England with Friends
by Mike Bailey
|Kings, Queens, Roundabouts, Cathedrals, Castles, Spinnakers, Ferris Wheels, Ducks, Stones, Horses, Gift Shops, and Pubs.We saw them all...
|What can I say other than our trip to England in
April of 2007 was a dream of a lifetime for both
Deanna and myself.
We spent nine wonderful days with our great friends,
Debs and Martyn who, by the way, vacation with us
every year at Edisto Beach, South Carolina.
|Debs had a great week planned out for us and
allowed us to see the things that they were
proud of and wanted to share with us --
like Winchester Cathedral, the New Forest,
Portsmouth, Stonehenge, London,
and Windsor Castle.
Copyright (C) 2007, 2016 by Michael T. Bailey Sr., Marietta, Georgia.
All rights reserved. Reproduction, adaptation, or translation without prior
written permission is prohibited, except as allowed under copyright laws.
|Thank you Debs and Martyn, for a wonderful time ... "and a good time was had by all."|
|Menu of the day's events to help you read about our journey
We flew out of Atlanta Thursday night, April 5th, and slept for most of the long 8-hour flight.
When I had made the reservations, I had asked that Delta assign us bulkhead seats (more leg
room) based on Deanna's medical situation and they had done so without hesitation. Normally
these seats are only assigned at the gate on the day and time of departure.
Deanna did surprisingly well during the flight -- probably better than me. She was able to stretch
her legs out more and the flight attendants allowed her to use the first class section's lavatory
which was physically on the other side of our bulkhead. We had a late dinner, saw some movie start,
but by then we were soon snuggling up in our blankets with our eye shades on and dreaming
The next thing we knew it seemed, we were making our way through Gatwick Airport and British
Customs like seasoned travelers.
It had seemed that this day would never come. Deanna and I had wanted to visit with Debs and
Martyn ever since the first time they came over to visit and spend two weeks with us on vacation at
Edisto Beach, South Carolina. We had several trips planned to go visit with Debs and Martyn but
because of Deanna's pain levels flaring up all the time, we ended up canceling out trip after trip.
We had planned this current trip back in January and at the time, we were just praying that by the
time the trip actually rolled around, she would be having lots of good days with low levels of pain to
Then about two months ago, she was experiencing severe pain in her right knee and went to see her
doctor at the Sheppard Pain Center. Keep in mind that this new pain was in addition to the acute
sciatic pain that she was already experiencing that is associated with her Post-Polio Syndrome
condition. After X-rays and a physical examination of the knee confirmed that nothing structurally
was wrong with her knee, her doctor prescribed a special knee brace and a new sulfur-based anti-
inflammatory drug for her.
At first, the prescription for the new medication scared us because Deanna had noted on all her
records that she was allergic to sulfur-based drugs based on a severe reaction to it that she had
experienced as a teenager. The doctor said that was 40 years ago and that he had researched this
one and felt that she would do fine with it.
Fine does not cover it -- boom -- her pain was gone in one week! Not only was the knee pain gone
but low and behold, miracle upon miracle, the sciatic pain was GONE as well. She went from an
almost daily occurrence of pain (levels 4-9) to almost zero per day!
Oh, she still has some pain now, but even after cutting her pain medication in half, it stays down
around a level 0 and maybe up to a level 1 or 2 on a bad day. In the past, a bad day was level 7-10
(most people are tearing up with a level 4 or 5 pain).
It is almost impossible to describe to someone who is relatively pain free, what it means to feel
pain free when you have been in almost non-stop debilitating pain for over two years. Deanna was
like a new person now and even cried at times -- not because she was in a lot of pain -- but she
would suddenly realize that she did NOT hurt. That searing, gut wrenching pain in her back, hip,
right leg and foot was not there tormenting her as it had done for so long without hardly any let up.
Let NO one tell you that small miracles never happen.
Our entry into England was a breeze as compared to entering the United States from a foreign
departure point. When you land in Atlanta for example, it seems like you have to get checked and
approved by everybody from the Border Patrol to the Manager of Burger King.
Your ordeal starts innocently enough with getting past the US Border Patrol scanning your passport
and asking questions like, "Why are you entering the United States, Mr. Bailey?" Then, just when
you think you are done, you have to pass through the US Department of Agriculture inspection --
"Have you stepped in any farm poop, Mr. Bailey?"
Then you go back through a full scale security and metal detection check again (like we had just
walked onto the airplane in England, straight from the street). After gathering your belongings up
and putting your shoes, jackets, etc, back on, you make your way to an area to claim your baggage.
Then after claiming all your baggage, you drag it with you through the US Customs Inspectors.
There, you hand your itemized Entry Form with all your purchases on it to a bored official who
also scans your Passport again, and off you go -- but with one minor exception.
Just when you think you are finally free, you find out that no, you have to then chuck all of your
baggage BACK onto conveyor belts so you can THEN get into Hartsfield-Jackson International
Once inside, you then ride the train to Baggage Claim so you can wait another 30 minutes to an hour
to reclaim your baggage AGAIN and THEN you can head out and be on your way -- "Welcome to
the United States!"
We were done in less than 30 minutes in Gatwick. First, with me pushing Deanna in her wheelchair
for what seemed like nine long miles, we had made our way from the gate area to the baggage claim
area. There, I picked up a FREE baggage cart and waited for our bags to pop out. Surprisingly,
unlike Atlanta, we waited less than five minutes -- we were speechless. After piling all of our stuff
onto the cart, we headed for Customs and after a warm welcome and a few questions, bada bing,
bada boom, "Welcome to the United Kingdom."
We had MADE it -- we were in England.
Debs and Martyn were waiting on us when we came out of the Customs area and were their faces
and wide smiles ever a sight for tired eyes. After lots of hugs and kisses, we made our way out to
their new Volkswagen Passat car and with Martyn’s ever skillful packing skills, he had all of our
luggage plus Deanna's wheelchair loaded into the trunk and we were off for their home in
Basingstoke -- about 47 miles southwest of London.
They had decided beforehand to drive all the way back to their home via backroads to give us a
small flavor for the English countryside and villages that we were soon wandering through. It was
a great introduction to their country and we loved every mile of the trip. We slipped through the
beautiful villages of Reigate, Dorking, Guilford, Aldershot, and finally through the outskirts of
One of the first things we noticed, other than the fact that they drive on the WRONG side of the
road, was that every road seemed to be lined with either walls -- like within cities -- or hedges
about five feet tall when we were out on the open road. Martyn told us that the hedges were all
cut to the same height -- either by the County road maintenance crews or by the land
Every home seemed to be walled off from their neighbor's house. Kids played either in community
park areas, or across the front yards of their houses and/or in the streets (if on a small quiet one
like in the subdivision were Debs lived). Tearing out across the backyards of homes (like I did
growing up in a small town in South Carolina) was definitely out of the question here because all of
the backyards were the gardens and they were almost universally walled in by 7-foot high fences.
The roadside scenery was picture perfect in any direction we looked as we sped along. All of the
fields were either freshly cut or were just in the initial stages of new spring crops and in lots of
places, it was just clean, freshly plowed earth. Everything seemed so neat, all things in their place,
etc. -- tidy -- understand?
Another thing I noticed as we sped through the countryside was what appeared to be the total
absence of trash -- both roadside or farm/homeside trash and junk. To the traveler, the
countryside looked clean and unspoiled.
If trash was there, I didn't notice it or it was well hidden from public view. I realized right quick
that I was probably not going to see anywhere in the English countryside, a sight found in some
rural areas of America (and a few in towns).
Some people's yards contained everything that had ever been purchased (or home built) in their
lifetime, or in their father's or grandfather's lifetime, and had just been thrown out into the yard
when it broke or was no longer needed.
If ever questioned about why they did not just haul it off and dispose of it properly, the universal
answer was always, "Heck, I might need it or a part off of it -- tomorrow!"
The English countryside was captivating us with its natural beauty. We saw beautiful field after
field planted with Rapeseed that produced plants about two feet high that were flowering yellow.
At times because of the light or distance viewed, they seemed to appear golden in color or a
mixture of both.
I found out later that rapeseed is one of the leading contenders for making biodiesel fuels in the
UK and in Europe. At times, we would see what looked like hundreds and hundreds of acres
glimmering yellow/gold in the morning sunlight. It was quite a breathtaking sight.
Basingstoke, Sandpiper Way, United Kingdom -- we were there -- we were finally at Debs and
Debs had told us for years that they lived in a small house (even though it was two stories) but I
guess we were not really prepared for small in reality. While their home was beautiful inside, it
was just smaller than the house we were used to living in. Size is relative anyway and by the end
of the week, everything seemed normal -- it was home -- understand?
Martyn had added a one-story room extension at the back of the house about a year ago and
although this addition added enormous room to the dinette/kitchen area, it unfortunately reduced
the size of their backyard (garden).
The English garden, whether at the front or rear of their home, appears to be as cherished an item
of possession as just about anything a British homeowner could have or desire. I noticed even in the
local paper or advertisements for homes for sale, just about all listed the property with the magic
words, "With a Garden."
The small garden area out back was grassed and had bushes and flowering shrubs along the fences
on all three sides and a small tool shed in one corner. In addition to the larger plants, Debs had all
sorts of plants growing in containers (clay pots, etc,) and even had a small water feature that
allowed water to bubble out over rocks, etc. There was a neat deck area up towards the kitchen
that ran along the side of the extension that Martyn had built that was great for just sitting out in
the sun or enjoying a meal out in the fresh air.
Debs' two dogs had worn a path from the deck area to the upper left corner of the back fence.
There was a slight crack in the fence there that they could see out of and into the street area
behind the house. They would hear something out in the street area and go running over to that
corner to see what it was. Most of the time, they just looked and every now and then would give a
bark or two to things that were new or strange to them.
Debs' house itself was one side of a two-home structure. It looked like to me as the week wore on
that a lot of the housing in England was this type of home structure whereas there were two or
more family units per building.
We saw very few single-family homes -- and those that we did must have cost a fortune, regardless
of how old they were. We also noticed that almost all of the houses were constructed of brick (or
stone) and had reddish-brown clay or dark grey slate type tiles for roofing -- not a single asphalt
shingle in the bunch.
The front yard of their house was small (as were most yards that we saw ) -- with a brick driveway
on the right side up to their single car garage, and then a small grass area that ran from the
sidewalk up to the front of the house and along side of a small enclosed entry way.
Entry into Debs' house was through the entry way (glass windows on one side, doors on both ends
and a coat rack on the garage side), and then into a small living room. With a huge widescreen TV
and comfortable couches, it looked like a great place to hang out and watch sports and movies. At
the back right corner of the room were two doors -- one into the kitchen/dinette area and one for
the switch-back stairs to the second floor.
The back wall of the kitchen and dinette area used to be the end of the house. This whole area
looked huge now because it was off of the dinette side of this area that Martyn had busted out
the rear wall and added on the extension to the house. The workmanship done by Martyn here and
throughout the whole house was just outstanding. I can now really appreciate why he is
called/entitled a Master Woodworker.
The kitchen side of the room had a galley type layout -- walk in with a path between opposing
countertops, beautiful white cabinets, and ending with a countertop and white cabinets across the
end. It was very efficient and well laid out, including a window over the sink looking out onto the
deck area behind the house and into the garden. The refrigerator sat under the counter. While it
seemed strange to see a refrigerator installed there, Debs said that was the norm there and that a
larger one was usually located in a utility room or some place like that (like theirs was).
The extension room that Martyn had built was bright, open, and airy looking -- lots of glass to see
out into the garden area and a huge glass door leading out to the deck area. The floors, as were
throughout the entire house, were a light colored oak wood flooring. Debs had her computer set up
in one corner and there was another widescreen TV in the other corner with two great reclining
chairs in front of it. Oh yeah, I could get used to this :-)
The other door out of the front living room opened up to a set of steps to the upstairs with a half
bath under the stairs to the left after it switched back to reach the second floor. Opposite the
bathroom door was a door to a utility room that contained another refrigerator with a freezer, and
This utility area was part of the single car garage that was on the right side of the house. I asked
Martyn about this (the garage) one time and he just looked at me, grinned, and said it was filled to
the brim with stuff. Since he was well familiar how filled to the brim with stuff my garage was, I
knew there was no need to press for any more details :-)
The steps went up in a tall and bright open area -- the ceiling was the upstairs' ceiling level. There
was a window at the switch back point and then the stairs ended at a small landing. Off of this
landing were two bedrooms (theirs and a guest bedroom) and a smaller room with a single bed and
countertop unit with shelving in it that Debs used for her scrapbooking hobby. When Sophie and
Lee (their niece and nephew) come from Portsmouth to visit, Lee sleeps in the scrapbooking room
and Sophie sleeps in the guest bedroom that faces the backyard, oops -- sorry -- garden.
While Deanna stayed in Lee's room, I stayed in Sophie’s room while we visited and enjoyed it. It
had recently been totally redone by Debs and Martyn and I got to use it before Sophie did --
sorry Sophie. :-)
I opened the windows in my room at night to let in the cool air and also to listen to the night-time
sounds. However, that had its drawbacks. Around dawn, birds started to call and chirp and for
the most part, they were welcomed sounds. However, in addition to those normal bird calls were
not only the coos of doves that must have been as big as eagles (based of the loudness of their
cooing), there was some other kind of bird in the area whose call was, oh lets see, just totally
OBNOXIOUS. No sleeping late in that room if the windows were open!
There was also a small full bathroom off of the landing area. What we noticed right off about the
bathroom was that there were no electrical outlets in the room and that the light switch was a
fancy heavy cord with a weight on it right by the door to be used to activate the light. This was
standard in all houses as Martyn said electrical outlets, switches, etc., were not allowed within
bathrooms. You could have the light switch on the outside of the bathroom, by the door for
example, as was the case for the half bath downstairs.
Another thing that Deanna and I noticed right off was that even though all the windows in the
house opened (could be) to the outside, there were NO screens. It must be nice to not have to
worry about mosquitoes buzzing around you. If we tried that here, our house would be full of bugs
in about two minutes. While I'm quite sure that our two black Ninja Terrorist blood-sister cats --
Trixie and Alice -- might enjoy that, we would not.
No matter, the whole house was absolutely beautiful inside and I could see both Debs and Martyn's
touches everywhere -- from the decorations and finishing touches in every room to the woodwork
and other things that Martyn had installed and/or painted.
Bailey and Eddie -- Debs' two Miniature Schnauzer dogs -- had greeted us like long lost cousins
when we arrived. The boys, as everyone calls them collectively, were as cute and full of themselves
as Debs had described to us.
