Now that my, previously simple, plans to spend two weeks in England, hanging out with my sister, have changed, I've been spending hours plotting and planning in my head and trying out different itineraries on a variety of online sites.
I have drawn out a calendar of my dates and I have small post-it notes with individual items written on them so that I can move them around and decide how best to use my time. I've already thinned the herd and tossed out some things that just won't fit.
I still intend to visit Penzance, in Cornwall. That and Falmouth, a mere forty miles away, yet on a different coast, are where I'm from; they're the main anchors to my childhood memories. Both are down at England's tippy-toe, inconvenient as all get-out. It's probably why they've kept their identities and are relatively unspoiled.
I'll arrive in London, jet-lagged but happy that I have a hotel room rather than an onward journey by bus and train that would last another ten hours. The one saving grace of the long trek south west to Penzance is that one can fall asleep without fear of missing one's station. Penzance is as far as it goes. When the train slides into it's berth, the seagulls scream and whirl, and the air is fresh off Mounts Bay. As much as I relate to that symbolic, homecoming, assault on the senses, it is so often accompanied by the gritty, sand beneath the eyelids feeling, that has nothing to do with a party at the beach, that I am doing things differently this time.
I will spend a couple of nights in London, see Warhorse as planned, with or without familiar faces in the two seats next to me and visit the things that interest me for a day or two before stepping onto the train, northbound this time, for Glasgow. I am taking my Aunt Nessie (my Dad's sister) out to Sunday afternoon tea and there are some cousins who are making the effort to join us.
My childhood and youth were full of cringe-responses every time someone stated how much I resembled my Father. Much as I loved him, I was mistaken for a boy enough times that my Mother had my baby hair gathered up like a little whale's spout on top of my head in all my photos. On this trip, if it brings Aunt Nessie pleasure to see her brother's likeness in me, I can live with that.
The next day I'll be airport bound to take a flight down to Bristol and rent a car for the drive down to Cornwall. A, now unaccustomed, stick-shift on the left hand side of the road is much more approachable without a sleep-deprivation factor. It shouldn't take more than three hours to reach Penzance this way. I'll be staying with a friend's Mother. Our families have been interchangeably connected for so long, it's a good solution to my aborted stay with my sister.
I had been really looking forward to riding every day in England. I helped the owner of the barn where my sister rides and boards her horse, at my sister's request, when she came to San Francisco and was desperately disappointed that Alcatraz tickets were sold out. I contacted the concierge of a large Hotel and found a back-door solution for her. and her family. I know that I could call or email her and connect for some horse-time. I can predict the potential fireworks that may result from my sister at this perceived encroachment. I'm still pondering what to do there.
I'll have a few family-like days with Lucie. Even her daughter, my peer, has always called her mother by her given name and Lucie is the only person I've ever met at San Francisco airport who was carrying a home-made Sacher-torte, which we had with champagne immediately upon arriving home. There will be shared memories and gossip for sure.
I just wrestled with the next phase of my plan. I've booked a hotel room in Falmouth, overlooking the beach where I learned to swim. Three of my Mother's sisters are still alive. I'll meet them for lunch and go for long walks around familiar sights. My grandfather's house, atop beacon Hill, where I was born and where, up until now, the light-blue and white color scheme has remained, despite many years under new ownership. The view from outside, much like that from the kitchen window, across the tidal estuary and down to the docks where he worked and was Choirmaster for the traditional male voice choir.
Rain or shine, I'll walk around Castle Drive in the early morning and take the cliff path across to Swan-pool Beach. If the guest house doesn't have great coffee, I know just the place. There's only one tea-room that's open early enough for me. It's been four years since I was there last. It better still be there. I'm not too worried. These are not places that change much.
Back to Bristol and a flight to Paris. I only have two hours on a Sunday evening, to change airports and catch a plane south to Toulon where I'll spend a couple of days with my "step-daughter", who is few days older than me. Two hours is barely enough and any kind of delay will mean I may end up sleeping in a hotel and getting a flight the next morning.
Chantal's home is set back from the Mediterranean, on a rise surrounded by her olive orchard. Her horse Pegase (Pegasus) is now 34 years old and has the run of the place. He has wandered into the living room a couple of times, as the big sliding doors are rarely closed. He personifies the term "Things that go bump in the night".
I have plane tickets for the French detour but I'll let them fly without me if there's any sign that I can spend time with my sister.