England Day 3 & 4

My favorite statue - in downtown Marlow
Not a lot to say about days 3 and 4 as they were very much like day 2 - a lot of work. I would meet up with the client folks in the hotel for breakfast about 7:15 each morning. Always got the buffet because that was the cheapest thing - 10 Pounds; about $16.20. It certainly was not worth that much. I've had better food at inexpensive hotel's free breakfast. The coffee was served in little bitty white porcelain cups and was very bitter. I suppose it's an acquired taste, but even the UK folks said it wasn't very good. A bowl of corn flakes, several pecan rolls or those little fruit rolls, some fruit slices, and toast with little bottles of various jams. The toast was the best part of the meal. Several times the UK folks ordered off the menu - usually fried mushrooms or poached eggs (nothing else, just poached eggs) or kippers (herring or male salmon fish.) Ordering off the menu added another 5 - 7 Pounds. Almost $28 for that buffet and 2 poached eggs? Can you say ripoff?!

The best part of the morning was when we arrived at the office where there was the UK version of Starbucks in the lobby. We always got a big cup of good coffee to take into the meetings. If you take cream in your coffee like I do, it's called "a white." The two guys with me didn't take cream so each morning we ordered, "2 blacks and a white." And every afternoon about 3:00, "2 blacks and a white."

The client brought in lunch each day and it was the same rather tasteless little finger sandwiches with thick chips and very bland "hot" sauce. Friday was the 3rd day in a row we had those things and it was beginning to get old already.

Wrapped up each day about 6:30 or so. Went out with the client folks Thursday evening for supper. We found a Mexican cafĂ© and, considering I'm from Texas and love Tex-Mex, it was surprisingly decent. Not real good, just better than expected. Still shocked at the prices. No chips and hot sauce, tap water to drink (with 2 ice cubes - they are really stingy with the ice!), and just a burrito plate cost almost 15 Pounds, close to $25. Much better food and more of it would be about $10 at home.

Friday, I told my guys they were on their own. Wife and youngest daughter were still out running around. Finally, some peace and quiet! Time for a much needed nap. I had just gotten my pillow squished right and settled in when the room phone rang. It was the wife's cousin calling to confirm their plans for next Monday. Laid back down, squished the pillow, got all snuggled in, and the wife called to tell me they were on their way back. Grrrr. Abandoned any hope of a nap, got on the computer and answered my backlog of emails.

At least by then I was pretty much acclimated to the time change so managed to get to bed and asleep about 11:00 (being totally worn out helped, I'm sure). Set the alarm for 6:00 AM so we could catch the early train into London and finally into dreamland I crashed.

England Day 2

After about 4 hours of fitful sleep, the wake up call roused me at 7:30, my body screaming that it was only 1:30. I stumbled into the shower and turned the water on full blast. It never got past luke-warm, but the hotel provided some great shampoo. Pulled the towel off the warmer rack, cold because I had yet to figure out how to turn it on. Eventually I made it down to meet my work companions in the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The American contingent looked as bad as I felt, but the UK folks from the Manchester office who were also staying in the same hotel appeared chipper and ready to get to work. Evidently not traveling out of your normal time zone makes things a lot better. I was just glad we had had the foresight to schedule the first day's meeting at 9:00 rather than 8:00 to give an extra hour to those of us who had just lost 6.

Four of us crammed into a car about the size of a VW Bug and one of the UK people drove us to the office. We were told the reason everyone has small cars with stick shift is not just because of the little roads, but also because gas here cost about $8 per gallon! We decided not to complain about our $2.50 per gallon prices back home. The office was only 15 minutes away, but the ride was sure interesting. Not only do they drive on the wrong side of the road, but cars park in the street of the barely-big-enough-to-call-it-2-lane roads so we kept having to either wait for oncoming cars to get past or drive on the sidewalk. I tucked that fact in memory for when we walked around town.

The weather was a bit on the cool side, low 60's in the morning and low 70's for the high, which was a very welcome change from the 100+ we had been enduring back home.

