If you can’t be Original then Copy Someone Who Is

Breakfast at Hastings was taken in the hotel where three of us caused toast to catch fire creating a thick pall of smoke throughout the restaurant. The Maître d’ looked at me as if to say; “they are your pyromaniacs – control them”. I thought in silent reply that the blame for one fire may be directed toward my pyromaniacs (I mean ‘children’), but after three fires in 30 minutes my pyromaniacs are in the clear and I would be investigating inadequate cleaning and or poor maintenance in his restaurant. I think he read my mind and in response opened the doors to let some fresh air circulate through the place despite the temperature being near freezing outside. The other guests were thrilled as this private war was waged.

The food itself was your average hotel breakfast (last night’s restaurant menu leftovers, recycled into ‘Old English Chip Potatoes’ and ‘Red, ripe and rich tomatoes’). Leanne had learnt her lesson about ordering run of the mill English coffee and had ordered a cup of tea. And unless the kind waiter had gone to see Mr Dilmah to have one custom made, he had forgotten to bring it. Leanne is not one to worry about things like this and would happily have gone without her cup of tea, but I thought if she’s ordered it – she should have it. The war with this restaurant wasn’t over yet! Therefore, on the next occasion I saw one of the guys running around in suits, I said very politely “Excuse me, I wonder if we could have the cup of tea we ordered?” to which he not so politely replied, “I’m not a waiter, I don’t work here”, and then turned away and continued to arrange his breakfast. The children were mortified, 17 year-old Sarah had ‘never been so humiliated in her life’. I must admit that I too was somewhat embarrassed and chose not to make eye contact with anyone else in the restaurant that morning. Leanne simply laughed at my stupidity. I had to admit my stupidity had resulted in a decisive victory to the ‘bad guys’ in this modern-day equivalent of what I had imaginatively labelled the ‘Battle of Hastings’.

We travelled that day from Hastings to Bournemouth (pronounced ‘Bormuf’ as far as I could ascertain). We ended up staying a nice pub whose rooms, according to the receptionist, came replete with a balcony and a view of the ocean, which I was informed, “normally costs 30 pounds, and so because you have two rooms you are saving 60 pounds”. The fact that it was again freezing and pitch black outside when we arrived could equally be interpreted as us having just wasted 60 pounds on an unusable balcony without a view, but this was not a discussion I felt was necessary to have with the pleasant lady at Reception. We took the ‘dinner’ option which provided everyone the opportunity to get dressed up to eat in a restaurant, the first time we had done so in Europe. The makeup was applied in generous proportions in preparation for the evening and the girls dressed up as well!

Leaving Bormuf the following day we headed for Salisbury and navigated our way to the Salisbury Cathedral complex. I was surprised to see a sheep’s skin in a glass case being passed off as the Magna Carta, lying around in a church in regional Salisbury. I asked the official Salisbury Cathedral Tour Guide whether it was an original. “Well” she said with a slightly patronising tone; “You need to change the way you think about originals”. I didn’t feel the need to change the way I thought about originals at all but I decided to let that pass without response. She went on to explain that when the Magna Carta was agreed after 12 months’ negotiation with King John, there was a …. (what is the collective noun for a group of journalists ….. perhaps a ‘harangue’ or ‘tirade’) of scribes all capturing the words so that they could distribute 35 copies to Cathedrals around the United Kingdom. Therefore, even though each version looked different because they were done in a different hand, the words of each of the documents are the same, and as a result they are all “originals”. So perhaps I just need to change the way I think about the concept of “originals”. As it turned out only thirteen originals were produced and today just four remain in ‘captivity’.

Our tour guide went on to explain that there are only four of the original laws, first writ in the Magna Carta, still in existence today including the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. She also told us how that overly conservative Vatican wouldn’t allow the English to do things their own way, so Henry VIII had to take control of the Church for the good of England. It was a well-rehearsed line and neatly avoided the issue of Henry’s desire to marry anything in a skirt. But it wasn’t the time for me, to enter that debate as this was a formidable tour guide and she had clearly dealt with those who know their theology and its history far better than a lapsed Catholic such as myself.

After moving through the Chapter House where all church business was done including meetings of all the bishops from the diocese, we arrived at the entry to the Cathedral. I paid my dues to the man with the cash register on the door which leads directly to the restaurant (yes – restaurant!) and then to the gift shop before I even had the chance to bless myself inside the church. The Cathedral had a magnificent, well maintained organ, many small chapels off to the sides, old high backed wooden seats for the notables, many sarcophagi and a high vaulted ceiling and was well worth the visit.

However, time was marching on and we needed to see Stonehenge so we set off again. The amazing thing about this country is that you cover it so quickly. We did not set out to travel vast distances but we travelled through five or six counties in three days.

And so, in short order we arrived at Stonehenge (which means Hanging Stones). Stonehenge was excellent. It is arguable that, nobody really knows why it exists and it appears that it was built, remodelled and renovated – between 5000 and 3,500 years ago. I was a bit sceptical about the stone which appeared to have a steel reinforcing insert but I guess those guys were more advanced than I gave them credit for. I was impressed with way that lintels do not simply sit atop the vertical stones but are cut in using, what I thought were, modern woodwork techniques and also that the uprights are one third below ground. There was quite a deal of engineering in Stonehenge which occurred well before the industrial revolution. Indeed, the existence of; pyramids, the Colosseum, the Great Wall, Machu Picchu, and countless other, Egyptian, Roman, Chinese and Inca constructions makes you question whether what happened in the 1700’s was a revolution at all. Perhaps I need to change the way I think about industrial revolutions too.


One thought on “If you can’t be Original then Copy Someone Who Is


    John, I am enjoying your stories. I find them pithy with clever and economical use of words. What is especially to my liking is your use of humour … dry and insightful but no hint of malice. I am looking forward to reading more of your output. Enjoy your travels and keep writing about them!
    Steve Galbraith


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