This year, I spent part of May, all of June & part of July in the UK/France/Belgium – I posted travel pics on my website, but I didn’t write my usual blog. Gump joined me for my last two weeks over there, and we travelled back together. I took August ‘off’ to regroup after being gone so long, and now it’s time to get back in the saddle.
In light of the death of Queen Elizabeth, I am very glad we both spent time in the UK during the wonderful celebrations of her platinum anniversary on the throne. It was lovely seeing decorations everywhere, flags flying and loads of street parties and festivities. The atmosphere was happy, and everyone felt a great deal of pride in being British.
Of course, the mood is different with the Queen’s passing. I am sure everyone has seen countless articles and opinions about how her loss has affected people around the world. There are so many stories, as the Queen had such an influence upon so many lives, mine included.
Like all other Brits, I feel deep sorrow at her loss. The world, my world, will look a little bit different from now on. Queen Elizabeth’s death ended an era in which she’s left an indelible mark no other monarch will be able to replace.
Back in my little world, my trip home was utterly nuts, as always. Every time I go back to England, I make oodles of plans to see family and friends. I travel all over the bloody place, gobbling up as much culture, history, fish and chips, and chocolate as humanly possible. What generally ensues, is a mad-cap frolic, where my old body tries to keep pace with my former thirty-year-old body and loses.
This trip was no exception. I wish I’d counted the miles and hours I spent on planes, trains (over ground and underground), boats, buses and cars. Honestly, I should have returned to the USA about fifty pounds lighter, even with all the junk I ate! I walked miles!
I’m not complaining (well I am, sort of) – But what I wasn’t ready for, emotionally or physically, was the arrival of Gump…He would join me for the last part of my trip. I had already been in the UK for six weeks when Gump finally arrived.
When Gump goes abroad, he might just as well be headed to Dallas or Missouri, because he doesn’t change anything he does, or says, and acts like he’s in the local Walmart. I enjoy watching people react to him outside of the USA. There’s usually an inquisitive frown when Gump’s talking, people tilt their heads like they’re thinking, ‘Wow, do people really talk like this?’ and then the inevitable question – “You’re American?” Even they don’t recognise a Gump accent.
Gump’s been to my homeland twice, and considers himself an expert, think Rick Steve (PBS) with a more limited vocabulary and worse taste in fashion. Ask Gump, and he’ll tell you he knows all about the British culture and the country’s history. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, the man also has no problem telling everyone he meets that British food ‘sucks’. He elaborates upon the subject, despite my subtle cues telling him to shut up as he’s insulting everyone. Gump likes to add that “They don’t have enough air conditioning in public transport, that the toilets are ‘kinda weird’, and everyone (except him) “talks funny.”
When you think of Gump, the word diplomatic does NOT come to mind – the names Gomer Pyle and Bullwinkle do. If I had a dime for every time I cringed, I’d be a wealthy woman.
So with some trepidation I collected Gump from Heathrow Airport, and though I hate to admit it, I was pleased to see my goofy husband come through the door. We were driven back to Dorset (a 2 hour drive), where Gump lamented the fact he was not going to see his partner, Scout, the wonder dog, for two weeks, and that he hoped she would forgive him for abandoning her. I believe I might have said something about his not feeling guilty whenever he abandoned me for frequent fishing trips, and I might have said it with a cutting tone in my voice.
We arrived in Dorset, spent the rest of the day catching up with family, and then it was fish and chips for dinner, the one food Gump does admit is the best he’s ever had anywhere.
The next morning we boarded a ferry to Cherbourg, a port situated in Normandy, France. We were enroute to the town of Bayeaux, which was the start of our trip to see some of the military memorials for the American servicemen who died during WWII. Our final destination would be in Liege, Belgium, at the grave of Gump’s Uncle Billy.
It was quite a hike from the port into the town centre where the railway station was located, and we had to rely on my limited French to read the signs and not get lost. I’d wanted to get a cab from the port, but of course Gump insisted we should walk as it wouldn’t be far…..Had I realised that after ten minutes and not being even halfway there, that my backpack would begin to feel like a large baboon strapped to my back, I would have told Gump to kiss my arse and grabbed a taxi. But, silly me, I went along with it. By the time we limped into the station, I was pissy, tired, sweaty, and in dire need of a toilet.
No worries though. There were only five people ahead of us in the ticket line, all we had to do was wait our turn and that would be that. I hadn’t bought this particular ticket in advance as I was unsure what time we would be at the station, and Bayeaux was only a 30 minutes train ride away. There were two railway employees running the ticket booths, and we had an easy forty minutes until our train arrived. No problem.
Problem….the lady currently at booth number 1 was apparently planning trips not only for her, but her entire family and possibly the United Nations, for the next decade. Every time the ticket machine spat out her tickets, she would give the attendant his next instructions, and off they went again. I shit you not, we waited, and we waited, and we waited. The five people before us were slowly helped by the other booth attendant, while jabberjaws completely monopolised booth attendant numero one.
