Now, as a bit of a homage to Gunther who lives in England, and Sarah who’s dating someone who lives in England, I’m going to share with you the story of my language course to England.
The year was 2000 and I was 15 years old. It was a time when Iceland was nice and quiet, planes flew in and out of Europe all the time, and my friend Minna and I, realizing that this wasn’t going to be the case forever, decide we wanted to take advantage of the situation while it lasted. That’s when we decided to go on a language course to England. Our parents were of course going to pay for the party and we were going to have the best summer ever. Our parents, who were still happily unaware of this, surprisingly didn’t jump for joy when we told them about our plans. I thought I was pretty grown up at the age of 15, but apparently my parents didn’t agree. After much pleading and begging and even some nagging, both my parents and Minna’s parents finally agreed to fork up the money.
We had decided on a language course and riding camp combined, because back then I could actually ride a horse without having a heart attack and falling off. We chose Isle of Wight, a beautiful little island south of England proper as our destination. My 15th birthday came, and a beautiful summer morning in June, Minna and I stepped on a plane with 12 other young Finns who were ready for adventure.
Isle of Wight
Our first stop was Paris. The one in France. We shopped, went to Disneyland, climbed the Eiffel Tower, visited Notre Dame and rode the metro. I think the logic behind taking us to Paris first was to make us as tired as humanly possible so we wouldn’t get into trouble during the language course part of the trip. It was a good plan, but they completely underestimated the energy of teenagers. After a rather embarrassing incident with a little too much singing in a metro, our trip continued by bus from Paris to Calais – a journey that took about a million hours if I remember correctly. In Calais we found ourselves on the first ferry to Dover, and after a surprisingly short ride, the white cliffs of Dover came into view in the mist of the dawning day. From Dover it was a long ride to Portsmouth, from where yet another ferry took us to the Isle of Wight.
Isle of Wight is warmer than the rest of England, and there were even some palm trees lining the streets. I don’t know what it’s like now, but ten years ago it was a peaceful island with a few small towns. In one of the bigger towns, Ryde, our host mommy came to collect us. Rowena was a 40-something American woman who had lived on Isle of Wight for 10 years. She had two daughters, no husband and a cute middle unit in a rowhouse.
Rowena was also crazy, but more about the crazy later. Back to when we got to England. Rowena came to pick up me and Minna in her tiny European car. Minna got into the backseat and I got into the passenger seat. Except there was a steering wheel on the passenger side, so I got out again and got into the other passenger seat. Who would have thought getting into a car could be so difficult?
If you look closely, you'll notice something that's horribly wrong with this picture.
In fact, Minna and I soon realized that nothing was easy in England. Whenever I crossed a street, I tried to remember that instead of looking left-right-left like normal people do, I’d have to look right-left-right, like insane British people do. By the end of our one-month stay, I’d had several close calls when I thought I looked right, but had in fact looked to my other right. I think that one month in England might have been the cause for all my left-right confusion in later years. And at one point a lady who almost ran me over stopped her car, got out, called me a stupid cow and drove off again. British people are polite like that.
Now, about the crazy I was talking about earlier. Rowena was completely certifiably batshit crazy. She seemed normal at first, aside from the driving on the wrong side of the road thing, of course. But then she opened her mouth to talk and all that came out was gibberish about how evil meat is and how the soybean is the food of the gods and how the healing power of the pyramid helps her save money on razorblade costs.
Yes, she was a vegetarian freak who believed in the power of the pyramid. If you, dear reader, happen to be a vegetarian freak and believe in the power of the pyramid, I am horribly sorry but you should probably stop reading now. Also, you’re an idiot. My entire 15-year old life I had only eaten things that had once had a name. Often I even mixed my protein to make sure several animals had died for my dinner. For that entire summer I had to live on nothing but soybean sausage, soybean pizza, soybean hamburger and soybean everything else you could possibly think of. I have never hated food as much as I did that summer. A year later Muschu got to go on a language course to Bournemouth and her host family cooked only French fries and meat the entire time. Life can be so unfair.
