After the wedding
we were still in a pretty good mood -- the
bill for the cleaners hadn't come in yet -- so we figured we
might as well take a day or two off for a honeymoon.
You know, maybe drive down to a Motel 6 in Harrisburg
for a couple days and order out from Domino's, something
It quickly got out of hand, and we ended up staying
a week in the tower of a Welsh castle, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
It started when we found out that Niagara falls was all booked up. And
let's face it -- Las Vegas is just too dusty. So, we figured we might as well go
Family in this case meant Kathleen's cousin Elaine, who is the first and only woman heart surgeon in Britain. (Which raises the obvious question of why she made me carve the dinner turkey, when she could have eviscerated it with a few deft strokes. One of those traditional sex-role things, I guess. Eviscerate a living, breathing human being: Elaine. Eviscerate a dead turkey on a platter: Dave. Eviscerate Bill Clinton: Hmmm, a tossup.)
While I'm at it, here's a tip for Americans going to a formal British dinner: be aware that there are many courses. Many more than you suspect there will be. It's not like in the United States, where a "two course meal" means a Big Mac and fries. In Britain, if you fill up on the soup, you will be nonplussed when the fish dish comes out. If you go ahead and make a sporting go at the fish, you will be distraught when the poultry course makes an appearance. If you manfully choke down a flattering amount of the poultry course, you will be terrified when the meat dish is placed before you. If you foolishly dare to partake of the meat dish even so, you will likely expire, face down, in the cheese platter. The others will be wondering why (as they tuck into dessert) since they wisely paced themselves. You will end up the subject of humiliating conversation as they lounge around afterward, burping contentedly, sipping port and eating mint wafers. So be warned.
Kathleen's cousin Elaine lives near Manchester, in the northwest part of England, with her giant sheepdog, Sophie. Sophie has to wear a barrette to keep the hair out of her eyes, it's so long. Rather a fetching look, overall.
We figured that as long as we were in that part of England, we might as well visit the Lake District. We'd heard a lot about it, mostly several dozen variations on "it's too crowded" and "for God's sake, if you value your sanity, stay away from Lake Windermere." So, judiciously taking those views into account, we rented an apartment on the shores of Lake Windermere.
Well, in our own defense, I should point out that it was off-season (October, in fact). The lateness of the season didn't matter to Kathleen and me -- we were on our honeymoon, so the birds were chirping, the sun was shining, the chipmunks were whistling Disney tunes, our lives and destines were fulfilled in eternal and sacred marital bliss, and so on and so forth. And it hardly rained more than every other day.
The Lake District was, as it turned out, completely gorgeous. You know how sometimes you'll see a tourist who looks like he's just off the boat, and he'll stop in the middle of the mall and start taking pictures, and you'll be, like, "Hey! It's a mall! What're you taking pictures of!"? Well, that was Kathleen and me in the Lake District. We'd drive over the crest of a hill, and there would be a wall, and a tree, and it would be a perfect wall, chest-high and made of stones skillfully stacked without mortar, covered with lichen and overgrown with honeysuckle and heather; and it would be a perfect tree, a live oak with great, spreading branches shading the ground, hundreds of years old, with sheep quietly cropping the grass underneath. And so we'd be rhapsodizing over this view, and taking pictures, and the locals would drive by and give us these looks that plainly said: "Hey! It's a tree! It's a wall! What're you taking pictures of?" All I can say is that, in the Lake District, they seem to have the trees and walls and vistas that everywhere else aspires to. Sort of the Platonic ideal of tree-ness and wall-ness.
We spent a fair amount of time walking over the hills and around the lakes, directed by a guide book we got called "Tea Shop Walks in the Lake District". Is that a lame title for a hiking guide, or what? When I get a hiking guide, I want it to be called "14,000 Killer Hikes for the Unusually Butch." The "Tea Shop walks" book was Kathleen's idea. The book consists of walks cleverly arranged so that you stroll a few yards and look at, say, a patch of cowslip, and then, feeling faint from the exertion, circle around to a tea shop for some revivifying cucumber sandwiches and pastries.
At least, that's what I thought it would be like. Turns out that the tea-sippers in England are made of sterner stuff. The tea shop walks were grueling treks with significant altitude gains and losses, with a gratuitous tea shop thrown in near the end from which you could call the rescue squad if your companions got lost in the high country or stuck in the bog. So, needless to say, I was quite pleased with it.
We stayed in the Lake District for a week, then moved on to Wales.