It’s 6.19am and I’m wide awake and ready to go: a rare phenomenon that can only ever be explained by jet lag or Christmas morning, and unfortunately the latter is still four days away. However we are now in Mobile, Alabama, perched precariously on the wonderful double-air-bed-atop-two-single-beds combination my lovely mother has set up for us, which is exciting enough to account for my wakefulness.
The journey was long and relatively unspectacular: we arrived at Heathrow in good time, and had a minor panic when we were redirected to the Your Plane Has Been Cancelled, Sorry queue. Our flight clerk talked so much about passport photos and the school The Stig used to attend – nice man, if a bit chatty – that we never did get to find out why we’d been redirected to the queue of fear, but we gathered our flight wasn’t cancelled and got checked in much more quickly than usual, so all’s well, etc.
The plane had to be laboriously de-iced before we set off – I had some sympathy, having given myself frostbite doing the same to our car earlier on – so we had time to watch the whole fabulous final episode of Merlin before we took to the air, and ascended into the clouds with our heads full of dragon lords and touching bromance relationships. Of course, that had time to wear off over the next ten hours, but I did watch 3.5 recent film releases before my eyes started to burn like little angry coals in their sockets, which was entertainment enough.
We arrived in Dallas fizzy with soft drinks (Tim) and staggering with ear pain (me) and got through the surprisingly nice immigration and baggage claim in record time. The man announcing the baggage arrivals delivered his lines in a tone that suggested he was challenging someone to a cage fight. Soon afterwards we discovered that Dallas airport has a monorail system to take you to different gates: the carriages are constructed mostly of windows and the track is high in the air, so the five-minute ride in blazing sunshine felt like a scene from Back to the Future II or something. We loved it so much we wanted to pretend we were at gate C and ride for longer. Instead, we dutifully got off at gate B and sat peacefully for an hour to get our breath back, sipping on an American fruit juice drink whose label, confusingly, said ‘USES NO FRUIT JUICE’.
We almost missed the second flight after Tim had an unfortunately-timed nosebleed in the gents’, but got on it just in time and landed in Mobile (now thoroughly deaf, in my case) an hour later. My family were waiting for us. The minute I see my mother, even after a 19-month absence, it feels like she never left – she looks and sounds exactly the same, and seeing her is like coming home in the oldest and truest sense I can imagine. It was wonderful, even if I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying.
Somewhat worryingly, we were assigned to Rob’s car on the drive back home, but despite all the wrongness of seeing my littlest brother behind the wheel of a car, especially considering his slightly erratic driving, we got back to the house without incident. And the house! We last saw it two years ago, crowded with random furniture and with dark wooden panelling on the walls, but since then it’s been completely transformed. Every room is light and pretty and comfortable, and everything matches, and it all seems so much more lived-in than it did before. There’s a huge Christmas tree in the hall and another in the lounge, and big wreaths on the double front doors, so it’s all very festive. They’ve even done their best with the boys’ room, despite it being crammed with such random items as a real human skull, a glowing-eyed panda robot and the scariest ceramic clown I’ve ever had the misfortune to sleep beside.
James has a day off today, and Rob doesn’t have to report to Chikfilet until 4pm, so we’re going to go to the mall later in the morning before picking up my sister from the airport at 3pm. The weather looks clear-skied and relatively warm – no ice-scraping required in any case – so I may not even need a scarf today. And with that, I’d better get up: I’m in dire need of a shower, and the ceramic clown keeps pulling unsettling faces at me from the corner.