Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where's All the Guys?

The question I'll be answering today is: "Have you ever visited or lived in England/UK? If so, which were your favorite locations?"

Why yes! I have lived in England and traveled all over--up into Scotland, over into Wales, even across the Channel to cavort about France. I have seen Jane Austen's house, Robert Browning's house, the Globe Theater, and any number of monuments to the great authors I love and revere. I have seen Tintagel whereat King Arthur reputedly held court, and the Hastings battlefield whereat Earl Harold was shot through the eye with an arrow thus losing the crown to William the Conqueror. I have hunted monsters on Loch Ness and (I swear to you) seen Nessie herself (though no one believed me). I have drunk more pots of properly English tea and devoured more scones smothered in Devonshire cream than any young lady should be allowed to boast.

Problem is . . . I was nine when we moved back to the United States. So my memories of these various events are possibly not . . . well . . . Let me just tell you some of my favorites.

When my family was preparing to take a trip out to Hastings, location of the famous last stand between Harold and William in the 1066 invasion of England, my mother wanted to be certain that my big brother Tom and I had some understanding of what we were about to see. So she purchased a little picture book with exciting illustrations of Harold (whom Tom picked as his favorite because he had a beard) and William (whom I picked as my favorite because he did not have a beard). I was quite delighted as she read me the story, because William won, which meant I had picked the right hero. Tom was so mournful for poor slaughtered Harold, that must constitute a victory for me.

Yeah. Hastings was going to be awesome.

So we drove out there on a quintessentially drizzly English day, hopped out, and started wandering around the fields. They look like this:

That's right. The Hastings battlefield looks like . . . a field.

And I, confused, turned this way and that and demanded in a voice of petulant frustration (which my father absolutely caught on  video for posterity): "But where's all the guys????"

I mean that picture book was showing me men in armor, and Harold with his beard, and William with his no-beard, and it was significantly more interesting than this! A walk through Battle Abbey did nothing to appease my disappointment. Nor did pictures of the Bayeux Tapestry or placards talking about the Domesday book, or really anything else that entire trip had to offer.

Because, seriously, where's all the guys?

 Fast-forward a few years . . . and we went on a trip to visit Jane Austen's house! This was supposed to be something really quite wonderful according to my mother. She showed me big grown-up-looking books on her bookshelf and explained to me all about how Jane Austen had written these stories about grown-up people talking about grown-up things, and kissing, and talking some more, and probably talking about kissing, and really, was anybody interested in reading this stuff?

I certainly wasn't. I was all about Marguerite Henry books at that time. For those of you who might not be familiar with the literary wonder who is Marguerite Henry, she wrote the classic horse stories for young people, including the phenomenal Misty of Chincoteague, which was all about wild ponies and races and really interesting things like that (and there wasn't a kiss to be found anywhere within those pages).

But fine. Mummy was super excited to go see this grown-up person's grown-up house, so we all piled into the van for a road trip. And I read Marguerite Henry books all the way and pretended that I had my own very fast pony hitched to the front of the van, pulling us along down those quaint English roads.

And then we got to Jane Austen's house. And it looked kind of like a house. But across from the house was a field, and in the field was . . .


A beautiful, white, adorable, wonderful pony who probably had never moved fast enough to either win a race in a Marguerite Henry novel or to pull my family's van. But that didn't matter because it was a pony and it was beautiful. And I named him Misty, because what else could he possibly be named? He was white after all! And I fed him grass that was exactly like the grass on his side of the fence, but he ate from my hand anyway because he was perfectly wonderful, and I felt my little heart soaring with--

Oh. What? You mean, we've got to actually go walk through that house? Um. Why?

I have no memory of Jane Austen's house. I couldn't tell you what it looked like, not if you paid me to. But I absolutely remember that pony. (And I always will.)

Anyway, you get an idea what touring overseas was like for me. I could tell you plenty more stories . . . like, how I decided not to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower but chose to eat ice cream down on the lawn beneath it instead, and got chased off by a furious Frenchman who was probably asking me if I hadn't read the "Keep Off the Grass" sign--which I had, but it was in French, so it meant nothing to me.

Or the time we went to Beatrix Potter's house, and I was so delighted to see the rocking chair that Tom Kitten's mother sat in in one of my favorite illustrations, I slipped under the cords and sat in it myself, rocking it so far back it crashed into the table behind, scaring everyone in the room, and earning me a scolding. (But hey, I sat in the same rocking chair as Tom Kitten's mother!)

I could tell you about the time we visited Eileen Donan castle in Scotland, which looks like this . . .

. . . and how I grabbed pill bugs and ran out onto that bridge to toss them over into the water, only I couldn't toss them far enough, so they landed in the grass, not in the water, which was terribly disappointing. (Yes. That's my primary memory of Eileen Donan.)

I could tell you about Leeds Castle, one of the most beautiful castles in all of England . . . only, I really couldn't tell you much about the castle itself. But I could tell you all about the amazing peacocks that roamed the grounds, including the glorious white peacocks which were too beautiful for words. And how I dreamed for months afterwards that one of them fell so much in love with me that it climbed onto the roof of our van and rode all the way home with us. And I kept it in my backyard and took it for walks down the street on a peacock-leash, and we two were inseparable friends forever, because that's what happens with peacocks.

