Jet-Lag is a bugger, and the fact Watford in October seems to only have an hour of daylight each day and that of the dim variety, left me in a state of major confusion for a few days.
Every time I tried to drink beer my stomach protested “Nooooo, want breakfast, gimme toast and tea!” and whenever I had breakfast I got “Help! Need beer, need Tequila, this is like so too healthy dude!!”
And let’s not even talk about the strange timings my poos were working to, noo let’s just not go there.
Not that I am a newbie to jet-lag, just that it seems to work in different ways each time…and then there are those awful moments when you know people are talking to you but you haven’t a clue what they are saying and, when you reply, one sounds as if a recent ingestion of Methylated Spirits is affecting the ability to speak without slurring.
But once Scary Neil had taken me out in the Chiltern Hills and we had discovered to our horror that the Blue Ball at Ashridge had seemingly served its last illicit, after-hours pint, I began to regain a sense of where the hell I was.
Good old nature, reliable as ever I was once more restored to a fragile balance and ready for my reunion party in the Fat Controller in Harrow.
The first thing that got me was that whereas in NZ
one cannot smoke in a bar but the wearing of hats is allowed and taking ones beer outside is not considered a reckless act of heresy, in London, one can smoke until your lungs collapse but I was asked to remove my hat.
“In case you’re a bad guy”
“Well I am now; you’ve given me an attitude!”
“Watch it sonny”
Sonny?? Sonny!!! I got kids older than him! It got worse, in an attempt to find some breathable air I dragged my chum Mr Green outside so I could talk without coughing and got reprimanded at the door by some lard-arse bloke with a bluetooth dongle in his ear.
I wondered if life with a small penis was really justification for him being SO rude but let the matter slide as A Large-Breasted Red-Head wanted to press herself against me and give me her number as we were both going to be in Edinburgh soon.
And so the evening progressed, slipping further and further out of hand until about 1:30 am when we were cheerily ejected onto the pavement.
I was impressed to learn that Tank Girl, fully recovered from an Iraqi insurgents attempt to blow her head off, had flown from Germany just to attend the bash and that others had driven from as far afield as Oxford.
The first beer nearly killed me, the first tequila wasn’t much help either but Motorcycle Man’s insistence on me upending a Mexican beer down my sorry throat soon had me back on track and partying hearty.
Mr Whippy was most sincere about the effect I had on his life “You never treated me like a kid”
and Crazy Neil’s Antipodean Girlf got the seal of approval.
What got me was that none of the “young people” (mostly in their early 20’s now) were doing “ordinary” jobs or bullshit degrees, every one of them was turning out to be a remarkable human being, which is a good thing as when they are running the world I will be too old to fight back!!
Next day The Muse cited “Women’s Problems” as an impediment to her driving me to Norfolk to see my folks so I took the bus.
After 4 days at the family pile
I was sufficiently recovered (and fed it would seem) to achieve another of life’s ambitions.
When I was a kid I used to dream about being rich and important enough to fly somewhere from Norwich airport but the irony of it is, air travel has been debased and cheapened to such an extent that any old chav can fly from NWI
now and for the princely some of “bugger all and 99p” I was poised to tick off another goal.
5 am and I was hustled in The Patient One’s “Posh Car” (big fuck-off Audi Estate) and whisked through the back roads and byways in the general direction of North Norwich, forget anything that idiot comedian says about Norwich, it’s a very nice city, almost doable to a country boy like me but I was still a trifle shocked when we arrived at what looked like a closed up retail outlet.
“Welcome to Norwich International Airport” the unlit sign proclaimed, lurking dimly in the pre-dawn. After the bright yellow signs urging us to park up and directing us to Norwich International it seemed like a practical joke somehow.
So, anyway, I bade The Patient One goodbye, and staggered in to the terminal.
Even though I had checked in on-line last night I still needed to go check my bags in but there wasn’t a queue and things were brightly lit and reassuringly modern inside, coffee shops, a faint smell of bacon and the like.
is undergoing extensive expansion and refit, so there was a lot of temporary walls and facilities but it didn’t matter, LHR
started life as a tent in a field.
