So we leave home around 1:30 pm on a Monday afternoon. A few red-eye zig-zags and one broken plane replacement later and we’re at JFK the next morning with our rolling suitcases, plus a hellishly cumbersome bass guitar entombed in a large rectangular cardboard box we’re bringing to our host, Dave Swift, the bass player for Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, which I will henceforth refer to as JHRBO.
Cramming our luggage into a small rental car at 8:00 the next morning, we take a whirlwind trip up the New York State Thruway to the Adirondacks to visit friends, including Jan, the maid of honor at our wedding. She “blings me up” for our trip: an excellent straw hat and some jewelry from her antique shop.
The next day we’re back at JFK, and the morning after that we arrive at Heathrow airport.
“Did we miss something?” I ask Wayne, when I see that we’re headed for a Tube station with our luggage and the hellishly cumbersome bass guitar. We haven’t stood in a long line for customs. It had all been done during our earlier stopover in Shannon, Ireland, when we were barely awake. Luckily, we’ve exchanged some of our cash ahead of time. It’s almost noon when we arrive at busy Paddington Station, and Wayne quickly steers us in the direction of what is to become our frequent refuge for snacks on the rail, The Upper Crust, where you can get small, inexpensive baguettes of varying flavors. I quickly develop a taste for “Bang-Bang Chicken,” while Wayne opts for his old favorite, "Chicken Tikka."
We must look the epitome of a disoriented, middle-aged couple from a foreign country, struggling with our luggage, but several people emerge from the midday fracas to help us – even a conductor for the British Rail. Since Wayne has been here a number of times to visit Dave, and I’ve been deeply studying the art of surrendering to the moment and letting things work themselves out, I’m happy to relax and enjoy the scenery. Besides, with only a few short naps during the last 48 hours, some pharmaceutically induced, things are beginning to look slightly fairytale-ish.
Our cab pulls up to Dave’s house in southeast London and we haul the hellishly cumbersome bass guitar up the front walk and ring the doorbell, hiding behind the hedgerow.
I finally get to meet Dave Swift! I have been hearing about him and the JHRBO since 2007, when Wayne and I first re-connected. Before I go any further, I want to say that Dave is one of the sweetest, most interesting men I have ever met. Ladies, he is truly an excellent catch.
He is also a Universal Monster Movie Memorabilia collector. He is reputed to have the largest collection in the UK, and is personal friends with Sara Karloff.
We chat in the living room for a while and look at some of Dave’s memorabilia while he gushes over the fact that we’ve actually brought the bass guitar with us. Then, I notice that I’m falling asleep in peoples’ faces, so I retire to the bedroom to take a nap, surrounded by large, framed photographs of Frankenstein, the Wolfman and the Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Later we go into Greenwich and have a late dinner at a "Nando’s" under the bow of the Cutty Sark. Then we stroll down the Thames, under the meridian, where “time begins,” which is now projected as a laser beam across the river and into the sky.
The next morning we get up and take the train into town. Wayne gets a super-spiffy shave at a downtown barber and we head over to the London Eye. It’s a beautiful day!
Later on we travel to the O2 to see Glenn Tilbrook, also a friend of Wayne’s. There turn out to be two O2s, on either side of the city. We accidentally take a cab to the wrong one, sending us back across the city to the O2 Empire. Expensive, yes, but we figure it’s a nice tour of the city. We end up missing Glenn’s set, but the headliner is Graham Parker and The Rumour, and we have backstage passes for the “after show party.”
Our B&B turns out to be on the second floor of a gallery, owned by the artist. Being a Monday night, he offers to “upgrade” us to the nice suite if we pay cash, which we do. Look where we wind up! We couldn’t have had a better view of the harbor we’d seen so many times on the show. This is an adult sort of tourist spot. We spend a moody-weather day walking up and down the tiny streets of Port Isaac with lots of friendly Doc Martin fans.
Our first JHRBO show is at the Hampton Court Palace, in Surrey. A palace where Henry VIII once lived. A concert in a palace where the stone steps are worn down from use over the past 500 years or so. Boogie-woogie piano and rock and roll in a place that also houses the Royal Chapel. We get to ride in early with Dave and roam the property and backstage area before the show. I’ve been mentally rehearsing what I would actually say to certain band members such as Ruby Turner. I have a lot of JHRBO on my “Skiing Tunes” playlist on my iPod, and have probably spent more time in the air to “Jumpin’ at the Jubilee” than most skiers in North America. She nods amicably when I tell her how much fun it is to ski to her. Really. All the band members are incredibly friendly and gracious to us, glad to see Wayne after seven years.
We also get to meet up with our friend Madeline, from high school, who's been living here with her husband for the past 25 years. We spend an hour getting caught up on the last 43 years of each other's lives.
The band begins playing and I’m instantly stunned. They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen! A 20-piece band with incredibly talented musicians, headed by the amazing, charismatic Jools Holland, a boogie-woogie piano prodigy.
The guests on this tour are Marc Almond (remember Soft Cell?) plus Melanie C. from the Spice Girls. Both backed by the JHRBO and both high energy excitement. In an ancient castle.
I will however include my lovely short film piece of the grounds, titled “Picnicking Amid the Gumdrop Trees.”
