After two shows at opposite ends of Great Britain, and less than a day at home, Friday saw me resume my United States tour as I prepared to fly from London to Boston.
My alarm was set for 6am, but I woke an hour earlier than that remembering that I hadn’t packed or updated my SatNav unit. Of course, such a trifling matter was completely unimportant – I could pack it before I was due to leave at 8, and even if I didn’t, I would have my phone to assist me along the way, but in those dark, early hours, everything takes on levels of global importance. As soon as I got up I found the small, and rather old, unit in a drawer and packed it into my case, the updating would have to be done at the airport.
Goodbyes are always difficult and this one was no different albeit wrapped up and foreshortened by the complications of getting the children dressed and out of the door ready for school. My taxi arrived on the stroke of 8 and soon I was on the way to Heathrow airport, as I had been 3 weeks previously – this was almost turning into a commute.
The journey was flawless which was perhaps surprising during a Friday morning rush hour, and I checked in and cleared security at Heathrow Airport with very little delay, leaving me with over an hour to check the navigation unit. I logged on and sure enough the American map needed updating. Having purchased the upgrade and set the download to begin I discovered that apparently the USA has grown in the last 2 years for the new map was too large to fit onto the little device. I was given the option to select a portion of the country, and as this trip is going to focus entirely on the North East corridor, that suited me just fine. As the updated content downloaded so my flight flashed up on the screens confirming that it would departing from gate B36, and I should make my way there. The B gates at Heathrow Terminal 5 are separated from the main building, and to get to them you have to descend the longest escalator you have ever seen, board a shuttle train and then rise to ground level once more. The train was extremely busy and as the crowd was disgorged, we all made for the escalator that would take us up again. There were lifts available, but everyone avoided them, presumably not wanting to be squashed into such a confined space in these Covid days, meaning that instead we were all squashed together on the escalator whilst the elevators remained empty, and therefore much safer: the apparently more risky alternative had proved itself to be the sensible option: to escalate or elevate?
At the gate I took a seat and waited for the boarding to begin, and sure enough soon a recorded female voice informed us that she invited Group 1 to board. A few expensive suits with their brief cases ambled through the priority lane but the bulk of the crowd remain unmoved, until the same voice came over the PA for a second time and told us that Group 6 was now being invited. This was a surprise but a large bunch of us stood, gathered our bags and made for the gate, until we realised that the same voice recording was being used for the Chicago flight at the next gate, in fact the flight that I had taken a few weeks before, so we all sat sheepishly down again.
While I was preparing to board I had a message from Liz at home that will appeal to all who laugh at Mrs Cratchit’s panic-stricken antics with her Christmas pudding. Last year Liz made two puddings, one of which we steamed and ate as part of our Chritsmas lunch whilst the other remained sealed in the cool dark cupboard, where it had been ever since Liz mad made the mixture sometime in the autumn of 2020. Yesterday Liz decided to investigate to see if we would be able to eat it on Christmas day this year and to her dismay found that the entire thing had grown an outer fur of blue mould – ‘Supposin’…..supposin’…..’
Back at the gate Groups 2, 3, 4 and 5 were called and at last when ‘our’ group 6 was called I could take my rightful seat on the starboard side of the plane.
On the last flight from Heathrow I calculated that we flew pretty well over the top of my home town, but I had been in the wrong side to get a view, so this time I had selected seat K instead of A to see if my hunch was correct. Although there had been heavy rain and low cloud through the morning, by the time we took off the sky had cleared and I tracked our progress with interest: There was Windsor Castle (easy to spot), the M4 and Reading. The Thames meandered around beneath us: was that the bridge at Marlowe that was the subject of a painting that used to hang in my parents’ bedroom? And then I could see the Wittenham Clumps, a favourite walking spot for us, the site of the old Didcot Power Station and then yes, there was Abingdon with the river running through it. I could clearly see the all-weather sports stadium where my daughter goes for her football training, and the ring road around the town. There was the new housing development, and the roundabout at which the ring road intersects The Oxford Road. From there it was easy to see my own neighbourhood and I waved to Liz and the girls, as I had promised that I would.
We soared ever higher into the sky, leaving Oxfordshire behind us, and headed towards Boston. To while away the time, as the British Airways flight attendants diligently served me with a lunch of Lemon Thyme Chicken, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody again and as on the previous two occasions a tear came to my eye during the Live Aid sequence. Following that I selected Joker, the extremely bleak prequel to the Batman franchise, and after that the joyful Disney film Moana – just to cheer me up a bit, although in fact it sent me to sleep for a while. When I woke we had just under two hours to go and were making ‘landfall’ over the Gulf of St Lawrence. We began our long slow descent into Boston and as the cloud was very low by the time I could see the land below us we were skimming over the many little islands that lie just off the Massachusetts coast. A little bump, a skip and we were taxiing to our gate, ready to set foot on American soil once more.
For once the lines in the immigration hall were minimal and apart from trying to explain how I alone do 30 different characters in my show, the interview with the agent was not difficult and in no time I was walking towards the carousel to await the arrival of my large blue case, and in one of those rare moments of triumph as I arrived so did my case – perfect timing!
To collect a rental car at Boston airport you have to get on a shuttle bus so before I braved the cold windy and wet weather, I popped into a rest room, before dragging my cases to the curb side and waiting for a bus on route 33. Eventually once arrived and a large group piled in, loading our luggage onto the various racks, and just as we pulled away I discovered that I didn’t have my phone with me – in a horrible moment of clarity I realised that I had left it in the rest room, on a small shelf.
There was nothing to do than to stay on the bus and do the whole lap of the airport again, until I was back at Terminal E, with no great hope of being united with my phone. However the arrivals lounge was very empty, obviously with no other flights having landed since mine, and I hurried back to the rest room, looked at the metal shelf and had my faith in human nature restored, for there lay my phone.
I once more waited for bus 33 and once more was taken to the rental car center, where I was due to pick up a vehicle from Hertz. At the desk I asked for a four wheel drive car, as I will be using this vehicle throughout the trip and there maybe snow and ice along the way. After a little while of computer tapping, the Hertz agent said that she had an All Wheel Drive car, if that was ok? She said it rather apologetically as if she was truly sorry that she didn’t have a 4-wheel drive, only an all wheel drive one, and I confirmed that it would be fine, mentally chastising myself for the lapse in my conversational American language skills.
The paperwork completed I made my way into the garage to discover who would be my friend, protector and companion for the next three weeks and found a rather smart deep metallic red Nissan Rogue. I loaded my cases, set the satnav unit which came to life instantly and informed me that the journey to Worcester would take just under an hour. I sped through the subterranean road system of Boston and then passed Fenway Park on my left before leaving the city behind me. The drive seemed reassuringly familiar and certainly not as if it had been two years before I last made it. The newly downloaded map still requested that I turn the wrong way at the intersection where the hotel sat, and as I have done for so many years, I ignored it and drove to the car park of the Beechwood Hotel.
Having checked in I had a little time to unpack and hang my costumes so that the worst of the travelling wrinkles would be gone by Saturday’s performances, and then had a short rest before meeting up with Gary and Judi Vaillancourt for a ‘welcome home’ dinner. It was lovely to be with my old friends again, and once more it hardly seemed as if it had been two years since last we gathered.
Outside the windows snow began to fall, and it really seemed as if Christmas was coming back to life.