When we first arrived, they could still smell our two cats on us. We had really loved up on Trixie
and Alice real good just before we had left our house Thursday night and the boys just could not
figure us out (the scents of our cats on us). Anyway, they accepted us and had no trouble for the
rest of our stay with jumping up in our laps and snuggling in for either a nap or some loving of
We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon sharing a few beers and glasses of wine and catching
up on things. Early that evening, we took off for a short drive down towards Winchester to huge a
roadside pub call the "Wheatsheaf Inn & Pub."
This was our first experience in an English pub and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The pub
was nice, filled with happy people, and had lots of neat booths, cozy corners, and small tables to sit
at and have an almost private time with your guests. With the lights low and warm, the atmosphere
was wonderful -- I could get used to this, oh yeah, REAL quick! :-)
Our very long journey was finally catching up with us and we told them that it was time for us to
call it a day, or was it night -- we were lost in a time warp it seemed. Thankfully, Martyn was
driving because I had no earthly idea how to get back to their house because of all the roundabouts
that we had used to get here (more on those little darlings of British inventions later).
Soon we were back to their house and bedtime was not too far away. Deanna and I headed for our
bedrooms upstairs and soon, I was lying there in the dark and listening to the night-time noises
outside through my opened window.
My mind was still racing, but I could feel the breaks being applied as the events of the past 24
hours rushed through my mind in a blinding blur. Soon I started seeing things in slow motion as the
quiet English night caressed me and allowed me to slip away into a peaceful night of much
Debs had lots of things planned out for our week with them and Saturday morning after a great
breakfast, we headed south for the historical and ancient city of Winchester -- home of King
Alfred the Great (became King in 871) and of course, Winchester Cathedral.
Once again we were out on the open road and seeing the beautiful English countryside. In some
ways, all of it was the same as back home -- green forests, pasture lands, farm houses, cross roads,
crazy drivers -- then at the same time, it was all different somehow.
The city of Winchester was absolutely beautiful. With a population of about 50,000 people and
the county seat of Hampshire County, it is a wonderful blend of today's modern, fast-paced society
and her heritage rich and historically-linked past such as Winchester Cathedral, still the longest
medieval church in Europe.
We parked the car in a park now/pay later parking lot (would see lots of them during the coming
week) and walked towards the bridge on High Street over the Itchen River and the beginning of our
tour through the city.
We started walking through the downtown area along High Street, also known as The Broadway, for
about a block or so before reaching that portion of High Street where no cars were allowed. There
was a beautiful flowering garden all along the left side of the street for that first block and it was
beautiful -- just what we expected to see in an English city.
We immediately fell in love with the pedestrian-only atmosphere and quickly fell into full fledged
window shopping mode and just playing tourist. From the river up to Southgate St., about eight
blocks away where the pedestrian-only section ends, High Street steadily goes uphill and then up
steeply for the last few blocks.
The architecture of the buildings along the street was fantastic -- the old and new blended
perfectly together. Lots of businesses even had the old traditional signs hanging out front whereas
the shape of an object told of the stores purpose -- such as a huge boot or tea pot. The street was
bustling with weekend and holiday shoppers and tourists as we were. There were street
performers, music, it was fun, it was exciting, it was very British, and we loved it.
We paused a while for coffee at a small outside café and rested our legs a bit and just watched all
the folks touring and shopping. It was a beautiful day and the street was alive with laughter, smiles,
and good times.
Afterwards, we continued on up High Street and then turned left and went over a block to go
though the Great Hall -- the finest medieval Great Hall in England and the only remaining part of
the 13th Century Winchester Castle that remains above ground. The Great Hall was built in 1232-
1240 by Henry III, and sat on the high ridge in the center of town when Winchester was the
ancient Capital of Wessex.
Hanging on the wall at one end of the hall is the Round Table of King Arthur. This isn't the real
Round Table of legend, but rather a version made for King Edward I (1272-1307), a king known
for his interest in the Arthurian legend. Originally it was undecorated, but a young Henry VIII
had it painted for a visit by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Built around 1280, the table is HUGE -- 18 feet in diameter, weighs 2400 pounds, made of 121
pieces of oak, and had been hanging there for 700 years. Seemed strange -- over here (the U.S.),
something is old if it is 50-75 years old.
Even though this particular table has been scientifically dated back to the 1200s, it in no way
proves the existence of King Arthur himself -- as described in the legends of King Arthur -- who
reportedly lived during the 6th century.
King Arthur's famous Round Table was first mentioned in about 1155, in Wace's "Roman de Brut," a
rewrite of the first popular Arthurian novel, Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of
Britain," published in about 1136.
It is common there in England to have stuff all around you that is hundreds and hundreds of years
old. Sometimes, you see or hear the term, thousand such as, "This castle or church, whatever, has
been here for over a thousand years!" A THOUSAND years old -- we do good here it seems, to
keep a building up 50 years before it either rots, falls over, or someone wants to tear it down and
build another one.
As we left the Great Hall area, we made or way back over to High Street and then Debs and I
climbed up into the remains of the West Gate -- one of the two remaining 12th century stone
structured gateways into medieval Winchester and part of the original 12th century fortress wall
of Winchester Castle that once stood here.
After climbing up a long set of stone steps and passing through a mini-museum and gift shop, we
stepped out onto the roof after ducking out of a doorway that was only about four feet tall. Once
outside, we went over to a short wall, climbed up on a small ledge beside it, and could then see out
over all of Winchester below us and then way on past that towards the hills in the distance.
It was quite a view and for just a second or two, I tried to imagine what it was like maybe 500
years ago -- what would I have seen or heard from this very vantage point? That thought haunted
me for a while. Debs and I were actually standing on the exact same physical structure that was
there 500 years ago and people had stood on the very same spots we were now standing on. What
did they see, what did they hear, and I wondered if they thought about who was there
The question in my mind that bothered me the most was did any of those people standing there
then ever think that one day -- 500 years later -- someone would be standing right where
With heavy thoughts like these, I knew it was time to find a pub. We waved to Deanna and Martyn
way down below and then headed back down and back out onto the street with them.
It was lunch time and as we walked back down High Street, we finally settled on a pub -- "The
Royal Oak" -- for lunch that billed itself as the oldest bar in all of England. We walked up a
narrow alley way off of High Street and entered the pub.
The people who worked there told us of old tunnels that ran under the building that were used for
centuries to let people move about under ground (escape routes during times of war, sneaking
around from the Cathedral to pubs, who knows). The actual "oldest bar" was below street level and
was reported to have had access to some of the old tunnels.
We enjoyed a quick meal of burgers and a round or two of their best draft beers from the bar. I
was still finding it hard to get used to having to go up to the bar yourself and order your own drink
and then carry it back to your own table. But, we were in England and this was an English pub and I
had no problems at all following their rules. Besides, bottom line was that when it was all over, the
results were the same -- "And a good time was had by all." :-)
We walked around some more and then walked over to Winchester Cathedral itself. It was
magnificent -- standing tall and basking in the warm sunshine. There was something about her that
just drew you to her -- made you want to go inside.
There has been a Cathedral in Winchester since about 648 AD. The foundations of the current
Cathedral were laid out in 1079 by Walkelin, the first Norman Bishop. To this new building
(consecrated in 1093) the relics of St. Swithin were solemnly transferred, 15 July, and the `Old
Minster´ was torn down. The Norman cathedral measured 535 ft in length, the longest then and
now in existence.
You have to stand inside a cathedral to appreciate its magnificence and beauty. Words, pictures --
even though descriptive -- do not begin to show you the true essence of a cathedral. To fully
appreciate a cathedral’s almost magical effect on you, you have to stand there and be humbled by
hundred-foot tall ceilings above you, see sunlight spilling in through beautiful stained glass windows
and sense, almost feel an aura about it all that makes you truly feel that you ARE in a special place
Jane Austen, the great English novelist whose works include "Pride and Prejudice," lived in
Winchester from 1817 until her death and is buried in the Cathedral.
Afterwards, we walked though the buildings of Winchester College, then down past Wolvesey
Castle (where the bishop of Winchester Cathedral has always lived), and walked about some of the
old castle ruins there. Leaving the ruins, we then walked alongside a beautiful flowing river -- the
Itchen -- that flows right through the center of town. When we reached High Street where the
bridge is over the river, we had a few rounds at a fantastic pub -- "The Bishop on the River" --
right there by the river
As I talked about before, I had already learned from Martyn that it is the custom for you, the pub
patron, to stand at the bar and order all your drinks and carry them back to your table. If they
serve food you still stand at the bar and order, but generally, they then bring out the food to
Sometimes, you might give them a table number (if you have even bothered to look) or in several
places we attended, the bartender gave me a long handled wooden spoon with a number painted in
the bowl part. In those cases, the tables usually had a hole drilled in them near the edge and you
just stuck your spoon into the hole and pointed the number so that a server could see it. Rarely
did/does a waitress take your order and deliver everything to your table.
We enjoyed this pub -- old, well appointed with great furniture, paintings, etc., and full of laughter,
and smiling faces. It was situated right there on the Itchen River and the views, either out of the
windows or off the terrace out back were great. Across the river from us was an older looking
building that also had a back terrace on it facing the river. This place must have been a dedicated
bachelor's pad because four or five young men were out there grilling, drinking, and having a great
time. Soon, some young women arrived and the party was in full swing.
What caught our eye over there was the game they were playing. Each person had a 6-inch high
golfer attached to a long shank (like on a golf club) and the golfer was operated by the person
holding the shank. They could, with what looked like a trigger device, make the tiny golfer swing at
and HIT a tiny golf ball placed on a tiny teeing green placed on the floor.
As you can imagine, this obviously skill required game was being very enthusiastically played by the
young men who were well primed for the tasks at hand. Surprisingly, some of them could whack the
ball quite far and one time, I saw one hit it over the small wall on the river side of their terrace and
into the river it went. Lots of laughter and ribbing followed.
Finishing up our pints, we worked our way back outside and then we walked back across the river
and on to the car park. After paying the parking fee, we headed for home.
Trying to learn your way around in England is difficult. Back home, it is easy -- go to the light turn
left or right, go 4 blocks, turn left, etc. Here, there are FEW lights and they drive on the left side
of the road. Roundabouts appear to be replacements for lights at lots of intersections. Therefore,
it seems like you are always going in a circle to turn and you loose your built-in tracking scheme that
you were using to help you remember how you got somewhere and then how to return.
Roundabouts that we saw cover the waterfront in sizes -- from 6-foot in diameter painted white
dots at a tiny intersection, to middle size ones that you can see across and generally figure out
where you are going to go. Then there are the large roundabouts. These have mini-parks inside,
trees, etc., and you can not see the other side so when you head around, you are constantly looking
for where you need to get off (out?) of the roundabout.
It is these large ones that can screw up your sense of direction as to where you thought you were
going. You do not know if you actually ended up just going on in the same original direction when you
exited the roundabout or actually made a right-hand turn to your original direction of travel.
Back home at Debs, we completed a beautiful day by enjoying a few beers and pizza and settled in
to watch a movie that Debs had called, "Night at the Museum." This movie was great -- one that
the kids (young and old) would enjoy.
Later on up in my room, I lay in bed and thought about all of today's events. I had seen one of the
most beautiful cathedrals in the world and actually touched things -- structures, walls, etc. -- that
were a thousand years old in their place as part of history. I was in some ways, numbed and
humbled by it all but over all, elated inside at having seen, touched, and been moved by history
that spanned a millennium.
Thank you, Debs and Martyn, for sharing Winchester with Deanna and me today. We felt awed and
humbled by the beauty of the things we saw and at the same time, laughed and had a great time
bumming around with two of our most cherished friends.
After a light breakfast and a quick trip to an ATM machine to get some money, we headed
southwest once again towards Southampton and then on to Lyndhurst and the New Forest. As we
sped past the road signs for Winchester, I felt like I was already starting to feel at home -- I
knew where we were.
Each mile of our daily adventures brought new sights and experiences for us to enjoy
I always sat in the front seat, on the left-hand side, and more than once I would have a mental
shudder when I suddenly realized that there was NO steering wheel in front on me. However, it
was nice to be able to just sit there and enjoy the road, so to speak. Deanna and I love to travel --
especially by car when we just hit the road and have no real idea where we are headed and could
care less about the time that is slowly ticking by.
I felt the same way this morning -- speeding along a road with continual beautiful vistas for us to
see and enjoy. Each new curve in the road brought something new to see. I was fascinated by the
signs along the highway, especially those that showed with accurate drawings of the intersection,
which direction a destination was from the road you were traveling on. Back home, you generally
have to exit a roadway and then at the end of an off ramp, look for a tiny sign with an arrow on it
pointing to the town you are looking for.
The New Forest is actually a National Park now of about 144 square miles (about 93,000 acres) of
old ancient forests and lands that belongs mostly to the Crown (about 72%) and the rest to private
ownership, and of course, to the animals. Horses, ponies, jackasses, pigs -- all roam free -- even in
the towns within the boundaries.
There are just a few other places in England where the ancient landscape has remained so
unchanged. In 1079 when William the Conqueror named the area his "new hunting forest", little
could he imagine that nearly 1,000 years later his "Nova Foresta" would still retain its mystery
Once we passed the cutoff for Winchester, everything was new to us -- the landscape and the new
villages and towns that we passed through. Since this was Easter weekend, the roads seemed to be
filled with people on holiday and not only traveling by car, but by bicycles and motorcycles as well.
There are lots of motorcycles in England and with the current price of gas in the UK of about 3
pounds, 80 pence per U.S. gallon ($7.50 a gallon), I can see why. The thing that I noticed today
and throughout the rest of our visit, was that motorcyclists drive differently from what we are
seeing back home. For instance, it is very common here to see motorcyclists (on a multiple lane
road) just drive right up between a long line of cars that are backed up for a light or something.
Martyn (an avid motorcyclist himself) said, yeah, they all did it -- "That's just how we do it here."
I was always nervous when they did that near us -- I was so afraid that someone (in a car) might
make a sudden turn and boom, someone would get hurt.
Soon, we passed through the very old town of Romsey (dates back well over a 1,000 years) and as
we were leaving it on the other side, we passed by what was obviously a very large and beautiful
place. The wall around it alongside the road seemed to stretch for miles. This was Broadlands, the
former home of Lord Louis Mountbatten who was murdered by the IRA in Ireland in 1979. His
grandson, Lord Romsey lives there now.
We arrived in Lyndhurst around noon and Martyn found a public parking location and we made our
way over to the New Forest Museum & Library right there by the parking lot. I could have spent
hours in there -- it was well laid out and had so many neat things to see and read about. After about
45 minutes, we were all starting to grumble with hungry pains and we headed over to the center of
town to find us a pub.
