I am the worst person in the world about getting shots. My son is almost as bad as I am. We’d make terrible heroin addicts.
My wife and daughter are better. Why is it women are braver patients than men? Most women can give birth in the morning and plow the back forty in the afternoon. One woman in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood had a caesarean section by Saracen sword one day and stormed the castle the next. Of course, that was a movie.
My wife said she wasn’t good about getting shots when she was a child. One time the doctor came by the house to give her an injection, and she jumped around the bed to avoid the needle. He caught her mid-bounce in the buttocks. After that she calmed down. When my daughter got her first inoculation she looked at her arm and said, “Hmph, that hurt.”
My son, on the other hand, shuddered with tears welling in his eyes, pleading with the doctor not to stick him. And that was last week. He’s thirty-eight years old and a prison guard. Just kidding. He shuddered when he was eight. He takes it like a man now. He shudders on the inside, just like me.
Back in the 1950s, the schools gave polio shots regularly to elementary school students. You had no warning. There you were, sitting in the classroom just about ready to doze off, when the next thing you knew the teacher was herding you down the hall to your doom. The needles back then were huge and dull. I could swear that they had been using the same needles that they had used on soldiers in World War II, just to save money.
Of course, getting an inoculation is nothing like having blood drawn. From the time I first discovered the fact that doctors, on a regular basis, stuck dull needles in your veins to extract copious amount of blood, I lived in fear that one day I would have to undergo such torture. When it eventually happened, I had to be placed on a gurney and my mother hovered over my face as the nurse drew the blood. And I’ll never forget her kind words.
“You’re being a big baby over this and embarrassing me to death.”
Over the years I have not gotten much better. At least my wife never told me I was a big baby nor acted like she was embarrassed when I almost passed out on the clinic floor. By the way, women faint and men pass out; at least that’s what my brother told me. He was a Marine so he should know.
Doctors actually have a name for the condition, and it is not cowardice. It’s Latin so I can’t remember it. When your nervous system thinks it’s losing volumes of its life-giving fluid, your blood pressure drops dramatically so the blood won’t flow out so fast. Not surprisingly, mostly men have it.
A few years at the hospital a male nurse couldn’t find the vein. In another aside, I think women draw blood better than men. Call me a sexist. Anyway, by the time he had thumped both arms several times and finally stuck in the needle, I was light headed. They rushed me over to the emergency room because they thought I had a seizure. Nope. It was just manly nervous Nellie disease.
I have discovered if I keep babbling on about something inconsequential the attendant can draw the blood and get me out of the building before my blood pressure drops. Once I quoted “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
I’m memorizing the Gettysburg Address for next time.
Here I’ve reached the age of 70, and I don’t know what existentialism is.
Teachers talked about it. Those French writers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about it. Even movies are made about existentialism. “Taxi Driver” and “Annie Hall” were about it but you couldn’t prove it by me. One was very violent, and the other was very funny.
I like to write stuff. Some of it is violent and some funny. What if I were an existentialist and didn’t even know it?
I have looked the word up in the dictionary, and what was there didn’t explain it to me. I even went to other dictionaries and they didn’t help either. You’d think that someplace on the internet someone could come up with clear definition, but no.
For a long time, like forty years, I have faked being smart. I call it the old smile and nod. No matter what the conversation is about. This is particularly helpful when the topic is religion or politics. No one can get mad at you if you give them the old smile and nod. I’m also a little deaf in both ears. In the case of not understanding what was being said, I add in the knowing chuckle with the smile and nod. I don’t know if I actually fooled anyone. Most of them had the decency not to expose my ignorance.
Once I got up the courage to ask my wife what existentialism meant. She had a master’s degree in criminal justice and spent a career observing people and writing reports to judges about whether to send someone to prison or not. That’s a very serious job so I figured she must understand existentialism.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” she replied and went back to one of her books about biblical archeology or the theory of the black Athena.
When you reach the age of 70 you realize that you don’t have to fake anything anymore because most of the people you were afraid of disappointing with your ignorance have probably already passed on. And who cares what the people younger than you think. They don’t write my paycheck. That’s mostly because I don’t get a paycheck anymore.
