... And now - on to Scotland. Peter and Anna had given me the address of a hotel in Lancaster, and I decided to aim for it, even though it was a long run which required my keeping up a steady 60 mph pace on the motorway all the way, according to Peter. All went well until I got into the midlands, approaching Birmingham, when it began to rain very hard, just as darkness was falling. There were miles of road repairs all through the midlands, the lorries were almost bumper to bumper and the cars were apparently frantic to get through and away. Headlights from the traffic on the southbound lanes were dazzling, made even more so by reflections onto the drenched roadway. The roar and lash of the wind and rain were unceasing, and the tempo utterly mad!
During all of this, I maintained the requisite 60 or above - as did everyone else. Actually, one could hardly do differently! Three times during this trip I pulled off at a service exit to phone the hotel, since Anna had warned me that mein host did not appreciate unplanned appearances. The first time, his wife went off to get him, my money ran out waiting for him to return, and none of the cashiers at the caff had any change. The second time, there was a long line in the rain in front of every booth. The third time, I got him, only to discover that he had gone up from eight pounds to ten. I balked, and he told me of another hotel further down the same road. By the time I reached the southern exit at Lancaster, my arms and shoulders ached from my grip on the wheel and general focusing of total awareness on driving well and carefully for hours on end, and I felt exhaustedly disgusted with what I had so far learned about Lancaster's accommodations. So, when I finally drove off the motorway, I simply looked for a place to stay - and lucked out! Or do I mean in?
Just past the overpass at Galgate, an industrial suburb of Lancaster, a big B&B sign loomed up on the righthand side of the road in the blackness, and a head-in parking space just opposite. I ducked in, out of the unceasing roar of traffic, parked, walked (or rather, darted) across the road and rang the bell. A handsome, earthy-looking, auburn-haired woman, in her forties, I would say, answered the bell, took one of my bags with a very welcoming look, and led me in. I was gasping with fatigue and relief at feeling safe and out of the madness outside, and she totally saw this and responded to it.
Her house was a tiny place, with low ceilings and small rooms, lamps, flowers and plants, pictures, framed photos of her family, posters, rag rugs and ancient, overstuffed furniture, dilapidated and comfortable. She herself was in slippers and had an apron over her house dress. No sooner were my bags safely stowed away in my tiny room at the top of the steep, narrow staircase than she had me nestled in an upholstered armchair sipping hot, strong tea with plenty of milk, nibbling a sweet biscuit and answering questions about myself. Her name was (is) Pat. We shared our enjoyment of our grown children, most particularly their talents and autonomy, knowing we had fostered them. We exchanged political and social views, views about life, love and sex - about what it is to be a woman, I suppose you might say. It was like finding a home, the best kind of woman-to-woman sharing one could ask for! It restored my spirit, which was weary and discouraged. I slept like a baby, hugging the hot water bottle dressed in cerise satin she had given me. The price was seven pounds fifty!
lt was still raining the next morning, but clearing gradually. Pat served me fresh mushrooms with my breakfast, which was delicious in every way. I just managed to catch the car's spark and fan it into a roar, and off I went onto the Motorway, past the fells I remembered so vividly from my February visit with Anna, on to Carlisle, and then Glasgow, without difficulty. The weather was lowering and grey most of the way, but the rain had not come back.
Turning northwest toward Loch Lomond, I gradually began to realize that the velocity of the wind was slowly increasing. As I drove along the north shore of the long lake on the dangerously narrow, winding road, I began to notice that the waves were growing higher, and beginning to pile up upon the shore with increasing force, so that they even occasionally splashed up onto the road itself, making the driving even more uncertain than it already was. A kind of uneasiness began to stir in me as I sensed more and more the power of this slowly rising wind.
