The Airbus A340-600 kisses the tarmac at precisely 11:33 a.m. local time, only three minutes later than billed, and I hike the usual half-mile through Heathrow to Immigration (now called UK BORDER), discovering to my dismay that the IRIS program no longer exists.
Which means I must speak with a real human being to gain entry instead of flashing my eyes at a scanner.
“What happened to the IRIS entry?” I ask a uniformed guardian of the border.
“Oh, we did away with that ages ago,” she says of the innovation thought to be The Future.
“Here’s the problem,” I say. “I don’t have my old passport that shows I am a resident. I expected IRIS to recognize me.” I proffer the IRIS registration form that I’d prudently kept to demonstrate the authenticity of my claim.
This threshold guardian does not know quite what to do, so she calls a supervisor, who takes my passport, says he needs to “check records,” and disappears, returning ten minutes later to say, “There aren’t any records, but I believe you.”
(Without a doubt, I am back in England.)
The Langham processes me into the bar for a complimentary cappuccino while housekeeping readies my Mark Twain Suite.
Problem: When I get there, a plaque states Chester Suite.
I phone reception: “I’m supposed to be in the Mark Twain Suite.”
She places me on hold, returns two minutes later.
“We did away with Mark Twain. It’s now called Chester.”
I ask, “How can you re-name Mark Twain?”
But she is already gone.
A cursory unpacking, and I’m gone, too, a walkabout down Regent Street, New Bond Street, Old Bond Street, Burlington Arcade, and St. James’s.
When I was a kid, the most comfortable shoes I ever owned was a pair of Chelsea Boots purchased for me by my mother during a summer vacation to London in 1964.
I want another. Hence my mission this trip: find the perfect pair of Chelsea Boots, the sort first popularized in the early 1960s by The Beatles.
The task this day is to scout and reconnoiter: Crockett & Jones, Harry’s of London, Foster & Son, and finally Paul Smith.
The other item on my scavenger list is a tweedy jacket with elbow patches.
Harris Tweed sounds right, but in reality this woolen from Scotland is thick and stiff, meant for hearty highlanders.
Later, to Marylebone, my old stomping ground and now London’s trendiest neighborhood, home to a chic new restaurant called Chiltern Firehouse.
It is currently the hottest meal ticket in town, with a two-month wait, but my dine-at-the-bar trick gets me in, a glass of Sancerre and Deviled Eggs with Spicy Tuna—the best I ever ate.
Thereafter, Grilled Iberico Pork, their signature dish, with roasted turnips and sautéed watercress—plus a side of Smoked Cream Corn, with a glass of J. Christopher pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, capped by their chocolate tart with toasted hazelnut ice cream, and a glass of Tokaji dessert wine.
St. Christopher Place beckons afterward for a much-needed long walk (as my newly trimmed waist begins to bulge...)
My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.
It will be published in Fall 2016.