Storm Ciara threatens the party plans.

The final event in the birthday celebrations was for family. This is no mean feat; between the two of us we have around 54 people in our immediate family. So we often find that restricting these events to family only, works very well. A family party when the family are as plentiful as ours does place a serious amount of pressure on the organisers. You have to tread carefully since you don’t get to refresh the crowd that often obviously, unless there is a new partner (possible with some of the young crowd) or another baby has arrived (and they generally have no idea what’s going on anyway, as long as there is milk).

The party, if left to chance, could prove calamitous since there is a danger of creating a “Groundhog Day” with the same people always in attendance. This means that not all parties are attended and there is a danger that, with no preparation at all, no-one would come; this is social suicide for the family member hosting. It has become vitally important in these circumstances that a big hitter makes a commitment early on, according to Kevin Bridges anyway, and so in our family we have our very own big hitter- Marilyn. No party is complete without our funky, funny, adorable Marilyn. She works shifts so getting her to the party can be critical in terms of the timing of your event. And given the volume of people in the family, there are likely to be a few family parties in a year. No-one should underestimate the challenge of pulling this off as a straightforward gig, complacency is not an option.

Of late there has been a recent trend of fancy dress parties, usually the younger crowd drive this, so it has been 21st birthdays or birthdays at Halloween. eBay and Amazon, thankfully, accommodate such events and have enabled us to get our hands on pretty much any outfit for any occasion at cut price. People arrive in sharply coutured (albeit weird and wonderful) outfits. On the downside however we seem to have lost a bit of the creativity for outfits with the easy to access and disposable outfits, gone are the bunches of grapes from balloons kind of costume. Nevertheless, costume parties are a trend and one that required me to put a little thought into the planning of this party. If it was costume AND Marilyn could come then success was inevitable. Seeing as this was the big 60 birthday extravaganza and this combo was necessary, in addition for success to be ensured it needed to be an untried theme and so the sixties choice evolved.

What I hadn’t planned, given the intricate nature I have explained in pulling this party off, was that behind the scenes my sister and daughter were also planning the event. While well intentioned they have no idea of the nuances of such a big occasion in a family like this, nor the social implications. As a bit of a control freak and as my reputation as a hostess was at stake I didn’t want to renege as much control as they might have liked. I needn’t have worried and couldn’t have been more wrong. I assumed control of the food, (as Gayle says “you’re a feeder”) as my future reputation as a hostess may well hinge on this. Therefore I gained control of the food planning early on. This was a bit of a strategic coup, since once I had control of the food, the organising twosome saw it as a defeat and let me in on their plans. AWESOME as they were.

On the day before the party, a surveillance team were deployed to ensure I was not around. Conveniently celebrating a birthday with my friend ( after all other people were also having birthdays) I was out sufficiently long enough for three Gazebo’s and 1800 lights, bunting, chairs, tables, a juke box and cocktail bar all to appear on my patio area. I was actually moved, it looked stunning and my only regret is not taking pictures of all the hard work that went into this. It looked so inviting, so colourful and bright. I began to feel excitement stirring in my veins. Storm Ciara had other ideas. The lion’s wee brother dropped off a bright orange 60’s TV and we had other props that were strategically placed for optimal experience after all many would not recall the 60’s.

On Saturday morning the double-glazing in our bedroom had worked its magic and drowned out the fiercest of winds and rain overnight. But imagine my horror when I looked out to see half of the gazebo’s missing and brightly coloured bunting, napkins and cups scattered around the shrubs at the edge of the garden. Once outside it was worse, the sandbags holding the gazebo’s in place, were futile in the clutches of Ciara’s gusting winds, they jostled about like chicks looking to hide inside their mother’s wing. I raked around the street and surrounding woodland and recovered some of the missing gazebo, then I started to look at ways to ensure we didn’t lose any more. The weather forecast was not promising and drastic action was needed.

A bright spark led me to Hobby Craft where I bought 6 meters of Velcro, hoping this would ensure the flapping side panels resisted the winds and were kept in situ. That made little impact, I gathered large stones, boxes of tiles from the garage, concrete slabs, to no avail nothing could hold the three gazebo’s in place. Ciara was relentless and wining this battle – perhaps if I had invited her she might have given up just a little more. After 2 hours of battering against the elements and 20 minutes before my make-up appointment. I gave in and summoned the construction team back to remove them. Defeated I felt the party might be a disaster after all.

