My honeymoon included dog poop, burned hair and a family doctor (not in that order). And that’s not all that happened in those 10 days I spent traveling through England and Scotland on foot, in cabs, on trains, and in cars that I refused to drive. (Driving on the wrong side of the road freaked me the hell out). And did I mention that I brought way too much luggage? But the food was surprisingly good, like really good. All of those rumors I had heard about English food being bland weren’t true at all. I remember one meal in particular that showed its appreciation for my love of English food on my first night in London. But I’ll get to that embarrassing part in a wee bit.
First, I’d like to discuss the topic of dog poop. I have an issue with the excrement left by pooches. Why? Because whenever I step into the nookie cookies, there are witnesses. It’s bad enough that my foot has to get intimate with Le Turd, but do other people have to catch me in the act? It’s happened enough times that I’ve often wondered if I am being set up by the Gods of Poop. There have to be Gods of Poop. There are deities for everything. Isn’t God in everything? When it happens I’m reminded of the first time the tootsie roll squished between my toes. I was five and barefoot and running like the foul wind. My neighbor, Mr. Ziegler was taking some of the neighborhood kids out for a ride in an old car with a rumble seat but I had to go home to get permission from the folks. On my way back I stepped into their Labrador Retrievers doo-doo. They were yelling at me to hurry. I didn’t have time to clean up. So I climbed into the giant car and got caught a few minutes later. The stink gave me away.
Smelly Shelley. The nickname stuck.
Back to the honeymoon. I shouldn’t have had the champagne on the flight to London, compliments of the captain. Upon learning he had newlyweds on the plane he generously filled our glasses and we drank that entire generous bottle. We arrived at Heathrow Airport at 5 a.m. hung over and giddy-tired. What was I thinking? Bleary eyed and cranky, I dragged my way-too-much-luggage through the airport, onto a train, and then to our hotel in Kensington Place (Princess Diana used to live in the area. Never did see her but I got a nice postcard of her face).
We arrived too early. Our room wouldn’t be ready for a few hours so we crashed on the two couches in the lobby, which upset the butler type hotel guy a lot. He complained by clearing his throat until we woke up. Lying down wasn’t appropriate for guests, he told us, so we sat up with our eyes closed. When we did get to our room, there were two single beds instead of the King sized bed that I had requested from the travel agent. I cried. Buckets. It was our honeymoon after all, and the single beds were a bad omen (which came to be a symbol for our marriage that eventually ended in an amicable divorce). Apparently, champagne and jet lag made me a bit loco so my bewildered husband pushed the two beds together in an effort to appease his new wife. I cried harder.
After having slept off the hangover, I got ready for the evening. A night out at a local restaurant was just what I needed. I was getting my happy back on. So what if the beds were singles? I plugged my curling iron into the AC adapter that I had purchased just for the trip. It had several settings but I didn’t notice them until I put the curling iron to my hair and PPSSSTTT. A lock of my hair fell onto the dressing table. I blinked. The smell of burnt hair filled my nose. I BURNED MY HAIR OFF. Please God, not my hair. It was then that I noticed the setting on the AC adapter was on high. It should have said, WARNING: BROIL, BAKE OR FRY temperature. What an idiot. I grabbed some scissors in my little travel sewing kit and worked on my bangs until it was even on both sides. My bangs were shorter than I liked, and a bit crooked, but it would grow back. That’s what hair does. Besides, I was in Merry Olde England for goodness sakes, the place that I had dreamed of going all my life. What’s a little burnt hair compared to a dream come true?
We found a quaint Italian restaurant whose kitchen was in the basement and they used a dumb waiter to bring food up from below. The small square tables were sandwiched together and laid out cafeteria style, long rows five or six deep and you had to sit next to other diners. My husband sat across from me and we ordered our meals. The wine and salad arrived first. I savored the first few bites of English food. I was really here, the land where my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, and Charles Dickens had lived, and Rock Gods Led Zeppelin plus every other rock band I loved was here too. And don’t forget all of the glorious haunted castles, and there was Earl Grey Tea by the barrel. Pinch me.
The gentleman that sat next to my husband was finished his meal. He got up to leave. To let him by, my husband had to get out of his seat. And that’s when it happened, the food thing. My husband’s foot got hooked into the table stand below and the table tipped forward. Both salads, including the wine, a vase of flowers, napkins, forks, knives—all of it went right into my lap. Everyone in the restaurant clapped. My husband tried not to laugh. I was covered in food and wishing I could hit the rewind button.
We had four days to see England so we tried to squeeze in as much as possible before heading to Scotland. I was floating somewhere between delirious exhaustion and Anglophile gluttony. On the last day of sight seeing through the land of Kings and Queens we decided to visit the historic city of Bath and Stonehenge.
We took a train (best way to travel in the UK) to Bath first, and on the way back we planned to stop at the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire (I secretly crossed my fingers that we would run into rock legend Peter Gabriel. He lives in Bath). The ancient city of Bath became a spa with the Latin name Aquae Sulis in 60 AD when the Romans built a bathing complex over the hot springs. The museum we visited housed some artifacts that were excavated and the most fascinating were the curse tablets. Archeologists discovered shiny messages inscribed in metal that were curses written in Latin, by people who felt wronged by another. I bet anyone that had severe body odor had an avalanche of curses heaped upon them, which had to be many people since they didn’t wear deodorant or bathe much, which was why they were all at the hot springs in the first place. And anyone named Smelly Shelley would not be admitted upon the pain of death.
After a nice lunch (no sign of Peter), we hopped on the train and headed for Stonehenge. Funny thing about traveling, you tend underestimate the time it takes to do things. When we arrived at the depot and asked for arrangements for getting to the monument, we were told it would close in thirty minutes. No cab would get us there in time.
