We didn’t intend it to be so. After all, we were only going to spend a week in a remote corner of Scotland, in and around a village where friends of ours would be staffing a bookstore a few hours a day in exchange for occupying the pretty apartment above it. Then, we would drive a couple of hours south to England’s Lake District to admire its beauty and view the memorabilia belonging to William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and others who are creditied with beginning the Romantic School of English poetry in the early years of the 19th century. Finally, we would spend a few days in the City of Manchester, discovering its diversity and exploring its roots in the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of capitalism.
The Lake District Continued
Pre-planning our itinerary from home in Istanbul, we chose to stay close to three different towns. Grasmere was obvious because of the Wordsworth connection, but we don’t exactly remember why we chose to be near Keswick (the ‘w’ is silent) in the north and Kendal in the south except that those choices would have us explore different parts of the district.
In Part 1 I claimed that the Fab Four rose to success from “quite ordinary circumstances.” Now that Kay and I have traveled to Liverpool and been privileged to see for ourselves, we can tell you just how ordinary those circumstances were.
Menlove Road, a boulevard in south Liverpool not far from the John Lennon Airport, is a pleasant thoroughfare. On either side of a wide median are rows of two-storey, semi-detached homes that must not look very different today than they did when young John lived at Mendips (Number 251) in the 1940s and 50s. Mendips belonged to John’s Aunt Mimi, who raised him with the help of her husband George Smith. Why John didn’t live with Julia, his mother who lived not far away, is an interesting point that I’ll address further on.
Kay, being eight years younger than I am, was exactly the right age to be swept off her feet by The Beatles when they first came to America in 1964. Actually, she was a big fan earlier than that. She had bought their early singles and played her favorites dozens of times. (And when I write, “dozens” I may even be understating the case.) Kay’s love for The Beatles was one of the first things I learned about her when we met in 1978.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Istanbul – Heathrow – Felpham, West Sussex
The adventure begins. During our week in England, we’ll be staying with Joan Aubrey-Jones, a woman eight-some-years-young. This will be a challenging day. We each are lugging two suitcases in addition to our backpacks.
The airport is its usual irritating self. Kay had checked us in online yesterday, meaning that all we had to do with our luggage was to drop it at a designated gate. However, we have to wait in a queue for more than 45 minutes until that gate opens.
At Heathrow, we move through the recently expanded terminal quickly enough and are met at the exit by our friend Joan and a taxi driver named Mark, a gentle giant with the largest barrel chest I’ve ever seen. He may be 50 years old and spends a lot of time at the gym. His arms are heavily tattooed and his manner warm and friendly.
At Joan’s house in Felpham I drag our four cases upstairs to a spare children’s room where we can spread out our things.
Kay and I both love England. In my case, the country figures in some of my earliest memories. Both my mother and my aunt Sigrid were fans of the British Royals. On a fishing trip to Canada with my father, circa 1953, I recall seeing objects – plates, toffee and biscuit tins, etc. – commemorating the young Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Because of a correspondence he had with a British friend, an uncle of mine would regularly receive copies of Punch, The Illustrated London News and Country Life. These he would circulate among the relatives. I remember being fascinated by the real estate ads in Country Life, which listed large residential properties with multiple bed and bathrooms, libraries, conservatories, and other rooms curiously listed as “offices”. It was later that I learned these to be rooms such as the kitchen, pantry, laundry, etc. devoted to household work. For a boy living in a five-room bungalow on Chicago’s South Side, England was a world away.
Scottish beer is predictable while Scottish weather is not. I start with these facts because weather and beer figured so prominently in our travels in Scotland. About the weather: We knew, for example, with a fair degree of certainty that each day would contain some rain and some sun. What we couldn’t know were their frequency and proportions. Some days it would rain ten times, not hard nor long, just frequently. These bouts of rain would sometimes be interrupted by periods of sunlight so clear and intense that everything in sight would be transfigured. ‘Changeable’ is how the Scots understate their weather. ‘Dramatic’ is a better word because when one is out of doors for hours at a time, the Scottish countryside becomes a theater where the weather assumes the featured role.
Alas, I didn’t keep a journal of our extraordinary two-week travel adventure in England that we enjoyed between September 28th and October 12th in 1985. What I have are the photos I took and some keen memories.
Beginning as one thing in the southwestern-most corner of the island, it unexpectedly morphed into something else. In two weeks, we visited the towns of Penzance, Wells, Bath (twice), Oxford, and Stratford-upon-Avon. It was an historical and cultural adventure par excellence, and it had its share of natural beauty, as well. Continue reading Once upon a Time in England