Sick In London: The Excursionist II

[The Sherlock Holmes Pub. The only real outing we’ve had.]

When your forty feet from the ‘largest bookstore’ in Europe, it’s hard to get bored.  But alas, the usual ‘bug’ has hit us.  We took the Red Eye from JFK to London on Sunday afternoon.  Thinking we were going to get some stuff done…we both crashed in our hotel…for most of the day.  On Monday, we toured the National Gallery, maybe ten minutes walk.  But we both began to feel that our systems weren’t quite right.

I mean how many Botticelli’s and Caravaggio’s can a guy take in?  And the Ruben gallery?  Not my body type.

Our hotel is a 4* on Piccadilly Street.  What was it we picked up?  A cold from the week in NYC?  I doubt it, because there’s the incubation period to think about.  Was it the ‘airplane air’?  Maybe…I’ve had some bad luck recently.

[Center entrance to the National Gallery.}

So, it’s Monday night and we both pretty much stayed put, sleeping and feeling congested and feverish.

I never got out doors today.  But I feel a lot better, in case anyone is wondering.  Mariam is running a low-grade fever.  It’s chilly and rainy out.

How are we going to complete our plans?  The Ripper Tour?  Saint Paul’s Cathedral?  Highgate Cemetery? The Royal Greenwich observatory ?

Some things will just have to wait.

[All photos are mine.]

If I Was A Good Dog And My Time Came To Die, I’d Go To My Reward, England

Some years ago, when I wore a young man’s clothes, someone told me that when dogs get old and die, they go to The Dog Star. Now, as a man with gray hair, I know the truth. When dogs pass on, they go to England.

When I was a child I had a dog. His name was King. He was a good dog too. Except the one day he wanted me more than our large back yard…so he followed me to school.

“King! Go home!” I yelled. He would stop and then start following me again. I forget how that day turned out…it was more than sixty years ago. He probably went back down Front Street and sat in the back yard until one of us got home from school.

We didn’t ‘play’ with him in the way some dog owners do. We never threw a stick, a frisbee or a tennis ball. He just enjoyed playing around us as we played our own games.

I cried when King was “put down”…something that my parents did when I was in bed with the flu. I heard about it later from a friend. It was the right and humane thing to do. King had damage from being struck in the hind quarters in front of our house. He was old. He howled when the train blew the whistle as it came near our house. I was sad but didn’t blame my parents. I was quite ill and they didn’t want to make my misery any worse.

I’m okay with all that.

But, here in England…they love their dogs. Pets are even allowed into the bar area of a pub…where people can eat. That is not legal in NYC, or most other places.

In front of almost every shop along the High Street of any small town or village, there are stainless dishes for the dogs to drink from. That’s a good thing. I thought the Upper East Side of Manhattan was the place to open a pet supply shop. No, it’s in every village in England.

I do have to object to the fact that many walkers (and England is full of walkers) don’t keep their dogs on a leash. The dogs “worry” the sheep and lambs. That’s not right.

But you should take a walk along West 92nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Hardly anyone obeys the “pooper scopper” laws. It’s a problem all over (and I mean that literally).

I love dogs. I really do. But I’m the one who wants to be the master.


That’s why I love cats more than dogs. The cat’s attitude is: “I’ll get back to you.”

The dog:


[All photos are mine]





Reflections in a Sad Eye


The last bus stopped running an hour ago.  The publican has rung the bell in the nearby pub, calling out “Time gentlemen, please.” The night‘s action is most definitely over out here in the ‘burbs of London. The streets may be quiet and the locals are at home…but it’s still light out!

It’s only a bit after 10:00 pm.  In truth, the nearest pub will be remain open until midnight so it’s not entirely an empty neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the late flights from Capetown, Rio, New York and Paris are approaching touchdown…their wheels are lowered and they are slowly approaching the runway about 255 feet above my head.

Yes, my head that has been hit with a massive case of hay fever or some sort of allergy since I walked through customs a few hours.  I can’t use my handkerchief any more; it needs to hang out to dry.  I’m down to using a roll of toilet paper to stifle my sneezes.  Even the woman tending bar at the pub noticed my agony and offered her own personal pills she claimed worked for her hay fever.

I tend not to take pills from people I never me before.

The flight from Shannon was only about an hour.  The “food” was a box of crackers, some cheese, a small chocolate bar, some vegetable pate, small can of tonic, and a glass of water.  All for €7.50.  Aer Lingus must be in financial trouble.

We’re in the very B&B we used in 2012. It was cheap, near the airport and provided a free shuttle to the terminals.

I doubt we’ll travel this cheap again.

The room’s light was dingy, quite brothel-like.  There was no shower curtain and only one towel each.

I’m writing this with my iMac Air and using it like it’s supposed to be used…on my lap.  But I have a bad back and I’m leaning against a pillow that is, if I’m lucky, two inches thick.

