Our friend Stan very kindly drove us to Edinburgh Airport at 5:30am, to allow us to start our travels to the USA. Along with kindness, one of his other great qualities is exuberant ebullience - something which even the ridiculously early hour was unable to diminish. We grunted our bleary-eyed thanks and watched our car disappear Perthwards. Edinburgh check-in was straightforward and we boarded a Bae 146 for Paris.
Flying directly over my hometown was an interesting experience. Cloudy Scotland gave way to a sunny southeast England, and almost perfect visibility. Heathrow Airport caught my eye initially, followed by the distinctive shape of The Queen Mary reservoir, Ashford Manor Golf Course, and Fordbridge Roundabout. These shapes helped me locate Fordbridge Road, Stanwell Road - and the house I lived in for most of my childhood, and all of my teenage years. Fordbridge Park, the scene of countless hours of football was still there, as was the River Ash, presumably still full of stickleback fish awaiting children's nets. Stranger still was the thought that my parents were 30,000ft below us, and that the last glimpse of my childhood home before they sell it will have been from so far above.
They joy of travel was rudely interrupted by The French. I know that invoking national stereotypes is uncultured, rude, ignorant and I make huge efforts to avoid such crass writing. However, in France I can't help sometimes feeling that they are invoking the stereotype themselves and laughing at us. Suffice to say, my experience is that they are as good as cooking as they are bad at organising airports, and that the collective national 'gallic-shrug' as the proposed solution to these shortcomings doesn't diffuse the rising tension all around!
The late flight meant a lost connection it Atlanta, Georgia. Delta Airlines 767s might be a little old, tired, and worn looking, but the staff are really efficient and friendly. They knew we would be late, and had arranged hotel accommodation and food vouchers for us. The security regime at Atlanta was unbelievable. I liked the fact that while US Immigration staff have learnt the art of politeness and smiling since my last visit, they were as thorough as ever. I was dreading having made an error on my ESTA applications for the family, and our holiday ending abruptly and sadly! What I couldn't believe was that at Atlanta you have to go through security to get OUT of the airport! We'd done rigorous security twice in Paris already, then to have to take off the same shoes and belts, and unpack the same laptops and cameras for scanning again, just to get out of the place- seemed bizarre.
Nevertheless, a night's sleep later we were airborne again, in a terrible old 737 with broken toilets. It took us high over the Deep South, over the Mississippi Delta, into the desert. The descent between the mountains of Tuscon was amazing. Jagged ridges and high peaks encircled the city, spread out in typical US grid-pattern below.
On the ground in Tucson I was as pleased to see the ever-affable 'Percy Cowpat' as I was shocked at the intensity of the desert heat which pressed in on the skin the second we stepped out of the air-conditioned terminal. The short drive through the city underlined the truth of the old sarcastic cliche that the UK and the US are 'two cultures divided by a common language'. The differences here are massive, and obvious everywhere in the dry, dry air of Tucson in mid-summer. The dry river-beds which dissect the city, were as alien a sight to us as the architecture designed to deflect as much of the power of the sun as possible. The wide main-streets look so different than ours with their ubiquitous low-rise buildings and high-rise advertising hoardings. I have spent many weeks in the NE USA in places such as Philadelphia. Philly 'felt' like being in a foreign country, either in the high-rise of centre-city, or the projects (social housing) just outside it. Tucson 'feels' like a foreign country again, but apart from the fact that English is understood, its hard to believe that it's the same country as Pennsylvania.
Rest from travel finally came our way at the house of our dear friends. ("so good to see you" "wow, haven't they grown...!). Rest, that was rudely interrupted by my jet-lagged body-clock whose idea of a joke was to wake my weary limbs at 2am insisting that it must be getting-up time by now. I need to sleep, tomorrow we drive 10hrs to the Colorado Rockies.