Back in the Saddle

Facebook Notes being one of the most inefficient journaling mediums that I've yet encountered, I decided to return to my old reliable venue (at least until I grow tired or fall out of the habit of keeping a journal again).

It's the middle of the night and I'm still not sleeping normally, but I return to work tomorrow and I suspect that alone will restore me to my usual schedule. I can't say that I accomplished much of anything yesterday — beyond spending time with family and reconnoitering — so I woke half an hour ago with the distinct feeling that I need to regain control of my world today. I stopped by the Hobbit House yesterday to find that it needs some touch-up paint, a good round of cleaning and some landscape love, but whatever issues I may have with the renter (and her lies, and her abandonment of her husband for her personal trainer, and her drug habits, and her overdue utility bills, and her pending felony charges, etc...), she didn't damage my lovely little house and for that (and only that) I am grateful to her. 

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RIP Charlie The Chocolate Lab

Last night, Dave mentioned that he was surprised by how affected I was by the death of my brother's dog Charlie, and when you think about it, his confusion makes sense. You don't expect someone to be profoundly moved by the death of a dog they've only seen once or twice a year, and that's been the nature of my relationship with Charlie for the duration of the time that I've been with Dave.

To help him understand, I told him a story.

It's a story about two lonely people. It starts in late March of 2003, when Ryan drove me out to a log cabin in the woods to pick out a "gift" for my impending birthday. At the time, I was married to my first husband and I was undergoing a level of psychological torture that is generally reserved for prisoner-of-war interrogations. Karl (or Satan, as my parents like to call him) was cheating on me and he'd disappeared again. He did that for days at a time. Ryan knew a divorce was imminent and - given my increasingly fragile mental state - he was afraid of what would happen when Karl finally left for good. He decided that I needed a puppy to keep me company, so I wouldn't be alone when Karl finally made his exit. Though I lived in an apartment with a no pet policy, he had some sway with the landlady and he talked her into allowing it.

Unfortunately, I wasn't the only person in the car that day who was struggling with the psychological repercussions of my disastrous marriage. Earlier that year, Karl's deliberate negligence had contributed to the death of Ryan's first dog, Howie. In spite of specific instructions that Howie was not to be allowed in the front yard, Karl was openly resentful of how much time I was spending with Howie when Ryan was working. He waited until I went to the bathroom, let Howie out the front door and watched from the open doorway as Howie got hit by an SUV.

As I said: Satan.

After months of grieving, Ryan felt ready for another dog. As we drove out to the breeder's log cabin, he talked about what kind of puppy he intended to pick out. A male (like Howie), a yellow lab (like Howie), with a strong personality and an iron will (like Howie), full of energy and insatiable curiosity (like Howie).

I cautioned him gently against expecting the new puppy to replace the one he'd lost. Even back then – when I had nothing like discernment – I recognized that it would only lead to disappointment. Truth be told, I had doubts about whether or not enough time had passed, but while Ryan was buying me a dog because he was able to recognize my severe loneliness, I was equally conscious of his.

Of all the people that I’ve known in this life, I’ve never known anyone with a personality better suited to being in a committed relationship than my brother. His need to connect with the people around him has always been conversely proportional to my need for solitude. Over the years, I’d fielded a number of devastated phone calls from him when relationships with women failed. He was 25 and single, and I remember him asking me: Why can’t I ever make a relationship work?

I had my suspicions, but there is no established procedure for suggesting to someone that they might be conflicted about their sexuality. As coming out stories go, Ryan’s was a complicated one. He’d grown up active in a very conservative Baptist church in Beaverton and he believed in all of the tenets.

Ryan has never been one to do anything by halves.

To complicate matters further, all of his closest friends were members of that church. It’s not hard to understand the internal struggle that he was facing. He didn’t think his family would accept him. He knew his friends wouldn’t. For a number of years, I don’t think he wanted to accept it himself, which meant that the most social human being of my acquaintance was spending a lot of his time feeling empty and unfulfilled.

