Friday, August 15, 2008

England Trip - Trivia!

Here are more memory fragments from my England trip that fell out of the narrative.
  • There are no skyscrapers in England.
  • I bought an extra carry on bag at a luggage shoppe in Kensington to help carry the extra goods. I bought a Wedgwood pitcher (about the size of a softball) for Mom, a book of Prints from the National Gallery gift shop, a tacky painted plate from a gift shop in Stratford for my brother and his wife. I bought a T-shirt in Cambridge and army surplus coveralls from the British air force at a surplus shop.
  • The coverall, a jumpsuit, was nondescript, it didn't have a bunch of military insignias or lettering. It was a total impulse move. The dang thing was about an inch too small. It rode up in the crotch and the pant legs were a tad too short. I gave it to my roomie at Oliver Hall, Greg Merritt.
  • I saw a topless sunbather on the beach at Brighton.
  • The Bank in Kensington where I cashed my traveller's checks was Barclays. They were everywhere. They charged me a vig every time I made an exchange.
  • I never quite mastered the concept of V.A.T. - value added tax. I can't explain it to you now.
  • I tried a Wimpey burger after seeing them about London and viewing the TV ads. They invited me to sit down like a regular restaurant and a waitress took my order. I don't recall being blown away by it, but it was still better than British pizza.
  • I took a novel with me on the trip, Different Seasons by Stephen King. The paperback featured four novellas. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body (AKA Stand by Me) and The Breathing Method.
  • The Onslow Court hotel was in a neighborhood where many Embassies for foreign nations were stationed. The Qatar Embassy was very close to us.
  • One commodity that seemed to be missing: girls my age. I didn't see them at the pubs or the cathedrals. I didn't meet any girls on my own the whole time I was there. But I wasn't on the make either. I sort of had a girlfriend back home. I bought her a wool sweater at Windsor castle but she never got it. Our schedules got crossed and we ran out of time before departing for different colleges. I kept the sweater, a plum pullover with a conservative stitch pattern around the neck, and gave it to another girl later, who I deemed special. It didn't fit quite as well.
  • I took up the tea habit while in country and promptly discarded it upon returning to the states. I also enjoyed many English beers but reverted to 3.2 tavern beer once back in Kansas.
  • I was forced to visit British laundromats to keep my knickers clean. I ran into a couple of Americans in the Kensington laundromat. They were on the Euro-rail program, hopping from hostel to hostel. You need clean underwear for that. I donned my jumpsuit for a trip to the laundromat in the provinces. I don't recall what town, but a kind old lady who swept up offered me "a sweet". That's hard candy for you Yankee bastards.
  • Litter and garbage were not in short supply in London. Thatcher may have been having labour problems but she chose not to employ them to collect rubbish. Trash cans were plentiful, but all seemed jammed with garbage.
  • One time Marc and I ran late and I needed to choke down some food before we started our ritual pub crawl. We went into a shoppe and I ordered a slice of meat pie to go. The pastry crust was so flaky and dry that I couldn't wash it down without a drink. I opted for a pint of Guinness, recalling my first pint a few days before on the train back from Wales. Where as the first pint was chilled, this one was butt warm and I nearly passed out from pastry/warm stout asphyxiation. In the meantime Marc kept chiding me to hurry up. He was impatient when it came to meat pies.
  • We stayed away from American chain outlets. No McDonalds. I don't think Pizza Hut was there yet. Every time we closed in on a bit of Americana, we got spanked. There was a bar in Kensington with a Texas theme. They had Lone Star beer cans stacked in the window and the whole place was done up like a western bar. We went in and sat down and ordered a beer, but they wouldn't serve it during pub siesta time. We left and never went back. Coca-cola was the lone exception.
  • The Onslow Court hotel had a cocktail-table model of the Asteroids video game in a hallway by the back stairs. It cost 10p to play (about 15 cents).
  • The USA Today was not available. U.S. news in general was hard to obtain. The BBC nightly news was very international, but not U.S. centric (and why would it be about America). This de-empahsis on America as the only show in town was one of the best lessons I learned while abroad.
  • There is no "prime-time" on English TV. They ran re-runs and first-run shows in the evening along with news documentaries and [lookout] Cricket. Blimey. Those test matches lasted for days.
  • The first day we were there, we heard the familiar British fanfare that played at the beginning of every episode of Benny Hill, but it turned out it was the network fanfare for Thames television, and it played before all the shows on that network.
  • American shows on the schedule: Flamingo Road, Simon and Simon, The Munsters, The Bilko Show.
  • Brit programmes: I caught glimpses of Coronation Street, Steptoe and Son, and Robin's Nest. Coronation Street was a prime time soap. Steptoe and Son was the basis for Sanford and Son and Robin's Nest was a spin-off of Man in the House, the inspiration for Three's Company.
  • All not available: American cigarettes. Smokers on the trip were not impressed by the local tobacco flavors.
  • Only Americans wore sneakers and jeans as casual wear. You could spot a yank from 300 yards with the Nikes and the Levis.
  • I sampled blood pudding at a hotel restaurant buffet. I question whether this was the best venue to try it for the first time. It was okay, a bit gristly.
  • I needed a passport for the trip and I waited in line at the Shawnee Mission post office but they rejected my application. I didn't have an official passport photo and you can't use a random glamour shot. I located a photographer in Mission who made such photos. He worked out of a little shop located in the concourse at the Mission Mart shopping center. That was a strip mall with Pier One and TG&Y. There was an indoor section that operated on two floors. Nobody ever went in there even when it rained but he had a storefront there. I called by phone and made an appointment that same afternoon. I was proud of myself for the extra hustle. He met me there. It was obvious that he didn't keep shop. He only showed up when he had a session. I sat down for three quick shots. I thought he'd give me a print on the spot. He told me to come back Thursday. That was two days later, but I guess it worked out. I got my official passport with photo in time for the flight to the UK.
  • There were many public appeals, signs, billboards, etc. to help the "spastics". This was the accepted term for people with cerebral palsy (CP).
  • I saw a kid on the subway in a Jayhawk t-shirt.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

