--- The Obscure Penguin ---
In 1984 when many people were worried about Big Brother I landed on the shores of Avalon. I'd been desperate to go to England since I'd read Lord of the Rings and listened to Yes. Fire hydrants reminded me of hobbits and I didn't know what the hell a roundabout was. It was a romantic calling. I know others have felt similarly about a place they've never been and for some reason it was England for me. Probably ancestral memories of being an indentured servant. Who knows? I never found an explanation for my obsession but it was profoundly powerful. I had to find a way there. I was a military brat who spent a lot of my childhood in Germany and around the U.S., so it's not as if the travel itself was a draw, although a return to Europe sounded great to me in those days after I'd managed to squeeze through my last summer Spanish class at UT Austin. Dios mio! I thought I'd never get out of there!
I lived in the town of Cirencester. The Romans had called it Corinium. You could still find Roman coins on occasion if you looked for them. Apparently Romans didn't hang onto their money. Must have had holes in their tunics. On my first night it was absolutely a priority to visit a pub, because I liked to drink, and because that's what Americans do, right? Fortunately there was just such a watering hole at the hotel where I was staying. So I needed only to descend the stairs and enter the world I'd only seen in movies. The English had watched westerns and Dallas and thought every Texan had a horse and oil wells.
I'd heard about English pubs, but I didn't know much about English beer, or ale, so I ordered a Guinness. A guy came up to me and asked why I ordered a beer so thick you could stand a spoon in it. I said I didn't know much about English beers. He surmised I was American (my barbarian manners indicated I wasn't Canadian) and then questioned my ability to drink. I said there wasn't an Englishman who could match me, so he invited me to have a few pints with his friends. That's right, he and his friends paid for all my drinks that night. I learned about pints, half-pints, bitters and real ale and free houses and tied houses and cellar temperature. I was swimming in beer. After a while I noticed there were quite a few folks in there and they were all buying my drinks because I was a real Texan and they wanted to welcome me to the U.K.! It was a glorious night, everything I could have imagined, and all this so-called English reserve I'd heard about was nowhere to be seen. Everyone was kind and generous.
The next morning, nursing a hangover, I told the hotel manager how generous the local folks were to me and that I appreciated being there and she said the bar is only open so long as a hotel guest was in there and I was the only guest.