Feathered Aspen


Long Buckby to Sawbridgeworth to Charlton

December 18, 2010

After another run, we showered and packed. Joshua made a full breakfast for himself, but unlike my husband, I’m about the same size I’ve always been, and I have no need to gain about 20 pounds.

Before we head down to the station, I show Grandma Vivienne the rest of our slide show. We talk for a little while, and once Joshua’s brought our packs downstairs, we give hugs and say goodbye.

Outside, it’s snowing like mad, and we acquire a thick layer of snow as we walk to the station. Once we arrive, we swat at each other’s packs and shoulders, knocking of clumps of white.

The train arrive a couple of minutes late, and by the time it pulls in, the snow is coming down in blinding sheets. Off in the distances, naked, white branches sway in the wind, and everything is covered.

On the train, we watch the snow fall. It’s wonderful to see our family and winter in England, but as we sit there, we sense – without talking – that we’re both ready to go home. It’s time to go home.

In London, we take two short underground connections, and eventually, we board the train headed for Charlton Station. The ride doesn’t take long, and as I wait, I listen to a mother and daughter debate in another soft, lilting language.

Finally, we arrive, and once we disembark, we realize that, here, the snow lies almost four inches deep. Outside in the streets, the citizens of London are shoveling and scraping their sidewalks. One family has built an enormous snow man, and they’ve stuck a whole carrot out of the top for his nose. People stop to take photos with their cell-phones.

At David and Rosemary’s, we find them all in the living room. School let out on Friday, and today, their first day of holiday, they are decorating the Christmas tree. They have a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table, and they’ve strung colored lights. David shows us a couple old Santas that the girls made when they were little girls, and they roll their eyes like the teenagers they are and explain that they made these cardboard men ages ago.

Before long, Rosemary is getting ready to go off and sing for yet another event. During the holidays, she has quite a few concerts and private ceremonies. As she dresses in her long, black dress, she warms up her voice, and we can hear her lovely high, clear voice all the way downstairs.

After Rosemary leaves, I head over with Sophie to feed a neighbor’s cats. Yoddeling for food, they practically pounce over each other to reach their smelly, wet food, and afterward, they curl up in our laps for a little cuddle.

Back at the house, we busy about in the kitchen, drinking tea and helping David prepare a dinner of baked fish stuffed with mushroom. While we cook, we chat about his last term and our travels. Sophie listens in, stretching, pirouetting, and kicking her feet high into the air like the ballerina she is.

The fish cooks, and we all sit at the table to eat it. Owen isn’t feeling well, and we pass the meal listening to teenagers ribbing their little brother. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a normal family meal, but the sounds and conversations are humorously familiar.

After dinner, we devour a delicious chocolate pudding with custard. Owen and Jessica drift off, and Sophie, David, Joshua, and I stay at the table, surfing the internet, talking, and sharing funny youTube videos.

Just before Rosemary got home, I sat down to write, and one by one, everyone headed off to bed. Now, I think it’s my turn 🙂

December 17, 2010

I’ve left off writing the blog again, and now the days are running together. A bit of what I’ve written for yesterday may have actually happened today, but I’m not sure…

Joshua and I went for a run again in the morning, heading off in a completely new direction and exploring a few streets we’d never seen before. It had snowed a bit overnight, and the trees were lined with a thin coating of silver.

Back at the house, Joshua cooked another breakfast, and this time, I requested boiled eggs. They were done to perfection, and as usual, Joshua teased me that boiled eggs are more of a vehicle for salt and pepper than anything else. It’s true, and that’s why I love them.

It’s another slow day, and although Grandma Vivienne worries that we’ll grow bored, it’s just nice to relax and do a bit of nothing. Joshua and I work some more on job applications and my personal statement, and although I’m still not finished, I’ve resolved to spend just an hour more and be done with it.

Midday, Joshua and I head off into town again to pick up a few more things for dinner. Spying a charity shop, I make Joshua peek in with me, and we try on jackets and shoes. Nothing quite fits, but I do purchase a small pair of earrings shaped like roses.

In the house again, we snack on more crackers and cheese, and just generally loll about in the living room, working, reading, and chatting. Snow begins to fall outside, and Grandma Vivienne grimaces while we make annoying comments about Winter Wonderlands and Christmas frosts.