Following the transformational work of Fiona at Fabulous on my ageing and withered skin, I emerged luminous with the Mary Quant look, complete with beauty spot. The strong winds just managing to blow the wrinkles away. I returned home in time to see the gazebo’s, defeated by Ciara, laying desolate on the ground folded up and awaiting the imprisonments of the bags, no longer colourful and inviting but lacklustre and unwelcoming. The patio was remarkably bare.

Unstinted by this setback the organisers had taken over the house which had been transformed with the lights and bunting, the 60’s props and a VW Beetle photo booth erected in the snug. Photographs of me at various stages of life were peppered around the room along with balloons, banners and colourful ribbons. With 560 60’s tunes downloaded, snowballs with maraschino cherries, pork pie, cocktail sticks bearing sausages, cheese and pickles the scene was set for the party to get off the ground. As a final touch, and one of complete self-indulgence, I printed some old pictures with my name below and taped them to the Tennant’s lager cans in a fit of nostalgia, they never had a Tennant Girl with my name before. Now we can get this party started ………………………

Wonderful delights of Scottish January’s

It snowed the day I was born, hardly surprising, the weather in Scotland is predictably poor in January. Nevertheless, it did not deter my plans when I had to select a destination to celebrate my birthday weekend with my friends. Somewhere hot, beach, cocktails, lots of blue skies and dry golf courses. I can hear your brain generating those dreams from here. Nope, my favourite place in the whole world was the only place I wanted to spend my birthday; Kenmore, Perthshire in Scotland. The weather was not a consideration for these plans, you see here in Scotland we are a bit of a unique race, we have innate and eternal positivity when it comes to the weather, this way it has little chance of spoiling things. Generally most Scots are able to adapt their behaviours and clothing to 4 seasons in one day without batting an eyelid. Our weekend bags however, are always large, a bit on the heavy side as we attempt to be prepared for a deluge of rain, a flurry of snowflakes or an arid heat wave (extremely rare). Therefore packing a range of clothing from bikini to polar fleeces is the normal preparatory behaviour of the average Scottish tourist staying local for a holiday or winter break.

So Kenmore, why is this my favourite place in the world? Let me explain its geography and history to give you a bit of context. Kenmore is in the midst of the Perthshire Highlands, surrounded by the Breadalbane Hills and Glen Lyon and on the shores of Loch Tay, everything you’d expect from a perfect Scottish location. 10 miles or so off the A9 with Pitlochry to the North, Aberfeldy to the west, Dunkeld to the south. It’s an area our finest literary minds found enchanting, even Shakespeare.

Kenmore was built as a planned estate village by the Earl of Breadalbane in the 1750’s meaning it’s been there almost as long as the house I live in, we are so connected. Scotland’s oldest inn; the Kenmore Hotel claims it was established in 1572, long before the village appeared. The whole area was also loved and visited by our National Bard; Robert Burns, inspiring many poems about the scenery and location. On the east side of the Kenmore Square is an elaborate stone gateway giving access to Taymouth Castle. Built in the 19th century this beautiful granite and slate Castle has suffered dreadfully from poor or misjudged investments. Each year since 1925 , investors have been trying to make it a hotel, but now nearly 100 years on and several failed attempts, it lies unoccupied with a smattering of works completed by investors who could see the potential but were unable to sell the dream as effectively to the punters.

The River Tay provides some of the best fishing in the area. So it was as a youngster our summer holidays centred around the Rivers Tay or Tummel so that my father could fish for trout or salmon. His younger brother shared his passion and so we took many holidays with his family and other cousins and friends whose first passion was fishing and not holidays, but they tagged along nevertheless. We always stayed in a caravan park on the outskirts of Aberfeldy where we enjoyed terrific holidays as children, free to roam to the park or the pictures or play rounders till the sky turned dark. My poor mother, as a fisherman’s wife, was frequently left with three kids, finding solace in a martini with my aunties and their kids, trying to amuse one another in the tiniest of caravans while the men waded into the water in the hope of catching the big one. We kids, following in our fathers‘ footsteps, often went en masse to fish ourselves with coloured nets on bamboo canes and jelly jars. So intent on catching minnows, our eyes glued to the clear but turbulent waters for the swish of a tiny fishes tail, we hardly paid attention to our compadres or our surroundings. Until the unforgettable day we failed to notice one of our group being tugged away by the dark force of the River Tay’s fierce undercurrent. Later, when it became apparent he hadn’t returned, the force of his mother’s screams that night resonated in our little caravan for the rest of the holiday. We never returned for many years after that.

