CAMP Out: Fay's Rehoboth Journal - There'll Be Slickers Over, the White Cliffs of Dover
|by Fay Jacobs|
So, did it rain in England? Only five or six times a day.
We're back from jolly old Great Britain, overwhelmed by the charm and history, underwelmed by the food and completely mildewed from the weather.
We spent a dozen fabulous but sodden days touring the sheep-laden English country-side, traipsing through antiquity-filled castles and enjoying the frenetic energy of Big Ben, double decker busses and all of London. We cruised Lake Windemere (in the rain), hiked through gay Soho (in the rain), and ferried (uh, huh, raining) up the Thames to set our watches to Greenwich mean time. By our dozenth outing in the rain we were a little testy. Talk about Greenwich mean time.
But weather and all, we loved England. Here are some highlights:
History: England's monarchs built a lot of castles for themselves. There are tons of imposing stone battlements, tombs, towers, state apartments, family jewels and tourists. It's an incredible feast of glorious artwork, design and history. Windsor, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbeyfantastic! But my personal favorite was Blenheim Palace, home of Good Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-1714. Anne was a short, stout, no-nonsense woman who spent lots of quality time behind closed doors, bonding with the upstairs maid. Now that's my kind of history lesson.
And speaking of queens, we loved Antony & Cleopatra at London's recreated Globe Theatreauthentically Elizabethan right down to the all-male cast. Cleopatra was a hoot.
The food that shagged me: The rumors are true. English food is, well, not very good. But over there, perhaps to blunt the taste, they measure ale by the firkin, or 8 gallon cask. And that's about how much Guinness I drank to get through the kidney pie and Yorkshire pudding.
It beats me how such a genteel country has menu items like bangers (sausages), faggots (don't know, didn't order them) and spotted dick. Honest. One night, spurred on by Sheep Dip Whiskey (could I make this up?) we ordered the spotted dick dessertparched bread pudding flecked with raisins. It wasn't very good, but the ten minutes of spotted dick jokes were hilarious.
And then there's the whole English breakfast thing: fried eggs, fried mushrooms, fried sausage and baked beans. For lunch, there's angioplasty.
Rambling: In the mountainous Lake District, a sign on our hotel door said "Ramblers: remove rucksacks and boots before entering." This should have been a clue. Our friendly innkeeper suggested we take the gentle ramble up to Orrest Head to see the Lake from above.
Off we rambled, in sneakers and slickers, umbrellas at the ready. As it drizzled, we wound through a lovely leaf-strewn path, up a sloping walk and stone steps, past a gang of sheep eyeing us suspiciously, and straight up. Then the rains came. We continued climbing, air thinning, nary a peak in sight. Mud-caked, and wheezing, using our umbrellas as rain shields and mountain-climbing gear, we forged on. The once-suspicious sheep were now giggling at us.
At this point I considered grabbing Bonnie's arm and re-enacting the scene from The Guns of Navarone, where weary mountain climber David Niven begs Gregory Peck to leave him behind. But before I could speak, she yanked me up one last boulder to a wide-open rocky outpost. Our luck, Orrest Head was in the throes of a gale-force windshear. Whip! The umbrellas sucked themselves inside out and I almost sailed off the peak, Mary Poppins-style.
Like morons, our quartet juggled mangled umbrellas and cameras, trying to archive the moment. Then, a hearty pack of ramblers appeared, with their heavy parkas, cleated boots and industrial strength walking sticks. Like the laughing sheep, they seemed amused by our use of Jones of New York mini-umbrellas.
While the lake view was indeed breathtaking (lack of oxygen up there?), we beat a hasty retreat, allowing the professional ramblers to lead the way. "Careful, Fay, "cautioned one of our group, "slip and you're a serial killer. American tourist takes out 17 British ramblers."
It would have been funny if it hadn't been a distinct possibility. Poor blokes. Imagine surviving the English breakfast only to be flattened by a rolling tourist gathering no moss.
Driving: If you have trouble knowing right from left at home, you're hopeless in England. With the car's steering wheel on what we consider the passenger side, and a scared driver behind it, motoring is a team sport. One to steer, one to navigate and two backseat drivers hollering that lefts are the short easy turns while rights are the far-lane killers. And I love how localities thoughtfully stencil "Look Right!" and "Look Left!" on all the sidewalks, tired, I guess, of scraping up tourist road kill.
The Cotswolds: Loved those quaint villages of Bourton on Water, Chipping Campden, and Stowe-on-the-Wold. Bonnie studied the thatched roof construction, fantasizing, I think, their introduction to Rehoboth. Imagine the time we'd spend not going to the beach if, in addition to the lawn, we had to mow the roof.
Weather: On BBC they just point to all of England and say "gloomy again today, with periods of sun breaking out." We were told it's different in the summer. The rain is warmer. Of course, I've never seen such green, lush countryside or splendid gardens and flowers in my life.
Paparazzi Flunkee: Camera in hand, I walked in Eaton, watching dozens of students, dressed in their formal Eaton jackets, swarm the streets after class. Suddenly, we spied a cute redhead, accompanied by a burly companion. Prince Harry! We were positive! Damn. We were so busy winking and nudging each other I forgot to take a picture. So much for a fat check from People magazine. Of course, if I had snapped a photo, burly companion might have tackled me to the ground and force fed me Shepherd's pie.
All the elements come together: One of Bonnie's goals for the trip was to trace her British ancestor, Henry Questenberry, warden at St. Nicholas Church in Leeds, Kent in the 1500's. After a week of people saying that Leeds was up North, not in Kent County, we were stumped.
So on our last day in England we took a bus tour to Leeds Castle in Kent County, figuring that Henry might have worked at their chapel. Alas, the castle had no chapel, and none of the docents knew of a town called Leeds. Finally, one young man said "there's a tiny village over the hill and a church, but I can't remember the name."
Frustrated, we turned away, feeling so close, yet so far.
"Wait a minute," the man called, "It's St. Nicholas Church."
Bingo! As he gave Bonnie directions through a sheep meadow, and down a footpath to the church, I looked at my watch, and realized that Greenwich mean time was ticking toward bus departure.
I summoned the David Niven flashback again. "You take the ramble and leave me here," I said, "I'll make sure the bus doesn't go without you!"
So Bonnie took off, dodging raindrops and sheep dip, to St. Nicholas' Church.
Meanwhile, I prayed she'd make it back to the bus. Imagine being stranded in Leeds, doomed to a diet of fried eggs and mushy peas.
Breathless and drenched, our fledgling genealogist returned with seconds to spare, reporting that St. Nicholas church stands, nearly unchanged from the 1500'sand she got photos to prove it. While she didn't have time to search the cemetery headstones or church records, she'd indeed found her roots.
So overall, the trip was a huge success. We loved everythingeven the weird food and weather. But for Bonnie's next climb up the family tree, we'll travel to France, rent a car, have a nice lunch, then take the Channel Tunnel over to Leeds, Kent for the further adventures of Henry Questenberry. Okay, we might have a firkin of ale along the way but absolutely no spotted dick. I've got a reputation to uphold.
Fay Jacobs' CAMPOut, the 1998 winner of the Vice Versa Award for "Best First Person Column," is a regular feature of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 14, Oct. 15, 1999