Luck was with us -- the "Fox and Hounds Pub" right was right there in the middle of Lyndhurst on
High Street. We had lunch out back in a garden terrace area. Martyn and I ordered our drinks
and food at the bar and after the bartender asked me what our table number was, he presented us
with a long-handled wooden spoon -- festively painted -- with our number showing in the bowl of the
spoon. Outside on our table, I noticed the hole drilled in the end of it and promptly posted
When we had first approached the pub, we noticed that there were two ways to get there -- one
was through the pub itself and then out a back door to the terrace, and the other was through a
tight squeeze. When I say tight, I mean tight.
To the left of the building, there was a tiny passageway (alley?) between the pub and the building
next to it. It was funny watching people trying to squeeze through there and you know who (D) just
HAD to go that way when we left after lunch.
When we got back out on High Street after a great meal of hamburgers and the likes -- with a cool
one to wash it down, of course -- Martyn and I sat on a bench out in front of the pub. While the
girls were off shopping, we sat there in the warm sun and just watched all the thousands of tourist
pouring through town on bicycles and cars.
Bicycles! They are everywhere by the thousands -- it was like Lyndhurst was being invaded. Not
long after Martyn and I had sat down on the bench, a group of about 25 of them stopped at the
pub and within seconds, the whole front of the pub, including blocking the narrow alley that Deanna
had used, was solid bikes -- it looked like a used car (bike) lot.
During our week-long visit, we saw bicycles on all the roads that we traveled on except the "M"
roads (like our Interstates). A lot of the roads (the rural ones) are generally narrow to start with
and with the bicycles and motorcycles on the road with you, it can get quite close at times.
Sometimes, I just closed my eyes and prayed that Martyn would get us past or through some very
After the girls finished shopping, we made our way back to the car and took off to go into the
actual forest area itself. We had already seen horses wandering around freely when we had
approached Lyndhurst. It was fascinating and beautiful at the same time to see them just there --
grazing along the side of the road, or in a park, or in someone's front yard.
It was a great, relaxing trip driving through the forest (park) and at one place where we got out of
the car to look at the largest oak tree (in diameter) in England, the horses were all around us.
Deanna was beside herself-- she was so excited to able to just walk amongst them and not have
them bolting away in fright. I have to admit that I was also excited. How often do you get to go
into a natural place, like a National Forest, and be surrounded by very large animals that are not
Near the famed oak tree, there was this one horse that just fell in love with Deanna and had no
fear about walking right up to her and nuzzling her. He would check us out also, but he kept coming
back to Deanna. I was not sure if he was just fascinated by the color of her outfit, all bright blue,
or maybe because of a scent that she might have been carrying that smelled like FOOD to him.
Whatever it was, he just kept after her and nuzzling her. Deanna loved all this until the horse got a
little carried away and gently bit her on the arm. She was wearing a long sleeve outfit and that
prevented her from getting hurt but it did tear the fabric just a bit. She was on the phone at the
time talking with Ashley back home and it looked like she was dialing 911 for help. I just kept
taking pictures and laughed...
All throughout the park, people were pulled over in tiny, off the road places and were just sitting
out in chairs either in the sun or in some shade and just taking in the day. This park was USED by
the people and it felt good to see so many of them taking advantage of a very special place.
As I noted earlier, this was Easter weekend and I guess that with the holidays, more than normal
crowds of people were mingling all about England since the weather was so great. We were there
for 10 days and never saw a drop of rain plus, the days were warm (much more than normal) and
people were taking full advantage of what I now have been told was a rare week in early spring
We next went to a farm location right off the road and bought some Cider products that were
made right there. There were horses everywhere -- even one lying down in the pasture and taking
a nap near where we had parked the car. There were also chickens everywhere and this one rooster
just followed us around thinking maybe we were going to give it something to eat, I guess. Anyway,
the Cider made here is the best tasting Cider I have had -- loved it.
We continued on through the forest towards the southeast and ended our tour of the New Forest
in the beautiful old village of Beaulieu. Being a long hot day and all, we of course had a round at a
great pub there -- "Monty’s Bar & Brasserie" at the Montagu Arms Hotel right in the middle of
Horses and jackasses wandered right through the village like they owned the place. When we came
out of the pub, Deanna went out first and as she stepped out onto the sidewalk, she was greeted by
the loud braying of an old jackass. The sound scared her to death as the jackass was literally just
two feet behind her. I guess he was ticked off that she had the nerve to step out in front of HIM
and interrupt his journey though town.
After allowing him to pass, we followed him though the village as he seemed to know where he was
going and soon, he wandered across the bridge over the Beaulieu River and came to rest next to the
entrance to Beaulieu Palace House.
Palace House, built in the 14th Century and formerly the Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey, is a
mixture of Victorian Gothic, medieval Gothic, and 18th century fortification styles. Sitting there
now by the Beaulieu River, it and the surrounding landscape is just overwhelmingly beautiful and
peaceful. No wonder then, that the grass over here was a favorite spot for the old jackass.
Beaulieu Abbey was founded in 1204 by Cistercian monks on land given to them by King John.
Unfortunately, most of the Abby was destroyed (on purpose) at the time of the "Dissolution of the
Monasteries" during the reign of Henry VIII. There are some parts of it still there like the Domus,
once the lay brothers' refectory, and is now regularly used for special events, etc.
After looking around a bit we said goodbye to the jackass and walked back over the bridge and to
our car. Horses were still everywhere -- just grazing on street corners, the sides of the roads,
everywhere. It was amazing and at the same time, it all seemed right -- natural -- like it was
supposed to be that way.
A while later, we drove back though the tiny village of Hursley where IBM has quite a large
research laboratory. IBM has been my employer for the past 40 years -- God, I need to retire.
Anyway, for some reason, I had always thought that Hursley was a huge place but instead, found
the area to be very English countryside looking, complete with a neat and tidy village.
Soon, we were once again passing field after field planted in rapeseed as we headed back to
Basingstoke. At times, it seemed like someone had flown over the land and just spray painted
everything a beautiful golden yellow.
We were traveling back home on the Winchester Road that follows the path of an old Roman road.
History -- England is filled with it -- even the roads have their own share of the famed past.
Local history says that a Roman building of some sort existed by the road very near the
Wheatsheaf Inn where we ate Friday night (and have just passed by again on our way back to
Basingstoke). On the north side of Basingstoke is a road called -- you guessed it -- the Roman
Road, headed towards Silchester that dates back to 50 AD. Talk about an old road -- and still in
use -- the Romans would be proud.
Soon, we were at the outskirts of Basingstoke and zipping around the Kempshott Roundabout and
then after peeling off to the left and on to Heather Way, we were almost home. Next, we hit
Kempshott Lane, turned right then down one block to Gracemere Crescent, turned left and finally
after about four blocks distance, I could see Martyn’s white work van and I knew that home on
Sandpiper Way was just two short, quick right turns away.
While Martyn actually parks his van on Gracemere Crescent, he is parked right behind their house
over on Sandpiper Way. He is literally parked only five feet from the fence at the back of his
garden, but with no entry way allowed from that direction, he has to walk all the way around to
Sandpiper Way to get to his house.
Anyway, this was getting scary -- I was actually starting to get the hang of the roads now. I
basically knew where I was -- I think. Lord, I hope Martyn does not go a different way tomorrow.
We stayed home that night and enjoyed a light, easy meal with some great cheeses, breads, and of
course, some great wines (and beers that Martyn had stashed out in the second refrigerator in the
utility room). With a great day behind us and a knowing that we had a very long day ahead of us
tomorrow, Deanna and I said good night and headed off to upstairs for the night.
I laid there in the dark with my window opened listening to the night-time sounds and thought about
the day that Deanna and I had just experienced. We had seen so much beauty and peacefulness --
in the natural surroundings that we had visited and with all the people we saw and encountered
along the way. It was all in order, understand? It was a wonderful day that allowed us to not only
just see simple, but beautiful things, but also how peaceful the two halves -- natural and people --
coexisted together so easily.
Thank you, Debs and Martyn, for sharing this most fascinating day with us.
I turned 65 years old today. When I woke up, I didn’t know whether to cry or shout out, "Look at
me … I made it to 65 … I am now a 100% official senior citizen!"
In reality, it was just another day in my life and another wonderful day of our great vacation was
ahead of us.
Since this was going to be a full, long day, we were up early and once again headed south out of
Basingstoke and headed for Portsmouth down along the coast. Debs grew up there and her parents
still live there. Our plan for today was to tour the old wharf area there in Portsmouth, then where
she grew up, and then on to her parents house that night for dinner.
Our trip started out with dense fog in places but as we made our way further south, the skies
cleared and by the time we arrived in Portsmouth, the sun was out and another beautiful day was in
In no time at all, Martyn had woven his way through town and we were approaching the old historic
wharf area of Portsmouth. Then I started to get glimpses of it -- a towering, narrow white
structure -- that jutted straight up into the sky and had what looked like a sweeping curve of a sail
attached to it.
The closer we got, the taller it got and I soon realized that you could go up in it --I could see
windows up near the very top of the sail looking thing. I immediately told myself under my breath,
I hope those people up there are enjoying themselves because there is no way in h*** I am going
Soon, we were parked and making our way over to the wharf area. Portsmouth, like so many other
cities around the world, has revitalized its waterfront area and has made fantastic new areas for
people to come and enjoy the views and see the historic area in a new light. Here now in this part
of Portsmouth were shops, pubs, restaurants, and people -- LOTS of people -- all over the
waterfront and having a great time on a warm, beautiful spring morning.
I fell in LOVE with this place on the spot. As we had made our way over here from the car park,
Debs had told me that the towering structure that we had been seeing for miles -- and now was
literally looming right above us here at the water’s edge -- was something called the
Lord, it was beautiful. A snow white concrete and steel structure, it soared 557 feet into the sky
above the historic harbor. My heart pounded with appreciation for the structure and its beauty
-- it looked like a billowing spinnaker sail on mast, hence its namesake. My heart also pounded with
fear when Debs announced that she had a surprise for us -- she had reserved tickets for us and a
special emergency chair reserved for Deanna in case the elevator broke and we had to walk down!
God, I died inside -- we were actually going to go UP in that thing. "Wait!" I screamed in my mind,
"I need another beer (PINT) before we go inside … please!"
The folks inside the tower were absolutely the most caring, professional, and courteous workers at
a public attraction I (we) had ever encountered -- anywhere. They treated Deanna like royalty.
We even had a tour professional assigned to us -- there only to provide assistance to Deanna if any
Christopher, our tour professional, rode up in the elevator with us -- 0 to 500 feet straight up in
about 3 seconds it seemed. Once we were at the top and at the first observation area where we
got off, he just stood to the side and allowed us to roam about the glassed-in area.
It was stunning -- overwhelmingly beautiful and awe inspiring. We could see for miles in ALL
directions. The height was high enough that when you looked out or DOWN, the distance was great
enough to fool the brain into thinking, "No, this is not high, all is OK, no need to turn on the panic
alarm and make him shake and sweat."
Then I saw IT -- my heart froze! God, there was a huge glass FLOOR area that you could walk
over and look 500 feet STRAIGHT DOWN -- and people were actually DOING it.
Then I heard it -- Deanna’s voice excitedly saying, "Ooooh, lets do it baby!"
Then I did it -- took my shoes off, grinned for the camera, laughed, joked, held Deanna’s arm, and
walked across the floor of looming death! You would have been proud, Ashley -- my lips never
showed a quiver of fear…
We stayed up in the observation area for about 30 minutes and just soaked in the views. We could
see all the way over to the Isle of Wight and all over the town and harbor area of Portsmouth. I
could also see over to the old Royal Navy base and see the tall submarine training tower also rising
up into the early morning sky. For a just a few seconds, memories from a lifetime ago flooded over
me -- been there, done that, got all the scars.
Soon, with Christopher leading the way, we were headed back down -- fast! My ears popped just as
we reached the bottom and we walked out onto SOLID ground. We were all getting hungry so we
went back out on the promenade area of the waterfront where lots of restaurants and pubs were
and finally settled on one called the Ha Ha Bar & Canteen. We figured with a name like that, it had
to be the place for us.
Let me tell you straight out that the first four ice-cold Coronas I had were just about the best
birthday present I had ever given myself. I had survived the tower of death and was enjoying the
rest of my life. :-)
Oh yeah, it was wonderful -- the four of us sitting there in the warm sun, sipping a few together,
soaking up all the laughter and excitement all around us -- it was wonderful, just wonderful.
I sat there watching Deanna and Debs and Martyn smiling and laughing and it made me think about
several very special people back home and wished that all of the Edisto gang could have been here
this day and joined in on the fun.
After a wonderful break, we headed for the section of the waterfront where the current and
historic shipyard is. There were several large Royal Navy ships in port this day -- the HMS
Illustrious and Ark Royal -- both aircraft carrier type ships.
Situated in the middle of the old shipyard in No. 2 dry dock is the HMS Victory. Standing proud
in her home, HMS Victory is one of the most famous warships ever built. She was built between
1759 and 1765 with oak from the nearby New Forest and was a first-rate, ship-of-the-line, and is
still in commission and manned by Officers and Ratings of the Royal Navy.
200 years ago this year, Victory was Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship when he led 27 British
ships into battle off Cape Trafalgar (on the southwestern coast of Spain) and destroyed
Napoleon's much larger combined French and Spanish fleet.
Because of Nelson's inspired leadership, the British won a great victory and the Battle of
Trafalgar became a defining moment in English history. The famous phrase "England expects that
every man will do his duty," originated at the start of the battle when Nelson ran up a thirty-one
flag signal to the rest of the fleet as they approached Napoleon's fleet.
Unfortunately, Nelson was shot by a sharpshooter on the "Redoutable," an enemy vessel close by,
and although mortally wounded, he lived long enough to hear his men tell him that they had
defeated the enemy and secured a great victory. Not wanting to be buried at sea, which was the
custom, Nelson's body was preserved in a barrel of Brandy until such time the Victory could
return to England and Nelson buried in St Paul's Cathedral in London.
The term "three square meals" a day originated on board Victory. The sailors (non officers) were
fed on square wooden plates and when the Navy was out recruiting new seamen for service, they
boasted of "Three Squares a Day" as an inducement to get men to sign on.
History (one of my hobbies -- who would have guessed) surrounded the four of us as we wandered
around in the Portsmouth Shipyard. We are now, today, who and where we are because of history.
History, just as memories, makes us whole -- it gives meaning and purposes to our lives.