For dinner, Grandma Vivienne makes a wonderful fish pie, and we scrape our plates clean, sipping glasses of red wine. It’s delicious, and I vow to make fish pies of our own once we get home.

Afterward, we sit and chat, and I pour through Grandma Vivienne’s lovely cook books. I love the gorgeous photos, and I’m particularly enchanted with recipes for soups. In Delia’s Frugal Foods, I come across recipes for souffles, and copying them into our little cooking journal, I resolve to make the souffles just as soon as I’ve made the fish pies.

December 16, 2010

This morning, Joshua joined me for a run. We ran down to the train station first to check on times for this weekend. Although public transportation in England is light-years ahead of the United States, they have this wonderful habit of striking and repairing things on the weekends just before Christmas. It’s the perfect time of year to disrupt people’s traveling plans, and while you might think it useful to post such disruption on the internet, you would be wrong. It’s best to just show up at the station and ask someone who knows.

Sure enough, Sunday’s schedule is screwy, and instead of hourly trains, they’re bringing in buses. We commit the schedule to memory and continue on our run.

It’s frosty outside, and as we pound the pavement, we can see our breath creating great clouds before us. Our ears turn pink, and our noses begin to drip. Out across the frosty fields, we see a horizon grey and heavy.

Back at the house, we do a wimpy set of sit-ups and I skip push-ups all together. Up in the bathroom, I turn on the water heater and take a scorching shower. I like the water to be so hot that it stings a bit.

Once I’ve toweled off and dressed, I pad downstairs to find Joshua serving up plates with fried tomato, toast, and omlettes. He’s even steeped Irish Breakfast tea in a couple of mugs, and I surreptitiously doctor it with some milk and sugar.

As we eat, Grandma Vivienne gets ready for her monthly meetings with a medical research board. Dressed in one of my favorite colors, a jewel-like teal, she looks very smart indeed, and she tells us how she’ll give those smarty-pants doctors and research a reality check (excuse me, sir, but do you think it might be possible to speak in plain English?).

Just after midday, someone picks up Grandma Vivienne, and Joshua and I resolve to get some work done. Heading upstairs, I hop on the internet and begin filling out the application for a Masters in Social Work in earnest. Luckily, everything is on-line, and my resume is updated. I’m able to notify the people I’ve chosen to write my letters of recommendation, and I’m even able to upload an unofficial transcript. Within three hours, I’m completely finished with the basic information and transcript section, and now, all I have to do is make sure that my letters of recommendation make it in and complete my personal statement and writing research sample.

Once I’ve finished the application, Joshua does some more job searching and I go downstairs to work on my personal statement. You might think that after six months of writing as much as I have, a personal statement would be no problem. You would be wrong. I’ve now written 2,000 words four different times, and it’s still not quite write. I assure you I’m not being a perfectionist; every time I hand it off for someone to read, I get different feedback. I seem to be getting no-where, and it’s quite frustrating.

Before Grandma Vivienne gets home, Joshua and I hurry into town to buy some frozen spinach and eggs. We link arms to ward off the cold, and when Joshua slips on the ice, he doesn’t fall because I’m standing right next to him.

At the grocery store, we picked up the spinach and eggs, and just before we went to pay, we nabbed a small box of flapjacks for good measure.

Back at the house, we watch an episode of Scrubs while we nibble on crackers and cheese. Grandma Vivienne gets home, and we catch one another up on the events of our days.

After a bit, Grandma Vivienne goes off to the kitchen to whip up mushroom risotto, and I go back upstairs. Joshua has found a couple of jobs he thinks I should apply to, so I hammer out a cover letter, tweak my resume, and send it off.

Just as I’ve clicked the ‘Send’ button, Grandma Vivienne calls me down for dinner. The risotto is lovely, and we each sip of glass of wine. Everything is delicious, and the company is lovely as well. There’s something very wintry and Christmassy about a warm dinner with wine and family when there’s snow outside.

After dinner, I work on my personal statement and grow more and more frustrated. Eventually, I hand it off to Joshua, and he reads through it. Once he’s done with his comments and edits, we sit next to one another and he tells me what to axe and add, and I finally feel that I may only have an hour’s left of work.

Before we know it, it’s nearly 11. Weary from, well, not very much, we give hugs and kisses and well wishes and head off to bed.

