The Road to Exeter

It is an inner and an outer journey I am making across Britain, and, trust me, the former is much more arduous. Not that one should dismiss the latter. Only a mad person would take a single train from Edinburgh to Exeter, particularly on Sunday. This is the preferred day for working on UK train lines. Not that there were any repairs underway during our journey. Which meant that, for example, our Crosscountry line train actually blew into Birmingham half an hour early. Still, based on the presumed schedule with its adjustment for track repairs, there we were. Waiting and going slightly out of our minds. Travel does that to you after a while. You either zone out or zone in. Spacey or stir crazy. It was a relief to arrive in Exeter after 8.5 hours on the rails.

Not that it was such a relief to leave Edinburgh. It is a magnificent city. Prosperous, cultured, the Georgian piled atop the medieval. For a San Franciscan, the hilly terrain is pleasantly familiar. For a wheelchair user, the cobblestones are not. Though they do achieve a teeth-jarring familiarity soon enough. Most important, Edinburgh was a chance for Jane to reunite with a friend since Cambridge days. And for me to meet her and her husband, as well as their two college age kids. It’s easy for any spouse to feel an outsider under such circumstances. But I didn’t. Somehow I felt instantly at home with this family. And, among other things, I happily enjoyed their cohesion. They are a functioning unit.

Still, it was travel. By rail, it meant an hour or so of southern Scotland and England’s Northumbrian coast, followed by a bit too much of Yorkshire. Whatever. In the green, Atlantic-kissed southwest, Exeter held a pleasant surprise. Our hotel. It was something I plucked off the web. And it proved to be a sort of refuge. A succession of companies have resurrected Exeter’s long-abandoned eye hospital, gradually turning it into a hotel with a pleasant garden behind. In all its incarnations the property was probably geared to quiet. And so it remains. Jane invited her local friends to visit us there, on the hotel’s back lawn. Except for a breakfast trip into the center of town to see the magnificent Exeter Cathedral…we hung out and recovered.

Recovery means a return to logic…and external reality…and nightly sleep. There’s a reason I can so easily get out of bed at the Paddington Hilton. The mattresses have a firm edge. It’s real. It’s London. It’s almost home.

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