Friday, July 22, 2011

Roundabout England (guest post by Dad)

This post cracked me up! I'll admit my dad is a better writer than me, but I'm not jealous when I can have this much fun reading what he's written. Please enjoy, and also be sure to check out Dad's earlier guest post She Went to Paris...and I Went, too... .

Beulah? Be-yu-lee? Beyo-le-yeeugh.....? What the heck – This is the King's English?

It all sounds French to me. I'd better explain.

The word I'm talking about here is Beaulieu. It's the name of a beautiful palace house in County Hampshire, U.K., near where my son, Nate and his wife, Natalie, live. Interestingly, the man and woman living there are not French but English, the Baron and Baroness of Montagu (come to think of it, Montagu sounds French, too).

In fact, the locals pronounce it “byu-lee”. But I'm not buying it; I think they're fudging and calling it good. My contention is that anytime you have an eight-letter word of which six are vowels, well then it's French, and therefore unpronounceable.

Yes, I know, William the Conqueror was Norman (read, French – I HAVE read a history book, or two), and gave castles and grants to his lieutenants; as a consequence one finds many grand houses and castles with French names all over England. The fact is that Beaulieu House (SEE, you can't pronounce it either) is an extraordinarily beautiful structure, inside and out. Also, there is a rather astonishing museum filled with hundreds of antique cars on the grounds because one of the house's former occupants, Sir John Montagu, was closely associated with the original Rolls Royce automobile. So if you ever get to England, be sure and see Beyo-ule-uyu, uh, Be-eo-oleu-uli-uie...go see the house pictured below. Trust me, it's worth it.

Recently, Nate and Natalie brought us to the U.K. for a visit. They picked us up at Heathrow Airport and whisked us southward on the M3, the British version of an interstate highway. We rolled through the lush green countryside past villages with pleasantly English names like Camberley, Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Ringwood, and Ferndown. It was a very lovely respite after nine hours on a 777. Very lovely, indeed.

But then we left the M3.

Have you ever driven in the English countryside? No? Don't.

First, as everyone else knows, they drive on the wrong side. They say that the English did this because they wanted to be different from France and America, or perhaps it was because everyone on the board that wrote the original statute was left-handed. For my part, I think the board members were all seriously drunk. Or maybe, by some strangely bad stroke of luck, the board members were all Irish or Scottish and they thought, “Hey, here's a way we can screw these bloody English...”

Once off the M3, none of the side roads is wide enough for one car, let alone two of them hurtling towards each other at ridiculous speeds. And then there are the round-abouts.

What? You've never heard of them? Really? Get down on your knees right now and thank the Good Lord – and while you're there, pray that you are forever spared the experience.

Round-abouts are everywhere. Evidently, the British government didn't discover the stoplight until sometime in the last couple of years. In lieu (pronounced “loo”, like the British toilet) of such sensible methods of controlling traffic, they constructed these merry-go-rounds from hell. Drivers come at these things from all directions – that driver wants to get around and go off in that direction, that other guy wants to get around and go that way, and this poor, unlucky stiff just wants to go straight through. Yeah, well, good luck with that, buddy. You'll probably die, but give it a go!

I'm convinced that the round-about was originally designed as a cure for incontinence, or maybe it was to facilitate the sale of underwear. I don't know. I will say this – proudly and gratefully – my son negotiated these death-traps admirably and with remarkable aplomb. Apparently, he's gone native.

Bournemouth is a lovely seaside town, right on the Channel. Nate and Natalie have done well for themselves and they live in a pretty house in a really nice neighborhood. (It's a neighborhood filled with nice people, too, but that's for later in the story.)

Our second day there, they took us to a genuine British pub for lunch and Nate treated me to a pint of the pub's own brand of beer – Piddle, it's called. Now, I'm not a connoisseur of beer, like Nate, or like my sons-in-law, David and Matthew, but I think it tasted exactly like its name. They should really try and put it back into whatever, or whoever, piddled it out in the first place.....

Nate, discerning fellow that he is, saw the look on my face and decided to rescue me. Sliding my mug over in front of him, he replaced it with something called “Fortyniner”. And that was genuinely good stuff. So, for the rest of our stay, it was Fortyniner for me. We sat in the discreet English sunshine, surrounded by lots and lots of pots of flowers – flowers grow like mad over there – and got reacquainted with our fine son and his lovely wife. What a good and pleasant day that was! And the food wasn't bad either – not great, like in France, but not bad.