December 15, 2010

I woke up and ran down the same path, crossing the canal and shuffling across the frozen bits. Next to me, the frozen branches clicked as the wind rustled them. Ducks waddled across the canal, looking ungainly on the ice.

Back at the house, I showered and joined Joshua in the bedroom, packing. Ruth and Paul returned from a visit at the doctor’s office, and I pulled out some of the jewelry and gifts that we had purchased in India and Nepal. Ruth agreed that the embroidered shawl that I had chosen for Lesley was just the thing, and I gave her the stories on each little item: I bought the shoes in Delhi, but they were hand-made in Rajastahn… Oh, that’s the Buddhist mandala that I bought outside of the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala… That’s one of my favorites – I bought that in this little alley filled with a thousand of these glittering, multi-colored beads in Kathmandu…

Downstairs, Ruth put soup on the ‘Hob,’ and Joshua and I flicked through the last of our photos while Ruth and Paul flitted about the house, working hard on this and that.

With the soup warmed and bread toasted, we sat on the floor of the dining room and ate. Ruth has a quick, goofy sense of humor, and the two of us have a fun time ribbing one another. She teases me, I tease her, and when she teases herself a bit too meanly, I swat her on the shoulder and tell her to ‘shush.’ Both Joshua and I have absolutely demanded that they come and make an extended visit to the farm. We’ve promised to give Paul the space and freedom to start up all sorts of projects, and I’ve told Ruth that she’s more than welcome to come and join me in the kitchen if she can bear to relinquish the reigns. She sighs and says that she thinks that she might be able to manage it, but only if it’s my kitchen.

Just before two, Paul and Joshua load our bags into the trunk, and the four of us drive down to the Long Buckby train station. Up on the platform, we give hugs, and the train sweeps in. Joshua and I board, stow our bags, and wave good-bye.

The train ride from Long Buckby to Tottenham Hale takes about an hour. Pulling out the computer, we finished our grand slide show. From 13,000 photos, we’ve narrowed it down to 1,000. It’s a surprisingly comprehensive record of our six months of traveling, and it takes a little over an hour to play out.

At Tottenham Hale, we put our packs on and walked through the station. On the other side, we caught another train headed for Ely. The train was filled with commuters, and we ended up standing near the doors, drooping from under the weight of our packs.

After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the Sawbridgeworth station. It’s funny, but although I’ve been to Sawbridgeworth a number of times, I don’t think I’ve ever been on this side of town. Grandma Vivienne had recommended that we hail a taxi, but we’re cheap and stubborn, and we decided to walk.

Following signs for the town center, we clomped up dark side streets and into town. Eventually, we came across territory we recognized, and after a bit, we were walking down the quiet lane to Grandma Vivienne’s flat.

Grandma Vivienne has lovely straight, silver hair and the softest skin. For as long as I can remember, she’s been the image of aging gracefully, and after a cold walk with heavy packs, she’s a welcome sight. We come in, take off our shoes, and sit down for a cup of tea (or four).

Looking up at the familiar posters, paintings, and knick-knacks, we felt as though we had come full-circle. This is where we came first, and now, we are nearing the end. We told Grandma Vivienne about our highlights and low lights, and she told me about reading the blog. It’s nice to have fans 🙂

For dinner, we ate soup and stir-fry, and afterward, we drowsily cleared away the dishes and drank more tea. Just before 10, I complained that the jet-lag was finally hitting me and called off to bed.


Thurso to London to Istanbul

No spell-check, so you’re at my mercy!

September 3, 2010

When you’re done; you’re done. No one wants to cross the finish line and then hop back on the saddle, but Ducansby Head happens to be 22 miles from the nearest Train Station. When I woke up the next morning, I stared at the ceiling of the tent, mustering the conviction necessary to break down our campsite for the last time.

But Joshua isn’t one to dally; if there’s an unpleasant task in the offing, he’s the first in line. As soon as he saw me stir and open my eyes, he was ready to ‘get ‘er done.’ Fortunately, I can cram the sleeping things into their respective sacks in no time flat, and I could probably set up or take down our little tent with my eyes closed. Speaking of which, that’s a pretty tempting challenge, given the grotesque midge carnage that lines the damp underside of the fly.

