Friday, October 3, 2014

Dear Britain, My Beating Heart

Dear Britain,

You have been my beating heart since around 1968, when at 9 years old I first saw the film, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," and it led me to love all things British and start a lifelong obsession.  After that movie it was all about "tell me more about this country where such wonderful people and talent comes from."

And while you're at it, let me wander down your quiet country lanes and old cobblestone streets to see the old thatched roofs and listen to the various accents and colloquial dialects.  I want to see the Scottish lochs, the Lake District, the Devon moors, the Shetlands and the Orkneys.  From east to west and north to south and every side road inbetween, I want to see what's there.

I want to see the locations where some of my favorite British films were shot, and I want to see locations that I've written about, that I've dreamt about, that I have held dear to my heart.

Britain, you don't know how much I love you, how much I've always loved you for years and have wanted to visit you for most of my life.

So imagine my delight when a friend in Scotland agreed to sponsor my airfare over and put me up for an extended stay.  Now, this was fortuitous as I am a touring cyclist who can think of no better way to see Britain than from the seat of a bicycle.  A fully loaded bicycle that could meander to and fro while I take my time to soak in the culture.  Britain, you also make an excellent home base for jumping into Europe for longer bicycle tours.

1 October is a special day for my friend in Scotland, so we decided I would leave the USA on that day.  Then some wonderful things began to line up within that first week of October.  First, I signed up for the 45-mile Prince's Trust Palace to Palace ride on 5 Oct.  Another friend paid my entrance fee and then I was able to raise the money for donations.  I would have to hustle on the ride because at 13:00 on the same day was a SHERLOCK screening of His Last Vow at the Hertford Theatre with a Q&A afterwards with stars Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman.  Someone even paid for my cab fare to get from Windsor Castle to the Hertford Theatre.  Another sponsor.  On Oct. 4 I was to meet another Sherlock fan for dinner, and the two of us promised not to do too much fangirling about meeting another fan.  Afterwards I was staying with a Warm Showers host in London.

According to the Warm Showers website, The Warm Showers Community is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink.  I've been a host 5 times in Los Angeles, and I have taken excellent care of my cyclists.  

Now, before I go any further, I should state that BBC1 SHERLOCK is my latest British obsession, and I was planning a 1-month tour of Wales to visit locations where it was shot and even the city of Cardiff where the Hartswood Studios are.  Yes, I would have toured in January, and it would have been miserable weather, but it also would have been brilliantly wonderful.

Since I was being given a ticket to Scotland (1-way), I decided that after Wales I would jump to the mainland and start cycling south to Greece with a some time in Paris with a good friend.  I have a friend in Greece who makes the most exquisitely beautifully decorated cookies you ever saw.  Too pretty to eat.  EuroVelo shows many different cycling routes throughout Europe.  Mix and match!

But darling Britain, you do not yet understand that there is a world-wide network for touring cyclists and that the network makes extended stays possible in any country for little to no money.  There are many well-known cyclists who are surviving on $5 per day.  Our plans are not set in stone because of the vagaries of weather (mostly).  We do not need to have loads of finances to tour your country, nor do we necessarily need an exit ticket to visit because chances are we won't be leaving from your lovely country when we exit wherever to go home.  We may not know when we are going home at all.  So to ask to see a return ticket is, for a long-term touring cyclist an unreasonable request.  

Some of us, like me, give up everything to start a life of cycle touring.  The world becomes the home.  So dear Britain, I gave up almost all worldly possessions, my job, my apartment, to begin cycle touring from your country.  Per my passport, I am allowed 180 days from time of entry into your country per year.

Had I known that a longer stay in your country would arouse the suspicions of customs and cause me to be detained at Heathrow for 15 hours in "customs detention" only to find out that I couldn't set foot on your soil because I was being denied entrance… my first trip out of the country, my first time trying to use my passport, and you didn't like my nebulous cycling plans or my apparently insufficient funds, or that I didn't have a home to go back to and also that I had no return ticket… please re-read about touring cyclists.  15 hours in detention also meant that I spent an entire night in detention.  I was brought a pillow and a blanket, but I told them I would not be sleeping.  No.  Even as 30 hours without sleep caused me to begin to hallucinate (undulating floor tiles and furniture that seemed to float about 1/2" off the ground), I still refused to sleep.  I did lay my head down in exhaustion from crying, but I did not sleep.  How could I sleep when I was in your country for such few precious hours?  No, I composed this love letter to you as well as doing some other writing, because pen and paper were about all I was allowed.  Except for the clothes I was wearing, I had no personal belongings for those 15 hours.