To compensate for his loneliness, he never worked less than two jobs. Sometimes, he worked two jobs and went to school at the same time. Logic dictated that he didn’t have time for a dog, but it was also clear to me that he needed one desperately… which is why I spent so much time – first with Howie and then with Charlie – taking care of them when they were puppies. When we brought Howie home, he made the most excruciating sounds if you set him down, so I carried him on my hip like an infant for the first two weeks until he acclimated. I still have the picture that Ryan took of me during that time frame; dark circles under my eyes and hair pulled back into a partial ponytail, wearing gray sweats and walking around with that tiny yellow dog on my hip. It was never a problem until Karl came along, and grew resentful of the amount of time that I was spending at Ryan’s.

“He’s taking advantage of you!” He would insist and, eventually, he wore me down. I began to limit the amount of time I spent with Howie, mostly because I couldn’t stand the browbeating from Karl. It meant that Howie spent a lot of his short life alone. I would continue with that narrative, but we already know how it turns out...

And besides, this isn’t Howie’s story. This is the story of another dog and I only venture into that very painful territory because it has direct bearing on what happened next.

Ultimately, my concern that Ryan might be trying to replace Howie proved unnecessary. Fate had already accounted for it: There was only one yellow lab in this particular litter of puppies, and she was already spoken for. Undeterred, Ryan picked out one of the chocolate labs, making sure that he picked the most active, tenacious male puppy in the group.

I, on the other hand, selected one of the female black labs… the one who only wanted to snuggle and showed no interest in venturing far from me when I set her on the ground. While Ryan’s puppy disappeared and set off a panic, only to be discovered inside a nearby work boot, my puppy sat on my foot and stared up at me longingly until I picked her back up.

We brought them home six weeks later. Karl had eventually returned home and left again on my birthday. He once admitted that he left before every birthday or major holiday because it was easier than trying to figure out what to buy for me. I remember telling him that it would be more humane to stay without giving me a gift, but he thought my family would notice and judge him for it. I spent most of that birthday weeping and Ryan spent most of the day trying to console me. In the afternoon, we picked up the puppies and brought them home for the first time.

Even remembering how exquisitely miserable I was that morning, the day remains one of the best of my life. Not only did Scully change my life, but she saved it. A month later, I asked Karl if he wanted to attend a family picnic with me and he blew up, shouting about how I couldn’t spring things like that on him at the last minute. Apparently, he needed to “psych himself up” before he could stand to spend time with me, and in a fit of rage, he grabbed a candleholder off the table and tossed it into the wall. After that, he tried to stomp on Scully.

First, I picked her up. Then, I kicked his ass out of my apartment. I already loved her more than I ever loved him. Several weeks later, when I was sitting cross-legged in the basement of my parents’ house with my father’s Smith & Wesson in my mouth, it was Scully’s little face that kept me from pulling the trigger. My first marriage taught me the dangers of allowing myself to become too invested in any relationship, and I learned that lesson well. Scully is the last thing is this world that I allowed myself to love unreservedly, and when she passes, the version of myself that was capable of loving with everything that I am will die with her.

Which brings us to the second half of the story. This, as you’ll recall, is the story of two lonely people. I told you that I was concerned that my brother might be trying to replace his first dog, but that Fate had anticipated and outmaneuvered him. Not only was he unable to pick out another yellow lab from the litter, but his efforts to pick a dog with a similar personality were also undermined. Ryan may have picked out the most irrepressible puppy in the litter, but by the time we brought Charlie and Scully home, they appeared to have swapped out personalities. Scully had become the willful, tenacious mastermind and Charlie had transformed into her tolerant, kind-hearted partner-in-crime. Scully was the dog who would grab the end of the toilet paper roll and run around with it clutched in her teeth until every room in the house looked like a prom scene from a 1980s movie by John Hughes. Charlie was the dog who would defecate in the corner of the kitchen and pull a rug over the top of it to conceal it out of politeness. He was as mellow as she was high-strung. They complemented each other.

Sometimes, I wonder if Ryan sees it. It’s been clear to me for many years now. Charlie wasn’t the dog that Ryan wanted. When Ryan picked him out of the litter in March of 2003, he thought he was getting a dog with a much different set of personality traits. Charlie was, however, what Ryan needed at that time in his life. There was always something about Charlie the Chocolate Lab – easygoing, tenderhearted gentle giant that he was – that had the power to comfort Ryan as he grappled with his loneliness and his internal conflict. Charlie was there when he finally accepted himself for who he was. Charlie was there when he finally found the courage to come out. Charlie was there when he lost a significant number of his closest friends as a result, and Charlie was there through his first couple of relationships as he tried to navigate a dating scene that has always been stifled and complicated by social intolerance.