Saying goodbye to our little piece of beach on the very edge of Scotland, we pedaled up and away. We stopped briefly in John O’Gross to see if they had postcards we could send to our families, but as expected, the Tourist Office was good for nothing. Before we left, a man spotted us and ran over to – I assumed – compare the number of days it had taken us to make the journey. I tried to pretend I didn’t see him, but Joshua politely paused and gave him the numbers he wanted (even though I had expressly told him to toss back the question to the next sorry sod who asked with, “actually, we didn’t really do end to end. We decided to go sea to sea too,” effectively evading the question but maintaining a degree of impressive dignity). Fortunately for him, the man did not smirk and instead applauded us for taking our time and seeing Britain ‘the right way.’ It’s a good thing too; I would have gotten just a titch rude if one more cycling-snot-face got uppity with us. Sheesh.

It was another beautiful day, and it was made even more glorious by the knowledge that I would be able to shower very, very soon. My hair does not look sexy and toussled the day after 24 hours of not showering; it looks like a grease helmet. I will leave 168 hours of not showering to your imagination. Run wild.

Outside of Castletown, we stopped briefly to admire the coast. With a wide swath of white sand and grassy sand dunes just beyond, it was a very pretty picture. We ate our strawberry rice pudding breakfast happily, and when we finished, we slowly began riding again. Even though we were ready to be done, we weren’t about to race back to Thurso. We were tired.

We pulled in front of Sandra’s Backpacker Hostel just after noon. Thankfully, we were able to check in right away, and as soon as we locked up our bikes and carried our panniers to our private room, I leapt into the shower. It was heaven. When I got out, I dressed in my brand new outfit from Inverness, and Joshua took his turn in the shower too.

20 minutes later, we were new people. In comparison, all of our things smelled really, really bad, and instead of tyring to clean them right away, we ran to the grocery store to stock up on food for the next few days. Loaded down with our culinary treasures, we stopped to eat our lunch near the river. As we were munching on our cheese and cucumber sandwiches, we watched a lone seal paddle up to some rocks in the middle of the river. Hefting himself onto his perch, he basked in the sun, stretching his little flippers and arching his back like a ballerina at the bar. Joshua suggested that he might be preening for a circus talent search.

Once we’d finished eating, we wandered into the Thurso Tourist Office. Fortunately, they had postcards for John O’Groats, and we bought 11 of them to send to the family. After all, it took more than just two people to get from one end to the other. Back at the hostel, we tidied up, wrote the postcards, and then went online.

While I would probably be able to survive without the internet, I’m as vulnerable as anyone else to the neferious tentacles of cyberspace. I checked my e-mail, facebook, and my blog. Once I had read everyone’s comments and various correspondence, I wrote e-mails to everyone I could think of. I’m trying to be better about staying in contact, and instead of loathing my various virtual accounts (as I used to), I love them now. Everyone’s information is in one place, and I can be reasonably certain that they’ll get my missives within the next couple of days. You’re going to be so connected to me, you’re going to miss the old Ellie. The one who could have been in her room in Tacoma, WA or maybe Pluto; you weren’t sure.

Moving downstairs to the kitchen, Joshua introduced me to goodreads, and there went another couple of hours. It’s like crack for people who love to read. After a while, we skyped with different members of the fam (it was Eamon’s birthday), and while I continued to get sucked into cyberspace, Joshua cooked a fabulous meal of eggplant with home-made tomato sauce and mozarella on top.

While we ate, we met a couple other people in the hostel. Diana, an older woman from Suffolk, was very impressed by My Husband the Chef, and we chatted about our upcoming travels. She had taken the train to Thurso the day before, and for the next few days, she planned to hike the coast and visit the Orkney Islands. We bonded over a mutual love of dogs, and she exposed us to our very first English Soap Opera. Tom, a University student from Bristol, had just completed his very own cycle journey from end to end, and even though he did compare our numbers (it had taken him 11 days), I forgave him. He was way too awkward and lonely not to, and instead, I yacked on and on, asking him questions and detailing our favorite parts of the ride. Funnily, he was absolutely flabbergasted that the Northeat Coast made it into our top 3 days. As far as he knew, it was Britain’s most top-secret national treasure: he’d never heard of its beauties before.

Once Joshua and I were finished pigging out on our eggplant bake (yum, yum, delicious), we crashed and burned. Joshua thought to complain about the poky springs in his mattress (our bed was two twins unceremoniously pushed together), but I was already asleep. I’ll take a poky mattress over a tree root in my rib any day.

