by Kay G. Rock
This summer we traveled to Scotland with four friends. We saw wonderful sights: Edinburgh Castle, the Highlands and Isle of Skye and Glasgow’s soaring Central Station. We heard glorious sounds: the Military Tattoo featuring hundreds of bagpipers en masse, the distinctive Highland dialect, an actor reciting Robert Burns’ poetry (in Scots) from a parapet at Stirling Castle. We experienced delicious tastes: Scottish salmon, cranachan (Ed. Note: a traditional Scottish dessert usually made from a mixture of whipped cream, whiskey, honey and fresh raspberries, with toasted oatmeal soaked overnight in a little bit of whiskey), fish and chips and wee drams of single malt.
At the end of our tour, each couple went their separate way on self-guided adventures. My husband and I rented a car to continue our journey down through England. This was a brave thing to do — drive a rental car through England, that is. Britons, as you know, drive on the wrong side of the road.
My husband did an awesome job getting us around, but despite his capable chauffeuring, I was still experiencing major crises of perception. My mind revolted at the mirror image experience posed by driving in Britain. I sincerely believe if someone had held a gun to my head and said “Drive here, or else!” I would have said, “Shoot me!”
I rode in the passenger seat, which, of course, felt like the driver’s seat — and which soon led to my transformation from a relaxed traveler into “Driving Miss Crazy.” If the car wandered too close to the curb, I gripped the arm-rest and yelled, “Close, close, CLOSE!” On narrow country roads, (where signs actually said “On-coming cars may be in the middle of the road”), “Miss Crazy” yelled — with every oncoming car — “Car, car, CAR!” Right turns were a seat-gripping, eye-widening event. Roundabouts, of which there were more in a 30-mile stretch in England than in the entire state of New Jersey, put me into a full imitation of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
As the navigator, I found myself trying to decipher signs crowded with circles, arrows and hilariously cumbersome names like “The Wallops-near-Bramble-side,” “Sudbury-on-the-Lea-over-Water,” or “Flow-Gently-Sweet-Afton.” One needed an Evelyn Wood speed reading certificate to determine which arrow to follow to which destination and just where one should exit the roundabout to get there!
“Miss Crazy” had no choice but to yell “Circle, circle, CIRCLE” to allow time to determine if we were to exit at “11 o’clock,” “one o’clock” or “three o’clock.” Sometimes it took so long we got dizzy. Fortunately, once in the roundabout, we had the right-of-way. Equally auspicious, my husband remained calm in the midst of my panic attacks.
Driving challenges aside, our travels through the Lake District, Midlands and ultimately the Cotswolds provided glorious scenery and experiences, a highlight of which was a tour of Highclere Castle, filming location of the popular PBS series, Downton Abbey. I thoroughly enjoyed descending the staircase, pretending to be Lady Mary; sitting in the library imagining having tea with the Dowager Countess; and relaxing on the beautiful grounds of “Downton,” fantasizing we were “Lord and Lady Rock.”
These diversions enabled me to once again relax and accept the fantasy and fun, as well as the beauty and history — and yes, driving rules — of Britain. Or perhaps I was beginning to adapt. Whatever the reason, “Miss Crazy” no longer accompanied us on our travels. She had been given “the boot”!
Kay Rock previously lived in the Chestnut Hill area for over 30 years, now in lower Bucks County. This article is a chapter from her book, “Over the Hill and Gaining Speed: Reflections in Retirement.” For more information on the book or author and/or where to purchase, visit her website at kaygrock.com