Friends in High Places
HUNDRED ACRES, ENGLAND: January 28-February 3, 2014
Leah: We have recently discovered just how advantageous it can be to befriend and remain in contact with a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet pilot whom you may have met in Chile. A captain to be exact. Not only will she delight you with stories of her travels and climbing the professional ladder in a man’s world, but she’ll pose a question no one else has that keeps you reflecting for months (what has travel changed in your head?) and even invite you stay in her four bedroom country home in England because she believes in paying it forward. Once you arrive in Britain a year later and realize that a visit will indeed be feasible, she’ll pick you up from the nearest city, greet you effusively like lifelong friends, introduce you to her horses, show you around her stunning abode brimming with books (and lacking in TV) and insist that you settle in and feel at home. And then to complete the fairy tale, before she leaves for work where she’ll fly a 747 across the Atlantic Ocean (doesn’t everyone?), she’ll ask if there’s anything she can pick you up in an American grocery store while she’s over there since you may be missing some favorite treats and comfort food. This, dear reader, remains a prime example as to why we all should eschew lingering childhood admonishments from our parents and actually talk to strangers.
Steve: After picking us up from our stay in Portsmouth, Sally embarked on an adventurous stroll that took us from the sea through the hills and into her little hamlet—let’s just say jumbo jet pilots make for fun drivers. Even though she had a busy schedule and found herself between public speaking engagements and long-haul flights, over the next couple of days we would find out much about this dynamic soul and ultimately about ourselves as well. Besides flying, Sally is in the final stages of an autobiographical-motivational book that she intends on publishing with proceeds going to woman-focused non-profits (hopefully she gets support from a certain high-profile, sometimes cross-dressing billionaire boss). Without giving too much away, she shared with us how it wasn’t until her late thirties/early forties while finding herself in the lowest of lows—yes, even commercial pilots can be down in the dumps—that she found her groove and took charge of her happiness. In addition to a life balanced by meditation, exercise, and a diversified financial portfolio, she has become a practitioner and teacher of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) that coupled with voice-coaching has added a new career path that fits nicely with the one she already has.
Leah: Resultantly, we’re now participating in the easiest unofficial Workaway job ever while our host flits back and forth between training seminars in London and flying hundreds of people over a massive body of water. All this while squeezing in time to talk intimately with us around her kitchen table as pheasants strut by in the backyard and her gorgeous Arabian horses, Mia and Elvis, graze in the paddock across the lane. The wood-burning stove needs to be fed constantly to provide heat and hot water and we’re a short stroll from a lush and soaring forest that used to be a medieval hunting ground. There are only 20 houses in this private enclave, called Hundred Acres nonetheless, and just as on the Isle of Lismore, the residents all maintain character quirks ripe for short-story fodder and gossip travels faster than you can text. Sally’s black cat Billie rules the roost and scams for food constantly, our room is a haven of serenity and warmth (especially while snuggling under the thick duvet), and art, photos and all the books one could ever want are gathered under one roof. In short, it’s perfect.
And while Steve and I had planned on giving Stonehenge a miss this time, Sally’s enthusiasm for the mysterious stones and magical settings proved contagious and the three of us decided we’d try to get there on the Monday after she returned from flying. We were clearing sticks high up the hill behind the house (the resident fairies had already been notified and had given their permission, according to our host) when Sally came trudging up after hill, despondent and droopy. “So…Stonehenge on Monday…” We immediately thought it was closed on Mondays (that’s the case for many museums here) and turned around to face her and hear the bad news. “We’re going to have to leave really early…like 6:10 a.m…because, well, <pregnant pause> we’re going to touch them! <commences giggling and jumping up and down like a toddler hopped up on sugar at a birthday party>” Not only is Stonehenge open on Mondays, but Sally had booked three spaces on a tour that takes visitors right up to the monoliths around sunrise before the visitor center opens to the public. Oh yeah, and she had already paid for them and wouldn’t hear of us paying her back, saying we could sort her out when she has layovers in the U.S. Are you beginning to get a mental picture of the type of person we’d been fortunate to meet so many months ago?
The official website is informative and has much of same information as the sparkling new visitors center, but it doesn’t properly capture the feeling and sight of the ancient stones that sit on an otherwise non-descript grassy knoll with everyday commuters going to and fro in the far distance. In short: overwhelmingly ancient, eternally mysterious and inherently sacred. Visiting Stonehenge was something we originally vacillated on but in hindsight I would have regretted not going and am elated that our memory of it will be intertwined with our stay with Sally. And if this memory couldn’t get any better it was topped off with a traditional English breakfast of sausage and bacon baguettes that we got from the parking lot of a B & Q (for my fellow Americans, this is the equivalent of getting a hot dog or sausage from in front of a Home Depot, just much, much tastier). Top it off with random Fawlty Towers references and I’d say my English experience is now complete.
Sally listened to us, allayed our fears, suggested new ideas and tools to process this journey and in general supported our souls. She’s set to take the world by storm with her forthcoming book and public speaking circuit (note to my GS family—she would be the most brilliant Gold Award Ceremony speaker you could possibly envision) and it was a true honor and privilege to spend time with her in such an intimate setting and soak in all the wisdom and nurturing spirit she has to offer. Our time in Wickham will be defined by the constant squawk of pheasants, undulating rain-drenched hills, a magical foray to the sarsens of Stonehenge and the constant confidence boosting conversations with our host and friend. As I sit here debating on whether to crack into my Peanut Butter M&Ms, Brown Sugar Pop-tarts or Extra Crunchy Skippy Peanut Butter (all flown back yesterday just for me), I’m reminded just what a crazy world it remains. Thanks you Sally, we’ll be paying your kindnesses forward for years to come. Besides, I have a very strong feeling that we’re not done with you yet…