By tradition, Goldilocks is a golden-haired child prone to wandering off alone and intruding on others’ space. In fact, she was originally ‘Silverhair’ a cantankerous old woman who took umbrage when her new neighbours, the Bears, neglected to invite her to tea. In the tradition of adaptation, my Goldilocks is neither a crotchety old woman or a mischievous girl but a mature aged adventurer with feminist leanings and, as mentioned in the last post has metaphorically ‘accompanied’ me on our trip to Europe to shore up my wavering confidence.
The twenty-two-hour plane trip and the first night in Glasgow was as exciting as my partner and I thought it would be as was our train trip from Glasgow to Bristol via Edinburgh, passing, among other places, Newcastle, York and Birmingham. Our journey provided tantalising glimpses of the English countryside, as well as factories, parking lots, back yards, an odd castle or two and numerous railway stations. It also gave us a chance to meet several passengers who, as they alighted the train greeted us, chatted amicably and, when they disembarked, wished us well on our journey. Once in Bristol we collected our hire care and headed for the city of Exeter.
That was when we were confronted, finally, by difference, by peculiarity and by our foreignness; the M5, even the M4, is not a place for the faint-hearted. Australia’s population is over 24 million, which is about 3.1 people per square kilometre, though we tend to cling to the coast so traffic can be frantic and confronting, particularly in the eastern states. Britain’s population is 62 million, or 255 people per square kilometre, and on the day we drove to Exeter it seemed double that number wanted to pass us as we tentatively motored through Devon. Every other motorist was familiar with their destination, the road rules and the road signs. Even Google Maps chiming in every so often, telling us to ‘leave the roundabout, take the third exit to the A4976’, a location we had not heard of but a destination Gaynor Google-Maps (as we later dubbed her), assured us would lead to our Bed and Breakfast, left us perplexed and wary.
We misunderstood several of Gaynor’s instructions and misread road signs. My partner, who’s doing all the driving, countervailed my (and Gaynor’s) instructions, accused her of confusing him, or me of wilfully misinterpreting his questions. When we arrived at our first Bed and Breakfast we were shaken and exhausted.
The next day more ‘fun’ was had finding the magnificent Exeter Cathedral – or, in fact, a free car park nearby – and the following day, Powderham castle, which has been in the same family for one thousand years and houses the young earl, his wife and their two small children. Both these and other venues were more than worth the hassle of locating them and even though English country laneways are narrow and lined by high hedges, we quickly learned how to pull over when confronted by a car coming in the opposite direction and the correct form for acknowledging drivers who needed to pull over for us. The lanes are no less discombobulating than the M5, but are certainly more stately in terms of speed.
In the meantime our holiday has begun, Goldilocks has returned to the land where her story first appeared and we cannot help but agree with William Blake; England, despite the M5, is a ‘green and pleasant land’, and her people are charming, generous and kind.
(This blog was written in the full awareness of the tragic events in Manchester and, more recently, London. Our thoughts and sympathies go to the families and friends of those whose lives were tragically taken and we bear a deep respect for the spirit and valour of the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. May peace come to all citizens, residents and travellers who love this verdant land.)