Sunday, 18 December 2022
The main problem with the New York to London hop is that it’s too short. One is no sooner asleep than it’s breakfast time. Also, breakfast managed to be a disappointment in that it was entirely what I expected, the problem being that dinner had actually been good – rare steak, served in an appropriate amount (is steak the only food for which airline quantities are the right quantities?), with decently not-overcooked accompanying vegetation and in a flavoursome reduction, or jus, or whatever we’re calling privately educated gravy these days.
Terrific descent into England, visually speaking. It always is, somehow. England is exactly the right sized country to see from the air, if the weather’s clear – you can see enough of it to get that minor thrill of seeing a page of the atlas in real life (the satellite pictures are correct!). And if, as today, the cloud cover obscures some of the view, if you time it right, you can get a lovely view of sunrise over a countryside still lit with the lights of any industrialised country as it waits for a dawn that you can see but they can’t, quite yet.
Down and into a taxi, where I was shamelessly ripped off by the driver, with whom I argued much of the way, but the alternative was being dumped into a freezing morning (snow everywhere) just after said dawn, with too much luggage and not enough sleep, so I submitted, and arrived at Steven and Louisa’s in time for a breakfast I didn’t need, but what a welcome sight. The kitchen had swapped rooms since I was last in the house five years earlier, and they both kept apologising for piles of partially constructed Christmas on various surfaces, but the house is beautiful and snug and welcoming as always. Steven was nearly unchanged (why my friends insist upon ageing slightly between visits when I still look like a twenty-year-old is beyond me), Louisa, if anything, more elegant than ever – she has the advantage of several years over (under?) her husband and your correspondent, but (very) early middle age suits her well. The girls, though, were my chief interest. Five years, for that is how long it had been between visits, is a long time when you’re three and five. Now eight and ten, they are superstars, literally in that both were on stage that afternoon, but both are clearly also fearsomely bright and delightfully different in character – Stella thoughtful and calm, Agnes knowing no speed but full – but both perfectly happy to belt out a show tune audible throughout the house.
Too tired to do anything, so a short stroll around the village with Steven and Axel, a miniature schnauzer and the latest addition to the family, was all I could manage. Axel, poor little brillo pad, has been quite seriously sick, and is on pills that make him listless and incontinent. I was far too indulgent of him and became quite the favourite, which he demonstrated by constantly trying either to climb into my lap or shag my lower leg senseless. And I do mean shag – no heavy petting this, his excitement so obvious even through the fabric of my trousers that I was almost minded to let him take it all the way, the poor wee thing so clearly not finding much enjoyment in any other aspect of life, just at the moment. My one task for the day was to stay awake for the World Cup final, Argentina v France. I was a little sceptical of its ability to enthral, having no fondness for either team, but the history books will tell you that it was an extraordinary match, and my chin only hit my chest twice, I believe, and only for a moment each time. The true miracle, though, is that I lasted until about 10pm local time, before horizontality became completely unavoidable.