Recent travels took me to a Festival of the Saluki in England. Salukis are slender graceful hounds, originally bred to hunt game in the middle east and now bred to drive obsessive dog feeders nuts. Or so Iâ€™m told by friends. Since Salukis have been part of my life since 1972, they seem perfectly normal to me, itâ€™s those other dogs that look entirely too fat.
So, England. For various reasons Iâ€™ve never been there before. Judging assignments have taken me to Finland, Australia, and New Zealand, but never England. Due to an eclectic reading appetite, Iâ€™ve traveled the narrow lanes of the English countryside in a jog cart, galloped to hounds across the rolling hills, and watched morning workouts in Lambourn. All vicariously, of course. In spite of watching BBC America more than regular television, I had no idea what England is really like.
Mind you, when oneâ€™s life has gone to the dogs, a trip anywhere isnâ€™t quite the same. The main purpose of this trip was the gathering of Saluki people from around the world, for a Symposium and a few dog shows. In between, rather than act like a normal tourist, I visited with my hostess and her puppies, and took in day to day life in England. Then again, when your hostessâ€™s house is next door to a pub called Hand and Crown, and you learn this is where Henry VIII stayed while pursuing Anne Boleyn, you realize more than ever how close history is to the here and now.
One of our walks took us through large fields, where my hostess casually announced the area had been an RAF field during WWII. Up near a stand of trees, a small memorial recognized the squadrons who had used that field as a base to take off in the fight against Nazi Germany. The runways are still in place, now lovely green mowed grass, surrounded by higher unmowed fields. A quiet recognition of an effort which has framed how we all live today.
Speaking of fields, as we drove away from Gatwick airport, I noticed fields stretching in all directions. England has the same population explosion as the rest of the world, but it is still, to my eye, a delightfully agricultural country. This trip did not take me into any metropolitan areas, but we did go through many smaller towns and villages. Roads are a method of getting from one place to another, and do not disrupt day to day life. In other words, except for the expressways, roads are narrow and follow the same winding pathway as they have for centuries. Donâ€™t expect street lights, traffic lights, or thoroughfares widened to accommodate traffic plus parking. When people need to stop somewhere, they pull over close to the curb and stop. Too bad if theyâ€™re blocking traffic, you can go around.
Notice I said no traffic lights? The country is riddled with roundabouts, where you enter on one side and hope to exit somewhere before youâ€™ve reached your entry point. It brought up memories of science fiction explanations of circling a planet several times gathering momentum before shooting off into the next dimension. Eclectic reading habits, remember, plus a mind drawing far too many parallels between fiction and reality. Which might have something to do with people casting odd looks in my direction when I try to explain my thoughts.
If youâ€™ve never traveled to England, and I know there must be a few people still who have not, donâ€™t go during the high season, which seems to end Labor Day. My ticket would have been half the price had I flown just a few weeks later. You donâ€™t need a visa, but you do need a passport, which you can obtain at most City Halls. Up to date information can be found on the web with very little searching.
Be sure you find an airline with individual viewing screens, plus enough leg and seat room to keep you comfortable for a long flight. Since I am a particularly large member at large, seat size means a lot to me, and I also test the seat belt as soon as I sit down, just in case I need an extender. Expect the food to be awful. The wine is not much better but I usually end up splurging at least once.
Heathrow has acquired a horrible reputation for baggage handling, and it will be even worse if you use British Airways. Fortunately I flew into Gatwick, on US Air, and everything went amazingly well. You will expect to line up (queue in England, pronounced “cue”) several times before you can pick up your baggage and be gone. Do not expect air conditioning, ice in your drinks, or “real” coffee. Do expect delightful people, wonderful venues, and history seeping into your skin to lodge itself in your heart.
Food has to be a discussion for another blog, this oneâ€™s already late!