Chapter Four Crossing France
Mama, I'm Coming Home
The ticket for Portsmouth from Le Havre was purchased just a few minutes ago from DFDS Seaways and I will be sailing at 17:00 to arrive in Portsmouth at 21:30. Sailing will take five and half hours and I'll be crossing another time zone into UK time.
I find surprising emotionalism over the idea of this as I was raised on England and the Crown even though I grew up in Australia. I won't be going to London but my father was born there and my mother was born in China but her family is all over Edinburgh and that's where they returned after my grandfather's stint in China. I've got misty multiple times over being so close to being in England even though I have never spent much time there.
It will still be another seven hundred kilometers but I'm pretty confident of making it to Edinburgh now. I don't want to start thinking that it's already over as really it will never be over. The first thing on arriving in England is to get some fish and chips even if they aren't allowed to sell them wrapped up in newspaper anymore. I grew up on fish and chips wrapped in newspaper and eating them didn't make me crazy ... or maybe it did.
The first objective is to head for Stonehenge and letting people talk you out of things because they think it's corny is a bad reason to avoid something. I once drove past the Grand Canyon because I didn't want to be a tourist and, sure as hell, I never got down that way again.
Since I will be arriving at or near dark, the most prudent move is to find somewhere to stay as it's going to be strange enough getting used to driving on the left in the daytime much less trying it in the dark. I've done it before in the British Virgin Islands and it's not as strange as it seems but this isn't something to push, particularly if you're tired.
So that's the general plan: Portsmouth by 21:30. Find some fish and chips. Find someplace to sleep. Head for Stonehenge in the morning.
In the Queue to Board the Norman Voyager and Cross the Channel
We started queueing to board the Norman Voyager for the English Channel crossing at 14:30. They separate the vehicle types prior to boarding which put brave little Haximoto queued up with BMWs and all manner of cool motorcycles but check out this one:
Yep, that is a 1936 Vincent. Prior to 1956 its history is unknown but from that year until 2009 it was in a time machine in a garage. That's when the current owner found it and started restoring it. However, he didn't go chroming it or anything tasteless like that. Everything is original or machined to match the original ... and, yes, he did it himself except for some cylinder head work he had to send out.
His ladyfriend, maybe his wife, was riding this Norton. It’s a baby next to the Vincent but it’s still a beautiful piece of classic Brit iron.
What’s coolest to me is these bikes weren’t restored for museums but rather to ride ... all over Europe.And here they are. They were very cool and definitely were not just week-end riders.
We were talking for some while and everybody who came by had to talk to them about the Vincent. They were returning from a biker gathering in which they said there were at least four Vincent Black Shadows. This is another part of the diversity over here that’s become so fascinating to me.
It may have been Hunter Thompson who made the Vincent Black Shadow famous. It was one of the deadliest, most dangerous motorcycles ever built so of course he had to have one.
But then I heard music playing and I had to find out what it was.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Hurdy Gurdy Man. I had never seen one before and was enthralled by it. He was very good with it but this wasn't the last of the music for the day.
The crossing would take five and a half hours and I love to read but doing it continuously for all that time really wasn't going to do it for me. About midway through the crossing I heard music coming from somewhere just as it had been earlier in the day with the Hurdy Gurdy Man. I followed the music and found these fellows in the bar having a wonderful time making music together. I suspect they had played together before but I don't know that. What I do know is they captivated everyone and they played all the way to England.
It was quite beautiful as another fellow joined them to sing. As they went with it other people started falling in with him and it wasn’t long after that before people were singing all over the ship. I was walking around that deck and people really were singing everywhere.
Many times when I would hear folk music in America it was more affectation than a connection with the musical history of the country, much like when people call music classical just because it’s played on a piano. One of the things I loved about Greece was how Greek traditional or folk music is so live today and that’s very much how it felt as everyone fell in behind the musicians on the ship. It was kind of sentimental but it was also happiness at going home and it was much more than just a song. You could feel it all over the ship.
One type of traditional music is very much live in America and that’s bluegrass. While it rarely penetrates very far into mainstream American music, the bluegrass musicians don’t seem to care too much and they play with enormous passion. The same type of thing as what I felt on the ship happens when they start, that people will fall in with them and everyone around them lights up. They call it hootin’, hollerin’ and carryin’ on but I call it live.
Welcome to England