When I wasn’t gagging from the smell of soybean, I was busy avoiding the pyramids. Big and small pyramids adorned the entire house. They were made in copper piping and had magical healing powers. Food would stay fresh forever if kept inside a pyramid. Used razorblades would magically become sharp again if kept in a pyramid. All fresh bread was kept in a pyramid. All fresh fruit was kept in a pyramid. Razors in another pyramid and dirty underwear in yet another one. Rowena even took us into her bedroom where her bed stood inside a giant copper pyramid. She had given birth to her kids inside that pyramid. Then she made us hold a mobile phone to our stomach and proved that it was sucking the life out of us. At that point Minna and I excused ourselves and went to get our crucifixes.
The pyramids looked a lot like this, only more menacing.
What no one had told us was that a language course, even during the summer holiday, will contain school work. While English turned out to be a pretty useful language to know, I can’t say I enjoyed the 4 hours we spent in school every day. What I did enjoy was the hours spent riding horses afterwards. I jumped fences, trotted round and round in circles, and galloped across fields that went on for miles. I’ve never experienced freedom quite like that, the wind in my face, the horse working furiously to run faster and faster. I’ve been on plenty of airplanes, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come to flying. It was magical.
During our stay we also did some underage drinking, took a tour of the island and danced all night long. Sadly, all good things have to come to an end. After a short detour in London for some shopping and a visit at Madame Tussaud’s, we were back in Finland and the entire trip seemed more like a dream than a memory. But one day I’ll go back to the Isle of Wight, and this time I’m eating meat. *
Ziva Darling! Soybeans? It's a wonder you didn't die! Where was the fish for your lovely hair and skin? Where were the oysters for your libido? What in the hell was that crazy bitch thinking? Pyramids, uh huh. Pyramids are evil, pure and simple. Have you heard of something highly immoral and highly illegal called a Pyramid Scheme? People are in prison for life because of them. When you come to Cali with M, you can eat meat to your heart's content. I maybe batshit crazy too, but I'm not dumb.ReplyDelete
That 'right-left-right' shit? I do that all the time when I go out - we drive on the left here and, as much as I get mixed up as it is, I'm just so glad that our car's steering wheel is on the left. There are right-hand drive cars here, but I think I would cause a major accident if I ever drove one. Seriously.ReplyDelete
Tofu? Give me a bucket. I probably have eaten soybean sometime in my life but never, ever, would I make it a major ingredient in a meal. And I don't think I want to know how they make milk out of it. Gah!
No you're certainly not dumb. In fact, I think you might be the wisest person I know. Staying with you would be so much more enjoyable than staying with Rowena.ReplyDelete
That soybean stuff was nasty, and watching me try to survive on is wasn't pretty. I feel so sorry for you! I can't even imagine trying to drive a car on the wrong side of the road. And I think driving a right-hand drive car would give me nightmares.ReplyDelete
What a wonderful experience -- even with the batshit crazy host. Of course, the horse riding part would have been my favorite, but just to get to explore the world at that age -- what am amazing opportunity and great memory. I'm so stinkin' jealous I could just spit soybeans.ReplyDelete
Many of the diet plans that have pre-packaged food--think 'Nutrisystem'--use soy for all of the protein in the 'foods.' I found out that my body definitely doesn't like too much soy. I avoid it, like the plague. (Not to say I've ever been close to the plague, but still.) We have a few family members who are vegetarians--and I'm not impressed. I guess being vegetarian for health reasons must do SO much good for a person that you can be an alcoholic and not harm your body at all--or so it seems with these people. Give me a good steak and baked potato any day of the week--hell, give me a steak EVERY day of the week--and I'm a happy camper. (Not that I ever go camping...)ReplyDelete
Hum...that lady that called you a cow? You should have asked her if she had a dead one you could eat.ReplyDelete
i loved your story. I'm glad you didn't eat your horse.
I've always wanted to go to England, and I've always wanted to learn to ride horses.ReplyDelete
"I was 15 years old"
"We did some underage drinking"
My father's side of the family originates from the Isle of Wight, hence the familial name "Whiteman."ReplyDelete
They're also pyramid craftsmen, which is why I'm 51 but look 50. So shut up.
