On Friday it was time to travel again, returning to America for the second part of my 2022 tour. Typically, an international travel day involves departing Heathrow at around 10am, which means packing my cases the night before and getting a taxi at around 6 in the morning. However, on this occasion my flight was not due to depart until 5pm, which gave me plenty of time at home with Liz. My cab was booked for 1.45, so I spent the morning with my cases on the living room floor methodically packing everything that I will need over the next two and a half weeks. Our parting is also difficult, but somehow the extra time on Friday made it more so.
My cab arrived bang on time (a rather scruffy Toyota Prius, compared to the nice Mercedes that takes the early morning shift) and soon I was being driven around the Oxford ring road, and onto the M40, towards London. There was a fair amount of traffic, but I had plenty of time in hand and arrived at Terminal 2 good and early. I had managed to negotiate the United Airlines check-in app (including not only having to upload my Covid vaccination status, but also being requested to manually type every date and drug supplier of my two original injections plus two boosters), so I was able to stroll straight up to the bag drop counter where my passport was checked, and bag tagged. It suddenly struck me that one is never asked if you have packed your own bag, or if anyone has given you anything to take on board anymore, I wonder when that stopped being a safety requirement?
The airport didn’t seem to be very busy, and I cleared security quite rapidly, although my roller case was deemed worthy of extra inspection, and when the agent opened it and saw my gold and red costume waistcoats, she let out a loud ‘Ooooooh!’
The change in my timings was very confusing to me, for having completed the formalities it really felt as if I should go and buy breakfast, because that’s what I always do. Time in an airport, like in a Las Vegas casino, works in a different way to normal life. I mooched around a bit until the signs told me that I should proceed to my gate, which for United means taking an escalator far down into the ground and walking beneath the taxiways before rising into another part of the terminal again. I have made this walk on plenty of occasions, not least back in September when I flew with United, but this time I had a real sense of vertigo as I was taken into the abyss (my online dictionary defines abyss as ‘a deep or seemingly bottomless chasm’, and that is how it felt). I held the rail tightly, aware that I had two United pilots behind me, and I hoped that they didn’t choose today to suffer from the same affliction
The relative quietness of the airport continued into the satellite terminal, for we appeared to be the only flight departing at that time of day, and there was none of the bustle and excitement that makes airports interesting places to be. I knew from the seat plans on the United app that it was quite a full flight, but I had managed to find myself an aisle seat in the centre section with an empty seat next to me. As regulars know I usually prefer to have a window seat, but other than two rows right at the back of the plane outside the lavatories and galley, United don’t offer window seats to economy passengers, unless they pay an extra $169 for the privilege, which I was not inclined to do – especially as the entire flight would be in darkness, making any possibility of a view fairly unlikely.
I settled into seat 34D and spread myself out, took my shoes off and started to look through the film choices. Then I realised that I should have been in 33D, and sure enough another passenger came along the aisle brandishing her boarding card. 33D, my assigned seat, was full also, so I asked that passenger where he should be (I would have been perfectly happy to go to his correct seat), and he looked at his pass to discover that he should have been in 32C. The cabin became like one of those children’s games where you have to switch tiles about to make a picture, having only one empty square to move into each time. Eventually everyone was settled where they should be, and we were ready to leave.
Once again, I scrolled through the film listings and for my first choice decided on Shakespear in Love. It is a fun film, and Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow are superb, as is the supporting cast which features some amazing actors such as Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Antony Sher, Martin Clunes and that nice butler Carson, from Downton Abbey, playing the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Now, of course, the main part of the plot is that William Shakespeare falls in love (not really a plot spoiler, the clue is in the title), and at one point he ends up in the bed of Viola de Lesseps, and it was at this moment that the meal service came around, so I paused the film in order to discuss my dining options and to deliberate between chicken or ravioli. I was aware that the flight attendant gave a rather uneasy look at the screen, before serving me quickly and moving on – the scene was of two entwined naked bodies (admittedly, just about artfully decent with sheets), glowing golden in candlelight, in the very heights of passion and extasy, and it looked for all the world that I was watching some x-rated adult movie. The ravioli was nice, though….
