I am still under the influence of glandular fever / mononucleosis, which held firm throughout the trip. I'm still noticeably hotter than usual, for one of the more prosaic and less entertaining definitions of hot; often I will wake up with thoroughly sweated-into pyjamas. In addition, sleep still comes in bursts of no more than two or three hours. The appetite is waning; all this has led to my naked bodyweight falling down to 180 lbs., which half-completes a New Year's Resolution, but getting glandular fever is a hell of a way to do so. Not recommended.
One happy factor is Middlesbrough's air is rather less hot and dry than that I habitually found abroad, so I no longer have a permanently sore throat. With the sore throat and the temperature, all this adds up to me not having got a lot of sleep while I was in Boston. Now normally I would encourage this as having been a good thing, but there were definitely ways in which this was not for the best of reasons. Ah well.
Despite the whinging, this was definitely the week of my life with the highest quality-of-happiness : quality-of-health ratio, performing extremely well on the numerator as well as being at 0.8 or so all week on the denominator. I am very much in love with the wonderful dezzikitty; the more I learn about her, the more there is to love about her. It is a joy to give her reasons to be cheerful, and no less than she deserves for being one big reason for me to be cheerful. Meg will be posting about the week as well, especially about her tremendous birthday party on Friday. She also has photos which will make you... well, display your normal reaction to couple-y cuteness, but only more so.
Tuesday: as discussed, an "averagely lousy" coach trip from Middlesbrough to London, which translates to really moderately displeasant. I ended up next to a guy who had a disturbing habit of literally beating himself up for not being able to get to sleep, but I managed to snatch 60-90 minutes en route. Sent a video message to dezzikitty on an Internet phone, which was definitely £1 o' fun for the money, cleaned up at Victoria Coach Station and had a Subway for breakfast with addedentry. Now Subway ain't no Hungry Jack's but their Veggie Delite is kind of more-ish.
Changed at South Kensington, for Megtastic memory bonus, then Picadillied Heathrowwards. Fell asleep somewhere past Acton Town and woke up at Heathrow 4, bursting for the loo; counted the seconds until H123 then sprinted up the escalators to the lavs. Not pleasant, but the best that could be done under the circumstances. Made way to Terminal 1, headed for check-in desk, saw Phill Jupitus (just having checked into bmi, I think), observed he was carrying a big black box marked BBC and decided it really was him. I didn't have a pen at hand, but he wandered off one way and I retrieved a pen just in case. Happily he wandered back the other and I inquired whether it would not be too naff to trouble him for a signature. He wrote a cheerful-and-interesting-if-uninspired "For Chris, tickets etcetera! Phill Jupitus" on my, erm, ticket wallet. All told, a Good Result. (Surely?)
Icelandair is lousy - of the six airlines I've crossed the Atlantic with, I'd put them only above the trip I took with the happily-now-defunct TWA in the late '80s. Icelandair food consists of a breadcrumbed chicken patty, filled with cheese sauce in the style of a Chicken Kiev, with a stealth slice of salami in the middle. On the four legs I flew, London to Reykjavik, Reykjavik to Baltimore-Washington, Baltimore-Washington to Reykjavik and Reykjavik to London, they served this identical patty three times, (They probably would have served it a fourth time had the last leg not been a breakfast one.) First time was with what can only be described as a yellow rice sauce, second time with mashed potatoes and insipid greens, third time in beef gravy alongside more rice (including grated carrot and cucumber). Breakfast was an omelette above a slice of ham, topped with barely-sort-of-fried potatoes. Overall mark for food: 3/10, and that mostly for decent rolls and fair (if dry) chocolate brownies. Tip: declare yourself vegetarian and hope.
Icelandair also lose points for their drinks service. Tea, coffee and cups of water are complimentary, but in short supply; everything else, you must pay for - even juice and fizzy pop. The cost of non-alcoholic drinks is 1: £1, €1 or $1, or 10 Generic Scandinavian Crowns From Wherever. To be fair, buying a half-litre bottle of water for $1 is a pretty good deal for a flight, though. In-flight entertainment: sub-Delta movies. Seats: very uncomfortable. I paid £0+tax for the flight, which was about a fair price; you really do get what you pay for. (Yet might I fly Icelandair again? I might if it let me save, say, £100 or £150 compared to something comfortable like Virgin.)