Charlie was also with Ryan when he met the man who would become the most important person in the world to him; the man he would build a home and a family with. That’s when my (and Scully’s) importance in Charlie’s life diminished and when Ryan and Charlie set out to start a new chapter of their lives with Dan and Sassy. The distance made it difficult for me to see Charlie, though I’ve often taken comfort in the loving, joyful life that the wonders of social media made it possible for me to share in on a weekly (if not daily) basis. Though my contact with him may have diminished over the years, my love for him never has. I will always miss his gentleness, and his goofy, open-hearted personality.

Last week, I made a trip to Detroit to say my goodbyes to Charlie. I wanted desperately to take Scully, but she’s too ill herself to make the journey. I found him older and weaker, but unaltered. His hips were severely wasted and his face had grown white, but when I looked at him, I still saw the sweet-faced puppy that I once photographed in the driveway of the Fournie Street Apartment, sunning himself beside Scully on my blue kitchen rugs. I saw the two of them sleeping cheek-to-cheek under my dining room table.

That is how I will always see him.

Someday soon, his ashes will come back to the place where he spent his earliest years, and we will lay him to rest in a place where Miss Scully can eventually join him. Which brings us (finally) to the end of the story about how two lonely people successfully navigated their way through the hardest time in their lives… how they found themselves and their place in the world because of the best birthday gift that a brother ever gave himself and his twin sister.

Rest in peace, sweet Charlie Boy. Thank you for everything you did over the years for my brother.

Review - October 2015, Week the Second

I’ve been remiss in both my correspondence and my journaling, for reasons that are best left for another conversation. For the purposes of this journal entry, it should suffice to say that I have resolved to compose (at the very least) one journal entry per week… if only to document the high points.

There is very little to report this week. No sooner did Scully’s health improve than I contracted a flu-like virus that confined me to bed for much of the week. It set in while Dave and I were at his surgical consultation…

He has to have laproscopic surgery to repair the damage to his knee.

In the hours before the upper-respiratory symptoms confined me to bed, Dave and I finished the installation of the trim in the basement bedroom. Another full week has passed with no evidence of mice – either in the traps or elsewhere – and Dave is anxious to declare victory in the war on rodentia, but I remain skeptical and hyper-vigilant. Dave, on the other hand, has shifted his attention from the War on Mice to the War on Moth Balls. As I predicted, he can no longer stand the smell and, early in the week, he tore apart the floor in the basement bedroom to retrieve the moth balls that he shoved under there. The only moth balls that he has been unable to retrieve are the ones that he threw under the back deck. Yesterday, he told me that he was planning to rip up the deck boards to get at them, but I quickly vetoed that idea.

I have to draw the line at large scale demolition just to eliminate the source of a smell that you only notice in the second that it takes to unlock the back door.

Review - October 2015, Week the First

It’s now officially Monday, the fifth of October… so ends a particularly turbulent week. The week concluded much as it began – with Dave and Grim asleep in the master bedroom while I sit quietly with Scully and Fi in the guest bedroom across the hall. The girls are snoring contentedly while I try to wind down with the aid of my laptop (though, of late, you’re more likely to find me winding down with my Kindle instead). In spite of appearances, I have the distinct impression that I used up every bit of my good karma to make it unscathed into this new week.

Last week started with a mini-break to the family cabin in the Upper Peninsula. Our original intention was to take all three dogs, but Scully’s car anxiety proved to be too extreme and we were forced to turn around before we even made it to Alma. She spent the mini-break at HHQ with Mom and Dad, while Dave and I made the five hour trek with Grimshaw and Fi. It looks like this will be Grim’s last trek to the cabin, as well. At nearly thirteen, he doesn’t seem to be able to tolerate the drive anymore either.