I like baked tofu. It's delicious.ReplyDelete
Some people think pyramids are energy thingys for space aliens. We're laughing at them now, but we won't be laughing when the space aliens stop here to refuel their spaceships and pick up some soy jerky.ReplyDelete
Always? Can you remember back all the way to beginning, or are you exaggerating again?ReplyDelete
I can remember all the way back to when I was three...I think that's pretty close.ReplyDelete
Yeah, 50... Sure.ReplyDelete
Techincally the legal drinking age is 16 in the UK if you're under adult supervision, and 18 otherwise, so we weren't THAT underage.. You could still go to England and learn how to ride horses, you know. You could even do it at the same time if you're feeling really adventurous.ReplyDelete
Eating the horses never even crossed my mind! God, I'm stupid, I could have had all the meat I wanted if I had thought of that.ReplyDelete
No wonder I can't seem to lose any weight - the soybean is sabotaging everything for me. I'm even craving steak right now.ReplyDelete
The horse riding part was definitely my favorite too. I have some lovely memories from the Isle of Wight, and I'm really happy my parents gave me the opportunity to go. Now, please stop spitting soybeans at me.ReplyDelete
I'm laughing at your right now.ReplyDelete
Those pyramid things are scary. Wouldn't want to get stuck in one. I stayed in Folkestone one summer when I was 17. A friend of mine was British. She probably still is.ReplyDelete
Crossing the street, looking right-left-right, took a lot of practice. It was like opposite land. We took the ferry to Calais from Dover. From Calais we took a bus to Paris and bought cartons of cigarettes and two baguettes. Crossing the street in Paris is like the computer game Frogger. When the light turns green, the drivers just go, even if you're still crossing the street.
We took the hovercraft back to Dover on a windy day. The water was choppy. A group of boy scouts sitting several rows behind us were puking up French food.
I like tofu, but being Canadian, I'm very sorry about it. Maybe you could go back there on your honeymoon?ReplyDelete
Your left-right-left-other left theory explains so much. I actually only have lefts, and I now suspect that I lost my right (no pun intended. None at all) the last time I was in Japan, where they also drive on the left (one of them) side of the road. Now that I am back, I might be able to find it again. So far I've only been able to find yet another left (so now they were three). You'd think that wasn't possible, but the Japanese are crazy like that.ReplyDelete
You mean you've come across pyramid fanatics, too? A couple of years ago we were visiting my brother-in-law in British Columbia. My wife and I walked down the road to tour the local winery where they stored their wine ins a ...wait for it... pyramid. Our "guide" - a whacked out 60s holdover - went to great lengths to tell us of the magical and mystical powers of pyramids. She even slept under one at home. Okay, that was TMI. But you know what? The wine was actually pretty good.ReplyDelete
There are more of them?? I can't believe more than one person on this earth would sleep under a pyramid, You'd think the whole Darwin thing would have taken care of people like that.ReplyDelete
Please tell me you won't serve me tofu when I come visit you.. I'm Finnish so I don't even have to be sorry about not liking it.ReplyDelete
You only have lefts? Damn those Japanese for taking your right. I'm lucky because while I came back from England with too many lefts, I still have my right. And then I have the other right and the other left, but the other right is more often than not a left anyway, so I'm not sure it counts. I hope you find your right soon.ReplyDelete
Shame on those boy scouts, they shouldn't be allowed to be called boy scouts if they wasted good French food like that.ReplyDelete
Honey, when you come visit me I will cook you anything and everything your heart desires!ReplyDelete
You poor, poor thing! Bat shit soy pyramids! At least I got cheese and onion sandwiches when I visited the Isle of Wight.ReplyDelete
Eating horses is still frowned upon in England. People would eat their children first.ReplyDelete
I didn't think of that either. I'm sure I could have found a perfectly decent fat kid to eat, had I just thought about it.ReplyDelete
Cheese and onion? You poor thing! I hate cheese and onion, even the soybean stuff would be better than that.ReplyDelete
Oh my. I don't think I could have survived a meat-less summer with a bat-shit-crazy-soybean-addicted-pyramid-enthusiast! Nope. I wouldn't been been able to last a single day!!ReplyDelete
It's amazing the things you put up with when you're 15 and your parents are paying for you to live in England for a month. If I had to do it again, I'd probably laugh at Rowena and go out for burgers. Yum!ReplyDelete
Hindsight is 20/20!ReplyDelete
I like things a lot better in america and I am glad that I live in America that is all I am going to say.ReplyDelete