Got to Baltimore-Washington. Filled in immigration form and declared myself to have no communicable diseases hence eligible for a visa waiver. Had a tuna salad at the City Deli there (dodgy) and took an AirTran flight from BWI to Boston (extremely conducive to sleep, so excellent). Met Meg and had great big happy hug-filled reunion. Caught a cab home. Met first of Meg's housemates. Meg's apartment is very nice, but you don't get the details. Collapsed.
Wednesday: Meg bravely got up and went to work; I caught up on sleep, both morning and afternoon, soaking all and sundry with sweat. Upon Meg's return, we went out to the local grocery and bought all sorts of strange items, most of which we had excellent intentions about eating and did not eat. Specifically, we bought 4 apples and a hand of 7 bananas, along with a very cute little pot of dried fruit. We actually ate: 2 bananas and about one example of each type of fruit in the pot. (Dried apple and dried pear: significantly less inspiring than they sound, and I thought they sounded inspiring.) Dinner: pasta alfredo, made by Meg's fair hand, which I hadn't had before. Yum! Meg cooks like a good 'un and I have no objections at all to doing the washing up. Happy memories of the year next to zorac, there. We may have started watching a Eddie Izzard DVD that night, too; it's not that I wasn't enjoying it, but I kept collapsing into bed sleepily after about 20-25 minutes each time. Sorry, Eddie!
OK, so you get four paragraphs about Icelandair and one short one about Wednesday. This is because Icelandair is lousy and hence interesting to write about. Wednesday, while ill, was lovely and hence less exciting to write about. Plus we get to keep all the interesting details to ourselves.
Thursday: Up early, showers and off into town together to drop Meg off to work, finding out more about her daily routine. From there I wandered a quarter-mile down the road to the local Prudential Mall and started to explore. (They have a food court! With an Indian restaurant!! Which serves mango lassi!!! Though, alas, a treat which must wait until next time.) I return home and visit Shaw's to purchase a packet of Lindt truffles on a hot tip-off. After that, I returned home and worked on a cunning plan, inspired by a Boston tourist information leaflet I had picked up in the mall. Meg's birthday would be the next day, Friday, but in addition to the other presents (which are hers to tell about!) I engineered a way to see if we could go to the Charles Playhouse and see the Blue Man Group. Happily, there were a pair of tickets left for the Saturday late night performance, at the very edge of the balcony, so I swooped back into town and nabbed 'em.
Then to TeaLuxe, our agreed meeting-point. However, with the temperature being 80°F (about 26°C, so about twice as far from freezing as I was expecting) I declared it to be time for a pre-lunch box of milk at Rebecca's Cafe two doors down. Unfortunately the heat and the miscellaneous excitement contributed to me having about four bites of my lunch and getting the rest in a box to go. The afternoon arrangement was called off on all sides, so I returned back to Casa Meg for a siesta. Hey, heat of the day and all that - it sounds more authentic than "another nap".
Meg came home after work with the excellent news that Friday's planned half-day had turned into a none-day and in fact the start of a four-day birthday weekend. Upon making the fatal discovery that their cable system got the Game Show Network on channel 58, I couldn't be prised from The $100,000 Pyramid. D0rkishly, I a-capella'd and hand-jived along to the theme tune. A good dozen or so of the game show side of my friends list will sigh happily at the thought of me having a girlfriend who will not b00t me afar instantly at this point. Truly a reason why Meg is the ideal girlfriend for me based on every lady I have ever met on any continent, though I accept that "being prepared to put up with someone who likes obscure '80s American game shows" may well not feature on your list of partnership assets. Call it a fetish - yeah, yeah...
And so to Sunset's for dinner with Meg, the groovy goodtime girl muffinbutt (malachan, you must have so much fun together!) and the tremendously open, happy elsalus (and it's clear to see why Meg thinks you such a fine friend). I tried the communal shark starter and found it surprisingly mild; the rest of dinner was made up of meaty chicken fajitas. There was also a toilet break during the length of which the Red Sox conceded four runs to the Montreal Blue Jays(?), but less of that. A quiet evening in was required afterwards.
