The trials and tribulations of a solo trip to England and Scotland
I was born and spent almost fifty years of my life in Toronto. In 1991, my family and I moved to the village of Belmont, just southeast of London, Ontario. Part of the plan was for me to spend more of my time pursuing my short story and poetry writing. Three years later I answered an ad in a local weekly newspaper for a correspondent to cover village news and my newspaper career began.
During the course of my rather checkered writing career, I’ve been asked many times why I haven’t written a book yet. The answer is, I have. My first two completed novels were actually novellas with only one crossing a publisher’s desk and back again, and a third is still in the works. As a short story writer and poet, I’ve written the equivalent of one many times over, but only individual pieces have ever been published. I’ve come to the conclusion that, in order to write a full length book, fiction or non fiction, you have to have enough subject matter to write about. Until recently, I hadn’t.
As a newspaper correspondent, I’ve interviewed a great many people who have managed to fulfill a lifetime dream; who’ve reached out for the brass ring and actually managed to get it.
After a lifetime of dreaming about connecting with my roots in England and Scotland, in 1997 I finally had the opportunity to do it, to grab for my own elusive brass ring and catch it too.
The two weeks I spent there (April 18 - May 2) were really a busman’s holiday with every day carefully recorded in infinite detail in a small journal that I carried in my pocket or purse wherever I went. Once my longhand scribbling had been translated and typed for posterity, the result was definitely enough to fill a book. I hope you like it.
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Guardian Angels Watching Over Me
In the months preceding my trip, I was often asked why I was travelling overseas alone. I usually replied that no one wanted to go with me. To be honest, though, in the almost forty years of daydreaming of finding my relatives in England and seeing Scotland, I’d never thought of going there any other way. What I didn’t know was that I would never really be alone - I’d have guardian angels with me every step of the way (including a gold and birthstoned one I’d found and pinned to my hat just before I left).
As the plane taxied down the runway in preparation for takeoff, I had mixed feelings about what I was getting myself into. It’s not that I have a fear of flying. Unlike my husband, who has both a fear of heights and the plane crashing, with me it’s a longstanding fear of having to use an airsick bag in flight.
Over the years, I’ve flown many times and in different types of aircraft, but thankfully I’ve never been thoroughly motion sick in one and I wasn’t about to start. Mind you, this would be the longest flight of my life.
Plagued by motion sickness on both land and sea all my life, I’d taken no chances and fortified myself with Gravol in the airport lounge and attached Seabands (velcro bracelets) around both wrists before boarding the plane just to make doubly sure. (My embarrassing early years on Toronto’s streetcars had made me gun-shy of any further public displays.) Keeping my mind off such things, I wasn’t the only one sitting there who marvelled that what looked like 500 of us could fit onboard one plane - but amazingly we did.
Up until 1997, the idea of actually going to England to meet my father’s family and see my maternal grandmother’s birthplace in Aberdeen, Scotland had been nothing more than an idle daydream.
Now, with monetary help from and the blessing of my father-in-law, it was finally becoming a reality. The next step, after deciding to make the trip and before buying the tickets, had been to find out if my cousin and his wife really wanted me to visit them.
Since discovering where my father’s oldest sibling lived in England several years ago and making written contact with him before his death at 90 in 1996, I had kept up correspondence with his son and we’d exchanged telephone numbers.
Plucking up the courage to call him up and speak to him, I’d been delighted not only to find that understanding his Kent accent was no problem at all (not that I’d expected it would be), but that the idea of me coming for a visit was to him “jolly” and “simply smashing”.
He followed that by telling me they’d love to have me stay with them, but apologized that their home was small with only two bedrooms. I‘d assured him that I’d spent half my childhood sleeping on a couch and that any spare space they had would be fine with me. I’d finished by telling him that finally getting to meet them was what really mattered.
Thinking of the people I’d already met while waiting for the plane to start boarding, I remembered my daughter wondering how I’d survive trying to understand the English accents. I’d assured her that my cousin did not have the same accent as the ones she’d had so much trouble understanding when she’d first started watching Coronation Street. Unconvinced, she’d warned me that I would really have trouble with the Scottish accents. I’d laughed and said they would be no problem at all because I’d spent my early years with her Scottish great-grandmother. While my grandmother had been in Canada for over forty years by the time I knew her and could no longer speak Gaelic, she never did lose her fine brogue.
The only drawback of the trip would be being separated from Ron, my husband of 3l years, for the longest time in our married lives.
While I was away, he would be in charge of our 14 ½ year old German Shepherd/Husky Tatum, our daughter’s cat Curbey, and my weekly newspaper column, not to mention the house itself. (Our two grown children - daughter Roni and son Randy, had already left the nest by then.)
The first thing I did was work up an itinerary of what I’d like to see while I was there by scouting out the travel books for ideas and sending a copy to my cousin. A must for the trip would be a small notebook to journalize my experiences with Ron suggesting I take my tape recorder for the same purpose. I reminded him that I didn’t work that way, but would take it anyway to record the music and accents I would hear. Essential too would be lots of rolls of film to, in Ron’s words, “take pictures of everything” and lots of English and Scottish money to “have a good time”.
During the final preparations, I was forewarned by my six foot tall neighbour, whose wife was an Air Ontario flight attendant, that I might get bumped from my flight at the last minute or almost as bad, spend over five hours squashed in a seat without proper legroom. His horror stories did nothing to alleviate my growing last minute anxiety, but thankfully, in the words of English music hall/movie star George Formby, “Everything turned out all right in the end”.