So I’m off to Britain again. As I prepare for my annual pilgrimage, I find myself thinking about my first trip. This fabled journey took place back in the mists of time, when the world was young, Stonehenge was rising on Salisbury Plain, and a tree-squirrel could run from England to Scotland without touching the ground, though he’d be knackered by the time he got to Glasgow.
All right. It was 1973 and I was 25, whereas today I’m – oh, you can do the math. Anyway, let’s compare the two trips, shall we?
Dollars & pence
1973: I’d spent two years saving $1800. It bought me a car (a 10-year-old Mini for £95) and lasted for 10 months, four months longer than the Mini did.
2010: I’ve budgeted $3000 for one month. Should be okay as long as I stay out of the shops.
Why the big difference there?
Bed & breakfast 1973: £2.50, tops. I slept in the Mini in Cobham, Surrey, because I couldn’t find anything under £2.75.
Bed & breakfast 2010: No more than £60. Well, okay, £90 in Kirkwall, but I’ll have a view of the harbor.
Petrol 1973: About 35 p. a gallon.
Petrol 2010: I’ll find out when I get there. Say, what are “litres”?
Any changes in the bed & breakfast scene since ’73?
I’m glad you asked.
1973: Strong possibility of nylon sheets. Bathroom down the hall and/or a flight of stairs. Shower? “Can’t be done, I’m afraid. Our gravity’s not strong enough.” Breakfast: cornflakes, Mother’s Pride toast, marmalade, fried egg & bacon, tea. Coffee? “Can’t be done, I’m afraid, much too dear [expensive].”
2010: Egyptian cotton sheets, “ensuite,” power-shower. Breakfast: choice of fruit juice, choice of cereals, choice of egg-cookage, choice of breadage, choice of tea or coffee. Choice all around, basically.
1973: Big blue suitcase made out of what looked like denim. Everything stuffed into suitcase. No carry-on.
2010: Big expandable black suitcase and a carry-on suitcase for laptop/power supply/plug converter/thumb drive.
Clothes in the luggage
1973: Three pairs of size-6 bell-bottoms (magenta, lavender, and navy blue); assorted blouses/tops; two pairs of shoes (burgundy moccasins and blue ballet flats); a blue and lavender dress that ended halfway up my thighs; my grandmother’s floor-length blue wool bathrobe; a cape made by my Aunt Catherine in a “tartan” of magenta, blue, and raspberry pink; ankh; love beads. No raincoat, no umbrella. (What, does it rain in Britain?)
2010: Four pairs of identical never-mind-the-size jeans; three pairs of shoes; assorted T-shirts; several jackets; one cashmere turtleneck sweater; one skirt that ends halfway down my calves; raincoat (still to be purchased – what, does it rain in California?); umbrella; pajamas. All black except the T-shirts.
Medicine in the luggage
1973: I was 25.
2010: Multi-vitamins, anti-allergy pills, Ibuprofen, Tylenol for Colds Daytime, Tylenol for Colds Nighttime, Tylenol for Flu ditto, cough syrup. I still don’t get ill very often, but when I do, it’s usually in Britain.
Food for the plane
1973: I ate what they gave me and liked it.
2010: My own trail mix (nuts, raisins, chocolate chips). I don’t eat anything else on planes and think United should discount my tickets accordingly. On the other hand, I do drink a lot of their water.
In-flight reading material
1973: Frommer’s England on $5 and $10 a Day and an anthology of mystery stories.
2010: Manuscript of my own mystery novel, Fall Crush, and an editorial pen.
Preparing to get there
1973: It’s cool, man. It’ll just, like, happen, you know?
2010: Eight B&Bs researched and booked. Reservations made on four car ferries. Rental car arranged. British Rail pass purchased. Oyster card topped up before I left last time. Mobile waiting for me at a friend’s house. Damn, I am such a freaking grownup.
1973: Red-eye from San Francisco to LA, sat up all night in LAX, charter flight to Rotterdam (with a stop in Pennsylvania), train and bus to Hook of Holland, ferry to Harwich, train to Cambridge via Manningtree and Ipswich. By the time I went to bed in Cambridge, I’d been awake for 52 hours.
2010: Nonstop from SFO to Heathrow. But I still won’t be able to sleep on the plane.
Friends to visit when I get there
2010: In Axminster, Wallasey, Teesside, Norwich, Cambridge, and London.
My hair color
1973: Brown with lots of red in it.
2010: White with bits of brown in it.
1973: Oh wow! It’s almost time! I’m finally getting to go! I can’t believe it! This is amazing! Only one week/six days/five days (etc.) left! Oh wow!
2010: I’m tired. But I’ll have a good time when I get there.
Note to burglars
It’s risky these days to announce your travel plans online. If any burglars are reading this and have figured out where I live: builders will be working in my house while I’m gone. Also, I have vigilant neighbors and large barbed-wire dogs.