As the afternoon wore on, it started to get chilly down near the waterfront so we got out Deanna's
blanket and covered her up. It looked so funny when she pulled it up over her head as we started
making our way back out of the shipyard.
Debs' dad had worked in and retired from the Portsmouth Shipyard so it was almost like coming
home for her. We meandered on back to the huge underground car park under the promenade area
alongside the wharf area, found our car, and headed out for where Debs used to live.
The ride through old Portsmouth was beautiful -- the architecture of all the old homes and
buildings are so fascinating to see. After a while, we reached the beach area where a huge park,
Southsea Common, ran along one side of Clarence Esplanade and the beach area itself was on the
The park was filled with people and near one end of it, there was a huge flea market in place -- the
real kind where people drive up, pop open their trunks (boots) and sell stuff right there on the
spot. Over on the beach, if you could call it that, it was nothing but rocks -- oops, sorry -- well
worn and smooth pebbles. There were lots of people all about and since this day was still part of
the long Easter weekend holiday, it was a busy place.
We turned off the beach drive just past the huge pier that jutted out into the harbor and drove
though some residential streets and finally Debs exclaimed, "There’s the house I grew up in."
It was a nice looking two-story home, attached (another house next to it in same building), and
looked like it was covered/sided in a rough pebble and cement mixture and of course, had a red
tile roof. We were only just a few blocks from the water (harbor) and I can see why Debs (and
Lynn, her older sister) loved it so much when they both lived and grew up here.
Since we were expected at Debs' mom and dad’s house for dinner, we finally said our goodbyes to
the old historic part of Portsmouth and headed that way.
Their house was small like Debs and Martyn’s home but it was beautiful and the back garden area
was fantastic. Both Doug and Shirley like to grow things and they had a huge variety of plants in
the ground and/or in pots. Doug had recently moved a brick wall, along the street side of his
garden, all the way out to the edge of the sidewalk.
The brick wall used to stop about three feet short of the sidewalk and outside of the wall was an
unused and unseen 3-foot wide strip of grass. No more -- those three feet of valuable space is now
part of their well tended and cared for garden.
Food -- lots of wonderful, delicious food -- greeted us for our evening meal and celebration of my
birthday. Shirley, Doug, and Lynn had been working most of the day preparing for what seemed
like a 7-course meal. To make everything seem more festive, they broke out party hats and had
poppers that when you pulled on a string, they popped like a cap gun and shot streamers and
confetti into the air.
Lynn’s boyfriend Gary had arrived to join us and of course, Lynn’s children -- Sophie and Lee --
were there. We had brought the kids things from the States that are hard to get in the UK like
Slim Jims. Their happy faces and laughing voices told us we had made wise choices for things to
Seeing them there was a wonderful treat and we can not wait to see then again when they come
over with Debs and Martyn again this year and join us at Edisto for another great 2-week
vacation. It seemed like they both had gown a foot since we last saw them. Sophie is becoming
quite a beautiful young lady and Lee is getting so tall and handsome.
I received some wonderful birthday cards and a few very special gifts after we had sat down at a
beautifully set table. And no party (birthday celebration) would be complete without a birthday
cake and I had two -- talk about feeling special! We all had had so much food for dinner and I
think everyone was shifting around in their seats trying to make room or find room for just a few
more bites of some fantastic servings.
By the time the fantastic meal was over, the dining room, and us, looked like some scene from a wild
New Years Eve celebration movie. We were all covered in streamers and sparkly confetti and we
looked like we had had a wonderful time. What more could you ask for -- family, friends, good
food, a few good beers, and lots of happy smiles and laughter. As my cousin Hump would proudly
state, "And a good time was had by all."
We finally said our goodbyes and squeezed our bodies into Debs and Martyn’s car and headed for
home. All the way back, I sat there in the front seat of the car -- you know, left side with NO
steering wheel -- and thought about all the events that I had witnessed, experienced, and shared
with others throughout the day.
It had been a wonderful and glorious spring day along the English coast -- one filled with love,
adventure, excitement, dizzying heights, far off views, lessons in history, memories and sights from
the past, and most importantly, a special day when I was surrounded by loving, caring happy people
who all made my life very rich and full.
As the miles slipped past us while we sped along the English countryside, I stared out the window
and felt complete. Not bad for turning 65…
When I woke up this morning, my mind was already racing with thoughts about today's adventure
that Debs had laid out for us. After a leisurely breakfast, we were going to head southwest
towards Andover and then on to Stonehenge.
I had dreamed all my life, and I think Deanna had also, about this most magical and mystical
megalithic monument that as best as can be determined, was over 5,000 years old. I remember
seeing pictures of it when I was in grammar school and envisioned all sorts of things about it such
as what it might have been used for or who built it. The part that immediately hooked me all those
years ago was its proven association with astrological events of the equinoxes and solstices of
Soon we were kissing the dogs goodbye, taking out the trash, and loading up for our trip. We swung
by the Post Office to let Debs run inside and take care of some business, and then we were off
Stonehenge -- Deanna and I were really, really going to see it today -- for real. My mind was
running wide open with thoughts -- will it be bigger or smaller than I expected it to be? Will I
feel any things mysterious while I am there -- the list of questioning thoughts was endless?
Soon we passed by the village of Andover and kept pressing on in an almost due west direction. We
were about half way there and I could already feel the nervous excitement building up inside of me.
One of the interesting things in Andover's long history was the riots that took place there in the
1830s between the agricultural workers and the land owners. The interesting part (excluding the
riots) was the other name they were also known by -- the Swing Riots.
It seemed that the poor and underpaid workers had hired a new leader, a Captain Swing, to assist
them in their efforts. Because of all the things that then started happening -- sending threatening
letters to the land owners, machines being broken, etc. -- the land owners became terribly
frightened of this new leader and started to give in to some of the demands, which, by the way, led
to some real laws being passed.
The interesting part -- the fearful and notorious Captain Swing was an imaginary person -- he never
History -- you gotta love it -- better that TV.
Soon we saw our first road signs for Stonehenge and the excitement really started to grow -- it
was real, it was there -- the official signs SAID SO!
Then, up ahead I could see them in the distance -- tall, light colored stones rising up out of the
ground like sentinels standing watch in the middle of a huge green field.
We were there -- we were really there. We turned off the main road and drove to the designated
parking area about a quarter of a mile from the actual stone structures. In no time we were
parked, had the wheelchair out, and were headed to the visitor center where you purchase
With tickets in hand, we walked through a tunnel under the road we had just come by and then on
the other side, we were able to walk directly towards Stonehenge itself. Deanna was pushing her
wheelchair and leading the way.
The actual site where the stones are located is now fenced off and you can NOT walk up amongst
the stones themselves. I know they did this for their protection, but I had dreamed all my life of
being there and placing my hands on one of the stones to see if I could feel anything -- feel some
mysterious energy or mystic connection to the past.
I thought of Margaret, my dear friend back home, who I knew would totally understand what I
was feeling in those first few moments when I stood there at Stonehenge -- amongst a site that
was 5,000 years old and was steeped in mystic and astrological mysteries. I watched Deanna
beside me and saw that she too was sensing, feeling the same things -- almost as if we both could
feel the stones talking to us.
I know that to some, these were just piles of rocks out in the middle of nowhere and could care less
about their origin, purpose, and/or significances of it in their lives or the lives of others. But to me,
and countless others, there was something there, something most likely more profound than any of
us have ever imagined.
We quietly walked the designated pathway around the site -- the trail making a huge circle around
Stonehenge. Deanna and I immediately recognized or noticed that it was eerily quiet there. The
scene around us was as if we were in church -- so quiet, everyone talking in hushed tones. When a
kid would make a loud noise, all heads would turn towards them and then the parents would
immediately quiet them. It was just all so strange yet at the same time it felt right -- appropriate,
in some way -- for a place whose real purpose and meaning was really not known.
We continued our walk around the site, quietly talking and just looking. The stones take on
different colors or hues as you move around the site because of the changing direction of the light
on them from the sun, etc.
As I became aware of this -- the color and pattern shifting of the stones themselves -- I was
suddenly thankful in a way that the preservation folks had fenced the area off. Because they had
done it, it forced us to walk in a circle around Stonehenge versus just wondering over to one section
and gawking at it.
The circling of the stones made them more stimulating, made them seem more organized, and
presented them in a more mysterious fashion -- "You can look, but you can't touch!"
I guess that Debs and I took at least 100 pictures each of the stones while we were there. Each
shot seem to capture just a bit more magic -- a little lighter, a little darker, this stone blocking
those -- the view angles were endless. Thank God for digital cameras so you can do some
preliminary previews and say, yes, no, no, yes -- and deleting all the nos.
At times, I would just look at the crowds strung out all along the pathway and it looked like
everybody, including small kids, was yakking away on their cell phones. They seemed disinterested,
looking all around, staring at the ground or off towards the horizon with this blank look on
Your first thought is, how totally rude. Then, you realize that they are not using their cell phones
but are instead, listening to a special audio device that is telling them all about Stonehenge.
Sadly, we had made a complete circle around this most mysterious site and were slowly making our
way back towards the visitor center. We purchased a few gift items and then made our way back to
the car. When we had first arrived here, the crowds were small and the parking lots were basically
empty. Not now -- tour buses by the dozens it seemed, cars, people -- you could hardly make your
way through the crowds.
Then, we were gone -- headed next to Shaftesbury to see where Martyn's mother once lived.
Above, I used the word sadly when describing our departure from Stonehenge. I know I felt that
way as I'm sure the others did also. I felt like I was not ready to disconnect from there, like I
was supposed to stay there for a bit longer -- maybe to learn more or to sense more, I don't know.
Anyway, the memories of those stones standing tall and proud in the beautiful, green, English
countryside will always be with me -- reminding me that yes, I did see them in person and I felt
their presence in my life. Maybe that was the message, or one of them, from the past -- to always
stand tall and be counted.
We were getting hungry and Martyn thought he knew where a neat place (a pub) was that we could
go for some lunch. We headed south on backroads to the small village of Wilton and then headed
west towards Barford and St. Martin. Martyn was going on instinct (had been to the pub we were
searching for, many years ago) and just knew we were close. Not. All he could remember was that
it was off a main road, down a hill, and had limited parking available. That just about described
every rural building between here and Shaftesbury.
By now, almost 2 p.m., we were starving and ANY pub would do. No sooner had we made that
decision when we saw a sign stating that a pub -- "The Ship End" -- was downhill to the left and
off the main road. A quick turn and down that narrow road and boom, we came up on a neat pub --
in the middle of nowhere -- but not the one Martyn had remembered. Oh well, like we were going
to say no, and turn around! :-)
In the parking lot, we saw tables down by a beautiful flowing stream and people were down there
enjoying drinks and munching on food. That setting looked great to us, so while the girls headed
towards the stream to secure us a table, Martyn and I headed for the pub itself. It was beautiful
inside and looked well established with a huge and well stocked bar area and lots of tables
We ordered up some fries to munch on and then carried our drinks back to the table. It was
beautiful down by the stream and soon a young lady brought us our fries and we settled in for
some hot food and enjoyed our beers.
Debs and I took a few pictures and we watched a cute dog belonging to the couple next to us having
a ball chasing everything that moved. Overhead we could hear crows and looking up, we saw huge
crows nest in the tops of the tall trees all around us. Now I know why they call high platforms on
ships "Crow's Nest."
Soon, our drinks and munchies were all gone and we were back on the road and on our way to
Shaftesbury. Debs was looking at her map and was hoping that we were on the road that had
something special for us to look it. Sure enough it did and we soon came upon an area near the
village of Fovant where there were huge pictorial images -- drawings -- that were drawn on the
hillside called Fovant Badges.
We pulled off to the side of the road at a designated place to view them. On a hillside almost a
mile away, were eight WW1 British and Australian military badges not drawn, but actually carved
into the white chalk hills of Wiltshire County. They immediately made me think of ancient
petroglyph drawings done by various people in ancient times such as those done by ancient Indians
in the Southwestern part of the United States.
The Fovant drawings were started in 1916 by soldiers stationed nearby in one of the many training
and transition camps used in England for soldiers going over to France or returning from there
The drawings were beautiful -- simple, yet intricate in overall design. We were so glad that Debs
had picked this road for us to reach Shaftesbury.
Back on the road again, we soon reached Shaftesbury itself -- a very old city (founded around 880
by Alfred the Great) and sitting atop a ridge that afforded beautiful views in almost every
direction. The town is famous for Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street featured on the cover of
countless books about Dorset County and rural England.
We parked the car and set out to walk through town on High Street. It was quiet (a Tuesday) but
the street had lots of shops and the girls were enjoying window shopping. Of course Martyn and I
were casually looking for the best pub to hit later -- you know, strictly if in case of an emergency
and a cool drink was needed to keep oneself stable and not over heated and all that sort of
We all slowly made our way up to the top of High Street -- had been a steady climb all the way
from the car park -- and then we saw it.
"The Mitre Inn" sign greeted us with promises of great food, drinks, and spectacular views -- who
could resist such a tease?
We made our way in past the bar area and were drawn to the back side of the bar area by the
views out of the windows there. Then we realized that once there, you could go on outside and sit
on a stone terrace with tables and chairs and enjoy breathtaking views of the English countryside.
Shaftesbury is one of the highest (750 feet above sea level) towns in all of Great Britain and being
atop Gold Hill, the hill we were now on, we were able to look out across the valley below us and just
soak up the beauty while we enjoyed a round or two of the Pub's featured draft beers. Oh, yeah, I
could really get used to this.
After a refreshing break, Martyn led us down a steep street to the local museum and said after we
were there and looking at an old stone building, "That's were me mum used to live." Thinking he was
referring to something near the museum, we said, "Where, which building?"
"This, one -- right here," he exclaimed as he walked over to it and touched the doorway to the
museum. We took a quick tour inside and soon, we were back outside. The museum was very small,
but well stocked. Unfortunately, it was getting late in the day and we were a long way from home
and we just did not have time to stay much longer.
We left there and made our way back up to High Street and then walked along Park Walk -- a
beautiful promenade type area on the brow of the hill top where the great Shaftesbury Abby once
stood. The Abby was the first religious house built solely for women. There is an Abbey Museum
and Garden there now but nothing like the Benedictine nunnery that was founded there in 888 by
Alfred the Great and his daughter who was its first abbess.
During the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, around 1539, the Abbess of Shaftesbury
surrendered the deed and under orders from Henry VIII, the Abby was demolished and all of its
lands sold. The stones from the demolished Abby were used throughout the town to construct new
buildings so in a disconnected way, the Abby still lives.
I realized today with visiting Shaftesbury and seeing and learning again about the "Dissolution of
the Monasteries," that so much of the physical heritage of England was destroyed on purpose.