We arrived later than we would have liked and had to drop the dogs off at the cabin and go straight back into town to get groceries. In retrospect, we should have stopped on the way to the cabin and left the dogs in the car with the air conditioner running while we quickly shopped. That’s ultimately what we had to do, but on the night of our arrival, we thought the dogs would be all right in the cabin for the half hour that it would take to purchase some food.

When we returned with a few odds and ends for dinner, we found that Fi had torn down a set of curtains, defecated in two places and urinated on one of the sofa cushions. We spent the first night of our mini-break scrubbing carpets, cleaning upholstery and re-hanging curtains.

On the second day of our mini-vacation, we drove into town (with the dogs in tow) and purchased groceries for the remainder of our stay. After that, we returned to the cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon tinkering with equipment in the pole barn. Eventually, we were able to get a couple of lawnmowers started and we were able to reclaim the lawn before it got dark.

I had hoped to visit Tahquamenon Falls on the third day of our vacation, but Dave’s knee injury and lingering concerns about Fi’s separation anxiety kept us at home. Dave ventured into town (by himself) in the morning, because he had a phone interview scheduled with MSU and you have to go into town to get reliable cell service. He returned in good spirits and was satisfied that he gave one of the best interviews of his life.

In the afternoon, we took the dogs for a long hike in the woods… selecting a route that took us in a huge loop around my grandmother’s property. We circled back to the house by way of Aunt Mary and Uncle Ray’s, but it was raining by the time we got back, which foiled our plans for the traditional vacation campfire.

We returned home the following afternoon and found Scully in good health and good spirits. We spent the rest of the evening at the Masonic Lodge, setting up for the awards dinner that Dave was putting on the following evening. As soon as we were finished, we adjourned to the Hobbit House to tackle the weekly cleaning and grocery shopping. I was up late into the night – finishing the laundry – but everything seemed fine when I finally turned in at 5.

At 9, Dave woke me to tell me that Scully was sick… that she had vomited in the kitchen, but he was running late for work and didn’t have time to take care of it. I spent the morning cleaning up pile after pile of vomit until there was nothing left in her stomach but bile. By the afternoon, I’d called in to work and made an appointment for her at the vet.

Since my car was at the shop, I called my parents and they hurried over to help. Scully was hit with another wave of vomiting right before we put her in the car, so my mother stayed behind to clean up the mess while my father accompanied me to the vet’s office.

They assigned a new veterinarian to her case, which didn’t necessarily instill me with confidence. The new doctor’s assessment seemed thorough though: She took x-rays and blood, but I was disappointed when she returned to the room without an explanation (or even a speculative guess) as to the cause of Scully’s sudden illness and rapid decline. The only thing she could do – she told me – was treat the symptoms and wait to see if the situation resolved itself. She offered to keep Scully at the office overnight, but it didn’t make sense to me to leave her there. At home, I would be able to watch over her and care for her… whereas she would be alone for most (if not all) of the night if I left her at the office.

I was also conscious that Scully is nearly thirteen. Every illness could be the last illness when a dog is so old, and if it turned out to be her last night, I wasn’t going to let her spend it alone in a cage.

The new vet gave Scully IV fluids (because she was dehydrated) and a shot for nausea before sending her home. I got Scully settled in the living room and retrieved the carpet scrubber from the basement. I’d soon worked my way through the upper level – sweeping, mopping, vacuuming and scrubbing carpets. When I picked up the rug that sits just inside the back door, however, a small shower of mouse droppings rained down on my feet and I very nearly lost my composure.

I have always been pretty candid about my obsessive compulsive tendencies, and my neurosis has always dictated that I keep a meticulously clean house. I’ve never had a pest infestation in any house I’ve ever occupied, and in ten years of living at the Hobbit House, I’ve never had mice before. As I scrambled to clean up the mess, I followed the trail of droppings to a hole that Dave drilled in the floor to run an electrical cord to the lower level.

It was necessary to postpone any additional cleaning or investigation into the source of the mouse problem, however, because Scully’s condition was continuing to deteriorate. She was in excruciating pain by the time Dave got home from his Masonic dinner and we all settled in for a traumatic, and largely sleepless, night. I’d carried her to the master bedroom and put her on the bed, where Fi and Grim positioned themselves on either side of her, as close as they could get to her. I laid on the bed with her and tried to comfort her, but she was in too much pain to do anything but pant and tremble.