Friday: a very gentle start to the day, before Meg unwrapped her presents. Most memorable present, lurking within a sewing box, was a new friend, but the story is Meg's to tell. Lots of cards and gifts from Meg's many friends about the land; a very happy start to the day. Meg had ham, cheese and crackers for lunch; I was much more in the mood for TeaLuxe salad-and-salsa pittas than I had been the day before. After that, we packed an overnight bag and made our way to the Westin Copley Place; Meg had enjoyed the Westin chain's Heavenly Bed in the past, plus this is extremely well-situated. Tip: it may be well worth joining the AAA for the savings you make at just one or two Westin stays.
Accordingly, we checked into our Junior Suite in the early afternoon and set to take advantage, just a little, of the facilities. Shortly afterwards, we trooped through the network of interlocking malls down to the Cheesecake Factory; their bizarre policy of accepting neither reservations nor call-ins meant that the only way for us to get a table for twelve was to send people down and queue for "ooh, about a couple of hours" in advance. Thankfully the Cheesecake Factory (a venue chosen for its immensity and for a menu with the variety to have something to please everyone!) was just across the way from Barnes & Noble, so we could get a crossword magazine to co-operate upon until our brains melted and excellent company arrived in rescue.
One other thing we noted at Barnes & Noble with great amusement was the size of little yellow ducks on sale. Now originally there were large ducks and small ducks. However, many people authentically recreated Make Way For Ducklings by buying their own authentic family: one large Mrs. Mallard and eight smaller ducklings (Jack, Kack - poor dear! - Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack). Accordingly, this would necessitate making several times as many of the smaller ducklings - eight, perhaps? - as of the larger Mrs. Mallards. The B&N had got their ratio somewhat incorrect and were left with a surfeit of Mrs. Mallards with no ducklings to look after. The cunning thing to do at this point, in a McDonalds-like feat of super-sizing, would be to introduce a limited-edition larger duck still, so that the former Mrs. Mallards might turn out to be ducklings to a Very Big Mrs. Mallard Indeed. It's like the St. Ives riddle, only backwards. And with ducks.
After a meal at The Cheesecake Factory enjoyed by all, with many happy smiles and photos to accompany, the dozen of us retreated back to the Junior Suite at the Westin. Meg's friend Jen (and I lose track of LJ names here) had made a fantastic cake, the size of a very respectable pillow; not only had the cake a particularly zesty tang of lemon, it was frosted beautifully in white. Star attraction were four rows of six wobbly yellow ducklings all making way in a happy yet orderly fashion for each other. 24 ducks for the 24 years in the greatest birthday cake I have ever set eyes and teeth upon; here's to an 8-by-12 96th birthday cake that's just as much fun. It also meant that we could each enjoy a very generous slice of cake, boundary demarked by the duck, with still a large half of the cake left over!
Many of the friends kindly gave Meg somve very exciting-looking books as gifts (though we enjoyed the gag gifts too!) and there were plenty more photos and good humour. Even the Westin themselves sent up a well-wisher, with card and gift-basket in tow, when we asked room service for a cake knife. An extremely pleasant and comfortable evening to what I hope and believe was Meg's best birthday yet; people filed home at about eleven or so, leaving us to our own devices.
Saturday: a cuddly start to the day watching the previous evening's Sportscenter (we enjoyed the Not-The-Top Ten!) before breakfast in bed. Meg likes her eggs in the morning to be substituted by bacon - an answer to the gag you hadn't heard before - and I enjoyed a power-packed smoothie. Taking things very slowly and gently, we enjoyed a couple of tours of the cold swimming pool and the blood-temperature whirlpool, before taking full advantage of our "Privilege Plus" late checkout at 2pm. Then back to base and even a short Saturday afternoon nap.
The Saturday evening excitement was a trip out to see the Blue Man Group. Now I knew these primarily from the strength of their bizarre Intel ads some years ago, but I had looked into them over the years and the reminder that they were playing in Boston struck me as a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (Also, I know that someone on my Friends list has listed them as an interest, but I can't remember who; the two most plausible subjects return negative, and the interests search doesn't ring bells either. Nevertheless, if it's you, thanks for the pointer.) Accordingly, I was thrilled that tickets were available and that Meg expressed an interest in coming along.
