Monday, July 4, 2016

Small Experiences on a Big Journey

We stood behind a crowd at Edinburgh Castle waiting for the one-o'clock cannon to fire. Many eyes were fixed on cell phones to catch the moment to share on Facebook. Bodies in Edinburgh, minds in other places.

Meanwhile, my nephews were determined to climb up rocks where climbing was not allowed.

Last month's trip to the UK with our nephews (7 and 8) and their parents was a series of small experiences. We saw some big sights, but the time spent between those sights, living in the moment, gave meaning to my journey.

A metal drain cover extending the length of the sidewalk outside our hotel in Edinburgh is a case in point. (See the picture at the top of this post.) On a rainy day it became a slide, made all the more dangerous by the higher center of gravity imposed by the boys' backpacks. Our protestations fell on deaf ears as they giggled and slid.

The previous evening they enjoyed the attention of the hotel bartender. She was from Catalonia, the boys chatted with her in Spanish, and I barely understood a word.

Getting Around

We had a strict foot and public transit policy: no cabs, no rental cars, no tour buses. We got to people-watch and talk with locals as we waited for buses and trains.

The boys learned to use ticket machines, and I had to chunk up the task of buying tickets so each had a chance to work the process.

On local trains they usually sat at the front.
On double-decker buses, they raced up the stairs so they could sit in the front seats. They were delighted when tree branches hit the roof as the bus lurched along country roads.

Just like when I was a kid.


Near the top of Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat the view was wonderful, and a reminder of how small we are.
The boys stared at the view: but building cairns and playing tag was more compelling.
At Beamish open-air museum near Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England, the boys were drawn to many of the exhibits, but they also had fun being kids. In this photograph, the boys are oblivious to a reproduction of an 1815 train steaming past.
The old grave marker was just too good to miss as a base to play tag.

Playgrounds were a consistent hit with the boys. It was a bonus when they got to play with local kids.
In Morpeth, about ten miles from Newcastle upon Tyne we got to rent a small castle for about the cost of two hotel rooms. The castle and its grounds were fertile territory for play.

One day I bought each boy a comic that included "free gifts." A rather disgusting sticky "slug" provided many opportunities for fun.

"Slug" stuck to wall.

The Call of the Sea

I grew up near the North Sea, so it was a joy to watch the boys react to tidal pools and beaches, just like kids have reacted through the ages.
The boys ran towards Northumberland's gorgeous beaches. Without prompting they headed for the water. Once they built a fort in a futile attempt to keep out the tide. 

To minimize the sand between their toes, Dad carried the boys from the ocean to my partner, Dwight, who put on their socks and shoes.

The Power of Cake

We found plenty food the boys would eat: sausage rolls, bangers and mash, scotch eggs, pasta, pizza. But no food provoked more excitement than the promise of "cake."

Each day I would explain what we would be doing, and was usually met with a blank look. They became animated when I added "then we'll have cake."

In York I bought chocolate eclairs at a wonderful cafe and bakery, Betty's Tea Room. We carefully carried the box to the steps outside York Minster, a huge cathedral that dominates the city.
That worked out so well, we repeated the exercise the next day.

No Place Like Home

When I was about the age of my nephews, I made a friend at school. In June we stayed with my friend and his wife in their kid-friendly home.

The boys had a blast, both in their bedroom which was overflowing with Lego and other toys, and outside running around a big yard.
They were distracted for the longest time by the bunnies sitting in a cage in the next door neighbors' front yard.
This is real travel.

Later, the boys got to play with the neighbors' kids, and had a completely joyful time, something we adults could never match. The boys were terribly sad when they had to come in for dinner. 

The eight-year-old asked if he could cook breakfast, and could it be French toast? My friends had all the ingredients, including maple syrup.
The French toast was good. The following day, he made fluffy scrambled eggs for all of us.

The Last Night

Back in Newcastle for our last night in the UK, we invited friends and family to a reception at our hotel. Finger sandwiches, sausage rolls, scones, and, most importantly, cakes were served.
Our guests were my brother, Irene a close family friend now almost 90, my friend all the way back to school days, his wife, and his father George.

George and Irene have known me since I was a baby. When faced with a complex choice I find myself asking what would George or Irene do? They've repeatedly made good choices in their lives.

We stood in a gathering we could never have imagined when we were children. I'm grateful for my childhood, but in this room I felt optimistic about the future.

My nephews behaved well, and were rewarded with the chance to run around outside. My wish for them is they have memories of this trip of little things I cannot imagine.

Note: Often I found myself in the moment, not wanting to change my relationship with the moment by turning it into a photo-op. Ultimately, it's those moments, buried in the subconscious, that make for a good journey.

In flight, long haul, dreaming.