Thursday, 4 September 2008

From England To Scotland Via Wales

Something wonderful has just happened: I had to go into the hospital for minor surgery and I have been told that under no circumstances can I cook or do any work tonight. I am sitting in a room with virtually no furniture but my computer table and chair, and on all sides of me are pure chaos: china and glassware sitting in stacks; piles of neatly-folded winter clothes we won't need for at least a year; bedding, towels, and still more books, but tonight I can indulge in guilt-free dereliction of duty. So I am going to write about how I left Scotland for England on Monday and managed to end up in Wales on my way back.

We set off for Manchester Airport at seven o'clock. Our eldest sat huddled in the back, plugged into her MP-3 player, while our newly-acquired daughter and our youngest traded excited banter. Eldest is remaining with me to get everything packed up and the house closed; all the rest are off to our new home and country in the Middle East.

As soon as my husband's passport arrived, reservations were made for Monday. "You can drive back from Manchester, right?" he asked me as I sat surrounded by boxes of china, books, clothes, and general clutter. And like a dumb ass, I went and said yes. After all, he's taking two teenagers to a foreign country, starting a new job, learning a new culture, language -- the works. Surely I, a qualified driver for the past two years, could drive back to Scotland on my own. Piece of cake, right?

I began to get the jitters as we pulled into the many-tiered parking lot at Manchester Airport. I've never driven in one of those multi-storied parking lots before, though I've been driven through them on countless occasions. We drove around and around now in a dizzying circle and I wondered aloud how well I would negotiate the descent.

Eldest has just been learning to drive and when I voiced my worries on getting out of the parking lot, she commiserated. When I was learning to drive, she stood behind me while I did my hazard recognition on the computer and offered superfluous advice. She informed her sister that she would easily master driving; she had watched her father drive and she knew she'd be fine. God knows how I stood this, but I did.

Acquired daughter comes from a carless home, and whether that has anything to do with it or not, one of her greatest ambitions is to become a car racer. She loves speed and demolition derbies and all of the sorts of things that I find quite daunting, and though she has had no driving lessons herself, she too knows it will be a snap.

"It'll be easy!" she scoffed now, adding something of a non sequitur: "I've been in dozens of these!"

"Well I have too," eldest daughter said, frowning, "but I've never driven in one."

"Ach, it'll be easy!"

"How do you know?"

"I just do!"

"But you've never driven in one, have you?"

"No, but I know it'll be easy!"

Good thing she couldn't see my face.

After we'd seen everyone off, eldest and I made our way back to the car. With trembling fingers I started the ignition and inched slowly out of the car park. I managed to overshoot the exit on each floor and was a bundle of nerves at the end of my ordeal, but five minutes later we saw daylight and the first hurdle was over.

Then came finding my way out of the airport. To make a long story very short, I got lost.

"You can do it! Just follow the signs to the north," my husband had assured me. But even after years of marriage, he still doesn't get it. Some people can find their way using the sun and the stars and their own inherent sense of direction. My husband is one of them, and I am his diametric opposite.

And there were no signs to the north.

My eldest and I saw this right away. There were no big, Mary-friendly directions-for-idiots billboards that said SCOTLAND THIS WAY! FOLLOW THE RED LINE! Instead there were signs for places I only remembered fleetingly, like Preston, Birmingham, and Wrexham. Preston and Wrexham, I vaguely remembered, were in the north, but Birmingham wasn't, so what was the deal?

I stopped and asked directions at a hotel, managing some pretty hair-raising parking between two cars that made my daughter whimper and put her hands over her eyes, oh she of no faith. The receptionist was kind enough to print us out a sheet of directions, but neither my daughter nor I could follow them, so we managed to find the motorway again and bore, we hoped, towards the north.

Everything was looking pretty good until I started noticing that the signs were in Welsh. I stopped and asked for directions again, and I give the worker I interrupted real credit: he kept a perfectly straight face as he confirmed that we were indeed in Wales, though I'm sure he must have wondered at a frantic woman with an American accent asking him for directions to Scotland. He treated me with great kindness and gave me excellent directions, as did the man in the petrol station, and as by the time we got to him I was close to tears, I give him bonus points.

At the next place we stopped for directions, I wrote everything down but my daughter could not read my handwriting. At the next place, I got her to write out the directions, but neither of us could figure out what they meant.

"You're scaring me," said my eldest as I launched into my umpteenth impassioned tirade against husband for not walking me through the precise instructions. "Calm down!" Easy for her to say.