At the time this inner anxiety was still below the surface of my awareness, but, looking back, I seem to understand more fully the basis in childhood experiences with wind which might have given substance to my growing unconscious fear. Even earlier than our summer cruises which brought us into near hurricane weather out at sea on our ancient sailboat - to which I have alluded earlier in this account - were fears stirred up during middle childhood. We lived for many years in an old house which sat near the top of a long hill. My bedroom faced the sweep of the hill, and directly outside stood two huge maple trees of enormous size and age. I was very fond of these trees, whose shape, sounds and tossing green branches outside my windows gave me a feeling of live companionship - but on a few occasions, we would have a fall storm - a New England nor'easter - and the wind would rise to gale force. Its full fury would wrench those giants about in so merciless a fashion that their groans hurt my belly, their roaring, my ears. I would lie there in my bed in the dark, wide-eyed, listening, convinced that one of them would surely succumb and come crashing down upon our house! And even if this did not happen, the creaking, shuddering and swaying of the old house itself seemed to me evidence that it was only a matter of time before the whole structure would give way and we would be reduced to a pile of splintered kindling! Reading George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind merely strengthened my recognition of the wind's personal power and Her awareness of me. I think I must have believed that only by staying awake could I prevent one of these ultimate disasters from happening!
It was an elemental, unreasoning response of this kind which was awakening in me as I turned west toward Fort William. Driving over the rise at Glen Coe was awesome, and my latent vertigo began seriously affecting me. I gradually realized consciously that I was becoming more and more frightened as we went up and up and the peaks became higher and more rugged. Partly, this was because the car had begun jumping and sputtering every so often, but mostly, it was the height and sweep of the mountains themselves, which gave me the same sense of losing the hold of gravity which both the Tor and the fells (the previous winter) had done. It was as though I might at any moment fall outward into the sky! Added to this vertigo response to the sheer height of the mountains was my ancient fear of the wind, which by now was becoming strong enough to disturb the motion of the little car, thus heightening the illusion of poor grounding on the earth's surface.
It may have been additionally a kind of vibrational sensitivity as well to the energy patterns held (as it were) in this area of the country. I have since spoken with a very sensitive English woman who told me that Glen Coe scares her a great deal, and that she believes it has something to do with Scotland's tragic and bloody history, which has left its haunted impress on so many parts of the land. I have certainly felt this strongly near the battlefield of Culloden, for example. Here, as there, it was as though somehow I seemed to be surrounded by death in an invisible form, by anguish, by the blood spilt upon the land!
Driving over the top of Glen Coe and coming down on the other side was hardly better than going up. Every time the car would buck, I experienced a real jolt of fear, and this seemed to become cumulative, so that it was with a sense of reprieve that I drove into Fort William and felt around me the reality of human habitation and solidity. Not entirely, however. Even though I was now on fairly horizontal ground for a while, I still felt anxious and oppressed. My first goal had been to reach Iona by nightfall, following Alice Howell's recommendation, but now, this goal felt in real question.
Iona the sacred isle, chosen by the Irish saint Columba for the site of the first Christian monastery in "pagan" Scotland, had "called" to me for some years, so Alice's suggestion had felt right. My family and I had actually attempted to visit Iona as tourists in 1969 as part of a cruise of the islands off the picturesque little town of Oban. The tour vessel had had to turn back when the rising of the wind during the tour created such high waves that landing at the dock on the island became too hazardous for it to attempt. Now, thinking aboutIona again, this association between the wind and the accessibility of Iona as a "port of call" seemed unquestionable - and so, reaching the fork in the road which led either to Oban, and ultimately Iona, or north to Skye, I automatically chose Skye! I felt disappointed, because Alice's description of her visit made it clear to me that this spot was truly one of her most sacred experiences and a place of tremendous significance to her. On the other hand, she had also described to me a very powerful experience she had had on Hallowe'en night at the stone circle at Callanish on the island of Lewis - and so it felt perfectly logical to me to aim for Skye and to hope for a ferry to the outer islands. Iona was dismissed from my mind, and it was not until many months later that I woke up to the realization that Iona was reachable from Mull - and Mull from Oban! But that was not at all clear to me at the time.
So, my current goal was now to reach Callanish on the island of Lewis in time to spend the night there, the night being Hallowe'en! My first leg on this "rushing" journey was to take the ferry from the tiny village called Kyle of Lochalsh and to speed by bonny boat over the sea to Skye, as the song says. Once on Skye, I would hopefully be able to get on board the ferry from the little port of Uig at the far end of the island to Harris, the first of the outer island chain of Harris and Lewis. I hoped to accomplish this all by nightfall - and did not question the goal in any way, choosing to press on as rapidly as possible and accept what came.
