Monday, June 3, 2013

The Tour

On Tour
The Songwriter, brave soul that he is, takes on the duty of driving our rental car whenever we are in Britain.  This is no small feat, I assure you, for as we all know, the British insist upon driving on the left side of the road.  This means that in addition to driving on what we Americans consider to be the “wrong” side of the road, one must adjust to the driver’s side of the car being switched to the passenger side.  This also means the driver is shifting gears with his left hand. To us, any of these situations is disconcerting at best, all of them together can occasionally be a nightmare.  Through the years we have worked out a system of sharing this uncomfortable experience.  While The  Songwriter grips the steering wheel, unblinking, and negotiates the narrow lanes and roundabouts, it is my job to scream “CURB”, or “HEDGE” or “WALL” whenever he occasionally veers too close to the side of the road.  I have also perfected a siren call of “LOOK RIGHT!” upon the approach of any intersection.  I perform these duties very well, without fail, all the while offering encouraging and complimentary comments about his efforts.  (I also frequently dig my fingernails into my seat cushion but have no illusions that this activity either adds or detracts from our motoring successes.)  Happily our system seems to work, for we have had no incidents in our travels, although a morning rush hour foray into the center of Bath once bore a strong resemblance to two unhinged individuals in a clown car, that city being much larger and entirely more populated than we’d counted on.
We endure these little adventures in mobility not because we have a low threshold for excitement, but because we are ill-suited for group activity, a fact that was lit in neon for us on this most recent holiday.   Having been in Sussex and Kent for awhile, we traveled up to London for the latter part of our trip.  Now of course, Mr. Johnson was correct when he uttered those famous words, “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life”.  There is so much to do and see in the old city that one never needs to consider any sort of “side trip”.  But we were seduced by the words, “Lunch in the Cotswolds” and as our adventurous spirits are not capacious enough to encompass the possibility of driving in London proper, we decided to do something we’d never done before.  We decided to take a tour.
So, freshly scrubbed and sharply dressed, we boarded a large tour bus with a large group of other people.  Wedging ourselves into our bright blue velveteen seats, we immediately noticed our knees were now positioned roughly in the vicinity of our chests and a frisson of worry ran up our spines.  Not wanting to point this uncomfortably obvious fact out to each other, The Songwriter made a weak joke about the Magical Mystery Tour while I did the same about Agatha Christie... “Wonder which one of them will commit the murder?”, I giggled feebly.  
It was about this moment that we noticed our tour guide climbing aboard.  A tall man, sporting a straw hat, he looked harmless enough.  Appearances can be deceiving, however, and despite an overwhelming lack of encouragement from his captive audience he began an incessant stream of verbiage consisting primarily of bad jokes, gripes and self-serving stories that increased in obnoxiousness with every bend in the road.  We were not out of London before I decided it was going to be me who committed the upcoming murder, for I wanted to kill this man.  
Staring forward as though drugged, our fellow passengers sat stock still in utter silence as our guide droned on through hill and dale.  The villages we were scheduled to stop in were obviously welcoming of large tour buses which meant nearly every building was dedicated to the tourist trade and chockablock with souvenir shops of every shape and size.  We were allowed to disembark at these places only after being given the precise time we were expected to return along with a stern warning as to what would happen if we were late.  I am afraid it was shortly after the first stop that my rebellious spirit took hold.  As we were expected to follow our straw-hatted Moses through the town like a brood of newly hatched ducklings, I naturally positioned myself at the end of the line in an effort to better enable my escape.  One town saw me heading to the train station at a clip with The Songwriter fast on my heels.
“We can’t just get on a train!”
“Well, why not?  What are they going to do?  Arrest us?
“They’ll wait for us.  We’ll hold up the whole tour! 
 We can’t do that to those other poor people.”
Realizing he was right, knowing I’d been beaten, I limped back to the bus where I endured the praise of our leader for my prompt return.  As I swallowed an urge to laugh maniacally, I silently vowed a return visit to see the Cotswold region properly and slept the rest of the way back to London with my knees tucked up under my chin like a bat.  We both laugh now when we seen the photos of me taken on that day.  The look in my eye escalates from amusement to irritation, from irritation to mutinous animosity at an alarming rate.   
A wasted day?  Not in any sense.  Sometimes it is beneficial to be reminded of something one already knows.  While neither of us is in anyway shy, we both delight in each other’s company and crave the freedom that traveling alone offers. Tour buses are not for us.  We know that now.  Sure, driving presents a few unique challenges.  There are Highland cattle that sleep in the middle of the road on the Isle of Skye.  We frequently get stuck behind a flock of sheep, lazily strolling en masse down a one track road.  And of course, we get lost occasionally.  But that’s all part of the fun. And anyway, how lost can one get in England and Scotland?  One is on an island, after all.


  1. MarCelia FahnestockMay 31, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    How delightful as I felt I was right there with you on your journey. Love, love your blog and book! MSF

  2. Great post. Glad you enjoy our funny little island. I always forget it is one.

  3. I'm with you - bus tours are not fun. I moved to London for a while from NJ back in the 80s and absolutely loved it. I got a job and when they said they needed an errand done and asked if I could drive there, I said, "Sure!" I remember feeling like a passenger (I WAS in the passenger seat) as the little car took a scary sight-seeing tour of London, finally circling a roundabout a couple of times before accidentally shooting across the Tower Bridge and into South London. I made it back in one piece but it was a hair-raising experience.

  4. Oh this made me laught Pamela. How often I have come across this type of driver/tour guide. (Once in the US I have to say, when the whole bus could have killed him by the end of a fortnight.)
    Next time you tour in England you must come to the Yorkshire Dales - and call and see us.

