Great Britain & Ireland
We decided to commit three of my five vacation weeks to the trip, one week in Ireland, one in Scotland and one in England. Freddi Laker Airlines was the big name of the day, a British outfit offering low rates. We set our itinerary to Bed and Breakfasts with no set travel plan. We never cared to commit ourselves to a guided tour.
We left from JFK on a Laker Jet and immediately wished we had selected a different airline. The plane held many people and the seats were very compact. When dinner was served we were overlooked. The hostess was quite irate because I didn't tell her we had already paid for dinner. I was irate for being reprimanded. The fellow behind me was irate because I reclined my seat. He violently pushed my seat upright. I informed his wife she would have a bruised child if she couldn't control her little boy. Her little boy would not look up from his paper.
So much for Freddi Laker.
We landed at Gatwick airport south of London and a chauffeur drove us to the car rental agency. The attendant informed us the compact car we ordered wasn't available so they would let us have a mid-size car for the same price. Ordinarily I would consider this a lucky break, but the roads in Great Britain are more narrow than the U.S.. They become more narrow in Wales. In Scotland there are some one lane dirt roads. You realize before leaving the rental parking area you must adjust your thinking to drive on the left side of the road. It took at least twenty minutes to get up the courage, but I did and we headed for Dover.
Pevency, just short of Dover, was a convenient place to supplement the Laker dinner. The restaurant's decor was a light wallpaper with inked drawings on the walls instead of the color of past artists. All wood work was enhanced, not painted. We learned this was typical of English style. Wood in Great Britain is a luxury and it is treated as such. Over the centuries the supply of wood diminished to build ships and heat homes. All buildings are of stone or brick.
We decided to stay at a nearby B&B for the night and in the morning head for Holyhead, Wales instead of Dover. There we hoped to board a ship for Ireland. The first day of leisurely driving took us to a farm in Wales operated by a man and wife. She, having taught school, wished to try her hand at farming with her husband. At breakfast the next morning we exchanged addresses while she showed us some of her poetry. We did communicate for a few years thereafter and received her published book of poetry.
An appreciable aspect of British culture is their devotion to clean streets and their love of flowers. Be it a window sill of a town house apartment or the expanse of this farm, all displayed flowers that bring forth color and cleanliness not ordinarily found in the U.S..
Arriving at Holyhead we returned the car to the rental agency and checked our baggage with the ship. Ireland is considered another country so we could not take the car with us. We called ahead to have a vehicle waiting at Dun Laoghaire. We could not leave till the next day because the ship was in need of repairs
We were entertained that night by a fine three piece combo and enjoyed the company of many of the ship's employees. The Pub closed at eleven o'clock, however the combo invited us to be their guest till three in the morning and, lord knows how many Guinness's later. The guitarist, being from Ireland, told us we would find Guiness in Ireland smoother than any place outside of Ireland. I had to later agree that he was right. We left the pub and some good Samaritan graciously led us to our B&B.
Next day, much to our disappointment, the ship still needed repairs. We did not leave Holyhead till 4pm. In the Meantime we struck up an acquaintance with a fine ould Irish gentleman who offered us a spot of whiskey. He was a twin likeness of Pat Obrien
Looking at our four suitcases he asked, "Is your wife willing?"
I told him, "She doesn't have a choice. If I leave any they will be hers."
"Oh God!", says he, "A chauvinist. Have another spot."
We arrived in Dun Laoghaire eleven o'clock at night. Amazingly the sun was just setting as a large,dull, red ball on the horizon. Our car was waiting with an attendant who expected us six hours earlier. His expression was not happy. I gave him $10 only to find later it was worth $6 in Irish pounds.
England and Ireland wont recognize each others currency, so you must exchange U.S. money for pounds of the country you are in at the time. A pain in the get along!
Wilma has written extensive journals of this and many other travels so I will not attempt lengthy descriptions.
The standard of living in all of the British Isles is lower than the U.S., At least prices are higher making the value of the pound lower. A $100 travelers check would give maybe 65 pounds (L). A jacket in a store widow might be priced at L35. The actual cost in U.S. money could be $80. I established a rule to use my VISA card whenever possible in any country outside of the U.S.. That gave me a true exchange value. Otherwise you are left to the discretion of the shopkeeper, hotel or the petrol attendant.
