The English pub and the art of adult conversation

We got back to the village just in time for the pub to fire up the kitchen and the hearth. The fish and chips came with the ever notorious minted mashed peas. I kind of enjoyed it. Kinda. 

While we enjoyed our food we talked to Symone about conversational tennis, and how to get better at it. She has been trying hard to participate in conversations in an adult way and find her conversational groove but of course it’s a clunky process. I remember being this age and just never feeling like I was finding the right balance. 

Today’s lesson was: 1. Know your audience, and 2. If the joke didn’t hit the first time, it’s really not going to work to repeat it…three more times. 

She was open and interested and as the evening wore on we moved on to other topics like why people want to talk about the weather instead of what’s real, why anxiety and depression often go together, how to know when you are getting better at something, and what college is like. 

Good stuff. 

Hedgerow X-Wing Fighter

Our trip back from Sudeley was harrowing. Apparently the Cotswolds does have its very own rush hour which turns the single lane winding roads into a rich tapestry of near death experiences. 

Kaety and I were furiously ‘group thinking’ every move. At some point we fell in with a caravan of about ten fast moving locals launching their way down the narrow lanes at X-wing fighter like speeds. I realized our only hope of surviving the one lane road was to stay with the herd. I tried desperately to keep up. I knew that If I left a big enough hole the oncoming traffic would inject itself and trap us head-on.

At some point the whole caravan was stopped as a huge tractor pulling a cattle car entered the fray. As everyone folded space to make room where no room could possibly exist I was reminded of the capacity of Japanese trains. A miracle of physics. When we arrived back at our village my hands were weak from the death grip I’d had on the steering wheel. 

Sudeley Castle and the omnipresent history of Britain

We drove out to Sudeley Castle via a series of small roads that wound us through dozens of small villages and rolling farm lands bordered by stone fences and hedgerows. It was incredibly picturesque! At every turn we expected to see Emma and Mr. Knightly walking across the pastures. 

At many points along the road were access points to the hundreds of ‘public footpaths’ threading across the Cotswolds. They are not trails as we have in the US but paths that have been used by the locals for hundreds of years and simply formalized with a sign. The right of way rules here allow the public to cut across your property without challenge as long as you keep it cool. These people are avid walkers!

We were within 2 miles of Sudeley Castle and winding our way along a ridge overlooking a valley on a road the width of a bike path. The area didn’t seem right and I was wondering if we were lost. I glanced down into the valley and asked Kaety, “Do you see a castle down there anywhere? We’ve got to be close?!”

She looked and replied, “I do see one…wait I see more than one. I’m not sure if any of those are the castles we are going to”

I had to laugh. What a weird problem. 

A sharpe right turn between a narrow hedge row gap abruptly lead us to Sudeley Castle. 

Sudeley wasn’t technically a castle, but instead a ‘castlized manor’. I had no idea this subset of architecture existed. Sudeley was also the backdrop to a whole lot of historic drama. The last surviving wife of Henry the VIII, Catherine Parr lived and was later discovered to have been buried there. I guess if you are the last surviving wife, you lay low, even in death. The weirdest interpretive sign I’ve ever read described the discovery of the casket and the condition of her body as, “…still white and moist”. Nice detail – yikes!

As we wandered the manor and grounds we were reminded of the British civil war that balanced the power between parliament and the monarchy. 

Sudeley Castle featured significantly enough in the war that it was ordered ‘slighted’ as a consequence of being on the losing side of the conflict. Slighted is a polite euphemism for ‘totally destroyed’. 

The history was fascinating and more than slightly depressing but the gardens, where all the held women spent their time, were beautiful. 

The international adult eater

We spent a lot of time cautioning Symone to let go of her picky eating habits while we travelled.

We had some concerns that we’d have to be managing a non-eating sullen teen around meal times but she rose up and met the challenge! She’s charged forward and tried a lot of unfamiliar thing without complaint. 

She is doing so well that she was totally put out when the waitress at The Falcon handed her the largest, most obvious, children’s menu ever. IMG_7231 2

Gob Smacked – Gloucester Cathedral

As I was standing in the Cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral with my mouth hanging open, another visitor popped out of a side entrance and paused – his mouth hanging open just as wide as mine. He met my eye, grinned and said, “Well, my gob has totally been smacked!”

