Journey to Devon
I pull my blue suitcase with the black bag on top, through the streets of Mayfair, down the stairs at Green Park tube station, down the escalators, into the Bakerloo line train to London Paddington. I'm half an hour early.
On the train to Exeter, I sit in a window seat wedged by a table before two facing passengers and an old lady with a dog next to me. I read the latest issue of Le Bon Journal e-zine again. I'm not satisfied with my editing, so I invite the man facing me to have a go. He finds some grammatical mistakes. We get into a conversation about English and American English.
Two and a half hours later, the train pulls into Exeter St David's. I join a queue for the bus for Okehampton.
"Are you going to the Arvon course?" asks a lady.
"Yes! How can you tell?"
"I saw you reading one of the books on the reading list."
I look at the others. All women. Unfamiliar. They look weary from their travels. Are they all going to Totleigh Barton?
A huge white coach arrives. The bus driver does not come out. Some passengers leave their suitcases outside. How can I tell which ones are going to Totleigh Barton?
"Okehampton please. West Bridge Port."
"Two pounds seventy," the bus driver replies.
I haul my suitcase and bag to the last empty seat on the coach. However much I hate sitting in the back row, I am relieved there is room for my luggage.
When the coach starts to move, I lean back and look around me. The conversation begins.
The young black girl on my right looks like some famous pop singer. The Asian woman on my left is an actress. In the seat in front of me, the blonde woman who looks like Marilyn Monroe takes out a book "Running with Scissors" and talks about it. I catch a look from others to my left.
Are they going to Totleigh Barton too?
Forty minutes later we arrive in Okehampton. Now we have to wait for a taxi. Do we have to call for a taxi or have the folks at Totleigh Barton arranged one for us?
Meanwhile, I catch two women smoking. Mentally I register who they are. I hope I don't have to share a room with one of them. I look around. I wonder who it is I will share a room. I hope it's someone around my age.
The taxi arrives. I ask the driver to be careful with my suitcase as it contains my laptop.
"Where have you come from today?" we ask each other.
Milan. Michigan. West Cork. Edinburgh. London.
Almost an hour later, we arrive at Totleigh Barton, the pre-doomsday manor house on a 1,200 year old site.
We wait for one of the centre directors to show us to our rooms. Everyone before me gets assigned her own room.
The smoker and I are left.
"I hope you don't mind," said the centre director. "I'm afraid you'll have to share. But you get your own ensuite bathroom."
The shower has a chair in it. The toilet has a railing on its side.
"This room is equipped with handicap facilities," said the director pointing to the hospital bed. "But this bed is surprisingly comfortable."
I offer to take the hospital bed.
Sharing a room with a smoker --- that will be the first. I've shared a five bedroom house with smokers and transformed it into a nonsmoking house in three years. Let's see whether I can get this woman, who thankfully looks around my age, to quit smoking by the end of this course.
12 July 2004 Monday
like you don't want to live, Le Bon Journal newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 11,