"D’you know what an American asked me last week when I drove her to the airport?” my taxi driver said as we negotiated our way out of the snarl of West London traffic en route to Heathrow.
Inwardly cringing, as we Yanks have a bit of a reputation, I replied, “Haven’t a clue.”
“She asked if the Queen built Windsor Castle near Heathrow on purpose, so she could be closer to the airport.” he guffawed, eyeing me in the rearview mirror.
“The Battle of Hastings was 1066,” I stated with conviction. I don’t quite know what prompted that, but I felt the need to show a different example of our public school system. Plus both my parents were English, so that helped plump up the fact that I was a lousy student.
My driver laughed with appreciation and we chatted a bit more for the last few minutes of the trip.
I’ve had a wonderful holiday. It was horse-related, of course. Upon touchdown at 7 a.m., there was no time to check in at a hotel — my friends and I grabbed our luggage and took the earliest train to Cambridgeshire and beyond. Before this, we had to endure a truly awful subway connection in the middle of London rush hour. Bodies wedged close together, even touching (What is that smashed against my left buttock? Don’t look, whatever you do, don’t look.).
We viewed six young competition prospects that first day and rode three. The following day was a little less hectic as we only went to one farm in Hampshire, which was rather a long trip. With little sleep and running on fumes we made it, changing into our boots and breeches in the barn. Day three we split up and I made my way to Cornwall for a proper rest by the sea and my friends headed to Scotland.
We had brilliant weather, but best of all we had a brilliant reception. Yes, it’s a small country, but with 10 million residing in London, those who waited patiently behind us at the rail ticket kiosks while we fumbled our way through the process, as well as pointing us towards the correct platforms, (not the one to Hogwarts) couldn’t have been more helpful. One young man, when I was traveling alone, went as so far as to tell me my connection had changed platforms and at the risk of missing his own — grabbed my bag, saying, “follow me!” And sprinted up the escalator, crossed over and down the other side, making sure I was “sorted.”
A young woman in a hijab smiled and asked if I needed help after observing me frowning at a departure schedule. I did indeed.
People of all colors, all backgrounds, were simply ... kind. Patient, kind and helpful. While strolling the harbor in Mevagissey was charming, and sipping a pint in a 15th-century pub was delicious, sharing stressful moments with complete strangers, going out of their way to assist, was sublime. It’s funny how taking a holiday is often about getting away — especially sometimes from people — and yet people, these very strangers, will be what I remember most.