The day has arrived and my 2018 Christmas season is officially underway. Between now and December 25th I will be on the road performing A Christmas Carol in America and home in Britain. As regular readers will know this year’s American visits are somewhat shorter than in years past, as it is impossible to be away from our adopted children for long periods of time having spent the last three months building a firm connection.
Also, and equally as important, is the fact that I am leaving Liz to cope alone with two boisterous, excitable and energetic girls, and she needs me home to help.
Goodbyes never get any easier, and this morning runs true to form. Because the first trip is relatively short (just over a week, covering three venues), I am actually taking our little bright green Mazda to Heathrow airport and leaving it in long term parking, and it is with heavy hearts that Liz and I make sure that everything is packed and loaded into the back of it.
The girls are up at 7am and I get two lovely pyjama’d hugs from them, before they disappear to decide what they would like for their breakfasts, leaving Liz and I to have our own tearful goodbye. My last sight of my new family is the three of them standing on the doorstop and waving as I drive away.
The traffic on a Saturday morning isn’t too bad, until I get to the perimeter of Heathrow itself when everything grinds to a halt. I haven’t had any breakfast at home, assuming that I would have plenty of time at the airport, but the clock is ticking as the little green car inches forward, and my hopes of bacon and eggs are gradually dashed.
The America Airline check-in desk is an automated affair, although I still need to see a clerk to go through the security questions. My interview is actually more involved than the one at the US Embassy a few weeks ago, and time continues to pass.
From check-in to security and more waiting in lines. I am rather disappointed to find that I do not have to remove my shoes, as I am wearing my new brightly coloured striped ‘Happy Socks’ which Liz gave me for my birthday but they remain sorrowfully hidden inside my tan boots.
Once I am through security (a process delayed by a young professional couple who are surprisingly naïve regarding travelling, as their bags are filled with liquids all of which have to be removed and inspected), I check the screens and discover that I am already being called to gate 34 to board my flight. Heathrow airport helpfully give a guide as to how long it takes to walk to each gate and I learn that number 34 is as far away as can be, requiring a walk of 20 minutes.
Bye bye Breakfast!
Once in the proximity of the gate I grab a cup of coffee and a muffin and am soon shuffling down the jetway and to my seat, which is next to the window, and with an empty seat next to me, which is a bonus. I settle in to the little cocoon which will be my home for the next ten hours, and strap the two little companions, through whom the children can share my adventures, into the seat next to me and wait to be launched into the sky.
We take off to the west and in no time I have the most perfect view of Windsor castle laid out like a Lego kit beneath me.
The flight is a flight, with not much out of the ordinary. I watch a number of films, and chose meatballs over pasta for my lunch. I read. I play games. I watch more films. There is one worrying moment as I go to the lavatory at the back of the cabin just as the plane hits turbulence, and am just ‘settled in’, so to speak, when the captain announces ‘Please remain seated’ In the tight confines of the loo this announcement feels terribly personal, and I have awful thoughts of being firmly stuck in here until the air smooths out again.
Towards the end of the flight we pass over Boston and then over Philadelphia and it is around these two cities that the second leg of my tour will be based. We continue south over Virginia, where I will not be visiting this year, and then the pressure in my ears lets me know that we are descending into Charlotte airport.
I have a very long layover, so there is no rush to get off the plane quickly, and I join other similarly languid folk taking time to get our belongings together before making our way into the immigration hall.
In recent years the US Immigration force has made strenuous attempts to automate the process which means that folk travelling on a visa and therefore requiring a face to face interview, are not stuck in a huge line and I walk straight up to a booth and after a brief chat I am officially in America. The next step is to retrieve my suitcase, clear customs and then re-check it, and as I stand at the carousel I suddenly remember that I have a new case and should be looking for a blue one, not the old silver which broke at the end of last year’s trip.
With all of the formalities out of the way I now have four hours to kill. I make my way to the beautiful main concourse at Charlotte airport and find a white rocking chair beneath the trees, and watch yet another film, this time on my laptop, which passes another hour or so.
As the clock ticks past 6pm I find a restaurant and order a burger for supper, which fills more time. Meal finished I amble to concourse E which is like a busy hive from which hundreds of little regional jets buzz all over the south.
My flight to Knoxville is due to leave at 8.05 and I am beginning to fade now. In the UK it is 1pm and it has been a long day. I have a seat at the far back of the plane and fall asleep as soo as we accelerate down the runway, so there is nothing to say about this leg of my journey, except I hope I don’t snore!
There is a lovely familiarity about Knoxville airport which I have come to love over the years, and it is a with a sense of homecoming that I walk through the terminal and to the Hertz car rental desk, which is right next to the baggage carousel .
Hertz give me a Nissan Altima and having set my sat nav unit, I start the hour’s drive to Pigeon Forge. It is an odd drive, as usually I do it during the day and have the beautiful vista of the Smoky Mountains on the horizon, but the only clue of their existence tonight are little dots of red light from TV masts and cell phone towers hovering in the night sky.
The hour passes quickly and I am driving towards the Inn at Christmas Place before I know it. The hotel is beautifully lit for Christmas, and it positively glows in the night sky.
I am really feeling tired now and check in is quickly completed. As I get into the lift I find myself in the company of two ladies who say ‘Mr Dickens? Great to see you! We will be coming to the show tomorrow!’
My room with its Christmas tree decorations and wreathes is oh so welcoming.
Unpacking can wait until the morning but the day that has seen me drive two cars and fly in two aircraft over a period of twenty two hours needs to be wrapped up.
It is time for bed.