My grandparents awaited me eagerly behind the crowds of chauffeurs and taxi drivers with their name plaques, which in other circumstances could have been replaced by microphones and flashing cameras.
After a warm welcome and a couple of embarrassing pictures flashed, it was down to the first order of business: purchasing a London Oyster card (equivalent to our Clipper card, leading to much confusion when I kept referring to it as such with my British hosts). To obtain these magically convenient pieces of plastic we had to descend into the depths of the underground. The ticket “master” was surprisingly cheerful for someone who spends their entire day in a cave.
When we turned to walk away it appeared that every exit was closed except for the one leading to the trains. Just as we had decided the only option was to take a train in a giant circle to get to the other sides of the gate, a gap appeared and we slipped out. What had initially seemed a scandalous way to get people to spend money on the trains when they were in the distraught-after-10-hour-flight state was really just a badly marked underground station.
Driving away, we passed a field covered in lambs and their respective mothers. Against the daffodils lining the road, they were the picture of Spring. It was only on the drive back to the airport at the end of the trip that I noticed the sudden lack of lambs lazily stumbling about the grass. Indeed, they were the picture of Spring and had most likely been the picture of someone’s Easter dinner table.
We stopped at a “petrol” station on the way to the house. The sign over the door read Bonjour! and for a minute I panicked that I had gotten off in the wrong country. Waiting for the gas to pump, I gazed up at a sign advertising sausage rolls and Cornish pasties in all their crisp, golden, and exclusively British glory. I was definitely in England.
At some point, I was offered a mint, out of politeness and not because I was breathing strange odors ... Certainly, an Altoid or TicTac sounded nice. Suddenly, I was handed a strangely heavy and giant roll of something. The contents resembled white Pepto Bismols.
“What are these?” I asked. Maybe they had read of the hazards of eating meat marble pasta on United. “Mints,” was their response. Clearly, English people must have seriously bad breath because these were cursiously large mints, about ten times the size of a TicTac.
I felt a slight sense of patriotism. Americans don’t need such large breath mints because we are naturally just that fresh. It took the rest of the car ride for the mint to completely dissolve in my mouth. And when it did, the aftershock was so intense that when I reached for my water, I was greeted with the sensation of trying to swallow pure ice.
After a dinner of sausage plait, salad, and cheese and handmade apple pie for dessert, we continued our futile attempts to activate the phone I was going to use for the trip. When we finally called the 800 number, we were greeted by a nice man in Bombay. After briefly describing our problem, my grandpa digressed to chatting about the day’s cricket scores. He hung up just after saying, “We’ll have another go at the phone. Otherwise I’ll call you back and we can talk more about cricket.”
When the phone was activated and functioning, many thanks to our new friend in Bombay, I texted my friends in London. After months of relying on Facebook messaging and Skype chat, it was strange to receive replies so instantly and locally. Something so trivial represented a revived sense of connection and accessibility.
Without the rest of my family I had the privilege of sleeping in a full-sized bed. The jet lag that once left me sleepless in my bunk bed in that same house had thankfully decided to let me rest. For the first time in a long time, I slept soundly through the night and into the morning, when parakeets and starlings sang me awake and I opened my eyes to the English countryside and slices of a real, fresh, and un-pre-sliced loaf of bread.