One time I asked three people who went to great effort to appear intelligent about existentialism. All of them had highly cogent observations on the condition of mankind, but none of them knew what existentialism was. It was such a relief.
Perhaps it is enough that I have made it through most of my life without inflicting major discomfort on anyone within reasonable distance of my space. If I have not made a fortune, at least I have never taken food or shelter away from anyone else. If I have not done anything to save the world, at least I have given people a smile along the way.
I don’t know what existentialism is.
It is what it is.
I am what I am.
That is enough.
My father’s idea of being cultured was to lift his leg downwind of company when he needed to pass gas.
My mother thought anyone who liked opera, ballet or Shakespeare was a pretentious snob.
So why I consider myself an esthete is really a mystery. An esthete, by the way, is a person who derives great pleasure from exposure to beautiful things, like art, music, theater, dance, literature and the list goes on. It doesn’t mean I’m a snob. It just mean that I get the same stress relief from artistic stuff that many people get from watching sports or participating in sports.
I once heard Arnold Schwarzenegger say he got more pleasure out of lifting weight than from making love. And he was elected governor of California. Go figure.
All I got out of exercise was a lot of sweat, panting and an excruciating pain in my side. And I never did see any amazing results in my body either.
Now I always did get excited when Shakespeare was going to be performed on television. I remember a production of MacBeth with Maurice Evans (he was the condescending ape in Planet of the Apes) and Judith Anderson (she played the queen of the Vulcans in a Star Trek movie). It was filmed in Scotland. I didn’t understand half of what being said but I still liked it. Then there was Hamlet with Lawrence Harvey (he was the brainwashed guy in Manchurian Candidate). I understood a little more of the dialogue and liked it even better.
Come to think of it, I don’t remember why I even was allowed to watch those plays. If there had been a western on at the same time my father would have insisted on watching that instead. Maybe he had to work late or went to bed early. Anyway, I did get to see them and felt like windows had been opened to my soul. Come to think of it, my mother did refer to me as a little snob from time to time.
Opera eluded me for years, but I always liked ballet. A touring group came to our high school for an assembly program. Afterwards a football player said, “Hey, look at me, I’m a ballerina!” He took a few goofy-looking leaps but stopped and panted. “Hey,” he said in a moment of self-revelation. “That’s kinda hard.”
My mother-in-law didn’t approve of ballet because certain features of the male anatomy were too obviously on display. I always wondered how come she could ignore the beautiful music, the costumes, the sets and the graceful movements and just concentrate on that one thing. Dirty old broad.
As I said, opera took the longest for me to appreciate. I think part of it was that the singers belt out the songs like they have to be heard in the next county. When arias are lightly tossed out to waft on the breeze they become inspiring and lift the burdens of everyday life.
The same is true for symphonic music or chorale. I’m not that great of a singer but I have been lucky enough to sing a few times in large groups performing Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. To be completely surrounded by such music takes me to another, better place.
I appreciate all forms of art, from the Old Masters to Jackson Pollack. Once I picked up my daughter from a birthday party at the home of a very successful lawyer. He was so successful he had a helicopter pad in the front yard in case he was needed in Miami or Nashville real fast. We were talking in the living room with my daughter’s friend, the birthday girl, when my eyes strayed to a wall where was hanging a small dark oil painting of something Polynesian. I squinted and thought I saw a very famous signature. I walked over and, sure enough, it was signed “Gaugin.” I turned to the girl, 13 or 14, and said respectfully, “May I touch it?”
She shrugged and replied, “Sure, why not?”
My daughter was, as usual, was mortified. My fingertips lightly ran across the surface, feeling the brushstrokes.
“Do you know what this is?” I said, continuing to act like a groupie backstage at a rock concert.
“I don’t know. Just something daddy picked up somewhere.”
“This is a Gaugin,” I said and proceeded to give a brief history of the French artist who palled around with Van Gogh and painted naked women in Tahiti. If anyone asked to touch a Gaugin in an art museum he would be escorted from the building and kicked down the stairs.
