Monday, January 9, 2012

Thatched Roofs and Imminent Death

My mother had never been to Europe, and so for her birthday/Christmas/Mother's Day, I decided we should go.

We planned two weeks, one in England and one in France.

We decided to drive instead of depending on public transportation, so we could see more. We knew that in the UK they drive on the other side of the car and the road, but in true Barber Women fashion, we thought, "How bad can it be?"

We arrived in the morning and picked up our rental car at Heathrow on a Sunday morning.  The plan was to drive to Salisbury for our first night at a bed and breakfast/tavern, and take in Stonehenge if we weren't too tired.

We loaded our luggage and climbed into the car. Mom decided to drive, which wasn't surprising since she drives everywhere all the time anyway and is also better versed in manual transmissions. And by better versed I mean that she's actually driven them. Within in seconds of pulling out of the lot, she hit a curb. It went downhill from there.

When we were on the highway, it was fine, but the UK LOVES traffic circles.

Traffic Circles in the UK rotate counter clockwise and despite having multiple travel lanes, they actually have no lines marking where said lanes are located.

The overall result of our drive out of London consisted of moments on the highways where we felt reasonably safe,  two lanes roads where we felt like fish out of water but reasonably okay, and then traffic circles, which we dreaded as they approached, and where we simply prayed to survive until we were on the two lane road again.

Then we discovered another kind of road in the UK. The one lane road with no shoulder.  These were the ones I, as the passenger, feared the most.  You know, those lovely English hedges are a lot less romantically lovely when you're barreling toward them at  30 MPH sitting on the side of the car THAT YOU ARE SURE SHOULD HAVE A STEERING WHEEL.

The strained, fear filled silence of the sedan's interior was occasionally pierced by one of two sounds. Either the beat my foot hitting the part of the floor that should have had a brake pedal, or my mothers right hand knuckles striking the window of the car as she reached for the gear shift with the wrong hand. In retrospect, one of us should have turned on the radio, but neither of us felt we had a free hand available for such a frivolous exercise.

Oh and did I mention it was raining?

Needless to say, when we spotted Stonehenge in the distance, we both agreed that would be a great place to stop, and upon pulling into the parking lot, we marveled at our own ability to survive such adverse conditions.  We dragged our feet getting back into the car.

We found our tiny tavern B&B in an even tinier town full of structures bearing construction dates from the mid 1600s. Even I had to duck into a few of the ancient doorways of the tavern, as the tall, blustery English tavern keeper led us to our second floor room.

The warmth of the room combined with the fading light and pouring rain put us to sleep.

We woke up to sunshine and an English breakfast served in the tavern downstairs.  Closer inspection of the town's buildings revealed that they were all thatched roofs. Our host was energetic and talkative, explaining the benefits and issues of associated with thatched roofs and the history of the town. We were also treated to a first hand account of exactly what the average UK citizen thought of everything from the Royal Family to national healthcare to illegal immigration.  In the end he invited us back anytime and even waved as we drove away.

We hoped that he wouldn't watch us drive off, lest mom take out a parked car.

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