My one souvenir - from detention.  Crisps.
Well, they were crispy.

I arrived in your country on 2 October and was back in Los Angeles on 3 October.  Slingshot.  Exhausted.  In the same clothes for 48+ hours.  Slept much of the way back.

I had seen a little of your green earth and paddocks as the plane took off from Heathrow, but it was a little overcast, and soon the beauty of your land was shielded with clouds.  No, I was not even to really see it at all.

My Scottish sponsor was gutted, but no one more than me.  I think I sobbed in grief for all the lovely plans that I had that were dashed.  I sobbed for the Palace to Palace ride, for the Hertford Theatre event,  for the Warm Showers host, for the money and support that others have invested in my dreams and life.  I wept for the missed roads in Scotland for the John O'Groats to Lands End bike ride, for the time spent with my sponsor, for the time spent in Paris with friends, for the time in Greece and all the adventures in-between.  

Had I known that a longer stay in Britain would have been better received with a "tourist visa" and not just the passport alone, rest assured I would have had one.  Good for future reference.  However, the issue of the return ticket date, well - thus are the vagaries of the touring cyclist.  Because you're not the only country I'm cycling.  You're just my favorite.  I'll come and go.  I have a USA friend who is on an 8-yr tour  and is currently in New Zealand.  He does not have a specific return date but neither does he have a particular passion for any one country like I do.  

I don't have a desire to set down permanent roots in Britain unless it were some little Beatrice Potter type of cottage that I could just use as a bolt hole and write.  Oh yes, I write as well as cycle.  Even in customs detention where I wasn't allowed anything personal but for the clothes on my back, I asked for paper and pen to write.  At first I was so grieved that words failed me, even though I wrote all the eleven hours over on the British Airways flight.  

Oh, and before I forget this lovely thing, when British Airways learned it was my first international flight, they upgraded me.  How lovely was that?

Britain, what I am trying to tell you is that there is likely no one outside your shores who loves you and appreciates you more than I do.  I pose no security risk, I have complete hosting on your lands.  No, I can't give you an itinerary of every day I'm spending there or where my cycling will take me there.  I just want to see it all.  

I asked Jackie, one of the customs detention workers, if this incident was a big black mark on any attempt to return.  She said it was a "little" mark - because now my passport will always be flagged in your country but that if I get a tourist visa, I shouldn't get hassled.  Fingerprinting, pictures, pat downs, and 15 hours in detention before being put on a flight back home, well, I was completely gutted and shattered.  My dreams shattered completely.  Jackie was lovely to me, by the way (but I was understandably appalled when she liked CSI better than SHERLOCK).  Actually, everyone was lovely.  They knew I wasn't a criminal.  Just didn't have the right paperwork and details.

So, the one who loves you the most has been sent away.  Unrequited love.  The story of my life.  But I still love you.  And I will return, and hopefully you will treat me with renewed kindness and allow me to step foot on your beloved soil.

All my best blessings,

Jenny Arata


  1. OMGosh Jenny! I'm so sorry that this happened. I can't imagine how you must feel. Well I guess I can since you eloquently described it here.. ThIs really sucks but I know you will get back There in no time. This is just a small delay.. Sending huge hugs! xox

    1. That blog was written long hand while in customs detention.

  2. Oh noooo. Hopefully the Universe will conspire to get you here soon with the right Visa and a return ticket. Don't give up!

  3. Not giving up. Please retweet the blog to the major news outlets in Britain.

  4. Jenny, I hope you can get that tourist visa and while you have missed out on some of the already planned events, I have a feeling that bigger and better opportunities are going to be afforded you despite this little stumbling block. Good luck and great adventures! I NOW know why your YT handle was MissTruly! How awesome this love affair must be :)

    1. Yes... long history with all things Truly Scrumptious. My host in Scotland also happens to own the MGM-authorized exact reproduction of the Chitty car - only street legal one in all of Europe. The original one is in New Zealand with director Peter Jackson.