I’m a hugger.  I don’t know, maybe my mother took my teddy away too soon, but I need something to wrap my arms around.  I’m going to be forced to use my neck cushion.  The kind of thing that looks good in the W.H. Smith store but is difficult to pack…like a football.  People  sleep with them on planes and trains.  Mine’s blue in case you’re interested.

I’m not very happy right now.

This was meant to be a reflection of a wonderful trip.  But, as usual with me, it’s bittersweet.

We said good-bye to Brian on Sunday.  Ireland seemed to be a little emptier without his companionship, wit, charm and sense of amazement at what he saw and what we shared.  I’m quite proud of myself for planning a trip that included a medieval banquet, being on his own in a few pubs in Cashel, and climbing to the battlements of our ancestral castle in County Tipperary.

Thinking back on the entire trip, I can recall some awesome sights and some frustrating moments.  I’ve looked down haunted wells where a violated youth was thrown.  I’ve seen the withered hand of a saint who founded the Abbey that later became Ely Cathedral.  We’ve rubbed fingers with mummies in a crypt in Dublin, threw a pence into the Liffey from Ha’Penny Bridge.

Up in County Sligo, at a cemetery in Enniscrone, I stood at the grave of Tom and Kate Egan who once served me tea from water that had been boiling all day over a peat fire.

That was over thirty years ago.

I’ve looked out over the fields my people plowed and had their cattle graze for decades.

Stone walls don’t change much in human life times. The hedges grow for centuries. The rains fall and the people keep smiling.

In England, our friends edge toward retirement and think thoughts about where it would be a nice place to live.

To me, I couldn’t think of any place more in tune with the beats of my heart and yearnings of my soul than England or the west of Ireland.

Being of Irish background, I thought of what it would be like to live there.  My body is pulled two ways.  My blood says to go back to the soil that first made you who you are…melancholy and love of the written word are my genetic markers.

But, I’m happiest when I’m walking.  And, there is no place with footpaths that lead to all my dreamscapes than England.

If you drive six miles through Wiltshire, Somerset or Dorset and not pass a dozen “public footpath” signs, then you have a bad case of tunnel vision.

My adventure is over and I’m a sadder man because of it.  In the coming weeks, I will sit and tell funny stories of our trip, but deep within me, I’ll long for the footpath.  I’ll long for the place when the biggest decision I need to make is which direction to walk.

Yes, the Adirondacks have hundreds of miles of trails and I live in the center of it all, but somehow it lacks the ancient history and mythic lore that stirs my soul as I stand inside a stone circle that was constructed before the Great Pyramids.

I am cursed with restlessness.

But the posts will go on. I’ve not shown you things or told you stories of many things.  Some will keep you awake at night. Some will make you smile and some will make you cry.

If I can do all these things…I’ve succeeded in what a writer most wants.  Getting people to read.

Right now? I’m going to shut the dingy overhead light off and switch on my Barnes & Nobel reading lamp.  I’m working my way through Dickens at the moment.

Its title is very appropriate:

“Great Expectations”.



[This post is written in England but it will be posted from Penn Station when we get back. This hotel wants £4.00 for Wi-Fi. I have never paid for that service before and I’m not going to start now.]


An American in Dorset (an excerpt)


As I understand it, I am not allowed to donate blood.  I have the British Government to partly thank for this dilemma.  It so happens that I resided in Great Britain during the years when Mad Cow Disease was in its very early stages.  I say, “partly thank” because even though MCD began to develop in their herds on their watch, no one forced me to eat a Steak and Kidney Pie every other night in the corner of a cozy pub, over the course of a year.

That part was my uninformed choice.

The incubation period of Mad Cow Disease seems to be measured in decades, so if I had contracted it in the mid-1980s, any aberrant behavior on my part would have manifested itself by now. (There goes something else I can’t blame for my odd personality disorders of late.)

Anyway, I can’t give blood.


I didn’t go to England on a dare.  I didn’t go on a whim, or to escape a vengeful husband or boyfriend, to evade charges of mail fraud in Utah, to finish my thesis on John Keats or to search for that mythical British bar-wench who still remembered what a low cut serving blouse was for (although I admit I was somewhat curious about that last one).

I went because it was the only way, I thought at the time, to keep my sanity from slipping away from me and allowing me to fall into a dark place.  The root causes that led me to England happened years earlier.


I had been teaching in public schools for seven years followed by another three at a private school in New England.

During my time in the public school, I often felt humiliated, oppressed and undervalued on an almost daily basis.  To be sure, this is and was an old complaint among educators.

My story does not begin when I entered a classroom for the first time.  If it were only that simple, I would have little to tell.  My tale begins this way:

I was on my way to class one afternoon. The late bell had already sounded.  I was tardy for my own class because I had felt the need to slip down to the “teachers lounge” for a cup of tea.  This “lounge” was actually a section in the basement of the boiler room of a building erected in 1908.  The few times I had sat at the faculty worktable to have a tea, I could hear the flush of every toilet in the building as the water gushed through the pipes over my head.  This building, I should mention, was designated for the ninth grade only.  Just outside my classroom window was a new $10,000,000 facility for grades ten through twelve.  I climbed the five flights of stairs to get to my room.  On the way, just outside my door I ran into a student who belonged at his desk in my class.  He already had several clashes with the law and his dislike of me was palpable.  I touched his elbow and said, “let’s go”.