My post-menopausal brain imagined my fingers around the woman’s throat on countless occassions as the big station clock ticked on. Collectively, the blood pressure of me and the other patrons might have fuelled a rocket to Mars. At some point, Gump and I watched helplessly as our train arrived and then departed, sans us. By the time I held our tickets in my hand, we had forty-five minutes to kill, and my bladder had grown to the size of a small planet.
We raced to the platform in search of a bathroom. This station was small, and also the end of the line, but we knew they would have one. All we could find was one stainless steel door, labelled as a unisex toilet, with a place to insert money so you could pay to use it. About to burst, I scrambled in my purse and found barely enough foreign change for me to unlock the door. I slotted the money in, opened the door and stepped inside a pitch black capsule.
After a couple of seconds, a few feeble lights blinked on, but they had about as much strength as those cheap nightlights that plug in and stay on…a lit match would have provided more illumination. Still, they afforded enough dim light for me to observe this was completely sealed, stainless steel capsule. Where was the actual toilet? I looked down, and with dismay saw a metal rimmed stainless steel-lined shallow drain in the floor. That was where you had to pee? Seriously? I looked around in the gloom for something else, but only spied a sink on the opposing wall. Okay, pee ointo the floor, here I go! Ick.
There was a large sign, and from what I could tell (as it was so dark to read), the toilet was a fully sealed, self-cleaning module, programmed to clean after use. The picture showed something in the ceiling that would automatically spray water from the ceiling to sanitise everything (Likely from Covid precautions).
Consequently, it was with some difficulty that I actually managed to go to the loo. It was like trying to pee in the woods, and OMG it killed my knees…..Dear God, what was wrong with these Cherbourg people? How could they possibly expect women to do this? At length, once I was ready, I wobbled to my feet and looked for some device to make the silly thing flush, and in the dim light saw some sort of lever that was flat against the wall, right above the place I’d just watered. I pulled it down only to discover it was the frame of a toilet seat….great. I could have saved my knees after all! Oh well, no harm done. I quickly rinsed my hands, anxious to get out of there and back into the light. But wait – where was the door handle?
My heart rate escalated, visions of being stuck in a metal box and dying in a dark toilet started to make me panic. I fumbled across the door and then my hand found a large button. I pressed it, and almost peed again in sheer relief as the blasted door opened. I pushed it hard, practically knocking over Gump, who was craning his head around the door and doing an ‘I need to pee’ dance himself. We had no more change, so he scurried in, as I came out.
Even through the thick metal door I could hear Gump making weird noises as he tried to figure out where things were in the semi-darkness, just as I had done. I stood outside and couldn’t help grinning. Then he said “The expletive lights have gone out” and I heard more bangs and swearing. What on earth was he doing? Another minute passed and then I heard him yell “What the hell!” More noise and then….”Where’s the handle?” and that also made me grin. Then suddenly he started hammering on the door, yelling in a panicked voice “Help, I can’t get out!”
“There’s a button!” I yelled to him. But he didn’t hear me and kept pounding on the door, so I yelled it again, but louder this time. This drew the attention of two of the station employees, who wandered over to the platform right across from ours and stared at me. There was more frantic banging, and then the door opened, and Gump fell out, slightly wetter than when he’d gone in. Apparently the ‘auto cleanse’ had kicked in within a certain time-frame of the door closing once I exited. Gump had snuck in, and barely finished, when the toilet ceiling began to ‘rain’ sanitised cleaner.
Poor Gump, he really was rather shaken-up, damp and confused. But I didn’t feel sorry for him as at least he’s used to standing up to pee. I felt as though we were being watched. There, across the railway tracks the two station employees were still looking our way. One said something to the other, and then they both laughed. They gave me a look that did not need translating. It was “That’s what you get for sneaking him in after you, and not paying for two people to pee.”
Consequently, after that experience Gump had ‘Pee-TSD’, and made it his mission to examine and grade all public toilets in Europe. For the rest of the trip, he remained leery of going into any bathroom without establishing an exit strategy first.
Taking Gump to France was a fascinating study in human/Gump behavior. The French people we encountered (indeed people in most countries) were not very responsive to his “Hi, howya’lldoin’,” greeting, and I can’t say that I blame them. However, the upside was being in a foreign-speaking country, mercifully no one understood a word he said, and therefore Gump was unable to insult them. Even the English-speaking French folk couldn’t understand his English….This did not surprise me as neither do I most of the time.
Gump’s formative years were spent growing up in Louisiana, the most French state in the union, and yet he still struggled with the French language, which mystified me. Other than naming specific French sounding Cajun dishes (not currently consumed in France) Gump was lost. He didn’t even say ‘Bonjour’, ‘Merci’, or try to use any basic greetings and manners. Yet again I reminded myself he oft forgets to use those even when at home…..