The security measures shocked me….I was photographed “please remove your hat sir”….WTF is it with hats in the UK???????? I checked onto NZ2 with a hat on and that flew via the Paranoid States of America for @%$^$%$ sake!!
How many tractor drivers and turkey farmers are members of Al Qaeda I wonder?
Maybe there is a Cockley Cley Liberation Army now? Perhaps Stiffkey has territorial issues with Morston…could be….someone burnt the Morston Anchor down recently, yer never know….yer don’t!!
I was asked to remove my shoes too, “Hmm, I wondered, am I wearing high-quality and freshly pressed undergarments?” they didn’t want me to open my laptop case but upon spotting my suit carrier quizzed me as to whether my dinner jacket had a shawl collar or was double-breasted…..kinda blew the corpulent security guy’s macho image that one did…..sounded like a coupla drag queens we did.
I followed a seemingly endless maze of plywood corridors (hatless I might add) and emerged blinking into gate 3 lounge, which also seems to be the lounge for gates 1 and 2, in fact gate 3 is merely a promise of things to come, a hopeful scrawl on an A4
Bacon, Earl Grey Tea and a sit-down were next in the order of play, cheap, clean and available….like all good women!!
Through the window I could just see the outline of a KLM Embraer, ready for the early morning Amsterdam euro-commuters and drug couriers. I got bored with the boring couple beside me, he a laid-back frequent flyer and she, some sort of menopausal stress-case, wittering on endlessly about the impending flight.
I moved nearer the window once the Amsterdam flight had boarded, not that it went anywhere, it was still on the apron after we had pushed back, maybe the Captain was having a bum trip or a bit of a whitey after one puff too many on the Camberwell Carrot.
It was nice to listen to the gate staff, gorgeous to a woman they were and I hadn’t heard a Norfolk accent in years, now my ears are tuned to Kiwi accents I was really noticing the English accents and for once the Norfolk one sounded sweet and sexy…….DUDE!!! How much did I drink last night?? I can’t believe I just said that!!!!
Boarding time came, we were led out on the apron to the Flybe Q400 and we got J-EDO, next to it was J-EDI
, which would have been a laugh to fly on.
I had pre-booked the window seat at the back on the right hand side because I am a creature of habit; call me sad, I can’t help it…
at the back was a grumpy little homosexual who looked like a monkey, he snipped at me about my suit carrier and fussed about like he had sticks up his butt, the female FA
was South African, you get just enough “SAFA
’s” in NZ
for her accent to make me homesick and for a moment or two I revelled in her clipped vowels and edgy manner…ahh, Aotearoa, flawed you may be but at least you can breathe the air and see the sun….
The Captain spoke to us:
“Well, we’re ready, all aboard and 10 mins early, so we might as well get going, cabin crew will give the safety briefing as we taxi out”.
We bumped along past the KLM workshops and various small but interesting aircraft, lined ourselves up and the Captain let fly with the throttles.
These Turbo-Prop Bombardiers are grunty little buggers, romped off down the runway it did and dragged us skyward over the damp and gloomy terminal moraine of my home county, up, up and bellowing with rage over the flat, wooded landscape, dripping with the gloom of a recently departed night, fresh with the promise of a new day and tranquil…..all stone churches and secret fields.
As the trees gave way to marshes we crossed the coast, that long, almost infinite stretch of shingle and surf that separates fishers from men and keeps the widow from her departed, snatched away to Davey Jones Locker, to rot with the fishes and never again see the light of day.
This may seem overly maudlin but when you grow up on the Norfolk Coast, battered as it is by winter gales and the North Sea, one ends up with no illusions as to its power and cold-hearted destructive capacity. Novels like “The Cruel Sea” do not appear to have dramatic titles to those from the East Coast, merely a statement of fact. Most of us know someone or of someone whose life ended prematurely in those cold dark seas (2 mins is all you get if you fall overboard in winter…maybe 10 in summer).
