Thursday, 16 August 2007

I have not proven to do well in dangerous situations the past few days. You’ll have proof of one incident on a video I was taking. I was videoing a narrow road we were driving on, doing a commentary about how close Clay gets to the left hand side, talking to the kids in the back seat, when all of a sudden our car lurched to the left and I heard a huge splash. I can’t say I screamed, because it sounded more like a strangled, wounded animal, knowing that it is about to perish. Clay did it on purpose, I should have known. Everyone thought it was hysterical, even me once I got over the perishing animal adrenalin rush.

The other telling incident happened this morning, at the bed and breakfast we are currently staying at in Northumberland (northern England). We were having a quiet breakfast in the dining room, just our family, when all of a sudden a horrible noise roared over us. I thought it was a bomb, headed directly for the house, so I jumped out of my seat, and (I get to tell my version since I’m the writer here) grabbed onto Alayna from behind, protecting the nearest child. To everyone else it appeared that I was actually hiding behind my daughter, saving myself from certain death, and I can see how they might think that. But if I was really trying to save myself, I would have dived under the table. Again, there were big hysterics all around. Hardy har-har! It turned out to be a low-flying jet. They use the bed and breakfast as a turning point in training exercises, and often fly low overhead. Clay and the boys had been informed of this the night before by the owner of the house.

It was another big drive day to get us here from York, and we stopped twice. Once at James Herriot’s home in Thirsk, which was wonderful. I’ve read a couple of his books, and read some of his children’s stories to the kids, so we were all familiar with him. What made this place cool is they had it decorated just as it would have looked in the 1950’s when James Herriot (his real name was Alf Wight) would have lived there.

Old games on the floor and old books on the table, one sink in the kitchen for the whole downstairs, laundry hanging from the ceiling, old wallpaper, radios, it was great. There was even an old car in the carport that the kids could play around on. Alf was a vet, for both large farm animals and small animals like dogs and cats. We saw the room where he performed surgery, his closets full of medicine, and the dining room table he sometimes used as an operating table. It was all very fascinating, I was inspired by the story of how he came to be published. Here’s one quote I found especially poignant: “There’s a special noise that a rejected manuscript makes when it comes through the letter box and hits the doormat. It’s more recognizable than that of a ewe in labor or a cow with a prolapsed uterus. I would call it a sickening thud and it was a noise I learned to hate.”

The second site we hit on the way to Northumberland was Vindolanda, to see some Roman ruins, and Twice Brewed, to see part of Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall, built in 121, stretched across a large part of Northern England, and was built by the Romans to separate them from the barbarians in the north (we had just visited the Viking Museum in York, so it was neat to see the different perspectives). We hiked along the wall and up a huge hill, and guessed at the different uses for buildings in the Roman ruins. Those Romans sure did like their baths!

Northumberland is very different from Southern England and Wales. For one thing, most of the roads are not as narrow. There isn’t as much green, it’s cooler and windier, but is very beautiful. It took our breath away as we neared the bed and breakfast at dusk. The sun setting, the rolling hills, sheep, clouds back lit by the sun, all nice and roasty-toasty pink like cheeks nipped by the wind. Old Bewick Farmhouse, our bed and breakfast, was built four years after America became a country! It has been lovingly restored by Barry and Catherine.

Barry shared all sorts of interesting stories, like the creepy stories about a castle down the road called Chillingham (perfect name!) People buried alive in the walls and a dungeon with a licking stone. Don’t ask. Catherine was a saint, she washed my clothes and then hung each piece to dry outside on the clothesline. There was a big, hairy husky dog babysitting a tiny feral kitten in the laundry room, and bunnies in the garden. Bunnies here are as common as squirrels back home. They are everywhere, and big pests to the gardeners, though we love to catch sight of them.

Today we went to the coast. Alayna came out all ready with her swimsuit, so we had to break the news that the North Sea is much colder than the Gulf of Mexico, but the sand was just right for squishing our toes in and building castles, and there were tide pools to explore and shells to collect. The kids loved it. The beach was in the shadow of a massive castle which we admired from afar but decided not to explore. There are many castles in our future, and we don’t want to burn the kids, or ourselves, out on them just yet. Instead, we drove down the road to a small town and bought tickets for a boat ride to a small island once habitated by a hermit, and still habitated by a large number of sea birds. Unfortunately, the puffins and terns left in July for warmer weather, but there were still birds to be seen and an island to explore. We saw sea lions and lighthouses, got sprayed by salty sea water and ate Cheerios and grapes.

Tomorrow, we leave again. We’ve been on a two-night-in-each-place kick for the last few places, and we’ve found several we want to come back to again. Alayna got her own room again at this place, she is getting spoiled!