Even with a king-sized bed, there was no room for Dave. He was relegated to the sofa for the night, but he was only able to doze. Every half hour, he would leap back up and scramble to the bedroom to check on her. I spent the whole night holding Scully, increasingly conscious that I had never seen a dog survive for any length of time in such a condition.

Around 4 AM, she fell asleep for about twenty minutes and, when she woke, the pain seemed to have let up some. She was able to sleep until the morning, when we called the vet again. This time, we demanded an appointment with our usual vet.

“Nothing against Dr. Gruca,” I heard Dave say. “From what my wife tells me, she was very thorough, but we’d really feel more comfortable if we could see Dr. Armstrong. He’s taken care of her since she was six weeks old and we’re hoping he may have some different ideas or insights.”

Dr. Armstrong reviewed Dr. Gruca’s notes and test results, but his physical examination of Scully was significantly more thorough than his associate’s. He suggested two possible causes: pancreatitis (though she wasn’t presenting the usual tell-tale signs) or a cancerous tumor somewhere in the abdomen. He asked to keep her at the office for the day, so that he could re-hydrate her with more IV fluids and run the test for pancreatitis. If that came back negative – he said – the next step would be an abdominal ultrasound.

We left her with him for the day and returned home to deal with the mouse infestation. On the way, we stopped at Meijer to purchase dog-proof mouse traps, where we ran into my friend Beth. She took one look at us and greeted us with “Oh my!”

Nothing like confirmation that you look like hammered shit, but we’d had little or no sleep and I’d been weeping intermittently. Our clothing was, in fact, better suited to a 3 AM Walmart visit, but she knew that Scully was ill and her reaction was more an expression of concern, since our disheveled state struck her as an indication of a bad outcome.

We returned home to begin our campaign against the rodent infiltrators. Dave found a hole in the basement door frame which allowed them to get in under the floor in the basement bedroom. The hole has been there since I bought the house, but this year the mice we able to get into the house because I pulled up the floor trim to repaint the basement bedroom back in May. With the trim gone, there were several small gaps between the hardwood floor and the wall which allowed the mice to gain access to the basement level. To combat this, Dave bought traps and moth balls. He also called Dad to help with the repair of the exterior door frame and the re-installation of the trim.

Dave spreads moth balls outside, but I was dismayed to find that he intended to use them inside as well. I told him the smell would be intolerable inside the house, but he insisted that it was either the moth balls or the mice.

It’s official. My house now legitimately smells like an old woman.

I probably should have fought him harder on the moth balls, but I have learned to pick my battles, and besides… I knew the smell would drive him to distraction LONG before I couldn’t stand it anymore. As it was, he began to mutter about the smell of it on his hands in the minutes following the distribution of the moth balls. By the end of that first night, he was complaining that he could smell it no matter where he was in the house (he claimed it wasn’t the ones he distributed, but rather, the ones in the box that were sitting in the basement “underneath an air return”, so he moved the boxes out into the breezeway).

By day three, he couldn’t stand the stench anymore and went around the house – inside and out – collecting as many of them as he could find them and throwing them away.

There’s still a smell when you walk in the back door, but I’ve strayed from the subject.

My dad arrived and between the two of them, they fixed the hole in the door frame. We were just beginning to install floor trim when Dad felt a migraine coming on and had to leave. We only installed three pieces of trim before Dave was too tired to continue. I’m hoping the door frame repair is sufficient to keep them out, because we still haven’t been able to get back to the trim-work.

We dispersed half a dozen mouse traps and caught three mice in the first two days. I’m seeing no new evidence of rodents on the upper floor, but only time and an exhaustive, fanatical house clean will tell.

But again, I’ve strayed from the subject. You’ll recall that we left Scully with Dr. Armstrong so that he could test her for pancreatitis. When the test came back positive, they started her on a course of treatment and, by the afternoon, Dr. Armstrong called to advise us that she was (at least) more comfortable. Armstrong kept her at the office overnight to continue to administer fluids, antibiotics and pain medication, but he promised that he would check on her every couple of hours over the course of the night.