England Trip - August 14th, 1983

We said goodbye to the Onslow Court Hotel and cheerio to England on a 12:30pm flight. Our trip handlers advised us it was customary to tip the bus driver at the end of a charter coach journey. Tipping is not an innate skill, one has to learn it and I had no idea what to give Gordon. I thought he did a great job so I gave him 20 pounds. That was about 30 dollars in those days. We took off from Heathrow and it was busy but there were no problems. The flight was long and we landed at O'Hare, Chicago in time for a four hour layover. Argh.

My Dad met me at the gate in Kansas City. The plane touched down after 8pm. I couldn't wait to get home. We were all tired. In my rush, I don' t think I made a big enough deal about my goodbyes.

I saw Tom, Melissa, and Marc again at K.U. (and our pub mate from Bath). We made plans to meet with the two Judys that November for a reunion to look at snapshots and Tom's home movies. He carried either an 8mm or a 16mm camera with him in England and we all made the highlights I'm told. I never saw the prints. The projector bulb shot craps the day of our reunion. But Tom didn't give up. He and Melissa went to KU, got married, moved to Carmel where they befriended the Mayor, Mr. Clint Eastwood. Tom and Clint collaborated on several films and Melissa worked behind the scenes too.

Marc, the one-time cable man from Los Angeles, got a job at 96X, a rock station in Ottawa, KS that serviced the Lawrence market. He sold air time, was on the air, and starred in their local cable TV ad campaign as the Herb Tarlick-like salesman who got zapped by the cool rock sounds of 96X. I think Marc stayed in sales but I haven't talked to him in over 20 years. He may be living in California.

Judy Oden retired from Shawnee Mission North and became a travel agent. She and Judy Spencer continued to visit Europe, though not always together. Gordon drove coaches across the UK for many years. I hope he still does.

I unpacked my things when I got home but I didn't have long to rest. The dorms opened three days later at KU and I prepared to start another exciting journey, a new chapter, as a freshman at Oliver Hall. 1983 was a busy year.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

England Trip - August 13th, 1983

that's me on the right in front of the Cleese townhouse
Today was our last full day in England. The trip organizers suggested we visit the Portabello road market, but Tom, Melissa, Marc, and I ended up going to a rare bookseller in Soho. A man on the street selling bootleg George Harrison cassettes recognized us as Yanks and tried to sell us some music but we didn't buy. The bookstore was amazing, a trove of used and rare books on multiple floors. Marc inquired about a specific title that his father wanted, military history perhaps, a shot in the dark he said, but they had it!

