Traveling to a foreign country—even one where English is the predominant language fills me with a mix of excitement and anxiety. As the wheels of the jet touch down after a twelve-hour journey and an eight-hour jump ahead on the clock, I’m aware I’ve left familiar territory and will need to put on my flexible frame of mind. The British immigration officers are friendly, the baggage claim process familiar—yet the similarities between home and this ancient isle dissipate quickly with each step I take into England.
Not only is the driver’s seat on the other side of the car, the traveling on the other side of the road causes my head to spin and I am unable to predict whether we will turn left or right as we approach intersections. From the multi-lane motorway to an A-road (1-2 lanes each direction), until we finally turn onto a country lane (one narrow lane TOTAL, with a stone wall lining each side,) we zig and zag among beautiful green fields dotted with cows or sheep or peacocks or bales of hay.
Tea is the beverage morning, noon and night. Tea is also the evening meal. Squash is not a vegetable, but a concentrated juice drink mixed with room temperature water. Ice in your glass? Not likely. Pubs are as plentiful as the neighborhood Starbucks at home. You’ll find Indian Take-Away and Fish n Chip shops for fast food options. Cravings for more American staples like: enchiladas with guacamole, pizza or a juicy cheeseburger with bacon and grilled onions will have to wait. Sausages are bangers. Bacon is barely cooked. Politicians are plonkers. And, my lucky mates who make England home are proud to be called British… and are among the most hospitable, lovely people I’ve met.
When people ask what I liked most about my excursion to England, my answer comes easily. While the medieval churches are awe-inspiring, the country-side glorious, the grand, ornate palaces unforgettable, it’s the warm and delightful people who leave a lasting impression.
“There is no distance too far between friends, for friendship gives wings to the heart.” -Anonymous
At the home of Heather, Ben and Domestic Don we were treated as family. It had been a decade since I first met Heather, yet I was welcomed and enfolded with loving kindness and easy laughter. The years and distance melted away and we simply kept calm and carried on while Domestic Don kept our wine glasses full to the brim.
One Sunday morning I attended a girlfriend reunion at a lounge near the harbor in Plymouth. This chattering gaggle of smiling women studied at Southway Comprehensive (high school) together. Laughing as they remembered their rascally youth, and although more than 20 years had passed since they were all together in the same room, conversation came easily. Even though I was the odd duck (and an American), I was treated just like one of the girls.
On the warmest day of the entire holiday, we met another set of friends at the front gates of Hampton Court Palace. Waiting, leaning against the brick wall, I scanned the throng of people heading toward our patch of grass, when it hit me. I didn’t know who to be looking for—as these friends, I had not met. Cheery smiles and genuine hugs soon found me, and I spent a delightful day talking and laughing with these new friends: a couple who are transplants in London from New York and another childhood friend whose life journey took her from the seaside of the Southwest to motherhood in Kent. We got lost together in King Henry’s garden maze. We shared a picnic lunch, whingeing about the fact there was no ice for our lemonade. The splendid day ended too quickly as we vowed to keep in touch and not let so many years pass before meeting up once more.
In England, wherever we roamed we were spoiled, put in the best spare rooms, asked over and over, “Yeah, you alright?,” while roast lamb dinners with gravy and all the delicious trimmings, barbeques and plenty of tea were provided for our tummies.
And the only difficult part of the trip, really, was saying good-bye, realizing that time and distance would separate us again. Feeling unsure of when the next hello and loving hug would be.
Friendship that stands the test of time is unbreakable. I’m always delighted when I find and re-connect with an old friend—and in the age of Facebook—the detective work required has become much easier. Life carries each of us on a unique journey, yet the magic that comes from reminiscing with a friend from high school, or meeting a pen pal for the first time, or sharing an evening meal with a life-long friend are priceless moments. When we lose our way, when life flares up in scary, scorching worry, or when we are bursting with joy—our friends, unbreakable lifelines, are those we turn to, and who are there, waiting with a hello and a heartfelt hug.
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
|Glossary of Terms:|
|Country Lane||Narrow one lane road where driving is often as fast as the motorway, see also: Fear|
|Tea||The elixir of life, or evening meal, or occasion to have cake in the afternoon, drunk even in 90+ degree weather|
|Whingeing||To complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner|
|You alright?||Insert after greeting someone, closest translation: “how are you?”|
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