Back on this side

Transatlantic flight finished, now a wait for several hours in Heathrow for the connection back home.

Trip report below the cut, but first of all, congratulations to for securing no less than Iain M. Banks for next August’s MeCon in Belfast! Certainly increases the chances of my showing up.

I do hope I get to experience one of the superior classes of transatlantic flying some day. I really hate standard class. Having said that, flying over was not too bad, and JFK’s passport control section seems to have become a lot more human (though still took 35 minutes before I was processed).

I thought I recognised one of my fellow passengers as Julie Etchingham who I knew at Cambridge, though on reflection I was sure it was sleep deprivation on my part, as I haven’t seen her for fifteen years. On further reflection, once I had got into New York, I remembered that she is now an anchorwoman for Sky News so it almost certainly was her, coming into town for the anniversary. I should have said hello.

The New York hotel was a horribly grotty place called the Ameritania on the corner of 54th and Broadway. I woke at 6 on Monday, and realised around 7.30 that if I started walking south I would reach Ground Zero more or less exactly on time for the commemoration. It is about four miles. As recorded in an earlier entry, the commemoration was rather eerie. But I was able to fit in some bookshopping before my working day began.

Tuesday morning was the one morning of the trip when I slept relatively late, being woken at 8 by a very welcome call from , who, with , joined me for breakfast. Great to see him again and meet her for the first time. Then I had to zoom off to the UN for a coffee with a friend whose working conditions recently changed rather drastically.

On Tuesday afternoon I was able to indulge in a very small amount of culture; I was given a guided tour of the cast iron house at 101 Spring Street, designed in 1871 by an architect called Nicholas Whyte, of whom I know nothing more. I had happened to bump into the architect who is currently restoring the building last year, and he offered to have me shown round. The house was the New York home of the minimalist artist Donald Judd, and many sculptures and other artworks by him and others are on view for those who can get access – the whole thing apparently will be open to the public in a couple of years.

Tuesday night, off to Washington, and a much much nicer hotel – the Morrison Clarke Historic Inn on 11th and L. Back to the usual pattern of waking up early and going to sleep early; I didn’t manage any evening social engagements while I was there but it is probably just as well.

On Wednesday I did a talk at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies. The chairman of the meeting, in his introductory remarks, referred to the grim coincidence that he had also organised a conference in Virginia in 1990 en route to which my father suffered a fatal heart attack (at JFK airport), and said nice things about us both. I said that I was glad to be the first member of my family to arrive safely at a meeting he had organised. The talk went well.

On Thursday I met with another old friend who has just become his country’s ambassador to the US – the first time I have been to an embassy in Washington. My friend is an academic and former government official, who had been mildly but not outspokenly critical of his country’s current government (which rather lacks people with much talent), but suddenly found that he was back in favour with the president. The wheel of fortune, and all that.

Yesterday I started with two media interviews which I was told would be on-line by today; will edit this entry to link to them if that actually happens. Then started to get a little worried because my last meeting, in the amusingly named district of Foggy Bottom, was due to end at 4.30 and my flight from Dulles was at 6.35; in the end, despite the importance of the meeting, I left at 4.15 – and of course reached Dulles in only half an hour, and had loads of time (enough to get some decent food at the airport so as to avoid having to rely on the BA menu).

Unfortunately the overnight flight was the least comfortable I think I have ever had. In the seat next to me was a very tall man who was unable to settle, and whose limbs kept spilling into what I felt was my personal space. Am now feeling very woozy indeed, and hoping for an afternoon’s sleep once I finally get home. Of course, now that I am much more sleep-deprived than I was on Sunday night, the test will be if I think I recognise celebrities on the next plane; if I don’t, than I guess I can be pretty certain that it really was Julie Etchingham!