Later that day we visited an unusual group of people. I can't remember the exact circumstances, only that it was late afternoon, and they served tea and someone made a speech. There was an elderly lady, much like a Monty Python pepperpot, only older, and she wore a medal given to her by the Queen. A middle-aged man and a woman ran this place, but I don't recall the occasion, only that they told us that John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, was their neighbor. Marc and I perked up. Yes, they said, he ran lines in his back garden where they observed him more than once. Connie Booth, his collaborator, wife, and co-star in Fawlty Towers, was also seen in the town home adjacent to this mysterious meeting hall.

Marc and I walked around the corner. We hoped to see John Cleese but we didn't. We took pictures of ourselves at the gate. Neither one of us dared ring his doorbell, though Marc faked the intent in the photo that featured him (he's the gent in the black jacket).

Our farewell dinner was meant to be special. I donned what dress-up duds I had left in the suitcase, cashed my last batch of American Express checks, and rode the tube to an Italian bistro run by Spaniards in the Northern suburbs of London. We ate orange and green pasta, a personal first for me, and I thought it was quite a novelty at the time. This meal was a bit more expensive than our typical supper, but it was worth it. We drank wine and kind words were spoken all around the table.

Marc, Tom, Melissa, and I stopped for a drink at a nearby pub after dinner. The bar was next to a local police precinct and squad cars went by while we stood outside the front door. Cops walked past us on their way to work but nobody cared that we pubbed it up out front. It was a warm, clear evening and a bittersweet event, our last night together in the U.K. I hope we toasted England and each other.

I asked the bartender if any famous people patronized this pub, since we weren't far from the Cleese flat and he nodded. "Kelly Monteith," he said. "Who?" I asked. "Kelly Monteith." I'd never heard of Kelly Monteith and I told him so. "Well you ought to know 'im," he said. "He's a yank."

It turned out that Kelly Monteith was an American comedian who scored a BBC TV show in the late 1970s. I happened upon an episode at some point and it was pretty lame. He was doing a bit about escalators, addressing the audience directly, and remarking about how the escalator hand rail moved faster than the stairs, a bit I'm pretty sure I heard somebody else do first in America, but with old Kel sequestered in the UK on the BBC, his writing staff "borrowed" it, or perhaps it was a funny coincidence. The bartender assumed I'd know Monteith, the fellow Yank. This was a dissonant fact that amazed me, how certain cultural fragments rose to the forefront, like the KC and the Sunshine Band single on the jukebox, or the George Brett pine tar game mention on the news. Even KMBC's Christine Craft made the BBC with her accusations of sexual discrimination. That was a different night in my travels, but one time in the hotel room while I watched TV before bed, I saw video of the Kansas City skyline. "That's Kansas City," I said, though I was alone. The BBC ran the story and picked up some B-roll of the Channel Nine local news open package. George Brett, Christine Craft, Kansas City, all there in the news, and yet the average pub patron was oblivious to them. Toto, Dorothy and friggin' Kelly Monteith - they knew about those icons.

Another memory fragment: Tom and Melissa departed and Marc and I went to another bar. This suburban pub featured a snooker table. I had never seen snooker before and I found it fascinating. No pockets at all and an array of solid white and red balls. The table was a local attraction. Serious players eyed the action from all corners of the room. One British wrinkle that I didn't get: patrons were required to put money in a coin box connected to the lights. The snooker table featured a large bank of lights and every 15 minutes the lights shut off, often in the middle of a shot. That produced some choice cockey rhyming slang from the players. They said, "Knickers and hickeys, go the bells of St. Rickey's. Escalator comedy bit thief, goes the American Monteith." And so to bed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

England Trip - August 12th, 1983

Gordon drove the group to the West side of town to see Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. I remember Hampton Court with copious Henry VIII references. We walked through the hedge maze. It was a beautiful sunny day. I might be wrong but it seemed like Windsor Castle and Hampton Court were next to each other. We spent the entire day looking at Royal luxury, works of art, and fabulous buildings, rooms, and gardens. I have a fragmented memory of a major Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit on display.

Memory fragment: a waitress from a local restaurant chatted with us while we were waiting for our party to return to the bus. She was from Boston, cute, early 20's and very excited to see Americans. I wonder what the deal was. It wasn't like we were the only Americans to visit England that summer. Maybe she was a natural Patty Simcox; chatty and friendly. I must admit I had boyish American charm that screamed red, white, and blue, as did my teenage complexion.