As I approached Kyle, however, pressing on along the narrow road as rapidly as I dared, I realized I was developing an acute sense of uneasiness, as though coming to the end of reliable terrain in some strange way. This unease was not helped by the fact that I was now nearly out of petrol, nor by my inability to find a petrol station to fill up in - not to mention the fact that the rain had now started in again, thus making driving even more difficult. I had my goal to achieve, which in one way made the going worse because I was anxious about getting there in time, but in another way easier, in giving me the incentive to push ahead in the face of my acute anxiety. As they say in Texas, I felt "between a rock and a hard place." This tension was hardly relieved by discovering, when I came out of the toilet at the petrol station I finally found, that a passing motorist had had to push my car back off the highway where it had rolled while I was in the loo! I always set my parking brake - so this unexpected breach of habit scared me even worse!
By the time I actually reached Kyle, the rain was coming down in sheets and the wind had reached full gale proportions. All the men on the landing and the ferry wore yellow oilskins, and the general atmosphere at the wharf was one of semi-crisis held down by good old Scottish know-how. Each of us received a personal set of instructions for purchasing a ticket and boarding the big ferry, delivered in a calm, competent manner by an oilskin-clad man. Nothing was to be left to chance. Once aboard, however, everything felt astoundingly routine, "normal," despite the darkly lowering sky and angry sea. The heavy craft plowed steadily through the whitecaps and rollers with hardly a stagger. A short crossing - and then, up I went through the little village on the other side, choking, sputtering and jumping - and drove off into the wild night!
Water stood in dips and hollows on the narrow road and ran in streams down the sides. Water streamed in a solid sheet across my windshield despite the furious clack of my wipers. Every time I drove through a deep puddle, the car slowed or actually stalled, only to be nursed back to life by a quick jump-start using our forward momentum. On we would go again through the wild dark and rain until the next stallout. My heart was in my mouth, every muscle tense with necessary concentration. Cataracts began to appear by the side of the road, white, foaming torrents gushing down the mountainside and roaring along the roadside ditch.
It was by now six at night, and had grown pitch black. On I went, determined to reach Uig and the ferry to the outer islands. I was so frightened, my heart felt like a fist clenched in my chest. On-coming headlights periodically lit up the entire windshield, momentarily blinding me. I could only be thankful that there were so few motorists abroad this night. Would I reach Uig? Truly I had no idea, but could only force blindly forward.
The way was becoming more mountainous now, and the car slowed almost to a halt on every rise. A new source of fear! On I went. Suddenly a sign showed up on my left - not a very big one, but dazzlingly clear and beautiful in my eyes: UIG 10 M. I felt like Wordsworth when he beheld his host of golden daffodils. My heart leaped up! Could it be that this madness might have a successful ending after all? The issue was still in doubt. I might not even live long enough to make it! I mean, I might have a heart attack at any moment, mightn't I? I had heard of people dying from fear alone. I thought, well, I can count down in hundreds, and that will keep my mind occupied. So I began counting. It did help. As I was finishing the tenth hundred, the road came to a curve - and around the curve, a descent, with a view of yellow street lights far below. We were coming into Uig! It felt like the end of nowhere. Actually, it was the end of the land, and beyond was the ocean, and farther still the outer islands, invisible out there somewhere in the black night and wild gale!
I drove through the little village and turned left onto the long wooden pier that stretched out into the water. A huge car ferry was tied up at the end. Maybe I would be crossing after all! I parked in front of a building which looked official and went inside. Two men dressed in dark seamen's jackets and caps were conferring with a third man dressed in yellow oilskins who held a telephone in his hand. One of them came to the window to see what I wanted. "Will the ferry be going out tonight?" I asked him. "Aye, tha's wha' we'rre tryin' to decide," he answered. The man in oilskins spoke into the phone. "May I wait?" I asked. "Aye," he answered, and went back to confer with the others. I waited, leaning against the counter in front of the window.
