My alarm hadn’t gone off, but I was up and wide awake anyway. Maybe this was because, for once, I’d gone to bed at a reasonable hour after an evening of diligent work and studying.
During my higher education I spent a semester overseas in Britain, living in and going to classes in Britain’s Harlaxton Manor, which has been featured in several movies and TV shows, including the new series Victoria in which it played a chateau in Normandy, and I wonder what the original owners would have thought about being moved to France, but that’s another story.
I won’t claim to have been a model student. Harlaxton was a womb with a view and it was really hard to not get caught up in getting an education in things that had nothing to do with, well, getting an education, but there were times when I really tried. As the end of the semester approached I really did start to buckle down and work hard, frequently going so far as to carry my textbooks with me to the pub. And there were also scheduled school activities outside the school, like the class trip to Stratford-On-Avon which, as you know, is where Shakespeare was born and had a family and now boasts some of the biggest gift shops in all of Britain. We’d be touring Shakespeare’s home, having lunch at Shakespeare’s pizza place, and then in the evening we were scheduled to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I thought was kind of a strange play for winter, but, hey, it’s better than The Winter’s Tale.
Anyway I woke up early. As it turned out I woke up very early. I was stumbling through the hall when I bumped into John G., the only other person up at the time.
“What are you doing up this early, Chris?”
Good question. John G. was a big guy, an athlete, and always got up earlier than everyone else so he could spend forty-five minutes in the shower. He was one of those guys who could shave his chin completely smooth and would have a five o’clock shadow by the time he came downstairs. So I knew why he was up. Why was I up? Breakfast wouldn’t be served for an hour and a half and we wouldn’t leave until at least an hour after that. I muttered something and went back to my room, thinking I’d grab just another half hour of sleep.
When I woke up the manor was empty. Somehow my half hour had turned into a solid three hour doze and everyone was gone.
While a taxi was on its way to pick me up I grabbed a quick shower, got dressed, and guzzled a cup of tea. The taxi dropped me at the train station and I guzzled a couple more cups of tea while waiting for the train to Stratford-On-Avon. As I said I wasn’t a model student but I really wanted to go on this trip and while I wasn’t sure my absence had been noticed I hoped my dedication to catching up to the group would be appreciated. And, in fact, some time that evening as we were getting settled into our seats to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of my professors would glance my way, raise his eyebrows, and say, “I’m glad you could join us, Mr. Waldrop.”
On the train I somehow fell into a conversation with an older gentleman who was amused by my experience, and then we started talking about Shakespeare. He told me he was a scholar and had studied Shakespeare at Oxford.
“Do you know what the secret is to truly understanding Shakespeare?” he asked me, his blue eyes vivid over his half-moon spectacles.
“No,” I said. “Please tell me.” I had a paper due soon and final exams coming up. I needed anything that would help.
He raised a finger and said, “GUINNESS!”
Well, at least I was justified in taking my textbooks to the pub.