UK 2010

Tuesday, April 20th

Sometimes dreams are extinguished by mean parents or corporations or governments or terrible dudes.  In my case, my dream of traveling to Italy’s Amalfi Coast was suffocated by a volcano so lame, it can only be compared to a geek that was the only person in his high school to play the triangle and when he tried out for his school band that desperately needed a triangle player, he still managed to get cut.

The ash cloud created by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano known as Eyjafjallajökull cancelled my fight to Italy and forced me to pursue other vacation possibilities.  Dear Iceland – We look to you for strong men champions, Björk albums and a place to visit after we’ve visited every other country in Europe.  We do not look to you to dirty the air like some huge Pig-Pen from the Peanuts.

Since I was already in London on a four-month comedy sojourn, I decided to rent a car and visit the Lake District in northern England, Wales and the lovely English city of Bath.

After picking up a small black Vauxhall auto from Hertz So Good, I drove north like a vagrant towards the Lake District.  Five and a half hours later, I was embedded deeply into the gorgeous landscape, complete with mountains and valleys and rivers.  The whole place was the perfect backdrop for a commercial about soap or bacon.

I pulled into my bed and breakfast called Greenbank Farm which was a fully operational sheep farm and boy did it smell like one if the wind hit you right.  It sat right at the base of a small mountain and spanned 3000 acres into neighboring valleys.  As I parked,  I was greeted by a pack of playful dogs.  As I exchanged niceties with them, I looked over at the barn.  Next to the barn and about 20 feet from my car I saw something I usually don’t see right outside the place I’m going to sleep for the night.  The thing I speak of was a dead fox.

Being the “go with the flow” kind of guy that I am, I shrugged my shoulders and walked into the B&B where the congenial Beverly showed me to my room.  I cleaned my body, got dressed and stepped outside where I spoke briefly with Peter, Beverly’s husband and head farmer.  It quickly became clear to me that Peter was a member of the Nice Tribe like his wife.

I brought his attention to the dead fox and he said, “Oh yes, the fox.  I shot it.  We’ve actually killed 23 in the past 3 days.”  He continued to tell me that they kill a lot of his sheep and the reason there were so many foxes in the area is because people in suburban areas of Liverpool and Manchester will capture them and release them in the Lake District.

As I stood there, I suddenly realized how long it had been since someone told me a problem they were having that I struggled to relate to as I did at that moment.  This inability to relate only intensified as he discussed the solution (shooting the foxes).  I would have gone about this problem a different way.  I would have collected all the foxes, taped my headshot to each of their faces and let them run wild through London in hopes that this promotional tactic might finally get me some acting work in the UK.

Another thing I noticed was that one of the dogs peed on my car tire.  The weird thing is that every time I came out to my car to get something or go somewhere, there would be more pee on another tire (or the same tire).  I’m not sure why this happened.  I know that dogs mark their territory with their urine which leads me to believe that were planning on stealing my car at some point.  “Good luck” I thought, “Without opposable thumbs, you won’t be able to operate the manual shift or steering wheel, much less open the doors, you terds.”  As much as this futility amused me, it would have been best if they stopped whizzing on my wheels.

I walked up the road to the White Lion Pub where I had an average meal that I tried to resolve with a Snickers candy bar.  After eating and researching possible mountain hikes, I walked home, scribbled these words while listening to “Dinner Jazz with Helen Mayhew” on jazz fm, read Gulliver’s Travels and moved towards sleep.

Wednesday, April 21st

I awoke in the normal fashion and descended into the dining room where I enjoyed an effective English breakfast and some chat with four people that were doing the coast-to-coast walk.  In case you didn’t capture the essence of this path’s agenda by the name, it involves a walk from one coast to another.  The walk can be done in about a week which is amazing to think about – to be able to walk from one side of your country to the other in a week.  To do this in the US, I would have to be really angry or chased by a horny alien (the outer space kind).

I finished my meal, bought a map and compass at the local store and made my way to the base of England’s highest peak, “Scafell Pike” in Seathwaite.  The weather was beautiful: light wind, temperature in the mid to upper 40’s, clear skies.  This was good because if there is any atmospheric foolishness around, Scafell Pike can quickly become more nasty than an older teen aged sister that just had her last tube of Clearsil thrown out of the house into a foot of snow by her younger brother (this actually happened years ago – my brother Sean and Michelle were fighting one evening so he performed this dark task as my sister looked on in horror and screamed, “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”).