I'll spare you the nitty-gritty of the next hour of torment; let's just say that as I threaded my way through narrow streets and unfamiliar junctions, all the time trying desperately to follow my daughter's muddled and conflicting directions, I could feel individual white hairs popping out on my head. As massive trucks lumbered past and our car stalled for the fifth time in first gear (it even does this to my husband), I might as well have been main-lining free-radical-promoting poison. Never mind: all that matters is that we finally found the right motorway and got on it. In the right direction. And kept on driving until we got to Scotland, at which point we both broke into Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and would have started on Handel's version too, if only she hadn't fallen asleep from pure nervous tension.

When we got back, the eldest said something to me that she's said several times now, ever since her first driving lesson -- something I can hardly hear too many times. "You were so right about driving. It's really tough. I'm sorry I acted like it was going to be easy."

If she can do that, maybe some day I'll acquire a sense of direction.


Gorilla Bananas said...

You really needed one of those on-board computers to tell you which way to turn. The roads in England are notoriously crooked. You must have noticed the difference with America.

Kim Ayres said...

so long as it's not before 7am, after midnight, or between 2pm and 3.30pm, then if you find yourself inn that situation again, give me a call. So long as you can find a village or town name I can check google maps and point you in the righht direction within minutes.

Of course it's possible you won't get much of a mobile reception in some of those Welsh Valleys

Carole said...

Lucky for you, I wasn't with you. We would still be circling the parking garage. Great story.

Jacqui said...

Oh, hair-raising. And so well told, as usual. I second the recommendation for GPS. I can't go down the block without mine telling me, "Turn left in three blocks..."

Robin said...

I think you handled that like a champ. I go absolutely psycho when I get lost. I once got lost in Brooklyn while driving to Boston, and I cried. How embarrassing.

Tabitha said...

I love how you can spin surgery into something positive. :)

I am truly glad that you found your way, and that your daughter reconsidered her opinion of driving. It surely *looks* easy from the passenger seat, but it's something else entirely when you're sitting behind the wheel.

The Middle East, huh? I am eager to hear all the details, as soon as you're able to share them. :)

The Anti-Wife said...

What kind of surgery did you have? Tell all!

Alas, I'm one of those people with a fabulous sense of direction. I rarely get lost. Next time, take me with you.

Carrie Harris said...

On one hand, I couldn't help laughing. On the other, I just want to give you a hug!

I wouldn't feel bad, though. I can't find my way out of a paper bag with a map and a flashlight.

Tigermama said...

Hey, did you say "Middle East"?!?!

Eryl Shields said...

Like you I get lost wherever I go. It really bothered me until I realised that I found a lot of very interesting places that way. Now I only worry if someone is relying on me to arrive.

Hope the surgery went well, with no surprises.

Mary Witzl said...

GB -- It would have to be a specially adapted idiot-friendly computer to be of any use to me. Yes, the roads all over Britain are crooked and fiddly. Americans from the Midwest suffer acutely, trying to navigate them.

Kim -- You're on for the next time this happens, my good man. I just hope you know what you've gotten yourself into. The awful thing was, we kept running into people who were endlessly kind and helpful -- we just couldn't follow their directions for the life of us!

Carole -- We could circle it together and have a whale of a time, I'm sure of it! Someday let's do this, okay?

And by the way, I cannot get onto your blog and yet I want to! (Once again, it seems I've lost my way...)

Jacqui -- Does it really do that? Does it actually tell you where to turn in precisely the number of blocks? If so, I will definitely get one! The ones I've seen seem to presume a basic knowledge of geography and the ability to follow maps and directions.

Robin -- Believe me, I was no champ: I cried, I whimpered, I tore my hair. And if I'd gotten lost in a car in Brookyln, there's no telling what I'd do. I got lost there once on foot and had a heck of a time.

Tabitha -- I can't think of anything more positive than being ordered to sit down and do nothing all evening -- how often does that happen? It's worth a little pain and discomfort!

The fact that my daughter actually admitted that she was wrong just amazed and impressed me no end. I'm prouder of her for that than I am of her doing so well on her exams. And boy, was I glad that I found my way home. I really could have kissed the very ground.

Anti-wife -- I'm in awe of people like you. I have a good friend in Tokyo who can invariably find her way back to places she's visited decades earlier. I find this more amazing than, say, Houdini being able to claw his way out of a steel box under water. Next time I go to Manchester, I want you with me!

Carrie -- How gratifying to know that I'm not the only one with this problem! And thinking about it now, it IS funny. But it wasn't funny at the time. I'd have been grateful for the hug, too.

Tigermama -- Sou you! E-meeru o okutte kudasai. Sou suru to sumu basho o oshiemasu. (Anata ni okurou to shimashita ga, dekinatta) Sorry for the crappy romaji!

Eryl -- You are right: you do find great places this way. The town we ended up in was a lovely little place. It struck me that I'd have been thrilled to find it as a tourist. Sadly, its beauty largely eluded me on Monday, but I intend to look it up when I can -- it was absolutely charming.