It was a pleasant exchange, albeit brief, but I can't get over the fact that a native wanted to chat with us by virtue of our nationality. We must have caught her on the cusp of assimilation. A couple weeks later and she may not have cared, a couple weeks earlier and she might have been new in country with fresh memories of the swell Americans back in Boston. I'll never know the answer. One thing I am sure about, the restaurant where she worked looked like it was destined to fail. The place was done up like a 70s glam bar with a boxing theme. She wore brightly colored silk boxing trunks. It was like a Hooters but with models dressed as boxers. Not sure if they donned the headgear, perhaps during World Cup happy hour. Those football hooligans, you know.

That night Judy O. and I visited the London theatre district and the Savoy theatre in particular for Noises Off, starring Phyllida Law as Dotty Otley. I didn't know who she was then, but it was obvious she was the star. She's better known now as Emma Thompson's mother. The play was hilarious, the theatre was packed, and it was a very entertaining evening. We took a London cab home after the show ended. I found out later that the Savoy theatre was the home of Gilbert and Sullivan during their heyday in the 1890s, and it was the venue where they debuted The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, and H.M.S. Pinafore, among other operettas.

I still have the show program somewhere (but I can't locate it). The plot concerned a play and the program contained the bios for the real actors as well as the fictitious information for the play within a play, called Nothing On. The show opened with char-woman Dotty eating sardines and talking on the phone. A man walked down the aisle not far from us and shouted at her from the house floor. It was a nice reveal - he was an actor as well, the director of Nothing On. Comedic chaos ensued. It's too bad the movie version with Carol Burnett bombed. The production was perfect for the theater. The KU theater department staged it in the late 80s. David Rees Snell, a co-worker at Audio Reader, and now better known as Emma Thompson's mother on The Shield, played Frederick Dallas. Fred came across as a vapid man of British manners in the English production, but that's not a comic type in the United States, so Snell played it to emphasize his indecisiveness and insecurity. Here ends my belated review.

It's coincidental that both the Savoy theatre and Windsor Castle suffered devastating fires in the years since I visited the U.K. In contrast, Phyllida Law's American film career never caught fire, though I don't know if she cared.

Monday, August 11, 2008

England Trip - August 11th, 1983

We returned to the Onslow Court Hotel in London after 13 days in the provinces. I felt like a seasoned Londoner today, like a native back home after holiday. A group of young German tourists stopped me on the street and asked why the bars where closed. I gave them the low down on the local siesta law. They seemed grumpy. Nothing funnier than a grumpy German tourist, unless its a grumpy German tourist in a speedo.

Our hotel concierge booth featured a sign that listed all the current local theatre productions. Judy Oden and I asked for a recommendation since Cats was sold out. The concierge recommended a hot new comedy Noises Off, and we booked it for the following night.

We tested all our hotel pubs while on tour and they ran the gamut. Quite a few of them resembled the proletarian bar in Fawlty Towers; A small bar top about six feet wide with one or two keg taps and a random collection of hard liquor. There was one place that was the opposite, and I don't recall which provincial town this was, but the bar in the hotel was a popular local night spot, in fact it wasn't a pub at all. It was a night club, with a dance floor, and local singles on the make. Judy Oden told me that she looked out her room window later that evening and saw a guy, who presumably got his English motor running at the disco, trying to get the attention of someone in the hotel - Romeo and Juliet style. I don't know if he threw rocks at a nearby window or not. Judy said he returned with a ladder. Crazy British hotel night club. I wonder if he rented the ladder from the concierge booth?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

We Interrupt the Nostalgia bring you the latest short story from W. P. Kinsella, author of Field of Dreams. This one is short, one smoke long, in fact.

England Trip - August 10th, 1983

We left Stamford, stopped for lunch in the cathedral city of Ely, and arrived in Cambridge by mid-afternoon. We took the walking tour of the university; Sir Isaac Newton taught there. Francis Crick, the DNA guru, unravelled the mysteries of the double helix. We also stopped by the Trinity college great court, made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire, when the Ben Cross character ran around the court before the clock finished the stroke of 12. Our guide said the scene in the film was shot at Oxford, even though it took place at Cambridge. I bought a souvenir sweatshirt.