The BMG are a one-of-a-kind act, bordering on novelty but without the negative connotations that "novelty act" carries. Their main gimmick is extremely cool drumming - on anything and everything, but most interestingly on plastic tubes of different sorts and in different ways. They hammer away at the ends of tuned pipes, plus also the lengths of pipes which they extend and contract, trombone-style, to change the frequencies. (At a stretch, I suppose this could be compared to the Stomp musical with its wide variety of unlikely urban percussion and tap-dancing.) They also have a live band as backup to provide some melodies where appropriate.
However, the drumming is perhaps a quarter of the act. Much of the rest is physical comedy, with some spectacular stunts that I shall not spoil mixed in. The Blue Men themselves are ignorant, mute mimes, but they have very charming, naive characters, interacting with everyday objects - and sometimes members of the audience! - in surprising ways. It's a super sonic show, playing with both noise as well as music. The finale is spectacular and borders on synaesthetic, but is a tremendously tactile audience-participatory experience that you just won't get to have, and to share, anywhere or anyhow else. The fact that it's set to the KLF's Last Train To Trancentral, a classy, uplifting piece of '92 electronica which I hadn't enjoyed for years and years, only makes it better. An immensely joyful conclusion. Bernie (deepfun) DeKoven would love it.
That said, for me, on a one-to-five star scale, the overall show is firmly rooted in the fours rather than a five. You get an hour and three quarters for your money, straight through without an intermission, but only perhaps an hour of that is seeing the brilliant Blue Men. There are pre-taped inserts which are played from time to time, plus a lot of following scrolling messages. Now I'll grant you that these are done very well and inevitably (and happily!) there are interesting twists on the basic formats involved. Nevertheless, it sets my "is this tremendously brave and innovative art or is this a naked Emperor?" meter tingling; when the high spots are so high, this starts to feel faintly like lazy filler. It's very good at what it does, but it's not nearly as much fun as watching the Blue Men out there doing things. Or maybe I watched too many scrolling-message demos on my Amiga twelve years back.
OK, that's a quibble, and mostly one for me to show my vast knowledge of art criticism (ahem) rather than anything else. On the fun factor scale, the Blue Man Group show earns a full three barrels of monkeys. It's worth delaying your trip to see the BMG in order to get the best seats, front and center; members of the "poncho section" do don provided protective clothing, but this is more on the unlikely off-chance that something slightly messy does spatter - no non-Governor Gallagher-style smash-a-watermelon-into-the-audience style antics here. The seats we had at the extreme ends of the balcony gave us a good view of what happened on stage, an acceptable view of the video screens and a limited view of the recessed backstage where some of the drumming taken place. If you're still in two minds, read the official web site; if you think you might like the show, then you really will. Thumbs firmly up! I are having many love for Blue Man! (Meg, see this for passing mention of Charo, too...)
So we returned joyfully after the show to find our beloved friends in the apartment below packing their rooms and balcony to approximately six times safe working load for what was not so much a kegger party as a three-kegger party. (We saw the barrels ready to be rolled upstairs.) Words were had; Meg's housemates kicked arse. When the party and its repetitive bass non-music subsided in the wee sma's, we called it a night.
Sunday: definitely a day to take things easy; eventually we rolled along to the habitual brunch place to join Sunday regulars irinaauthor, muffinbutt and elsalus to dig into the brunch troughs. There were the breakfast standards, of course, but also lunch available: ziti (pasta tubes and tomato sauce, I discovered) and meatballs, or chicken, steamed veg and rice. Another big winner were the home fries: fried chunks of potato (in their skins!) accompanied by some of my favoured veg. Dessert, too: DIY strawberry shortcake (yum!), fruit salad and cookies, a single one of which sustained me for ten minutes. Couple that with inexpensive and lethal mimosas (UK translation: buck's fizz, with the champagne-to-OJ ratio almost dangerously high) and no wonder why the gang keeps coming back there week after week. Oh, there was also the Red Sox blanking the Yankees 2-0 at their home, which didn't hurt in the least. (Nobody tell expetesso about the reflected delight I took in this, please...)
