After a few false starts on Sunday, I finally managed to get out of the hotel and meet the mutineer at the Red Hart for a delicious lunch of various things that had been fried (ordering a meal all on my own the night before had depleted my social bravery reserves, so I got him to order for me in exchange for buying him some chips*). We ate over an intense discussion about playing in bands and the relative superiority of +44 over Angels and Airwaves, which we both agreed was steaming pile of emo horseshit. I also had two Strongbows. I should have realized ahead of time that this would turn out to be a mistake later on, but I was distracted by my delightful company and the onion rings. After lunch we headed back to the hotel where the mutineer kept me company for a few hours until the day's main event.
Steve had been telling me for weeks that he was going to have me tend bar in his pub while I was over. I had been telling him he had no idea what he was saying for just as long. "I think you'd be a natural at it," he told me, despite my repeated explanation of how I already knew that wasn't true: a) I have crippling social phobias and b) I break and/or spill EVERYTHING I touch. When I told the bartender of Steve's plans over dinner one night he dropped his fork in shock and asked if Steve had ever actually met me. Luckily, events transpired that prevented him from implementing this ludicrous idea. Instead, he came to the hotel to pick me up, where I showed off the coils of rope that had been left behind on Saturday before heading down to the car park where we stood in awe for 10 minutes watching a black squirrel frolic by a tree (hey, it's not every day you see a black squirrel).
We headed out to a place called The Rusty Gun, obviously the most appropriate place to take an American visitor to dinner. It's also one of the most appropriate places to take Steve for dinner. As he will be the first to tell you (the comic will be the second), Steve only eats weirdo food. Take him anywhere in the world, and his instinct is to find the most outrageous thing on the entire menu and then order it. He's the exact opposite of me, really. No matter where I go, I pretty much only eat four things - pasta, hamburgers, prawns and dessert. It's because I know I like these things, and I want to make sure I do not starve to death because I ordered something I might potentially hate. Steve, on the other hand, is on a perpetual culinary adventure.
I will now go back on what I just said about myself in the previous paragraph. I order the same things over and over again everywhere, mostly, except that when I'm in England something weird happens to me where I suddenly decide it's time to try some new vegetables. I don't know why this happens - maybe it's because certain things are more common there than here or maybe it's because I'm drunk a lot - but my first trip over to see the comic I ate some parsnips in an attempt to appease his mother (the poor woman nearly short circuited when he told her I didn't eat potatoes and almost gave up on making me a roast dinner altogether. Instead she went overboard and made about twelve sides in the hope that I might like at least one of them) and I have been addicted to them ever since. For starters I had prawns (see?) and Steve ordered the soup of the day, which was celeriac. I'd never heard of it. "It's a root vegetable," he told me. "Try it." I was dubious, owing to the word "vegetable" which typically connotes "horrible things are about to happen in the vicinity of your taste buds" to me. But he wouldn't drop it, so I borrowed his spoon and (after a rambling description of Don Hertzfeldt's animated short Rejected when he gave me the crazy eye for holding it up and shouting "My SPOON is too big!") tentatively tasted the soup. Immediately, Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" began to play. Diamonds rained down from the sky, a pile of kittens appeared out of nowhere and a bevy of angels hovered nearby smiling benevolent smiles at us. Celeriac is DELICIOUS, and I made him write it down for me so I could look it up later and see if we even had it here (we do, but it's called celery root), which he did while I inhaled pretty much all of his soup.
It was at around this point when the trouble started. We'd gotten a beer at the bar before being seated and then ordered a bottle of wine to go with our dinner (me, something that had the word beef in it and seemed safe, him I don't even know what the fuck) which I drank what I felt was more than my fair share of because he kept insisting he was driving. Then our waiter, a charming and ingratiating man who resembled a young Lurch with a shaved head, brought over the dessert menu which had something on it that contained the word "chocolate" three separate times in its description. Obviously I made Steve order it for me, thus giving him the opportunity to order us some dessert wine as well. You may recall I was two ciders into the day before Steve had even shown up. Consequently, by the time we left I was well and truly fucked.
Steve drove me back to the hotel, where clearly the only thing to do was head for the hotel bar and pour more cider down my throat. We phoned Nat the Evil Lesbian to join us, and together we hatched diabolical but hilarious plans for when I return in March. Our laughter seemed to attract the attention of the people at the next table - a nice couple from Lincolnshire who may or may not have been at the wedding the previous day (I asked them but don't remember their answer because I was piss drunk). After Steve left (early, I decided, even though it wasn't. I had gotten the Loud), Nat and I joined them at their table where we regaled them with tales of how we'd met and what we'd done all week and they told us about their grown children (or something, I was drunk). They were genuinely disappointed when we rose to leave and even more so when I explained that my level of drunkenness would most likely prevent me from meeting them for breakfast before they went home in the morning. It did.
I woke up Monday and was not any more English or 20 years old than I had been earlier in the week. I was supposed to have lunch with Felix and Charlie and their progeny. When Felix texted me to let me know something had come up and they couldn't make it, I gratefully went back to bed until the middle of the afternoon. I only got up again in order to collect the stranger from Hitchin station, who had cleared a few hours of his schedule to spend the afternoon with me tying knots in things and showing off some tools he carries around in a very nice pair of cashmere socks. I was starving by the time he left and decided to go out for a delicious roast dinner (no parsnips, sad sad). That accomplished, there was nothing left to do but pack up my things (and my new rope) and try to catch a few hours sleep before catching a bus to the airport for my flight home (I didn't. Instead I called the bartender and had him put the cat on the phone so I could tell her I was on my way home because I am insane).
Even when I've been away somewhere brilliant, and even when I leave somewhere before I really feel ready to go home, I always feel an enormous sense of relief as soon as I'm back on the ground in Chicago - it's how I know I'm in the right place. I was grinning from ear to ear the entire cab ride back to my apartment. When I got there, I discovered that my amazing roommate had bought me two bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos (I do not know what they do to the Doritos in England, but it isn't good), some Reese's peanut butter cups and a huge pumpkin (he would later tell me it's my "practice" pumpkin to help me decide what to carve on my real Halloween pumpkin). Home sweet home.
I'll see you in March, Hitchin.