The American Dream-Travelogue
In the episodes so far: Neil, Margaret and Duska have been wading through dirty American snow, examining outdoor swimming pools and wonders of American suburban architecture: some extremely unusual buildings and constructions of various sizes and designs. Having arrived into the US, they spent one whole day in Yakima on a Raymond Carver pilgrimage, and in the company of accidental acquaintances – mainly exceptionally charming queens with dogs (that’s gay men with house pets, rather than any particularly Chekhovian ‘ladies with lap-dogs’). Margaret has been commenting on various experiences with great insight and wisdom; Neil has been wielding his video camera and Duska has been wearing a nicotine patch and having vivid dreams. They’ve seen some amazing sights and heard fantastic stories…
I look out of the window at the thick sheets of the falling snow. It’s strangely comforting. It’s not until Bob rings to cancel our breakfast trip to Toppenish – another Indian reservation – that I think about this snow as an obstacle or a problem in any way. He has given me the airline telephone number, and because I’m not quite ready yet, I make the mistake number one and ring Neil asking him to contact the airline and check whether our flight is still going. Half an hour later, all three of us meet in Neil’s tastefully re-arranged hotel room to take stock of the situation. After a long and tense wait on the phone, Neil has been told by the airline representative that the flight is still scheduled, BUT that it could all change any minute. Plagued by endless ‘what if’s, our view of the situation is steadily deteriorating.
Led by Neil, on our way to breakfast we’re all envisaging the scenario of being stranded and having nowhere to sleep when Alaska Airlines decides at the last minute that they are not flying today. This is despite the fact that we’ve just walked across the hotel courtyard and could very clearly see that what we were facing was really just a harmless idyllic spell of snow rather than a celestial aberration. Over a postprandial cup of coffee Neil concludes his grand prophecy of doom with an effective flourish: ‘And if you remember, we’ve known that this would happen all along; we said ages ago that we would get here and just spend four days stranded in an airport!’
The spell broken, Margaret attempts to introduce the subject of the benefits of meditation. She remarks how thinking positive thoughts can sometimes lead to positive events and how even seemingly negative situations can sometimes lead to positive opportunities. Neil says – ‘yes, but being stranded in an airport is just so boring’. We decide we should just turn up at the airport and let the staff on duty deal with our accommodation in case of any cancellations.
Cut to: we’re all sitting at an airport café with a nice view of the runway. It’s a perfect, clean winter day. All our luggage has been checked in and we’re recounting the events of the previous day with amusement and a sense of satisfaction at having done everything there was to be done in Yakima, and more. We speculate about Port Angeles and what that would be like. The detour to Port Angeles was a last minute idea as Carver’s widow Tess Gallagher only responded to us several days before our departure agreeing to see us. Carver spent the last years of his life in this place, so we build Port Angeles in our imagination as a really elegant, bohemian place with lots of nice fish restaurants. Harrogate comes to mind as a means of comparison. We’re also fretting about meeting Tess because Neil found her scary on some photographs and we’ve been warned about her highly eccentric, whimsical nature.
Then at one point, by some strange association of ideas Margaret asks Neil to tell us his story about the Bamboo House. Now, all I can say is – if you’d like to hear this (rather beautifully told) story, you’ll have to ask Neil to tell it to you himself. I only know that for some bizarre reason – or a set of reasons which might include jetlag, tiredness, stress, nicotine withdrawal and god knows what else – on this particular occasion, the telling of the story almost ends up in flying cups and saucers. Even the unsuspecting waitress doesn’t know how lucky she is that she gets away with just being called ‘dirty’ behind her back.
In other words, all of a sudden all hell breaks loose at this tiny little airport in the middle of nowhere and it has nothing to do with natural disasters. The long and short of it is, we all board the plane without talking to each other. Neil and I are sitting next to each other in a way which Margaret later describes using the word ‘ice’. Across the isle, Margaret is talking to a rather animated woman. I’m reading Carver. The Gazebo story. It strikes me that the hotel in which the couple in the story live and work could have been the hotel which we stayed in in Yakima. Then I read another one about a historian, whose wife has written him a letter (in unrecognizable handwriting) before she leaves him. There are some horses in the story – just like the horses in Call if You Need Me – only this one is perhaps a bit more Chekhovian. And it says something really interesting about how when your partner leaves you, you lose a bit of your history. Carver’s stories rarely ever make such observations, they just leave it up to you.