  5. I am ill suited to group travel as well, but this story is hilarious and you needed to be on that bus just so you could recount the nightmare to all of us. Hilarious now, but I know how dreaded it must have been then.

  6. You, "laughing maniacally", had me giggling uncontrollably. ;-)

  7. Completely hilarious!!

    I'm afraid I would have been on the train!

    I LOVE your blog!

  8. Oh, despite the humour, I'm really sorry that you didn't get to see the real Cotswolds (I bet you were taken to Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold) - lunch in the Cotswolds is delightful - so long as you go to the right place!

  9. I laughed out loud at this post. My brother lived in England for ten years, while he was there we made frequent trips to visit. One year we spent 19 days driving from London to Oundle to the Cotswolds, the the Lake District, up to Feife, St. Edwards and then Edinburgh. We walked and laughed and the driving was frightening at times!

    You must see the Cotswolds driving and walking, it is stunning.

    I cannot wait to see more of your trip!


  10. It was the round-abouts that used to get to Charles, but I must say he did a noble job, both in England and on the Continent. We never did venture on a tour....

  11. Hello Pamela

    How amusing this story of the guided bus tour. Now you know that you can take public transport and create your own tour. It truly amazes how some talkers are so unaware of their audience. Continued joy and discovery

    Helen xx

  12. Never made it to Bath or the Cotswalds. Next time, I'll stay there and really have a look around.

  13. I had my last bus tour in Russia. This was a great post.Sounds like a great trip. Always wanted to go to Bath. Have to settle for Bath Maine.

  14. This put a smile on my face and made my day!
    xxx T

  15. Oh my and yes indeed. Our first visit to the Lakes disrict involved a "tour". Many laughs and frustrations later we vowed never to repeat the experience. We have since wandered through Scotland and England many, many times in a rented auto - frequently gettng lost, turned around, and having a wonderful time in the process!
    There's no other way to go!

  16. Dear Pamela...I may have run off anyway!!:)

    2013 Designer Series
    Art by Karena

  17. Pamela,
    I love your story. I've driven in England only one trip...while I confess, I knocked off a mirror of a parked car in the first 3 miles out of Bath, I got the hang of it and loved the freedom of going where we wanted and not being under the control of a tour guide/bus ride.

  18. Love your story. It is so much fun when one finds friends to travel with that are truly kindred spirits, and that is hard enough, but tours kind of seem unnatural don't they? Lol, Jennings laughs because I always notice what bad posture everyone has. Oh, well, at least you figured out that tours are not for you. :)

  19. Pamela, I may have had the same tour guide in Sussex! Tours are not for me either and like you I adore just wandering on our own. Isn't that part of the world beautiful and magical? Especially considering all the Bloomsbury writers and artists who created art there! I want to go back!

  20. Hahaaaaa...great post. And I could recognise myself in it..:)

  21. i'm not a tour type person either.
    even if the driver were nice or entertaining.
    the sweet song writer thinking of those other poor souls! i'm afraid i'd have gone for the train too. but not before telling the obnoxious bus driver WHY!!!
    i'm reading 'summer' in your book.
    i so do love it. i've MADE myself go by each season. but i'm thinking i have to finish it. then i'll just start again when the season changes! LOL.
    i'll buy your next one too! xo

  22. Pamela, I have had the opposite experience. We have travelled through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Canada and Japan. We have enjoyed the company and made friends on these trips, some of whom are still friends 20 years later and have been hosted by them when we travelled to their country and we have returned the compliment. We have had some interesting tour directors, but no one as bad as yours. When we travel to the other side of the world we like to take an organized tour and then spend time by ourselves revisiting the interesting places we have seen. Kelvin and I are heading off to Israel for a couple of weeks on a pilgrimage with fourteen people from our church. A Palestine Christian guide who comes highly recommended will be our tour leader. Lots of walking this time. Rosalie from Australia

  23. Thank you Pamela for making my day begin with laughter! I'm with you. I prefer to be on my own when travelling.

  24. I seem to have very little tolerance for physical and mental discomfort that can be avoided...I would have taken that train, but only after informing the tour guide that my plans had changed.
    I learned my lesson after being stuck on a cramped and leaky boat for four way to get off that tour!

  25. I agree that tours, especially when you can speak the language are a handful. With that being said we went to China for three weeks and enjoyed the best tour with only 7 people in our group. Our tour group was so small that the guide would escort us to a train station or airport with tickets in hand and said goodbye. Luckily, there was a couple from Taiwan who spoke Chinese and we all had a grand time when we were unchaperoned. That was 12 years ago and we make time to see each other once a year somewhere in the states.

  26. Your post had me giggling throughout....I am not at all a tour person, except a jaunt into China once. I love to drive in rural England; though as a car passenger I am a wreck!

  27. Amen and amen! My husband and I also like each other's company and would never want to take a tour bus. We don't even like traveling with good friends. Friends they are but we are loners when traveling. We enjoy no schedule, unexpected turns in the road and most of all...again, each others company.

    I love reading about your England trips.

  28. Pam, I confess I have the same lack of tenderness for "tours" as thee. AND...I can completely relate to the description of driving through Britain...on a trip with the kids summer 2011, Butch was the designated driver of our manual transmission rental car. Though he'd driven there once before, we'd previously had an automatic...oh what a difference that makes!! Driving a stick on the 'wrong' side may just require more new neural connections than our 'mature' husbands can activate. (I didn't even try it, you brave woman) Our marriage did survive, but there were questionable moments. And a well, teeny rental car damage charge...only from going over a curb to turn the oops! right way. : ) Good to see you the other day even if I did look like I'd just come in from the fields.

  29. This was hilarious! I can just picture this adventure as you described it and yes, The Songwriter, as always, had you do the proper thing...just tough it out but learn from it! I was right there on that bus with you!!!


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