September 4, 2010

/I’d like to tell you that we took full advantage of our time in Thurso to discover its hidden treasures and little-known underbelly, but we did not. Instead, I can’t even really tell you what we did. I know that hours passed, but other than reading, eating, and writing, we didn’t really do anything else. Joshua took our racks and things off the bikes so that we could sell them, and he also spearheaded the laundry project. He posted our bikes on gumtree and craigslist for 120 pounds each, and he did a bit more research into Turkey. Comparitively, I was utterly unproductive. Later in the day, disgusted by my own sloth, I went for a run, and in an effort to contribute, I posted our mail and went to the pharmacy to buy Vitamin C and Foot Powder for Joshua. I ran for about 6 miles along the river and then I ended up on the beach. The sky was still clear, and although it was a bit windy, I was able to run in a tank top. I stopped on the sand to lunge, kick, and squat like Denise Austin, and when I was satisfied that I had accomplished something, I went back to the hostel.

For dinner, I used a dull knife to hack up root vegetables. Tossing them in oil, salt, and pepper, I shoved them in the oven (guessing at the temperature), and then whipped up a little tomato sauce with our left over pepper and onion. It wasn’t bad, if I do say so myself, and when the various internationals came into the kitchen with their palsy dinners of canned baked beans and spaghetti, they looked over enviously at us. When they discovered we were Americans, they almost keeled over. (American’s who are slim, know how to cook, and love being outside? Are you sure? Then they looked at our vapor-wicking clothing and sensible footwear and thought, ‘I guess it must be true.’)

September 5, 2010

Joshua and I decided that we wouldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t do SOMETHING today, so after we slept in, we packed our new little day bag with picnic food and set off for the beach. Walking along the shore, we found a path that led us by an old, falling apart castle, and eventually, dunes that lined a rocky coast. We walked for a few hours, enjoying the breeze and the sea-salt spray. While we walked, we talked about our fabulous country dream home. Here are the integral components:

1) Plenty of rooms for guests.
2) A big, beautiful kitchen suitable for cooking for guests.
3) A big, beautiful dining room suitable for feeding guests.
4) A warm, cozy living room suitable for entertaining guests.
5) A fabulous garden.
6) A bon-fire pit.
7) A walk-in closet (really a separate room) for my massive wardrobe (all 300 gallons).

In addition, we talked about the sort of things that we planned to do with our guests. Here are some examples:

1) Scavanger hunts. No one is too old for scavanger hunts.
2) Mini low-ropes course. Some leadership games should be stolen and made into really great party games.
3) Feed them.
4) Have great big themed parties, like Halloween and Summer Solstice. We’ll dance and dunk for apples. It will be grand.
5) Tuck them away in their rooms and give them rest.
6) Cooking. Crafting.
7) Bon-fires.

We also planned the things that we would like to learn how to make:

1) Fabulous home-made bread.
2) Cheese. Lotsa cheese.
3) Preserves, canned sauces and chutneys, you know: country stuff.
4) Liquor (Lesley’s inspired me to make things like sloe gin and cherry brandy… This is what we’ll drink at our bon-fires.)

So, basically, the dream is that ya’ll come on out and have fun with us on our farm. Lesley said that if I want something, I should put it out there into the world, so here it is: I want a community. I want friends and family in my house all the time. I want big, fabulous meals, and I want bon-fires. I want to grow veggies, and I want a stove like Lesley’s that keeps the house warm all the time. If you find that you love it all as much as we do, maybe we’ll build you a little house so you can live there, too. Is that weird? Or is that the best idea ever?

Back at the hostel, I went down to the kitchen to make some soup while Joshua organized our things. In the next 36 hours, we’ll be taking the train from Thurso to London, stopping overnight at David’s, and then taking the bus to Stansted, where we’ll catch a plane to Istanbul. It’s gonna be crazy, so we took the extra time in Thurso to clean all our things and organize them. When we get to David’s, hopefully, it will be quick enough to pack our backpacks and head on our way.

When the soup was ready, Diana walked in to the kitchen, and realizing that I had made enough to feed all of Thurso, we invited her to join us. She really was a lovely lady, and we spent a couple of hours drinking tea and talking about travels done and planned. She’s going on a trip to Norway this winter. When she’s there, she’ll get to go dogsledding, see the fjords, and view the Northern Lights. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Once we had cleaned up and I had given Diana an arty calling card, we headed up to bed. Tomorrow to London!