6 miles from Aberfeldy is Kenmore, we often piled into the transit van with a picnic. On the small but quaint Loch Tay beach with inflated tire inners to float and swim in Loch Tay, we huddled in blankets as the wind blew and the sun peeked out behind Schehallion long enough to venture into the water. It was a picturesque place, the setting and surrounding scenery breathtaking. The famous Dr Finlay’s Casebook was filmed here. The opening credits focused on the majestic stone gateway leading into the fictional village of “Tannoch Brae”. To me Kenmore seemed a bit of a Scottish Hollywood, not that it was teaming with big stars, but the fact it was on our televisions every week created a mystique and captured the imagination of this 6 year girl who dreamed of being an actress, or even an extra, if I was fortunate enough.

Most of the Square in Kenmore is now property offered for short term rental. More recently three distinct sites in close proximity offer a range of modern or traditional properties with saunas or hot tubs, sleeping up to 12 people making it a favourite destination for holidays and breaks. We always opt for Mains of Taymouth and have stayed there now for over 10 years. We’ve also used Kenmore Lodges on the other side of the road and now the more recent Taymouth Marina has breathed fresh ideas into the holiday experience, enticing a younger generation to the area. Mains of Taymouth is my personal favourite and hence I return there time after time.

It has a small 9 hole golf course and we have enjoyed many a rivalrous game there. And so it was on my birthday weekend, there we were, 8 of us playing a competitive 9 holes with a trophy at stake, our brollies trundling down the fairways swept off by gusting winds, as we huddled under the shelter of the trees from the horizontal sleet and rain, peppered now and again with blue skies, sunshine and stillness at every other hole. After the 9th hole, it was just too much for the birthday girl to continue and so I scurried back to our beautiful house, leaving the career golfers to play on. As I slipped into my swimming suit and slunk into the hot tub with a glass of fizz, oblivious to the driving snow and wind I could not wish to be anywhere else in the world……..Ahhh bliss, for me is Kenmore and the hot tub.

Nashville Skyline and Hatch Prints. Chapter 11 Book of the Lion

If I wanted to write a country song, for sure I’d have oodles of material for it. Being in the home of Country Music did not inspire me however, for we were too hung up on being safe and feeling well. The trip out with our transatlantic relations, albeit through marriage, however did much to raise the spirits. We learned that our American Superhero worked in the superhero styled AT&T building which has featured in all of the batman films. It stands erect against the Nashville skyline with its two masts and sculptured architecture creating the appearance of the Batman mask. In the dark it glows, effusing a neon aura between its masts drawing you into a mysterious pathway of superhero actions. You half expect the riddler to suddenly beam across the sky and the bat-mobile to hurtle toward him from the landing strip. It is a fascinating building, if only for the hours of endless imaginings on what might occur if you stare at it long enough.

Downtown Nashville was murky and threadbare, reminiscent of days gone by when vinyl ruled and Johnny Cash or Hank Williams wandered drunkenly between the numerous bars and hostelries on the street. There are a few shops selling cowboy boots or hats but not much else for shopping divas. To be honest this is a city where Music dominates the landscape and if its shopping you’re looking for I’d recommend you go somewhere else. However Hatch Prints, over 100years in business, who make the legendary screen printed posters that heralded the appearance of our jakey friends at either the Grande Ole Opry or Legends in the 1950’s and 60’s, remained largely unchanged by time or artists and offered a music lovers paradise.

Cats roam freely within the store, but I had little awareness of this on my first visit. It was dark on the inside, with an inky aroma floating in the air, much of which had settled on the large pane glass windows making it difficult to look in or see out. It was a massive store, barren of interior furnishings aside from several large screen printing machines, bottles of ink and little wooden pigeon holes. These held a host of posters in a variety of sizes and shapes, rolled up and luring you enticingly to unravel the contents. Easy pigeon hole listed the contents alphabetically to ease finding something that might appeal to the music loving buyer.

Some of the most popular prints adorned the brick faced walls but these did not guarantee your purchase and a rotation system meant that when it’s gone it’s not likely to make a reappearance until some uncertain and undisclosed date in the future. Some of the material was completed with a single colour, while others merged a combination of two screen print paints creating a vibrant contrast between the pictures and words. After a leisurely period of unadulterated browsing, I noticed the cats and had to make a swift exit, leaving the Lion to show me a range of purchasing possibilities through the ink-laden windows. I settled on a Patsy Cline, my heroine and Hank Williams, a favourite of the Lion, was chosen in the absence of availability of Johnny Cash.