And with a height of 978 meters, I was guaranteed a climb that would add to my already alarmingly high levels of guyhood.  But guyhood is like a date with a decadent lady – there’s always room for more.

On my way up, I met two nice gents named Steve and Paul.  In their 40’s, they had been friends since they were born and originally hailed from Brighton.  They also shared the same career of being software consultants and still made time to make trips together.  Now this may sound like an idyllic recipe for gay happiness (especially since Brighton is the gay capital of the UK…party!) but this was not the case for these two lady-pleasers.

As we climbed, they asked me several questions about comedy and I answered them.  Once on the top, a stunning 360-degree view of the Lake District and ocean was quickly delivered to us like a pizza.  And we ate it down, along with our lunches.

On our descent, we discussed language subtleties, politics, travel, ways for independent UK contractors to legally avoid paying too much in taxes and quality science fiction matters.

And if this isn’t exciting enough, the scenery everywhere secured a front row seat in the brilliant theater show that is my memory.  We then made it back, said our goodbyes and I hit a pub for a meal and a beer.  Still hungry, I hit the White Lion again where I ordered another beer, a bowl of baked beans and a Snickers bar.  These combined contents in my possession made me the oddest person I know.

Finally satiated, I went back home, parked my car, looked at the dead fox that was still lying in the driveway, lost myself with more Dinner Jazz with Helen and prepared for slumber.

Thursday, April 22nd

Idiots take all shapes and sizes.  Last night’s model took the form of a guy that decided to noisily open his door to go to the common bathroom once every 45 minutes starting at 2:45 AM.  Thank you for such a hiccup oriented sleep, Mr. Bad News Bladder.

Somewhat awake, I made quick work of another greasy English breakfast, settled the bill with Beverly, bought a map for my hike, illegally parked in a hotel parking lot in Glenridding and walked over to the base of the mountain.

Today’s task was England’s second highest peak (950 mannish meters) known as Helvellyn.  The weather conditions closely resembled yesterday which if you recall, set off the lovely alert in a liberal fashion.  Due to the combination of clear skies and height, I was once again furnished with essential views.

This was a great hike for one reason: Striding Edge.  It is clearly not an edge meant for striding.  Imagine one of the most dangerous, hairiest mountain passes in Lord of the Rings and Striding Edge was it.  The pass itself was no more than a couple meters and was extremely jagged and uneven and required the use of both hands in many spots.  On either side of this pass was a fairly sheer drop of 200 meters.

I was feeling a massively validated sense of toughness when first crossing Striding Edge until I chatted with a dude on the way across that said to me, “I didn’t think I’d still be hiking up this mountain at 75!”  I rationalized this by convincing myself that this old man was simply some X-Men guy that had the genetic-mutated ability to climb up a mountain while looking old.

I passed by this gent and then made a very steep ascent that required lots of skilled grabbing.  I was now on the summit, feeling like an established hero…until I saw an overly happy black Labrador retriever that just cruised up the same path I did.  Nonetheless, I absorbed the glory that can only be found at the top of a mountain and made my way down and back to my car.

I then drove three hours south and into northern Wales to my next location: the lovely seaside town of Conwy.  I met one of the owners, Elaine, of the Town House Guest House, settled in quickly and left in search of a meal whose greatness could equal the day I just experienced.  On Elaine’s recommendation, a fine and fancy Welsh bistro met my challenge.

After this, I grabbed a nice pint of superb local ale and let my pen do its freestyle dance on a paper dance floor.  As I did so, a woman began to sneeze so many times it became weird.  My thought on this: if you sneeze more than 4 times and you feel more coming on, you need to go outside or to a bathroom or into a forest and figure that s*#t out.  Like my father before me, I’m a man that detests lots of sneezing.  If you want to be entertained in a manner that could only be paralleled by watching a tough female cop and Luther Vandross compete against each other in a crash up derby, hang around my father when someone falls into an eternal sneezing fit.