By this time my daughter realized her daddy wasn’t just being his usual goofy self and asked if she could touch it too. The girl thought we were nuts but let us stroke the little painting all we wanted.
So that’s why I’m an esthete. You don’t have to own the art. You don’t have to be able to create art. All you have to do is appreciate it and let it wash over you like the invigorating cold tide on a Florida beach.
I think I’ve got this Father’s Day deal figured out.
This last weekend I got a dinner and a movie from my son who has to work next weekend, the actual Father’s Day. He’s a corrections officer at a state facility with a schedule so wacky only a politician could have come up with it. Twelve hour days. Two days on, three days off, three days on, two days off. Basically, if I see him he has the day off. If I don’t he’s working.
He took me to see the movie about how Han Solo met Chewbaca and won the Millennium Falcon in a card game. I know it’s supposed to be a stand-alone, but I think it needs at least one sequel to tie up all the loose ends. Basically I liked it. At least it didn’t end with half the people in the universe disintegrating with a snap of the fingers.
That was on Saturday night. On Sunday night he took me out to dinner at nice family-type restaurant that served roast beef, corn and potatoes wrapped up in tin foil. A little messy but it tasted good. Sometimes my son zones out or says something inappropriate; but hey, like father like son.
Now this is where it gets interesting. My daughter, who lives a thousand miles away with her family, called to say her present might be a little late coming in the mail. Better late than never. She always picks out something delicious to send me. On top of that I might even get a phone from my lovely little granddaughter.
Someone might point out I’m not getting anything more than any other father with two grown children might get, but I see it as making the fun stretch out as long as possible. Being greedy is not a good thing. Being grateful feels much better. Feeling grateful for an extended period of time is wonderful.
I don’t know if there’s a moral in any of this. I’m too busy looking for the mail to arrive. Ever since I was a little boy I’ve always loved looking for the mail to arrive.
My introduction to John Steinbeck came in 1961 when I was 13 and my brother was doing a one-act play based on part of Of Mice and Men at the local community college. We sat on the bed reading roles. He was George. I was Lenny. Ours was a strict Southern Baptist home, and such words were never to be spoken in front of Mom, but Mom wasn’t there.
It was the thrill of my life to say those dirty words, one right after another, sentence after sentence of words that Mom would have whacked my bottom for saying. Before long we both were giggling and rolling over speaking words of literature from a Nobel laureate in literature. This was classy stuff. This was dirty, and we loved it.
Our older brother stood in the doorway, his arms crossed, and puffing on a cigarette with fire and brimstone in his eyes. We didn’t care. I was helping my other brother with his homework. What could be wrong with that? And, besides, it was so funny.
At least the words were funny. After we were finished and the play was done and my brother had taken his bows, the story stuck with me. It wasn’t so funny anymore. Our folks, of course, lived through the Great Depression but never talked about it much.
“How can you lose everything if you didn’t have anything to begin with?” Mom said, and that was that.
Of Mice and Men was not only my introduction to dirty words but also my introduction into that dirty, miserable and unfair world of the 1930s. There were the men who owned the farms and there were the men who worked the farms and therein lay a huge gap. No matter what Lenny and George’s dreams were, not matter how much they wanted them to come true, they never would.
All Lenny ever wanted was something soft to pet and take care of. But as Robert Burns said, such are the schemes of mice and men.
As I got older I wanted to read more of John Steinbeck. The local librarian asked my age and said I’d have to wait a while to read East of Eden. It was worth the wait. Then came Grapes of Wrath and all the others, except Travels With Charlie. I don’t know. His road trip with his dog didn’t interest me.
What started with adolescent humor built into a life-time of reading about what the world is really like and what we can do to change it. I know literature did this for more than me, not only novels and plays, but now movies and television programs that dare me to think. Luckily I married a woman who loved to read too. That way we learned twice as much. She told me about her books, and I told her about mine.