We finally finished the first day of meetings at 6:30 and surprisingly, with the help of numerous cups of coffee, I only had to stand up and move around once during the day to stay awake. After getting back to the hotel, changing into jeans and grabbing my camera, wife, and youngest daughter, we met up with the two American guys on my team who had also made the trip and went walking around Marlow until we found an Italian restaurant that was crowded. Figuring that was a sign that it was good food, we entered and were seated by a very nice looking waitress. The food was decent, nothing to rave about, but we had a good time talking and just being excited about being in London. Wife and youngest daughter talked about what they had seen and done that day, which was interesting seeing as how the working stiffs had so far only seen the hotel, several miles of very, very crowded little bitty streets, and the few blocks we had walked getting to the restaurant.

We discovered that when it comes to eating, the Brits eat late and evidently linger over dinner. To us, the service, although friendly, was very slow. We also discovered they don't serve free water in a glass here. If you want water, you buy bottled mineral water. And you have to tell them whether you want "still" water or "sparkling" (carbonated) water. It doesn't come in plastic bottles; it's in heavy glass bottles. Food prices are about the same as in America.Our waitress seemed very surprised by our request to get seperate checks. She finally said she would have to ask the manager if they could do that. She returned later and said no, they can only give one ticket per table. Interesting.

After our enforced leisurely dinner, we made our way back tot he hotel, stopping along the way at an ATM machine to get pounds and pence. Not a very good exchange rate now, about $1.65 for 1 Pound.

Strange license plates - strange to us anyway.
Once back in our room, we set about figuring out how to make things work. I turned on the shower to see if the water would get hot, thinking the hotel just ran low on hot water in the morning when everyone was using it. Nope, still wouldn't get hotter than luke warm. I finally found a little button you have to push on the faucett to get it to turn further and was almost instantly rewarded with water hot enough to boil in! The toilets are a bit strange too. The tank is in the wall. I thought at first that it was just our fancy hotel, but found out during the day that no, all of them are like that. The flush handle is opposite from ours too; it's on the left side. It didn't seem to flush very well, just a gentle flush that took several times to flush poop. Finally figured out that one flush of the handle is for "number 1"and you rapidly turn the handle twice for a full-force flush to handle "number 2." That's a pretty neat way to save water. We finally found a little light switch on the wall outside the bathroom which turned on the towel heating rack. One other thing that is interesting - to get the lights to turn on, you have to insert your room card key into a little slot just inside the door and leave it in. When you take it out as you leave, the lights automatically all turn off. In spite of our best efforts, we couldn't figure out how to make the A/C work so we just opened the windows.

After answering a couple of emails, downloading the few pictures I had taken and uploading one with a post on Facebook, I fell into bed and tried to get to sleep. In spite of being dog-ass tired and the clock saying it was 11:15, my body was saying it's only 5:15 so once again, I couldn't get to sleep. The last time I looked at the clock before finally passing out, it was 1:30. Marvelous. Just 4 1/2 hours until another full day of meetings start. And my first full day in England thus came to an end. Not very exciting.

England Day 1

Almost 2 years ago, my employer requested I get a passport for possible travel to our offices in England and other overseas locations. Shortly after I received said passport, some damn bean counter in the Ivory Towers decided the company not only didn’t have the money to send me out of the country, they didn’t have the money to keep me employed. Along with millions of others who suffered the same fate in this latest financial depression, I found myself unemployed. I consider that time as "Retirement Practice" and discovered my true calling in life!

Fast forward a year and the bean counter decided they now had enough money to re-employ me. Now eight months later, I find myself on a business trip to England . After adroitly jumping through several daunting hoops and enduring a couple of start/stops (very frustrating, but not worth elaborating on), my better half and youngest daughter were able to join me.