We spent a memorable evening in the Wild Horse Saloon with the Miss Teenage America entrants, all of whom could line dance in organised and practised fashion. Country Music in the UK was still stuck in the 1950’s it had not yet appealed to a younger generation and most had never heard of the Dixie Chicks, Kelsey Ballerina or Carry Underwood. They don’t know what they were missing and certainly would have been shocked at the level of engagement by young people with this dreaded genre of music if we had tried to introduced it! The Wild Horse Saloon lived up to its reputation, loud music, modern country and even a rendition of Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane by the resident band to the delight of the pageant girls. It was a colourful spectacular with all of the pageant girls more glorious and beautiful than the last, their skinny frames enveloped by broad ribbons proudly announcing the state they were representing. We know a pageant girl, or I should say a few of them now, and wonder if any of them represented their state in their teenage years and we bumped into them, literally.

Eating in Nashville, and probably in the rest of the USA, was a functional rather than culinary delight in 2003. Most of the eateries were chain, fast food establishments selling hamburgers, fries and salad. Over the years this has changed significantly but back when we first visited the food and choices were limited and mostly awful. So it was a great delight to have the opportunity to dine with the superhero and his family in a restaurant they highly favoured, just a little out of town. Our American Superhero provided us with the transport once more, and we were joined by his family travelling in a separate vehicle, at one of their favourite restaurants. Their children were a mixture of cute and handsome. Their two all American boys, with short neat haircuts, matching casual open necked shirts and chinos were polite and mannerly. They were obviously accustomed to eating out, but not meeting many strange people from Scotland, despite their Gran, Grandpa and Aunty living there. Their baby sister, now a divinely beautiful young woman, was just as beautiful and cute back then. She was dressed in a simple but expensive white cotton dress that showed just a hint of matching drawers. I judged this choice had been easily impacted by the fact her mother had been dressing boys for the past 7 years.

The restaurant was busy, although only 6pm families were comfortably seated, surrounding our party seated conspicuously at a central table, ignorant to the fact we had not met before but bound together in this meal by rather unconventional circumstances. The waiters poured us water and handed around the menus. I was salivating as I opened it and pursued the contents containing what was only the upmarket range of fast food hamburgers, fries and salad………..

Chattanooga Choo Choo. Chapter 9 Book of the Lion.

Chattanooga gained notoriety following the roaring success of the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ a song written by Mack Gordon and originally recorded by Glenn Miller in 1941. A film was later made in 1984 but we were neither caring nor interested in the musical history of this City, we simply wanted to catch up with our tour. We had already missed out on our trip to Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls, but this had little impact on our current state of mind. The fact we were even here was a miracle in itself.

Recently discharged from University Hospital Atlanta, the Lion was still subdued by class A drugs designed primarily to contain his back pain but also stupefying the brain and his senses for the same price. Our Greyhound bus trip had been eventful but finally as the bus lurched into the station at Chattanooga we disembarked safely, intact and none the worse for the encounters or dramas on the way. Our new found friends wished us well, and I hurriedly ushered the Lion off the bus ensuring they remained aboard for their journey to Ohio, hoping they stayed on the right side of the law.

We took a taxi to the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, which was located in the south side of the city trying to take in the sights while making sure the Lion was comfortable. We unloaded our cases, including our newly purchased bag for excess weight, onto the forecourt and surveilled our surroundings. A large train modified into bedrooms, dominated the landscape which, although no one told us, I was pretty sure was the infamous Choo Choo. Beyond this unusual hostelry, about 300 yards across the driveway lay the more conventional entrance to the larger standard traditional hotel,

I did hope we were sleeping in the train as I guided the Lion to the check-in desk, given our luck on the BA flight this was a strong possibility but our luck didn’t last. Having managed to coral the Lion into the reception I sought assistance to collect our baggage, while he clung to the reception counter and steadied himself. The tour guide had left instructions to be contacted as soon as we arrived and he joined us directly, It was like meeting a long lost friend, such had been the extent of our isolation in Atlanta. He hugged us, or at least approached the Lion with that intention before I prevented him from making any physical contact that would set the Lion’s back off again.

