Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine

Maine road home

- With Ian McMillan

Picture the scene; I’m in Maine in the US at the very start of December, many years ago, more or less at the start of the new millennium. I’m in a tiny village called Georgetown which is more of a hamlet than a village, indeed it’s more of a dress rehearsal of Hamlet than a hamlet. I’ve been in this place for a week or so making a radio documentar­y about a cafe in the village that I’d first encountere­d when I’d visited that part of New England a year or so earlier. The cafe seemed to represent something timeless about America, and I suggested to the commission­ers at Radio 4 that they might like a kind of fly-on-the-wall (or fly-on-the-cake) documentar­y about the everyday comings and goings in the cafe, which was called Round the Bend.

Amazingly, they said yes, and so I spent days in the cafe, just listening and recording and then sitting in a little house at the edge of the woods and listening back to what I’d recorded, so in a sense I lived each day twice. All the time, though, as I sat at the edge of the woods under the enormous skies, I kept being plagued by one thought: what if I couldn’t get home for Christmas? What if I had to spend my favourite time of the year thousands of miles from home sitting alone on a settee watching White Christmas on a widescreen TV?

Maybe it’s because my dad was a sailor and was often away at Christmas, but I have a real fear of not being in the bosom of my family during the festivitie­s. When my kids were little, I had a recurring dream that I was running for the last train on Christmas Eve after doing some work at the far end of the country and just as I ran onto the platform, the train pulled away and I said to the guard, a sad-faced man with a drooping moustache, “When’s the next train North?” and he said, with a deep sonorous voice like a cathedral bell, “December 27, sir” and I wept as I prepared to bed down in the cold and damp waiting room. And then, of course, I woke up, still blubbering.

Then, during a sleepless night that winter in Maine, I heard a weather forecast that predicted heavy snow and I panicked; I really didn’t want to get stuck so even though this was still the first week in December, I rang the airline and changed my flight and booked myself into a motel at Portland airport and got the cafe man to give me a lift into Portland a day earlier than he thought he was going to. “Do you think it’s going to snow?” I asked him as we drove out of the deep woods in the weak December sun. “Not a chance!” he said, laughing.

But, I’ll tell you what: that motel bed was really comfortabl­e, the flight was smooth and the airport train was on time and nice and warm. And I made sure I was home for Christmas. And I hope you all are too.

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