When we arrive in Seattle, Neil tentatively begins communicating with Margaret. Because Margaret makes an effort, anyway. I’m just being stubborn. My explanation is: I have already offered an apology which has been dismissed, there’s nothing else I can do. An hour later all three of us are sitting next to each other on a heated bench at Sea-Tac’s bus terminals – Margaret in the middle. Margaret tells me that Neil is worried that we may not be able to record the interview with Tess Gallagher because while the video camera seems to be playing back the images, it doesn’t do voice. I say I doubt that a video camera can’t pick up sound and that even if we’re not getting it in playback it doesn’t mean it’s not recorded. Margaret asks Neil whether he’s heard that. He says no and – before leaving in utter despair – Margaret asks us to sort out why we’re still sulking with each other. It takes some dramatic gut-spilling from both sides, but ten minutes later the storm has cleared and we are all on our way back to normal. I suggest we ring Northern Stage tomorrow and check how to use the camera for sound-recording.
When our bus to Port Angeles arrives it actually turns out to be a taxi-van. There is a slight problem with our reservations not having come through, but we eventually get in. We’re quite exhausted and the journey turns out to be quite long. Neil is dozing off or looking through the window. Margaret and I continue our conversations about the difference between playwriting and novel-writing which we’d started on the transatlantic plane. For some reason I’d been going on about John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation. Now we are talking about novels. We make some crucial illuminating discoveries. Then we chat. Because I recently took my mother to London to visit her aunt – which occasion generated an avalanche of stories – I’m telling Margaret about my family tree. I remember my distant cousin Lidia whose wedding I was taken to when I was a child. The groom was robbed on his wedding day, there was a fight, and we all drove home embarrassed.
By the time we are dropped off at our hotel it is completely dark. This too is a Red Lion (like the one in Yakima), only it feels completely different. The reception is a tiny little drop-in point and there are no pretentious foyers which only mask the basic nature of the rooms themselves. On the contrary, the rooms here are actually accessed from inside long corridors, feel warmer and look much nicer than in Yakima. Margaret and I are sharing a room because of some booking alterations we had to make at the last minute before departure. There are certain recognizable trademark features, but this room is more spacious and very comfortable. There is a self contained balcony overlooking a massive car park positioned at the bottom of a slope lined with evergreen trees. It has been raining, you can smell the sea and for some reason I feel like I am on a school trip. By comparison, Yakima felt like an accidental destination.
Margaret discovers that this time round they went through her bags at the airport. She’s got a leaflet informing her of this and has also found holes where somebody must have poked latex gloved fingers in her face cream tubs.
When we come down for dinner, the lady at the reception desk recommends some fish restaurant which she describes as being orange on the outside. We don’t quite know where to go but as soon as we venture outside of the hotel compound we realise this is more like Blackpool than Harrogate. The orange restaurant is lit with neon lights and is basically a small American diner with tiled walls and a couple of small aquariums by the entrance. I remember Dr Bob Plumb recommending oysters from the Pacific Ocean and noting that they are ‘the size of a dick’ in Seattle. I also remember my Russian friend Masha being sick from the Pacific oysters on several occasions so am very much repelled by the idea of any seafood. This leaves the option of fish and chips which appears in this restaurant’s menu in any number of guises. Over the meal we discuss tomorrow’s conversation with Tess as well as the actual play and what shape and form it might take. Margaret is eager to start writing as soon as possible. Back in the room, Margaret and I spend another hour drinking decaffeinated coffee so I can get over my nicotine craving. We talk about exes and relationships.
That night I dream I am at a party. Margaret is this really glamorous film star and I am secretly really proud to know her. The party is also a film screening. I don’t remember anything about the film that was screened but it had Margaret in it.
