Things We Have Learned (2011)

Unlike Italy, all public toilets in England and Wales (so far) have had not only toilet paper, but toilet seats as well.

Driving on the left isn’t all that hard to remember when everyone else around you is doing it. The trickiest maneuver is making a left turn and remembering to finish it on the left side of the road.

Cheap wine in the UK is 3x or 4x as expensive as cheap wine in France and Italy, and the very cheapest is sometimes from California.

Campgrounds on the Continent often have free book exchanges: campers leave books they’ve read and take others in exchange. In England, most of the campgrounds we’ve found with book exchanges charge 50 pence per book, which they justify by saying the proceeds will go to their “flower fund.”

We have found a Starbucks in every major city so far . . . sometimes two or three. One was even at a highway roundabout, in a building that used to be a Magic Chef restaurant.

In the markets in English towns, asparagus is sometimes called “grass.”

If a campground in England says it has WiFi, you may safely conclude only that somewhere on the property there’s an antenna sticking up on the roof of one of the site’s buildings. “We have WiFi” does not mean that you’ll be able to get online if you’re more than, say,10’ away from the antenna.

A road marked “M” on a English highway map is a Motorway: a “dual carriageway” with limited access. However, an “A” road, the next highest classification, may be a wide, smooth surface with gentle, predictable curves; or a rough, pitted surface with violent, irregular curves, barely wide enough for two mini cars, featuring heart-stopping descents; or anything in between.

We aren’t hikers. Not in the English sense. They’ll seek out campgrounds that are miles from anywhere, just so they’ll have to walk to get there. And then the next day they’ll do it again. Us, we want to get somewhere, and the sooner, and the closer to the city center, the better.

    It is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. And so . . .

    And behold, it came to pass that in the UK a decree went out that the last Monday in May should be a Bank Holiday. In that day, schools and many businesses were to shut themselves up, yay, and banks, too, duh. Whereupon, it befell that multitudes of people had a long weekend; and many of these, zealous to make the most of their off hours, did tack on a few of their vacation days, that they might make for themselves and their sons and daughters an even longer break. “Come,” they said, “Let us pack the Mini and hitch up the trailer (which in the Brits’ language they do call “caravan”) and go somewhere beautiful, that we may walk about and recreate ourselves. The Cotswolds, maybe.”

    But behold, the owners and managers of tour bus operations did hear of their neighbors’ plans and did murmur against them. “See,” they said one to another, “Our neighbors and their sons and their daughters have taken for themselves a few days off, wherein to go someplace nice and recreate themselves. Who are we to labor and toil when they do not? Are not we as good as they?”

    And so the tour bus operators, when they had thus counselled among themselves, caused to have printed great signs which they posted in their office windows and in the Tourist Information kiosks in Oxford and the other cities of the Cotswolds.

    And the vacationing people, arriving in Oxford and other fleshpots of the Cotswolds and eager to throw their money around, upon reading the signs, did cry aloud and rend their clothing and curse the tour bus operators.

    For the signs did say as follows: “Behold, we the tour bus operators will run no bus tours during the weekend of the Bank Holiday of May, verily, neither will we open our gates for the entire week thereafter. For we have determined that if YOU can go on vacation for a few days, so can WE, yay, verily, and for a whole week, too.

    “Never mind that we, the owners and managers of tour bus operations, depend on tourists for our livelihood; for we have a higher calling: we are workers in the BRITISH hospitality industry, and we have a reputation for bloody-mindedness to uphold. So shove it.”


The Welsh language suffers from a severe lack of vowels..

Scotland has a breed of cows that are hairy.

People who live in Glasgow are called Glaswegians.

Not only England and Wales, but Scotland as well: an unbroken record of toilet paper and toilet seats in all the public and campground facilities.

And in eastern England, the campgrounds believe in stocking the shower rooms with hairdryers that (a) are free and (b) have enough power to actually dry hair.

A dram or two of single malt scotch in the evening is awfully good at helping you forget whatever troubles the day may have provided.

Some campgrounds lock their shower facilities in order to give their patrons--especially women, one supposes--a greater sense of security. They then issue keys to campers when they arrive. At some campgrounds, the same key opens both the men's and the women's shower facilities.

Essay question: Many more bicyclists wear helmets in Cambridge than in other UK cities.. Cambridge also has a higher ratio of math/science students to arts/humanities students than other university towns. Discuss.