Sketches: Introduction

Sketches

Gentle Reader,

As discussed previously, I don’t want to stop writing but I also don’t exactly know what to write about at this time. And so, an invitation. I would like you to play the role of newspaper editor. What would you like me to write about? I ask not in an attempt to go viral or shape myself to please an audience, but as a creative muscle-building exercise.

We’ll call this series “Sketches.” It’ll go on for however long it goes on. Through comments, the Facebook page or the contact form, send me your ideas. A word, a sentence, a topic. Serious, silly and anything between. I will do my level best to craft something in response. Honestly, I quite like this idea, for it changes this space from a monologue to a dialogue, which we desperately need more of in this world.

To kick things off, let us consider the word: introduction.

I don’t remember when I first came to love Britain. It must have something to do with Mary Poppins, which remains my favorite movie to this day. She is everything I would like to be – in control, beloved and respected, yet quite mischievous. I have a vague memory of attempting to work out how I could make my voice sound like that of Julie Andrews. (Not her singing voice; this alto/tenor will never hit those notes). Those childhood musings introduced me to the wonderfulness that is accents and impersonation, which in turn provided evidence that I could make people laugh, and thus often talk myself out of trouble.

History textbooks came home with me many evenings. I was probably the only child in the class who never understood why the Colonies chose to rebel against King George III. (I still don’t. We can fight about it later). By my teen years, I had strong opinions on Ethelred the Unready (a fabulous play on words), Anne Boleyn (never to be regarded as some saint of the Reformation), the East India Company (a bunch of criminals) and other topics that few were interested in discussing, save for the handful of students who joined me in Advanced Placement European History, where the jokes about popes and Poland flew fast and furious.

Documentaries, maps, photos and books galore fanned the growing flame of love. Alison Weir gained a forever fan as I read (and re-read) The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She was soon joined by David Starkey, Antonia Fraser, Winston Churchill, Lucy Worsley and so many others. I embraced Jane Austen and loathed Charles Dickens. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Princess Diana died. Wrestled through Shakespeare and John Donne. Played a not-witch and squire named Patsy in scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I was, am and shall remain an Anglophile.

In 2009, I finally got the chance to visit the country I had dreamed of for so many years. I wrote about that trip, though I wish I had written more. London, Bath and Edinburgh in a dizzying and all-too short ten days. Set my computer aside for a good fifteen minutes just now, to leaf through stuffed photo albums. Lunches in Kensington Gardens. Hours spent in the National Gallery. Minding the gap. Late afternoon tea breaks in quiet cafes. Being warmly welcomed by a group of drunk Scotsmen. (At the time, I felt more relaxed in Edinburgh, despite the red-haired man who poked his fingers liberally into our food, but now…my heart beats for London).

How I long to return! I felt quite at home there. Strange, I suppose, for a crowd-averse, anxious person, born and raised in the Inland Northwest where nothing much ever happens. If money were no object, I’d hop on the first plane headed toward Heathrow. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “America is my country and London is my hometown.”

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United Kingdom Trip: Final Night

_UK Trip

Gentle Reader,

Here we are, licking the grease from our fingers after eating some very mediocre fish and chips for dinner. Most of our things are safely tucked away in our suitcases, ready for travel. Interestingly enough, we are coming home with one more bag then we came with. The souvenir shops saw us coming.

Today we slept in, blessedly. For whatever reason, the exhaustion has caught up with us on our final day here. I suppose that could be because everything in this town is uphill…. No, really. It is, and we aren’t even in the Highlands….

The zoo was loads of fun, even though we scaled a mountain several times just to see all the animals. Some of the animals were being rather shy, and we didn’t see any poop-flinging among the monkeys, so that was a bit disappointing. The antics of the penguins more than made up for it, though. How can anyone be sad around a penguin? Things got even better when a young boy turned toward us and shouted, “Daddy, a polar bear!” (Who was behind us.) Daddy sheepishly shrugged as he ran by, and said, “It’s his first polar bear.”

Despite crawling uphill all the way, it really was a gorgeous and perfect day to be out walking and talking with the animals. The sun made a brief appearance, but the good Scottish wind and mild temperatures stuck around. It was great to watch the zebras run around, and highly interesting to learn that such a thing as a Scottish wildcat exists. The thing isn’t any bigger than a housecat, yet it’s considered highly dangerous. Go figure!

Too tired to do any more walking, we hopped in a cab and zipped on down to the National Museum of Scotland. If you’re interested in the chronology of the tartan and kilt, then you’ve got to make sure you hit this place up before you die. Actually, it was fascinating to learn about, especially the presentation three of the museum curators gave on the Jacobites and the Highland resistance to the installation of William III and Mary II. It was also neat to see examples of Pictish culture and writing, much of which still remains a mystery to historians.

Perhaps most involving was all of the pieces explaining the differences between England and Scotland. Though the two nations are governed by the same head of state, a distinct sense of national pride exists among the Scottish. They see themselves as a people entirely separate – and superior – to the English. It won’t surprise me if the talk of independence in the Scottish Parliament turns truly serious in the not so distant future.