Sunday afternoon was a day spent making dezzikitty's favourite family recipe eight-hour pasta sauce, accelerated to a positively fast-food 6 or 7 on top of the turbo gas stove. It's not very far from what people might think of as a bolognaise sauce (perhaps a blognaise sauce when one of us makes it?) but the slow cooking leads to tremendous tenderness and a gorgeous consistency. Mm-hm good. Filled with brunch and with wonderful smells, this was a lazy afternoon filled with watching the TLC sweepstakes (we don't mess about - bosh, O random viewer, here's a $350,000 cheque!) and sundry board games. On the playlist were Scrabble (winner: Meg, but I kept it very close - sticking myself with a J and a Q in the last pickup of tiles and not having places to play them is a killer), Trivial Pursuit Vth Mix (winner: Meg, 6-4) and Yahtzee (winner: Meg with a massive score due to a second Yahtzee 100-point bonus). Just the way to wrap things up after all the excitement.
Monday: final day, final time spent together for now, packing and so forth - hardly a barrel of giggles, but it turns out that packing is just as much fun as all the other little mundane things that we enjoyed doing together. Meg says she makes taxes fun, and I can believe it; heck, I'd even be prepared to consider that I might enjoy decorating a house if I were helping her. Took lots of silly but mostly happy photos as a gentle final-day "something to remember you by" exercise; many of these Meg will post, some of which will find home in usericon collections either here or there. I suppose this makes this 4,500 words of filler text for a GIP.
So, fully packed, and with a last few essential supplies for the trip, one final T journey to the airport in very good time. A wander about for souvenirs (wouldn't you believe it - almost all Make Way For Ducklings-themed!) and down to the gates for a few last cuddles and kisses with very few people watching. Through the security barrier - a tough final separation, as always - then sticking $1 into a public internet terminal to post one more goodbye.
Boston to Baltimore-Washington with AirTran: fantastic. Slept through take-off, only to be woken up for the drinks call. Unbeatable. Wrote two postcards. Baltimore-Washington: spend 74% of last $10 bill on stamps, nurse a Sprite (plus a refill!) at Burger King to finish off remaining postcards and dispatch them. Send remaining US postal stamps to Meg along with a card and happy/longing/missing thoughts. Down to $1.18 cash at this point - a fraction short of the cost of a packet of fries, but it's fortunate that I didn't buy them as it meant that I could buy a bottle of water from Icelandair which served me well the next day.
Tuesday: Monday became Tuesday very quickly due to travelling back through the timezones against the Sun. In-flight entertainment was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the first half of which I could extract no feelgood joy whatsoever from, but at least I managed to defeat the irritating lumbar support to pick up about a film and a half's worth of sleep. Another 90 minute layover in Iceland (reading Word Freak on the way back; have got about a third through, but finding it suprisingly unaffectionate so far), a check of the postcards in the shop which was firmly shut on the way there, and so to the final leg of the flight. Awful breakfast, but at least another hour or so's nap, before a Hannibal-esque trek through the wilderness of the Heathrow Terminal 1/2 Eurohub arrivals section. My, that is a large airport - almost unworkably so. No problems at Immigration or Customs and I'm back in the country.
Tube from Heathrow to Victoria, nearly falling asleep, and firmly esconcing myself into easyInternetCafé as is only traditional. The 24-hour pass has gone up to a whopping £3.50 now, but it still offers three and a half hours of the best value to be had in London. (Plus a Subway store, complete with overflowing ice machine.) Chatted with Meg through AIM Express to aid the cold turkey girlfriend withdrawal symptoms; the whole café trekked outside at one point when the alarms went off.
(Aside: are the best holiday-sized currency transaction deals in the whole of the UK to be had simply by taking money out of an ATM in pounds and then hitting one of the many no-commission exchange bureaux around Victoria Station? Seems a counter-intuitive and dangerous way to do it, but there's a lot of competition and rates which seem to be bordering on 3% better than those up North.)
Coach home. Sucked a fair bit, but I had a double seat and managed to score, ooh, another two or three hours or so of sleep along the way in chunks. Also as is usual, the coaches take about 5½ hours rather than their announced 6¼, so an early return to Middlesbrough bus station. (Only to learn that the minimum fees on payphones are going up to a scandalous 30p from May - or, as we like to more accurately refer to it, "next week". Why have we grumpy old men not been told so that we can be grumpy about it?)
And so the parents collected me from the coach station and brought me home, and very soon afterwards I hit the 1p/minute phone line to Meg once more. :-) So it begins all over again, and Meg is coming to the UK at the end of May. Not long to go now, and we know there is so much joy waiting for us.
The End. The end of the holiday; never the end of us. I love you so much, Meg; many, many thanks for one of the happiest (if least healthy!) weeks I can remember.