Back in Old Blighty

September 29, 2010 Bloggies by Steve Martin Edit

“I think I have to go to the bathroom” she said. The ferry pitched and lurched its way across the English channel, and while Jo didn’t look too well, she wasn’t nearly as green as some of the other passengers.

One woman in particular was a sort of avocado green, the sort that's about a week away from being ready to eat. She had her head between her knees and her husband was sitting there helplessly staring out to sea.

 

Jo made it back from the bathroom with her lunch still under control, but the crossing back from Europe to the UK was anything but pleasant. A strong south westerly wind had churned up the channel and our ferry was battering its way through some rather large waves

At the completion of our European adventure James, Emily and I had overstayed by 3 days. Luckily the French authorities don’t care much if you are leaving the country. We had completed a huge circuit, and finished our stay with another 10 days at La Lande D’Airou followed by a final few days based at Versailles.

Once back on British soil the reality of English Autumn weather hit home. For three months we had mostly sunny days with warm breezes pushing in from the Mediterranean. Italy had been the exception where it had been stinking hot on most days. But old Blighty turned on a typical English welcome. Cold, wet and just a little bit miserable.

There are always traps when you change countries so quickly. One trap is the currency change. Knowing how much things cost can take a little while, while working out what each coin is worth at a glance takes work and concentration. At my first visit to an English supermarket I was left studying my hand in wonder as I tried to work out the change. I had this growing awareness that other shoppers were staring at me. Perhaps they thought I was a bit simple.... I certainly looked that way at the time.

The other trap is language. At that same supermarket on that same night, as the check out girl processed my shopping in a less than efficient manner, I spent minutes in mental anguish figuring out how to ask her for directions to the closest ATM. Some French understand ATM, others will understand “Bank” if you hold your card up as you say it. Even the Italian name “Bancomat” can work.

Mentally I had my “Si vou plais” and my “pre d’ici?” sorted out in the right order. I was ready for the Gauche and Droit instructions for left and right, and I was listening for the “Rue” this or that.

When she had finished the shopping I wasn't really listening when she told me the price. I was studying the cash register hard to make sure I could see the numbers as she said them. I’m not bad with French numbers but when they are said quickly I do still get lost. Twenty eight pounds Seventy Pence was the price so I duly produced thirty crisp new English pounds.

“Here goes” I said to myself as I prepared one last time for the French ATM question. But just as I was about to launch into my very best French I paused and had just a little smile to myself. In a perfectly phrased sentence I asked “is there an ATM near here?” in clear English. “Yes. Just on the corner of the building” she replied, again in perfect English.

It had been so long since I have been able to converse easily with strangers that I forgot for a moment that in the UK they speak English... or a variety of it at the very least. Even here with all the dialects it can be hard to understand when people speak quickly, but she was clear and precise and friendly as she said it and I understood perfectly.

From Kent we have travelled north to York and been fascinated by the 1000 year history of the city and on again to spend time in Edinburgh. After a few more days here we head north once again to Inverness with the aim of John O’Groats followed by an ascent of Ben Nevis.

It’s nice being back in the UK, it’s easier to get around, we drive on our side of the road [although I did forget a couple times when we first got back!] and they speak our language. Despite all that I do miss struggling to make myself understood throughout Europe. I miss looking at a menu and having only a slight idea of what I’m ordering. I miss the quiet satisfaction of actually managing a transaction in another language.

But when I think about struggling to be understood and struggling to understand, I just have to remind myself that very soon we will be in Wales!