Tag Archives: Alabama

Extracts from a travel diary


17th December, Heathrow Airport

We’ve just come through security and collapsed in front of a Costa. The gentleman next to me smiles, but nevertheless departs so quickly for his plane he leaves a flurry of five pound notes, which we find fifteen minutes later. I have this brilliant idea to give the money to the people at Costa, to pay for the drink of the next person in the queue. What a glorious Christmas good deed, etc, etc. I am already wiping away tears.

I join the queue, and end up in front of a trainee barista whom, it soon transpires, does not speak good English. I ask her whether she can use the note to pay for the next person’s drink, and she asks me whether I want a single or a double. No, I clarify, I want to pay for someone else’s drink. Single or double, she responds, menacingly. I end up impatient and loud, she ends up waving the fiver in my face. The chap behind me gets his free drink but we’re all terribly embarrassed about it. I don’t think Jesus ever had social awkwardness problems.

17th December, somewhere above Chicago

On the descent, and Henry is sobbing on Tim’s lap. Ohhh, I think, clutching Teds and my own head, he got my ear problems. Poor baby. What have I bequeathed upon you?

On and on it goes. It’s a long descent. I am cursing my genetics and the seatbelt sign that prevents me going to help him.

‘His ears!’ I say to Tim once we’re off the plane, my tone a wilderness of self-reproach and sympathy.

‘No’, Tim replies. ‘He was cross I turned the iPad off’.

18th December, the front drive

Having an argument with the cat about where butts should not go, viz. in my face; on my trousers, between the covers of my Agatha Christie. He gives me a five-clawed scratch in response. Violence does not win debates, Ugly (his name really is Ugly).

19th December, the mall

There’s a whole shop selling merchandise for the Alabama football team. Its motto appears to be ‘Crimson Tide’.

I cannot be alone in thinking uncomfortably of periods.

19th December, Airport Boulevard

Really, though. Would you use a garage called Budget Brakes?

20th December, the back bedroom

I’ve forgotten about the voltage difference in America, because I am an idiot. My straighteners use variable voltage, and are fine. But using my hairdryer is like being caressed by the warm breath of a horse standing at some distance.

This may be the last time I wash my hair.

21st December, cinema, screen three

On a double date with my bros. Jennifer Lawrence is crawling away from poison gas, bellowing like a stuck pig. Tim leans over.

‘That’s what you sound like when you give birth’.

Next time I’m in labour, I will meditate on the image of Jennifer Lawrence in poison gas, and I’ll feel pretty good about myself.

22nd December, LDS chapel

Someone just said ‘lackadaisical’ in a Southern US accent, and it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. Andrew Lloyd-Webber should set it to music, when he’s finished lurking creepily in corners and getting his eye-bags monitored from space.


Song of the South

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Four o’ clock in the morning, and I’m sat in my mum’s living room with a very awake Teddy. Apparently the one infallible way to get out of jet lag is to fast for sixteen hours before the start of your new day. But you can’t starve out a baby, even one as squishy as this one, so. Four am isn’t always that bad, though. Look at his Buzz Lightyear pyjamas. Look at his chubby hands, waving under my nose with dimples for knuckles.

I thought that Christmas had to be cold and dark to feel Christmassy, but here we are in blazing sunshine and I feel terribly festive about it. The flights were an absolute horror (I was going to write a post about flying tips with young children, but at the moment all I can think of is Number One, Don’t Ever) but we finally, finally got here, staggering through Mobile’s little airport with three suitcases, four carry-ons, two zombified boys and a partridge in a pear tree. We were welcomed with Foosackley chicken and chips, which is what KFC aims to be after it’s died and gone to heaven; a hire car much bigger than it looked on the photo; and two brothers I hardly recognized.

They turned into adults, while I was gone, which shouldn’t be surprising but still catches me off guard. That first evening I sat with them in my mum’s big, squishy armchair, listening to them talk about university and jobs and girlfriends, and watching their hands. Man hands, big shoulders, hairy faces. I remember them with Buzz Lightyear pyjamas and dimples for knuckles, and it feels odd to watch them gesturing with man hands and wondering whether we’re really related. They are themselves, but with more of the rough edges rubbed off. Henry adores them. It’s lovely.

The first morning – high off 4am and twelve kinds of root beer – we ventured out to explore my mum’s back garden. It’s a giant, glorious wilderness with piles of leaves, sticks just ripe for the sword-fighting, and a tree with (we hear) raccoons inside. Paradise for a two-year-old, in other words. We ran around, climbed ladders, jumped off steps and sunned ourselves on the driveway. Henry is trying valiantly to make soulmates of my mum’s cats, but they’re taking a while to warm up to him. I don’t blame them.

Later we ventured out through the neighbourhood, to a little playground. It had about eleven green plastic slides that threw you into the air and gave you a whacking static shock at the end for your troubles. Henry insisted on pushing the pushchair back home afterwards. Every house here has giant pine trees in the front yard, pine straw and crunchy leaves underfoot. An old man walking his dog stopped to tell Henry a joke. Hen ran off to woo the cat for the fourteenth time, hands flying. His knuckles are still dimply, for now.

I have revised my Christmas necessities as follows: Christmas trees, old man jokes, stick sword-fights, a ready supply of uncles that jump off stuff with my boys. Sunshine as a bonus. It seems festive enough to me.



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Camera, action

I tend to insist on too many photos. I want to capture what I can see in case I can’t remember it in perfect technicolour afterwards. I tried so hard in New York not to be an irritating tourist, and spoiled it all with the big black camera banging on my chest. There does come a point at which I’m more concerned with recording the moment than being present in it.

But look.

Whenever I see this, yesterday afternoon will come back to me all at once: the breathtaking vibrancy of the flowers, the deliciousness of Timothy’s striped t-shirt, the heat, the buzzing, the paddle steamer, the happiness.

Alabama in the spring is well worth it, if you’re around. Those azaleas really know how to show you a good time.

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