Now and even as a kid, I never needed much sleep – 5 or 6 hours seems to do me just fine and I really enjoy sitting outside with a cup of coffee, watching the sun come up, the birds start chirping, and the rest of the world waking up. I never sleep well the night before a trip due either to excitement of going somewhere I’ve been looking forward to or because I’m afraid of being late for a flight. I’ve never missed a flight, but the fear is there still so I keep waking up every hour, looking at the clock and telling myself how stupid I’m being. Of course, I usually manage to calm down and fall into a deep sleep about 30 minutes before the alarm goes off and have to claw my way out of an enjoyable dream. The grating blare of the alarm going off at 3:00 AM was particularly jarring because I knew I had to rely on wife and youngest daughter to get their butts out of bed and in the car no later than 4:00. Luckily, this turned out to not be a problem. My wife’s mum is from England and married wife’s father and came to America after WWII. Since youngest daughter became old enough to realize there is more to the world than just her neighborhood, her mom has told her stories of England, king and queen, prince and princess, beautiful castles, and her relatives who live in England so she has wanted to make a trip there for the last 5 or 6 years, over half of her life. At 3:01, I was walking to her room to wake her up and she met me in the hall, mostly awake and fully dressed, having slept in the clothes she was going to wear. She assisted with quickly getting her mom up and having put the luggage in the car the previous night, we actually pulled out of the driveway 5 minutes early with coffee in one hand and tickets and passports in the other.

In a most remarkable stroke of luck, after arriving at the airport, we found an empty parking space on the 2nd floor right across from the elevator in the parking garage. I see different cars parked in those slots every time I’m there so I did suspect one would be available occasionally , but it was just a theory as I’ve never before encountered an empty slot by the elevators and usually have to park 100 yards away, either dragging my luggage to the elevator or manhandling it down the stairs.

Continuing on with the great travel day theme, we made it through security with no problems and our 6:00 AM flight actually took off at 5:55, arriving in Chicago 10 minutes early and giving us plenty of time to make the trek to our connecting gate. When walking down the gangway to board the plane, there was a group of security officers who were pulling people out of line and asking questions. They had an African-American lady to the side and I heard her accuse them of only choosing her because she was black. I thought that was a bit amusing as just 3 feet away they had pulled out a white guy also and he was calmly answering why he was traveling to England . As I walked by, one of the officers told her, “If you think you will board this plane without answering our questions, you are wrong, so if you want to get on this flight, I suggest you just answer the questions.” As I went around the corner, she was silently glaring at him and he was determinedly glaring back. Evidently at some point she decided to answer the questions since shortly before takeoff she passed by our seats on the plane, head down and looking mad. A few minutes later, the door was closed and off we went. More good luck as there were a number of empty seats so youngest daughter moved to claim a first row seat right in front of the TV screen, thus giving dear old dad several open seats to lay across and take a nap. A nice surprise we found was that on international flights, along with a movie and TV shows, pillows, blankets, and several meals were provided.

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
The flight, while long, was smooth and uneventful, landing 15 minutes early. When we first saw lights below, we thought it was England , but a map appeared on the TV screen showing the plane’s location and we discovered we were actually over Ireland . Geography lesson – Ireland is west of England. 45 minutes later we landed at Heathrow. It took about 30 minutes to get our passports stamped and admitted into the country. The immigration officers were professional and efficient, but did not appear to have even a slight sense of humor and I think that’s how it should be.

The Compleat Angler Hotel in Marlow, England
Our very courteous and friendly driver was waiting with a van and within a few minutes after retrieving our bags, we were on the way to our hotel, The Compleat Angler, in Marlow, a suburb of London. Other than the very unnerving experience of traveling on the wrong side of the road, the drive was uneventful and checking into the hotel was straightforward. It was midnight UK time when we entered our room. After figuring out how to operate light switches, how to flush the toilet (an interesting story for next time), and checking out our balcony which overlooks the Thames River, we piled into our beds, tossed around for a bit, but were asleep by 1:30 AM (7:30 PM Central time US). My first morning of work would begin 5 hours later. Did I tell you I don’t need a lot of sleep? Good thing. The time change is a killer!


