One good thing often leads to another

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2006

When I wrote a column about the Queen of England (See Thursday’s edition of the News-Herald), it reminded me of another episode &uot;over there.&uot;

I mentioned we were honored at the Totnes Guildhall, only because I was the sole American soldier who returned to Totnes. We had been billeted there nearly five months, practicing building a steel Bailey (portable, pre-fabricated) bridge

across the Dart River. When we snuck out June 4, we left it intact for their permanent use. We didn’t need a hotel, because we were offered a private home for our two-week stay.

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When we arrived at the London airport, we were met by a lady we did not know; she had been sent to greet us by the director of the Totnes museum. We were totally surprised and flattered by the attention. As we were new to London, she gave us an evening walking tour of the central city and then dropped us off at our hotel. The next day we were on our own, walking and attempting to find the famous Harrods Department Store. Several citizens gave us directions, but we managed not to find it, although it covered a city block.

One distinguished gentleman offered to drive us there; we accepted and joined him to get his car. He couldn’t remember where he had parked it that morning. We stayed with him several blocks with no luck, and he was obviously embarrassed. Finally, he hailed a cab, paid the driver and told him to take us to Harrods. That was an English gentleman.

That evening, Betty Bone, the lady at the airport, met us for what is for most English people a great honor. We were to have high tea at the Claridge. I had never heard of the place and had no idea what &uot;high tea&uot; was. My father was a descendent of gentlemen from England with the same name who had failed to pass on such valuable information. Probably because they came from a small town in Yorkshire, east of York, also named Pocklington, and were farmers.

So &uot;high tea&uot; it was to be; but there was a small problem. Personnel of the Claridge Hotel were fastidious to say the least. And it escaped Bone that I was not properly adorned for entry … I was wearing a yellow cardigan. She was beside herself for what she thought was my embarrassment. Actually, I thought it humorous.

At any rate, the hotel &uot;greeter&uot; tried several proper jackets on me, none of which came close to fitting. I’m sure they would not have been pleased with 12 inches of my arm beyond the end of the sleeve. Apparently in England there is no such thing as a 44 extra long. They did have an extra-extra large, about a 55 regular, but I refused to hide myself in it.

In a huddle, desperate, Bone came up with an idea that she thought had some merit. Could I pass myself off as an ambassador to England? I opted for being a returning soldier who had helped save England from becoming part of Germany. I honestly do not know what Bone told the &uot;Board of Directors&uot; but shortly we were ensconced at a fine table in the corner of the dining area. Hopefully, they thought, no one would notice a bright yellow cardigan.

Then, this gentleman, dressed in black finery, brought this tray of excellence so prettily arranged I thought my wife would faint — tiny little cakes with heavy cream, a plate of miniature sandwiches, and of course the finest tea cups, saucers, and teapot you have ever seen. This was high tea, and we were seated at the Claridge.

I quickly discovered that I could not get my fingers through the hole in the teacup handle, which made my wife uneasy as I fiddled with the cup, wondering if I should pick it up with both hands.

From that night on, it was fish and chips in the pubs.