So Day Seven involved a glorious 16 hours in La Jolla, San Diego – one of my favourite places in the world. In February, when I was last here, I emerged from the airport, gazed up at a sky of the kind of cerulean blue that an English winter wipes from your very cells, and almost wept with gratitude at the fact that it still existed.
I had two reasons to be glad; one was that my friend of 20 years, Ali, was driving down from LA to meet me. But also because it meant a return to Warwicks, one of my favourite independent bookstores.
Flight delays meant we only had a couple of hours before my event, so we decided to walk to the shore to get some fresh air (I am currently 83% recycled Airbus oxygen, 12% salted airline peanuts). As we drew close, I was distracted from our warp speed rundown of both our entire lives and the lives of every single person we had in common (we had a LOT to fit in to a very short time) by the sound of honking. And not car horns.
From the steps to the beach, we were confronted by the biggest bull seal I have ever seen, right up on the shore, unafraid of the handful of scuba divers and day-trippers, but honking anyway, just to keep us at a respectful distance. (He had no need to worry – he was the size of a small pony, with teeth like tusks. I had absolutely no intention of disrespecting him). A short distance away, his cousins sunned themselves on a nearby rock, alongside a few pelicans, their beaks folded neatly to their chests.
“Do the seals mind you in the water?” I asked one of the divers, as one hurled itself inelegantly onto the sand. “Oh no,” he replied. “The babies come right up to you.” And suddenly next year’s summer holiday had taken root in my head.
The Warwicks event was an author’s dream; the audience numbers had more than doubled since my last trip, and they were as friendly and animated a bunch as you could hope for. At the end of the evening Warwicks has a tradition of asking those who have bought a book to hold it up, and I was confronted by an actual sea of blue. My editor is going to be one happy woman (actually, she already is, Me Before You today went back up the NYT chart to tie at No11).
So onwards again to Wichita this morning, stuffed with French toast with a maple-syrup soaked peaches and mascarpone breakfast (my touring body is a temple), with a short stop in Dallas. You have got to love a place where you can not just play Ten Gallon Hat Bingo (today’s score: 2) but the stewardesses at the gate make an announcement thus: “If you folks can board quickly now, we’re gonna get you out of here early, because that’s how Jen and I roll.” (One of my twitter followers subsequently messaged me to tell me that her Texas stewardess had announced: “We’re going to turn the lights down now to improve the ambience & make the person sitting next to you look more attractive.”)
I arrived in Wichita this evening to find the airport beset by a tumbleweed storm. It was oddly exciting to see the real thing, like discovering that Wile-E-Coyote actually exists. I picked a piece up, and it’s oddly tacky, a little like a dried version of the English weed Mare’s Tail.
Meanwhile, my driver, who saw me taking a picture of the gun notice at baggage claim and said: “You know we could stop off at a gun range if you fancy a go. They’ll let you try a semi-automatic. You just have to buy your own bullets.” As we walked to his car he had already cheerfully pointed out a fellow traveller he knew as “a gun nut”.
I’m half tempted, not because I have a particular affinity for guns (in fact, anyone who has seen me try to catch a ball may want to temporarily leave Kansas), but because this year I have spent a fair amount of time in the bible belt, listening to people’s passions for their firearms, and the journalist part of me wants to know what it is they find so compelling.
I might just do it. Well, if I can locate my glasses.