Fishermen of old preferred not to learn to swim, they wore their thigh boots and felt no shame that they intended, should the unthinkable happen, to end it as swiftly as possible, no time to thrash about and think “bugger, shouldn’t have left home today” as the paralysing sea sucked away all feeling and sense.
The sea was in good form, hurling itself about like demons at a rave, massive whitecaps, tripping over the shallows and smashing onto the shore, grasping at handfuls of shingle, tearing them away and throwing them back, like a bad tempered domino player.
Through gaps in the fluffy clouds I spied a few ships, “Coasters” they call them here, “rather you then me” I whispered as I saluted those brave, double-hard bastards who sail such treacherous waters.
With cloud cover came sleep, I ignored the offers of cheap perfume, over-priced sarnies and tepid coffee, 5am is a horrible time to start the day and it was 07:30 now, time to rest.
I have no idea how long I slept but on waking I could see a massive estuary, the hooked peninsulas that characterise this part of the east coast were plain to see.
Caravan sites, huddled like POW
camps, tightly packed for what little sense of security it offered, the aluminium boxes crouched amongst the shingle and sparse vegetation as they waited for winters onslaught followed by the coming of spring, when once again they would hear the sound of kids playing, chavs puking and slappers scratching at each other eyes, locked in combat over the chance to mate with some skinny-arsed git in a football top and “Goldie Looking Chain” draped around his scrawny neck, just below a ring of fading lovebites.
My gloomy cynical mood was fuelled by the dimness of the sky, it really did shock me.
While stationed at The Muse’s it seemed that it was always night when we were in the kitchen, breakfast or dinner, both conducted under the halogen glare of the kitchen lights, walls sweating with condensed steam as we concocted another meal.
But my spirits soared just after some port or other, could have been Hull, might have been Newcastle for all I know, takes Noelg to be able to recognise UK towns from domestic airlines, NZ
is easy, it only has about 9 cities and they are all far apart form each other.
The reason for the lift I spirits came from the sighting of hills, the precursor to mountains and I luuurve mountains!
From my lofty perch I could make out the glacial striations, the Nth-Sth scratches left on the British Landscape by the retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice-Age, resolutely aligned they cover the entire country and with the sun still low in the sky, lengthening the shadows, they stood out in stark relief, testament to the awesome power that is nature and a reminder that the world IS
warming up, it hasn’t fully finished the last Ice-Age and is still retreating as Sweden bounces back, rising from the sea, inexorably, infinitesimally but still measurably.
As the Mountains gained in stature we headed west and seemed to faff about for a bit, after a while we tracked east and the captain announced:
“This must be a record for the slowest flight ever from NWI
, we’ve had 130mph headwinds and have taken so long we’ve had to go and circle Carlisle for a bit waiting for a slot but we’re on the approach and due to land in 10 mins, not too late, thanks to getting away early”.
All good, the scenery was stunning; I plotted walks across the hills and idly waited for EDI
The approach was interesting, I had forgotten that EDI
had a waterfront, it just never occurred to me but it does and a damn great estuary too, swinging over the turgid waters I was reminded of NZ
landings, most of which involve an approach over water, except it looked as if someone had turned the colour down. No Wellington turbulence though, smooth and greasy, easy as you like, down, down, down, groundrush!!! And “Bonk!, squeal, smoke, roooaaaarrrr!!!” I here, all good, safe and sound.
As a special treat we were able to exit from both front and rear doors, something I haven’t done since 1974 so that was jolly..I slipped in through the arrivals doors and started to look for the two essentials of life….make that three, an ATM, a Loo and the Costa Coffee shop, where, Inshallah, I would be meeting Mr and Mrs Noelg for a mini-meet and a chin-wag, last time I saw them we were all in my garden in NZ
, this would be weird!!!
I had pretty much explored the airport by the time Noelg texted me to confirm his arrival from Birmingham and we did coffee.
