When I walked off the plane I felt like was walking into a damp overcoat a size too small, and wondered whether I’d made a mistake in rejecting Sister Katherine Waters’ offer of a permanent job in New York. But then history would have been different.
Customs checked my hand-made octave mandola, and my 1,500 dollar Gibson mandolin, and asked when and where I’d bought them. England I said. He studied my face for honesty and let me through.
It was wonderful to see old friends again, tramp along country lanes with Bernie and Greg; good to have a decent pint…fish and chips. But already I missed the huge blue skies, the sparkling air, the sense of vast spaces that encouraged big thoughts. The dream of a child in a hospital bed had come and gone, and now I felt like a ghost in my own country. The familiar had become strange.
Even stranger was the fact that someone else was sitting in my chair, at my work desk in school. Someone with eyes that twinkled and a smile that could thaw winter. I lost a chair but gained a wife, but no more shall be said of her here. My wife and children have their own voices, their own story to tell or not tell.
Friday, 20 May 2011
I’ve often wondered what I would choose for my last meal if I knew I was dying later that day, either by order of the state, (Socrates was un-ambitious sticking to a drink) or by more natural means. It felt like that as we hit Washington, the last day of our tour. In this case it was a bit of a set menu, but I dutifully revisited every monument, garden and statue, and remembered that this had been my first experience of America only a year before.
I hate anti-climaxes, the neither-here-nor-there interludes between major events. If I could have done a ‘cut and paste’ job I’d have zipped back to the inevitable in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately there was another night to endure in New York.
What a strange thing to say. But it wasn’t much fun, packing, looking round Ron’s apartment for one final time, saying goodbye to Bob and Tom and everyone else who’d made me so welcome. I met up with Roland at a similar loose-end, and together we crawled the bars of Greenwich village with Carol Bezvidenhoot. I said goodbye to her with a chaste kiss and walked from the Village to Jackson Heights. New York at night is always an interesting experience.
America was a great adventure, but there was a bigger one to come.
One Adventure ends, another begins. I hope this has proved interesting to my beautiful daughter
Friday, 13 May 2011
I’m finding it harder to write as this particular phase in my life comes to an end. It’s like a man approaching death, and before you say, ‘Michael, you are far too young to be thinking of such things,’ (I hope you all do) I’ve had a morbid mind since the nuns were unleashed upon me in Primary school.
But America was coming to an end, for me at least; you guys still have some way to go. Our next stop was Williamsburg and very beautiful it was too. I remember the long walk from the Information Centre to the ‘Village’, a walk that allowed you to muse on the information imparted by a very professional orientation film shown at our arrival.
Three and a half hours, the time allotted to us, wasn’t nearly long enough, The William and Mary College alone was worth an hour or two. Now it’s a visual snippet lodged in the brain: America’s oldest educational foundation, Christopher Wren inspired architecture, and the alumni of both Washington and Jefferson.
Speaking of Washington
Next we were whisked off to Mount Vernon - Washington of the wooden false teeth fame – his old place. And there I emotionally and physically collapsed. Emotional, not in a blubbering sense, but the realization that I’d become emotionally drained. I couldn’t take any more.
I have no objection to any sober or orderly person's gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, Gardens, &ca. about Mount Vernon.’ Washington wrote in a letter* which was very nice of him.
I was sober and orderly but curiosity was gone. If I saw one more costume, one further piece of bone china, even Washington’s reputed false teeth I’d have hugged my sides and screamed. I’d seen too much…and the curry was having its effects too.
I went to where I always go in periods of great angst, a bar. And afterwards slept on the grass.
Tomorrow, Washington, New York and then the plane home.
*letter to William Pearce (November 23, 1794
Sunday, 8 May 2011
Friday 13th proved uneventful, though Kim was still not speaking to me. Having just passed through Tennessee and Kentucky, Roland and myself debated the merits of their respective bourbons and decided there was only one real way to find out. A bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a bottle of Jim Beam, were duly purchased, and we spent much of the afternoon beneath a shady tree.
First we examined the colour. Jim Beam in sunlight looks like piss, the kind that would earn an approving nod from an urologist but not perhaps from a drinker. Jack Daniels is darker, only slightly so, but sufficient to give that same urologist a degree of concern.
The smell we found difficult to differentiate and we spent several precious minutes sniffing and swirling before finally agreeing that although both shared a similar sweet and sour aroma, Jim Beam’s had the sharper edge. Was that a good or a bad thing? Did sharp mean thin? Further discussion ensued but with no definite conclusion.
Preliminaries satisfied it was time to exercise palate and tongue, teeth relegated to filtering as we sucked and swilled and nodded our heads.
Roland suggested a spit bucket as though we were testing fine wines. He was getting above himself and I reminded him gravely that instead of tasting eight or nine separate and distinct wines, ours was the less onerous chore of sampling just two bourbons. A spit bucket would not be called for though if Roland wanted to spit his out on the grass – away from me – well that was his democratic right.
The afternoon passed quietly other than the occasional clink of bottle on glass, the considered slurp, and every so often an appreciative ‘ummmm’. We drank slowly, sound judgement being the ultimate arbiter.
Hours passed, as we irrigated mouth and throat, savoured that slow, final trickle from oesophagus to stomach until a decision was at at last reached. It was unanimous. Jack Daniel’s was sweeter. And there the discussion continued. Did sweeter mean fuller? Which was the superior drink?
If either distillery would like to sponsor a rematch, this could be arranged, though we draw the line at a Pepsi Vs Coke challenge.
That evening I made curry for the group, with unfortunate consequences.