Friday 3 November, or Black Friday, marked my return to American for the second, and longer, leg of my 2019 tour.
I am used to the pattern and routine of a departure day which typically involves having to be at Heathrow airport at around 8am for a 10am flight, give or take an hour or so, but Friday was different in that my Virgin Atlantic flight wasn’t due to leave until 4.35 in the afternoon, meaning I had most of the day to prepare. I even managed to get a hair cut and beard trim in, so that I would l look well groomed for my east coast audiences.
At 2 o’clock I loaded the car with my new petrol blue Samsonite case and another new addition, a grey Rock roller carry on bag, as my old faithful black one that has been with me for many years finally broke in Ashford a few days before. I was sad to see it go. The replacement was slimmer but still easily held a complete extra costume so that if my main bag should get lost I could still do a show.
The traffic to London at that time of day was light and I arrived at the Meet and Greet parking area in plenty of time and once I had signed various forms and left the car in the care of airport staff I went to check in.
At security I took my shoes off to reveal a patriotic new pair of socks emblazoned with the Union flag, but sadly nobody commented on them.
Everything had gone so smoothly that I had over an hour to kill until the flight’s gate was called, so I bought a water bottle (again featuring the British Union Flag), and had a coffee until at last it was time to leave.
The gate was in a large circular area at the far end of the terminal building and there was a piano there for anyone to play, one young boy attempted a few faltering bars of Claire de Lune (he will assure his piano teacher that he did practice the piece during the week!), and a man with a rucksack and the demeanour of a serious hiker gave us a little jazz.
Outside the sun was setting.
In a rather lovely quaint way Virgin Atlantic don’t board their planes by zone numbers, but by rows, starting at the back and working forward – just like in those olden days of yore, when I started touring! As my seat was in row 56 I was one of the first to board, not counting the suits at the front of the plane. Having settled myself into seat 56K (a window seat) the young man next to me asked if I wouldn’t mind swapping seats with his girlfriend, who was also in a window seat on the opposite side of the plane a few rows ahead, so that they could be together for the next 8 hours, which of course I was happy to do. It almost all went wrong for at the same time he was asking me if I would swap so she was asking the man next to her if HE would swap, meaning that they would still be separated but it all worked out ok in the end and young love was able to run its course.
As we trundled to the runway and then accelerated hard along it the slimmest slither of a crescent moon hung over our port wingtip, beneath it shone the tiny pin prick of Venus and these two celestial bodies would maintain the same relative position in my window for the entire flight as we headed west.
I passed the time with two films, firstly Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ which is one of those films where you know that every single shot has been planned and constructed with a definite reason behind it. There are no instances of ‘lets just film him walking down the street’, for each shadow and car and extra has been placed in that street scene with minute detail. An amazing film (although of course being a Tarantino movie it doesn’t come to a sweet and gentle ending!)
During the film I was served a supper of a chicken curry and rice and so the miles sped by and still the moon shone. My second movie choice was the utterly charming Laurel and Hardy biopic ‘Stan and Ollie’ which was just as brilliant at the second time of viewing. For the rest of the flight I tried to get a little sleep which came irregularly and fitfully.
With about 90 minutes to go before landing we were brought a snack in the form of a traditional cream tea – a fruit scone, a pot of clotted cream and a sachet of strawberry jam, thereby giving me the dilemma of how should I consume it? Should I eat it as a Cornishman or as a Devonian? In the county of Cornwall it is traditional to spread the jam onto the scone and then dollop the cream on top, whereas in the neighbouring county of Devon it is the done thing to spread the cream first and dollop the jam. What to do? I can report that at 38,000 feet over North America I adopted the Devonian technique.
Another thing, Scone as in gone, or scone as in bone? Always gone for me, thereby highlighting the complications of the English language for that final E should be a ‘magic E’ which is only there to lengthen the ‘O’ sound earlier in the word, if it doesn’t do that then what is the point of it being there in the first place? But there we are, in my world the O is short and anyway by this time the scone had gone.
Who knew that I would face such linguistic difficulties during this seemingly routine flight?
We landed a little early and were in the terminal building shortly after 7pm. The crescent moon, a little richer and more golden on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, still hung in the sky as if watching over me.
My heart sank when I entered the immigration hall for there was a very long line, but my evening instantly got better when I realised that all of those people were queuing up to use the little self service terminals. For complicated people like me who had a visa we had to see an agent and there was no line in that part of the room at all. In no time I was on a bus riding to the car rental facility.
In the Hertz garage I was able to choose any car from the 5 star line and as this vehicle was to be my companion throughout the tour I would choose carefully. Initially I was attracted to a white Jeep Wrangler, but when I switched the ignition on a warning light warning of a flat tyre came on, and the car didn’t seem to have an EZ Pass road toll transponder in it either. The wheel rims and tyres were huge and actually the car, although fun would probably have been very uncomfortable and noisy. I eventually settled on the Wrangler’s cousin, a Cherokee and was rewarded by a heated steering wheel, which was rather nice. With forecasts of snow over the next few days I was also keen to have a 4×4.
Travel has become so much easier in the last few years and it was less than an hour from leaving the plane that I was guiding the car through the subterranean warren that is the Boston road system.
My destination was Worcester, Massachusetts and it was a familiar journey that I have made often. I knew that as I neared the Beechwood Hotel the satnav would tell me to turn left when actually I needed to turn right, and soon I was in the hotel car park, unloading my cases, checking in and taking my bags to my lovely large room.
It was almost 9pm now which as far as I was concerned was 2am, so I had dinner in the restaurant and then went straight back to my room and to bed.
On Saturday my shows will begin, but I will have the whole morning to relax and adapt before going to my dear friends the Vaillancourts in Sutton and performing in their impressive temporary theatre there – here we go again!