The Old Country

The British Airways plane to London seemed to be fighting for every inch of progress against a head wind that tossed and played with the big jet, so that sleeping in the First Class Pod (you always suspected that LRK was a pod person, didn’t you?) was a bit like sharing a bed with a pair of silent but rambunctious four year-olds. However, I did enjoy my glass (of the bottomless, never-empty sort) of Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2005 (high class plonk) and my warm rocket and goat’s cheese tart drizzled with designer olive oil and my pistachio-stuffed chicken breast with nicely undercooked haricots verts and baby carrots.Â


Oddly, I found I had problems with the accents, so that each time one of the stewards offered me something (hot towel, duty free, Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes) it took a beat before my ears sorted the words out. This may be because I was tired, or because I haven’t been around Brit other than family for three years, but it made me feel a terrible Yank. By the end of the flight I had adjusted, so I’m all right now until I get into the parts of Britain with the more pronounced regional accents. “Impenetrable” is the word that comes to mind with some of them.


Standing in the queue to board ( First Class doesn’t tend to queue, but there was some stubbornness with the computer—computer problems transcend class) I happened to overhear the two people behind me talking about, among other things, plot lines. This is not a phrase one tends to overhear unless one is at a writers’ conference or a fashionable restaurant in Los Angeles, and they didn’t have the feel of Hollywood types, so in the “morning” (roughly 3 am by my watch, 11 am UK time) as I went past the woman’s seat I asked her if she was a writer. She was, a crime writer in fact, and when I introduced myself, she recognized my name. Hers was Elizabeth Conway, the author of four books in the UK and one in the US. She invited me to settle into the guest seat that the pods contain, and we ate our fruit plates and lattes while sharing friends’ names and talking thriller-versus-suspense. Her presence in the upper cabin was perhaps better explained by her day job in international finance than through her fiction-writers’ hat, but we shared email addresses and promised to mail each other books.Â


I brought with me as reading matter Tana French’s Edgar-winning Into the Woods, and am just blown away by the authority and freshness in this first novel. I won’t say it kept me awake the whole flight, but certainly more of the flight than I would have thought possible.


I am now in the hands of family, English and extended as some of the Australian contingent are also in residence (see what happens when you live twenty minutes from an international airport?) and will sort out the rest of the trip tomorrow—car hire, hotels for the missing nights, and such—then Sunday punting. I’ll try to get a picture and see if I can bully one of the computer geeks in my life to post it for me. This is assuming it isn’t raining, or I don’t drop the camera into the Isis.Â


In the meantime, imagine me in an English summer (this is imagination) sipping a cool (not cold!) bitters, and setting off for a bucolic boat-ride in a tree-enshrouded river.

 More to come.

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  1. vicki on May 30, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I’m glad you made it over the pond, safe and sound. 🙂 Have fun!

  2. Kerry on May 30, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Sounds like you’re off to a wonderful start. I hope it all continues as well as it started, and that your punting expedition is blessed with beautiful weather. I will, in any event, envision young women with hats and parasols and young men in boaters . . .

  3. nkk1969 on May 30, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    [Oddly, I found I had problems with the accents, so that each time one of the stewards offered me something (hot towel, duty free, Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes) it took a beat before my ears sorted the words out. ]

    Hee hee. I feel your pain. At the beginning of a flight to Germany I have only the wits about me to form essential sentences, like, “Haben Sie Cola Light und Schokolade?” or, “Koelsch, bitte.”

    Have fun and do try to post pictures. Oh, and it looks like the sock puppets will not make it to the UK this trip. Sorry, we did try. The comforts of home and all that…(evil grin)


  4. Phil the Badger on May 30, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Ye gods, it’s a tough life, how do you stand the strain?

    Pedant point:

    “sipping a cool (not cold!) bitters, ”

    It’s “bitter”, not “bitters”.

    The former is a type if beer, and should be consumed, as you rightly say, cool but not cold.

    The latter term refers to Angostura bitters; a highly alcoholic infusion of South American (iirc) aromatics. It is not consumed neat, but a couple of shakes transforms a glass of gin into the “pink gin” beloved of Naval Officers. (Personally, I can’t stand the stuff.)

    Enjoy your stay.


  5. Meredith T on May 30, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Dear Laurie, considering the past months have (more or less) included illness, war by long distance and fire by near distance, I’d say you have earned every second of first class and any family indulgence on offer. Punting on the Isis! will you wear white linen and pipeclay and evoke H. Vane’s comment that you are hand in hand with the stately past? I’m going to try to round up one of my six UK nieces to go see you in Cambridge. Have a fantastic time –Meredith

  6. Meredith T on May 30, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Err… or did someone say it to Harriet? well, anyway, have fun. (*goes away, shaking head about memory*)–Meredith

  7. Sara on May 30, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    The Tana French novel brings to mind the musical “Into the Woods”, though I think that the Sondheim romp through Grimm’s fairy tales in their fractured state bears little resemblance to the crime/mystery fiction of Ms French.

    Then again, the giant does squish somebody…or a couple of somebodies…. 🙂

    Enjoy the UK. It’s on my list of places to go- I’d love a “Russell Tour of the UK” trip.

  8. Bachi on May 31, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Undercooked haricots verts – how dear they, well to my taste anyway!

    (Even in a somewhat pricey french restraunt in NYC they were called french green beans – so I had to look this one up—learning all the time!)

  9. tangential1 on May 31, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read Tana French’s book since Powell’s reviewed it a few months ago. I’m intrigued to hear your reaction and now I think I must go pick up a copy for myself!

    Have a wonderful trip!

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