The next day we take another train ride south to Chepstow Racecourse, for yet another JHRBO show. Wayne has designed this whole trip to include interesting travel with fantastic music. There’s more beautiful countryside, with more solar and wind farms on the hillsides than I’ve ever seen in the US. We pass through Newport, Wales before changing trains and arriving at the venue, which is still having races. It’s early evening and the grounds are lively with food vendors and betting booths. We’re both feeling adventurous, and place a few bets before heading upstairs to the backstage area. The course is longer than the ones I’ve seen here in the US – it looks more like a steeplechase than a regular oval course. Amazingly, one of our horses, Annaluna, comes in first! Not enough to retire on, but enough for dinner! “Grab as much beer as you want for later,” Dave advises us, as the band leaves for the stage, so we stuff our bags with bottles of Stella Artois before heading down to the grandstands. There’s a storm brewing in the distance, so there’s deep, heavy clouds with a deep red sunset peeking through, with occasional lightning strikes.
After the show, we ride back to London with Dave and Phil Veacock, one of the five (!) saxophonists in the band. The storm has developed into a pelting, two-hour-long thunderstorm that stays right over the car the whole time. Still, it clears up once we reach London, and Phil takes us over both the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, just to see them at night.
“Foxy-foxy!” Dave calls out, when we see little foxes trotting across the streets, which is apparently quite normal in late-night London.
The next day we visit our friend, Ruth, in Nunhead. Dave drives us over in the band van on the condition that he show us the house where Boris Karloff grew up. We meet up with Ruth and her children, Rhea and Luca, at a children’s fair and visit for a few hours. She’s a talented artist, teacher, and all-around cool mom, which we can see when we enter the house – contemporary art and children’s toys woven together into a tiny, user-friendly museum. On the way back to Paddington Station, we take a bus and get seats up top in the front so we can take more pictures going over the Tower Bridge.
The next day we are back in London. Dave is anxiously watching the San Antonio Spurs/Miami Heat championship recorded from the night before. He’s a tremendously ardent fan of the Spurs, and so far they are winning. Wayne is a little unnerved from the pressure, so he sneaks into our bedroom and turns on his laptop to find out that the Spurs actually won. He lets out a sigh of relief.
After the Spurs take the championship we all celebrate with champagne – “splashy,” Dave calls it. This is our last day here. We are sad to leave, but we do miss our cats and our house. Plus it’s getting chilly and damp again, and we long for the dry heat of southern Oregon.
We take another trip with Dave into Greenwich to eat at that Nando’s under the Cutty Sark. He points out some of the local scenery.
The next morning, when it’s 4 a.m. and dawn has arrived, (we’re further north here and it also stays light until 10 p.m.), a car is waiting for us, driven by a man named Raj. Dave comes down to say goodbye and we’re off. Raj proceeds to take us on a careening ride from southeast London to Heathrow. It’s so fast that the buildings nearly blur as we pass Chelsea. It’s deserted this early, and I can see by the speedometer that we’re going 50mph through the middle of London. I feel slightly nauseous, having tried to keep up with Dave in beer-drinking the night before, but we arrive safely, just in time to see the Aer Lingus agents setting up the cordoning for their area.
Our plane passes over Ireland in the early morning and we land in Dublin, where we have a small breakfast. Then, as it turns out, customs takes place in Ireland going back to the US as well. I’ve forgotten to remove a necklace and set off the alarm, so I’m treated to my very first pat-down by an attractive young Irish woman.
We land in New York and take the train out to Sea Cliff, Long Island, our old stomping ground as teenagers. We step off the train into a wall of humidity! I can’t believe I survived this as a child. Our host, Mike Grennan, lends us his air-conditioned car and we drive around looking at landmarks from our past before hitting a real Italian deli and a Carvel. There’s hardly any time left! We have quick visits with Wayne’s nephew and his forward-thinking young family, and the legendary John Anderson of local theater fame. Later on we see a lightning bug when we’re parking the car. We don’t get those in Oregon, so this is exciting to us.
Five a.m. the next morning, we’re on the airport shuttle. Our first plane turns out to be a dud, so we all have to get off and wait for another one. This time, as I’m going through first class, I hear the unmistakable voice of one of my heroes, Susan Sarandon. I instantly look over at her, and she looks back at me, and I get to smile at her as I’m passing her row. I’m happy with that. A smile for one of my very favorite actresses and activists of all time.
I catch up on a few movies we’ve missed, such as the latest Muppet Movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and I’m willing to admit, Labor Day. It really wasn’t as bad as the reviews say. I’ll watch anything with Kate Winslet in it.
We’ve missed our connecting flights, and we're told all the seats for the flights we'll need to return to Medford are sold out. We might have to stay in LA for the night! Standing at the customer service desk for United Airlines, I take a deep breath and agree to let the best thing happen while the agent continues to type. Minutes later, we are magically given seats on the two planes home.
We arrive home late – around 11:30. The cats are all okay and glad to see us. We unpack chocolate biscuits and crumpets and pop open some cold beers. Wayne puts on a Glenn Tilbrook CD called "Happy Ending" that he got in the UK and we play with the cats.
We relax in the afterglow of our fabulous 5th Honeyversary.