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Seaside resorts

I’ve always been drawn to the ocean. I grew up in the Pacific Ocean resort town of Manhattan Beach, California. I have lived in Galveston, Texas (Gulf of Mexico); Nome, Alaska (Bering Sea); Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Arabian Gulf); and Brooklyn, New York, and Halifax, Nova Scotia (both on the Atlantic Ocean). I’ve also traveled to several seaside towns in the British Isles, including Dover, St. Ives and Plymouth plus Aberystwyth in Wales.

“I thought Brits had to go to Spain to visit beaches,” an American told me recently. But England has its own sea towns including Bamburgh, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cromer, Deal, Hastings, Portsmouth, Shanklin, Weymouth, Whitby, and Worthing. All with sun, salt spray, waves, sunrises and sunsets, piers and jetties, gulls, and lots of seaside stuff for sale (like in Weymouth, shown at right). The United Kingdom and Ireland are loaded with cliffs, bluffs, bays, capes, heads, coves, tidal pools, and pebbled and sandy beaches. When you consider that Scotland has over 6,000 miles of coastline; Wales, 1,600 miles; England over 2,700 miles; and the island of Ireland—the Republic and Northern Ireland—boasts 1,970 miles altogether, there’s a lot of seaside to visit.

Beach tools on offer in Weymouth

Scone by jammy scone

The scone as oasis within the travel oasis, or tea and scones, innit?

Travel is a mental oasis for me. I love the limbo of airports, the relative freedom from e-mail, the otherworldiness of exiting a subway into the unknown, the break from constant availability. Within this cocoon of travel, however, I often need a deeper oasis from the travel itself. On my recent tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland, life added the deserts of living alone, an emptied nest, a devastating divorce, and traveling on a bus with students a third my age: arid landscapes to seek oases within. So, from Edinburgh to York to Bath to Dublin, I ate my emotional way through trip challenges by consuming daily cream teas, usually alone, scone by jammy scone.

Wouldn’t cream cheese on a bagel topped by Smucker’s jam do just as well? Did I really need to fly eight time zones east for a pastry and clotted cream (the “cream” of a cream tea)? Wouldn’t scones in Utah be enough? At a Sconecutter franchise in Sandy the day before I left, I ordered honey butter white and wheat scones, thinking I would get little cakes and a side of honey butter. But no. This is the The Sconecutter procedure as I imagine it.

One, take one loaf of Wonder Bread and mash it into a lumpen, rectangular patty. Two, fry the patty in hot, not especially fresh, oil. Talk loudly with your co-workers about how much you fucking hate your boss. Three, flop the drippy patty onto a paper plate. Slice the patty in half lengthways. Four, smear a generous glob of honey butter onto each half.  Five, serve this concoction to the disbelieving customer at your sticky counter. Oh, how the mighty scone had fallen. I didn’t even ask about the Scone Burger.


Ripple of the Blue Tattoos

Loosely based on an encounter in Dover in 1978. Heavy metal vibe.

On the Dover docks one night in the middle of a barroom fight,

I heard a man call out, “It’s people like you bringin’ this country down.”

And wanting to hear more, I took a step inside the door;

And an angry man, bigger than most, slowly turned around.

There was an element of danger as I looked at the stranger;

He said, “I’m mad as hell, but I can tell this day may turn out right.”


Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees.

“Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees.” It’s a phrase from English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840–1938) and refers to Diggory Venn (in Arthur Hopkins’ illustration, below).

Diggory Venn, the resourceful reddleman in Return of the Native

Venn is perhaps my favorite of the Hardy characters in the novel Return of the Native. If the hive is Wessex (Hardy’s partly real, partly fictionalized Dorset county in south central England) and Venn the bee, then he does indeed take to roaming to become a red-stained nomad.

Venn has been rejected by Thomasin Yeobright, a young woman whose family tells to pursue a more “professional” husband. Venn then quits dairy farming to become a wandering reddleman, servicing sheep in the area. Reddle is a powdery red dye (an impure, earthy variety of hematite) used by sheep farmers to identify their flocks, perhaps more specifically, rams. (Spray paints or paste and ear tags are now used by sheepmen.) Venn lives and travels about in a small, horse-drawn shepherd’s hut (such as in the illustration below).


Nibbling Ireland

Touring Counties Kerry and Clare was like eating an Irish scone

A poster at Shannon Airport proclaimed, “Ireland: the world’s favorite country.” And the scone is my favorite pastry. A perfect combination. Traveling through Counties Kerry and Clare that August was a lot like eating Irish scones. And I say Irish scones because I live in Utah, where the scones are often sad little pillows of dough fried to death in oil, then served on paper plates with a plastic fork. That’s how they did things at the local Sconecutter in Salt Lake City anyway. 

Irish scones aren’t the delicate Southwestern sopaipilla or the sconus vulgaris from Starbucks either—those wedges of fat, flour, blueberries, and sugar—or anything you’ll find wrapped in cellophane at a mini mart. From the chinaware to the cake to the fruit bits to the servers, nibbling an Irish scone symbolized our recent trip.