It was another relatively sleepless night for me until I received the call from Armstrong in the morning, assuring me that she was making “miraculous improvement” and that I would be able to take her home in the afternoon. I slept a couple of hours and then got up early to get ready for work so that I would be able to pick her up when they were ready to release her.

She still wasn’t her usual spunky self when they brought her to me. She was weak and sluggish, but she was vastly improved. I took her to HHQ and snuggled on the couch with her until I had to leave for work. I couldn’t possibly take another day off work – it being Homecoming weekend – so my Mom and Dad took care of her for a couple of hours until Dave got out of work.

She met me at the back door, like she always does, when I got home in the morning, and though she didn’t camp out on the bath mat while I bathed, she did cuddle up with me in bed and spent the morning sleeping with her head on my shoulder. By the afternoon, she seemed well enough to be left unattended for the two or three hours between when I left for work and when Dave got home.

She was perfectly herself by the time I got home from work on Sunday morning. She met me at the door again, assumed her usual spot in the bathroom while I showered, and spent the entire day napping beside me in bed. When I woke in the early afternoon, she followed me around the house (as per normal) while I completed the usual tidying and grooming routines. She was eager to visit HHQ for our usual Sunday dinner and she is resuming her duties as the reigning monarch of the pack.

This is a reprieve. We’re all keenly aware of it, but (for my part) it just makes me more appreciative. There is, I am finding, felicity in her white face when I open the door in the morning and she’s for me in the kitchen. There’s felicity in the way she follows me around the house like a shadow… and in the way she camps out obtrusively on the bath mat, forcing me to step over her every few seconds as I get ready for work or for bed.

There’s particular felicity in this pre-bed routine, where I sit for a few minutes with my girls and my laptop or my book and clear my head before I try to go to sleep. It is, in fact, the time of the day that I most look forward to, so as costly and transient as this reprieve may be, I’m driven by the need to express my gratitude for it.

It occurred to me this week that Scully is the last vestige of the time in my life when I loved absolutely. She is the last living creature that I allowed myself to love unreservedly, which might explain why this issue was so particularly traumatic for me, but that is – undoubtedly – a topic for a different sort of conversation altogether.

UK Travelogue - Day 27

We walked across town in the rain to St Paul’s Cathedral and spent the day touring it. It is now – undeniably – the most beautiful structure I’ve ever seen. It surprised me when Dave said that he wanted to climb the dome – given his knee issues – but he was very insistent, so we climbed the 500-some odd winding, steep, narrow steps to the very top of the dome and surveyed a panoramic view of London in all directions.

We also bought and lit candles while we were there. Dave lit one for his Grandmother, and I lit two, one for my Grandpa Hume and one for my Grandma Havens (though she needs it less than any human I’ve ever known). After that, I lit a candle of well-wishes for the continued health of my Grandpa Havens and Grandma Hume.

When we’d finished exploring the crypt (where we saw the tomb of William Blake, The Duke of Wellington and touched the tomb of Admiral Horatio Nelson), we caught the tube back to our hotel. We dined again at Goodman’s Field – the pub in Whitechapel – and then came back to the room to pack.

We leave for the States tomorrow.

All that remains is our traditional vacation rummy tournament…

UK Travelogue - Day 26

We started our day off with a visit to the post office. We’ve purchased way too many souvenirs and I had thought it might be sensible to mail some of them home, but when they told us that it would cost a little over 100 pounds to mail one box home, we decided we could buy another suitcase and pay the airline fee and still be further ahead in the long run. We spent the day touring London by bus. Today we stopped and explored Trefalgar Square before taking a boat tour of London down the Thames.

It didn’t seem to matter where we went, we found ourselves inexplicably stuck with this large obnoxious Italian family. If we got on the bus, they were there. If we wandered around a landmark and got back on the bus an hour later, they happened to have switched buses as well. When we got on the boat, wouldn’t you know it… they were there. Two couples and three young boys. Only one woman spoke English, but apparently not well, because you couldn’t hear anything the tour guide was saying over the wailing children and the other three adults bickering with her over the best way to make it to their desired destination. Even without speaking the language, they seemed to be able to figure it out with the help of the map, but she kept refusing to believe them. The more she refused, the louder the rest of them bawled at her. At one point, they held up the entire bus tour for the better part of ten minutes, arguing over whether to get off the bus or not.

