It is early on Friday morning and today our goodbyes are going to be said at the front door, rather than at the airport. My cases are packed and ready to go and I have put my Happy Socks on ready for airport security.
At exactly 7.30 a silver Mercedes with darkened windows pulls up and a cheerful driver carries my large case to the car whilst the four of us hug on the doorstep. It never gets any easier.
I settle into the luxury of a leather seat and before we pull away Jay, the driver, turns and says ‘before we leave – wallet, passport, phone. OK? we go!’ One last wave and I am off on my adventures again.
Jay is very jolly and cheerful and chats for the whole journey about his love of physics, science fiction, politics, gun control and his love of England. He came here from Poland over ten years ago followed by his aging mother, and he says how happy he is here, and how welcome he has been made – which is so good to hear. The fallout from the Brexit vote might make one feel that anyone trying to settle in our country would be driven out with flaming pitchforks, so it is reassuring to hear a genuinely happy story.
The drive passes quickly, with little traffic on the road and soon Jay and I are shaking hands and I tug my cases into Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. T5 is dedicated to British airways and is the most modern addition to the airport, meaning that I do all of the checking in myself, attach my own bag tags to my case and send it through the conveyor belt. I am surprised that I do not have to ask myself if I had packed the bag and whether it had been in my possession since then, but a clerk does take that responsibility away from me.
Having checked in it is off to security. I remove my belt, watch and boots, and my day is completely made for me when one of the officers says ‘great socks!’ he may have been a little concerned had he searched my pockets however, for I appear to have brought a rubber eyeball (leftover from Hallowe’en) in my coat.
I have got a lot of time in hand, so I go off to find a restaurant where I devour a delicious breakfast of Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.
Eventually the monitors tell me that I will be boarding at gate C35 and I take the subterranean train to the C gates to discover that I will be flying in a good old Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’. I know modern planes are quieter, and more efficient but there is something about flying on a Jumbo that excites me.
The gate area is very full as besides my Boston flight there is another flying to New York out of C34. Boarding starts at the same time and there is a fair amount of confusion as people (not me, I hasten to add), get into the wrong lines. I get very rebellious and go to the gate before my zone (5) has been called to board, and slip in with the Zone 4 people. I’m sure that my crimes will come back to haunt me one day.
As I enter the plane I give an envious glance to the little staircase that leads to the seats in the bubble over the cockpit – last time I flew on a 747 I was fortunate to mount those stairs and fly not at 34,000 feet, but at 34,015 feet in the luxury of whatever class it is up there.
It is a full flight so I do not have room to spread my things out on an empty seat, but it is OK. The entertainment system is already working so I can start watching my first film as we wait to taxi to the runway. I chose The Sting. I haven’t seen it for so long, and love watching Newman and Redford together. Strangely enough I watched Jaws when I flew home a couple of weeks ago which stars Robert Shaw who is also in The Sting. This sets up a sort of game in my head of Movie Connections – could I watch each film because it is linked to a previous one by cast or director.
Life. Get. A!
The Sting is a pleasure to watch and takes me to lunch which is a chicken Tikka dish. I then watch a documentary about Evel Knievel which is not great, followed by an episode of Top Gear. Next choice is The Bird Cage and I have my customary wave of melancholy that always surrounds me when I watch Robin Williams. I don’t make it to the end of the movie and fall asleep.
When I wake up I check the interactive map and discover that there are just over 2 hours left until we land in Boston, so I scroll through the film choices once more and select Disney’s The Lion King and thereby, unintentionally, continue my Movie Connections game as Nathan Lane voices Timon as well as appearing in my previous choice of The Bird Cage.
The ground beneath us is frozen and snowy, not only over Nova Scotia but also down towards Bangor and Portland, where I will be driving too in three days time. I am glad that I asked Bob and Pam to make sure I had an all wheel drive SUV for my rental car.
Pressure in my ears coincides with Simba returning to Pride Rock and soon we are making our final approach into Boston and I admire the skyline that is as familiar to me as New York City or even London. I have had many wonderful times in and around Boston and it has formed a central hub to much of my touring life and I always feel very comfortable here.
We have been helped on our way by strong tail winds and have made excellent time meaning that I am in line to chat to a friendly immigration officer even before I should have arrived. With yet another stamp in my passport I am officially welcomed to the United States of America.
I collect my bag and make my way to blue bus number 33 which I know from experience will take me to the car rental facility where I am introduced to my companion for the next 17 days – a sturdy, solid, silver (note the comma, it is not solid silver), Nissan Rogue. It is a wonderful thing that I have no internal flights on this leg of the trip, so I can keep my hat, cane and various props in the car for the whole time, rather than constantly having to pack them into a case.
I set the SatNav system to take me to the Beechwood Hotel in Worcester, find a station playing Christmas songs, and settle in for the drive.
Initially I navigate the tunnels beneath Boston and then onto the roads that take me past the slightly disorganised looking sprawl that is Fenway Park. Soon I am leaving the city behind me.
Although the roads are clear there is still plenty of snow lying in the woods and there is a wonderfully festive feel to the 50 minute drive.
I have stayed at The Beechwood Hotel for many years and I know that the address that I have typed into the SatNav wont actually take me to it, so although she tells me turn left at the final junction I ignore the well spoken lady and peel off to the right to pull into the car park.
Oh and now there is a wonderful moment: as I check in the lady behind the desk says ‘let me just make sure that your room is ready Mr Dickens’ and then she talks into her phone: ‘Our VIP guest has arrived and I wanted to check if the room is prepared for him’. A big grin on my face!
I go to my room, a lovely suite complete with a fireplace and settle in. I hang the costumes up, and make sure that I have packed everything I need, discovering that deodorant and gloves are the two items that haven’t made it, but a nearby Wal-Mart can sort that out tomorrow morning.
At 6 o’clock I get a call from Gary Vaillancourt and I go downstairs to meet up with him and Judi for dinner. We chat and catch up over a slow long dinner. We share appetizers of cauliflower fried in a mild curry batter, and a large platter of humus, tabbouleh and flatbreads. For a main course I have a Ribeye steak, Gary has a salmon en croute and Judi has a squash salad. None of us can manage a dessert.
We talk as if the intervening 363 days have passed in the blink of an eye and it is great to be back with such good friends again.
Of course as far as I am concerned it is getting on towards 2am and I am beginning to flag a little, so Gary and Judi say farewell and drive back to Sutton, and I ride the lift to the 5th floor, where I lay on the bed and very soon fall asleep.