Friday, April 23rd

After about 9 hours of noteworthy sleep, I went downstairs to eat breakfast in the dining room where I had the pleasure of meeting Elaine’s husband Alan who looked a great deal like Sean Connery.  Once he discovered I was a comedian, this affable chap turned into a joke machine just as Elaine predicted he would.  The two of them were such amazing hosts that I found it challenging to focus on me expertly prepared English breakfast.  It’s as if the government ran some secret experiment to genetically design the best B&B hosts imaginable.  And let me tell you, this would be the best use of taxpayer money since creating the fire department.

I said my jazzy byes to Elaine and Alan and headed south to Pen-y-Pass where I would begin my hike up Wales highest peak, Mount Snowdon which measures 1085 meters at its highest.  My “Walking In Britain” book warned me of the difficulty of this climb but I had no idea just how bananas this hike was about to get.

After the usual and mild ascent, I came to a climb so steep that I may have well been upside down and dancing on ceiling.  It was at this point that I was legitimately rock-climbing (like a brutal hero, of course).  The other great element I should mention to this climb and the two previous was that I did it all with running sneakers and jeans.  It was wonderful to cruise by these fancy mountain hikers, dressed like a 1970’s undercover cop.

I then came to the top of what I can only describe as the most Lord of the Rings (I, II and III), Mount Doom Transylvania-styled knife ridge that ran 250 meters and was literally like scurrying along the top of a frighteningly steep roof with a drop on either side that was beyond civilian logic.  It required the use of both hands and believe this fella, if I could have rented more hands at the shop at the base of the mountain, I would have.

I eventually came off this ridge into a pass and back up into another ridge less horrifying and up onto another summit where I ate part of my lunch.  From here, I dipped down slightly and made a relatively easy climb to the top of Snowdon where I found the final piece of my manhood.  I digested more award-winning views and descended down the summit and came back up another ridge to another peak and then slowly back to my auto.

I did not intend to do this but each of the three hikes I did in the past three days got progressively more difficult like some well-designed Sega Genesis video game about a stud’s life.  And all of this hiking would represent the second to last level where the stud must climb three mountains in order to make it to the final and most challenging level where he must try to make it to second base with his prom date (my fantasies are extraordinarily humble).

I then drove my car south again to the charming town of Dolgellau where I checked into the Staylittle Farm B&B.  After an acceptable self-cleaning procedure, I walked into the center of town and over to the Stag Inn for food and beer.  I promptly ordered a heaping pile of mess that included chicken, vegetables, stuffing and gravy that all sat in a bowl of bread and was diligently guarded on all sides by legion of French fries.  This was all consumed outside in the back of the pub, next to a cage filled with rabbits and guinea pigs which I found creatively weird and inviting.  I have no idea why a cage of such animals was kept behind a pub but I’m at ease with this mystery.

I then headed over to a pub and while I ordered a beer, a woman, who I can only assume must be the majority of this pub’s profit source, looked at the cover of my Gulliver’s Travels book and upon seeing a picture of two buckle-styled black shoes, exclaimed, “I love these shoes!  You goin’ dancin’ tonight?!  Hey, look John!  He’s goin’ dancin’ tonight!”

Now I must admit that I’ve been drunk before but I never looked at a drawing and assumed that the contents of that drawing dictated a future reality.  I grabbed my beer and made the expert decision to drink outside and write about today’s events.  I then walked home and befriended slumber.

Saturday, April 24th

Once awake, I ate yet another sturdy English breakfast brought into the world by the friendly and gentle owner of Staylittle Farm B&B, Dawn.  Afterwards, I paid the bill, left Dolgellau and headed south to a town just three miles east of St. Davids known as Solva.  I checked into the Royal George (which was simply three rooms above a pub) and despite the fact that the room was a little tired and that there was random box spring mattress standing up the tall way in the hallway (for no apparent reason) right outside of my door, I enjoyed a solid ocean view from my bedroom window.