The word seemed to come, and he returned. "No, we're no' goin' out tonight," he told me, "Too rrough." "I thought you mightn't," I answered. "Can you tell me where to find a place for the night?" "D'you want a hotel or a prrivate house?" he asked. "Oh, a private house would be fine!" I answered. "That'll be Bonnie Brrae, then," he said. "Tuhrrn left when you come off the pierr and it's the second house afterr the pub." "Thanks a lot," I said, and went out to start my car. Of course it wouldn't! As I sat there futilely running the starter, the three men emerged from the building, and the same one came over to me and knocked on my window. I ran it down. "Havin' trrouble startin' your car?" he asked. "I sure am," I answered. "Want me t' have a trry?" "Yes, please," I told him, getting out of the car. It started for him on almost the first go! Oh, well, after all, it was their country! I smiled my slightly chagrined thanks, and he touched his cap.
I turned the car, drove back along the long wooden pier, went past the pub, a bleak-looking building of no architectural virtue whatsoever, parked in the driveway of the second house past it and walked up to the dark house, leaning forward into the driving force of the wind. In a window on the second floor, I was suddenly aware of a dark silhouette which looked like a person sitting motionless, apparently watching me, outlined by dim light behind her/him. It was an eerie sight. I went up the porch steps and knocked on the glass-panelled door. And knocked and knocked. I could hear a dog barking somewhere in the dimness inside, but no one came. The wind howled mercilessly as I waited, knocking repeatedly. The barking changed to very meaningful growling, which sounded closer, although I could not see anything. I began to wonder if I was in the right place. Giving up, I turned to go back to the car. As I left the shelter of the house, the wind and rain caught me, whipping me about again. I backed out of the driveway and tried the next house, which was completely dark. No sign saying "Bonnie Brae," but still...it must be the one, mustn't it? I walked up the driveway, looking for a door to knock at. Nothing but a heavily curtained window. No, there was a door, right in the corner of an angle of the house wall which I hadn't seen because a large van parked in the driveway was in front of it, so close to it I would have had to crawl over the top to reach it.
A narrow, graveled path led around a corner of the house. As I rounded it, the wind and rain hit me with such force I could hardly stand upright, let alone walk forward. I have never heard wind howl that way! A low, white-painted iron gate led to another doorway. I opened it, went up to the door and knocked there. Receiving no answer, I stumbled entirely around the house looking for a light. All the windows seemed to be heavily curtained, like the one in the front, and no one seemed to be home. Waves crashed upon the beach, which was a few short feet from the house wall - twenty at most. Arriving at the front again, I tried the window I had first seen, knocking as loudly as I could.
All at once the curtain was moved to one side and a youngish woman peered out at me. I shouted something about a room for the night, trying to hear myself above the din. She nodded and motioned me around to the side door. Collecting my luggage from the car, I braved the whipping of the wind, which caught at me, howling and moaning with redoubled force as I rounded the corner and fought my way to the side door. This time, a light was on above it. She held it open as I entered, almost staggering, and bolted it behind me, carefully adjusting the thick curtain to re-cover the little pane of glass in its upper half.
Suddenly, I knew what was happening. It was Hallowe'en - Samhain! Like Beltane, our May Day, Samhain is the time of year between seasons when cracks appear in the fabric of space-time, allowing contact between our world and that of the Goddess! Samhain on Uig! I can do no better than to quote John Philip Cohane (The Key ) on the subject.
Standing straight up against the ice-cold horizon above the Isle of Skye is a ninety-foot pillar of solid stone. Its phallic significance is immediately apparent even to the purest mind. Ever since man has kept records or passed names down from generation to generation this upright rock has been called Uig. Since the beginning of recorded Christian times and events, wild, maudlin, drunken rituals and festivals were celebrated on Christmas Night throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales...from the recorded beginning this night was called Oc Night...Other annual events featuring the name of Oc or Hock, Oke or Hoke, were celebrated in the spring, at the time of bringing in the harvest in the autumn and on the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter, all times of great fertility significance.