I am 70 years old and, yes, when I go to see an R-rated movie, I still giggle at the dirty words. And they still make me think.
(Author’s note: In honor of the summer camping season for families, the long weekends, the smells of grilling, the setting suns, the whistling and the laughter. Ah, the memories.)
After a long day of camping I lay in my tent alone looking through the flap at the navy blue sky filtered through patterns of oak branches. The family had walked down to the campground store to buy candy for the kids.
Whiffing, I knew the next campsite over was roasting hot dogs. On the other side someone else was grilling hamburgers and across the way the aroma of toasted marshmallows floated my way. We had been lazy and stopped at a restaurant for dinner after a long day of hiking a mountain to see a waterfall.
My legs still ached, and I thought I was getting a blister on my big toe. I didn’t want to complain because my wife had twisted her ankle last night after she tripped on the way back to the tent from the campground toilet. She made the trip up and down the mountain limping so I couldn’t say much about a little blister.
Cricket song was deafening among the trills of the birds. Most of the campers around us were keeping their voices down, which was a good sign for later. A couple of nights ago, one guy drank a few too many beers and sang out loudly, “I’m going white-water rafting tomorrow and the damn Little Pigeon River!” My wife sent me to the office the next office to complain but the manager said he had refunded their money and told them to leave. I was glad I didn’t have to listen to them anymore but I resented the jerk got a free campsite for a night. Maybe on our last night I could scream obscenities and get a refund too. I dismissed the thought. It wasn’t worth losing the sleep.
I stared at the leaves against the sky. If I could draw, it would make a great abstract painting of shades of blues. Then the stars started twinkling adding to the composition. Wouldn’t that make a nice painting for your bedroom wall? You could just stare at it until you drifted off to sleep. But with my luck it would look like a mess and I’d stay awake wondering why I thought I could paint in the first place.
Rolling over on the air mattress I searched for the bag of candy from out visit to Aunt Mahalia’s Kitchen. I hoped there would be some fudge or chocolate covered cherries left. No fudge but plenty of cherries. Life is good. I bit into the chocolate mound and slurped up the cream, saving the actual cherry for last. The soothing, mellow milk chocolate made me forget about the blister, and the tart sweet cherry made me forget the chocolate, if that were possible.
I heard familiar laughter come up the path. The family was back. I hoped they bought more fudge. My son was whistling the music to Star Wars. Anytime he was happy he whistled the entire score of the movie. My daughter giggled and talked at the same time. I never knew how she could do that. My wife said, “Let’s hurry up and get back. My foot is killing me.”
I paused to take in everything and store it for future reference. This was one of the good times.
Nope, these pictures weren’t taken at the royal wedding. About a month and a half earlier. As it happens sometimes on group tours, choices are offered. You can either go to Windsor Castle or you can go to the Tower of London, but not both. Josh got the castle; I got the tower. Since I wasn’t there, Josh will supply the news about Windsor:
After the London tour, we split up into our respective groups: Dad went to the Tower (no pun intended) and I joined our lovely and talented long-term guide Fiona for our trip to Windsor Castle. The drive was an hour or so and once there we were led on a brief mini-tour of the outer courtyard. Like all castles in Ireland, Wales and England, the original purpose of the castle was as a military installation and position. However, both me and my kneecaps were grateful for the evenly cut stone steps. The guide mentioned that the moat area, as was with all medieval castles, were often filled with tar, sewage and god-knows-what other disgusting substances to impede the progress of an invading army. I can’t remember if it was Stuart or the temporary guide we had at Windsor, but it was mentioned that Windsor Castle in particular held a fond place in the Queen’s heart due to her growing up there. The guide mentioned that the Queen usually spent the work week at Buckingham Palace in London and came to Windsor to rest and recover. I couldn’t fault her choice in residence: the area around Windsor is absolutely stunning. Probably one of the most stunning facts was that the Queen was the only person in Windsor and England as a whole who did not have to drive with a driver’s license. The Windsor guide mentioned that this was because all driver’s license in the country were issued in the Queen’s name and authority. On one hand, it made sense not to issue a license to the one person whose name and authority were used for issuing purposes. On the other hand, I made a mental note to look out for elderly women in the driver’s seat whenever I was in England.
