It's funny how events separated by time and space can converge in unexpected ways. In this case, there are 3 events spanning 22 years and 2 continents that have come together to cause me much anxiety. It's a long tale and I'm telling it in 3 parts; beginning with where it began.
Back in 1985 I spent a couple of weeks in Europe with 3 friends. This was the cliched 'students do Europe on the cheap' kind of trip. Except it wasn't. None of us were in school, and we could afford to avoid the whole youth hostel scene.
Rather than use cheap rail passes, our plan included - in part - a driving tour of Scotland, Wales, and England. We rented a car with the intention of sharing the driving chores. We would start at Prestwick, Scotland and end this leg of the trip in foggy ol' London. From there, we would head to the Continent.
I won't bore you right now with the physics involved with a transatlantic flight, too much booze, and driving on the wrong side of the road. The most excitement we had driving-wise was a close call with a flock of sheep blocking a road. Turns out it was our fault - or at least that's what the old guy with the wooden staff told us. Generally, though, we made out alright.
That was before we made it to London.
It was my day to drive. The route: drive from Salisbury Plain (Stonehenge) and drop the car off at the rental depot in London (just off Hyde Park). No one had warned me about the impossibility that is The Traffic Circle that contains Hyde Park. That scene in National Lampoon's European Vacation - Chevy Chase caught in a traffic circle for an entire day - that was me. We spent 90 minutes circling Hyde Park; trying to get to the outside lane so we could pull into the rental depot.
It just could not be done. I'm serious about this. That traffic circle seemed to suck us into the inner lane like some great automotive whirlpool, and It was loathe to let us out. All that was missing from the experience were skeletal remains of tourists and their rental cars strewn about the inside lane. Maybe we were going to be the first.
In the end, Our Saviour was the cop who investigated our illegally-parked rental car at one end of the Park. He took pity on the poor tourists, and used his radio to summon someone from the rental depot to pick up the car. The depot, it turns out, was right across the street from where we had made our last, desperate stand.
I vowed never to drive in England again. Ever. You must remember this as we head into Part 2 of my tale.