Here I was in Uig on Samhain - and what had happened to the old traditions since the time of the Goddess Awa and her consort Oc or Og? Looking at the present day inhabitants of Uig as personified in my landlady, I couldn't imagine any such unseemly revels! Such behavior would have been quickly stamped out by the good Scots Presbyterians! John Knox himself would have risen from his grave and smitten them dead! Here I was in Uig, where the honor of the Goddess had been abandoned, life trivialized, turned into a mere tourist attraction fostering a materialistic struggle for survival amidst such a wealth of primitive power and beauty! No wonder She was angry, was surrounding us with Her world of wind and water and wild sounds! This night She was letting us know how powerful, how despairing, how enraged She was with us! Suddenly it was all right with me. I was no longer so afraid. My heart, which had been squeezed into a fist for several hours, began to relax. "All right," I told Her in my head. "You're entitled!"
My hostess was a pale, dark-haired woman in her thirties, dressed in housewife cotton. A glimpse through an open doorway into the room she had just left showed a TV set, couch and armchairs. An ironing table piled high with folded linens and an upright iron stood in the middle. I thought, this can't be the most rewarding kind of life. It felt as though she had decided to create a world of her own inside her four walls. A little nook halfway up the stair with a china figure in it, an ivy plant on the low partition at the top, white walls in the hallway decorated with little pictures of snug cottages, ruffly white glass curtains draped across the windows in my room, a crocheted lace square covering both dresser and night table, a blue furry cover on the toilet bowl lid - all had her touches. Perhaps I mightn't have noticed it on another night, but on this one, especially in contrast with what was going on outdoors, it felt shut-in, a bit stifling, even, but secure, a real statement. The solid house walls stood thick and unshaking, you knew the roof was securely fastened down. No sound of children. She didn't seem the sort to welcome such an intrusion into that controlled environment. I sensed her purpose in sharing it with me to be one of necessity rather than choice. Still, I felt immensely relieved, even grateful, that she had!
The pub to which she directed me for an evening snack and a pinta was dismal in atmosphere but friendly enough in human terms. Glaring neon lights, bare bulbs, cheap plastic booth furniture and walls plastered with fly-specked posters and notices of wrestling and boxing events long past the time of their relevance. The barman and three evident habitués were all shooting pool, but seemed to tolerate the interruption with good enough grace, resuming as soon as my plate and glass were set in front of me. The feeling tone reminded me of "black" bars in the ghetto at home, where the obvious contrast between myself and the "regulars" became the basis for mutual appreciation rather than alienness. They, the at-home ones, went on with their amusement - I, the intruder, was allowed to enjoy watching. If anything, their individual idiosyncrasies seemed to become more dramatic before an audience, and their occasional glances toward me punctuated this awareness of the process going on between us.
It was all in contrast with the period coziness of many English pubs where I felt conventionally tolerated as a paying customer yet oppressed by the sense of territoriality pervading the place. And on a couple of occasions, my wish to watch the dart contest going on in the public bar turned out all too evidently to be a violation of some local taboo. On one occasion, on a previous trip, in a very picturesque village pub near Gatwick, I had felt lonely and decided to move ten feet (at most) over to a small table near a lively darts game which was going on in a kind of el. I was totally ignored by the players but made aware of the violation involved by the occasional startled glance of a waiter passing.
The only pub where I was ever made to feel really welcome was on our first trip abroad, at one near the Tower of London where we had gone for lunch and, at my naive suggestion, had walked into the public bar for our sandwich and pint, the saloon bar appearing so posh and stuffy, I was repelled. When the barman pointed out our error and was asking us to go back, a man on his lunch hour from his job as a guard at the Tower with whom I had had a friendly exchange spoke up on my behalf. "Ah, she's all right," he says with a warm smile. "Let 'er stay!" It was probably the nicest thing that happened to us on the entire trip! We did stay, and thoroughly enjoyed the lunch and the game of darts. I suspect it was at this moment that I fell in love with England. Well - then, and at the pub we had entered soon after arriving, still unfamiliar with the English coins. Attempting to pay for our glasses of bitter, Bill and I were poking helplessly at a pile of coins on his palm, trying to remember which was the shilling the Scottish barman had asked for. "It's that wee dime there," he says, pointing, with a friendly smile.