My next two film choices were rather less adult, in fact positively childlike, as I watched ET for the first time in many years, and The Golden Compass, staring Daniel Craig and that nice Mr Carson again, this time as John Faa.
My final movie selection, which would get me onto the ground, was much more highbrow as I decided to watch Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version of Hamlet. It is unabridged production and beautifully told and I enjoyed a great sense of pride in that the location for the castle of Elsinore was Blenheim Palace, just a few miles from our home. If the cast of Shakespeare in Love and The Golden Compass had been stellar, then Hamlet was a real who’s who – Branagh, himself of course, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Richard Briers, Brian Blessed, Kate Winslet, not to mention cameos from such as Robin Williams, Ken Dodd, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, John Mills, Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Charlton Heston and even a brief appearance by John Spencer-Churchill, the 11th Ducke of Marlborough, whose house they using top film in.
As I watched the opening scenes, I was reminded of a passage in A Christmas Carol which is never used in any adaptations, but one which I always enjoy: when the narrator is trying to convince the reader that Jacob Marley really was dead, and. ‘ this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate’ he goes on to reference Hamlet, saying that: ‘If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son’s weak mind’
In fact, as I continued to watch the scene, the influence of it on Dickens became ever clearer, for the conversation between Hamlets senior and junior is so similar to that between Marley and Scrooge. Each ghost bemoans that they are doomed to an eternity of helpless wandering – Hamlet: ‘I am thy father’s spirit. doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature, Are burnt and purged away’, whilst Jacob tells Scrooge, ‘Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house—mark me!—in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!” The ghost of Hamlet’s father says to his son ‘My hour is almost come….lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold.’ and Marley says ‘“Hear me! My time is nearly gone.” Charles Dickens was a great admirer of Shakespear, and the opening of A Christmas Carol is testament to that.
I didn’t have enough time in flight to get too far into the plot, but I think that I will download the film so that I can watch it during the rest of my trip.
The landing at Boston’s Logan airport was uneventful, and in no time we were at the gate at gathering cases, coats and bags. The relative deserted nature of Heathrow was mirrored in America for it seemed as if the London flight was the only international one coming in at that hour. Certainly, the immigration hall was very empty and the whole process was completed in record time, as it always seems to be when I do not have a connection to make. I have been flying into Boston on the Thanksgiving weekend for many years now and know exactly where to go and which bus to board (33 or 55) to take me to the car rental facility. I presented myself at the Hertz Gold member’s office and was directed to a Nissan Pathfinder – an all-wheel drive SUV, in case the snow should begin to fall, which has happened to me here in the past. I settled myself in, fixed the little phone holder, that I had bought a couple of days before, into the air vent and asked the navigation app to take me to the AC Marriott in downtown Worcester.
This year’s tour, although essentially similar to those of the past, has a few changes – some venues have gone (most sadly The Country Cupboard in Lewisburg PA, which has closed for business during the last year – I will so miss my time there with Missy and KJ), and in other places hotels that have become a home from home to me over the years are no longer open or viable. In Worcester I have traditionally stayed at the Beechwood Hotel, but this year the Vaillancourts had booked me into the Marriott, so I had to concentrate a little more than usual, as I was driving through a part of the city that I do not know well yet. The lobby of the hotel was loud with a variety of parties and conferences taking place, but I was soon checked in and riding to the 4th floor, away from the carousing, where I found myself in a very spacious and superbly stylish room.
I unpacked my costumes and hung them so that the creases could gently fall out before Saturday’s performances, and then went back to the restaurant where I had a superb Thai salmon and rice. As soon as the server heard my accent, he fist-pumped me and said ‘Hey, great result today!’ England had been playing the USA in the football World Cup, and they (you) had held us to a goalless draw. The game had been played while I was at 35,000 feet, but the news reports that I read after landing suggested that England had been pretty woeful, and the game had been a rather dull one.
It was about 2.30am in my world when I finished my supper, so I went back to my room and fell asleep to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1. There is no rest for the wicked, and on Saturday it is back on stage with two performances of my 2-act version of A Christmas Carol for my good friends at Vaillancourt Folk Art