There are two sections to the hotel restaurant. The one overlooking the sea is not being used for breakfast but we manage to persuade the waiters to set up our meeting in there. There is a great amount of anticipation as we sit at the table, Neil’s camera ready and waiting in between plates. When she finally arrives we recognize her face from the pictures we had seen but she has cut off her hair. I’m thinking that she still looks attractive as she informs us that she had just come back from Ireland with her companion who is Irish and a painter. We spend the next couple of hours getting gradually elated through sheer indulgence in our shared favourite interest. Tess is very kind and giving and generous, extremely sympathetic to our idea and full of enthusiasm for it. She tries very hard to give us detailed responses to all our questions, the only catch being that she makes her own presence felt in all her accounts. She tells us how she met Ray at a conference and how they lived distances apart but caught up with each other eventually. She tells us how she helped him stay away from the bottle. She tells us how she was the first reader, editor and curator of his work. They researched some subjects together – gazebos were her interest to start with, for example, and that’s how he got the idea. But she also paints him occasionally with the mysticism often afforded to a writer – she tells us how she was reading one of his stories to her sick sister and the sister demanded that they ring him and find out what happens after the story ends. Most interestingly, even though we had been fretting about how we would ask her about Carver’s death – death being one of the main themes of our project – she volunteers the story herself. She tells us that on the night of his death Ray had been lying in a bed they’d set up in the living room of her house. Funnily enough, the film of The Lady with the Lap-Dog with Marcello Mastroianni was on television that night but Ray was bothered by a raccoon that he saw through the window. He kept asking for it to be sent away and Tess’s mother tried to get rid of it with a broom.
She regrets that we haven’t got more time because she would have taken us on their favourite walk or maybe even to the house. We regret it too – to say the least. The parting is quite drawn out. Chatting, we find out that she is on a cusp between Cancer and Leo. Ray was a Cancerian. They were both very home oriented, and her favourite meal is breakfast. In preparation for saying our goodbyes, we are talking about her coming over to Newcastle. While talking about it I also mention Thomas from the Box Office who buys Carver’s books for Christmas presents and who was so excited about our trip. We give each other hugs and as soon as she’s left we are bursting with impressions once again. Can’t wait to see Neil’s recording…
We pick up our bags from the reception and board the taxi-van. The driver is really laid back and tells us about the passengers he needs to pick up on the way (we’re the first). We ask him how long it would take to get to Seattle, he calculates that he’d get us there by about 5.30. We’re disappointed by the prospect of travelling for five hours and not being able to see much of the city when we get there. He says it’s a bank holiday today, everyone is off work but the shops should be open till late. We set off and Neil and Margaret are restless because we are going very slowly. The first port of call is the shuttle’s own base, a tiny office in the middle of nowhere where he is meant to be picking up a passenger who doesn’t turn up. Then we drive through a pretty town and into a residential area where we pick up a middle-aged couple. The driver is very happy as he finds an eager conversation buddy in the guy, who sits next to him; the woman sits behind the driver but in front of us and takes out her knitting. The three of us at the back are still talking about Tess Gallagher, discussing Carver’s death, discussing Chekhov’s death the way that Carver imagined it in his story Errand; generating wonderful ideas for the show, but not being able to write them down because we all suffer from car sickness. Margaret says something about using a raccoon hat in a way which is both Russian and American. We generally find a lot of Russianness in this experience of America anyway. We’re hoping to find a lot of similarly unimposing Americanness in Russia. We wonder what we should call the piece – whether the title should be a fusion of titles from both writers perhaps? I think it should be a fusion of their names and that we should just call it the Charver Project. Eventually we arrive at some retail park and find a black guy waiting for us – he was the passenger that never arrived at the shuttle’s base.
We pass some fantastic landscapes on our way which we weren’t able to see in the dusk of the previous day’s journey. This is definitely an area of exceptional natural beauty – I later find out that Port Angeles is at the foot of Olympia mountains and on the edge of the strait of Juan de Fuca – this is actually the American /Canadian border at its western-most end. As we drive down to Seattle via the Sea-Tac airport we actually drive along the strait and sometimes it looks like a series of lakes. Every so often we are shrieking at each other – ‘Look!’ The knitting woman in front of us responds to something we say and Margaret starts up a conversation with her. She – I think her name was Janet – tells us about how they are on their way to their holiday house in New Zealand and will be staying there till April. They used to have a holiday house in Hawaii but decided to sell it around the time of some natural disaster. She tells us that the place where they live now and where we picked them up from was called Blyn. Blyn is in a bay and well sheltered and that’s why an awful lot of pilots have retired to the place – they remembered it as remarkably sunny and clear every tame they took off and promised to themselves they’d retire there one day. Janet’s children – two daughters and two sons all live in the state of Washington now, although as a family they didn’t all live there all the time. In response to simple questions from Margaret, Janet tells us interesting stories. They are all quite simple in content but delivered with such skill and conversational ease that it’s quite a pleasure listening to her. She tells us what her children and grandchildren do. She explains some of her grandchildren’s inclination to want to be teachers as genetic because her husband’s parents were teachers and so were hers and she was also trained to be one. Some other of her grandchildren are very good athletes, but she doesn’t explain where that comes from. Her youngest son doesn’t have children but he and his fiancé have dogs. Her older son is a fruit specialist and lives in Yakima with his family. Her oldest daughter is divorced. She has a daughter who is training to be a hairdresser. She’s learnt by now to be on her own but she has just met somebody at a New Year’s party when she least expected it and they seem to be getting on fine. In talking about their family history she mentions living in a place which had a volcano disaster. She talks about coming back home from holiday and finding inches and inches of ash everywhere. ‘Some artistic people made jewellery out of the objects they found in it,’ she tells us.