Finishing my meal, I walked back to Bonnie Brae, the wind whooing and wheeing all up and down the scale. Back in my room under the eaves, I felt alone in one way, but, with the food and drink in me, at home with the night and the roaring. Sleep came easily as I fell out, "rocked in the cradle of the deep." Day came, leaden, wet, but with diminished wind velocity. The gale was blowing itself out. My car would not start and the battery went dead quite soon. Walking over to the one garage in the village, not far away, I asked for help. The man there said he could not come till his helper came after lunch. I walked over to the booking office to inquire about the ferry for Harris. It wasn't due till four that afternoon - but the worst part was that it didn't return till Monday! Since this was Thursday, it meant I would be on Harris and Lewis four days - and I was due in London on Monday morning to return the car to Rentavenger! So Lewis and the great circle at Callanish were out! I was dashed. All that effort and fear to reach it by Samhain, even by-passing Iona, and now I wouldn't be able to go at all! Both Scottish objectives missed! Well, there it was. Like my experience on the Tor, it was all part of the process, I felt. Certainly my Samhain had been real enough!
My landlady came out of the house as I sat in the car reading, waiting for one o'clock to roll around, and knocked on the window. I rolled it down and she asked me if anything was wrong. When I told her, she answered, "Well, let's push it over there, then." Not so pallid after all! Since Uig is flat, except for the hills that ring the village around, it wasn't hard. I thanked her, and she went on her way with a wave. The garage man gave me a jump start, got the motor running (how these Scots did it is still beyond me), and back I went, coughing and bucking, over roads still streaming but not awash. The power died at every rise, only to groan and reluctantly come to life again just enough to make it over the top.
I was actually relieved to have an excuse not to go back by the road over Glen Coe, and turned north toward Inverness instead, a long run which went on and on through the dark with Loch Ness to my right, miles and miles of utter blackness on a narrow road which wound upward, around sharp curves, and down again, with an occasional car or lorry whipping past me, often on a curve. It was scary, because I kept wondering if my car would die completely before it got to the top of each hill, slowing and slowing, choking, jumping, then going on again. Each time it jumped, my heart did too.
My uncertain progress made the long trip more interminable, but finally, I managed to limp into Inverness. Quite quickly I found a B&B in an imposing square stone house on the road into the city, drove around to the back and parked my car in the back yard along with ten or so others. My landlady was an equally imposing figure, and her guests were very respectable "foreigners," Indians in grey business suits and the like. I watched her huge color television seated in a blue plush swivel armchair before a large electrical fire built to resemble hot coals. It felt very cosy. The program was also very good, an episode in the history of Scotland covering the events following the battle of Culloden which had resulted in the mass migration of the highland "cotters" to Canada after they had been ousted by their lairds, a very tragic time indeed. The descendants of both the cotters and the lairds were interviewed.
It was a poignant story. The descendants of the lairds were as eloquent in their own way as those of the tenants so unfeelingly ousted from their homes who described their heroic efforts and accomplishments in the new land. The victims of this tragic period, of course, had been the families of the men slaughtered in the bloody war conducted by the highland chieftains in the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie, either at Culloden or afterwards, when they were hunted down like animals and brutally exterminated, butchered in cold blood by order of the English general William, Duke of Cumberland ("Stinking Billy"), and the women, children and old people then driven off their small allotments. But in the long run, it seems to me, the land has suffered equally. Now inaccessible to ordinary people, it became totally deforested and barren as a result of being used exclusively as sheep pasture land held by absentee family members of the traditional Highland nobility, and is only now beginning to be reforested on a large scale. The clan system, originally an extraordinarily passionate and heroic way of life in many ways at a time when a truly personal relationship still existed between the laird and his followers, also came to an end in everything but the hearts of its descendants as a result of these dreadful events. Canada and the United States have benefited, but Scotland is the poorer, I believe.
It felt to me as though much of what I felt during my stay in Scotland resulted from a sort of direct experiencing of this tragic and blood-drenched history of the entire region, held, as it were, in the land itself through which I was traveling. It was not the first time I had felt this way in Scotland. Mainly, being alone, I was more aware of the reaction, less able to shut it out.
