Carlisle is the flip-flopper of Britain. Alternately Scottish or English, depending on the century. Because of its strategic value on the border it possesses a long military history and a big castle. Bonny Prince Charlie seized Carlisle on his march into England, and his ancestor Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there before ultimately heading south for decapitation. In modern military history, the British government assumed control of Carlisle’s pubs and breweries in 1916. Nearby munitions workers were getting drunk frequently enough that their intoxication posed a threat to the war effort against Germany.
Because of its tendency to jump between kingdoms it gave rise to a number of families called Border Reivers who lived by stealing sheep and cattle in the thin strip of ambiguity between England and Scotland. They were apparently so irritating that in 1525 the Archbishop of Glasgow threw a curse on Carlisle to try and curb the rampant pillaging.
In typical British fashion the modern residents of the city find the notion so amusing that they brought it back to Carlisle in 2000 by carving all 1,069 words of the curse into a fourteen ton granite slab. Some denizens protested the project, as it struck them as a bad idea to openly invite curses into the city, but their complaints were dismissed as ill-humored and superstitious. Soon after Carlisle suffered a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, a flood, rising unemployment and serious football defeats. Were I the Lord Mayor of Carlisle, I would load up the granite curse-stone and drop it off in Glasgow. That would be funny.
Of course I didn’t come to Carlisle for its evil municipal art projects. I came to meet up with Kate, and from there to check out Hadrian’s Wall. Earlier in the week Matt had referred to the impending rendezvous as a continuation of my “hand affair,” which I promptly and loudly condemned as entirely untrue. “At no point, Matt, have we ever had a hand affair.”
“But… she has a boyfriend, and you hold hands with her.”
I stared at him, befuddled. “ That’s what you mean by hand affair? Then yes. We are having a hand affair.” Or had been, anyway. She was single when we met up in Carlisle. My first venture into English territory since March.
On our way to get tea we walked past a booth asking for signatures on a petition to build three wind turbines on the outskirts of the city. “I’m all for that,” I explained to the clipboard bearing man, “but I’m an American citizen living in Scotland. I’m not sure if I’ll do much good.”
“Oh, sure you will,” he exclaimed. “One of the principle objections to the wind turbines is that they’ll make Carlisle uglier and hurt tourism. As a tourist, your opinion is valuable.”
“Alright,” I shrugged, putting a pen against the clipboard:
“As an American I am all in favor of erecting English wind turbines, as they leave more oil for AMERICA. Also I hate birds a lot, and figure a good number will die crashing into the spinning metal blades. This seems like a good solution to bird overpopulation, what with your country’s ridiculous gun control laws. Thanks, Andy Heaton. (Dictated but not read.)”
After several more attempts I managed to provide an acceptable petition, at last freeing Kate and I to hop a bus and discover Hadrian’s Wall.