Thursday, June 30, 2016

On To The Highlands

In the second half of our 1991 UK vacation, the Royal Father rented a car and learned the joys and hazards of driving on the left side of the road. To my relief, he didn't end up like poor Clark Griswald:


The start of our second week began with a stop in Portobello, an open-air affair of shopping, antiques, and street musicians. I saw a blues guitarist, Central American pipe trio, organ grinder, and an Indian (as in India) folk puppeteer. I also saw a ton of old silverware and jewelry I didn't care for, along with a man in a tricorn hat selling old tattered documents. Once more, if I had been in my history groove, I would asked to paw through some of them... if I didn't offer to buy the hat first.

Getting around turned out to be a dangerous exercise, as I noted in my journal:
Cars are parked the length of the street, on both sides, and stands block the sidewalk or street if there isn't a car there already. Occasionally a car will honk its way through -- one almost picked me up as I was taking a picture.
I also heard what sounded like a rip-off. While ambling among the vendors, a British man's voice pierced the air:

"F---ing bastard! I'll make a mark on you!"


Now in control of a car and our schedule, we went back to Stratford-On-Avon to visit the teddy bear museum. It's not the place I would think to visit on my own, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, if only for getting to see an original Fozzie Bear from The Muppets -- along with a bear once possessed by the late Christopher Robin Milne, son of Winnie-The-Pooh author A.A. Milne, the boy who was the Queen Mother's inspiration for my first name. The museum says the son was not fond of this particular bear, which is why it is displayed with its back toward you.

Dad had some problems getting on the correct motorways, but that was largely due to him still not having his glasses until we returned to Warwick Castle. Miracle of miracles, somebody had found them and turned them in. Now he could see to read maps.


We visited Sherwood Forest, not far from a theater in Nottingham where the new Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie was appropriately playing. Waking a short hike into the woods, bees zinged around us from every direction and Brother Michael kept trying to swat me.

Just as we were leaving, we spotted some re-enactors headed in the other direction -- men in tights. We didn't double back.


Since Mother got her museum indulgence, you figure Dad would get his: the National Railway Museum in York, filled with boxcars and railcars and passenger cars. We spent quite a bit of time there, meaning we had to rule out a drive to Edinburgh until the next day.

My highlight, though, was a visit to the York Minster Cathedral.

It's bigger than Westminster Abbey and the architecture is miraculous, especially the stained glass. Looking back upon this 25 years later, I am convinced this is a point where GOD was trying to reach out to your servant and pull me back to HIM. What I didn't realize then, but what I could feel, was HIS presence all around in the stillness and sanctity of the cathedral. I didn't want to take pictures. I didn't want to roll the video camera. I just wanted to feel GOD within me in those moments.

Dad, however, had other ideas.

I had paused to say a silent prayer to all those who had given their lives in exploration of the world, as suggested by a shrine I encountered, when I heard his voice breaking the silence.

"Did you film all of this?" he asked, just as I'd begun.

"Yes," I muttered, trying not to sound annoyed.


We saw a little kid slip and fall while trying to slide down the hill of Clifford's Tower. Mother told his parents to take him to the York Fire Department down the street. That didn't faze Brother Michael, who decided he wanted to try it anyway. He survived, but with a pinch on the posterior after the Queen Mother got done dusting him off.


After that brush with brush in York, we made it into Inverness, checking out the scenery along the way, along with Loch Ness, which has its own museum dedicated to the legendary monster.

Dad has been looking around for a kilt or at least pretending to. The big question is, will he actually wear it? I can hear the Royal Mother saying, "Your father buys these things and then he doesn't use them."

Dinner came from Pizza Hut because Dad could put it on his credit card, and fortunately, I lived to eat. We were crossing the street, and I was in no particular hurry when I heard Dad snarl, "MOVE IT!" I hurried on across, escaping a direct hit from a car rocketing by at what had to be at least 50 mph.

All sorts of fliers are up for a "Scottish Show" or two, complete with people dancing in kilts -- long before your servant decided to put one on. I regret we didn't check one of them out over a couple of pints.

But no matter, we had enough of an adventure when we got to the quaint hotel. From my journal:
The whole place looks like it was once a house, with windows that have been sheetrocked over and doors that won't open. Our room has a storage hutch that could've come from Containers and More for a closet. On the other side of the room is a sink, right at a 90-degree angle from the foot of Mike's bed. The bathroom has no real door. An exit sign, unlit, hands above it and a glass door with "push" above the handle was held open by a chair when we arrived. A curtain in front of the door helps to at least keep some privacy.

As you enter the bathroom, straight in front of you is a frosted-glass door that leads out back. It was locked, but we managed to get around that. Mike pressed in on the push-latch above the lock, and he was in the backyard. No sooner was he starting to peek in some other people's windows when a pit bull ran into him and chased him back inside, barking and yapping. I wasn't quite sure whether to leave the door open or close it, knowing that d--n dog might follow him in.
Meanwhile, the parents have a hot tub and a large sitting room. But neither room has a telephone.

The next day found us on the road to Edinburgh, with a stop in Aberdeen. They were having an international music and dance festival in that town, and my repressed culture-vulture self secretly wanted to check it out. We didn't. The city was packed as it was anyway, with Simple Minds playing a gig here.


I thought Edinburgh castle wasn't as interesting as the Tower of London, but oh man, what a view.

From the highest point there, on the clear day, it truly looks like you can see forever. We saw the crown jewels also: one room, not much compared to the Tower of London, and they will only be worn if the U.K. ever gets a Scottish king.

The one thing we wanted to see and didn't was the world-famous military tattoo, the soldiers in their beautiful kilts and bagpipes.


I forget where we ate lunch after departing Edinburgh, but I do remember the Royal Father had a bit of trouble in the buffet line communicating with the server. Dad had a real struggle deciphering what the Scots said through their thick brogue. But accent wasn't the problem here.

"Would you like chips with that?"


"Do you want French Fries?" Her query was terse, and I could just see her thinking, another bloody tourist.


"Would you like your hamburger with a roll?"


"Do you want a bun with that?" She was reaching the breakpoint.

"Oh yes."

I should've given everybody a primer in The Queen's English before departure. But strangely enough, most British restaurants we've encountered have used the term "French Fries," including McDonald's.


Our journey took us back into England's Lake District, and after gandering at the lake and its many swans -- some quite aggressive -- we went shopping and were surprised to find an arcade with slot machines. I went for some spins and ended up winning 30p on a machine that only cost 2p a play. You won't get rich by hitting the jackpot; the maximum payout is only about 5 pounds. If that isn't enough a vice for you, a shop next door has just about every dirty gag gift imaginable, including various clocks featuring various cartoon animals mating.


As we made our way back to Gatwick airport the next day, the realities of imperial leaded gasoline hit my system hard when we got stuck in a traffic jam and I started breathing in all those fumes. It didn't seem to help the cold I was catching.


The return trip from Gatwick to St. Louis wound the clock back in a more favorable direction, meaning I didn't have the jet lag issues. We left London at 12:30 in the afternoon and wound up back in Missouri around 7:30 before the cab ride back home.

The Queen Mother says when you start looking like your passport photo, it's time to head home. We were definitely looking the part, exhausted and probably more than a little crabby from so much time on the road. Didn't we learn anything from the Disney World experience? At least we ate. Sometimes it's best to spend more time doing fewer things, but who knew when we would be back in England again? Actually, the Royal Parents would end up going back at least twice as a side excursion from chaperoning a school trip to Spain. They just tacked it on to the end of that excursion. Meanwhile, my brother and I were stuck back in St. Louis to house-sit, work and wonder.


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