Throughout the Islands the people depend on their Bed and Breakfast offerings to supplement their income. I find B&Bs the finer way to travel. We generally have a chance to chat with the proprietor over breakfast. It is like having your finger on the pulse of the people, to know their thoughts and their outlook of world happenings.
At Waterford we visited the glass factory and the sales outlet. Because of the exchange rate, the price of Waterford Crystal was higher than at home.
The next notable place was Blarney Castle.
To clear up one perverted myth; Arriving home I spoke to a young lady who was planning a trip to the ould sod. I mentioned the enchanting powers of the Blarney stone.
She was told, by rude persons, that people urinate on the stone. It would be unhealthy to approach it.
I assured her that such an act was impossible. If anyone was stupid enough to try it, they would only succeed in drenching themselves and would probably fall off the castle wall.
You must lie on your back while someone holds your feet to keep you from falling.
In that position you can reach up to kiss the stone.
The overseers will take your picture and mail it to you for a price, of course. Amen! I have spoken.
I have a photograph and a certificate signed by the overseers proving that I now possess the powers of the stone. It seems that back in medevial days Blarney was the name of an authoritative person connected with the castle - probably what is presently referred to as a spokesman. A queen, after a profound discussion with the spokesman, later referred to any bullshit as "a lot of Blarney."
On to Galway. At Galway we found a Singing Pub, as they are called by the populace.
All the Pubs close by 10 or 11pm, The musicians generally set up by 7pm. When we entered it was a bit early. This gave us an undisputed place at the bar. By six o'clock the place was filled with chairs to accommodate a large audience of local people; people who look forward to this event almost nightly.
The bar became three deep making it difficult to get a drink. In front of me stood a well dressed pleasant looking fellow who was trying to get the bartenders attention. I had already ordered a round for the musicians and myself. I offered my place to the fine gentleman. He in turn was most appreciative. In the course of discussion, John F. Kennedy's name was mentioned. I had purposely brought a supply of Kennedy half dollars knowing how respected he was by the Irish. I handed him one and of course he wanted to buy it. I told him that would destroy the meaning.
He then told me he was a partner in a copper pipe importing business in Dublin. On the back of his business card he wrote his address and telephone number and told me to call him when I arrived. He wanted very much to show us Dublin.
Fate and time did not allow us to spend time with him later, but it left a lasting impression of the Irish people and the country. The women, learning we were Yanks, engaged Wilma in such exciting conversation we were made to feel we were leaving home instead of being about to return.
The end of the week found us back at Dun Laoghaire expecting to catch the ship back to Holyhead. As usual the damn thing was again in need of repairs. It could be held up till the next day. Some how I think it was a planned stall till they had a full ship. An alternative was to catch a ship out of Dublin for Liverpool. We had only an hour to drive to Dublin. It was the fastest trip of the three weeks. We arrived at the dock as they were getting ready to raise the gangway.
We had dinner aboard the ship and picked up a rental car in Liverpool. Our
next destination was Scotland.
Leaving Liverpool we could see the atomic electric generating plant practically at the limits. I could imagine the havoc engulfing England had it existed during World War I. One bomb hit would poison the entire country. Even a Russian type disaster could accomplish the same thing.
Oh no! With our safeguards in place it cannot happen here. Well damn it, it happened in Pennsylvania and it happened in Russia. I realize the great need for extended power, but I am not an atomic energy advocate. Though fusion seems less deadly than fission technology they both have volatile consequences. As always money comes before public interest.
Railroads are used quite extensively throughout Great Britain. I mentioned
earlier the limited supply of wood that is available. This is very apparent
in railroad ties and electric poles that are made with some form of concrete.
Forests are non-existant in the Isles. Mountains similar to our Catskill Mountains appear as mowed, manicured hills. My only explanation would be sheep grazing, but I'm not sure.
It would require a lot of sheep with tremendous appetites and a lot of happy shepherds.
Late afternoon found us in Biggar, Scotland, about 20 miles south of Edinburgh. We stopped at a handsome three-story gray stone farm house. Our hosts that evening were a husband, his wife and his father. They were charming, accommodating and typically Scot. The father was eighty years of age. When the conversation reached dancing, he showed us the Highland Fling. At eighty, he was more graceful than I. - That takes a lot of doing.
We asked the location of any singing Pubs and they directed us to a place
At the Pub we were directed upstairs where a three piece combo was playing, but, only periodically, It seemed the audience had to take part in the entertainment.
