I have been away — that is, I have been away from England, from my boaty home, and from my own four foot wide, lumpy, boaty bed.
I left in late March, when the crocuses had already almost gone by, the daffodils were in glorious bloom, and even the odd tulip had risked opening to the young sun. I flew across the Atlantic and a few months backwards into a late winter that still lingered when it was almost May and time to think about heading home again.
In five weeks I slept in seven beds.
In Washington DC I was promoted to the guest bedroom. My father, 86 and frail, insisted on carrying my suitcase up the stairs to a part of his home I suspect he rarely visits. The room was full of ailing houseplants and a large sealed box labelled “Open Immediately”, an unfulfilled spring bulb best intention of my stepmother (too young to be my biological mother) who breezed in after work a couple of hours later. The next morning when I awoke and scanned myopically the back garden, I thought, I must ask Cynthia about that lovely white ground cover that has bloomed overnight.
A few days later I moved on to New York where I slept in a newly designated guest suite, the former teenage occupant, now college graduate, having been finally, firmly ousted, but not soon enough that his mattress could be left on the street with the rest of his garbage. His mother apologised as we squeezed past the old mattress propped up against the wall outside his room: the city’s bed bug epidemic means that getting rid of any old bedding, however innocent it might be, is almost impossible.
But I wasn’t there to discuss infestations. My friend was celebrating the launch of her third book of poetry, The Kangaroo Girl.
After the book party, where I air-kissed a slew of people I had barely seen in thirty years, and then a glorious afternoon at MOMA, I flew out of New York in a snow storm that made me miss my connecting flight to Seattle. Eating shrimp in an airport bar in Philadelphia, I watched a chilly opening game of the baseball season, and couldn’t help noting, on all my accompanying electronics, the lovely UK weather.
When I finally got to Seattle I crashed on a blow up bed in my grandbaby’s room (my timing was bad and the baby had gone to Las Vegas). Every 20 minutes or so, there was a loud electronic beep. I prowled around all night long, disconnecting every possible device, but the beep was relentless. When I asked my son in the morning he said he thought it had something to do with their former cable TV and internet providers, but since they were former, they had no interest in fixing it. He shrugged as he added that it didn’t seem to bother the baby.
It’s my opinion that they have doomed my grandson to a lifetime of unemployment, since he has been conditioned to sleep through electronic alarms. I, on the other hand, woke every time the wretched thing went off.
The next times I slept in Seattle I had the sofa in the living room I shared with their dog. His noises weren’t electronic, but nonetheless effective. Apparently a West Highland Terrier can murder sleep as effectively as any of his countrymen.
Otherwise, to see my grandson, I travelled back and forth by car and ferry from Whidbey Island, where I slept in the barely converted garage of the Lawyer Sis. I like the soft bed and the cold room. I like the door opening on to spongy grass and brambles, the brackish lake, the beach houses and the Sound beyond. The night I arrived the septic tank backed up and, since all flushes were in vain, just after dawn I squatted naked by the door and hoped I was startling only the local rabbits.
Almost a hundred miles, and another ferry, north is the island house my mother shares with her husband Jerry. There I can choose between a bed in a sleeping loft or a bed in the rental apartment. I usually choose the rental, though the walls are thin and my bed is painfully close to the shower in the main house and I wake every morning to ardent squeegeeing.
My seventh bed was unexpected. Mother and Jerry bought a condo on the mainland, and the Lawyer Sis and I drove from Whidbey to celebrate the closing. After dinner, the Oldies went home to the island, and the Lawyer Sis and I stayed over at the condo. The packaging of the brand new queen size memory foam mattress, purchased earlier that evening, promised the “ultimate sleep experience”. As ever I was grateful for the subtlety of English grammar, and hoped that it would not be quite the same as experiencing the ultimate sleep.
Whatever (as the children and the optimists say), the Lawyer Sis, seven years my junior, risked the mattress. She’s got a chronic bad back and needed the foam. I occupied the less comfortable, but potentially safer, single bed in the condo’s guestroom and office. We both survived the night.
A couple of days later I was on a plane again, and my eighth bed was an economy seat home.
Other than being away for the whole of the warmest UK April on record, and present for the coldest Seattle one, I think I timed my trip rather well. I got a cheap ticket because I flew back in the middle of a Bank Holiday weekend, and missed the Royal Wedding (though British Airways at Seatac flew, as it were, the patriotic flag).
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
In Seattle they have the new nude-y scanners (the ones where the security guy gets to see under your clothes). Just to make it extra fun (and presumably so your breasts look extra pert) you have to put your elbows in the air and your thumbs on top of your head.
I mentioned that I recently had had a flare up of a shoulder problem, and would they mind diagnosing it while they were checking me out for weapons of mass destruction, because an MRI is jolly hard to get on the National Health Service? But they only looked puzzled and said I could have a PAT DOWN if I preferred.
I was tucked up safely, my first night back in my boaty bed when, jetlagged and sleepless, in the early hours I turned on the BBC World Service to hear that the USA’s most wanted man had been “killed and captured” (though I was awake enough to wonder if there was any irony in the BBC’s inversion of the more conventional phrase “captured and killed”).
Then, though it was not my first thought, sometime as the day dawned, I admit I was glad that I had flown in hours earlier. You think a middle-aged lady might find it inconvenient to pose for a naked scan with her thumbs on her head?
I’m betting you ain’t seen nothing yet.