The best part of the day, however, was when we found a Police Public Call Box on the same street corner where two bagpipers where blasting away. For those of you who are Doctor Who fans, you know that it just doesn’t get any better than that!

We popped around the souvenir shop near the castle one last time, and had no choice but to purchase the Red Hot Chili Pipers. How could we not, when it’s three bagpipers doing covers of Queen songs and other classic rock bands? Chris toyed with the idea of getting a kilt, but just couldn’t go through with it. I can’t blame him; men just aren’t used to chilly drafts in unsuspecting areas!

Now it’s time for a little dessert and some snuggling under a nice, thick wool blanket. 3 a.m. is going to come awfully early, and I’m not looking forward to a 10-hour plane ride. It’s a bittersweet sort of evening, to be looking forward to the comforts of home, yet sad to leave this land I love so much behind.

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United Kingdom Trip: Almost Home

_UK Trip

Gentle Reader,

The forecast: windy, with a chance of bluster and possible sudden gales. Please dress accordingly.

When we originally planned this trip, I was excited for England. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I find that Scotland resonates with me far more. I love the weather. I love this history. I love the accents. I even love the food – FAR more flavor than anything we had in England. Even the haggis fritters! (If you can get past the fact sheep intestines are involved, they’re pretty tasty.)

So, even though we froze our buns off, we walked all over the city today. The leaves blew, my hair’s in snarls, and Chris can’t feel his ears – but it was great! The views from Edinburgh Castle were spectacular. Walking among the buildings on “the Mound,” I came to understand just why Mary, Queen of Scots, couldn’t be a proper ruler for her people. After living in France for so many years, married to the French prince in compliance with the “Auld Alliance,” there’s no way she would have understood them. The cultured avenues of Versailles and the glittering salons of Paris were a far cry from the cold, desolate and even violent Scotland.

It was awesome to walk through the Castle and then in the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I saw the rooms where Rizzio was murdered; saw the very bed that Mary slept in. All the intrigue and historical mystery came to life today. We ate dinner at a pub first built in the early 1700s. (Interestingly enough, it began life as a mission house!) We walked Princes Street, bought all the classy souvenir stuff that you’d expect and just enjoyed the fresh air.

Again, I was struck by the hardiness of the people. We put our heads down in the wind, they looked up and faced it. They were unconcerned by messy hair or thick, unfashionable coats. I think that this is the biggest reason I love Scotland so much. The people have been so friendly and approachable.

Tomorrow is our last day here, and we’ve nothing planned for it. Probably more wandering among the medieval and Georgian buildings, hats pulled down our our ears and hands safely tucked in pockets.

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United Kingdom Trip: Cheers from the Piries Hotel

_UK Trip

Gentle Reader,

The train from London to Edinburgh seemed very long. Gorgeous country flashed by, but that combined with the lovely swaying motion worked to put me into a stupor. Couldn’t get comfortable for a nap, though. Thankfully, some “lovely lads,” as they called themselves, boarded the train in Newcastle, the last stop before the Scottish border. A whole big group of them, and they were hysterical. A teenage girl got cornered by them because she was sitting by herself right in front of us, and they were giving her such a hard time. She had a good sense of humor about it, though, and they gave her a “can” (beer) and some “sweets” (candy bar) for putting up with them. By the time we pulled into the station, they had made up song lyrics about, “I thought this ride would be a pain, but then the lads got on the train…”

Maybe you had to be there.

Got in to the hotel at about 3 pm and laid around for a bit. Went and had dinner at a little pub; sat next to some very drunk Scotsmen whose accents got thicker with each beer. Our waiter was an Australian who’d only been here for 3 weeks himself, and so he couldn’t tell us where anything was. The drunk Scotsmen couldn’t believe that he was an Aussie, since he had a “bonnet so ginger” (a head full of red hair.) One of them even got friendly with Chris and took some “chips” (French fries) right off his plate.

Totally overwhelming to me, but amusing at the same time.

Edinburgh is very different from London. It’s still definitely a city, but it’s a lot more run down. More down to earth, too. You don’t have to be fashionable or skinny – women wear their old jeans, men have on sturdy coats and it’s perfectly acceptable to have a bit of a belly. You can throw back your head and laugh. You can be friendly. Here, though, I sense a…heaviness. A sadness about the people, covered by a thin veneer of cheer. I can’t quite explain it. I think that times are tough here, and it certainly doesn’t help that Palmerston…Avenue, I think, is all tore up. The main thoroughfare, and you can’t really get to any of the posh shops. I think that people are just beat down and spend less effort trying to hide it.

In London, it’s glitz and glamour. Here, it’s life.

The weather is terrible: cold, gray, misty. I love it! Everything’s green all around me. Old buildings rise right through the trees and up on the hillsides through the low clouds. THIS is why I came to Scotland. This feels homey and comfortable to me, although we aren’t out doing anything special. It’s party night in Edinburgh, but we’re making our own party with some Mars Bars (Milky Ways,) some “crisps” (chips) and some Q.I. (a television game-show.)

Anyway, I’ll be going now. Time to burrow under the covers and drink in the chilly breeze that cradled and inspired the likes of William Wallace and Robbie Burns.

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