After the outside tour, my group, which consisted of several high school students, got in line for the main tour of the interior. All of the attendants dressed in the blue and red uniforms of House Windsor (for a heartbeat, I confused them with the local police) were walking up and down the line making sure no one took pictures. For the record, I did manage to take one picture of the interior but later deleted it from my cell phone. Let it never be said that a son of the Cowling family disrespected the house rules of royalty. Like the outside of the castle, the stairs were evenly cut and spaced. One of the first rooms we visited was the one where that horrible fire in the ‘90s started. I’m glad that the English really take care of their national treasures and monuments. While passing through, I couldn’t help but wonder how the heck was a thief going to fence all of the priceless art, tapestries, and fine china without causing a stock market crash, let alone get out of the castle alive with the goods. The tour took roughly an hour and when we exited we were right at the souvenir shop. Dad was writing a novel so I took the liberty of buying two or three books regarding the Royal Family and Windsor Castle. While waiting outside for the rest of the group, I was sitting with two or three teenage girls from are group and I saw a water-bottle machine that took 2 1-pound coins. I scrounged my pockets but only had one, so I asked my traveling companions if they had a spare coin. They started rummaging through their purses and I think it was the only blonde in the group who had a coin. I thanked her profusely and got up to get something to drink. When I got back, we started talking about the tour and trip in general when I realized how much the redheaded girl in our group looked like Sophie Turner AKA Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones. I asked her if she had been watching the series and she said only up to season three. I then asked if any one told her that she looked just like Sansa Stark because she certainly did. She thanked me generously and said no one had mentioned it before. I would have loved to go walking around the rest of the town but we finally had to depart for our final night in London itself. That was probably my favorite day of the trip because I was not only one of the group chaperones but also a surrogate older brother to the young ladies of the group. Heather, please sit up and take notes: THIS is how brothers and sisters should get along. Anyway, Back to you, Dad.
I went on the tour of the Tower of London with our teacher guide and her sister. As soon as we entered both of them said they felt like they had been there before. But not in the same way they said they felt like they had come home when we were in Ireland. As we walked around the grounds we found a water fountain memorial to everyone who had been beheaded on that spot. In the center was a lovely pillow carved from a clear quartz. It reminded me of the pillow used in fairy tales to hold a crown or a princess’s slipper. Then I remembered what landed on the pillow: a head. As the sisters went around the fountain both of them felt a bit queasy. They realized why the place seemed familiar, in a very uncomfortable way.
Inside we went through the line of historical exhibits on our way to see the crown jewels. The nice feature was the moving sidewalk on each side of the cases of crowns and scepters. Everyone got a nice close-up view without having to wait for someone to gaze upon the artifacts as though they were the only ones in the building. (We’ve all run into those types at museums before.)
Anyhow, here it is a month and a half later and my seventy-year-old body is still recovering. But I wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything
On our last morning to roam London, we got the best tour guide ever to give running commentary on the sights passing by the bus windows. If my memory serves me correctly—which it rarely does anymore–his name was Stuart. He matched from head to toe in shades of green, blue and gray. Even his shoes. I was hoping he would break into song and tap dance down the center aisle of the bus. But he was a proper gentlemen, and they don’t exhibit their choreography on public transport.
At one of our first stops he let us hop off the bus to examine the massive statue of Prince Albert. It was in a beautifully manicured park across the street from Royal Albert Hall. Unlike most people preserved for posterity in the many parks, squares and circles about London, Albert received full Olympus treatment. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was honored with a life-sized replica; others were remembered with a head and shoulders bust, and most were in bas relief plaques explaining who they were and why they were honored. But Albert, the royal consort to Queen Victoria and father to so many children I cannot begin to remember all their names, sits high, broad and proud. I do not know if the statue is gold or bronze, but it shone for all to see. This is magnificent memorial of a woman’s love for her husband.