September 6, 2010

I woke up in the middle of the night with my tonsils the size of golf balls. I fell back asleep, but not before I realized the full import of my new ailment: traveling by plane, train, bus, etc. is absolutely miserable when you don’t feel well. When the alarm went off at 7, I could barely talk. I hopped in the shower, hoping the steam would loosen something up, but instead, the heat made me feel like I was going to pass out.

By the time I had gotten dressed, I realized that all the bones in my body and especially my lower-back had the special I-have-a-fever ache. Feeling like I was about to die, I rolled back into bed while Joshua sorted out our last minute packing business and ate his breakfast. Stacy (my roommate from college and fellow teacher in NOLA) had told me once that fasting while your sick can sometimes clear up things, and since I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry anyway, I thought, why not?

Once we were ready to go, we slung our panniers onto our bikes and pedaled the half-mile to Thurso Station. I sat on a bench in my sick haze until the train came and then we loaded our bikes onto their racks, stored our packs, and took a seat.

I understand that trains are nice. They’re romantic, and they are a wonderful, eco-friendlish mode of public transport. They’re a great way to see the country. Hurrah for trains. That said, their freaking seats don’t recline, and they’re some of the most uncomfortable seats on Earth. Some sadistic bastard decided it would be a great idea to arch the seats inwards so you’re not only sitting absolutely upright, but you’re head is also shoved forward. I could find no relief. The train ride from Thurso to Inverness was something like 3 hours long. Once we got there, we boarded another train to Edinborough. In our 30 minute transition, Joshua bolted into town to buy a Turkey guide book (we hadn’t been able to find one at all).

The ride to Edinborough was another 4 hours or so, and then we boarded another train for London. Ultimately, the train got in at 10 PM. The first train had left at 8 AM. My tonsils were swollen and sore. My back ached. I couldn’t find a single position comfortable enough to sleep in, and I was terribly, horribly motion sick. It was miserable. I cried a couple of times, and I was so sick I didn’t even care that I was making all the very reserved, elderly English people uncomfortable with my emotional display. I couldn’t read because that made me feel like I was going to spew all over the seat in front of me, and I couldn’t write on my laptop for the same reason. I couldn’t look outside because the jerky motion of everything sliding by made me want to die, and I couldn’t lie down on Joshua because he’s too skinny now. He’s not comfortable anymore. Damned bicycle ride. (We figure he burned somewhere between 3000 – 4000 calories a day. Whoa.)

When we finally arrived in King’s Cross Station, we disembarked (alighted, said the train stewardess) and gathered our bikes and panniers. Thinking we could take the Northern Line to London Bridge, we entered the gates with our Oyster cards, but then a very mean man yelled at me a lot and made us turn around. NO BIKES!!! Upstairs, we found an alternate route through the First Capital Connect, but my Oyster card wouldn’t let me through because I had already tried to go through on the Northern Line. While Joshua waited with our bikes, I went back to the very mean man to explain my problem, and he told me (tersely) to go wait in line at the Info desk to have my card recharged. The people in front of me spoke approximately no English, and although I should be sympathetic to these sorts of travelers (I’m about to be one myself), it was very annoying to have to wait such a long time when I was feeling so sick. Finally, very mean man saw that I was still waiting patiently and decided to take matters into his own hands. He walked up to me, wordlessly took my Oyster card, and went and did the recharge himself. I guess he wasn’t so mean after all.

Back upstairs, Joshua and I both swipped our Oyster cards just in time to catch the last train to London Bridge. Or so we thought. When we got down to the platform, it was empty except for a couple of janitors with their trolleys. They told us that the strike had started. Errr… What?

Upstairs, the people at the information desk explained that the Underground was going on strike for 24 hours, starting tonight. We could take an alternate bus route to London Bridge; we should be able to take our bikes on board. We had our Oyster cards recharged once more, and then we waited outside in the rain for the bus. When it came at 10:30, the bus driver told us that he wouldn’t take our bikes. Joshua pleaded with him, and fortunately, the man reluctantly agreed to take us, bikes and all.