We then made our way to our room (not on the train), and flopped onto the bed exhaling an incredible sigh of relief. I was still so uncertain about continuing with the tour, but the Lion again assured me he would be fine. I studied him closely, trying to seek reassurance in his body language but seeing nothing that confirmed what he was saying. I unpacked his medication and our cash, that had made us feel so vulnerable on the bus, glad to have the security of a safe. There were significant volumes of tablets within assorted coloured containers. They had American names but appeared to include diazepam and Tramadol. These, in various permutations, were to be taken daily for the next two weeks. This didn’t bode well for the usual holiday experiences where alcohol might feature on more than the odd occasion.

We had started out on this holiday with friends, although they had continued with their holiday while the Lion was in hospital. I have tried to reconcile their abandonment of us in our hour of need with their need for a holiday. It’s something I continue to find difficult to understand, we could never have left them had the shoe been on the other foot, but then it was a holiday and perhaps I was just being unreasonable. Within the hour they arrived at our door glad we had made it in time to make the next leg of the journey to Nashville, The lion put on his mane, his bravest face and agreed to join them for dinner. I was not entirely sure this was a good idea, but we had to eat and so managed to join them despite being physically and mentally exhausted with our journey to date.

What became evident was that they had absolutely no clue how bad the situation had been, and were trying to make the most of their holiday and who could blame them. We ate and I ordered a glass of wine, I felt entitled given the last few days dramas, and soon that turned into two more. For the first time in 3 days I was able to relax, the Lion appeared to have relaxed but on closer inspection I noticed he was grinding his teeth as he continued to stay seated for longer than he was able to. We made a fast exit from the dining room, or at least as fast as the Lion could go and returned to our room. It would become a familiar pattern throughout this trip. Although it was now apparent that the potential to make the rest of our trip was looking more than hopeful the word holiday didn’t inspire me with any pleasure at all not in this situation. Back in the room I played nurse, (calm down he was ill), settled him in bed and dispensed the evening meds before tucking the Lion into one of the enormous king sized beds in our room.

I finally made it to bed, having tidied the room, arranged our clothes for the next day and re-packed the wardrobe cases ready for the off the next day. As the Lion drifted into his slumber ably assisted by diazepam. I wondered how he would be on the rest of the holiday, given his ongoing pain. He had little option at this stage, we’d made our decision coming here away from Atlanta and the airport. Our music tour of the Deep South was going to be an interesting trip, there was little doubt it would test us and as we now know, the Lion has no recollection of any of it given the meds he was prescribed for that trip.

Tomorrow we would depart for Nashville, and realise a dream we had shared for many years, but first I had to make a final sweep of the room for any small bits of paper that the Lion might be inclined to bend down and pick up……………………………

Deal or no deal. Chapter 8 Book of the Lion

It’s not that I was threatened by the people on the Greyhound bus, it was more feeling vulnerable with $2000 and $100 of class A drugs in my handbag. THAT makes you vulnerable, especially when the Lion was high on what’s ever the discharge meds were. Prescribed class A drugs are usually better quality than street drugs and of course you get more for your money. This made my handbag bulge rather suspiciously and if I had seen it I would have searched me and the bag. The Lion’s grey pallor also did nothing to detract from our possible criminal status and only served to reinforce the appearance of drug dealers on the run.

I didn’t want to draw attention to us unnecessarily, for all of the above reasons. So I leaned against the window, trying to be anonymous and prayed we made it to Chattanooga unscathed. No one gave the Lion this memo however and so the journey began. On the seat directly opposite us was a young American boy, he wore a navy blue matching basketball vest and shorts, with a while number 5 blazoned across his chest. His hair was neatly shaved and he had a diamond earring in his right ear. He also wore brand new white shin length cotton socks and brand new white sneakers and looked askance at this rather odd couple opposite him. Across his lap he had the most enormous boom box that he hugged with the defiant pride that befits a teenager having spent his entire pocket money on a radical purchase. He was a good looking black boy, with a broad smile oozing charm and fun. “Where y’all from?” He asked to no-one in particular and I stared right ahead. The Lion however said “We’re from Scotland”.