Relaxing on some Irish rocks

That first afternoon in Killarney, the scones and tea were served on china plates made in England. Here we were in the Republic of Ireland, a separate country since the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and the boundary with the six counties of Northern Ireland was many kilometers away. But the reality of England—and its 800 years of brutal domination of its western Irish colony—is never far from the traveler’s mind. The Irish Republican Army announced it has ceased its armed campaign in Northern Ireland, but my children’s ancestors are from County Westmeath, and August 22 was the anniversary of Michael “The Big Fella” Collins’ murder in 1922 in a ravine on a road at Béal na mBláth, County Cork, a site south of Killarney. Collins was chief of the original Irish Republican Army and helped negotiate the treaty dividing Ireland into a republic and a part of the United Kingdom. (A commemoration is held every year, with 2022 being the 100th anniversary.) That history shadowed us the entire trip.


Movies and TV dramas of World War I

Many of these movies feature a mix of nationalities, but British characters and cultural references are found throughout.

1917. 2019. Two British soldiers receive seemingly impossible orders to cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could save 1,600 of their comrades, including one of the soldier’s brothers.

Aces High. 1976. Maj. Gresham (Malcolm McDowell) is a flying ace who oversees a group of English pilots. His latest recruit is Lt. Croft (Peter Firth) who idolizes Gresham at first, but the image of his hero is tarnished when he learns of Gresham’s alcoholism. Only after Croft himself endures the crucible of war does he come to fully appreciate his commanding officer.

African Queen.1951. Canadian river boat captain Charlie Ohnart (Humphrey Bogart) and English missionary Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) set out on the Ubanga/Bora River to blow up a German ship in German East Africa in 1914. Look for the poignant performance by Robert Morley as Rose’s brother, Reverend Samuel Sayer.


Merthyr Tydfill

Written about man at a Cardiff bus station as I was starting a bus trip through Wales, in 1978 with teacher colleague Mary Wagner.

Well, I see by your ticket that you’re goin’ up north

What you wanna do that for?

For there’s miners outta work, and it’s sad so sad;

Misery behind each door.

But if you were to stay here in Cardiff Bay

Many fine things to see:

There’s castle grounds and the docks at Barry Bay;

Merthyr’s just a waste of your time.


Meeting at St. Pancras Station

The pianos      My small hotel in London is close to St. Pancras Station, which, together with King’s Cross Station, is a hub for certain local trains, underground lines, and, most notably, the Eurostar high-speed rail service. The station itself was designed by William Henry Barlow and opened in 1868. Pancras himself was a Roman who converted to Christianity and was ordered beheaded by the Roman emperor Diocletian around 304 CE. Pancras is the patron saint of children. His Greek name means “the one who holds everything.” Some very special items that St. Pancras Station holds are pianos.

Two “street piano” uprights are positioned just outside the Eurostar arrivals door. When the train arrives in London (including one segment that streaks under the English Channel through the Chunnel), thousands of travelers pour out into the large hall lined with restaurants, coffee shops, Boots and The Body Shop, and other English franchises. You’ll see the usual shouts, hugs, tears, and flowers dropping to the ground as arms are thrown around beloveds.


Literacy through Mills & Boon

My B&B didn’t have wi-fi, so I had to go to the Weymouth Library to use theirs. I realized that the two middle-aged women huddled across the table from me were working through a book together. One was apparently the tutor, the other was learning to read.

I take my literacy for granted, and on this trip I’ve indeed built my travels around books, authors, and literature. From Charles Dickens to Thomas Hardy to Jane Austen to William Shakespeare to Tracy Chevalier, I’ve visited many literary sites. I have benefited from my parents’ DNA, my grandparents’ Dutch and German cultures valuing education, my mother reading aloud to us, a literary home environment, my good eyesight, normal learning abilities, and good schools and teachers. And here, at the Weymouth Library, was an adult woman who was just getting started on her journey to literacy.


A Jane Austen cup of tea

Jane Austen’s family spent time and rented rooms and floors of rooms from time to time in Bath, Somerset, England. The refurbished Roman baths provided entertainment and promised healing any and all ills. The baths are fed by Britain’s only natural hot springs, but the Romans’ complex of springs, therapy rooms, and baths had been abandoned and buried once the empire fell in 480 AD. Just before the Austen family arrived in 1801, the King’s Bath had just been rediscovered, excavations having started in 1878. Perhaps this was why Jane’s father the Reverend George Austen had decided to retire and move his family there. The original Roman baths had been available to all Roman citizens, rich and poor. Not so during the Austens’ time.

The Royal Crescent and other stone “terraces” (apartment complexes such as in the photo below) provided high-status accommodations. Families could promenade in the nearby parks and along walks and pathways. But this quiet market and spa town was also known as dirty and unsanitary, suffering waves of bubonic and pneumonic plagues and cholera.

Down the hill in the Avon Valley, inhabitants suffered the acrid smells and pollution of the city’s numerous factories and woolen mills, where tradesmen and workers lived, and where no promenading was going on. The restorative Roman baths didn’t seem to help the poor. Food shortages and famine also affected rates of mortality.