far too much writing, far too many photos

The events of that last entry happened a week ago. Last Monday morning found me packed into a rental car with D. and G., streaking along winding country two-lanes away from Edinburgh toward the border with England, a day that began with Scottish sunshine, ending with gray skies, midlands rain.

This morning found me here in bed, in my quiet house beneath gray Vermont skies, every window looking out on damp countryside slowly turning green.

Last Tuesday: did a final trip to the cave that passed as the local gym (packed with cardiovascular machines, europop tunes blaring cheerily from the in-house stereo, but still a cave) before dragging G. into Newcastle-under-Lyme center to a tea room. Which may sound poofy and boring, but involved great food and good views of the pedestrian area of Newcastle’s downtown, streets lined with shops (including, as G. noted, a startling number of thrift shops affiliated with nonprofit organizations), busy with people. (The tea was okay.)

Wednesday: Made the 15-minute drive along rain-soaked roads to Monkey Forest, a preserve that’s home to two large colonies of free-roaming Barbary macaques, 160 of them in all. The weather cooperated, precipitation eased up, allowing us a long, lingering, interesting visit, the other humans in attendance as much fun to watch as the residents.

During the previous week and a half, D. and I had spent evenings whipping through the first 13 episodes of Firefly, leaving only the final installment and the big-screen wrap-up, Serenity, for us to tackle. The previous evening we did the last episode, G. sitting through it patiently, though not, I suspect, wildly enamored of the experience. This evening — my last on British soil for now — we cranked up Serenity, G. once again patiently tolerating (the patient thing no small deal, given that our lounging area/screening room was his bedchamber — one of the hazards of sleeping on a living room sofa). Tammy, D.’s friend/ex-sweetheart came over to watch the weekly CSI doubleheader, found herself relegated to the idiot box in D.’s bedroom while the rest of us rode a space-western rollercoaster downstairs. Once David Caruso had finished posing for the evening, she joined us, stretched out on the sofa to snuggle with D., face buried in his chest. Tammy is tall, rangy, smart, attractive — I’m not sure how D. maintained focus on the film with her pressed up against him like that.

Thursday: the trip back stateside. G. had a 9 a.m. flight, mine took off at 10. The rental car had to be returned on the way to Manchester, the agency — located somewhere near the airport — had to be found. All of which would require being out the door real damn early, functioning at a fairly high level. All of which we managed, me maneuvering the car up the M6 through hordes of tractor-trailers, going far too fast. So fast that we made it to the general area of the rental agency with plenty of time to spare. Good thing, ’cause the directions I’d printed up from a map-it style website went vague and wacky as we neared the end of the drive, resulting in 20 or 25 minutes of getting on and off high-speed roads in various directions, nosing around local streets through many charming neighborhoods until I finally followed an impulse, ignored the directions and brought us right to the agency. Sometimes I amaze myself.

Given the hour and the unexpected mayhem, G. and I did fine, fine in this case meaning only the occasional moment of disharmony. And then the pressure was off, life was wonderful once again.

Far too early, en route to Manchester Airport — Cheadle, England:

A lovely, cool morning in one of Manchester’s many fine suburbs. Soon as we were out of the car and I no longer had to perform like a mature, capable human, I reverted to the bumbling, half-conscious state more normal for me at 7:15 a.m. A friendly, talkative agency employee (the only agency employee awake and on the job) chauffered us to the airport, dropped us at our respective terminals. I dragged the body bag up to check-in, encountering long lines and a security scene of such intensity that one would think the destination was an armed camp. (Note to self: restrain impulse to add politically stupid wiseass remarks.)

Heard no other American accents around me, in keeping with my general experience in the midlands. All other passengers seemed to be local folk. Checked in, the body bag so stuffed with, er, stuff that it had to be dispatched from a special portal along the terminal, one with a conveyer belt broad and unhindered enough to allow passage of bulging, gargantuan-sized luggage.

Finally found myself onboard, the two seats next to me occupied by a pair of Irish-sounding gents who seemed to make a conscious effort to ignore me in every possible way. Not that they had to entertain me, or even acknowledge my physical/metaphysical existence. It’s just that something about whatever was going on seemed strangely hostile. Once in the air and out over the Atlantic, I made a trip to the bog at the rear of the plane, discovering a lovely empty window seat along the way, only one other person in that row — a portly gent with a face whose features hinted at years of hard living, in a weathered, Bukowski kind of way. (Now that I think about it, his entire mien had a Bukowski look, strong enough that it sounded stange to hear a midlands accent coming from his mouth.) He had no objection to me claiming the window perch, I grabbed my stuff from the other seat, made the switch.

Much better.

My neighbor remained quiet until I pulled out my laptop (now there’s a phrase ready-made to be employed as a nasty euphemism), his eyes lighting up when he saw it, happily launching into a narrative about being in the middle of replacing a beloved, recently deceased laptop. He pulled out a list of candidate models he’d been compiling, mused aloud over which one he might go with. From there, the narrative shifted to work, turned out he was a plumber on the way to Kentucky for several months of work at a military base. A nice person. Friendly — one more confirmation of my general experience with folks from the midlands.

[this entry in progress]

Madrid, te echo de menos.

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