That night back at the hotel room, I watched the film version of Arsenic and Old Lace starring Cary Grant. I found it interesting since we had staged the production at SM North that Spring. I thought Grant's performance was a bit over the top as the frazzled dramatic critic Mortimer Brewster. Yes, frankly it was too frazzily.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

England Trip - August 9th, 1983

We covered 100 miles from York to Stamford today on the venerable tour coach. There were only five days left in the UK before I returned to Kansas. I don't have a lot of memories of Stamford. The hotel was over 200 years old and featured small archways (big enough for a carriage but not an automobile) that led into an inner garden. It was very nice. My European hotel room clock radio showed 23:00 for 11pm. I tuned in a French station. Our travels took us South again as he crept toward London.

Another memory fragment: In one of my provincial hotel rooms, I'm not exactly sure what city I was in, but I recall a certain odd television set. The audio and the video were turned on and off by separate switches. I watched a program before bed. The BBC showed a jazz concert with Kansas City native Pat Metheny. I switched off the video and listened to the sound as I drifted off.

Friday, August 08, 2008

England Trip - August 8th, 1983

The itinerary stated that we hung out an extra day in York (Gordon's regular day off perhaps) and we took a day trip to Beverly Minster near town. That's another outstanding cathedral that I have no memory of visiting and no pictures either. I turned into the ugly American, or perhaps less harshly, the American who remembered British pub culture more than British culture.

This might be a good time to bust out some contact prints that I discovered this evening in the basement. Its from the first roll I shot during our initial stay in London and I want to take you through each photo. Imagine you visited me at my house and I broke out the slide projector. Click on the image to enlarge.
  • Top Row: Melissa gets cozy with a Beefeater.
  • My lame attempt to secretly capture the image of what I thought was a punk rocker.
  • A man with a monkey entertains Austrian tourists.
  • Coolest shot of my trip: I happened upon a street musician, a black man who sang and played guitar, performing in the tube station, underground, in front of an official London Underground notice that stated street musicians were expressly forbidden. Cool, right? I got him in the shot with the sign, but my freakin' flash failed me and I ended up with a no-go on the print. You'll have to take my word for it. F-stop me runnin'.
  • Bottom Row: 10 Downing street (sideways)
  • Bobbies at the end of 10 Downing street that keep people away from the actual 10 Downing street entrance, terrorist threat and all that. Bad business with the IRA in those days.
  • Marc chats with the smoking man on the front porch of the Onslow Court hotel in Kensington. Do you see his Camel no-filters on the table there?
  • I think the last shot is of the tower of London complex as seen from a bridge.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

England Trip - August 7th, 1983

We left Durham for York with a pit stop in Thirsk, aka James Herriot country. Some of the middle-aged ladies in our group wigged out and ran amok. I ran to the pub with Marc. We found one that was open for lunch on Sunday and ordered a pint with our sandwich. The pub owner told us the local law forbade the sale of liquor at that time. This was the first booze restriction I ran into in my entire fortnight's stay in the UK. And then he served Marc and I anyway and we tipped him well. The beer was good. The sandwich was so-so. Weird coincidence. My boss back in Kansas City at the golf course was Stan Thirsk. I think I took a snapshot of a storefront that said Thirsk Hardware or something and gave it to him when I got back. Or maybe I imagined that after drinking that lunchtime pint. It's all golden hazy now.

Likewise York is a faded tablet. I recall touring the big minster there but not much else. I remember the hotel, except for the name. It might have been the Viking Inn. It overlooked one of the local rivers and we saw people row up and down the small stream.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

England Trip - August 6th, 1983

From Kendall to Hexham and on to Durham during the apex of our tour away from London. Hexham is near the remains of Hadrian's Wall and I recall getting off the bus to walk among the ruins.

I don't have a lot of memories of Durham but I think this was the city where we toured the cathedral that featured a tall tower and we walked up a number of steps to get to the top for a wonderful view.

The photo roll suggests that we stopped near the ruins of a church where I took a picture of two boys fishing by a riverbank. I think this was in transit, between two stops. I have a memory fragment of our tour hosts, the Campbells, making a pitstop at a tile vendor's shop to purchase new tile for their kitchen, but I'm not sure if this was the same day.

The Northern stretch was beautiful country, very hilly, and I remember wishing we could extend our trip further to Scotland.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

England - August 5th, 1983

We spent the day in the Lake District on our way to Kendall. This was also about the only time we jumped on the English Interstate - Britain's M6 motorway. This allowed us to shoot North from Chester, bypass Liverpool and its industrial trappings, and cruise to Lake Windermere.

