‘So how did you get to know each other?’
This seemed an unusual opening gambit for the security person at Heathrow to adopt.
I put on a stern look and replied that we had been married for 48 years. I thought further explanation unnecessary, and so apparently did she, or perhaps, from the vantage point of youth, she imagined that the detail had been lost in the mists of time.
‘We have to ask.’
I thought it was pointless to ask why they had to ask, as the reasons were unlikely to be forthcoming, so just nodded pleasantly and proceeded to Gate 16, Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, for our flight back to Chicago.
Oh the disappointment when you find out you’re not flying with your favourite airline. We had booked with British Airways. We flew with American Airlines.
But it was alright. The food was no worse and no less plentiful than BA food, the cabin crew were nice, and we had a can each of Sam Adams Octoberfest with lunch, just to get back into the American vibe.
I feel almost as though we live in America as well as Britain now, even though we have only a floating, very small home here. I was looking forward to being in Chicago again, and a night out at the Green Mill Bar, one of Al Capone’s hang-outs, although the Chicago Cellar Boys were due to start performing at 9pm Central Time, which was 3am the next day British time, and we had got up at 5am to get the flight from Newcastle, so it was going to be a rather long day.
We checked in at Ray’s Bucktown B&B and after a little lie down and a bath, were sufficiently revived to go out to eat. We debated whether we had the energy to go on to Green Mill, finally deciding that the chance might not come again for quite some time, so we got an Uber and arrived just in time to get a seat at the bar before the band came on. We were glad we’d made the effort. They were superb, playing 20’s and 30’s hot jazz and it was a great start to this trip.
At the B&B, we had a warm welcome from Ray and his staff, despite the unpromising, and possibly even ageist, strapline, ‘not your parents’ B&B’. Maybe we don’t look that old. Or maybe we do, but they didn’t mind.
Ray’s day job had been professional photography and the house was full of his images and other art works. The ceiling light shades were those sort of umbrella thingies professional photographers use to diffuse the light.
Breakfast was from another world and I feasted on fluffy wholewheat blueberry & banana pancakes with a side of hickory smoked bacon, with fresh fruit and coffee.
The next day we got the hire car and drove down to Peoria. We’ve hired cars so many times now from Enterprise that Ian is always treated as a highly valued customer. But perhaps they do that anyway. Before we left I had time for a little wander down N Leavitt St.
The sun was shining and as we drove through the Illinois countryside we noticed several places which we’d passed through on Carina last year.
But we were in for an unpleasant shock.
Carina had been in storage for a year, so I was expecting a few dead flies, some dust and possibly bits of mould here and there. But this time, it was obvious that Carina had been visited by members of the rodent population.
They had had a ball. They had attacked a roll of kitchen paper in one of the cupboards and scattered chewed up bits of paper over the contents of the cupboard, which all had to be disposed of. When I discovered they also had gone into the drawer where I keep my kitchen implements and devoured most of two wooden spoons, I had a fit of the vapours. There was evidence of their activity elsewhere on the boat.
We did as much as we could, and the next day got up at 5.30, drove to the nearest Walmart and spent $70 on industrial quantities of bleach, rubber gloves, washing up liquid, assorted cloths and scrubbers, and carpet cleaner. The lady at the checkout hoped we’d have a wonderful day. That seemed a far-fetched possibility, but we managed to smile and thank her anyway.
The disinfection process involved removing every single thing from every single cupboard and drawer, vacuuming each cupboard and drawer, wiping each cupboard and drawer with hypochlorite solution, and replacing the wipeable plastic liners.
Everything that had been removed from cupboards and drawers was divided between not salvageable (ie visibly contaminated or chewed) and salvageable (everything else).
Every single pot, pan, plate, dish, mug, knife, fork and spoon, cooking implement, was steeped in a bucket of hypochlorite for 10 minutes then washed and dried.
This process took some considerable time and we had to spend an extra two nights in the hotel before Carina was habitable, and extend the car hire to accommodate multiple trips to Walmart and the launderette.
But this had an upside, as we were able to observe and participate in Peoria’s nightlife. On Friday night we were lucky to get a table at the Rhythm Kitchen Music Cafe. The live music wasn’t jazz, as we had expected, but the Bogside Zukes, playing, unsurprisingly, Irish music with great energy and enthusiasm. The food was out of New Orleans and delicious. At the front desk, the owner greeted everyone like old friends, and the people at the next table struck up a conversation with us, so the atmosphere was more like a party than a restaurant.
The next night we were recommended to try Alexander’s Steakhouse on the Peoria Riverfront. The menu was simple – various steaks, with baked potatoes or fries and Texas Toast, and whatever you wanted from the salad bar. You could share a steak and just pay for the sides, so we shared a superb top sirloin and had plenty. Something we haven’t got used to is how early people eat in America. We were the last to leave, and it was only half past nine.
Reality dawned. With Carina habitable once more,we had to leave the hotel, return the hire car, and I was back to cooking dinner on the boat.
We left Peoria in the late morning, after a final flurry with the mop and bleach and the upholstery shampoo. We were both a little nervous at the prospect of moving the boat after more than a year’s absence, but the Captain made a neat job of reversing Carina out of her slip and through the narrow exit from the marina into the Illinois River, and I found I could remember how to tie a bowline after all.