Of Merrie England - Part Two
Walt C. Snedeker
We arrived at Heathrow (my goodness what a big place!) all scraggly.
It was early in the morning for some reason.
Perhaps I had better explain a mystery here. For some reason, I
can never figure out whether it will be day or night when I arrive
somewhere overseas by plane. It was plainly afternoon when we left,
but only six hours later, here it was breakfast time in England.
How do they do that?
Anyway, we found our way to the Hertz people. The first part of
the episode of car rental was sort of normal, except all the folks
were talking so precisely and clearly.
Of course, our car was not in the spot they said it was, and we
had to go find somebody to locate it, but that wasn't all that bad
the scary part was coming, I knew.
The Fabled PC had put her dainty foot down and forbid the concept
of her being a driver in a place where everything is backwards and
Since I shave every morning, (something, which if you think about
it, requires you to do things in reverse with sharp and dangerous
objects), I was naturally delegated the task of driving mirror-image
style. By Royal Command and Sovereign Decree.
I had noticed a subtle change in my normally docile bride in just
the few minutes since arriving "Home".
She is related to Royalty, you know. Not nobility, oh no
very darling is descended from kings on both sides of her family.
On the English side, she is the umpteenth granddaughter of Edward
I (this is straight skinny, folks!), and on the Scottish side, her
lumdy-lebenth grandfather was Duncan (the guy that brought Birnham
Wood to Dunsinane to root out MacBeth).
This is about as hard to swallow as a Vaseline sandwich, I know.
But it is nevertheless a fact. We would only have to knock off just
a few more than three quarters of a million Brits, and my very darling
would be Queen.
Our major goal in visiting England this trip was to find her ancestral
castle in Wales. We had only the vaguest directions on its location,
but we were going to do our best.
This may have had something to do with the way she just stood there,
with her fingertips waiting for my arm to escort her to her carriage
(I mean, rental car).
We went to get in, and lo! In fact and truth, we tried to get in
the wrong sides. Both of us. Steering wheel on the right
how to get the thing lit up? Signal stalk on the left,
I discovered, as I activated the windshield wipers twice in a row.
(They're on the right.) Seat adjusted. Where's the durn mirror?
Break time. I will inform you right now, Gentle Reader, that at
the end of our journey two weeks hence
after one thousand
six hundred and eighty seven miles of driving, I had still not successfully
used that rear-view mirror.
Putting the car in gear (we had cleverly gotten one with an automatic
transmission - think about it), I pulled forward and activated the
windshield wipers to indicate a left turn.
Out into traffic. We were on our way, with Your Humble Obedient
&tc. holding the wheel in a death-grip.
Our first goal was the town of Reading. This was not going to be
easy. For some reason, Brits do not like to spend money on traffic
lights. Oh, they have them to be sure. I think there are eight of
them now in England.
What they prefer to use is a gambling casino concept called "roundabouts".
These are circles in the middle of the road wherein everybody piles
in from the four corners of the compass, all going the wrong way
at breakneck speed, to zoom out again at random.
I say "random" because the Brits have a really charming
custom: they put the signs indicating where you are headed AFTER
you leave the roundabout!
This means that you roar in, dodge the cars and trucks already whirling
about, dodge the cars and trucks that enter on your blind (left)
side, and roar out one of the exits. Then you can read the sign
to see if you have guessed the right exit.
It goes without saying that this peculiarity caused a good many
reversals in our course.
Nevertheless, through my own ability to suspend my sense of self-preservation
coupled with blind luck, we eventually found ourselves on the equivalent
Things got easier at that point, although I must admit that the
stakes were raised sufficiently that my panic level remained the
There are three lanes on each side of M5. The left lane is the "slow"
Speed limits are something the Brits have not yet discovered. The
three lanes had the following limits:
Left Lane: 75 miles an hour minimum
Center Lane: 90 miles per hour minimum
Right Lane: "Let's see what this sucker can do!"
Not knowing this, and being in somewhat of a hurry, I just naturally
put the car in the right lane, and was cruising along at a good,
The horn on the car behind us was honking a staccato fusillade.
With a "sheesh, this guy is a nutcase, but I'll let him by",
I worked over to the center lane.
Fourteen cars went whizzing by on the right. I had been holding
up half of England's auto traffic. The slowest of them had a relative
speed that was twenty mph faster that we were going, and we were
This was scary. So I stayed in the center lane.
For two minutes, until the honking got too annoying, forcing me
to the left lane. My hands, at this point, were fracturing chips
out of the pressure-crystallized steering wheel.
I knew my dainty bride sensed my slight discomfort, as she was helping
by shrieking and ducking her head a lot.
Signs on English roads, even their superhighways, are esoteric.
We passed a huge one that boldly pronounced:
"Warning! Slope Cumber Abeyance, Sudden Let-Off Watch Queues
We tried to heed the warning.
Suddenly, we saw the sign for the Reading exit. Up the off ramp
(on the left), right into a roundabout with a thousand blurring
vehicles going around like a Cuisinart. Of course, we wound up heading
back to London on M5.
It took fourteen miles and two more roundabouts before we got our
second crack at the Reading Cuisinart.
Ever sensitive to my moods, my very darling was cooing things to
me to keep me calm:
"Walt, darling, did you know that the longest word in the English
language that you can write without using any letter more than once
That got me through the second roundabout.
And did you know that the verb 'cleave' is the only
English word with two synonyms which are antonyms of each other,
that is, 'adhere' and 'separate'?"
Isn't she a gem? By the time I had worked the above out in my head,
somehow we were pulling up to the hotel.
It was now about 11:00 AM, Brit time, so that meant that this tired
and grimy pair had been up for about 30 hours. We found our room,
climbed into the big beautiful bed and slid down into blessed oblivion.
Tomorrow morning, we would begin our vacation