Thankfully, not all abbeys were destroyed by orders from Henry VIII, like Westminster Abby in
London which in 1540, Henry had spared by designating it a cathedral (a designation which only
lasted until 1550). The expression "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" may arise from this period when
money meant for the Abbey, which was dedicated to St. Peter, was diverted to the treasury of St.
Paul's Cathedral, also located in London.
The sun was dropping in the west so we knew it was time to start our journey home. We made it
back down High Street to the car park and the comfortable seats in the car felt good as Martyn
quickly had us headed for Basingstoke. We were going out tonight to celebrate Tracy's birthday
and we were all excited about it. Tracy was a very close friend of Debs and Martyn and Deanna
and I had met her two years before when she had come with them to Edisto on vacation.
We finally arrived back at Tracy's house in Basingstoke to pick her up and then we all headed out
to a secluded pub to celebrate her birthday. When I say secluded, I mean out in the middle of
nowhere, pitch-black dark countryside secluded. I was sure Martyn had been affected by our
almost continuous backroad touring and was lost and just would not admit it. The road was very
narrow -- one lane wide at times -- and curving, winding up and down, and dark as the insides of a
hunk of coal.
Finally, out of the darkness, a brightly lighted country pub, "The Fox at Ellisfield" that was
surrounding by lots of cars, came into view. OK, so Martyn knew where he was going.
We celebrated Tracy's birthday with a great meal, laughter, and a few rounds from the bar. I
think I drank a whole bottle of wine by myself but I can not remember for sure. :-)
Soon, our day was rapidly ending as we left this cozy, wonderful place and headed back to Tracy's
home, and right after that, we were at Sandpiper Way -- we were home.
Once again I was alone up in my bedroom, lying there in the dark, and listening to the night-time
sounds. My mind wandered all over the sights and sounds that I had seen that day. That morning, I
had stood on the very earth that held and sheltered Stonehenge -- one of the greatest enigmas
that has teased mankind almost since the beginning of recorded history.
Deanna and I both had stood there -- quietly looking at the tall and silent stones -- and reflected
on something that was so simple in one sense, yet on the other hand, was so astronomically complex
that no one knew for sure what it was all about. We both had dreamed of this day when we could
see and feel for ourselves its magic and for but just a brief moment in recorded time, we were also
witness to another day that saw shadows on the ground cast by the great stones.
Thank you, Debs and Martyn, for sharing Stonehenge with us and allowing its beauty and magic to
bind our friendship even tighter.
I'm going into London and I will be back later this afternoon."
I told myself that early this morning after I woke up and it sounded almost magical.
London -- I'm actually going to London like it was a quick trip to the local Super Walmart to pick
up a few items on sale and then pop by the grocery store on the way home to pick up some wine and
a couple of frozen dinners. Finally, after all this time (years of thinking about it), I was actually
going to London and be a part of her for a whole day.
We were again up early and after a quick cup of coffee and some toast with jellies, we dropped off
Eddie and Bailey at Tracy's house and headed north on the M3 motorway towards London -- one of
the oldest cities in the world -- established by the Romans around 50 AD.
As we pulled away from Tracy's house, I couldn't help but notice the small and I mean very small
car parked at her house. The brand name of the car was "Smart" and I am sure that I could have
put it into the bed of my truck. This car is quite popular in the UK and over in Europe but has not
come to the United States yet (will later this year).
The size of that car (only eight feet long) was not all that out of place there in England where for
the most part, the majority of the traffic that we encountered was just cars. Back in Atlanta, it
seems like you are constantly surrounded by a convention for every full size pickup truck, sports
van, SUV in the world, and occasionally, just a normal size car thrown in for good measure.
I realized that as the week had progressed, that I was getting used to being surrounded by
vehicles of almost equal size. This parity of sizes seemed to diminish the threats one might
perceive on a busy highway when surrounded by vehicles whizzing by you or headed straight
towards you that looked like tanks on a mission from God.
Oh, we saw large trucks, commercial vehicles, etc., but not like back in Atlanta where it seems you
are overwhelmed by them in just sheer numbers all at one time. Maybe if we had struck out on the
M3 earlier like during rush hour, we might have seen more big vehicles.
Bottom line though, it was just nice to be driving around and feeling like we fit in, understand?
Soon the beautiful English rolling countryside started showing signs that we were on the outskirts
of London. We were encountering more signage alongside the roadways and more and more
commercial and congested areas were flying past our windows. Seeing all the multitude of busy
roads signs flashing by made me recall something I had read a few days earlier in the paper.
Whereas we just call signs along the highway, signs, the English roads and highway authorities call
them street furniture. The article I had read was talking about thousands of pounds (dollars) worth
of signs that had be damaged or stolen along some roadway in Hampshire country where Debs lived.
When I had first glanced at the article, I thought they were talking about some thief going around
stealing furniture out of people's front yards or off their front porches.
Street furniture back home in the States is a perfectly good sofa or easy chair thrown out on the
curb (edge of the roadway for my UK readers). Their presences there could be the results of
either; a heated domestic quarrel, the tenants have been evicted, or, "The dog tore it and we just
HAD to go buy a NEW one!"
Soon we were into the city itself and were now completely surrounded by crowded streets with 4
and 5 story homes and buildings -- all beautiful and well established. The continuous mixtures of
architectural styles were amazing. Buildings hundreds of years old were merged with new modern
ones and of course, with my favorite -- Victorian styles (old or new construction) -- which were
everywhere and so rich, so elegant, and so shamelessly "In your face, I'm gorgeous." I loved it.
We were approaching Hyde Park from the south and driving through the Kensington area along
Kensington Road which became Knightsbridge Road. There were lots of nice hotels all though this
area and people were filling the sidewalks. After we passed Knightsbridge Station (subway stop),
Martyn turned a short time later to his left onto Park Lane and headed for a huge underground
public parking garage right off the street but in (under) Hyde Park.
This garage was huge and after we found our way back up to ground level, London was at our
doorstep -- all there and waiting for us to explore and enjoy.
We started walking back towards where we had turned up by Hyde Park and soon we had reached
the roundabout where Knightsbridge Road had come in on one side and Constitution Hill ran off the
other side and downhill to St. James Park and the main entrance to Buckingham Palace.
The walk along Constitution Hill was wonderful -- a mild, spring morning, trees and flowers
blooming everywhere, peaceful -- it was beautiful.
The road area was wide -- lined by huge trees on both sides, with a wide paved pedestrian/bike
way and gravel horse bridal path down the left side and a multi-line motorway down the middle.
The right-hand side was bordered by another paved sidewalk and then the high security-topped
stone wall around the Queen's Garden inside Buckingham Palace. I guessed that this fabulous
street was a little under a half mile in length by the time it ended at the Victoria Monument.
Debs had searched out on the web about the times to watch the changing of the guard ceremony at
Buckingham Palace and the schedule indicated that for today, Wednesday (only doing it every other
day in spring), the guard changing was at 11 a.m.
Soon we were at the front gates to Buckingham Place -- a place that both Deanna and I had seen a
thousand times on TV and in the movies. Beautiful, overwhelming, and in some ways, it was just
another high and fancy wrought iron fence. But, we knew that this was THE fence and were almost
humbled by it and what it stood for.
The crowds were filling in the whole area alongside the fence and we started maneuvering for a
good spot where we could park the wheelchair and allow Deanna to see if she required the chair by
then. Then we started hearing grumbles amongst the crowds gathered there and finally found the
source of their displeasure. Debs and Martyn had walked on up a ways alongside the fence and
finally saw a very small sign (one like, Wet Floor) propped on the ground inside the fence that
stated, Sorry, No Guard Changing Today.
Not happy -- we were NOT happy! We found out a little later on that because the Queen was up
in Scotland this week (hence her Monarch flag was not flying over the Palace), most of the guards
were up there with her and there were not enough left in London to do the guard changing
ceremony in front of Buckingham Palace.
Poo. Double poo.
But as fate would have it, our disappointment was lifted because coming down Constitution Hill
were the Queen's Household Cavalry -- 12 of them -- in full dress regalia (flowing black capes
with broad red collars, silver helmets topped with long red tassels, and silver spurs sparkling on
their shinny black boots), and each guard holding their drawn swords at their side with the tips
pointing up and riding beautiful black horses.
The Cavalry rides in this parade every day (called the Horse Guard's Parade) when they ride from
Hyde Park for the morning changeover ceremony at the Horse Guards Arch. Horse Guards Arch,
about a half mile away at the other end of St. James Park, originally was the main entrance to
Buckingham Palace, via the Mall, and royal processions traveling through Whitehall still pass under
the arches of the building. The Cavalry mounts the guard here (at the arch) every day and we had
witnessed the morning part of the ceremony when all the guards rode over there.
It was beautiful and majestic -- it WAS ENGLAND -- and we loved it!
We milled about the gates to Buckingham Palace like all the other tourists were doing -- gawking,
taking pictures, laughing, smiling, pointing -- you know, operating in full fledged tourist mode!
After a while, we started making our way up the Mall -- a beautiful, broad tree-lined road that
runs along one side of St. James Park from the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace
and then all the way up to the Admiralty Arch at the other end with Trafalgar Square just on the
other side of the archway.
As we made our way along the broad and beautiful Mall -- still used for all the ceremonial
processions as I noted earlier -- I was amazed at how far Deanna had already walked today. She
had hoofed it all the way from the parking lot to Constitution Hill, down it, all around Victoria
Monument, and now almost up to Trafalgar Square and never once let out a whimper or slowed down
in walking (over 1.5 miles). I finally convinced her that it was time for a ride and she reluctantly
Martyn and I then left her and Debs and we struck out into St. James Park itself following the
signs for the toilets. We walked, and walked, and after a while realized that we were making a
huge circle back towards where we were close to when this odyssey started out. The walk was nice
-- got to see beautiful flowers, the huge parade ground over in front of Horse Guard Arch and all
that -- BUT, they were NOT on top of our list at the moment. Sure enough, we ended up about 100
feet or so from where we started out. Who knew? :-)
The very tall monument (column) of Admiral Nelson greeted us as we passed under the Admiralty
Arch and came into Trafalgar Square itself. It was busy -- very busy -- the square was filled with
hundreds of tourists and I am sure, proud Londoners on their lunch break. The square is huge --
bound by roads on three sides and the National Gallery on the north end.
We gawked liked everyone else and enjoyed all the excitement. Tour buses -- the double decked,
open-air types -- constantly drove by and the walking tour groups were everywhere and dutifully
following their leader who was usually carrying an umbrella held up in the air or in some cases,
holding up very colorful flags.
We went into a cafe/coffee place right there under the steps to the National Gallery and got some
coffee to drink. The weather was now slightly on the chilly side here in the square and a heavy
cloud cover that had come in since we had first arrived in London had not fully broken away to let
the sun come in.
Afterwards, all warmed up and rested, we headed for a place on the square that Martyn knew
where to catch a taxi as we wanted to go see the Tower of London and it was about three miles
away. Within no time, Martyn had hailed us a proper English taxi and after loading Deanna's
wheelchair in the front with the driver, we all piled into the back and went roaring off towards
Peter, our driver, was 100% British, professional, courteous, funny, and informative. As we went
zipping through traffic along Victoria Embankment, then Upper and Lower Thames Street before
arriving at the Tower, we talked with him and he told us how hard it was to become a taxi driver in
London and all that. Very vigorous training and an extremely difficult exam was required to pass
London taxi driver -- courteous, trained, spoke ENGLISH, knew where they were going -- what
would they think of next? Back home, we'd be lucky if they could speak two words in English and
most likely, they had no driver's license, and generally, had no idea where they were going because
having just sneaked over the border from Mexico, they hadn't had quite enough time yet to learn
London -- I salute you and your most courteous and knowledgeable taxi drivers.
We were there -- The Tower of London -- over 900 years old. God, it was already 500 years old
when the English landed at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and started a settlement there.
Deanna and I had read about it and heard about it all our lives. Now we were actually walking
through one of the most famous places (actually a castle) in the world. All sorts of memories from
stories that I had read and visions from movies flashed through my head -- especially those that
portrayed the times when the Tower was a place of imprisonment, torture, and executions. So
much history, so many stories.
At times, I felt like spirits were walking with me -- I could sense, feel, and hear their cries of pain
and terror all around me. When I walk through the old sections of Arlington Cemetery in
Washington, D.C., I get these same spooky feelings. Anyway, it really got to me a couple of times
and I had to just move on to shake the sensations.
The Tower is one of those places that the phrase "If the walls could talk" can make the hair on the
back of your neck stand straight out. But, it was also beautiful and a fascinating place to walk
through -- especially when we got to go inside the part where the Crown Jewels were kept and even
some put out for public display. We saw them and words can not adequately describe the beauty of
the royal pieces -- crowns, scepters, etc. -- they were all just overwhelmingly beautiful.
We toured all throughout the Tower grounds and had lunch and a beer in the New Armouries Café.
Afterwards, we started making our way out of the Tower because Debs had a surprise waiting for
us and we needed to head in that direction (where ever it was). We saw the clipped-wing Ravens in
the courtyard on our way out.
Legend has it, since the time of Charles II (around 1650), that if the ravens ever left the Tower of
London, the White Tower (great central keep still in the center of the castle area built by William
the Conqueror), the Monarchy, and the entire Kingdom would fall. Since no one, including Charles
the II, wanted to trust fate, the ravens had their flight wings clipped to prevent that and have
been there on the grounds within the Towers walls ever since. There are eight ravens, all named,
and are cared for by the Ravenmaster -- one of the Yeomen (guards at the Tower and also known
by their more common name, Beefeaters).
After a stopover in the Tower gift shop, Martyn was out on the street doing his thing again and
hailing us another proper London taxi.
In no time at all, we were back in another taxi (with a courteous and professional driver) and
making our way towards Debs' mystery destination. Soon we were on the King William St. Bridge
and crossed over the Thames River. I had no idea where were going and really did not care as I
was thoroughly enjoying the views of London flashing pass our windows.
As we made our way through the area south of the Thames River, I started to get glimpses of the
huge Ferris wheel, called the London Eye. We had seen the Eye from all the way over in St. James
Park right there in front of Buckingham Palace earlier this morning. Lord, I thought, the surprise --
surely Debs was not headed there -- the height of it was frightening.
However, the longer we rode, the larger this thing became and finally, we pulled up at Jubilee
Gardens Park and there it stood, the London Eye -- all 450 FEET HIGH of it!
My heart was racing -- "Please do NOT make me ride that thing," I was telling myself.
No sooner had I thought that when Debs excitedly exclaimed, "We're here -- isn't this just
fabulous -- and I already have the tickets reserved for us!"