At London Bridge, we caught another connecting train to Dartford via Greenwich. It was 11:15 by the time we got to Charlton Station, and by then, I was completely dead on my feet. We hopped on our bikes and pedaled to the Naylor-Roll’s through the rain.

Finally, finally, we arrived, and David let us in. We quickly stored the bikes, and seeing that we were absolutely weary, David shooed us off to bed. I wasn’t about to argue.

September 7, 2010

Joshua woke up at 6 AM, but since he’s a really, really wonderful husband, he let me sleep for almost another hour. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I tried to swallow around my enormous tonsils, which proved to be a very unpleasant and nearly impossible task. Fortunately, the deep bone-ache I had been feeling yesterday was gone. Joshua was packing our backpacks in the room next door, and every once in a while, he came over with items for me to veto or select. Arty calling cards? Yes. Nail polish? No. Skirt? No. Waterless shampoo? Yes.

After a little while, I decided I was awake enough and I had swallowed enough times that my tonsils didn’t feel like they were about to crack anymore. I got up and sorted through the toiletry kit: antibiotics? Check. Fluconazole? Check. Immodium? Paracetemol? Check, check. I’m not about to get Delhi-Belly.

We said goodbye to David, who was looking particulary smart in a light-reflective cycling jacket, cycling cleats, and a shnazzy little pack. He’s riding his bike to work again now that his clavicle has healed, and he looked almost gleeful getting on his bike. Cycling doesn’t seem to be a acquired taste for this man, I think it may have been love at first sight. But you know what? Even though I used to absolutely HATE bicycling, I actually kind of like it now. Even last night when we were riding the short distance from Charlton Station to the Naylor-Roll’s, I was thinking, ‘well, isn’t this nice?’ I think I just might actually understand the affection David has for his bicycle: I (gasp) feel it too.

All packed, we said quick hello/goodbyes to Jessica and Sophie as they left for school, and then we hopped in the car with Rosemary and Owen. The night before, David had found us an alternate route to reach Stansted Airport online, and to begin, Rosemary kindly dropped us off at the Blackheathe Bus Stop. Thanks a million to the Naylor-Rolls for all your help! We appreciate you!

From Blackheathe, we boarded a bus headed for Stratford Station. There were a lot of really crochety Londoners grumbling about the Underground strike and their alternate bus routes, and it wasn’t until we reached Greenwich Station that we realized that our bus, the one that said ‘108 Stratford,’ wasn’t actually going to Stratford. Luckily, we were still able to take a connecting bus to Stansted, and when the bus had finished the route, we disembarked in the middle of no-where. Seriously. It appeared to the middle of a highway. We waited for fifteen minutes or so, and then the bus going to Stansted arrived. We loaded our packs into the undercarriage, and then we tried to board. Nope, said the bus driver, you need to pre-purchase tickets. Wha? You need to pre-purchase tickets on-line. We begged. Thankfully, he conceded.

In all, it really wasn’t that bad. Despite a couple of close calls, we arrived at Stansted around 10 AM, two hours after we had left the Naylor-Rolls. The tickets for all of our buses cost about 10 pounds each, and after dreading this particular leg of the journey ever since we realized my goof, we were pleased.

Stansted is a really nice and relatively new airport. We killed time by browsing through the shops and buying some lunch. We ate our pesto pasta salad and sarnie overlooking the tarmac, and then we went to check in our packs. Going through security, a sketch-ball behind us whispered in thickly accented English, “I’ve got two carry-ons. Will you take one?” Joshua looked at him, askance. “No!” he pratically shouted, not wanting to be associated with any ellicit acts of terrorism. I, of course, wanted to soften the blow and reassured him that his bags were small – he shouldn’t have a problem.

On the other side, we watched to see if he was stopped going through security, and when he wasn’t, we walked away assured that he wasn’t carrying some sort of explosive or sharp device. Taking a shuttle to our gate, we sat and waited for the boarding call. I wrote for a while, and Joshua paced, worrying about Turkey. He’s nervous about the whole language barrier thing. As for me, yesterday I wasn’t looking even remotely forward to our little rendezvous in Turkey. I was sick, and I have no interest in traveling whilst battling a bug. But today, after a healthy dose of Ibuprofen (my new miracle drug) and a pack of menthol Halls, I’m a new woman. My tonsils still hurt, but I’m feeling a little better. Turkey, here I come!