Back on the bus, our elegant guide directed the bus driver past the monument to Lord Wellington. “Does anyone know what Wellington did?”
Josh piped up, “He beat the crap out of Napoleon.”
Stuart appraised my son a moment looked at our long-term guide and said, “I think I like him.”
A little while later we drove by a monument to King Henry VIII, who, Stuart pointed out, “had six wives. Do you know what else he had?”
“Syphilis,” I replied. Now I honestly was not trying to be a smart-ass and ruin the man’s monologue which was filled with wit and wisdom. But Henry did have syphilis and that was why the last years of his reign were so unfortunate for his subjects.
This time Stuart did not miss a beat and went on to explain that King Henry had a difficulty with forming long and loyal relationships. But surely in his mind Stuart must have thought that we two clowns were related. Yes, we are connected genetically and were born without proper filters.
Coming up on the right, he told us, was one of the many lion statues on the banks of the Thames River erected during the reign of Queen Victoria. Upon inspecting it, Victoria realized this lion was quite obviously a male, so she ordered its gender identifying appendage removed for propriety’s sake. When one looked at the face of the lion in question, one could surmise he did not agree with Her Majesty. His eyeballs are perpetually bulging in surprise and discomfort.
At one point we left the tour bus and followed our elegantly dressed Stuart on a saunter through Green Park, a serene space stretching out in front of Buckingham Palace. Ducks and geese glided across the serene surface of its lake. Locals jogged along its backs and lay on the grass, soaking up blessedly warm rays from a late-March sun.
Stuart had our stroll perfectly timed to end at the entrance of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. As a mere former colonist, I thought the changing of the guard consisted of a hand full of soldiers in their bright red jackets and giant black fur helmets; but no, it was a full-fledged parade with horses, drums and rifles.
Stuart was careful to point out these were not just young men and women who were chosen for their proficiency for formal procedures. These were soldiers who had served their country in Afghanistan and where they might serve again in the near future.
When the last soldier had moved on, we broke up into separate groups to explore more bits of English historic lore. This was when had to wave a fond adieu to Stuart. I wish he could have stayed with us, but I am sure he had to address another bus filled with impertinent American tourists.
I really wanted to know who his tailor was, although I was quite sure I could not afford his wardrobe.
If you are going to one of the most exciting, eclectic cities in the world, go ahead and jump out of the bus into the heart of crazy London town and go for it.
The tour bus dropped us in Piccadilly Circus, and the guides told us to try to keep up. I knew immediately this was going to be difficult because how can you follow two typical English people in a crowd of a hundred thousand typical English people.
For the first thing, I was distracted by this building that had four gorgeous bronze statues of young nubile naked women diving into the center of Piccadilly Circus. Perpetually with their arms extended, up on their tippy toes, backs straight, tummies tucked in and chests proudly puffed out. I may be 70 years old but I’m not dead. By the time I realized I was supposed to be following the group, they were already across the street.
This presented me with my second problem. By nature I am always the one to step back with a smile and allow the cross pedestrian traffic to proceed. I have been known to hold open a door so long, people thought I worked for the store. If I did that in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, I would lose sight of my group and never see the Spanish moss draped live oak trees in downtown Brooksville, Florida, again. Then I remembered the grumpy old Irish woman with her walker in Dublin. I put a scowl on my face, hunched my shoulders and bulled my way forward. Before I knew it I was back with my group and I don’t think they had realized I had gone away.
This was very important to me. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of the young people on this student tour. The last thing I wanted was to have them interrupt their good time to see if the old man was lost, gasping for air, or fallen over with a heart attack. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Somebody call 9-1-1 and get the old geezer off our backs.” (Okay, they were all nice polite young American citizens and they would have never said that—thought it maybe. It’s a joke.)
Speaking of jokes, on the other side of Piccadilly was a street performer who looked just like Mr. Bean and for a modest price you could have your picture taken with him, hug him or pinch his bum. Twenty years and fifty pounds ago I was told I looked Mr. Bean. If I had moved to Piccadilly back then, think of the money and I could have made, and the bruises. Never mind.