Lord, it was SO BIG (and beautiful). The chairs, if you could call them that, were actually glass
enclosed capsules and each one holds about 25 people -- standing up or sitting down on a wide
bench in the middle.
I was having a hard time holding in my nervousness. I go through spells sometimes where heights
bother me -- even like crossing over a high bridge and then, poof, nothing -- I can walk right out to
the edge of a cliff and look straight down and not miss a heart beat.
I stood there in the presence of the huge, magnificent wheel and thought, "What the heck, my
adventure up in the Spinnaker Tower just a few days ago didn't trigger any panic attacks so
maybe I am in one of my nothing-scares-me modes."
With that thought in mind, I settled right down and could not wait to ride this baby. Debs came
back from the ticket area and said we had about 15 minutes to kill so we just wandered along the
water's edge near the wheel (Millennium Wheel, as some call it). People were everywhere --
gawking up at the wheel, laughing excitedly, jabbering about the ride that they had just come off
of or about the one that they were getting ready to take!
There were several street performers there also and they were the stature people-- painted all in
one color like green or silver, whatever, and just stand/pose in one position and do not move a
muscle. I have always noticed that the young kids are the most fascinated by these performers. I
guess in their world of imagination, they can easily relate to being a famous stature like the
Stature of Liberty or Admiral Lord Nelson standing tall and proud over in Trafalgar Square, etc.
Then it was our time to board our capsule for our flight as they like to call it. Debs had also
arranged for our trip to have an onboard guide so for all of us and about eight other people who
got on with us, we had our own personal tour guide to point out all the sights we would soon be
staring at from dizzying heights above the Thames River.
The trip around takes about 40 minutes and because of the way the wheel is constructed, the ride
is absolutely smooth as silk -- no bumps, jerks, or rattles -- nothing. Because of that, you really do
not sense the movement so your brain stays on low alert and does not immediately start sending out
fire alarm messages that say, "HEY, wake up -- you are rocking and rolling and you are also VERY
HIGH off the ground -- let us pray!"
None of that -- just a wonderful, slow movement that allows you to just enjoy the magnificent views
afforded you as you rise higher and higher into the London sky. We could see all of London spread
out beneath us -- even looking back over the river and seeing the Parliament Buildings, Westminster
Abby, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and even Admiral Nelson standing atop his column in the middle
of Trafalgar Square.
You become mesmerized as the wheel turns -- your mind enjoying the exceptional views and just the
overall adventure and excitement of it all. Debs and Martyn also pointed out things to us as we all
just stood there against the railing next to glass capsule and soared high above London -- circling,
lazily enjoying the views, and drifting through space as if by magic.
Sadly, our flight was coming to a close and once again, we were back down to earth and ready to
disembark our wonderful capsule.
With ease, I backed Deanna out of the capsule in her wheelchair and in no time, we were out front
with all the other people -- jabbering excitedly like so many before us about the wonderful
experience that we just had.
Thank you Debs, you made our day...
As we started walking away from the London Eye and towards the street, I was thinking (since it
was about 5:15 p.m.) that we would be looking for a new taxi to take us back across the river to
our car and then head for home.
I heard Debs voice exclaiming, "Surprise, we're not done yet!"
I turned to look at her and saw that she was grinning from ear to ear and excitedly pointing on
down the street to a huge yellow vehicle parked on the side of the street.
"The Duck, the Duck -- we're going on a DUCK tour!" she shouted while still grinning broadly.
The Duck was a huge, bright yellow, WWII amphibious truck sitting there on the side of the
street and ready for us to board her. These amphibious crafts, originally known as DUKWS, were
first used for the D-Day landings in WWII when more than 21,000 were built to take the
"Beatrice" was the name of our Duck and she held about 30 passengers. Excitedly, we scrambled
onboard after the tour operator had assured me that Deanna's wheelchair would be perfectly safe
with him while we were out on our tour.
We sat in the very back of the Duck where the seats were up higher than those in the front. While
sitting there waiting for it to load up with passengers, an older man came onboard and made his way
up to the front and sat down in the drivers seat without having said a word to anyone along his way.
Thinking that this guy would also be our tour guide, we all looked at each other and sarcastically
said, "This guy is going to be a LOT of fun!"
Just as the Duck filled up and we were about to shove off, here came this young man about 30
years old bounding up the rear stairs where we all had loaded the Duck from and ran up to the
front of the Duck and grabbed the microphone. Our tour guide had arrived.
Had he EVER arrived!
A 100% fresh, smart (ass), funny a person as you would ever hope to encounter on a tour. He had
us in stitches within minutes and for the next two hours, he never let up. The first thing he did
was to teach us the "Quack." We would hook our thumbs up under our armpits, flap our wings, and
on cue, holler out, "Quack, quack, quack!"
God, it was funny. We had no sooner left the starting point when he pointed out that the patrons
up at an outside cafe that we were going to soon pass by loved to receive a "quack." As the big
yellow Duck roared pass the cafe, we all screamed out, "Quack, quack, quack" with our arms just a
flapping. The looks on some of the patron's faces were priceless. Some were repeat customers and
were laughing their behinds off while others were just sitting there dumbfounded -- totally blown
away by our gestures.
Like I said, it was funny. Nothing, and I mean nothing including, kings, queens, politicians,
presidents, celebrities, homeless people on the streets, protesters at Buckingham Palace -- nobody
or thing escaped his razor sharp, irreverent remarks or observations.
We went back over the Thames River and into the Whitehall area -- collectively the Parliament
buildings, No. 10 Downing St. (where the Prime Minister lives), and other government buildings in
and around Whitehall Street. The name/term Whitehall is also used sometimes as a synonym for
the British Government as a whole.
Anyway, we roared through the streets listening to our tour guide raking everyone and everything
over the coals with funny, but biting remarks, and of course, we quacked at quite a few places and
people along the way.
As we made our way towards where we were walking earlier that morning, Trafalgar square, and all,
he was steadily pointing out all the famous and almost famous places, sights, whatever. When we
buzzed by the protestor who had his tent set with all his protest signs in a place near Buckingham
Palace where one can protest from legally, we quacked the devil out of that poor guy. While we
were doing this, our guide was yelling at him, by his first name, "Get a job, you lazy bum." The guy
just laughed and waved at us like it was an honor to have been publicly insulted by a heckler and a
bright yellow Duck full of quackers.
Soon, we went back across the Thames on the Vauxhall Bridge and were approaching on the left,
the SIS Building, also commonly known as the MI6 Building which is the headquarters of the
British Secret Intelligence Service. Right after we crossed over the bridge and immediately
turned left onto Albert Embankment, our tour guide started picking on some guy in a suit walking
away from the front of the MI6 Building right there at the corner.
Keep in mind now, that our tour guide was speaking with a microphone/loudspeaker the whole time
so throughout our entire trip, the people on the street that he was harassing could hear every
word he was saying -- plus our laughter and quacking coming from the Duck.
Well, he lit into this guy and was talking about him possibly being a, "Secret agent and all, seeing
as how he was wearing a tie, dark glasses, and WALKING OUT THE FRONT DOOR OF THE
I thought the poor man was going to have a heart attach, especially after we chimed in at the end
of the announcement with a rousing rendition of "Quack, quack, quack!"
Then right in the middle of our loudest quack so far, we immediately took a sharp left turn and
stopped at a barricaded and guarded entrance to the MI6 property. We could see that we were
on a slipway -- ramped access to the Thames River. A new driver came aboard and as the guards
waved at us, we rode down the slipway belonging to the very people we were just quacking!
What a hoot -- we were laughing like the devil listening to our tour guide rambling on about us
getting ready to hit the water and begin the next leg of our already fantastic tour.
Within seconds, we entered the Thames River and the steps right behind where the four of us were
sitting soon disappeared into the water. Our Duck soon settled into the water and we started
motoring down the Thames River in a big, bright yellow Duck -- a floating truck filled with a secret
driver, one crazy tour guide, and 30 laughing quackers.
We started to see familiar sites as we approached the London Eye and the Parliament Buildings and
Big Ben on the left. Seeing them from down on the river, much lower than the streets, made them
seem larger, more prominent. With fewer subjects to harass, our tour guide spent the next 30
minutes giving us a great tour as he pointed out lots of neat details about all the things we saw
along the way.
One of the neatest things we saw up close were old concrete barges left over from WWII when
they were anchored out in the river with bright lights on them. When the Germans flew over at
night and saw all the lights below, they thought it was the Parliament Buildings and let their bombs
go. It worked because the buildings escaped serious damage, including Westminster Abby just a
few short blocks away.
Soon our river tour was over and we were back at the slipway and up out of the water. As we
were leaving the MI6 building, another crazy group of quackers in their yellow Duck passed us
and headed down the slipway and into the river.
We quickly made our way back to our starting point and sadly, our wild and crazy tour of London
was at a close. We regrettably climbed down out of our Duck, said our goodbyes to the tour guide,
and hailed a taxi after they brought Deanna's wheelchair back to the Duck.
We raced back over the Thames and made our way up to Hype Park and the parking garage. The
entrance to the garage (by car) was of course, by steeped sloped ramps down from Park Street. It
was a double ramp, that is, the actual entrance to the garage was at the bottom, with the ramps
going up in opposite directions.
Clamped cars were all lined up alongside both ramps. The clamps were huge, yellow triangle-shaped
metal devices that once attached to a wheel, usually a front one, the car was immobilized. All these
lucky people, who had illegally parked somewhere and then the cars towed here, were in for a huge
surprise when they came to retrieve their car. The fines, unclamping fees, and storage fees, when
all added up could ruin a great day in a heartbeat.
What a day this had been and there was more to come. We found our car and Martyn drove us
back up into the fading light of the day and we headed for home and more excitement.
As we sped back out of London, I tried to capture in my mind all the fantastic things that I had
seen -- that we all had seen and experienced in just one day. Words can almost not describe all
the things that were seen, heard, felt, and sensed.
Soon, we arrived back at Tracy's house to pick up the boys and right after that, we were at
Sandpiper Way -- we were home.
We cleaned up a bit and after a while we hopped back into the car and headed out to the
"Wheatsheaf Inn & Pub" for another wonderful evening meal and a few cool ones. Tonight, unlike
the first time we came here, we were actually waited on by a real waitress, including I might add,
ordering our drinks for us at the bar and bringing them to us at the table. Soon, four very tired
and travel weary folks were headed home and to bed.
Another absolutely wonderful, fantastic day was now all stored up in our memory banks. Visions of
all that we had seen and heard were still filling my mind with a continuous running slide show as I
laid there in the dark listening to the night-time sounds outside though my opened window.
I could see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Tower, the London Eye, Beatrice, and hear all
the quacks and laughter that we had left along the way. As I drifted off to sleep, I thanked Debs
and Martyn over and over again in my mind for sharing such an incredible, fun filled and
adventuresome day with us.
Debs' surprises were spectacular and we will always remember them and thank her with all our
hearts for making our first trip to London so memorable.
Once again, we were up and ready to hit the road again this morning. After another quick breakfast
of coffee, toast, and jams, we headed north towards London once again. We headed for the town
of Windsor to see Windsor Castle -- one of the Queen's Royal Residences (and the most beautiful,
in my opinion).
About halfway to London, we left the M3 motorway and basically headed northwest on backroads
towards Windsor. Soon after we had passed through Bagshot, we drove through the beautiful
village of Ascot -- home of the world famous Ascot Racecourse, which is actually owned by the
Crown Estate (property belonging to the monarchy).
We drove right pass the racecourse and I could see the huge, beautiful new race stand that was
completed in 2006. It looked like there were a whole lot of glassed-in areas for viewing (net,
people with MONEY) and not enough open viewing. I have heard since that this is one of the main
gripes about the new facility and money is already set up for alterations to quote, "Fix that minor
oversight." Yeah, sure.
Anyway, the Royal Ascot race, dating back to early 1700s, is one of THE events on the British
social calendar and is attend by the royal family and dressing up formal and fancy is almost
required to attend. I say almost as it might not apply to the average attendee. But if you are a
part of the rich and famous or royalty that come and attend certain functions and sit in certain
sections, it is mandatory dress.
Soon we were back into the countryside and low and behold, I see a sign for Legoland -- a huge
theme park that is not far from Windsor. Might have to come back some day and visit.
Martyn, with Debs ever handy map book as backup, had once again skillfully got us to our
destination and we were soon parked near the center of town by the river, and almost at the base
of Windsor Castle itself. When we got out of the car, we could see the castle basically looming up
behind the town's buildings -- like it was some sort of benevolent protector.
One of the first things I noticed was a huge sign in the parking lots giving all the rules and fees
that WOULD be collected if one were to be so foolish to park there and NOT pay the parking fee.
I noticed that they used here, as with the car park we used yesterday in London, the dreaded
clamping device that once attached to one of your wheels, you were NOT going ANYWHERE until
they got their money.
Some fines, with clamp removal fees, etc., could go as high as £245.00 (British pounds and equals
about $490.00). Whew! These folks in Windsor get serious with parking violators.
We took off and headed uphill on Thames Street that ran up through Windsor and on past the
Castle itself. I had the wheelchair out for Deanna, but just like yesterday, she and Debs was
yakking, window shopping, and trooping right along up the hill without ever once slowing down.
Even though Windsor was reminiscent of the other villages and towns that we had passed through
or toured in the past few days, it did have one thing that was totally unique in all of England -- it
had Windsor Castle.
As we walked up Thames Street, all the shops, etc, were on our right and on our left was a
manicured green lawn that ran over to the base of the castle. The castle seemed to be rising up
out of the ground like a beautiful stone bird -- soaring upwards and we walked alongside of it.
Windsor Castle is absolutely story-book beautiful -- clean (the stone walls pressure washed),
magnificent in its castle architecture -- it was gorgeous! It is the largest inhabited castle in the
world and the oldest in continuous occupation -- almost since the time of William the Conqueror,
around 1050. As one of the official residences of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II
spends many weekends of the year here.
If the Queen liked it that much, then we knew we would not be disappointed. We went to the
ticket place and queued up to purchase our tickets. As before in other attraction areas, Deanna
was treated royally and with respect as we got our tickets and then had to proceed through a huge
security screening area just like at the airports. We made it through all the metal detectors and
x-ray devices OK and were finally poised to "Tour the Castle."
Just walking through the gates and into the castle grounds themselves was almost overwhelming.
With a castle floor area of almost 500,000 square feet spread out over 12 acres, we knew we were
in for a long tour so we just took it easy and strolled along and enjoyed all that we saw. Debs and
Deanna had picked up the audio devices that you can use along the tour and by looking at a map or
reading signs posted along the way you can key in a certain number and hear all about the area or
thing that you are seeing.