Observing that she does it in an English way, Margaret asks Janet about her knitting technique. Janet listens. Then Margaret asks what it is that she is knitting. Janet says – ‘This is a lawn. Or a carpet for a doll’s house.’ In any case it is a green thing that does look like either. Most probably it will be a scarf, however, with tiny grassblades.
We drop off various passengers at various points. The black guy is one of the first. Neil mutters how the guy could have at least apologized for keeping us late. By the time we’ve dropped everyone off and waved goodbye to the lawn-knitting woman and her husband, Margaret and I are getting quite excited about getting back into civilisation. Looking forward to seeing people, lots of people, the urban types. At a certain point, as we drive past huge shipbuilding cranes and general industrial landscapes on our left, we start to see the city on the horizon. It is all lit by the setting sun further to the left, and the entire picture looks quite appealing. Once we drive into the city, Margaret is making a mental shopping list, pointing at all the different department stores. She primarily wants to go to a bookshop however, while Neil is very keen to get to the famous Pike Place Market. I would really like to see a good show. Our hotel is up the road from the Space Needle – we can see it as we park by – but nobody seems to be interested enough in going there. We check in and somehow manage to get some maps and directions to bookshops from the reception clerk who is quite difficult to get through to. We go into our rooms and even though I can finally see the busy street from my window, I feel quite unsettled. Everything is somehow so much more dingy and worn out. For the first time ever I think of all the kinds of things that people use hotel rooms for and am instantly put off. I just put the heating on and go out to wait for Margaret and Neil. First we go to a shopping centre which has a big bookshop in the basement. Everything is so perfectly navigable, the streets being straight and the corners definite. We find the bookshop and I’m impressed by their collection of notebooks. Margaret is looking for relevant literature and Neil goes off somewhere completely different. After a while we decide to go to the Pike Market and possibly even look for another smaller and possibly more interesting bookshop which we identified on the map. Going in a perfectly straight line down a gradually slanting street (which probably has its own number) we observe the famous Seattle train which goes around buildings at approximately the first floor level. The one that we see is stationary but we express a wish to find out what it feels like to travel in one of those. Margaret explains that the train was built as part of Seattle’s Expo in 1962. We later find other references to the same event. As we arrive at the market it just strikes us as an ordinary fish market with its characteristic smells. It’s closing time so we realise that we’re probably not even going to get close to glimpsing the market’s full glory. We only find a couple of pages from some newspaper. They happen to be the culture section and I try to read it while walking in an attempt to identify an interesting piece of theatre. It doesn’t work.
We make our way to the other bookshop which seems relatively easy to get to from the market. It only takes a walk along a pleasant boulevard which feels quite Parisian in fact and leads to a place called the Pioneer’s Square. Once again we notice very few people on the streets and they are mostly beggars. One of them asks us for some change and after we apologise and walk past him, he turns around and starts walking in the same direction a couple of meters behind us. After a while it feels quite worrying and I alert Neil and Margaret and ask them to cross the street. As it’s getting darker we’re all panicking a bit and vowing that we’re taking a taxi after this block. Luckily, the next block’s corner is the entrance to our bookshop. This is quite an atmospheric place with lots of different rooms, tall shelving units, staircases and displays of both brand new titles and some rare second-hand items. The bookshop has a bit of a reputation for political titles, I think. I scour the theatre and drama sections. Only after several hours I suddenly come across a whole lot of books I really want to buy – mainly as presents for various people. I get a book on Hans Christian Andersen (with some pictures) for Neil and Six Degrees of Separation for Margaret. It feels so perfect. I pay for my collection and go downstairs to look for Neil and Margaret in a café, feeling quite elated. We decide to find somewhere to eat and somebody recommends a place called something like Pigalle back in the Pike Market.