Marc and I rented a two-man motor boat and spent the day in the sun. It was hot and I stripped down to my underwear for a cool swim. A barge full of tourists floated past and I waved. I'm not sure what I did with my underwear after I got back in the boat. I may have wrung them out before I put my jeans back on or perhaps I went commando and discarded the ersatz swim trunks. Either way it was worth it - hottest summer in 400 years, they said.

Monday, August 04, 2008

England Trip - August 4th, 1983

Big road day today. We covered a total of 88 miles with a pit stop in Shugborough on our way to Chester. The 88 miles took all day. We rarely travelled on Interstate type highways. The roads were one lane each way most of the time. A 30 mile stretch sometimes took 90 minutes or longer depending on the traffic and the road conditions, but it was all part of the adventure.

Shugborough was a large historic estate house and grounds. I don't remember much about it. It's possible it may have been partially closed. I have a picture of the gates and a picture of the Cat's Monument, a famous tribute to some rich bastard's feline friend.

Chester had great shops and I bought my mother a Wedgwood pitcher as a gift. The shopping district was quaint, decked out in traditional middle age white plaster and wood board. I have a vague memory of a cobblestone passage with a sign that said "Fowler" with an arrow pointing down the way. Chester also had the remains of protective walls around the city rim from 500 years ago (or longer).

I didn't know it when I was there but the Horrocks branch of my mother's family hailed from Cheshire (the province where Chester sits). This may have been as close as I came to visiting my true ancestral England.

I have a memory fragment that may be from Chester or not, but I associate it with walking on the city walls, so I think it was here that I noticed something about music in English pubs. Not all the bands were cooler. I was shocked to discovered that KC and the Sunshine Band were still releasing singles and getting British air play (and jukebox spins too). They shuffled the release strategy among bands that were popular in both places. While Every Breath You Take by the Police was a monster hit in the U.S. that summer, the U.K. jukeboxes all featured Wrapped Around Your Finger.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

England Trip - August 3rd, 1983

Today our group joined throngs of tourists in Stratford-on-Avon where we toured the Shakespeare properties, shopped in the Bard stores, and quaffed deep of the cup of Shakespeare. The only thing missing was The Bill Shakespeare sunshine summertime musical revue theater featuring Falstaff the banjo player. Hello Branson, are you listening? We got the hell out of there after lunch.

Coventry was our next stop. Lady Godiva's ride through town has been overshadowed since the Germans bombed the city in World War II. The bombed out cathedral walls remained; a park and memorial decorated the grounds. Otherwise, they rebuilt the city as one might expect. Judy Oden told me that many victims were buried in mass graves outside of town.

I was always a bit surprised when Brits pegged me for a Yank at first glance. Its obvious now, the blue jeans, the sneakers, and the tattoo of the Gettysburg address on my chest, but back then, I was naive about the way I reeked U.S.A.

I walked among the downtown Coventry buildings. I explored the side streets and cobblestone passages, when a man sitting on a stoop across the way, motioned for me to join him in conversation. He smiled as he waved me over. "Excuse me sir. I wonder if I might have a word with you."

I was an 18 year-old guy from Kansas, but I knew people on the street, even in a calm mid-sized city like Coventry, did not want to merely have a word with me, they wanted something else.

I glanced at my watch. "I'm sorry. I don't have time." I walked away. In retrospect I should have been more direct. Maybe a 'No thanks' or a 'I don't think so'. The man's demeanor changed in an instant.

"You don't have time? Why I ought to give you 18 stitches up the side of your head," he yelled after me.

I made a left turn down a side street that went in the direction of the hotel. I didn't look back. He kept yelling at me but he didn't follow me. I turned the corner and ran. It was a block back to the hotel. It was the only negative experience I had with anybody the entire trip.

Maybe he wanted to ask me the time and when he saw me look at my watch and tell him I didn't have the time, that pissed him off. I'm not sure. I should have gave him my Romeo and Juliet bath towels from the Stuckey's in Stratford. That would have been a right Scotch cracker, which is a fake British slang term David Cross made up on his blog, and I'll bet he's never even been to Stratford, but I have, 25 years ago today.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

England Trip - August 2nd, 1983

We cruised past the Royal Crescent apartments and hotel on our way out of Bath. Gordon impressed me with his able command of the bus in tight driving situations. Tight by American standards. Brits in general are used to driving on tiny roads with little buffer room between lanes and oncoming traffic. We drove through the Cotswolds, an area of outstanding natural beauty, on our way to Banbury.

