I spent the summer of 1974 working in a pickle factory in Regensburg, Germany, having finished my studies in Stockholm. Now it was on to Glasgow, Scotland. My boyfriend drove me as far as Strasbourg where we shared one twin bed in a hotel the night before my departure. They next day I set out carrying literally everything I possessed.
I had a backpack, suitcase, duffle bag, money hidden in the bid of my overalls and a passport. I boarded the train and did the Hollywood style farewell from the window.
The train chugged across France to the English Channel and I decamped to an overnight ferry.
As we neared the white cliffs of Dover—and well before I would hear that song in my mind when listening to those words—the ship’s P.A. system asked all non-British persons to report to a certain area to deal with customs. I stood behind a youngish American, the type that didn’t have the savvy to put a Canadian flag on his backpack. The customs agent asked him a question and his answer was “Hunghh.” He was immediately rebuked. “In this country, sir, we say ‘pardon’.” This was my introduction to a country I would live in for several years.
The ferry took us across the channel and I re-boarded a train to Victoria station. From there I took a taxi past Buckingham Palace to Euston Station and finally a train to Glasgow,
It was one of those trains where two people sit facing another two people over a laminate table. Riding in trains was something I had never experienced until I went abroad. In LA we had our cars. I was also not aware of the types of magazines women read in Britain. This was well before PEOPLE and magazines of that ilk.
Across from me was an elderly woman reading one of those inexpensive women’s magazines that promise good sex lives, answers to problems by an “agony aunt, ” and tricks to stretch one’s wardrobe. I think the title was WOMAN’S OWN.
I watched out the window as London quickly disappeared and a rural landscape took over. The woman was very friendly and asked about me and my trip. I explained that I was going to Glasgow to do graduate work at Strathcylde University. As we reached the Lake District, I saw sheep—tons of them. And they were spray painted with different colors.
The train chugged along as the elderly woman read her magazine. Suddenly she looked up at me and said “Doesn’t she have beautiful skin?” She held up a page with a picture of Queen Elizabeth.
I was a bit taken aback. I have never found Queen Elizabeth to be a “looker.” And now I had to be polite to my friendly passenger. I was in my early twenties, the Queen in her 50’s and the woman in her 70’s. I believe I muttered something fairly kind. But what that comment taught me was the utter devotion of some British to the Royal Family. I am married to a Scot who abhors the royals. I do suppose that not having to get up at all hours to go to work, having someone put toothpaste on your toothbrush and seeing your face on all the stamps and money will make for good skin. I’ll never know.
I did see Queen Elizabeth II in person three times. Twice she was being driven down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for a stay at Holyrood Palace—site of Mary Queen of Scots’ lover’s assassination--and the upcoming garden parties. The third time, was when I scored tickets to the Order of the Garter ceremony at St. Giles Cathedral. I plunked on a simple straw hat and stood with the best of them. But I never thought her pancake covered skin looked “lovely.”