I turned to look at him in disgust, this was not the plan, but the young boy was hooked, firstly he did not understand the accent and so he grew more intrigued by this older couple sitting opposite. We piqued something in him, obviously and so he asked ” where’s that?” he had of course, as we were to learn like many Americans never travelled out with his own country. The Lion tried to explain the geography, but when your whole world is in one place, it is difficult to transfer the idyllic scenery and awful weather in a meaningful way. Every time the Lion spoke the boy hit the boom box in guffaws of laughter. He was clearly amused by the ‘fairy story’ and daft accent he thought the Lion was telling. So a little upset by this the Lion added he had been in hospital in Atlanta and regaled the story of the past few days. This was also interesting to me, given he had been comatose for the whole time and I thought he’d little recollection of any of it.

Before he could continue the young boy, now inching closer to our side of the seat to get an intimate look at this funny accented couple, declared he had just been released from Atlanta Jail. I drew my bag closer to my chest and thumped the Lion in the ribs at the same time, the lad continued that this incarceration was for stealing a car and crashing it following a police car chase. This was a fairly loud conversation and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we were only 10 miles into it. Although everyone would probably have heard this, no-one else looked around. This was clearly not the Edinburgh bus, where the whole bus would have turned to look at who had the audacity and shame to declare they had been recently incarcerated and the actual confidence to openly state this. That is what I love about America, there was his history right there in our face and he had no iota of concern. This says so much positively about social status in America, and I love that equalising confidence at least as it appeared in that moment, however back to our story.

Three seats down, there was a grey curly haired person, wearing a denim jacket facing forward and preventing me from determining their gender. This story had clearly travelled to their ears, he ( because we learned it was a man) placed his arm along the metal railing at the back of the seat and as he turned around we could see diamond earrings in both ears, ( clearly some badge of unity) before saying he too had been in Atlanta Jail and how bad the treatment had been there. ( Had they heard of the Bar-L) The young man reaffirmed this hardship and asked the older man what he’d been in for “dealing narcotics” came his reply and I almost fainted. The handbag was now completely immersed in my stomach as I pulled it tighter and tried to conceal the ‘narcotics’ within.

The conversation switched from all matters relating to Scottish geography to the more familiar territory in Atlanta Jail. The conversation was interesting but it began to develop into background noise as I plotted how we might get off this bus with our drugs and cash intact. The only other passengers were men sporadically spaced out on the remainder of the bus, the large guy occupying the whole seat in front of us was Mexican and a truck driver studying his map planning his next route north. He advised us he’d never heard of Scotland either hence his story was also available to the Lion who was now high on life as well as drugs and chattering unabridged to all in sundry. I remained silent and prayed we arrived soon.

It was now about half an hour into our journey, and the bus was slowly and rather laboriously climbing a rare incline on the interstate. It began to lurch, and stutter, perhaps appalled at the conversation. I looked to the Lion, who knows a thing or two about large vehicles, and he was momentarily distracted from the Jail chat to advise me something was not good with the bus. This funny chugging continued for about another mile or so, when Slim Whitman announced from the cockpit, “Atlanta we have a problem” as the bus limped over to the hard shoulder. We were going nowhere fast. You could not make it up. We sat there lost for words, the panic gaining momentum in my physical response. The Lion was non-plussed but the whole bus was now up off their seats and general mayhem was about to break out. Slim Whitman crunched and pulled at the clutch, the brakes then the steering wheel before he cut the engine and arose from his floating seat. I craned my neck to see what he was attempting next and hoped to god he could fix it.

He opened the door disappearing out alongside the bus while he made a few cursory checks and then got back on board. I realised I wasn’t breathing and took in a sudden gulp of air as Slim announced we had ran out of fuel and he needed to switch tanks. That technical information was lost on me but comforted the Lion as the vehicle sat for a few more moments, made a couple of further lurching noises and then started to roar into life. Within about ten minutes we were on the road again and the bus fell quiet, losing the impetus of great stories as each of us just waited and hoped we would get to our destination………………………………………………………..

Part one of our journey by Greyhound Bus. Chapter 7 Book of the Lion

Greyhound Bus travel was on my bucket list, and since we were now in America, and stranded in Atlanta after the Lion had morphed into a Hyena, it looked like this was going to be a reality. Although well covered by travel insurance, I considered that was purely for his intensive care in Atlanta University Hospital. I drew the line at taking an expensive taxi just to catch up with our pre-booked tour that had left without us and was now some 120 miles away. $350 seemed ridiculously expensive for a taxi and since bus travel presented a cheaper and available option, that was what we opted for.