After lunch at the pub, we went to Christchurch. I will say this about the British – if their relationship with the Maker is as solid and as beautiful as their cathedrals, then they're all on St. Peter's list and a solid lock for eternity. We could have stood and gazed at the stained glass for hours. Actually, I think we did. Christchurch was started in the eleventh century and finished down through years. It's all so wonderfully and solemnly ancient. Over the centuries, very important people were buried in the churchyard – but REALLY important people were buried beneath the floor, thus:

If any of my people ever lived and died thereabouts, they aren't found in or near the church. They were undoubtedly tossed into the Channel and fed to the fish. Or maybe they were ground up and used to make Piddle.

The next day we went to Beaulieu Palace House. After touring the museum, where Karen found several Jaguar and Rolls Royce automobiles that she would love to possess (first, she needs to re-marry, and this time, go for the money) we wandered through the lovely house and grounds. What did I enjoy the most? The temperature. It was mid-seventies. In San Antonio, on the day of our departure, it was 102. (It would be 104 when we returned.)

After a three day stint in Paris (Nate's and Natalie's birthday present to Karen), we came back for a few more days in England. The following afternoon we went down to the beach. And it was another perfect day, weather-wise. Plenty of sun and a cool breeze coming in off the Channel. It is said that Julius Caesar came ashore near here, but I didn't see him. Either he had taken his legions inland, or he had already seen and conquered all that he desired and had loaded up and gone back over to France. (Paris is over there – who can blame him?)

There is a lovely nineteenth century seaside mansion there in Bournemouth called the Russell Cotes house. It has many verandas and sitting rooms with breathtaking views of the sea and contains one of the prettiest parlors I have ever seen. There are also two rooms dedicated to Mr. Cotes collection of artwork. As we entered these galleries, we were asked not to take photos and the reason for this stricture became immediately apparent.

Russell evidently liked him a bevy of bare-naked ladies. There are paintings of very naked women washing their undies, hanging their undies on the line, taking their undies off, putting their undies on, but none of ladies actually wearing their undies. There are also busts of naked ladies, and busts of naked ladies' busts, if you get my drift. I don't know what Mrs. Cotes thought of all this, but in the few pictures there were of her, she was fully clothed and I, for one, thought that her smile was tight and a bit forced.

Now, I am an admirer of the female form as much as any man, but my sweet wife prefers that I limit the scope of my admiration to one female form in particular. I happen to agree with this sentiment, so we took our admiration outside and expended it on the grounds, where I took a photo of the particular female form mentioned in the preceding sentence.

That evening we went to The New Queen for supper; where I opted for the classic fish and chips which, besides being authentic, was very good. On the wall by our table there was inscribed an old saying, “The church is near, but the road is icy. The pub is far, but I will walk carefully.” I chuckled but was careful not to laugh outright – I could just see St. Peter frowning, looking for my name on the list, and reaching for his eraser. (Actually, he probably keeps his thumb on the sheet containing my name, with his eraser close at hand, in any event.)

Saturday morning, Nate says, “Dad, I need to get things ready for the 4th of July barbecue.”

I stared at him. “We're going to celebrate the fourth? Here? - in England?”

“Of course.”

I met his eyes for a long moment, and then nodded gravely and reached for my musket.

He laughed. “No, Dad, it's okay. The neighbors are going to join in. The British aren't really all that fussed about it anymore.”

And they aren't. At least those British folk that are his neighbors aren't. Some might think that they're an exceptional, “forgive and forget” group of folk, but I think it's a testament to my son's charisma and easy nature and that of his clever and charming wife. They are easily two of the most likeable people on the planet. They enter a room full of strangers and the strangers become friends; they enter a room full of friends and immediately the mood brightens. I'm pretty sure that every single inhabitant of the street showed up. So there we were, surrounded by pleasant, friendly English folk wearing Stars-and-Stripes hats and Union Jack t-shirts. And it seemed right.

Later, Mike, Nate's accommodating neighbor who hosted the barbecue, took the liberty of informing me that America didn't really win its independence; no, they let us go, only fighting a bit so that we would appreciate what we'd been given, like a recalcitrant child. By that time, I had consumed four or five of Mike's “Fortyniners” and the idea seemed reasonable and even made a fair amount of sense.

The next day, we boarded the 777 for the ten-hour return trip to Texas. Now, I am not easily made sad, but leaving our son and daughter – and, strangely, Europe – made me blink my eyes repeatedly against an unfamiliar, watery discharge.

One last thing – if beau is pronounced “bo” and lieu is pronounced “loo”, how come the name of Beaulieu House isn't pronounced “Bo-loo”? Just asking.

To read excerpts from Dad's Kelven's Riddle fantasy series, please follow the link at left.

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