Goodness the years seem to roll by faster and faster, for once more here I am in Cambridge, Ohio on the eve of another tour, and it hardly seems as if it were twelve months since I was last here.
Over the next six weeks I will travel throughout the USA right, left, top and bottom, performing A Christmas Carol and a few other shows along the way. Every morning I will write an account of the previous day’s events so that you can follow my progress and hopefully feel part of the tour. Regular followers of this blog will meet old friends and check into familiar hotels, but there are a few new features as well which will keep us busy.
My day of travel was an easy one, even though it began with an alarm call of 4 am. Liz is very busy with work at the moment, not only with her teaching job, but also preparing a presentation which she is due to give on Saturday, so we decided that it would be best if I took the airport bus from Oxford, rather than her driving me all the way to Heathrow.
The weather was grey and foggy as we left the house, and for a moment there was a slight worry about my flight. Even as we drove, however the air became clearer and the concerns lifted with the clouds.
Saying good bye, whether at the house door, the Oxford bus stop, or at Heathrow itself, never gets any easier and it was heavy hearts that we kissed, hugged and finally waved at parting. As for the last few years Liz will be joining me for the final week of the tour, but on a foggy Wednesday morning that seemed a long way away.
The traffic on the Ms 40 and 25 was light at that early hour, so I arrived at the airport in very good time. The greatest change over my 23 years of travelling has been the efficiency of the airline industry and I was checked-in and scrutinised in double quick time, leaving me with almost two hours in which to enjoy breakfast.
As my plate was delivered I thought back to an idea I’d had earlier in the year for a new book: The Full English, which will be a history and biography of a proper English breakfast: what is the history of curing bacon and making sausages; how did anyone decide that black pudding was a good idea; grilled or plum tomatoes; toast or fried bread? Then there are the modern American interlopers – when did baked beans become part of an English breakfast, not to mention pancakes and waffles. Oh, yes. I am going to enjoy researching this one…except for mushrooms.
The boarding of the flight was even easier than check in for there was no sitting, waiting to be called. As the passengers arrive we just all were directed to walk straight on. I don’t think that has ever happened before. As I sat in my seat the cabin stewards made their announcements about carry-on stowage etc, and informed us that the approximate flight time would be seven hours and six minutes. Very approximate! Each year there are new restrictions as to what you can bring on board with you and this time it is Samsung Galaxy 7 Notes (which have been bursting into flames randomly all year), and hover boards that have hit the banned list. I was rather upset not to be able to bring my hover board on – it would make getting up and down the aisles rather easy. Maybe the crew should use them in the future.
I passed the seven hours and six minutes (approximately) by reading and watching a few films and TV programmes. The first feature was called The Last Man on the Moon, and is the story of Eugene Cernan who lifted off from the lunar surface in 1972, leaving the final footprint of mankind there.
I loved following the Apollo missions when I was a kid and this was an amazing account of some incredibly brave men who were heroes to me in those few short years of exploration.
The other film I watched was The Man Who Knew Infinity, which is the story of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who battled prejudice to become a fellow of Trinity College Cambridge for his astounding breakthroughs in mathematical theory. It is a remarkably inspiring and moving story, beautifully acted by Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons.
Apart from about twenty minutes of heavy turbulence, the flight was smooth and we arrived at JFK airport a little early (so seven hours and six minutes WAS approximate then…).
Heathrow’s check-in efficiency was matched by JFK’s immigration all and for the first time ever I didn’t have to wait in endless serpentine queues waiting to be seen by a surly agent. I walked straight up to a desk, was cheerfully welcomed and sent on my way.
My case was waiting for me, and I cleared customs before rechecking the bag and making my way to gate C60 for my onward flight to Columbus Ohio. The C gates are in a small terminal-ette, rather reminiscent of my nemesis terminal F at Philadelphia, which made me a little nervous, but there were no delays posted as I waited for the flight to board.
Remarkably there were three parties heading to Columbus who had shared the flight from Heathrow so we all fell into conversation. A family of three had just spent a week’s holiday in London and another couple live in Putney, so there was plenty of conversation about what the American’s had seen and enjoyed, and tips for what to do next time.
We landed at Columbus and for the first time since London we all went our separate ways. Mine took me to the Enterprise Rental Car desk where I was furnished with a nice little red Jeep Renegade (the model with a multiplication sign in the rear light cluster). Out onto the freeways and the Jeep was great to drive, taut and sporty. I’d be very happy to have one of these throughout the trip.
The drive to Cambridge was approximately One hour and twenty-two minutes, and the setting sun created the most beautiful kaleidoscope of the trees in full fall colours.
As I reached the city of Cambridge I was reminded of what is consuming America, and the word, at the moment: almost every front yard had political signs planted in the lawn extolling the virtues not only of the two leading candidates, but for various local politicians too. I have no doubt that the next few days people will try to avoid the subject of the election, but will end up discussing it anyway: The elephant in the room, one might say.
I arrived in the driveway in front of the familiar Colonel Taylor Inn, where I had stayed last year. It is a beautiful building, and I very much enjoyed my time there. It is always nice to be in familiar surroundings, and as I walked through the door I was met by Sandy, as I had been last year; and was given coffee, as last year; and shown to the Lilac Room; as last year; and settled in.
Before I fell asleep on the sumptuous four poster bed I made myself drive into town for a bite to eat. I went to Ruby Tuesdays, where they have a superb salad bar and grilled salmon (a quick check of last year’s blog told me that I ate exactly the same last year, too).
I returned to the Inn, at around 10pm, and in no time was asleep.
I have a day to myself now before the shows start on Friday and from that moment on I will be on the roller coaster of the 2016 tour: so buckle up and enjoy the ride!