In less than 2 weeks, I'll be going to London on a business trip so today, I stopped off at the AT&T store to inquire about temporary international calling & receiving of emails on my Blackberry. It was very frightening. Not the cost for getting the service, rather the person who attempted to help me. After patiently waiting for 15 minutes, a young lady, probably in her mid to late 20's called my name and said she would assist me. The following is a totally accurate and factual account of our conversation.

AT&T Rep: Hello. My name is Showanda. How can I help you today?

Me: I'll be traveling to London, England on a business trip and need to know how I can get international service on my Blackberry.

AT&T Rep: OK, I can help you with that. (she started typing into a computer screen for a few seconds) And what state is London in?

Me: What state? (smiling) I believe it's current state is cool and rainy.

AT&T Rep: No, I mean which state is it in?

Me: As in which United States state?

AT&T Rep: Right.

Me: It's not in the United States. If it was, I wouldn't need international service. It's in England.

AT&T Rep: England?

Me: (with eyebrows furrowed and head cocked to the side) You know, the English Channel, Winston Churchhill, God Save the Queen?

AT&T Rep: (blank stare)

Me: Across the ocean? Great Britain?

AT&T Rep: (types some more on her computer) I don't show any England or Great Britain. Is it Russian or something?

Me: (after about 5 seconds of stunned confusion during which my mouth was moving, but I was totally unable to speak) Perhaps I need someone else to help me.

AT&T Rep: I can help you. I just need to find it on my screen.

Me: Try United Kingdom.

AT&T Rep: No, no United Kingdom.

Me: UK?

AT&T Rep: Oh, you're right! Here it is. Wow, I've never heard of somewhere named UK before. London, UK?

Me: Really? Are you just messing with me?

AT&T Rep: No sir.

Me: Am I on Candid Camera or being punked or something?

AT&T Rep: What?

Me: Never mind. Just tell me, do I need a Sim card or is this just a service that can be turned on or what?

AT&T Rep: No, you don't need a Sim card. You can just turn on the service. It will be $59.95 for calls or $99.95 for a data plan so you can get your emails. Do you want me to do that now?

Me: That's for a month, right? I'll only need it for 10 days.

AT&T Rep: But you want to get your emails, don't you?

Me: Right. Um, thanks, but I believe I'll call and get it turned on just before I leave.

AT&T Rep: Here's my card. If you'll call me, then I can do that for you.

Me: OK. Thanks.

Here it is almost 8 hours later and I continue to be stunned, confused and unbelieving. I know I'm in Arkansas, but still...

No way will I be calling her to do anything. And if I see her on the sidewalk I'll cross the street due to fear of stupid somehow leaking  on me. I think you are supposed to have at least a high school diploma to work in an AT&T store. If so, then either she lied or a high school diploma isn't what it used to be or should be. For the sake of my youngest daughter who is still in school and the future of America, please God, let her be a liar.


I'm starting to get that old "On The Road Again" calling. I love traveling the blue highways, the backroads of America, seeing things and meeting people the interstate travelers don't. For me, it's not about getting from Point A to Point B; it's about what's between Point A and Point B. I like to eat in places named "Aunt Bertha's" and "Bubba Jack's Almost World Famous Barbeque," served by Lucille who has been a waitress there for 32 years and calls me "Hon." I always leave Lucille a generous tip.

And I want to photograph the places and faces. The beauty that is America. The places that make you sit quietly and just be. Old faces that accompany the stories; lined with a lifetime of living and surviving. Young faces full of innocence and trust; children who have yet to learn life is sometimes tough, dogs sometimes bite, and not all grownups are good people. I'm not sure what, if anything, I'm looking for. Perhaps it's my own innocence, lost long before it should have been. And maybe I'm looking into the face of my own future, wondering if anyone will remember me and mourn my passing. As long as there are pictures of someone, they live.

Hell, maybe it's just something I love to do and there really is no hidden meaning; it's just a part of me and who I am. All that really matters is that call of the open road I have to answer. Guess it's time to figure out a Point B.