Saturday, 2 October 2010


We’re sitting on one of those double-decker American-style trains that looks like it’s made out of corrugated tin. We’re speeding through the countryside in New Jersey on our way back to New York. The sun is shining. It’s extremely hot and apart from a trapped nerve in my neck, all is good!

Yesterday started less favourably with nothing but heavy rain. We trudged around Manhattan, our shoes sucking in water like chamois leather. I bought an umbrella, which immediately turned inside out, and after twenty minutes snapped in half and spiralled off down the road. We were carrying way too many bags and obviously holding them badly, because I woke up this morning with a dull ache which starts in my neck and ends in my left thumb! Nathan thinks it might be a "healing crisis" following the massage I had in the village yesterday. I think, more troublingly, the massage made my muscles relax and then I entirely messed things up by immediately walking 3 or 4 miles with a heavy bag strapped to my shoulder. There’s nothing like rain and hordes of people to put me on edge and make me feel tense.

I was enormously relieved to be leaving the city in the late afternoon. Christopher Sieber met us at Penn Station and we sped out of New York to an idyllic little town in the New Jersey hills called Millburn. To get anywhere decent in New Jersey, you have to pass through the most horrible-looking industrial heartlands which are filled with swollen brown rivers, concrete bridges, telegraph poles and freight yards. The rain had brought floods and everything looked deeply depressing. We arrived at Millburn just as the sun broke through for the first time, and from that moment on, everything was wonderful again.

Christopher was performing the role of Edna Turnblatt in Hairspray at the Paper Mill theatre in the town. It was a fine fine production and he was incredible in the role. The pit orchestra was larger than any I’ve seen in the UK and the standard of singing in the production put the West End to shame. Both of these facts reminded me, if that were at all necessary, how seriously the Americans take their musical theatre and how sad it is that the Brits don’t invest in our dying industry.

Afterwards, Chris drove us into deepest New Jersey to his house on a private island in the middle of Lake Tamarac. We’d last been there a few years ago, but everything felt exactly the same; just as wonderful as I’d remembered. The island is only accessible by boat, and the experience of rowing, by torchlight, across the black, black water was magical beyond words. I have seldom seen a sky filled with so many bright and beautiful stars. We ate quesadilla and drank margaritas in front of an open fire and I drifted off to sleep on the sofa whilst the conversation drifted around in the air above my head.

I had a broken night’s sleep. The pain in my shoulder woke me up on several occasions but waking up this morning to beautiful, bright sunshine was a much needed tonic. The trees on the island are just beginning to turn brown and red and we stood and watched Christopher’s partner, Kevin, as he rowed across the lake on his way to work. The boat looked like it was balancing on tin foil.

Leaving Tamarc

Strewn across the ground, like a thick gnarled carpet, were the acorns that Christopher had written about on Facebook; “what’s the deal with these acorns falling like rain; ouch!” I hadn’t thought it was possible for acorns to be so bountiful and dangerous until Nathan was attacked by one as he sat on a hammock. He now has a bump on the crown of his head!

350 years ago, Pepys’ day started with a visit from his brother Tom, who'd been chucked out of the familial home by his father for staying “out of doors” whoring, one suspects, too many times. Tom was, by all accounts, a troubled lad, with a speech impediment which unfortunately made him socially “undesirable.” By his death in 1664, he’d had an illegitimate child with his maid and owed hundreds of pounds to various people. On this occasion, he seemed genuinely repentant, so Pepys agreed to speak to their father on his behalf.

The rest of Pepys' day was spent in Westminster in various offices, pubs and at one stage Westminster Abbey, where there was only a “thin” congregation for vespers, which prompted Pepys to write; “so I see that religion, be it what it will, it but a humour, and do the esteem of it passeth as other things do.” Religion in his mind was fluid; as much steered by fads and fashions as anything else in life.

On returning home, Pepys was greeted by Elizabeth, who told him about the things she’d purchased during the day for the house, which included a bed and furniture for her chamber. Pepys was very pleased with what she'd bought... For a change.

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