At that point he jumped me and began swinging.  I crashed against the lockers and kept my head turned away as he swung at me to avoid having my glasses smashed into my eyes.  We banged against one wall of lockers and he swung me across the hall.  We both collided against another set of metal doors.  A guidance counselor leapt from his hallway desk (we were short on offices) and pulled him off me.  Ten seconds later I was standing in front of my class; they were clueless as to what had happened, and I tried to appear “normal”.  I leaned against my file cabinet and looked down at my hands shake like one stricken with palsy.

I decided to file charges for assault.  I felt strongly that teachers needed protections and it was up to me to send a strong message.  This was the only way I could do it.

The Principal declined to support me.  The teachers union turned their back on me.  In the end I went to the Magistrate alone.  I recall sitting in my car in the parking area of the courthouse listening to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and agonizing over what I was about to do.  This kid was already neck deep in trouble with the school.  Was I saving and serving my profession or was I burying this boy further into adolescent hell?

I settled out of court.

On another occasion, I was sitting on the stage of the school theater.  I was in charge of a study hall that contained about eighty-five students, mostly ninth and tenth graders.  I glanced out at the group and noticed a male student with his back turned to me and leaning toward the floor.  About five minutes before the bell rang to end the class, another boy came up to me and whispered, “He has it in his sock.”

I headed the offending student off at the door.

“Would you come with me for a moment?” I asked.

I led him to the Vice Principals office located down the hall.  We stood before his desk and I explained what happened.

“Well let’s see what’s in your sock,” the Administrator said.

Out came several items of drug paraphernalia, a pipe, some papers and a baggie of what I suspected was weed.

My job being done, I returned to my classroom.  I had a free period.  As soon as I sat down, I heard the yelling and running.

“Get him!” screamed the Vice Principal.

I stepped out of my room only to catch a glimpse of the student running past me and toward the stairwell. He descended two stairs at a time.  He reached the ground floor porch before I did, but I was in time to see him throw several items into the field near the school.

It was over in a minute.  The student was led away and I spent the rest of my free period poking through the brush.  I found the pipe and bag of “weed”.

My class schedule went something like this: I had five classes of ninth grade Earth and Space Science.  Each class had about thirty students.  Consequently I would find myself teaching the same topics, repeatedly, to about one hundred and fifty kids. There were no lab facilities at all.  I had to meet my classes in different locations for a few years.  In some of these old and creaky rooms I would hear my own voice bounce back at me from the rear wall.  I did not like the echo I heard.  I bored myself and could not help but wonder what these kids thought of me.  I should say in all fairness that the school district was recovering from a devastating flood in 1972 and class sessions had to be arranged according to what buildings were repaired and which ones were destined to be leveled.

What I had come to feel as a growing irrelevancy of my professional life hit me hard one fine day.  To earn a few extra bucks I signed on to do “homebound” teaching a state mandated system set up to instruct students who couldn’t be physically in the classroom for one reason or another.  One afternoon, I was at the home of a sixteen-year-old girl.  Her mother was puttering in the kitchen.  I sat at the girl’s desk in her bedroom and was in the process of teaching her about the formation of clouds as a function of condensation.

This girl was about five months pregnant.  She probably would not be finishing school.

She sat and listened quietly.  She was a nice girl, very polite and attentive.  I stopped midway through my fascinating description of cloud formation and drank some water.  During this short break, I asked myself about the quality of this girl’s future and, more to the point, what the hell clouds had to do with anything relevant at this point in her young life.

She earned an “A” for simply not putting a carving knife into my chest.

So, that is where I found my emotional self in the late 1970’s.


I drove an orange MG Midget at the time.  My mind and hair should have been blowing free and easy to the disco rhymes of ABBA pulsating from an 8-Track player bolted securely below my dashboard.   As the useless sense of my life grew within me, I began to dread the long drive to the school from the farmhouse where I lived.  I needed to leave the house about 6 AM.  The number of the mornings began increasing when I stopped listening to the radio.  Instead I would pull off to the side of the road at 7 AM to weep hot and painful tears.  The fear in me was growing and spreading like a tumor of the soul.

I wasn’t afraid of the kids.  Most of them liked me.  That’s not what made me cry at dawn.  Instead, I was terrified by a life that seemed to trail off somewhere into future time ending on a hill near a tree in a pasture, or an empty seat at a honky-tonk bar at 4 PM, or later against a rusty concrete bridge abutment.

What took me from that place, wiping away my tears in an orange MG Midget to a teacher’s desk in Dorset, England several years later?  That’s the story I wish to tell.Image



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