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.”
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.