After a while we decided to explore the town, I stashed my bags in the left luggage facility and we hopped onto the 5 quid return bus to Waverly Bridge where we discovered Jimmy Chung’s Restaurant ad the “all you can eat for bugger all” lunch menu.
Yum!! We left the joys of Princes Street for another day and piled in….I caught Noel indulging in that most decadent of pastimes…photographing his food for an a.net TR
Bad man Mr g, what are you like????
All too soon we took the bus back and made prats of ourselves messing around on the bus like kids and having our pics taken by Mrs g was we appeared on the security screen at the front of the bus.
I made my apologies and left, be good when they finally get to live in NZ
, then Noelg can check the weather and book flights into WLG
on windy days just for the hell of it!
There followed a week of training, nodding and smiling, lunching and general conferencing with the Thin White Duke and a selection of people from all around the world. Interspersed by a night with my old climbing partner The Cherub
…..her Mum drove all the way from the Shires to see me in her white Volvo with a fridge in the back. The Cherub has a French boyf and he is an excellent cook, a good time was had by all. And then back to the Roxburghe for the International Forum.
It was good to get to the Roxburghe, there was nothing wrong with the Carberry Tower (a big Scottish Castle)
but the Roxburghe was luxury and I had a half-day off, not required until dinner I was able to relax and play with myself in the bathroom…..make that BY
The finale was a Gala Dinner at The Museum….a sumptuous occasion necessitating a high standard of dress and deportment!!
This ended with myself, The Thin White Duke and A Large-Breasted Red-Head sharing a cab to the airport as we were all booked on BD61 the 16:25 EDI
The TWD had a plan, “I have a card” he suggested conspiratorially in his soft Irish lilt “but the sand in the Vaseline here is that I can only take one guest”
We hatched a plan……..
On arrival at EDI
we checked in with almost no probs, except that The TWD had to unpack to confirm that he really had lost his wallet and his cell-phone…but NOT his BMI
silver card I’m glad to say.
On checking in I was told that I couldn’t take 1 piece of hand luggage (my suit carrier) and a laptop as intimated by the BMI
website “Hand luggage update” it said (yeah right)
“But it says you can on the website, I have come from New Zealand and had to pay particular care over such things when planning this trip”
“It’s a security issue…go and argue with them if you like”
“I will” and set off to departures.
It was pretty busy upstairs and we resisted the offers of cheap trinkets and low rate credit cards.
A man (boy really) in a yellow T Shirt was yelling:
“Toiletres..Toothpaste…Lotions and water”
“You buying or selling” I asked
“Confiscating…and you can’t take those on board” he replied with no trace of humour or humanity.
“But it says on the BMI
“Website is wrong, we’re security, lose one of them”
“What if I put my laptop inside the suit carrier?”
“Fine by me”
The Thin White Duke cast me a sideways look and muttered:
“Gosh……that is so much safer now eh?”
The situation was bizarre to say the least.
We entered the snaking line for X-Ray, which was moving apace due to a variety of exit points.
“You with her?” asked another security bod, pointing at A Large Breasted Red-Head.
“Not really” the male parts of the trio answer and we were ushered off left.
The Thin One got through but I put my bag on the X-Ray and immediately caused a minor stir.
“There is a laptop in your suit bag”
“Yes, the boy at the other end of the line told me to put it there”
“You can’t do that”
“Why, did the rules change in the last 7 minutes?”
He looked at me as one might inspect a dog turd on one’s shoe and took everything apart, swabbed my laptop for explosive residue or signs of sedition, Re X-Rayed all the component parts of my assemblage and dismissed me…like Oscar Wilde tripping over a homeless person on the way home from the Opera.
So, now I had a suit carrier and a laptop case, one in either hand…again…..
A Large Breasted Red-Head appeared with The Thin White Duke’s BMI
card and boarding pass:
“I told them I had to go to the chemist” she giggled, “I’ll get back in OK
The cheerful lady on the desk barely glanced at my papers and opened the door (remotely) to the Diamond Lounge.
