I’m thrilled today to welcome Mary Elizabeth from New Mexico, one of the readers who responded to my request for memories of first visits to England for the free guide I recently released. She related this wonderful story of an experience not many tourists enjoy, and kindly gave permission for me to share it with you.
In 2005 I went to England for the first time, rented a car, and drove in a big loop including Surrey, Winchester, Salisbury, Bath, Skipton/York, Wokingham, and London. One of my favorite books has always been The Secret Garden so I went to Yorkshire and stayed at a sheep farm B&B in Embsay, outside Skipton.
A British couple who lived not far away was staying there too for an anniversary getaway. A lovely couple, and the man spoke in the local accent. His wife nudged him and told him “Speak so she can understand you!” but the great thing was after so many years reading The Secret Garden, I understood him!
Anyway, that evening they were going on a narrowboat cruise on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The trip featured “entertainment and refreshments.” They urged me to go with them and when I got to the ticket office, there was one ticket left. Score!
We all piled in to the narrowboat and the voyage began.
All the passengers, except for me and them were Skipton locals who knew each other. I was mystified why many people were wearing bandanas and one woman was wearing a fringed vest, cowboy boots, and a child’s six-shooter gun and holster. Her friend was wearing a shirt decorated with cute puppies wearing bandanas and cowboy hats.
I said something to the gorgeous young man sitting across from me and he explained the entertainment was country and western karaoke. Ooooh! Now I get it!
The night was an absolute hoot. Everyone was so kind and wanted to make sure I had a good time. The two women in the vest and puppy shirt ordered a bottle of wine and got down to it. They explained they adored country music but had no idea who I was talking about when I told them I had recently been to a radio meet and greet with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. The music ended up being a mashup of Johnny Cash, Elvis, and a lot of older rock and roll. Not my idea of C&W but who cared. We were having a blast!
Among the passengers was a group of residents from a home for mentally disabled people, most with Down syndrome. They were all dressed up and having a delightful time.
In between songs an elderly man would take the microphone and tell risqué jokes. They all involved being with his girlfriend, pulling into a layby, then they would start to undress, and so on. The first part of the jokes I got but the punchline was always in rapid fire broad Yorkshire that was beyond my Secret Garden capabilities. People around me would look at my blank face, ask if I understood what he said, and when I said no, they’d laugh hysterically and then try to translate.
The two ladies next to me by this time got quite tiddly and started dancing in the narrow aisle with the residents of the home. They would dance to my table and introduce me as the American lady and then dance away.
At one point I was mystified again when a server came by and asked if I wanted cheese, baked beans, or tuna. Ummm, cheese? The mystery was finally solved when the refreshments arrived. Jacket potatoes served with the topping of your choice, cheese, baked beans, or tuna. My American mind was surprised at jacket potatoes for party refreshments but they were warm and tasty, and the whole boat smelled wonderful.
With the music and laughter, we were obviously quite loud and a panel on the top of the boat was open to allow smokers to climb a ladder and puff away outside. As we passed other moored boats, people would come outside to see what the ruckus was, or open their curtains and peer out, see us, everyone would wave cheerfully, and pull their heads in again.
The whole night was hilarious. I laughed so much. The adorable young man flirted with me (a 50 year old long-married woman!) and I danced in the aisles with the cowgirls.
I chatted with just about everyone on the boat. They all asked how I was enjoying my journey and I could answer them quite enthusiastically “Very much, thank you!” At the end of the night, everyone stopped to say goodbye, shake my hand, and wish me safe travels. The gorgeous young man held my hand for a moment and asked if I’d like to continue the evening with him. A bit regretfully, and rather flattered, I said no, and the anniversary couple and I went back to the B&B.
And that was my night of country and western karaoke in Yorkshire. It’s the kind of experience that confirms my idea that the best way to see a new place is not on a tour bus with other Americans, and when you get an opportunity, grab it. When you ask what surprised me about traveling in England, I cite the stereotype of cold, aloof people and bad food. A jacket potato tastes mighty good when you’re surrounded by lovely, kind, fun-loving people.
Thank you so much, Mary Elizabeth, for this vivid account of a special memory. I love to hear from readers and learn what delights you, when you think of England. (Photos from Wikimedia Commons)