At one point in the middle of the castle grounds (the castle surrounds you at all times and the area
in the middle is like a huge, green lawn or park), I had fallen behind Deanna, Debs, and Martyn and
was in my own little world of taking pictures. When I finally started paying attention, they were
no where in sight.
I started looking for them and I soon came around a wall structure and out into a huge open area
that opened up like a gigantic long downhill slopping park. There, I ran into one of the Windsor
Wardens that work at the castle to help with the thousands of visitors on tour. He was dressed in
his full-length black coat with red lapels and sleeve cuff, as well as his black-billed officer's style
hat with the gold letters E R engraved on it under a red crown.
As I approached him, he gave me an official looking once over and said in a stern, official British
accent so thick you could cut it with a knife, "Ere now, I've been advised to be on the lookout for
the likes of you, tall man as you were, wearing a black hat with DEA printed on it and taking
pictures all about of her majesty's private property!"
We stood there a second or two just staring at each other with him as stone face serious as you
could get and then we both broke out in smiles and laughter. It was so British dry humor and so
funny -- I laughed my behind off.
"Mr. Bailey from the States, I presume?" "Yes," I said and shook his outstretched hand.
He then pointed to the entrance to St. George's Chapel way down the sloping hill and said, "They
advised me that if I were to see the likes of you that I was to direct you towards the Chapel as
that is where the gentleman pushing the wheelchair said they were going."
With a wave goodbye to my new found friend, I went down the hill and joined them and we all went
inside the chapel. I can not write words to describe this place -- it was like a miniature cathedral
-- same high vaulted ceilings, beautiful windows, everything. You have to see it in person or see
photos of it to fully appreciate its beauty.
After we came out of the chapel, we next went back up the hill and then toured all through the
State Apartments -- lavishly decorated formal rooms still used for state and official functions.
We came in on the side where the normal entrance is/was for people on tours like we were on and
started climbing up the long set of steps to the entrance (Deanna was walking and I was carrying
At the top of the stairs was another one of the Wardens (Peter) and he was so apologetic to us
because he thought that some how or another, Deanna had been directed to come this way to gain
entrance to the building.
He was absolutely embarrassed that his staff had let this happened. We told him it was perfectly
OK and that we were in good shape and that no one had told us to come this way -- we had just done
it on our own. He reluctantly let us continue on after he made me promise that I WOULD seek his
help out if Deanna needed anything, anything at all.
We saw Queen Mary's Doll house -- never used as such -- that was built by 1500 craftsmen over
three years and had actual lifts (elevators) that worked and even had running water and electricity.
It was in fact a 1 to 12 scale structure of a part of the Castle. The minute details in every room
were just staggering. The whole structure was probably a 10 foot cube in size.
We continued to wander around basically with our mouths gaping and our eyes glossing over from
all the beauty and richness of everything we saw. In the Armor Room, old weapons were arranged
in huge displays like one that used about 200 old flintlock pistols arranged in a huge spiral up on
the wall like a flower of some sort. I wanted to take a picture but NO pictures are allowed to be
taken inside the castle.
Then we made our way back to the starting point (where we had met Peter) and were going to head
on out because the tour of the second floor where the bedrooms and such were, was up a long fancy
flight of wide, beautiful stairs and Deanna had looked at them and said, "No way." About that time,
Peter showed up and asked if we would like to go upstairs and we said sure but Deanna didn't think
she could do another set of steps.
"No need for that, come with me please," stated Peter as he started walking over towards a roped
off area and led us through some huge doors and into the inner portion of the building. While he
was walking, he was talking on his walkie-talkie and was leading us through what seemed like a
reinforced concrete inner-sanctum passageway that finally led to a beautiful and elegant
He pressed a special button and the door opened to us and he motioned for us to go inside. Once we
were in, he reached in and hit another button and told us that someone on the next level would
The Queen's elevator -- we were just sure it was used only by her or VERY special people visiting
the Castle and we were honored to be going up in such a renowned lift. Oh, I sneaked a picture of
the inside of the elevator -- just had to do it!
The lift smoothly and quietly whisked us up to the next level and when the door opened, another
Warden, a lady this time, was there to greet us and led us out of the inner area and back out to
near where the steps from below reached the second floor. She too was as polite and courteous as
you would want a person to be.
Once again we walked around and looked at all the opulence and extravagance of some of the rooms.
The King's or the Queen's dressing rooms were unbelievable, and the actual bedrooms --
unbelievable BUT, had little beds. I guess king-size beds hadn't been invented yet.
Again, as in St. George's Chapel, you have to see all this to appreciate the royal majesty of it all.
It overwhelms you, it humbles you.
We finally completed our upstairs tour and sought out the Warden who had helped us with the
elevator when we reached the second floor. Soon she was taking us back to the inner portion of the
building and sending us on our way back downstairs. Peter was there to greet us and soon we were
back outside and in the sun light. We wandered over to the gift shop by the quadrangle -- a large
beautiful parade ground section of the Castle -- and while Deanna and Debs shopped, Martyn and I
just hung out and watched all the goings on.
We saw a new Foot Guard walking by and it was a she and not a he. Believe me, when walking away
from you, there is no doubt. Anyway, we watch as she met the other Foot Guard who was inside the
quadrangle area and standing guard at one of the doors. She conversed with him for a while and
then with ceremonial salutes, etc., she backed off and came back out of that area and went on to
somewhere else within the Castle. I assume she was some sort of officer of the guard and was
getting a report.
After the girls came out of the gift shop, we started making our way back towards the exit which
was back downhill pass St. George's Chapel and then over to the Henry VIII Gate where Debs
could turn in the audio devices. Overhead we could see and hear (as we had the whole time we were
at the Castle) HUGE jet planes headed for Gatwick Airport. They must have used the Castle as a
landmark to line up on because there was a steady stream of them roaring overhead all day and low
enough to almost count the rivets in the wings.
As we passed back by the place where the Warden had encountered me earlier and told me where
to find Deanna, we ran into him again he was still as funny as before. He told me that when they
had first come up to him, he had suggested to Martyn that he just, "Point her downhill towards St.
George's Chapel, and just give her a little push!"
Then he said with a huge grin on his face, "I then told the young man, if you're lucky, someone will
be down there and catch her and if not, you could pick her up at the exit (very bottom on hill) on
your way out!"
Too funny -- he was a riot. His politeness and sense of humor was a fitting end to our
Our tour of Windsor Castle was all over except for the shouting. We turned in the audio devices,
and Debs picked up some special forms that when filled out and with today's entry ticket, allowed
you to return free. With forms in hand, we exited the Castle via the Henry VIII gate, guarded by
the way, by two heavily armed Metro Police officers.
Across the street the "Horse and Groom Pub" awaited us and within minutes we were all enjoying a
cool one and ordering up sandwiches and such to eat and after eating, we headed back down Thames
Street to the car park. Once we got back near there, the girls went into a neat gift store and of
course, came out with bags of stuff.
On the road again, Martyn went out and around Windsor so that we could go by and through the
"Windsor Great Park" -- a vast open area park (about 5,000 acres) that is part of Windsor Castle
but stretches outwards from the Castle and extends southward for miles.
There is a planted double tree-lined road, call "The Long Walk," that starts at the Castle and runs
straight as an arrow through the Great Park for almost 3 miles and ends at the Copper Horse, a
statue of George III on horseback on Snow Hill. The statue was added in 1820 by his son George
IV. By the way, the designer of the statue later committed suicide when he realized that George
III was riding without stirrups, which was seen at the time as a huge slur on the Royal king.
This historical road/pathway, started in 1680 by Charles II with the central carriage way being
added by Queen Anne in 1710, is today for foot traffic only -- even bicycles are not allowed on it.
As we sped through the Park and crossed The Long Walk, Deanna had one second to get a shot of
the Castle at the other end of it. Way to go, girl -- you got a great shot of the tree-lined walk and
the Castle far away on the horizon.
We followed the backroads home and once again, enjoyed the countryside views and the villages we
passed through. We saw the gated entrances to the Military Academy Sandhurst as we slipped
through the small village of Sandhurst and 30 minutes later, we pulled into Debs' driveway.
Home -- we were back home and another day almost done. A bunch of kids came up to Debs as we
were all getting out of the car and they all seemed happy to see her and tell her all sorts of things.
Some little guy came scooting over on some new looking push-board thing with wheels on it. He was
a having a ball on it and wanted to show Debs his new toy.
We were pooped and since we had eaten around 5 PM in Windsor, we decide to just stay home
tonight -- munch on some cheeses and such that Debs could rustle up and then watch a movie.
The movie was Elizabeth -- all about Queen Elizabeth the First -- the Virgin Queen. Having seen
all that we had in just the past few days, especially the Tower of London were Elizabeth was
confined at one time -- quite possibly to be executed -- the movie was overwhelming in its affect
on us. It seemed almost too real, understand?
After the movie, we all headed for the bedrooms. Once again, I laid there in my room with the
windows open and listening to the night-time sounds as all the visions from today's adventure
played across my mind. Windsor Castle was wonderful -- it showed character, strength, beauty,
and 1,000 years of continuous history and tradition and we were privileged to have shared but a
day in that long line of memories.
Thank you Debs, for another wonderful day -- and a good time was had by all.
Well, the trip to England had been absolutely great up until 6 a.m. this morning. I woke up with
excruciating pain in my chest -- high stomach area -- and was feeling somewhat nauseous. At first,
I thought it might be just a bad case of the worst indigestion that I had ever experienced.
I laid there in bed for a few minutes praying for it to just go away. Then I thought, I ought to get
up and go find some Pepto Bismol in our overnight bag in Deanna's room. As soon as I tried to get
up, I knew something was very wrong -- the pain was so intense.
I tried to call for Deanna but just could not make my voice heard. I finally sat up, made it up to
my feet, and staggered into her room and got the Pepto Bismol and drank it. By now I was starting
to feel so nauseated and I headed for the bathroom just a few feet away and collapsed on the floor
by the toilet and tried to heave but absolutely nothing came up -- had what is commonly called, the
I staggered back into my room and sat down on the edge of the bed and just about passed out --
the pain was now so intense. On a scale from 1 to 10, it was a solid 10. Deanna was of course
worried to death that maybe I was having a heart attack and was suggesting, almost begging me,
for us to just go to the hospital.
As my pain increased and with the accompanying nausea, my thoughts were also of a heart attack.
I was remembering a very dear friend of mine in Vienna on a business trip with me just a few years
back who was doing almost the same thing. He was having severe upper stomach pains and nausea
and trying to pass it all off as just a bad case of indigestion. He under went a quadruple bypass
heart operation a day after we flew back to Atlanta. All the times in Vienna that he was having his
spells were actually mini-heart attacks.
Remembering all that, I became very worried (and scared) and I whispered for Deanna to get Debs
and Martyn up -- I agreed that we should head for the hospital -- soon.
First of all, it was not a heart attack (but that knowledge did not come until later).
The pain was so severe by the time that we got to the hospital, I could hardly breathe or walk. On
the pain scale, I was now approaching 15. I felt like I had been shot with a .45 at point blank
range and then they used a sledge hammer to flatten out the bullet lodged in my chest.
They immediately placed me in some sort of wheelchair and rushed me back into their Emergency
Room and started working on me. After conferring very quickly with Deanna (about what
medications I might be taking), they sprayed nitroglycerin under my tongue to help stabilized a
heart attack if I was having one and then they rapidly set about finding out what was going on
They eliminated a heart attack quickly but had no clue as to what was going on. By now, I had
already had one EKG, was on IVs, had blood drawn, was on 100% oxygen, and the head doctor (first
of four who would attend to me) had called for X-rays and a Sonogram of the stomach. The
worry/concern now was an aneurysm in the stomach -- the list just got worse.
Also, the morphine drips they were giving me for pain had no effect at first. The young lady who
gave me the first morphine drip was surprised that it had no effect. I could only gather that she
had never experienced a level 15 pain before. Anyway, the doctor ordered up another one. It took
over an hour for the 2nd morphine drip to start to do its magic.
I was also very nauseas again and as I laid there on my side with the doctor holding my head, I
retched so hard I thought I was going to cough up my tennis shoes. Nothing came up -- bone dry.
The doctor said that he had never seen anyone retch that hard before and nothing came up. It felt
like my insides were literally being ripped out of my body by some unseen monster.
They gave me something via one of the many IV lines running into both arms to calm the nausea and
with the morphine finally starting to take the edge off of the pain in my chest, I thought I might
finally have a chance to survive all this mess.
Long story short, after more EKGs, Sonograms, even had a CAT scan by noon complete with drinking
a quart of contrast and then some dye injected into me via the IV lines, they were stumped. But --
my pain level now was down to about a 2 or 3. I was thinking, "God, it looks like I am going to
survive this after all."
I was then admitted to the hospital (transferred out of the Emergency Room care) and they took
me upstairs to the Surgery Ward for close observation to await analysis of ALL the tests that had
Around 3 p.m., the 3rd doctor who had been assigned to me in the Emergency Room told me that all
the tests so far indicated that I probably had passed a gall stone. More time, tests were needed
I was starting to feel MUCH better by now (mentally and physically) and just wanted to leave.
However, my elation was short lived because the next thing I knew, I was being moved from the
temporary observation ward to the real-deal surgery ward. Everyone in here was scheduled for
surgery that day or had already come back.
I thought then that my chances of leaving were getting very slim and that maybe the test results
were showing something else and they were just not telling me yet.
By now, with no food or water (or my own medicine like my ANTI-ANXIETY medication) since
around 9 p.m. Thursday, I was getting a booming headache and quite edgy. They finally gave me an
IV drip with something in it for the pain (but NOTHING for the anxiety) around 6 p.m.
By 6:30, after having already been there 12 hours, I was READY to leave -- and I still did not
know (neither did anyone else) what was wrong with me. Finally, we were told the decision to stay
or leave could only be made by the head Consultant Doctor and that she was on her way to the
hospital at that very moment.
On her way -- sure -- I finally saw her at 8:30 and she said that the best that they could
determine was that I had passed a gall stone. My blood work also indicated a few slightly elevated
numbers on some of the liver and pancreas test parts, but that they could be normal for me, my
But, she wanted me to have the cup of coffee that I had been begging for since around noon that
day. She told the staff people who were following her around to fix it just like I normally drink
it. The rule was, if I drank it and then had no reaction to it for at least an hour I could go home --
else -- "Welcome to North Hampshire Hospital Surgery Ward."