We wandered from area to area marveling at every detail and deeply feeling the age of everything around us. I noticed the wear patterns on the stone stairs from hundreds of years of human feet slowly walking a groove in them. I noticed the candles lit for those who had passed on…an intimate action in such a grand and over the top place. Then I noticed the older gentleman sitting quietly alone in the chapel obviously mourning. What a contract of human experiences and expression cast across hundreds of years! The deaths, the births, the politics, the lives, and the voices all bouncing around inside an artistic and engineering achievement that seemed to celebrate everything we strive to be…but can’t quit meet.

Wow!

England – The Cotswolds! Seriously charming!

The drive into The Cotswolds, through little tiny villages such as Birdlip, the Slough, and Stow were stunning! Perfect forests, old rustic stone buildings, handmade fences, and beautiful gardens were everywhere! 

We navigated into the village of Painswick where we had rented a cottage and threaded our way down a horse lane with our rental car and then ultimately to our low charming door that unlocked with a skeleton key. The village, it’s buildings, church, and gardens were really wonderful. Song birds chirped loudly from all the trees, and behind each cottage was a private garden where generations of lavender, wisteria, clematis and rosemary thrived in charming companionship. 

We drank strong cider and ate bangers and mash at the local pub where we watched the towns people come and go after work, and finally walked home to get our internal clocks set into local time. 

Driving in England – the left side of the road

Yikes. 

I knew the left handed driving would be challenging, especially after being tired from the flight – but I had a plan. My plan was to take it slow.

The Enterprise Rental car agent must have put the word out because we pulled out into a deserted parking lot…to be dumped in the bustle of Gatwick traffic! So much for ‘take it slow’!

The new plan was that I’d keep the car moving while Kaety made sure I did everything right. 

The lanes were so, so narrow – there were several instances when I was certain I was going to lose the passenger side mirror. 

The novelty and panic of being on the wrong side softened as we hit a huge M24 traffic jam which allowed me to slow down and ask, “How did this left handed driving thing happen anyway?!”

Apparently it all started because it was easier to hack someone you met on the road with your right handed sword while riding on your horse to the left side of the road. 

The standard began to change slowly to the right as teams of horses pulling wagons became more common. Not having invented a wagon seat yet the drivers sat on the horse nearest the wagon so they could whip all the horse in the team with their right hands. 

Most countries occupied by Napoleon had their traffic patterns moved to the left…because he was left handed. 

After a lot of weird decisions and royal decrees later a lot of countries were driving on the right and it was time for the world to have a talk. 

Most countries shrugged and said, “What the hell does it matter?!”, and switched to the right. The UK decided that their long habit of circumstance created by a guy with a sword was probably at that point in their history more of a ‘proud tradition’ and less of ‘stuff that just happened’ so they stuck with the left and paired the decision with a proclamation.  

As I made my way down the British left handed road  driving with the acumen of a 15 year old I felt comforted that I could totally hack an oncoming driver out the window with my sword and not have to deal with the fumbly inconvenience of crossing over my body. 

Bottom line, after a two hour drive I got used to it…until we hit the bike lane wide roads in the Cotswolds. IMG_7195

Dreamliners, Jet lag, and the first stamp

The flight was long and even with the miracle of the Dreamliner’s new air filter and pressurization system to reduce jet lag, jet lag still found its way upon me. Mostly in my posterior. 

Symone was jazzed to be off the plane. Still being a half-time member of the non-adult club she can still able to sleep in any position – which meant she was the only one to actually get rest. 

We made it out the other side of customs where she was the proud owner of her first passport stamp – and new minted international traveler!IMG_7192

Life of Pi – Airplane revelations

The first time I saw Life of PI I was falling deeply in love with Kaety. I was also waking up to saying yes to myself. At the time I was still carrying such a burden of shame and guilt from my past. After the tiger is revealed to be PI I was in awe and experienced some jealousy that forgiveness could be that easy. 

5 years later I watched the movie again on the plane to England with Symone and Kaety. I noticed that I didn’t have an ounce of shame in me anymore. Apparently saying yes to love can heal just about everything.