Paris was a whirlwind, Belgium was all about homage to Uncle Billy (see pictures on my website and more information about that experience). Then we were back in England just in time for July 4th …which we do not celebrate in England – I write this, as I’m often asked if we do celebrate there – even by people who aren’t just giving me a hard time…..
The next part of our trip was a drive from the south coast of England (Dorset) all the way up to North Wales -about 300 miles.
This would be a six hour road trip, which in the USA would get us twice that distance. But because we would be driving through rural areas without accessing any motorways, it would double our driving time. When we picked up the rental car, Gump was adamant he would not do any driving at all, as it was on ‘the wrong side of the road’. It didn’t matter what I said, nor what anyone else said for that matter, it was left to me. I have had limited driving experience in England, as I learned to drive in the USA. But technically, as a native, it was always going to be my gig, or we’d be back on the trains, planes and buses.
Our destination was a small coastal town on the egde of Snowdonia National Park, a beautiful part of Great Britain. Go to https://www.visitsnowdonia.info if you want to read more about the area.
We drove on a two-lane road most of the way, through all different types of villages, and even places where only one vehicle at a time could get through as the roads were built for horses and carts. This was dramatic stuff for my blood pressure, but after a while I began to relax and just enjoy the drive. Oh my, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Everywhere you looked was green grass, a veritable rainbow of lovely wildflowers, and rolling hills, mile after mile. I just knew that Gump, a geologist, would be in geology heaven as we drove through the amazing landscapes and geological formations that are Wales.
But, as ususal, I was wrong! In Wales, they have their own native Welsh language which is still very proudly spoken. The language, to our ears, sounds quite complicated to pronnounce, and it is. Reading Welsh is virtually impossible to a foreigner, because they use a lot of double consonants, even to start words.
Consequently, Gump was utterly fascinated by this enigma, having not realised there was a Welsh language prior to being there. He became completely obsessed with all the signage we passed. He took tons of pictures of the signs, even making me slow down. As we passed grassy meadows with herds of fluffy white sheep, Gump’s eyes stayed on the road. He counted every roundabout we travelled (at least 80) – whooping with relief as we navigated each one without dying. He breathed in every time the road narrowed (like it would help the car get skinnier) and he stopped shouting “Oh God” whenever we met another vehicle coming towards us after I yelled at him and threatened to eject him from the vehicle.
Here is an example of a Welsh sign.
Below is the actual name of a Welsh town. It is famous for being the longest place name in Great Britain.
Wales was probably my favourite part of the trip because my son, daughter-in-law and grandkids joined us there, along with the Scottish contingency of my family. We had a huge house which faced a pretty beach, and it was some much needed downtime. It didn’t hurt that I was also able to offload Gump onto my son and his wife, who kindly took him hiking, and kept him out of trouble – phew.
The trip back to the USA was long and tiring, but it had been a wonderful vacation, though exhausting. When we arrived back home, Gump spent a great deal of time apologising to Scout, the wonder dog, for his being gone so long. Scout immediately abandoned my son, David, and his wife, Natalie, who had been caring for her in our absence, and was back with her Gump sidekick once again. I was also relgated to my usual position of food provider, for both of them.
Two days after our return Gump and I got sick, and surprise, surprise….we both tested positive for Covid. It was strange being back in the USA after 2 months away. It was even stranger being back and not being able to leave the house at all, have any of my friends over, or meet people for lunch. After a few days of being quarentined, I decided Gump was in more danger from me throttling him than he was from getting seriously ill from Covid. We had definitely spent way too much time together!
In comparison to some, we were lucky not getting so sick we had to go to the hospital, and I’m grateful because we knew it could have been so much worse. But Covid was horrid, and I’m so glad we’d both been innoculated as I think that’s what really helped. Eventually, we were able to carry on with normal activities. It has been a slow recovery. Healing is definitely harder as you age. That’s the truth.
Gump’s beloved tomatoes have been an epic fail this year. Of course, a lot of it is down to the excessive heat we have had. Gump’s been sulking all summer, and harvested enough fruit to keep a small colony of squirrels alive. This torments him terribly, but it makes me giggle and the squirrels happy. Our yard looks like vagrants live here. It’s amazing how heat and no rain can do that. I can’t imagine how the poor farmers are coping.
I’m finally back in my writing saddle after many weeks of absence, and I have a brand new book coming out next month, which I am thrilled about! It’s called THE SECRET OF JACARANDA, and it’s set in East Africa.
I’ve also got a monthly newsletter that gives updates about my writing journey. If you are reading this blog and you don’t already subscribe, please sign up on my website. It’s only so I can communicate with you from time to time. Your email address is protected and never shared. You’ll also get a link to this blog automatically whenever there’s a new blog published.
Well I’m tired. Writing about Gump can do that to a person reliving each experience and his antics. If you want to see a few photos, don’t forget to check out the trip photos on my webpage JUDE ON THE MOVE –
For now I’m signing off.