“Not so,” said the tall man sitting in the lobby and wearing a tweed cap. “I can get you there in time. Come with me.”
So twenty minutes and a stomach churning cab ride through the sheep littered countryside later, we arrived at Stonehenge. They were just closing the gate as we pulled up. The cabbie pleaded with the gatekeeper, telling him that we were newlyweds, and by golly they let us in, and not only that, we got a private tour. Imagine being the only two people strolling around the famous stones at sunset with a guide. Priceless.
To top off our surprisingly good fortune we stopped in for a tasty beer (I had a lot of these) at the oldest pub in Salisbury, the Haunch of Venison. It was built in 1320 and had a mummified hand in the wall. I kid you not! The hand was found in the fireplace when the building was being remodeled and then it was placed in a display case upstairs, where we sat with the locals enjoying their libations. Someone had put an old deck of cards in the mummified hand that supposedly came from a cheating card player and legend had is that his spirit still roams the pub.
A female passenger had coughed and sneezed in the seat in front of me during the three-hour train ride north to Edinburgh, Scotland the next day. Little did I know that my good fortune was about to head south because of those evil germs. The plan was to spend a day in Edinburgh then head to Markinch to visit my relatives, relatives that I had never met before. It was the main reason for the trip to Scotland.
It was my Pop Pop who had inspired me. He had traveled to Scotland to visit his relatives on occasion and when he died, the contact had stopped. I always wanted to visit the UK, so when I was looking for places to go on a honeymoon, the idea to reestablish the connection was born. I penned a letter to the people my Pop Pop had visited, Nancy Coleville and Mable Crawford. Nancy was a family member and Mable was a friend that he had visited when he stayed in the Laurel Bank Hotel, the same hotel that we had planned to park it for a few days. It was going to be a great reunion. I couldn’t wait to meet my relatives and Mable.
Driving a car on the wrong side of the road is a major challenge if you’ve never done it before. I refused to drive the car we had decided to rent for traveling in Scotland because I knew that I’d get us into an accident. So my husband drove and almost had a head on coming out of the parking lot. He also missed hitting a dog, but ran over someone’s flowerpot. After some practice he got the hang of it, and while driving through the roundabouts, sometimes going around four or five times, he sang at the top of his lungs, the rock classic, Roundabout by Yes. By the third roundabout I was ready to shoot him.
The next day we were to meet my relatives, but there was one small problem. I was starting to feel ill. And I knew I was going to have to eat haggis, that lovely Scottish food no one wants to eat, and whatever else Nancy had so painstakingly prepared for my visit. I realized with a sinking pit feeling in my queasy stomach that I had caught whatever bug the woman on the train in the seat in front of me had.
Putting on a happy face, I entered the home of my twenty or so boisterous relatives that smoked like chimneys. The smoke made me gag so I escaped into the bathroom every chance I got and opened a window and stuck my aching head outside in the cold Scottish air. I barely touched my food and by the time we left I was feeling horrible, not only from the bug I had caught, but from the obvious disappointment Nancy felt after going through all the trouble to welcome me into their family and I could barely participate.
In the morning my husband called Nancy about my worsening condition and she sent her own doctor to come visit me in the hotel where I was staying. It was unbelievable but the doctor still made house calls. He diagnosed me with a sinus infection, so he wrote out a script and my husband took me to the local pharmacy. I waited in line with the other sniffling and sneezing Scots. Did you know that they have cough syrup for Tickly coughs or Sneezy ones? I busted out laughing, which caused a lot of stares. The shelves in the pharmacy were filled with these sorts of silly named products. Hey, I was a Yank in need of a chuckle.
After a day or two on the antibiotics I started to feel better. And even when I was ill, I kept drinking the beer. Did I mention how good the beer was in the UK? I could easily become a beeraholic living over the pond. It was that good. On the last day we were to be in Scotland we had planned to visit Mabel, the dear old lady friend that my Pop Pop was most likely enamored with, since he was a single man at the time.
In the morning we headed to her house. Mable lived across from an old church that we decided to visit first. I like reading the names and dates on tombstones, and the people who had lived and died before me, wondering what their lives were like. It’s the reason history fascinates me, and why I like to read historical novels or anything to do with the past. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces. But if I had a time machine I would never be home.
I forgot to mention that my husband said to watch out for the dog poop on the sidewalk, which I did on the way up the hill, but not on the way back down the hill. I’m a dog poop magnet remember? Mable’s house was immaculate and very English. She even had a picture of the Queen Elizabeth II on the hutch across from us. Apparently, Mable’s sister knew her well enough to have a picture taken with the Queen. Mabel was the sweetest lady. She even took us for a tour around her home. Her off white carpet gleamed in the morning light that streamed in her windows. It was a beautiful fall day. After seeing the upstairs, Mable had gone down first, followed by my husband. Mabel was staring at the carpet at the bottom of the stairs.
“What is this brown stuff on the carpet,” Mable said. “It wasn’t here before.” There were brown spots all over the clean carpet.
I was heading down the stairs when my husband, who was eye level with my feet, said, “Shelley, look at your foot, you have dog crap on it.” I could feel the Queen’s disapproving eyes on me as I turned beet red. The Gods of Dog Poop had struck again. Bad dog! Bad Shelley!
I assured Mable that dog poop was good luck for Scots as well as Americans as my husband and I took her cleaner and rags and furiously wiped up every spot on the carpet. Every one. Now when I travel I watch where I walk and take some wipes, antibiotics, and a pair of scissors just in case.