On the Road: Tragical History Tour

Crossing Abbey Road with the author in the role of "George," far left. Sophie Flax photo.
Crossing Abbey Road with the author in the role of "George," far left. Sophie Flax photo.
Crossing Abbey Road with the author in the role of “George,” far left. Sophie Flax photo.


By Annette Hinkle

Last Saturday, I went to Sag Harbor Cinema to see “Eight Days A Week,” Ron Howard’s new documentary about The Beatles touring years.

The film is filled with never-before-seen footage of giant stadium concerts and lots of screaming and fainting girls. For me, it turned out to be an appropriate punctuation mark ending a summer filled with several Fab Four moments, many of them accidental and others more like accidents waiting to happen.

Back in mid-August, for example, I found myself standing by a crosswalk on one of London’s most iconic streets warily eyeing a voluminous amount of traffic whipping past at a high rate of speed.

It was rush hour and these folks were rushing. It looked nothing like the pastoral lane in the picture. And where was the Volkswagen Beetle?

“I don’t know about this,” I said, hunkering down into survival mode.

I was with my husband Adam, as well as my sister Donna, and David, her boyfriend, and we were preparing to recreate history related to that other sort of Beatle. It wasn’t just that we had to make it across Abbey Road in one piece, we had to do it just like John, Ringo, Paul and George did it back in 1968 for their iconic Abbey Road album cover.

I think fewer Londoners had cars back then.

But there we were ready to go. Adam, a.k.a. Paul, had kicked off his shoes and left them on the sidewalk so he could cross barefoot. Donna was playing Ringo and bearded David was channeling John. I was in charge of bringing up the rear as George.

Positioned 10 yards or so to the east on a small traffic island was our 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, Nikon in hand, to commemorate the crossing. She was mortified by the thought of taking part in the walk so by default became our designated documenter. As cars zoomed by just inches away from her, I thought “The things we do for our art.” Perhaps she would have been more enthusiastic if we were recreating a One Direction album cover. Do boy bands even make actual “albums” anymore? Do they even have covers?

Food for thought.

Bring wall on Abbey Road. Annette Hinkle photo.
Brick wall on Abbey Road. Annette Hinkle photo.

Anyway, I know Brits are pretty good natured about this sort of thing, avoiding pedestrians in crosswalks I mean, but it seemed to me these drivers were actually trying to win this game of chicken. I could see several irritated expressions through car windshields as they sped by. Hapless London commuters who every day had to endure this gauntlet of clueless tourists looking the wrong way as they tried to emulate the Fab Four, some more successfully than others (just Google “pedestrian hit on Abbey Road” and you’ll see what I mean).

As we waited on the side of Abbey Road for our chance, other would be Beatles were doing the same across the way, each of us with our own photographer in place. But we were the only ones doing it right, with four of us, so I reasoned the cars would have to stop.

I’m pleased to report they did, and in the end (as Paul sings on Abbey Road), Sophie managed to get an OK shot. It’s a bit out of focus, but you get the idea and with the light fading, we weren’t about to try it again.

But that wasn’t our only Beatles moment on this trip. For much of August, we stayed about an hour outside of London and relied on the train to get us to and from the city along with other day trippers (written by Lennon and McCartney, October 1965). As fate would have it, our train terminated at the beautiful Marylebone Station where the Beatles filmed “A Hard Day’s Night” — specifically the scene where they alight from a train car and run through the glass covered station with a pack of screaming girls in hot pursuit.

The screaming young girls are no longer young, nor are they screaming. Alas, the world has moved on and changed in oh, so many ways (as the lyrics go in “Help”). On a lark, we decided to walk from the station over to The Beatles store nearby. As we approached, I was shocked to see a long queue stretching around the block.

“Really?” I mused. “Is it possible that Beatlemania is still alive and well in this shop full of fabulous Fab Four merch, much of which I had likely never seen before?”

No, it turns out.

As we got closer, we realized the long line was for the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221 Baker Street next door. Sad to say a museum at a fictional address dedicated to a fictional character from the 19th century attracts more attention these days than a fine collection of memorabilia dedicated to a real life cultural phenomenon.

A few days later, we headed to Scotland, leaving England and Beatlemania behind both figuratively and metaphorically.

Or so we thought.

Tucked way up in the corner of northwest Scotland is the tiny coastal town of Durness which we came across during the course of our travels. It’s a beautifully natural place defined by stunning beaches, high cliffs, heath covered highlands and caves. As we were driving into town looking for out hotel, I noticed a small sign by the municipal building reading “John Lennon Memorial.”

John Lennon memorial in Durness, Scotland. Annette Hinkle photo.
John Lennon memorial in Durness, Scotland. Annette Hinkle photo.

Could it really be that John Lennon? If so, why would there be a memorial to him way out here on the rugged coast of Scotland? We turned into the parking lot to find out. There we encountered a sweet memorial garden dedicated to the Beatle who advocated most for peace, but was the first to die after he was gunned down in New York City in 1980.

And there was a reason this memorial was here. It turns out that John Lennon’s aunt had married a man from Durness. John and his cousins spent many a happy summer in this remote part of Scotland, probably exploring the same beaches and caves we had. According to the memorial, Lennon’s 1965 song “In My Life” is all about his fond memories of the people and the place.

It was a solemnly quiet spot to end our tragical history tour of the U.K. and there we privately mourned the innocence, youth and optimism The Beatles once embodied that has since been lost to a more complicated reality. Yes, the screaming hoards may be gone, but the memories and the music remain and I’m pleased to say that some of the younger members of my extended family appreciate The Beatles as much as our generation.

By early September, I was back on the East End and just days after my return I heard that Jimmy Buffett had hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at his place in North Haven. The guest performer… Paul McCartney. So while I was thousands of miles away chasing Beatle ghosts all over the U.K., it turns out the real thing was right here all along. Funny, but isn’t that the way life always works?

Imagine … it’s easy if you try….