So basically, yes. I've lived in England. I've toured the UK. But I'm probably not the best person to ask about key spots to visit while touring.

Seriously, someday I'm going to go back, and I'm going to go to Jane Austen's house, and I'm going to find that magical white pony and visit with it for hours while Rohan walks through that stuffy old building. And I'll probably get me a peacock at Leeds too . . .


Unknown said...

Haha, how funny! : ) I'm touring colleges right now, and every conversation I have with an English professor goes something like this:
Me (interrupting them): Furman University goes to Stratford-on-Avon to study Shakespeare.
English professor (confused): That's nice... As I was saying--
Me (interrupting): Do YOU go to Stratford-on-Avon to study Shakespeare?
Professor: ... no.
Me: I'm afraid I can no longer consider your school.

Or something like that. ; )

Meredith said...

What fun! And, I think I'd have chosen to eat ice cream outside the Ifel Tower, too.
I've always longed to visit England, but I have pictures in my head of what it will be like. It would be interesting to see how far off I am. I love any books that have a British feel and imagine myself "taking tea" in a "ye olde English tea shop" with all the scones and cakes I could possibly eat. I picture myself imbibing pots of te, (with milk and sugar, of course). I fantasize about going to the Globe Theatre, standing in its outdoor majesty and intoning "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well!" in reverberating tones that alert any bystander. Whereupon, they will be so impressed by my prowess with Shakespearean poetry they will immediately offer me an audition for their upcoming production. Failing that, they will most assuredly offer me a free ticket.

It is amazing how museums have things under glass and behind cords. Very frustrating. I'll never forget touring the home of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, because the tour guide unlocked the gates and allowed me to go into the rooms and touch Helen Keller's things. I especially remember the dining room where I touched dishes she had used. I was the only one allowed inside, and I could hear other museum patrons murmuring among themselves. Don't know if they were afraid I'd break a dish or what, but it was pretty funny. I like to think they were thinking they'd have liked to go inside, too. All museums should have thing out in the open for people to touch and admire. It meant so much to be able to get a chance to visualize these things. So, good for you for sitting in that rocking chair!

God bless you, and thanks for this delightful glimpse of your childhood. When you find that pony again, feed him some grass from me.

Tracey Dyck said...

I positively LOVE this post -- your childhood memories are adorable! And they remind me of certain children in Tales of Goldstone Wood. ;) Thanks for sharing! I really did chuckle out loud a few times.

J. L. Mbewe said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing! I would love to visit England, Wales, and Scotland one of these days. Would love to live there for a time and experience life in another country. (course, I would love to visit and live in many other places too!) My grandmother is from England and I have family there and in Wales. So maybe someday!

Anonymous said...

This post was hilarious! I now have another reason to visit the UK (besides the off chance of running away with the Doctor...) That pony. :D
Here's a question: Which character in your books do you relate to the most?
-Sarah Grace

Hannah said...

Oooooooooooooooooooh! You perfectly captured the magic of childhood. This sounds so much like how I would have handled it! Oh my, I love, love, love this post! :D

Clara said...

This post was like an Elizabeth Goudge book, Anne Elisabeth! It was perfect in every way! And, I wonder, did that peacock from Leeds work its way into Veiled Rose? ;)

Blue said...

It is one of my strangest desires to see Nessie (or some creature like Nessie) and live to tell the tale!

I never see our more local sea monster, and I'm very miffed at him for hiding whenever I come to visit.

But if I can't see Nessie, at least let me see Scotland! I'd love more posts on Scotland, or on the Gaelic influence in your books.

ghost ryter said...

LOL! This post was the best!

And you have reminded me of the time my family went to visit White Sands, New Mexico. I was all pumped about that beforehand because (a) my Mom told me I would be able to go sledding down the dunes, and (b) my brother--also named Tom!--told me aliens had once crash landed there. So, my family made the four hour drive, and when we arrived I took one look around and was not happy. My Mom asked why, and I responded: "There's too much SAND and NO aliens!"

Anonymous said...

That was funny, Misty was one of my favourite books when I was younger. I love reading this blog!

Galadriel said...

On my one-week spring break trip to England, I got to visit the Kilns. Yes, THOSE Kilns. And the Eagle and Child. Still haven't seen Tolkien's grave or been inside of any of the Oxford colleges, so I still intend to come back.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! Your childhood memories are AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! The Frenchman and the rocking chair stories cracked me up! You should really write down your childhood memories, I'm sure we will all be highly entertained!

Sarah Bailey said...

My favorite Marguerite Henry book is Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio. Love horses :)

Tracey Dyck said...

I forgot to ask this earlier, but growing up in England, did you initially speak with a British accent? I love accents, so I just had to ask. :)

Anonymous said...

I love these stories (and I do believe I've seen the video clip you mentioned...absolutely adorable!) If you and Rohan are able to come over and visit, I'm sure we could go back to some of those places if you wanted to give them a second (grown-up) chance.