Once all 3 of us were reunited I tried to blag a grape from The Thin One.
“Plenty over there, help yerself”
I followed his nod and was met with nirvana….free food and drink!!!
I staggered back with Whiskey, cakes, cheese and crackers…grinning like a fool.
“So” laughed The Thin One “Got connected with yer inner choild again, I see from the look on yer man’s face”
“Well, you see, sometimes it isn’t so much what you get that counts…its how you get it that makes it fun”.
“Munch, munch, slurp, gulp, munch, gobble, belch”.
The boarding call came and I headed for the gate, slightly unsure as to the reception my carry-on arrangements might receive, closely followed by the female component of our merry band, The Thin White Duke was in a hurry to look unhurried and decided to hang back until the last call…enthusiasm can be unseemly in an Alpha Male…..
Being a saddo I had a look at the plane before boarding and noted that it was an A320 and this made it only the second A320 I have flown, the other being in NZ
yet both were in Star Alliance livery.
“Well dude..like anyone cares” I hear you cry and you’d be right but it is an odd coincidence.
On board were a scattering of burnt-out conference delegates, a quiet, exhausted looking Pom, a surprised looking South African and other assorted international types.
We exchanged greetings, compared “I’ve got the trip home from hell” stories and slumped into the blue leather seats, me in 21A, A Large Breasted Red-Head in 12A, and The Thin White Duke (who swept in grandly with seconds to spare) in 16C.
I fell asleep almost instantly due to the combination of free whiskey and a very hot cabin.
There was a delay getting pushed back due to there being some weather at LHR
but I missed the bulk of the wait, surfacing only once we spooled up ready to rumble at the end of the runway.
Once airborne I gawped out of the window, amazed at just how many sodium-lit towns and cities we passed over on a journey that is about equal to flying AKL
, where one would see Huntly PowerStation, a glimpse of New Plymouth, a flash of Wellington and then Christchurch with almost nothing but bush in between.
The UK is a constant string of towns and motorways.
I eventually spotted Milton Keynes and then my old home town of Dunstable, its distinctive position on the motorway network quite easy to spot, it seemed odd to be looking down on the house I left in May 2003 to emigrate to NZ
We went into a holding pattern just west of Dunstable and hung about, giving me ample time to take in the M1, M25, A41, A1, M1, M40, M4
and the constant (slow and congested) flow of traffic, grinding its way home in the damp darkness on an unremarkable Thursday night in NW
It occurred to me that from my seat in this Airbus I could see more people than lived in the whole of New Zealand….a very odd feeling and one that signified that I was ready to go home, I’d done all that Tuckman stuff: Forming, Norming Performing and Mourning…now I just wanted to go home, I had one clean pair of undies left, 6 quid in my pocket and 70p credit left on my UK SIM card.
It is done; the time to go has arrived.
But I just had to spend the night in Brighton with my brother, give Christmas pressies to my step-daughter and check-in in exactly 24 hours time.
Presently the approach was announced, we swooped in over London, heading west, low we were and quite able to observe the evening machinations of the capital. The odd glimpse of places I recognised gave me strange emotions and I knew I would be leaving the UK in a similar state to the one in which I arrived…uncomfortable, unsure and baffled.
I slight jolt, a roar and the taxi through the bright lights and hectic activity of LHR
brought us to the gate and I shared a last few minutes of post-conference chat with my two companions…one does the job I used to do…one a job I wouldn’t mind doing next (If NZ
based of course) both of them probably thinking I had the cushy number!
An odd trio united by our global masters and a desire to make a difference to the world.
The Thin White Duke’s bags were first as he had the silver card, he bade us farewell, and went dashing off to his family, A Large Breasted Red-Head and I waited for our bags and were met outside by our pick-ups, we said our good-byes and slipped back into the persona’s our families know and love. Back to earth again, to be driven through the dark streets and muse upon recent events trying to digest it all.
In Pt3 Mongolia, pollution and the phantom smoker…..
We, the undersigned, do hereby consent.....