We had elected to carry cash on this holiday, we were not big on credit card use and since we had no idea when we might get to a bank that had seemed a sensible option. But when we left the hospital, with the Lion in Hyena mode, I felt vulnerable. I clutched my handbag close to my heart, while struggling to manage two wardrobes masquerading as cases and the bewildered, pain-ridden and disorientated Lion. We took a taxi to the bus station and should have become concerned when the taxi driver asked with incredulity “are you taking the bus???”

The bus station was awash with travellers; families and individuals, all ages, ethnicity, shapes and sizes. My senses went into overdrive as I scanned the vast area in an attempt to orientate myself with these unfamiliar surroundings. I spotted a bank of seats where I could safely lodge the Lion while I sought to purchase our tickets and work out which bus we needed to take to Chattanooga. He looked so small I thought as I trundled toward the desk with the two overly large cases. I waited in the queue for about 10 minutes before being called forward by a smartly dressed but intimidating Atlanta woman, scowling at my bags. I asked for two tickets to Chattanooga and she looked as if an alien had just asked her for directions to NASA. She stared at me for what seemed minutes and I panicked that she had mistaken me for a fugitive on the FBI most wanted list, who happened to be my doppelgänger.

It was the bags and the accent that usurped her. After she gathered herself together, she advised that I had to have the bags weighed first and assess whether they had met the criteria for transfer to the bus. A bus I had no ticket for yet, I have to add. The Lady pointed to another desk and asked me to lodge the bags there before returning to her desk to purchase the ticket. I glanced across at another lengthy queue, gave her my finest forced smile and trundled the large cases over to the weigh station. I could feel the tears threatening to spill, but I drew in my breath, glanced at the Lion who was half asleep and hoped no one tried to steal my handbag. After a fashion, 15 minutes to be exact, the baggage handler took my cases only to advise me, unsurprisingly, they were overweight. In order for her to accept them I had to decant items into hand luggage and represent them. In response to my information that I had no hand luggage, she pointed me in the direction of the first desk where I might buy additional bags. Sufficient to say that queue had also filled up again.

I trucked back to the first desk where smarting with frustration at another 10 minute wait, I bought the bag before returning to the weigh in desk decanting knickers and other oversized items into the hand bag. After a further but shorter wait, my lighter cases were finally accepted. I was provided with the required luggage tickets to present for my onward journey and returned to the ticket desk where I finally purchased the bus tickets and some 45 minutes later, returned to the Lion. He was struggling to stay awake and I noticed he had been joined by a young black American boy, who was taking up two seats with his expansive backside and a large red velvet pillow that was totally incongruous with his physique.

Despite my initial reservations and ill placed fears, he smiled at me and asked if the New Orleans bus had left yet. He too a bit vulnerable and uncertain. No sooner had I responded and alerted him to my alien status, I turned to start fussing over the Lion. But was prevented by an announcement “They are getting in Line at Door number 9” which came lilting lyrically over the loudspeaker. This colloquialism brought a smile; a uniquely American phrase, that reminds you that travelling is real, different and so interesting. For a nano second I was lulled into tourist mode, only to crash to reality when the Lion was unable to stand up and walk to the Line. Johnny Cash he was not.

With the help of the rather large American boy, the Lion was frogmarched (getting to be a habit) to the Line and I escorted him to the coach stairs where we had to identify our luggage, match the ticket numbers and acknowledge the HEAVY banner that had been strapped across the buckles.

My first impressions of the greyhound bus was that it was grey. Inside the chairs were plastic and mostly burst with foam spewing out, it was cold and unwelcoming,hardly the bucket list ride I had hoped for. The coach was clean enough, but it was clear that it was pre-loved. I guided the Lion to the mid section and again left him to the aisle seat. Most people were travelling solo and had taken single occupancy of the seat, sitting in the middle to ensure no strangers dared to share it. Some required the whole two seats just to accommodate their bulk. I felt so slim, there were some benefits from this experience at least.