The next morning, the battery died quite soon, and I called a garage, after consulting with my landlady, to come and start me up. While I was waiting near the car for the man to arrive, a friendly young American man and his French girl friend, who had apparently also spent the night at the B&B, came out with their luggage to take their leave. After chatting for a moment and learning of my plight, he offered to help push-start me, but was afraid to use his car lest the bumpers not meet, so gave me instead, a hand push down the little side street for a short way. Giving up when it was evident that this was not going to work, he apologized for the failure, and the two of them left, with my thanks. Soon after, a huge tow truck showed up, its engine roaring mightily, and the young man who jumped out gave me a battery-to-battery jump start. It was his opinion that what was wrong was a non-sparking plug, which he replaced, plus the need for new points. I began thinking inwardly, "Grr, this is going to be expensive!" It would be the use of a tow truck plus a hefty garage fee at a dealer garage - because the garage my landlady had recommended was a Ford garage! I mumbled to myself that a jalopy with a battery would have been enough to send!
I tried to say this to the young man, but he merely answered cheerfully that they always sent a tow truck, that the work was necessary, that the parts he would need to do it were at the garage, and that in any case, the bill for the road work would have to be paid there. So I swallowed my inner sense of alarm and followed him meekly across town through a maze of streets to a metal-and-glass construction which looked exactly like a thousand of its kind in this country. Groaning inwardly, I walked inside and was told by one of the pretty, smart-looking young girls behind the long desk to sit in their little waiting room, which looked like a doctor's, complete with magazines depicting many manly pursuits none of which interested me. Men dressed in blue smocks and carrying clipboards kept walking in and out of an inner office. No one paid me any attention. There was no sign of the young man. I kept reminding myself that he had, after all, seemed competent and even sympathetic to my fears, and waited as patiently as I could despite my anxiety. Finally, he appeared behind the desk and told me that my car was ready, that the problem had indeed been what he had thought, and that it ran fine now. I thanked him. The bill, when it came, came to fifteen pounds, fifty pence, or about $20. It would have been triple that in a comparable American establishment. The effusiveness with which I thanked the blonde who took my money probably startled her. I left the building, got into my car and drove away, the motor purring sweetly.
In fairly good weather I headed downhill (literally, most of the way, unless my perceptions are off) toward Perth, then Glasgow. Passing Culloden battlefield gave me a great twinge of pain and grief, but my senses eased as I neared Carlisle and went on south.
Rain which had begun to fall almost imperceptibly as I approached Carlisle became a deluge by the time I reached Lancashire. Again, the roadway turned into the endless nightmare it had been for me when I had approached from the south. Traffic was incessant, deafening, and had a frantic urgency about it which frightened me. In the gathering dusk, dazzling headlights blinded me from across the narrow central divider. The road itself, drenched by the downpour, felt slippery, which added to my insecurity. I had the feeling of driving almost blind. My arms and back began to tire from the steady demand that I stay alert if I wanted to stay alive.
The southern exit at Lancaster came at last, just as total darkness set in. It was with sobbing relief that I was able to turn out and away from that river of madness and head for Pat's B&B as a safe refuge. Her warm reception was balm to my spirit. Ensconced in her wing chair, sipping her hot, milky tea and nibbling a sweet biscuit, I felt totally safe for the first time since I had left! I'm not at all sure she realized how much being with her meant to me, since the quality of her presence which seemed to flow out so naturally clearly came from a "way" she undoubtedly experienced as "ordinary." Her two student roomers evidently received this gift as gratefully as I did, and the feelings we shared felt brotherly to me. All three occupants of the house had engagements for the evening, so left me to watch Pat's huge black-and-white TV seated in "my" armchair. With her permission, I called Bill on her phone, reversing the charges. The entire evening was a healing experience, and the lace-edged, cerise satin-covered hot water bottle she again gave me to take to bed felt like the gift of her warm heart!
She saw me off with a hug and kiss the next morning after a great breakfast, and I made the run back south without incident.