When the boat tour concluded, we hopped a bus back to Oxford Street, where we found a clearance priced suitcase in a sports shop, and then caught one of the last buses back to Tower Hill. We dropped the suitcase at the hotel and walked to Whitechapel to eat.

We found a pub there that will sell us decent food for a reasonable price. If I haven’t mentioned it already, the cost of food is astronomical across the board here in the UK… not just in London, either. It’s ridiculously overpriced everywhere we’ve been.

The only drawback to eating at this particular pub was that a verbal altercation started to break out between two drunks while we were there. It never got any further than the screaming of profanities and the slamming of fists on the table, but it put me on my guard and I wasn’t comfortable again until the two drunks in question wandered off. I kept my eyes on them the whole time we were eating, and Dave kept hissing at me to stop watching them, because I “wasn’t going to get involved” in it, either way.

I told him I had my own reasons for monitoring the progress of the argument. Whether it involved intervention or not, I didn’t want to be caught unaware, so Dave finished his meal quickly and hurried me out the door.

UK Travelogue - Day 25

We got a late start today, so we took the tube up to Baker Street. Our plan was to tour the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, then spend the afternoon at Madam Tussaud’s.

We were dismayed to find a line stretching half a block at 221b, which was nothing in comparison to the line to get into Madam Tussaud’s. That line stretched (at least) a full city block. We did a little shopping in a few of the souvenir shops and when we returned to 221b Baker Street, the line was within a few hundred yards of the Museum. We waited in line for about forty minutes to get in, and the experience was VASTLY disappointing. They claimed to have recreated the lodgings of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but whoever “they” might be, I’m reasonably certain they never read a single Holmes story, because I hadn’t made it past the front foyer before I was already disappointed in the lack of accuracy.

The only bit of the tour worth mentioning was the basement level restroom, which was as close to using a Victorian era bathroom as you can get without actually using a chamber pot.

We left the Holmes Museum and headed back toward Madam Tussaud’s, but only because we saw a vendor nearby, selling tickets for bus tours of London. In the end, we purchased a two day bus pass that will allow us to get on a line of buses anywhere in London. They have strategically positioned bus stops all around the city and – regardless of which stop you might be at – the wait for the next bus is never more than fifteen minutes. Our passes include a boat tour of the Thames to Greenwich, as well as a night tour of London. We will likely spend the rest of our time in London going from place to place on the bus. Today, we went over London Bridge, saw the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We saw Trafalgar Square and the London Eye… as well as a myriad of other landmarks.

UK Travelogue - Day 24

Today, we figured out how to navigate the city using public transportation and took the tube across London to tour Dickens’ house and the Universal Grand Masonic Lodge of England.

Both Dave and I were charmed by the Dickens Museum, which is situated in the house where he lived when he was a newlywed; when he was just married and just starting his family. He was writing Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby at the time when he lived in the house, though they had any number of Dickens artifacts on site, including the special podium that he designed and had constructed for his public readings, as well as the desk that he was using when he wrote Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend.

After working our way through the Dickens house, we walked a couple of blocks to the Grand Lodge. Of all the excursions that I planned on this trip, this was the one that Dave was most excited about. I can see why. We toured grand estates and palaces, but nothing that came close to the extravagance and beauty of the architecture in that building. Everything was so much Italian marble or carved Tasmanian woodwork or 24k gold leaf. It made the masonic home in Alma look like the Bradley Trailer Park by comparison. I think what impressed me most was the impeccable taste in the décor and the architecture. There was perfect union and harmony of elements. At the same time, nothing was overdone or ostentatious.

It turned out that Dave was the only Mason in our tour group, so our guide gave him special attention and allowed him to close the massive carved-wood temple doors when the tour was concluded. He felt the honor of it, and performed the task with reverence and a thinly-veiled degree of excitement that bordered on giddiness.

The ride back to the hotel on the tube was decidedly less pleasant. If nothing else, it taught us the necessity of timing our commute better. It was just after five o’clock and not only were there no seats on the tube, but there were no handholds open either… not that it mattered, because we were compression fit into the train. We were only on the tube for two or three stops, but we couldn’t get off it or out into the fresh air fast enough.