Finally we arrived on Carnaby Street where the tour guides told group members to be back in two hours to eat at an authentic English restaurant featuring Indian cuisine. First Josh and I walked down the street to the largest toy store in London. The entire basement was filled with Star Wars stuff. My son Josh, by the way, goes to Star Wars convention everywhere, so he was in hog heaven (an old Texas expression). I, on the other hand, had reached the end of my tether and decided to go back to Carnaby Street while he explored the other three floors of toy heaven.
For the first time that day I felt entirely in my element. I ordered a nice lemonade, sat on the café patio and watched beautiful people go by as though they were on a runway. Unattractive people were beautiful in their high fashion clothes and perfect hairstyles. Even the boys. I wanted to see Twiggy walk by. Beatle tunes lingered in my brain. Everything was the same as when I was a teen-ager in Texas, except nothing was the same. I was old. And all the fashionable folk had smart phones stuck in their ears.
After dinner, the tour guides took us on one last marathon hike through Wellington Circle, past the National Museum and an establishment called Sherlock Holmes Pub. The tour guide said he used to work there. Finally we arrived at the Millennium footbridge over the Thames River where you could see the Eye (big Ferris wheel whose lights were down for the night) and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding and couldn’t be seen even if the lights were on.)
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time. Who gets to walk the streets of glamorous London at night and not get lost? I didn’t have a heart attack. For someone my age that’s a great confidence booster.
I always like me some literary insight while I’m having fun.
Our tour bus stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford. We had to wait in line because we arrived a little before they unlocked the door. We could have been distracted by beautiful blooms in the garden but the plants hadn’t budded yet.
I think everyone has seen a picture of the Hathaway house but we took one anyway. Yes, it has a thatched roof. Yes, it is a long two-story house. Yes, it is bigger than you thought, but not that big. For the sixteenth century it has a lot of nice things, including beds.
Speaking of beds, the guide explained the whole thing about how William Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed in his will. Admit it, we all thought Will was a cad for leaving his wife the second best bed. Just like most sound-bites in history, there’s much more to the story.
Back in those days, there weren’t very many inns in the countryside, and many people in the country, whether they liked it or not, had to take the trip to London once in a while and had to stay somewhere along the way. To make a little money, most people rented out a bed to weary travelers. And which bed would you want a stranger with money to have? The best bed in the house, of course, so it had to be empty and clean at all times just in case someone knocked at the door.
So the head of the family used the second best bed, which probably was the marriage bed. A romantic gesture to leave to your wife, when you think about it. Also a financially sound one too. The best bed was still available to rent out to travelers, which continued to be a source of income for the widow.
We also thought Will was some illiterate ragamuffin who spied the girl in the big house down the road and decided to marry her. Then we saw his birthplace house. It wasn’t all that small. His father was a successful tradesman, so the ragamuffin theory went out the window. We did see the bed where Will was born and it was as nice as any bed in the Hathaway house. Both houses had lovely gardens.
Josh and I walked a few blocks away to the site of the house that Will built for Anne. It had burned down and the lot is now a playground with a nice marker in it. Will always said, “The play’s the thing….”
This is when I realized why Will left his family in Stratford when he went off to work in theater in London. If you had a choice of living in a pretty country town with a nice house and garden or in rat-infested, plague-ridden London with all sorts of unnamable waste in the street, wouldn’t you want to be in Stratford too?
So instead of being this lowlife scum who abandoned his poor family for a glamorous show biz life in the big city, he left them safe and happy among friends and family to try to make a living from the only talents he had, writing and acting. And he could only do that in London.
After I got mired down into university course Shakespearean Tragedies 303, I saw a statue of a court jester in the middle of the street. Will had a buddy in his acting troupe who was really funny so he wrote a role for him in every play, whether it made any sense or not.
To get into the spirit, I had Josh take a picture of me trying to imitate the pose of the jester who had both hands in the air and one leg up. But I lifted the wrong leg so it didn’t make any sense at all.