Susan Sandmore said...

Oh dear! What a trial. I'm so glad you finally made it! Could've ended up in Ireland. :)

Stephanie Reed said...

Wrong-Way Witzl! I've been lost, but never in a foreign country.

Hope you're feeling better. Congratulations again on winning the poetry contest!

Ello said...

Hey what happened to my earlier comment? Grrrr blogger!

I can't remember what I said. But poor you! I have to say that unlike my husband, I have an innate sense of direction and even if I get lost I can always find my way. I don't know, must have been a navigator in a former life! But sheesh what an experience for you!

Kanani said...

Three little letters for you, Mary.

Yes, you need one. I've been driving all over this summer to places I've never been. Were it not for the GPS "stay right," I'd of never found my way to various places. I took it out to the boondocks and it still could pick up the satellite maps.

Hope your recovery goes well!

Barbara Martin said...

Your quandry is the same as a friend of mine who has no sense of direction. I have been blessed with not only a sense of direction, but I can find a place I've only been to once more than 10 years ago.

But the best part of your post was the admission of your daughter on driving. Very nice when that "ah-ha" moment arrives.

Kappa no He said...

Hope you are recovering well. I was crying and wimpering along with the story.

Anonymous said...

Wow, mom. You really toned down the conversation between us...!!

Anne Spollen said...

I get lost in my own kitchen, but it matters way more that your writing has wonderful direction :)

Mary Witzl said...

Susan -- If I'd been in a boat, you can bet your life I'd have ended up in Ireland. As it was, Cornwall was a definite possibility.

Stephanie -- Thank you! I seem to have spent half my time abroad lost, but I credit this with helping my language learning along. I'm uncommonly proficient at asking directions.

Ello -- Ah, your poor husband! My husband is like you: he can read maps and hardly ever needs to use them. I think it's interesting that most married couples balance each other out this way. It would be hellish if my husband had no sense of direction, and I'm sure your husband appreciates yours!

Kanani -- That is it: I am absolutely getting one of those! Up until now, I'd just assumed that they were for people who were already pretty direction savvy. I love the idea of traveling all over the place and never once getting lost. I'd save oodles of time and fuel that way.

Barbara -- Lucky you. I've always wished I had this skill above all others. I've been places that I would dearly love to go back to, but cannot. It is beyond frustrating.

And yes, this humility and awareness in my daughter gave me an incredible lift. I'm hoping for further developments in this area.

Kappa -- Even as I was suffering, I was saying to myself that I would absolutely write about this as soon as I could. That lessened the misery somewhat.

Girl Child -- Honey, this blog is PG-rated. And I got into all that trouble with you over the volunteer job post, didn't I?

Anne -- (Uh oh: I'm really in trouble there. My writing has all sort of directions: north, south, east and west.) Fortunately my kitchen is too small to get lost in, or believe me, it'd happen.

A Paperback Writer said...

Very amusing, but I find it hard to believe that you didn't buy a map somewhere once you realized you weren't going to make it there without directions.....
Thanks for sharing the laugh, however.

Kara said...

the middle east? for serious? did i know this was happening? damnit, i'm so BEHIND!

laura said...

You have to be my long lost sister!! And you will never aquire a sense of direction! I know I haven't. I got lost trying to walk out of the airport a couple of months ago and after giving Hans a hard time about the really stupid directions he gave me, he said "Everyone knows that departures are on the 2nd floor, well, at least in this airport."
!!!!!!!!!I couldn't beat him with my cell phone because there were too many witnesses.

Angela said...

I can soooo relate. I have a bit of a phobia about driving, and didn't get my licence until my oldest was 3, and only then because I wanted to be able for him to attend preschool.

I only drive where I know the territory. Googlemap is like my BFF.

Mary Whitsell said...

APW -- I tend to exaggerate, but not in this case. If anything, I've cut out a lot of stuff here for brevity's sake. Having a map would only help someone without my particular disability. The problem was, good people kept giving us instructions and drawing us maps, but we just couldn't follow them. The kind of map we would have needed has not yet been invented. Or at least not for adults.

Kara -- We're really going! In fact, we're almost gone. I'll try and keep you posted. (Mrs Nomad -- remember? I love that name!)

Laura -- My husband tends to forget and expect too much of me. While circling Manchester, I had fantasies of leaving him all by himself at a Japanese-speaking venue of some sort, among people he did not know (he hates that). I'd be fine in a similar situation, but he'd be miserable. The thought of him floundering was rather pleasurable; that's how pissed off I was with him.

Angela -- Yay, another directionally challenged woman with a driving phobia! It took me ages to learn and I still walk, cycle and take the bus whenever possible. But I could not walk to Manchester, more's the pity! I may need to do some research on googlemap, though I'll wait until we're in our new country!