I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Meeting travellers and hearing their stories is one of the great joys of road trips and there’s no better place to exchange yarns than bed and breakfast places. Some B&Bs seat their guests at individual tables for the morning meal; you don’t want those places. You want a B&B with a big harvest table where conversations happen.
This article is a sample of some of the tales told through the years over coffee, eggs, and fruit. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
His voice was as deep and resonant as John Wayne’s. She was plump and vivacious. Both were in their eighties. At first, I thought they were a couple, but then Eileen referred to “his wife.” Later, George mentioned her husband. The thought of a dirty weekend briefly flitted into and out of my mind. Although, why the Hell not; it isn’t only the young uns that are entitled to all the fun.
Slowly, the little bit sad story emerged, albeit with a happy ending.
George and David had been roommates at college. Likewise, Eileen and Margaret. They started dating; Eileen and David, George and Margaret. Then came the weddings; each man serving as best man for the other, and the women as one another’s maids of honour.
The two couples settled in communities not far from each other and raised their families.
They grew old gracefully together until 18 months ago when both Margaret and David died.
Now, George and Eileen are companions for each other. They travel, not as a couple, but as friends.
Camping in California
Harry was another octogenarian. He said his daughter lived off the grid in northern British Columbia. Her husband was a man with little education but amazing get-it-done skills. He built the log “cabin” in which they lived with their children – all 4,000 square feet of it.
A few years ago Lindsay decided to take the kids to Disneyland in California. On the trek south they camped and one night ended up in a recreational vehicle park. As they pitched their little tent they couldn’t help noticing they were surrounded by high-end Airstreams and Winnebagos.
Eventually, an American gentleman approached.
“Howdy folks. Where are y’all from?”
“We’re from British Columbia, and I’m taking the children to Disneyland.”
Looking over their modest accommodation, the gentleman pulled out his wallet and gave Lindsay $100. Long protestations of “I can’t accept this,” followed by “I want the kids to have a good time.”
Eventually, the money changed hands but only after Lindsay extracted a promise from her benefactor that he and his wife would stay with them if they ever roamed as far away as northern B.C. To offer encouragement she showed him a photo of the log “cabin.”
Harry says he wonders about the conversation when the man got back to his motor home: “Honey, you’ll never believe what kind of place those tent people live in.”
Angela had a rather plumy British accent. She told the story of a friend of hers who was born in England in 1944 and said he is a “Lollipop Baby.”
Okay, we’ll bite, what is a lollipop baby?
Angela told us that somewhere around 1942 the British government became concerned that the birth rate was falling. Almost all the eggs were in the U.K. and most of the sperm was not. Hundreds of thousands of other young men of prime breeding age were cooped up in army barracks, naval shipyards, and airfields. This was putting a crimp in procreation.
Somewhere in the catacombs of government a team of boffins puzzled over what to do under the code name Project Python. This involved sending military people home for short leaves on, shall we say, fertilization duty.
It turns out Angela’s story was only partially correct. There was an Operation Python, but it covered the demobilization of British troops after the war. Many had been overseas for several years and returning them to civilian life was a drawn-out process; it wasn’t practical to dump several hundred thousand men on civvy street in one go. So, once back on home soil they were given short leaves until their final discharge.
Large numbers of pregnancies ensued giving rise to the phrase Lollipop Babies – an acronym for Lots of Little Leaves in Place of Python.
A Wedding Present
Lucy was freshly graduated from university with a degree in science. This was the early 1960s when the only jobs deemed suitable for women were secretary, nurse, or teacher. Lucy decided on the last mentioned and was given the task of introducing math to a class of underachieving young males from a rough part of town.
Lucy had a sheltered upbringing so when the lads tried to throw her off balance with the foul language of the streets they failed because she had no idea what they were talking about. She says this uncouth crowd turned out to be the best class she ever taught even though the youths were frequently absent because of court dates and meetings with parole officers.
Soon, Lucy was to marry the sweetheart she had met in university and her criminal teens gave her a wedding present. She says they told her “We all chipped in money for the present and none of it was stolen.”
All B&Bs are not created equal. At some, they’ll put out a basket of muffins and tell you that’s breakfast and you can make your own coffee from the machine. No extra charge for the yappy little dog that sinks its teeth into your pant leg.
In contrast, there’s a wonderful B&B in the same town as the above, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The comfortable rooms are not large but the breakfast is magnificent. Guests arrive in the dining room to find a table loaded with baked goods, cold meats, cheeses, preserves, and fruit. Maria announces the menu prepared by her husband Joe, a master chef: “Today, we have an asparagus omelette, Italian sausage, and home-fried potatoes, and for desert we have a strawberry crepe.” It’s enough of a feed to keep the average person going until dinner.
Prices? All quoted in Canadian dollars. Let’s check out the writer’s home town, Stamford in central England. St. Mary’s Place B&B gets a 9.9 rating on booking.com and charges $211 per night all in. The George Hotel, with a 9.6 rating charges $396, including breakfast.
How about Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario, where the writer now lives? Forest Hill B&B (9.7) costs $130 per night. The Walper Hotel (9.0) charges $202 per night, breakfast extra.
Lovely people met on road trips.
© 2019 Rupert Taylor
Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on March 23, 2019:
A very interesting article.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 22, 2019:
Hello, Rupert, thanks for sharing. But I will say here that the very elderly and aged are unique peoples. Thanks again.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 22, 2019:
I love all the stories you hear when you meet people while traveling. You made this article so interesting and the Bed and Breakfast is a great idea when traveling. The stories you wrote about were great.
Stella Kaye from UK on March 21, 2019:
It's Interesting to read this collection of little gems that you've accumulated over the years. It just goes to prove that everyone we come into contact with on our travels has something memorable to say that's worthwhile writing about. It's great that you've kept a record of these conversations with your fellow travellers so others can enjoy too.