I then did a short walk out by the shoreline and up some hill/cliff where again, inspirational views were to be had by my eyes.  I returned to room, washed up and relaxed like a well-mannered chap.  It was at that point that a large family checked into the other two rooms and I discovered that the entire floor I was staying on was like one big trampoline.  Every time these kids jumped around, I could feel my room shake as well.  Be that as it may, it did not stop me from the final stages of my afternoon relaxation.  I then left the Royal George and drove to St. Davids where I walked around a bit, ate a delightful pork and apple affair and drove back to my B&B in Solva.

To get to my room, I had to walk through what was now a very busy pub.  Great, I thought, I’m staying in a Welsh frat house.  Once in my room, I got into bed and encountered a mattress so old that it poked me all over my body, making me feel like I was being passed along the top of a crowd with their hands.  This, however, did not stop me from approaching a sleepy state with the help of “Predator” on television.

Sunday, April 25th

This morning I got out of bed and opened my door.  Although the box spring was now gone from the hallway, it was replaced by a sleeping dog.  Perhaps this was Royal George?  Perhaps he was the esteemed creature that gave this elite establishment its name?  Or maybe it was some crappy wizard that was drunk at the pub a couple nights ago and accidentally put a spell on himself, turned himself into a box spring and then in attempts to reverse the spell, turned himself into a dog.  I gave this issue not another thought and instead walked downstairs with Royal George who decided to follow me down.  As I ate my breakfast, Royal George (who I now found out was actually named Manni) slept at my feet.

After paying the bill, I got in the car and drove back in to England and into the small city of Bath.  I checked into Holly Villa Guesthouse and soon realized I was in an infinitely nicer place than the last night although part of me missed having a random dog in the hallway, right outside my door.

My room at the Holly Villa was immaculate with a brand new bathroom attached to the room or “en suite” as we like to say in the travel industry.  As decadent as the room was, I chose to leave it and explore Bath.  And let me tell you, Bath is a stunning city.  Beautiful.  I want my children to be as gorgeous as Bath.  Its Roman origins are detectable in almost every point of its center that has escaped an ugly, modern facelift that plagues so many other places in the world that once were charming and unique.

I walked around aimlessly like a jazzy, welcome aroma emanating from the most celebrated bakery.  This aroma (me) wandered up to the park near the Royal Crescent and through the Botanical Gardens that gifted this aroma with so many soul-pleasing aromas of its own.  There were more colors to be found here than a gay pride parade or in a pack of Lifesavers.  It seemed everything was in bloom.

I finished here and worked my way back into town and decided to watch “The Ghost” with Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor in a small little theater.  This is a good film people.  Check it out.  Hungry from all of my entertainment, both natural and cinematic, I ate an effective meal at a Thai restaurant.

After my meal, I found a neat pub with a diverse beer selection and a very loungey feel to it by the name of the Westgate.  My other purpose of coming here was to take down a dessert for I had decided earlier that this must be so and let me tell you something about myself: when I decide that I want some sort of special food experience, nothing will avert me.  If I had the same passion and determination with my career or the romantic elements of my life, I would be a Mormon with 20 beautiful wives living in a huge teepee made of solid, 5000-carat gold due to my successful career in talking.

When I looked on their menu and saw they were selling a brownie with vanilla ice cream (one of my favorites), I noticed myself becoming slightly thrilled.  So while I waited for my treat, I drank a beer and read Gulliver’s Travels on a couch in the pub like a cultured goon.  When my dessert arrived, I was sadly let down.  The brownie was a little small and dry and there was literally a golf ball-sized scoop of ice cream.  Lame.

I carried on with my beer and reading and walked back to my B&B and slept.

Monday, April 26th

Today’s English breakfast was very nice and included a well-engineered bowl of fresh fruit salad.  This, of course, pleased me.

And with that pleasure, I walked back in to the city center to inhale its beauty once more.  During my walk, I stopped into a craft shop and bought some bracelets for my little lady nieces as I would be seeing them in a month’s time at the airport.

Feeling at peace with my Bath sojourn, I boarded my Vauxhall and drove back to London and dropped off the car.  That night, I and/or Barry Tattle enjoyed the feel of a new, tight, black velvet suit for the third time since its glorious purchase in Camden a couple weeks previously and made it so at a show at the Blue Posts in London.

Weepingly, we have come to the end of this tale but in a few weeks time, I will sprinkle a tale concerning a Swedish journey into your life.

I am,