Travel is My Favorite Teacher

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by Michael B Wright

For many years, my best friend Lee and his wife Diane would invite us to join them on their annual trip to England. We’d always smile and say “one of these days”, knowing down inside that such a trip was likely to remain on our “wish list” forever.

Then one year he asked, “If I provide your transport over and back, can you cover your food and lodging?” We responded “Yes!”, and then we began scrimping and saving in order to make it a reality.

The reality finally happened on May 18, 1994. We landed at Manchester airport and Lee’s annual hired-chauffeur drove us from there to the small town of Thirsk in North Yorkshire. In a short while we met their longtime friends Keith and Jean who lived in nearby Bagby.

We found lodging at The Three Tuns Hotel and a day later Keith arranged for us to stay at The Kirkgate Hotel, just three doors down from the clinic of veterinarian James Alfred Wight, better known as “James Herriot”. The six of us would spend the day together doing ‘touristy’ things until the evening. Lee and Diane always retired early and went to their hotel around 7pm, after which Keith and Jean would “collect” us and show us around the nearby villages, take us out to eat and visit with friends. Then we’d go park and watch the pub-crawlers until it got dark at 11pm. We really bonded with them, as well as with John the hotel manager, his friend Judy, and Kate the housekeeper from Australia.

Some nights we would return late, to find that John and Judy had waited up, hoping we would join them for drinks by the fireplace. One Evening, John asked us to get up early the next morning because Judy was going to take us to see something “that not even the locals get to see”. Judy had worked for Donald Sinclair; it was he upon which the character of “Siegfried Farnon” in the TV series “All Creatures Great and Small” was based. She actually took us to a stud farm to see a horse named ‘Primitive Rising’ have his ‘seed’ collected.

After the deed was done, the farm owner asked us “So! How are you enjoying your holiday?” I said “We absolutely love it here!” “Love it!?…” he said, “what is there to love in this town?” I said “the people!” and he grew quiet.

Later in the day, in a quiet moment, I turned to my wife and loudly said “Joy!” “What?” “WE’RE the snobs!” “What are you talking about?” “WE’RE the snobs! We’ve been led to believe that the British were snobs, but it’s US!” My mind settled briefly on thoughts of a high school book report I did on “The Ugly American”.

Before the end of our vacation, Keith and Jean took us aside and made us an offer similar to the one that Lee had presented: “If you can cover your transport and come back to England, you’ll stay with us.” And we did, several more times, in fact. We’d stay in town for a few days, eating, visiting the shops and the farmers market on Wednesdays, then we’d pool our money, jump into Keith’s caravan and travel all over middle and northern England as well as southern Scotland, visiting with their many friends and relatives, making memories that will never die.

We cried twice on each return flight, once when our plane took off and again each time it began its descent; we didn’t want to be back just yet.

What did we learn in our travels?

1. Don’t accept anyone else’s preconceived notions.

2. The British are a warm and caring people.

3. If one thinks British food is bland, they’ve not eaten at the right places.

4. If the Brits take to you, they love you with all their hearts. We long to get back.

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