Pigalle is a really pretentious little restaurant which we dislike almost as soon as we sit down. It’s one of those places which serves small portions on big plates and even though the tables are intimately lit, the waiters keep hovering around rather intrusively and filling up our glasses. I’m particularly annoyed about having my water glass continually refilled with icy water. There is a waitress who comes to each table with a particular task of reciting the menu in a really ‘pleasant’ but almost dehumanised manner. Neil particularly hates her. Once again we order some fish dishes and talk about fairytales most of the time during the meal. I ask both Neil and Margaret what their favourites are and they keep changing their minds. Margaret talks about some famous interpretations of various fairytales and although profoundly disillusioning, some of them are quite interesting. On the way back I’m struggling against the desire to smoke. Neil and Margaret keep telling me horror stories about how I am bound to have to put at least stone on – I hate the thought of it. Then we think of Alan and start worrying about his diabetes. We conclude that there is nothing we can take him back as a present as he seems to have no vices anymore.
We complete the evening by going back to the bookshop in the shopping mall near our hotel once again. This time Neil gets me a Carver book with a pretty cover called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and I am really touched and sad and overwhelmed. I’m worried that my gesture earlier on may have created an obligation, which I certainly didn’t want to happen. But than again it would be quite selfish only to be a giver and not a receiver as well. In any case it’s a rather nice end to the eventful and emotional journey and it’s good to be able to celebrate things. We go to Neil’s tastefully re-arranged room to look at all our new books. It’s also Margaret’s turn to make a phonecall and arrange the transport for tomorrow. The phonecall turns out to be quite exhausting for Margaret and we all end up dispersing very quickly.
That night, I get a phonecall from my ex and am really annoyed because he keeps asking me to do things for him and it’s my thirtieth birthday and he’s forgotten all about it. In fact I’m back at home in Krusevac, in my grandma’s house. My cousin is having one of her many weddings to her husband. Because their families are in different places they end up having to have them all over Europe. Guests are arriving for the wedding and I am nowhere near ready. I feel bad about it and offer to go on an errand and fetch someone from the other end of town – a settlement called the United Nations. I walk through town and suddenly when I get to what is supposed to be the Archaeological Park, I am suddenly in a place that I know as Kirkstall in Leeds even though it doesn’t look like Kirkstall at all. It looks like a council estate somewhere and some really shady characters – the down and outs from Seattle – are walking around. I get confronted by one of them and get terribly frightened and want to get away and luckily, at that moment, I come across a group of schoolchildren walking in rows together. I join them and follow them to their school explaining quickly to the teachers what has happened. I talk to them in English. The teachers ask me in and say they’ll try and get someone to drop me off where I need to be. I stay behind with one of them and tell her in great detail what has happened. With a French accent she says – ‘That can only happen in this country!’ (I don’t know which country she means but I’m thinking she must be their French teacher). I’m sitting at a table on an upper level drinking coffee and looking down on the school assembly. All of a sudden I sense somebody sitting opposite me reading a newspaper. I’m thinking I know this person, I was always meant to meet him and this is it now – I only hope I like him. I turn around to face him and am neither impressed nor disappointed. We talk. He tells me he knows all about where I come from because he is a geography teacher. I ask him how old he is. He says 32. He’s a Cancerian, will be 33 in June. We chat some more and then he says he has to go. I ask him what his name is and he tells me a Serbian surname. I think he is taking the piss. Then I ask his colleagues what his name was and they give an English name. I am confused but calm. I carry on waiting for a solution and after awhile my geography teacher comes back and says he would give me a lift as he has re-arranged his class. On the way to his car he observes that I should put more weight on and I say I am very likely to as I’ve just given up smoking. He talks to me in an enigmatic way which basically amounts to a reality check. When we get back to where my cousin’s reception is meant to be taking place, it is obvious that the ceremony has already happened and that I missed it. We go in and everybody asks me where I’ve been and I start relating my adventure in great detail while my geographer goes to explore the music selection and eventually comes back with his choices. They all start dancing together, and I wake up. I’m thinking – what a disappointment. It was only a dream. And in Seattle! And nicotine fuelled.
