier. Donkey rides. And whatever the hell a knickerbocker glory is. Luckily Anna lives near-ish the sea. She used to be closer but has moved somewhere a bit more conventional but whatever, she’ll be a grand tour guide to all things about the British seaside and its amusements. I plan on spending LOTS of time in Brighton and having Anna show me the weirdness and artsy joy.
English gardens. In mid-July I expect England to turn out a spectacular floral face. Window boxes, allotments full of veg, hedgerows, tumbles and masses of flowers, sweeping meadows, neatly almost fanatically clipped public gardens. Bring it, England. Wow me with your botanical excess.
High tea. I’d like to go somewhere swank and have one of those fancy teas with little crust-less sandwiches and scones with jam and clotted cream. Tea in a silver or china pot. Wee decorated pastries. All doled out by an obsequious server on a starched linen-clad table so posh I feel awkward without pearls, a boarding school accent, and a really ugly hat.
London things. A ride in a black taxi cab. Another ride, this one on a double-decker bus. The Gherkin. King’s Cross and Platform 9 3/4. The Shard. The Millennial Bridge. Big Ben. Parliament. Tower Bridge. Piccadilly Circus. Hyde Park. Nelson’s Column. Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross- I know almost all the bookstores are gone but I’d like to see it anyhow. Dorkiest of all I’d like to get a picture on the Abbey Road crosswalk.
In a perfect world I’d like to go north and visit Si, Tracey, and the kids. And Lisa and Martin in Crewe. And Lou Stonehill and have a good cry, raise a glass, or both about our beloved Sarah. North again to Liverpool and a trip to The Cavern Club. And Sheffield to get some kitchen knives bought from the source. Northward still and see Liza and Bert in Glasgow. And while in Scotland do a bunch of Harry Potter fangirl stuff. But there’s only so much time and money. To day nothing of trying to ship/carry KNIVES back to The States.
I’m back and forth about doing the paid tour at Highclere Castle. Is it better to leave ‘Downton Abbey’ as it is? A PBS dream? Or visit the real thing and forever after have the tactile, full daylight knowledge but lose the illusion of the Crawley family and their staff as they are on screen? I tend toward the latter.
LA, what about museums? What about Shakespeare? Kings? Queens? The Magna (fricken) Carta? What about Hampton Court and the Elgin Marbles?
Look, scholarly knowledge is good. So is understanding and preserving history. It’s important. But I am just a chick on a trip. Trust me, with everything I’ve done with and for my kids I’ve given tithe to the future and then some. Enough for me and every single person I share DNA with. For now I am completely entitled to a trip to see my friend and check out a bunch of things I’ve only seen in movies and read about in books. Things that might (probably) not exist anymore.
This is a real place.
I was 8 when my grandmother gave me three of the six ‘Green Knowe’ books. I’ve since gotten all of them in several different editions. But, again, like Highclere, seeing the actual place will definitely change the magic of the place in my mind. Do I risk it or is my time better spent on a bench overlooking the sea drinking bad coffee from a paper cup having a hilarious enlightening soul-satisfying convo with my friend?
See how it goes?
And on subjects not quite so weighty but almost equally valid…what of the weather? Rain isn’t enough to stop me entirely but it definitely puts a crimp in days planned to spend outdoors. If I set a horribly inflexible schedule there I’d be standing in some miserable queue getting soaked and then trudging around ‘not wasting’ my visit but chilled to the bone picking my sodden underpants out of my ass crack and enjoying/learning NOTHING. Better I spent the afternoon in a used book shop or tucked up on Anna’s couch with a cuppa and no guilt whatsoever.
Most of the stuff I’d like to do on my trip is sensory rather than concrete. Anecdotal than actual.
For instance I’d be delighted when faced with my outsized enthusiasm a couple of Brits elbowed each other, rolled their eyes, and smirked, “American.” With all the patronizing attitude allowed by law.
I want someone in a market stall to call me ‘Ducks’, as in “Whot’s yours then, ducks?”
I want curry. I don’t know if I will even like curry, but I want it.
I DO know I like fish and chips. And I am very much looking forward to having the real deal.
I want a full English breakfast. Beans on toast sounds disgusting, as does blood pudding, but isn’t that the point? To be challenged and amazed to like something unexpected?
Spotted DICK? Bwahahaha! Okay, sure.
Honestly? England you can keep your mushy peas. Been there. Done that. Not interested in trying again.
Nando’s? Yes, please. I am always up for fried chicken.
Harrods? Perhaps for tea, but mostly for the novelty of going to a department store which refuses entry if you’re not dressed nicely enough. No jeans. Ever. Plus Alex’s ‘diaper bag’ was actually a tote bag from Harrods. A gift from the ex-MIL on one of her many, many travels. Replacing that tote would be nice after all these years.
Look. I learned about England the same way most of the world learns about the USA, most especially about New York, from books and movies. Sometimes TV shows. So what I want to see and what I’d like to experience in England this summer is based on media. Books, TV, movies. My actual wants are few, perhaps even spurious, desires fostered by an author’s idea of England.
First and foremost that after so many starved and promise-broken years…I get to go!
Much love, ~LA