Part 1: Arrival, and the economy Ford stick shift to Corfe Castle.
Heathrow and the Tube
It was only a nine hour flight from Houston, not space flight, just cruising over the curve of the earth going the right way because the winds are in your favor and the friendly skies boost you along the jet stream. You are not really aware of this, however, because most of the time you are asleep. You stumble into this bus-like cabin nine seats wide and go on faith that the noises and illusion of g-force means you are actually being taken somewhere. You refuse dinner because someone told you that fasting could negate the effects of jet lag. The flight attendant looks at you like you grew a new head. No one refuses free food on a plane you foolish bastard. Even if you don’t want the food you take it anyway on principle. The food molecules must be processed through your system. This must happen. Make a token effort.
They tell you that you landed in Heathrow. You take it on faith. I am in Heathrow. I am walking from the arrivals to another terminal to meet my friend, but it looks like I am walking the wrong way. People look at me like there is another stupid tourist who doesn’t know how to read signs. I am sure that somehow I look American even though I was careful not to wear white tennis shoes or any kind of shorts. I must exude Americaness and all will judge me because of other Americans that I have no control over and a president with the IQ of a potato. I didn’t vote for him, I want to say, he didn’t even really win the election. It was rigged with chads and crooked voting machines. It’s not that the American public are manipulated with stupid lies. No really.
So anyway, I’m in Heathrow and it doesn’t really seem that bad although I’ve been warned so maybe I’m here on a good day, in a good moment. I change money and cringe as my dollars shrink into half their size. We hop on trains which at the moment seem deceptively efficient, we are in search of an oyster card. The fact that we are tired and on the other side of the earth does not really excuse the fact that we don’t read the sign that says stand on the left as we ride the escalator. Londoners look askance at us, we are standing on the wrong side. Already I have walked the wrong way in the terminal and stood on the wrong side of the escalator. The CCTV has taken our picture multiple times. BE ON THE ALERT FOR STUPID AMERICAN TOURISTS WHO STAND ON THE WRONG SIDE. We also ask the wrong person where we can buy an oyster card and with scathing contempt he tells us that we have to go downstairs. The bloody idiots is implied. Be on the alert.
We ride on the Tube because I did my research and it’s not subway or metro. A tube a series of tubes that deliver goods and services but not the one Ted Stevens was talking about.
The train carts us along to Salisbury.
Salisbury has thatched roofs. A cathedral which was demoted to a church through no fault of it’s own. A mound with ruins upon ruins and if you started digging pieces of time would just start popping out at you. I had this notion that I could dig down somehow in the past by coming here and see the origin of things, words, notions. That the beginnings of rituals and words like salacious and junket would take on new life simply because I was returning to the font of our tongue. Salisbury had a very old pub with a couple of old gentlemen who were willing to talk to the American women, American women who were early enough in their journey not to realize that this was an exception, not a rule.
We rent a car, and to save money I go with the economy Ford stick shift. The foolishness of this plan becomes clear to me as I choke the car out for the third time in our parking spot outside of the rental office and I am suddenly unsure if I will even be able to leave the parking lot, car park whatever dammit. You’re on the other side of the car, the wrong hand is shifting, there’s no shoulder, clearance is measured in millimeters. It’s the alternate universe where everything is flipped only the characters aren’t evil its just your friend yelling here and there for you to look right, slow down and holy shit there’s really not enough room for you and that tractor on this road. Its precision driving, only you’re not feeling in the least bit precise. And where in gods name are the signs? But it’s a thrill, a thrill you keep mainly to yourself because your driving companion who pretty much refuses to drive is letting out little yelps and clutching the sides of the car on just this side of hysteria.
We go to a ruined castle. My original plan had been a ruined abbey but it didn’t work out in the driving radius. England is very green. As green as North Carolina, perhaps more so which pleases me. Green and yet cool, even cold. A chilly green place. This ruined castle is almost more than I care to describe not because it was unpleasant, but because it was ridiculously, precisely pleasant. Ruined and yet intact enough that you can wander it’s pieces like a child giant had destroyed it for fun. Only it was the Civil War and quite a lot of powder that did this one in. Flowers grow from the walls, goats wander around, cream tea is served in plain sight. Its picturesque, Romantic overkill with Hobbiton in the distance. People fought and fucked and defecated here just like anywhere else but with time its all buried under an avalanche of quaint. In the course of this journey I encounter many castles, but this is one of my favorites because it is in pieces, not reconstructed, the lord and lady are not in residence. It’s a broken off piece of time with no connection to now, aside from rubes like me stumbling over the pieces and snapping images.
Next: The Durdle in the Door