My father bounced me on his knee and sang to me about Banbury when I was a wee lad. Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross. We saw the cross on our way to the hotel, in the middle of a traffic circle, and that was Banbury for me. It was a rainy evening and the lot of us, Marc, Tom, Melissa, the Judys, and myself, camped out in the bar for the night. Marc urged me not to inquire with the locals about the availability of a cock-horse, but I was ready to invade the city center after a few G&Ts, on horseback if need be - but need not be, and so to bed.

Friday, August 01, 2008

England Trip - August 1st, 1983

We left Winchester with Gordon back on board. We drove 24 miles to Salisbury for lunch. I think they had a copy of the Magna Carta in Salisbury but I don't remember viewing it. The car park in Salisbury was adjacent to the oldest section of town they allowed foot traffic only on the main shopping road. The parking lot was situated behind stores and we approached a business from the rear. This particular building was designed with windows up high that formed a ring of glass around the top of the first floor. We were in the back and there was no door or sign that indicated the type of business inside. I looked up at the window and saw a naughty calendar posted on a wall. A topless model welcomed me to downtown Salisbury. I remarked on it to my companions and someone inside must have heard me. The calendar was gone when we returned to the coach. All this European nudity made me hungry. Somebody talked up a ploughman's lunch, a hunk of cheese and an apple, but we found a restaurant that served something hearty instead.

The group stopped for a walking tour of Old Sarum, an ancient site of ruins that preceded the Roman occupation of England. This was a warm up for the real prize, a stop at Stonehenge. Stonehenge, as you know, is a sprawling complex of henges, and the National Trust has done a fine job of controlling development in the surrounding countryside. This is why it looks great on those documentary programs where an aerial camera swoops by. The visitor center and gift shop are both underground. We couldn't walk among the ruins. Soccer hooligans vandalized the stones with spray paint and officials decided to keep the big rocks off limits to tourists. We got kind of close for these pictures. I think Judy Oden took the picture with me in it.

The weird thing about Stonehenge - after 15 minutes, you are ready to go. Off we went to one of my favorite cities on the tour - Bath! A town of 70,000 residents according to one of our travel mates who announced the population of all the towns we visited as we pulled in on the bus. We arrived in mid afternoon. Marc and I stowed our gear and did a quick pub recon mission. This was during the English pub siesta; all the bars were closed, but we spied one with a pool table through the front window, not a snooker table mind you, but a real American style pool table and decided to return that evening after the tour of the Roman baths and our usual group meal.

The Roman baths were quite impressive and I was tempted to change into my suit and jump in the main pool. I bet everyone wants to swim in the Roman pools so its probably a good thing that nobody does. We saw the great bath, the hot bath, and the cold bath. The Romans were mad about bathing.

We returned to our hotel where Judy Oden got a letter from back home. Not many of us heard from our friends and family while on tour. Marc attempted a phone call from a pay phone in London and got through to his girl in Kansas. Judy was very organized and briefed her family on the travel itinerary. They wrote to her in advance and the letters were waiting for her at several stops. I wrote a couple of letters early in the trip but figured anything after the half-way point might arrive after I returned to the states.

Our hotel was on a hill by a river and it overlooked a couple of streets. I heard mechanics in a nearby auto shop working as I listened from my room. They cursed and cajoled each other. The song Summer Nights from the Grease soundtrack came on their radio and they sang it to one another in a working class falsetto.

Marc and I returned to the pool table pub that evening. British pub pool rules varied from standard American bar rules, or perhaps they were pulling my leg. For example, if you scratched on a shot, the other player got two shots. Marc wore a Kansas City Kings T-Shirt. We drank a couple pints and had fun even though the rules were wonky. A young man about my age asked if we were from Kansas after he saw Marc's shirt. It turned out that he was attending KU that fall as an exchange student. We talked to him for awhile and exchanged what little information we could. He was slated to live in Hashinger Hall. I was dialed in for Oliver Hall. Marc and Tom rented a place together down Naismith drive between 19th and 23rd street. I've forgotten this UK native's name now but I thought this chance meeting was an amazing coincidence. We made contact later that fall in Lawrence. I spoke with him by phone. It turned out that we didn't need each other; Freshman year is an explosion of new relationships and he made plenty of new friends immediately. I think Marc told me they had him over to their house once. A wonderful day, it started with topless calendars, then a bounty of Roman ruins, and ended with a chance meeting of a Brit national headed for Kansas.