British friends and rellies thought we were mad.
I thought we were mad.
Hurricane one had already hit, devastating Houston. Hurricane two was limbering up in the wings, gulping steroids.
Somehow we’d booked our flight to Texas for the lull between the two. Slipped through to Austin after its allocation of rain – seven inches – had already fallen.
So the sun was shining when we arrived, extra weary, at four in the afternoon.
Extra, because of the taxi. Which arrived to whisk us off to the airport at five in the morning.
Five in the morning the day before we were due to fly.
As I padded out into the front garden, with just-woken-up-to-the-phone-ringing eyes, barefoot, in my pyjamas, panic set in.
Please don’t tell me we should be leaving now?
Please don’t tell me I have to pack, shower and be on the road in five minutes?
I hoped I was right. That the taxi was wrong.
Next day, five am (and another taxi driver) found us ready and waiting.
We sped down a motorway already hectic with lorries to our first flight, from Manchester. An airport which may leak (it does) but is at least designed for ordinary mortals.
At Heathrow, as the hours pass, walking the lock-in shopping mall that is Terminal Five drains me of hope for civilisation. The stratospherically upmarket shops. Screen-fixated folk of all nationalities trailing dangerously erratic wheeled luggage.
Fortnum and Mason, though ranked with the stratospheric emporia, does at least sell biscuits. Albeit at ridiculous prices for baked butter and sugar.
Florentines dredged with real gold ended up in my carry-on, being something the mother-in-law probably doesn’t get too often in Texas.
And though she was the main destination for our trip, when we arrived at four in the afternoon, it was destination Mexico.
Or rather, Mexican restaurant.
For a frozen Margarita.
Texas is the only place I drink frozen Margaritas. Yeah. That’s right. Because I’m worth it.
In Texas, now, you’ve no need to conceal your weapon. Carry your sub-machine gun with pride. Take it to class at the university if you want. Just not to the sports field, OK?
Back at Dripping Springs, some things remained sane. Or nicely insane.
Still driven to distraction by the prof’s sandals. Still inclined to insinuate himself where he’s most visible – if not useful.
On the porch a trio of exotic birds – wooden ones from Zambia – swung in the breeze, ignored by Texas Hill Country wildlife.
Buzzards soared. Cicadas poured forth waves of orchestrated noise.
Within 24 hours family had accumulated like finches around a seed feeder.
Which was lovely. But to someone who spends all day, every day, alone, with her head in another world, a trifle daunting.
We had (we thought) a whole week, so I dug in mentally. Which is perhaps why I found myself clutching a large, inflatable dragonfly as we traipsed round the local supermarket.
Nursing home visits for the prof followed, daily.
Sunday, a talented niece-in-law wowed in ‘Chicago’.
There were humming birds and fireflies. Wine and beer and tacos.
Then came the bombshell.
Thel and I were talking (drinking wine) when the brothers came home looking stressed.
We’d mistaken the day of our flight.
It left next day.
We dined on take away pizza, drank two nights’ allocation of wine.
Next morning I packed and the prof crammed in two lasts visits to his mom.
We arrived at Austin’s airport feeling mentally breathless.
It’s always had a relaxed yet also city-slicker feel. Stetsons for sale alongside Mexican Frieda Kahlo shopping bags.
Signs of Terminal Five infection are visible, but still the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ spirit lingers.
A live band was playing. And it was good.
Embarked, in the middle of three seats as usual, I waited anxiously for the window-seat-voyager to arrive.
On the way out he’d been the lumpen kind, elbow and thigh splaying into my ‘personal space’ throughout the flight.
It was a relief to see a skinny older man smile and wave.
‘I can tell I’m gonna like sharing with you guys’ said the Professor of Economics. He was a good companion. And slept well.
I’ll skip the disgusting breakfast for landfall at Heathrow, where a joyous experience awaited.
I walked past twice, in the hour our flight was delayed, before giving the knitting a go.
Squares of garter stitch to make blankets, for charity.
I didn’t quite finish my masterpiece in red. But still received a reward – a travel-cushion knitted by members of the Townswomen’s Guild.
And by that time I’d learned the young woman next to me was Moldovan.
That her friends told her to keep her hobbies – painting, embroidery, knitting, crochet – for when she was old. Because they kept her indoors too much.
I learned that purple t-shirted Val had bad arthritis. Was hoping it wouldn’t reach her fingers.
That the young man in front of me was using a different technique Val wanted to learn, in case her worst arthritic fears materialised.
I learned BA now has a direct flight to Inverness, origin of the knitting initiative.
That our blankets would go to homeless people around the UK.
All of us who stopped, knitted and nattered – young men, women of all ages – were enriched by this eruption of community spirit, taunting the glassy, designer-labelled, shop-filled behemoth that is Terminal 5.
As I left I remarked how much I’d enjoyed it. A woman looked up. ‘Me too,’ she smiled.
I’d been thinking of writing a piece called ‘oceans apart’.
But then it felt more like ‘oceans irrelevant’.
How nice is that?