Besides writing, I was doing some serious people watching, and although I feel a little bit bad about staring at women with veils, I couldn’t help myself. It’s not that I’m judging them; it’s actually completely opposite. I actually think they’re really beautiful. The scarves are so lovely, and most of the women have heavy eye make up. They’re gorgeous. One woman, in particular, looked like a goddess: she was wearing this long, shapeless shift and a loose head scarf that framed her black, cherubic face. I pointed her out to Joshua as, “one of the most beautiful women alive.” It’s not just the Muslim women either; Londoners are good looking. They’re a smorgasboard of races and colors, and all of them are wearing the most beautiful clothing side by side.

Finally, we boarded the plane, and right now, we’re snacking on the most delicious in-flight food ever: stuffed peppers?! Take-off was a little shaky (with some of the scariest turbulence I’ve ever experienced), but we’re smooth sailing now. Everyone is speaking Turkish, and I’ve given up before I’ve even started. How do they smash all those consonants into one word?

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Sports and God

The morning after England lost to Germany in the Round of Sixteen, the news played a montage of forlorn football fans crying into their beer and smearing their face paint with their heads in their hands. The camera panned to one man who looked up wearily and said, “I don’t want to talk.” In another scene, a man held a droopy English flag that in blue painted letters said, “Flag For Sale.” In commentary, sports broadcasters admitted defeat: “apparently, we’re not half as good as we thought we were” and “it’s over. We’re out. Down and out.”

One classic photo captures two fans standing in the bleachers decked out in festive capes, hats, and face paint. Their shoulders are slumped and they’re looking dejectedly over at their ecstatic German rivals, screaming, hugging, and kissing in the glory of their victory. The headlines below announce, “We Were Mullered” and “If the Few had defended us this badly, we would all be speaking German now” with an almost masochistic relish.

We departed the hungover, listless city yesterday morning, and Joshua and I couldn’t help but wonder if defeat goes down a whole lot differently here in the former British Empire than it ever would in the United States. Had the New Orlean’s Saints lost the Super Bowl, we’re certain the Times Picayune headlines would have focused upon the referee’s credentials, poor calls, or suspect loyalties. Alternatively, there would have been a shocking reveal of an illness, disease, or blight that brought key players to their knees in the hours preceding the game. Perhaps the Sports section would have gladly relinquished the largest headlines to whatever ecological or political disaster was happening next in an effort to share the soured limelight.

In the span of three hours, we managed to see the news coverage in all of its forms: in the morning, as the Naylor-Rolls were preparing for their school day, we watched the equivalent of Good Morning America. With instant and slow motion replay, we relived the more agonizing plays in the match. Fans and critics alike called for the resignation of Fabio, the coach, and still more blinked dazedly at the camera, hoping this was all a bad dream. Once we had said our goodbyes, we hefted our (now lighter) packs onto our backs, and followed Rosemary to the car. On our way to North Greenwich Station, we watched as fans pulled in flags that had hung like banners and confetti from every window and fencepost, and on the subway, we picked up discarded tabloids and newspapers shouting their displeasure in bold headlines.

In February, the Saints and the Colts fought it out in Miami. The Saints prevailed, and New Orleans erupted into a party, parade, and second line all at once. Fans who had followed the travails of the Saints faithfully since their inception wore Brees jerseys and held beers in both hands while they danced to impromptu brass bands and blaring radios. Policemen patrolled the streets with their windows rolled down, giving thumbs-up signs to partiers and celebrators. In the French Quarter, the streets were packed from end to end and side to side. Everyone was dressed in gold and black, and nearly as many were well on their way to inebriation.

The next week, school let out early for a formal parade, and the four mile route was lined with eight to ten rows of fans on either side. When the floats came by, the football players were wearing crowns and Mardi Gras beads over their jerseys, and they threw stuffed mini-footballs, cups, and beads at their screaming, delirious fans. The party didn’t stop until Mardi Gras was over, and months later, the Saints jingle still brought people almost to tears.

I know what you’re thinking: I’ve succumbed to hyperbole. But I haven’t! This is my purely journalistic eye-witness account! While the period of mourning or celebration may be regionally distinct, the marriage of sports and mass hysteria is not. It’s a religion complete with worship, community, and gods, and the devotion it elicits is on par with any fundamental or Pentecostal service. I’m just lucky enough to see it unfold on both sides of the pond.