She came back about 9:45 after finishing all her rounds, and after 15 more minutes of talking,
pushing, and probing, she officially released me. She had someone make copies of all the
paperwork, test results, everything that had followed/tracked me all day, etc. and said these might
be helpful if I had a follow up back home with my doctor.
I was dressed in two seconds flat after all my IV connections were removed from both arms. I was
shaky when I stood up, but it felt wonderful to be standing up on my own two feet. We quickly left
the Surgery Ward before the head doctor could come back and change her mind. Soon we were off
the lifts and headed for Martyn's car.
As we walked out the front door, I was struck by the reality of the past 15 hours in that the total
cost for the unbelievable GREAT care/treatment given to me was FREE -- not one dime had
exchanged hands. The last thing I heard from them was, "Goodnight, Mr. Bailey, we hope you feel
The trip back to Debs house was wonderful -- I felt like I had escaped from some bizarre
nightmare. I was hungry, wanted another cup of coffee, and was tired even though I had been
basically lying on my behind for over 24 hours.
Needless to say, I had had about all the adventure, excitement, and drama for one day as I could
stand and I headed upstairs to my bedroom. I was looking foward to my night-time ritual of lying
there in the bed in the dark with the windows opened and hearing the night-time sounds lull me to
What a day -- what a week -- my mind was spinning like a top. I still felt (would for over a week) a
tiny annoying sensation at the top of my stomach where all the pain was just 15 hours ago. I was
sorry about today's events in that because of them, we had to cancel our trip down to Kent to meet
Martyn's parents and Deanna and I were looking forwards to that so much.
Also, I can not begin to tell you how wonderful it felt to have had Debs and Martyn alongside of me
the entire time I was in the hospital. They took turn staying in the room with both Deanna and I.
Martyn was there during all the long anxiety filled hours from around 3 p.m. until Debs joined back
in on the fun around 9 p.m.
Martyn, I thank you (and Debs) from the bottom of my heart for being there with me and Deanna
-- you never once wavered in your constant friendship and calm concern for the both of us -- I love
you both so much...
Thankfully, sleep came soon and my body started its daily repair cycle -- both physically and
mentally tonight. I needed it -- tomorrow was our last day here and I wanted to enjoy it like I had
done so for all the other days here.
I am glad, in a weird sort of way, that I got to experience free health care in the UK. The
monumental differences between their system and ours was brought into crystal clear focus for
me three days later when I walked into my doctor's office for my first follow up appointment.
Whereas in the North Hampshire Hospital the first words out of their mouth were, "Hello, Mr.
Bailey, how are you feeling." The first words out of the receptionist at my doctor's office were,
"Who is going to pay for this?"
Two simple questions -- but a monumental and overwhelming difference in why they were asked.
My follow-up doctor’s appointments (three) have yielded no new clues as to what the real cause of
my UK attack might have been, and my doctors are also stumped -- said the "passage of a gall
stone" is probably what they would have come up with if all of the events had been seen/treated
here by them.
Long story short, I have had more blood work tests, physical examinations, and an extensive
Sonogram devoted specifically to checking the pancreas, liver, and gall bladder and I have been
given a clean bill of heath. All my previously elevated numbers (from blood tests) are now back to
normal and I am back to my normal self -- almost.
When I say almost, I mean my mind set has changed.
Lying on a North Hampshire hospital bed for 15 plus hours made me think about a lot of things.
While I am thankful for my good health (now) I am acutely aware that the events described above
were if nothing else, a wakeup call about me, my heath, and my lifestyle.
"10/4 headquarters, message received ... over and out!"
We were up bright and early this last full day in England. I could not believe I felt as good as I
did considering the events of the previous 24 hours. But hey, when you are dealt a good hand you
grin and say, "Bring it on."
The light breakfast of warm toast, jellies, and coffee made me feel whole again. I was anxious to
get moving and do something. Today had been scheduled by Debs as a sort of stay at home, maybe
do something in town sort of day. We decided to go into Basingstoke and just mess around a bit --
do some shopping, whatever.
Once again, we were all loaded up and for the first time, were headed for downtown Basingstoke.
We went to a huge mall -- Festival Place -- right there in the middle of downtown. Along the way,
I noticed several lighted signs that gave out parking space availabilities at various places around
town. I had seen this in some of the other towns that we had visited and thought what a great idea
-- wish that we had that back at home.
The board lists names of parking facilities and shows a live count number of actual parking spaces
available. You can see ahead of time where to make a bee line for or just say the heck with it and
go back home. Festival Place was showing some number like 1092 spaces available. I thought that
was a lot -- the mall must not be all that busy.
Wrong. When we pulled into the parking facility, I saw straight away that you could get lost in
that place -- it was HUGE and you had to HUNT to find one of the elusive 1092 available
None of this fazed Martyn as he maneuvered through the maze of parking levels and sections and
finally made his way to an area that was almost right by the lifts and found a spot. He had driven
like he knew that there would be one there. Was it magic or just crazy dumb luck -- I was not sure
which. Later when I quizzed him about it, he just grinned -- he had to have known, I just know it!
The mall was bustling with people and within seconds, I realized that I could have been back at
home in any of the large malls around Atlanta. We strolled around like everyone else and soon we
were at a side door that led outside to one of the main shopping streets in Basingstoke. I was
amazed at how they had integrated such a huge mall into an already existing town structure. The
transition was seamless.
We stepped out into the bright sunlight and onto Wote Street. For a second or two, it was almost
déjà vu time -- the scene was very reminiscent of High Street in Winchester in that it ran uphill,
was pedestrian only, and was full of shops, people, street entertainers -- the works.
There were lots of neat shops and we just strolled on up the hill and looked. Near the end of Wote
Street, we went into a neat store that made furniture out of stainless steel, etc., and it was
beautiful. Talk about lasting furniture.
At the top where Mote Street intersected with London Street and Market Place, there was an
outdoor fruit and vegetable stand set up in a small area like a tiny city square. There were also
flowers for sale, and other tented stalls that sold other goods to the locals and to tourist like we
were. All in all, because of all the stalls, flowers, and objects for sale in view, the square was a
pleasant scene of sights, colors, and smells.
We decided that we had seen enough (and I was dead tired but had not opened my mouth) and we
made our way back downhill, through the Mall and caught the lift back up to our parking level. In
no time at all, Martyn had made his way back out to the real world and we were headed for the
We were going to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for our low key, farewell party later
today. All of the family from Portsmouth was coming up for a "picky bits" dinner later
We stopped at a Sainsbury's -- a suburb, shopping center type grocery store like our local Kroger
or Publix supermarkets here. We all piled out of the car and after we got inside, we divided up the
list of goodies to get and set about to find them.
Deanna and I were amazed by the items we saw. It was not so much what they were -- in some
ways, we felt like we were at our local Publix back home -- but at how much they cost.
Ignoring the pounds to dollars conversion rate (1 British pound equaled right at 2 US dollars while
we were there), the food appeared to be basically twice as expensive. The numbers (prices) on the
packages looked the same, that is, about 7 pounds for a basic bottle of wine, or 1 pound for a loaf
of bread, or 5 pounds/per pound for steak, etc.
Then it hits you -- the base numbers look the same -- but with the conversion rate, they were
paying almost twice what we were. For example, they were paying 10 DOLLARS a pound for the
same steak I could buy here for just five dollars a pound.
After getting over sticker shock, we settled in and enjoyed the shopping tour. Another GREAT
feature that this store had (others in the same grocery store chain also have) was a self-checkout
device that you carry with you along with the grocery bags that you will need to haul all your
goodies out to the car.
Oh, we have self-checkout areas in our grocery stores where once you are done shopping, you drag
all the goodies you have selected over a laser operated scanning device, and if you have successfully
placed your scanned item on the REQUIRED place where you have a bag waiting, and the machine
knows that -- it can see and sense it -- it will allow you to continue with your scanning. Then, if you
make it thought this process, your can then pay the machine with cash or credit card and head for
home with your purchases.
But this was NOT what self-checkout meant here.
Martyn had a hand-held scanner device in his hand when we finally caught up with them. As he
selected an item off of the shelf, he simply scanned the code on the package and then placed that item
into one of the carry-out grocery bags he already had. How cool was that? Scanning and bagging as
you shop and when done, you go to a check-out station, pay and boom, you're out the door in seconds.
Publix -- are you listening -- hello, are you getting this GREAT idea?
With our shopping done -- all bagged and paid far -- we headed for Sandpiper Way one last time.
With all the goodies in the kitchen, Debs set about preparing the items for the party.
Soon, the whole gang had arrived -- Doug and Shirley, Gary and Lynn, Sophie and Lee. The house was
abuzz with smiling faces, laughter, and football games -- either watching them on TV or playing it on
the Soccer-Foosball Table game that Martyn has sitting right in the middle of the passageway
between the dinette area and the new extension that he had built.
Soccer -- OOPS, I mean FOOTBALL -- is almost like a religion here. They get into it, especially
the guys. Gary and Lee are huge football fans and as I watched TV with them while football was
on (Martyn has a satellite dish set up for sports TV and I think you could watch every game in the
world with it), I noticed how astute Lee was to all the teams, leagues, divisions, playoff
He rattled off names, numbers, and statistics like a certified public accountant doing an audit on
the company's books -- it was amazing. I thought I was in another country as I listened to him and
Gary rattle on excitedly about this game or that player, etc. -- and had no earthly idea what they
were so excited about.
And the girls -- Sophie, Lynn, and Debs -- are into the Foosball Table game big time. I sat there
and watched them take on the guys and relished in the excitement they all had when each side
would score a point. The girls were just as passionate, motivated, and animated in their love and
skill for the game as the guys were. If either side won, they had to EARN it! It was wonderful
seeing all this -- family and friends full of love and laughter -- all having a good time together.
Tracy joined us later in the afternoon and finally, it was time for all of us to enjoy picky bits. I
was starving and could not wait to eat.
Picky bits -- loved that term -- are just tiny bits and pieces of lots of great foods. We had all
sorts of breads, cheeses, fruits, and meats -- it was wonderful. You just picked up a bit here, a bit
there, and soon your plate was all loaded up.
I tried to drink a beer, but it just didn't seem right after last night plus, I really didn't want one.
I know -- some were saying, "What in the world did you do with Mike Bailey -- he just said NO
THANKS to a FREE beer?"
Soon it was time for the Portsmouth group to say their goodbyes. I hate goodbyes -- too emotional,
I guess. Anyway, I hugged the daylights out of both kids and told them to be good and that we
would see them again real soon when they came to see us in July to go to Edisto with us.
We thanked Doug and Shirley, and Lynn and Gary once again for all the wonderful things they had
done last Monday in Portsmouth for my birthday. With a few hugs and handshakes, they slipped out
of the house and were gone. Not too long after that, Tracy said her goodbyes and we were alone
once again with the "Brits" -- our affectionate term for Debs and Martyn.
Deanna and I were dreading this moment because it signaled the end of a most fantastic and
wonderful time we were having and that it also meant we had to go pack -- the final gesture that
says quite clearly, fun time is over, you have to go home.
All week, we had been placing beside my bed, all the things that we had purchased for gifts etc., to
be brought back with us. When I first looked at the pile on this our packing night, my first (and
second) thought was, "There ain't no way all that stuff is going to fit in our suitcases."
Then, I remembered that all was not lost -- we were actually staying in the same house where the
two people in England lived that had proven over and over again that the physical laws of quantum
mechanics and theoretical limits to volumes as related to platonic solids, etc., could be safely
broken (modified, stretched, or tweaked) to solve difficult packing challenges without any harm
whatsoever to the items being handled.
Over the years, I had gotten pretty adapt at packing -- trunks, cars, backs of trucks, whatever.
Then I met Debs and Martyn with their packing skills (black magic). Debs is the only person I
know that can take 25 pounds of materials and safely pack them in a five pound bag and them --
and THEN -- calmly ask, "Does anyone have anything they need for me to carry FOR them?"
"Shut Up already..." :-)
Maybe some of Debs magic had worn off and onto Deanna because in about an hour, she had all
three suitcases and our two carry-onboard bags packed with room to spare. I could not believe it
-- I even looked under the bed to make sure she wasn't hiding stuff for Debs to sneak back with
her when they came in July.
Since we had to get up at 4 AM to get to Gatwick by 6 AM, we all decided to call it a night. Once
again, I found myself lying in bed with the lights out and listening to the night-time sounds through
my opened window. I realized immediately that I was going to miss that -- it was becoming quite
restful to me and I enjoyed it.
I lay there quietly and said all my prayers and then relaxed and just let the past week's adventures
play out in my mind. All that you have just read is only but a sample of all the things that Deanna
and I saw, heard, felt, sensed, and enjoyed while we shared a few glorious days with our two dear
friends -- "The Brits."
I realized after a while that I had tears running down my cheeks. God was letting me know is his
own special way that yes, we DID have a wonderful time and that some of the best were simple and
Those were moments like when I would pause and see natural beauty in a flowering field of yellow
and gold, or feel his hand on my shoulder when I sat quietly in Winchester Cathedral and prayed
for all those whom I loved, or the times when I saw Deanna walking and laughing with no pain on
her face. All these may have been simple, but they were profound in my life.
Four AM came all too quick and in what seemed like just a few minutes, we were all up and loading
the trunk of the Passat for the final time. We told the boys goodbye and soon, Martyn was zipping
through the quiet and dark streets of Basingstoke -- headed for Gatwick International Airport.
The trip was quiet -- each of us reflecting on the events of the past week. All too soon, we were at
the airport and we were dragging all our stuff out of the car and onto the curb. Debs and Deanna do
not do goodbyes well and the two of then were hugging and crying like babies. I hugged and kissed
both Debs and Martyn and told then that I loved them and thanked them one more time for the
fantastic week they had shared with us.
With tears and hugs behind us, I loaded all our stuff up on a baggage cart and we watched our two
dear friends slip away into the morning daylight and in an instant, they were gone.
We went inside and began the ordeal of getting all our luggage checked and through the security
checks and then finally after we were cleared, we began the long hike back out to the same gate
where we had landed. Deanna rode all the way this time -- I think that she just wanted to relax and
let me do all the work.
We ate breakfast out in the gate area and did a little last minute shopping before it was time to
board our long flight back to Atlanta. After getting all settled in, we backed away from the gate
and in no time, we were screaming down the runway and homeward bound.
As the plane banked after takeoff to head for America, I could see the rolling countryside once
again in the morning sunlight.
It was beautiful -- it was forever -- it was England.
Then I suddenly realized that the man who had come to England nine days ago was not the same man
returning home this morning. That new man was far richer in mind and spirit than the happy tourist
that had flown across the Atlantic to visit England with friends.