It is my family’s saint’s day – and we’re all dispersed all over the world. I’m thinking I understand the geography issue and the places merging into each other but why did all the time-lines get completely muddled up as well? I will be thirty in May and my cousin’s Serbian wedding happened last summer. And yet I was obviously also aware of having just stopped smoking here and now. Margaret phones me to ask me whether I slept well and I say yes, I fell in love. We decide to go for a coffee and croissants in a Starbucks around the corner. Neil is nowhere to be found, so we go on our own. Half-way through our breakfast and my account of the dream, I see Neil through the window and he joins us and we talk again about fairytales and Theatre de Complicite and missed opportunities in life.
In order not to miss our plane, we hurry back to the hotel. Once again Margaret is doing the maths as to how much we should give the taxi driver as a tip. As we count the change, it suddenly occurs to me we must’ve spent some 15% of our time on this trip just working out tips. Or Margaret working them out, mainly. When we arrive to the check-in point we proceed to heavily confuse the stewardess with our seating requirements. We all want an isle seat but none of us want anyone sitting next to us. We seem to disagree amongst ourselves as to what it is that we actually want. We draw little diagrams for the stewardess. In the end she just makes her own decision. As we walk towards our gate, Margaret is trying to find the exact descriptions of stubbornness that each one of us possesses. I think we settle on ‘rigid’ for Neil, ‘stubborn’ for me and ‘headstrong’ for Margaret. As we approach passport control, there is a nice lady smiling at me but putting me in a different queue to Neil and Margaret’s. At first I am amused and incredulous that this is happening to me again but gradually my anger and frustration mounts. I am being searched by a female attendant and watching my hand luggage being thoroughly examined. I didn’t even know what junk I was carrying in my bag and am now having to own up to. It is banal but I am not used to these levels of intrusion even with the people who are closest to me. The guy examining my bag smiles at me and informs me that he now has to put it all back in again. I don’t smile back forgivingly. In fact I suddenly realise that this whole operation is being carried out mainly by black people and am particularly angry about this ploy of the US government which is quite clearly designed to subliminally work on the victim and prevent them from any confrontational behaviour. How can you possibly confront a black person for just doing their job, how can you take your anger out on someone like that without appearing as though you’re being racist? So you basically just have to grin and bear it. I’m fuming – metaphorically, because I actually can’t in any other way.
While Neil and Margaret go to the duty free shop I go to the airport staff wanting to make a complaint, wanting an explanation as to why I’m being singled out and whether I should expect this to happen to me every time I go in and out of their country? An officer they send to me to deal with my query just listens sympathetically. He claims this is all random (even though I ‘randomly’ got singled out twice out of the two possible times while neither of my companions did!) Then he starts telling me about how he lost his driving licence for speeding and how he is often assumed to have been convicted only just because he was tried and how you can’t do anything about it. People have to do their jobs etc. I’m thinking he must have been taught this as a strategy too – if somebody complains in an agitated manner and you don’t know what to do just tell them the worst and most humiliating thing that has happened to you. Make it up if you have to, do whatever it takes to uphold this masquerade called ‘democracy’ where everyone is given the right to complain and demand compensations for every trivial thing, where one is rewarded for his/her stupidity, where you can write to the papers to complain about the weather but where you are quite impotent when it comes to essential freedoms – the freedom to be judged on the strength of who you really are rather than the stereotypes that can be attached to you. Yes, I may carry a British passport but I have an odd accent and am therefore a possible threat. And while they are busy dealing with some indignant dramaturg who is trying to acquaint them with the theatrical value of Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver’s prose (and who is also suffering from nicotine withdrawal!), entire shipments of weapons and most elaborate criminal schemes are probably sailing past their noses unnoticed, their perpetrators probably just complaining about the weather.
Once on the plane, I’m fully exhausted. Margaret is being really supportive and good to me. We watch some silly movie about children behaving as adults and adults behaving as children, but most of the rest of the time is just time-travel backwards in complete darkness, with most of us asleep. We’ve forgotten our silicone earplugs in our luggage so I plan to try and buy some in Amsterdam. Margaret and Neil want to get some special liquorice. We are very tired but going on auto-pilot. Once we hit the ground we spend a lot of time frantically searching for things. It’s very early in the morning on 21.01.04. Starting to get light… Facing one last bit of the journey home, we’re daydreaming of lavazza coffee. Looking forward to some proper rest… Worrying about what the food will be like in Russia… We’ve got bottles of melatonin to sample when we get back home!... And a grand piano is playing at the Amsterdam airport…