UK Travelogue - Day 23

I’ve been feeling under the weather all day, so this is liable to be a short journal entry, but I wanted to take a few minutes to note the events of the day. We had an excellent breakfast in the hotel restaurant – the first excellent breakfast that I’ve had since I came to the UK – then set out to tour the Tower of London.

We spent the whole morning and most of the afternoon in the Tower. We saw Traitor’s Gate and toured the Bloody Tower, as well as Beauchamp Tower (where the Duke of Argyle was imprisoned until he died of infection, and where the Dudley brothers were held until their execution). We saw the Tower Green, where Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were executed, and we toured the White Tower and saw the Line of Kings before we completed the Wall Walk.

We opted out of seeing the Crown Jewels, since the line was oppressively long and we had to return the rental car before it got too late to safely make the long walk back to the hotel.

Dave talked me into driving the rental car the last few miles to the drop off location, but the experience was reminiscent of the drive in East Molesey. I successfully navigated my way through the maze of road construction, the impromptu street fair and the Indian wedding party that stood between the hotel and the Budget parking garage, but that was the last nail in the coffin for me. I was fighting a headache before we set out, and by the time I got the car parked again, the headache had progressed into a full-fledged migraine.

Looks like it’s a migraine pill and an early bedtime for this girl.

UK Travelogue - Day 22

After checking out of the hotel, Dave and I hauled the luggage half a mile to the car park. We stowed our suitcases and hiked back to the King’s Arms because the nearest gate to Hampton Court Palace was about twenty feet away from the hotel.

You had to know there was a logical reason why I picked that particular venue. It certainly wasn’t selected on the basis of accessibility or convenience.

We spent the rest of the morning (and most of the afternoon) touring the palace. We started on the Tudor side and then moved to the Baroque wing. The Tudor section was built and occupied by Henry VIII. It was fascinating to move from room to room because each successive chamber was constructed during a different stage of his life and – as such – the décor in each apartment reflected his association with a different wife. The badge of Catherine of Aragon is etched into a door frame in the foyer, for example, and there is still one of Anne Boleyn’s badges in the Great Hall (in spite of Henry’s efforts to remove all trace of her after her execution). When you proceed into the Great Watching Chamber, you find a gold-leaf and plaster ceiling that is decorated with the badge of Jane Seymore…

You get the idea.

Though I’ve always associated Hampton Court Palace with the Tudors, and though I’ve always identified it as the Palace of Henry VIII, I particularly enjoyed our tour of the Baroque portion of the palace – in effect, the section of the palace that was constructed and occupied by William (III) and Mary (II).

Here’s a little known fact that you won’t be able to find in any of the tour books: Even after several hundred years, there are still parts of the palace that reek of urine.

When we had toured a good portion of the palace, Dave and I ventured out into the gardens, but it was uncommonly hot this afternoon and the sun was beating down on us relentlessly. Without the benefit of shade, we felt like we were being charbroiled and wandering the grounds became an increasingly miserable proposition for Dave. After he’d scaled a number of staircases in the palace, he was beginning to limp visibly on his injured knee. I suggested that we start the long trek back to the car while Dave was still in a condition to make the journey.

I drove us into London. Our route took us over the Tower Bridge – which was truly remarkable – but even the novelty of that couldn’t offset the stress of driving in London traffic. By the time I got the car safely parked in front of the hotel, I swore I wouldn’t drive another inch of London roadway. It wasn’t quite as bad as yesterday, but it was still nerve-wracking enough and when Dave rented the car, they told him they would come and pick it up from the hotel (for a modest fee) if he found it inconvenient to drop it off at the nearest Budget rental distributor.

He may have to call them and tell them to come and collect the damn thing!

If I haven’t made it clear in previous journal entries, our hotel experiences in the UK have been decidedly less than spectacular. For the remainder of our time here, we will be staying at The Chamberlain Hotel.

It turns out that The Chamberlain isn’t a hotel at all. It’s a magical faerie palace, designed to mimic a hotel so that guests will never want to leave it. Dave and I are in agreement: We’ve never stayed at any hotel – anywhere – that we like half as well as this one. It seems to have achieved the perfect balance of sophistication and comfort.

If I ever disappear, you should probably look for me here.