This week marked the halfway point on the tour - 29 days down, 29 more to go - and the shift from the US to Australia. The first half has been an interesting experiment in how much travel, etc. a body can take before it begins to exhibit signs of distress. The answer, it appears, is roughly 28 days, because meltdown has begun.
In part, the US was to blame. The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Australia was how much more pleasant and easy it is to travel by air here. They are still security conscious, but without the paranoia and borderline xenophobia that is so much a part of the way in which visitors to the US are treated now. In the US, this came to a head for me in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was hauled out of the security line and accused of altering my passport. The cops got involved, and calls were made to some unknown individual far away. The words "What's the ETA on that?" were used, and without irony. I had become, as if by magic, a serious security threat. Mind you, I didn't know this at the time, as nobody had bothered to tell me why I had been singled out. Still, there was nothing to do but be patient and polite. Getting bolshy gets you nowhere. In fact, it may even invite what is generally referred to as the Gloved Welcome, an intimate exploration of one's dark and private places without even the benefit of dinner or a quick snog beforehand.
Eventually, as my departure time loomed, I offered to try to clarify whatever the issue in question was if someone would be polite enough to give me a clue as to its nature. It was pointed out, after a lot of whispered consultations, that my signature was not actually part of the passport itself, but had been affixed separately to the relevant page. Ergo, I had altered my passport.
Not ergo, but er, no. In Ireland, we fill out a form for our passports, I patiently explained. We provide sample signatures. One of those signatures is then clipped and sealed inside our passport. See? The three - count 'em - police officers and the two TSA people looked at the passport again. "Sounds reasonable," said one, but he appeared to be in the minority. Another went through the ETA thing again. I was told that I could go to my gate, but I could expect to be stopped from boarding depending upon the outcome of the telephone conversation. It was suggested to me as I left that all such problems could be solved if passports were homogenised, which is code for making all passports in then world look like US passports. Given the current state of the US passport system, where people are queueing overnight like refugees fleeing a collapsing society in an effort to obtain what is a fairly basic yet essential document, this was a pretty risible proposal, but I kept that view to myself.
Anyway, that was about it for me and the US. Too many flights, and too many 16- and 17-hour days. My body is starting to rebel. I have managed to tear something in my neck hauling my bags from hotel room to car to check in desk, and from baggage claim to car to hotel room. I felt it rip the way paper rips. At the moment, I'm freezing it with spray, but the spray wears off, and at night I don't sleep as well as I'd like. I'm not much good for anything after about nine o'clock, and this weekend had to bow out of meeting some nice people for a bite to eat in Melbourne. I went to bed instead. I feel like an old person.
My temper is also a little shorter than it once was. Actually, it's a lot shorter. Yesterday, I arrived in Adelaide to find that my hotel room was like a sauna, and my window only opened about an inch. The heating was locked to almost maximum, and nothing I did with the control panel seemed to alter it. I called down to find out how I could turn it off, and was told that the front desk didn't have the manual.
"Manual?" I asked.
"Manual," came the reply.
"Is it that complicated?"
"I don't know."
"We could send up an engineer."
"An engineer could probably fix it."
"But I just want to turn it down."
"Have you tried pressing the on/off button?"
"Did it work?"
"I'll send up an engineer."
But the engineer didn't come. I had a reading to go to. I decided to take a shower. I showered. When I got out of the shower, I dried myself. Seconds later, I was damp again. I felt like a hothouse flower. I tried fiddling with the control panel again. Nothing. I tapped it. Still nothing. I tapped it really hard. With my fist.
The LCD display immediately disintegrated, and a substance like squid ink spread where once little symbols had gaily frolicked.
Curiously, though, the system was still pumping out superheated air. Bugger.
And at that moment, with perfect timing, there was a knock on the door. I arranged my towel artfully around myself and answered the knock. A smiling engineer stood before me, ready and willing to help.
"Problem with your heating?" he asked.
Oh dear. "Er, I've decided to live with it."
"Oh yes, quite sure."
He looked a bit disappointed. One minute, I thought. If you'd just arrived one minute earlier . . .
After a short examination of my options, I decided to confess. In a way. On my way to the reading, I told the desk clerk that I'd tapped the screen of my air con system a little too hard, and now it wasn't working. I looked upon this explanation as a euphemism rather than an outright lie. When I returned, the desk clerk gave me a funny look, and the entire display unit had been replaced. I wonder what the engineer thought. It was still too hot, but I decided to leave well enough alone. After all, I'm not Russell Crowe . . .
On the upside, the Adelaide event was incredibly well-attended, and the bookseller/ reader evening in Sydney was a joy. The book has been doing well in Australia, better than any of my other novels, and the Australians are kind and easygoing and touchingly hospitable. This is still a very nice way to earn a living. I wish I had a little more energy, but at this stage I should just be grateful for the energy that I do have. Tomorrow is a day off, the first in quite a while that hasn't involved some form of travel at the very least. I plan to read, and drink decaf coffee, and work on my anger management skills.
Mind you, that heating system was asking for it.
This week John read
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (uncorrected proof)
The Sleeping Doll by Jeffrey Deaver
and listened to
Giu La Testa (soundtrack reissue) by Ennio Morricone
Easy Tiger by Ryan Adams