The Driver emerged and walked the length of the bus, I thought he looked like Slim Whitman, with a pencil moustache, slick backed hair, and warm brown eyes. He wore a smart, creased shirt and was impeccably presented with a slim black tie held neatly with a gold pin, belted slacks pressed with knife-edged seams and shoes that shone and sparkled as he navigated the narrow passage of the bus. He quickly checked the toilets at the rear before clearing his throat and loudly declaring in a southern drawl. “This is the finest greyhound bus in the fleet, we will be travelling to Ohio and on my bus I will not tolerate no alcohol, no knives and no narcotics” I tried not to process that information and watched him closely as he thrust himself forward dominating the other passengers, establishing himself as the alpha male, marking his territory and making sure that everyone understood who was in charge. We sat in awe of this entire experience, terrified but somehow strangely safe, as the bus slowly edged its way out of the station……

From Lion to Hyena. Chapter 6 Book of the lion

Grey’s Anatomy is not a show I have ever seen before, despite my previous albeit fleeting  reference to it. All the same here we were in a hospital in America, living the medical dream. The Lion was still sedated no longer in pain and unaware of the drama unfolding.  The hospital room we were allocated was small,  a range of wires attached to the lion were tied near his shoulder  to monitor his vitals. There was a large wing-backed chair that doubled as my bed, for despite being offered to stay in the Sheraton Suites, I couldn’t leave the Lion alone, without support in a strange country. Our cases, come wardrobes, sat side by side at the end of his bed, a stark reminder of how devastating this episode had been,  leaving just enough room for the nurses to edge past and take his blood pressure.

He lay motionless on the bed, breathing of course, but still and for a time, peaceful. They brought him in a tray laden with food three times a day, but his current comatose state prohibited any enjoyment. When no one was looking I devoured it, starving I was not the recipient of any meals during our stay. Although this was in 2003, the mobile phone was not widely used or owned equipment by me or the Lion. I had travelled to America with no phone, only cash and the iPad had not yet been invented.  I was keen to speak to someone at home to let them know what we were facing. During one of the monitoring visits I asked the nurse how I might be able to use the phone in the room and learned I had to purchase a credit from the store and use that to make international calls. Never take the convenience of the mobile for granted, its a godsend in these situations.

Realising that I wasn’t exactly overflowing with visitors, the nurse also contacted the hospital chaplain to attend and comfort me. He was a welcome intervention but really there was nothing anyone could do while the Lion was incapacitated. I had been thinking however, and wondered if perhaps  we could rent a house here in Atlanta for the two weeks,  that might allow the Lion time to recuperate and prevent any flight re-arrangements. BA had been so good they’d think I was at it surely, if I called back and said the same passenger needed to go home now two days after we had arrived.

I made calls to the kids, who, although young, were supportive and helpful. I spoke with my sister-in-law who’s brother, rather conveniently,  lives in Nashville. Perhaps there was something they might be able to do she suggested and made some contact. Meanwhile  I tried to see whether RCI, which we had points for, could provide us something in Nashville.  (Anyone with RCI will have fallen off their seats laughing by now since they never have anything anywhere, still worth a shot). Nothing seemed to be working in our favour, and an alternative to the trip we should have been on just wasn’t forthcoming.

In the darkness of the room at night, I tried to find a comfortable place to rest. The night nurses were at their station nearby and I overheard them talking about the Scottish Man who was in with back pain, ‘he’s so handsome’ one declared. I glanced across to the bed and had to agree he was handsome and peaceful but he was my Lion. In that moment I was overwhelmed, we had so looked forward to this trip and now this you could not have predicted this was how it might end.  At 0400hrs that morning, the staff nurse came into the room suggesting they were going to wake him up and, pending a confident circuit of the ward,  might discharge him. I did feel slightly elated, but our experience of this kind of episode usually meant there was a slow progress toward improvement and I was nervous that he might not manage it. Nevertheless at the stated witching hour, she woke him up and by 6am, he was sitting up eating his breakfast.

Nothing for me to eat that day, then. He was feeling much better, seemingly relaxed and reasonably pain free, given the drugs they had given him but it was evident that he was struggling to stand up straight. Much of his gait was tentative, protecting his back,  twisting and contorting the muscles to conceal his discomfort as he tried to manage the circuit, determined to be released. They appeared pleased and confirmed we could re-join our tour two days after they had departed. It was the easiest solution to be honest,  and so the wheels (pardon the pun) were set in motion for us to join the tour as it was about to depart Chattanooga. I collected his prescription and retuned to the ward where it was clear the Lion had shrivelled in size and was nothing more than a hyena in stature now. He looked to have lost weight, his pallor was grey and clammy, all the hallmarks of a junkie. So it was that we opted to re-join the tour by taking the greyhound bus. It was something I had wanted to try and the $350 taxi journey did not appeal to me so we headed off to the bus station, me trying to manage hand luggage, two wardrobes/cases and my Lion, little did we know what would take place next……………………………………..

grayscale photography of hyena
Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com