We woke at 4.30 after very little sleep due to a restless Molly and late night packing.
My dad had drawn the short straw at being the one to take us to the airport. At 5.15am we were still playing Tetris with our gear and my dad’s fairly spacious car. I drew the short straw of having to squeeze, really squeeze myself into the middle seat between Molly in her car seat and a cello or some other large piece of luggage.
At 5.30 we set off to Heathrow. Luckily we were early enough to miss the A40 traffic and got there with plenty of time to get our enormous amount of luggage checked in. Dad helped us wheel the two trolleys into the airport then we said goodbye. Once we got rid of the two giant cases, the pushchair, the carseat and guitar, we were only left with two medium sized cases, two hand luggage items, a baby bag, a cello and a toddler. Yes we are travelling light.
We found a good place to have breakfast and Molly had a good run up and down a corridor. It was the first time we’d really sat down together for over a week as I had been away on another project at the start of January.
Right. We’re off to America. It’s actually happening! Ben had spent months organising and arranging this tour but we only had our P3 work visas confirmed (after a nail biting few months and a ton of paper work) just before Christmas so we hadn’t booked flights, accommodation, baby-sitters etc until we were sure we could go. We had to convince the authorities that we were ‘culturally unique’ and when we went for our visa interview the lady behind the desk said ‘Wow! I love books and I love music but I’ve never heard of anything like this before!’ Exactly, we thought. If only she’d received our initial application we’d have had no problem! We are fortunate to have friends in high places and our arguments were backed up by authors such as Phillip Pullman, Dr Robert Macfarlane and Dr Emma Hooper as well as musicians such as Sam Sweeney, Eliza Carthy and centres of folk culture such as Cecil Sharp House.
It’s actually great travelling with a toddler and a cello because you get priority boarding. Typically the cello has the window seat so has to be strapped in upside-down. We boarded this flight - me with Molly, the cello and one bag, and Ben with the rest of the stuff. As we got on, a very friendly steward offered to put the cello in a wardrobe. ‘We have a seat for it’ I said. ‘But do you have a seat for the baby?’ ‘No’ I said. ‘Then let me put it elsewhere and you’ll have more room’. Brilliant! After two trips and a pushchair drop off, Ben arrived at the trio of seats and we made ourselves comfortable. When it was time to fly, there was an announcement about a technical issue with the plane. We were waiting to see if it was a quick fix or if we might have to disembark and get a new flight. After an hour of waiting we all got off. Much of this trip will rely on the kindness of strangers and here it started. Two women sitting behind us offered to help (by now we had an extra bag from Boots!) One took Molly and a bag and the other took two bags. They walked with us all the way to the departure lounge (better than taking the train as we’d have to go though customs again!) We waited for four hours, by which time Molly had fallen asleep with some window shopping and we’d had another meal. We forgot to use our vouchers that we had been given as we stepped off the plane but made up for it by getting some snacks later.
It was time to board the 16.45 flight to Newark. This time, all was well. Although we only had two seats, it was a bigger plane with less people so the cello sat at the back of the plane and we were by an emergency exit with plenty of space in front of us and the offer of a bassinet for Molly to sleep in. As she’d recently had a sleep, she was happy playing, reading and socialising for a few hours. She loved the take off, laughing and saying ‘weeeeeeee’ as the plane went faster. She charmed all the stewards and passengers, chatting and singing for them. When she (and we) were worn out, she had some milk and fell asleep on my lap. This was a time to be thankful that I was still breastfeeding. After eight days apart, I wasn’t sure if that would still be a possibility. After Ben transferred her to the bassinet we got quite excited about the prospect of watching a film. I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a fictional historical film set just after WWII about the German occupation of the island and a literary group that formed to give themselves some comfort and sense of community. It was heart warming and felt like a relevant movie to watch at the start of our first Bookshop Band Tour of America.
I got a flutter of excitement after catching the first glimpse of the lights of North America. It was suddenly becoming a reality and the 20 minutes of sleep had revived me. Ben had also been sleeping a while so I didn’t feel too bad when I poked him to say ‘Look! Land! Lights!’ Molly had a few hours of sleep but woke in time for the landing. Unfortunately, one of us had to sit with the cello for take-off and landing (in case it got scared?!) so Ben went to the back while Molly and I sang songs and looked for distractions. She wasn’t that keen on being strapped in, so for the first time on the flight I used our last resort tool - downloads on my phone of ’Sarah and Duck’. She patiently let me borrow the phone to take pictures and a video of us coming into Newark but I had to give it back as she needed to see what happened to the frog…
By now, we had repacked our luggage so that it was more manageable and we put Molly in the sling. We got off the plane and found our way to the visa queue. Molly went between singing Twinkle Twinkle very loudly to wanting to get down and run about. This wasn’t the time so we kept her in the sling until we got through. She made the very serious man at the desk smile by singing so he let us in! We were finally in the US. As we retrieved the rest of our luggage, Molly had a run about. We got a big trolly and tried to work out how we would get to our accommodation in Hoboken. The easiest but not cheapest option was a yellow cab. We deserved the easiest option we thought.
Although we were a few hours late, Kate was still up and had made us some dinner. The house was spacious, tasteful and came with a Cockapoo called Levi. Kate runs a bookshop in Hoboken called Little City Books where we are playing tonight. She’s a musician and has been more than generous with her hospitality. This is a great place to start our tour and to end today’s blog. It’s time to get outside and explore. We are right by the Hudson River with a view of the city on the other side and there’s a play park at the bottom of the road.
We're so grateful to Gardners and AMS for making this tour possible, supporting us and encouraging us through the whole process - we could not have done it without them and are indebted to their generosity and passion about music and books that led to them to support this musical tour of bookshops in America.
FIRST SHOW TONIGHT
January 16th 2019
Little City Books
100 Bloomfield St,
$20 per ticket
PS: Would you like a copy of the LIVE IN AMERICA album we'll be recording? Pre-order your vinyl copy here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thebookshopband/the-bookshop-band-live-in-american-bookshops?ref=user_menu