We were welcomed as the Yanks when our turn to do something came about. I told them we had just left Ireland and in the last Pub we were at, I had to learn an Irish song. Three hours and six Guinness brews later, I remembered the words, but forgot my own name.
I sang "The Mountains of Morne."
When it came time to leave some people insisted upon following us home because of the laws against drinking and driving. Very hospitable people.
Edinburgh is the most beautiful city in my limited world, seconded only by San Francisco. The Castle is a must if anyone visits Edinburgh. We spent the entire day between the city and the castle. We returned to Biggar that night. After breakfast and regrettable good-byes we left for England's Lake Country.
We always stopped around five in the afternoon for dinner and to select a B&B.
A large farm house with a dozen guest rooms was most appealing. The hostess lead us to an immaculately clean sunlit room. The host drove us around town and described historical points while he attended some personal shopping. That evening around eight o'clock we were invited to tea in the drawing room. Here we experienced British loyalty to the Crown.
Possibly a dozen persons sat around the room holding their teacups when the hostess opened the discussion with a question to me asking my feelings of the presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter. I assured them that all the candidates were well educated people; each with a different philosophy. However, the best of philosophy will never be known if congress does not support the president. "Well put", said our hostess.
An English guest spoke up and said, "we'll trade you Carter for Thatcher."
A hush enveloped the room. The guest realizing his criticism of the Crown, could not find an immediate hole to crawl into. I then changed the subject with compliments of the Lake Country's beauty.
We left the lake country amidst pleasant good-bys and no mention of the night before.
From high points of land, I hesitate to call them mountains because of their manicured appearance, lakes and ponds marked our progress to Maidenhead. Maidenhead is a fairly large town about the size of Catskill. It became our headquarters for the next three days. The people were most accommodating explaining the tram and underground trip of forty kilometers (25 miles) to London.
Leaving the underground and reaching street level Westminster Abby was just across the street. At the top ticked Big Ben. We did hear the chimes each hour. Who could resist a sightseeing tour up the Thames. I never did understand the English pronunciation of Tems. Sounds like poor English. Maybe the King could not pronounce his A's. Like ole King Philip couldn't pronounce his J's. J in Spanish is sounded as an H. So, the entire population had to speak like the King if they wanted to keep their chrome domes.
Cruising up river we passed Saint Paul's cathedral, aircraft carriers and numerous marinas. The motor launch docked at the Tower Bridge long enough for a tour of the bloody tower, Ann Boleyn's temporary head quarters. Gad! Life in those gray granite castles must have been a cold existence. I'll bet all those royal dwellings now have hot water heat. A perfect heat pump would reflect the ability of the blocks of granite to retain the summer's heat all winter and the winter's cold all summer. Of course that is fantasizing. The crown jewels on display are really imitations though they are still guarded by the traditional Beefeaters.
Back at Westminster Abby we walked the corridors and saw sunken vaults where various Kings were buried. Franklin Roosevelt was depicted in a large statue as the deliverer of England along with Winston Churchill inside the Abby entrance area.
From the Abby we walked through Saint James Park, a massive display of beautiful flowers, to Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guards was quite impressive. Returning to the Abby we lost our orientation and had to ask a bobby for directions. From there we rode the underground to the city limits then took the tram back to Maidenhead.
We left Maidenhead the next morning for the last stop on our agenda - Church Crookham, to visit the Paul Cullen family. They were relations whom we had never met. The town was just a few miles south of Aldershot - home of the British Army. Except for an observation balloon, the army grounds were obscure.
The Cullens accepted us royally and gave us a tour of the area. They bought dinner that night and we bought the next night. I asked what they preferred as the menu. They said fish and chips. I knew where the delicatessen was located and assured them I could find it without guidance. To my surprise many of the food concessions are owned by Chinese people. When I returned with the food they asked if I encountered any difficulty.
"Just when I have conquered the British accent," I said, "I find I must now decode a Chinese dialect." The Cullen's found that amusing.
We sat down to dinner. I had bought an extra portion of fish and chips which was passed around the table.
When it reached Wilma she said, "No thanks, I'm stuffed."
The Cullens smiled and said to Wilma, "In England that means you are pregnant."
Freddie Laker flew us home just before he filed for Section Eleven (bankruptcy).
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