Friday, July 31, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty-two

Friday, 6 January, 1989
Oostende to Dover to London to Oxford

The day dawned clear, bright, and beautiful. And me, not only was I up and ready in time to catch the ferry, I had time to take pictures of the ferry port with its new and old buildings, its piers, and its ships while I waited for my boat to come in.

We were underway around 8:00 AM. We cleared the harbor bars and set out into the Strait of Dover, which today was blue and calm, with an equally blue sky overhead. I spent most all of the time up on deck, watching the sunlight sparkling on the little waves and the occasional other craft that sailed past at a distance.

As we approached Albion’s yet-unseen shore, I came to understand that something has happened to me on this European trip, though maybe it started to happen when I came to Oxford last October: I was homesick for England.

Not just for Oxford or Coverdale* or Nigel* or the other people there. For England.

After awhile a horizontal strip of white began to sunder the medium blue of the sea and the pale blue of the sky . . .

Dover. It was the White Cliffs of Dover. Oh, God! It was England there on the horizon, with every nautical mile travelled growing grander and higher and more and more clear and substantial to my hungry, staring eyes. But not fast enough, not soon enough. I took in those cliffs, that shore, and I couldn’t help it-- I wept with homesickness and joy. It was England, it was home, I was coming home!

I wept, and I didn’t care. When we landed and disembarked at the Dover ferry port, I would have precipitously knelt down and kissed the tarmac, I was so glad to be back on British soil. But I was in a herd of other travellers being ushered towards the Customs station, and it would have been hard to explain my behaviour if a fellow-passenger had hurt himself tripping over me. Especially hard, considering I’m an American.

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to get through Customs without making a fool of myself, and onto the train for London.

The train from Dover stops at Charing Cross. When I got there I discovered I’d made a false assumption: No, you can’t get a train to Oxford from there. You have to go to Paddington Station, by Underground. Okay! Got myself and my lugguge down to the Tube, and I was happy at least to note that compared to how hard it was to carry it all when I first set out a month ago, now I’m much stronger and able to manage it well, even with all the guidebooks and souvenirs I bought.

My sanguinity about this was demolished, however, when I got to Paddington Station. When I got off the Tube I had ten minutes or less to make the train for Oxford. But just as I was heading for the escalator up to the platforms, one of the straps on my canvas Boy Scout backpack broke! No way I could carry another piece in my hands, so I slung it over my shoulder by the other strap and kept running, with the bag full of books and maps bang, bang, banging away at my poor back.

Aaaghh! I hope I can find a place in Oxford to fix it! I’ve depended on that backpack since I bought it in April of 1972!

By dint of total exhaustion I managed to catch the Oxford train. Not a direct route, of course. Stops in Reading. But we got to Oxford uneventfully and in good time, and I boarded a City bus for the final leg of my journey to Coverdale College* and home.

When the bus stopped on Cornmarket, I noticed something, something linked to how I felt earlier today approaching Dover. It was dark, but I could still see the Oxford women young and old waiting there on the pavement to get on. I could see how badly they were dressed, how frowsily and dumpily they arrayed themselves, especially compared with the Frenchwomen I’d seen, urban or provincial.

And I was ashamed. I took it personally. My initial thought was, "Oh, gosh, don’t we dress horribly!" I identified with those woman, dowdy as they were. They were my townswomen, my countrywomen, even, and I wished we could all do better.

But there it is: "We." Damn, I am getting tied up in this place . . .


Anonymous said...

Strangely enough, I embrace the frumpyness. I love, (in winter only), nothing better than a dowdy pair of tweeds!


St. Blogwen said...

I wish their frumpiness had run as high as tweeds. We're talking more saggy polyester.

Couple-three years later, when the leggings fad hit, it was even worse. Talk about Festivals of Inappropriate Sharing!

Marlene said...

If this is the end of your trip, I hope you have another one to share with us. I love your travel journal.