07 December 2011

19 Hours in Hell

Posted in Talking about . . .

We are off to spend a week in England, visiting Kate, BDH presenting at the University of Bath, living the high life, having heaps of fun . . .

Yeah – it sounded great!

It’s only about 45 minutes flying time from Schipol to Heathrow and we were due to land at about 11.30am, so we had a big day planned in London. Manicure with new, hard-wearing, long-lasting Shellac polish for which I’d been preparing my nails for two weeks; shopping for something to wear to a very smart charity event with Kate on Friday; BDH preparing for his first seminar in Bath on Monday afternoon. It was all go!

What follows is the story of that day and the next – with excerpts from the txt correspondence between Kate and I on Day 1 (suitably cleaned up) to illustrate the story.

Day 1

We got to Schipol at 9.30am, in good time, having checked in the night before, and made our way to the departures area to wait for our gate to be announced. All looking good. Then:

F: (10.30 am) OMG - plane delayed until 12.30 due to fog! Breathe ... Buy glammy mag and try to cut out noise and intrusion of people around me to keep irritability levels down. Hide behind Big Red Coat and imaginary wall of solitude. We will survive.
K: Love that. Keep breathing - and then hurry up! Remember - when it comes to noise and intrusion of people you ain't seen nothing yet .... Roll on Westfield, where we get to do it all to rockin’ Christmas carols!

And so the nightmare began . . .

F: (11.32am) Sorry – now they say it’s 1.15!
K: Oh,no! I'm getting bored!

I wandered around Duty Free, looking for things to buy to pass the time and reduce the frustration (where was my mindfulness practice, I ask myself now . . .)

F: (12.15pm) You want anything - Dutch souvenirs? Sure you don't want wooden tulips?
K: Yes. Please buy dozens of wooden tulips. Armfuls. And clogs.
F: Ok
K: 3 pairs.

K: (12.33pm) Could you go to the electronic shop and see if they sell small iPhone battery extenders. My battery dies at about 4pm
F: (12.45pm) We have the iCon power pack for 39 euros. You want?
K: Is it small - ie. can I keep it on my handbag? Does it just clip onto the bottom of your phone?
F: It's about 5 cm and clips onto bottom of phone. Looks like the real deal. Gives extra 3 hours talking and many more hours other stuff. I clipped it onto mine and saw it work. I would buy if I had the problem.
K: Yaaaay. Yes, please.
F: Ok - done

I felt much better – like I was actually achieving something in spite of the interference in my plans by the weather and the airlines (who, we all know, are out to get us). Aaah – how the minutiae soothe the agitated psyche. The next txt was at 12.51pm:

F: (12.51) Flight now 2.00pm!!!!!
K: The sun is out! What’s the problem?
F: Still v foggy here PLUS now there's a bleeding backlog
K: Backlog schmacklog. You need to be in London! I will look pretty silly if I have to cancel the Shellac after all the fuss. Why don't you go and have a delicious champagne brunch?

We didn’t go and have a delicious champagne brunch, because we were worried that our flight might get called. We waited. And then there was a ray of hope:

F: (1.17) I hear announcement for departure of a Russian flight - maybe it's starting!
K: What? The revolution ? Has your plane arrived from London?
F: Don't know
K: Start crying loudly. Someone will tell you.
K: (1.25) Update?
F: Gate open! Heading there
K: Yaaaaaay! Txt as you’re about to fly.

We made our way to the gate (seemed like 5 miles of travelators) and boarded the plane. Excitement mounting:

F: (1.45pm) Am sat in seat (only used ‘sat’ because it sounds trendy) - but wonder whether we'll be taxiing out for ages because of backup on runway. May also be backup at Heathrow - ?
K: (1.47pm) Do you like truffles? Just bought the nose delicious truffle salami.
F: Loove truffles! Saw little truffle salamis at the farmers market in Haarlem yesterday but didn't buy. Yum! “The 'nose' delicious” - ? Is that truffle expert speak for quality of truffles?
K: Of course .... Seatbelts fastened....

And then another crushing blow:

F: (1.49pm) I don’t believe it - now we're told that we will only be taking off in about 2 hours!!! We're locked into the plane! But the pilot is hoping that we'll get away earlier - I'll keep you posted.
K: Eeeek! I'll alert the Shellac brigade.

For the next two hours, we sat in the plane on the tarmac with messages from the captain that induced hope alternating with despair. Here’s a piece from about halfway through the wait:

F: Ok - now the wheels are coming off altogether!! We've just been told that we'll be on the ground at least another 75 minutes. So there will be no fun today - no smiles, no larfs, just tears. I have to say I'm glad I'm not one of these poor blighters who is going to miss connecting flights in London. Why didn’t we take the train – we would have been there by now!
K: Oh, love - that is vile vile vile.
F: Yeah. Will have to put the Bolly in freezer to have it cold enough. Only light on the horizon is that we will have fun fun fun when we get to you. Our flight keeps getting shoved back down the queue in favor of longer-distance flights. Not fair. We also want to get home.
K: Start a singalong - if I were there, we would!

We eventually took off at about 3.45pm and, after stacking over Heathrow for a while we landed at 4.45pm. Whew – it was over! I relaxed too soon – once we’d come to a halt:

F: (5.00pm) And now for the final insult - gotta get on a bus to terminal coz we parked so far from terminal. Gotta wait for buses. We’re at the back of the plane – will be off last . . . Squillions of planes arriving at once - dear god will it never end!?!
K: You are kidding! Just try to think of the marvellous champagne you'll be drinking soon.
F: If you don't hear any more from me it's just that my phone's going dead – I’ll try not to throw myself off anything.
K: Use my new charger!
F: Genius!
K: I know!
K: (5.15pm)The board says your bags are arriving.
F: Great! Let’s just assume that our suitcases are there . . .

We finally limped through passport control to Kate’s welcome at about 6.30pm. What should have taken us about 2 hours, took us about 9. We went home to Holland Park and made as much as possible of what was left of the evening.

Day II

The next morning, Brian had a meeting with a publisher at 9am, and Kate and I looked through clothes to make a decision about what to shop for in Bath. We were dropping Brian off at the university at 2pm (2 hours before his seminar) and were going to the lovely Bath shops before we attended his talk. We set off for Bath at 10.30, allowing plenty of time for traffic mishaps.

About 5 minutes from home, Kate remembered that she’d left her watch at home, so we went back to get it. We set off again at 10.45.

About 20 minutes from home, Brian announced that he couldn’t find his wallet. Containing credit cards, driver’s license, lovely crisp pounds . . . Back we went: searched the flat; searched the car; searched the pavement and gutter; searched all of the suitcases; went down to the café where he’d had his meeting and asked there; and retraced his steps from the café to the flat. Nothing. Decided to get going again and think about what to do on the way. Set off again at 12.00 noon.

Got to the M4 and came to a standstill. Had plenty of time to think up creative solutions to the missing credit cards problem. Couldn’t believe that we’d gone to the trouble of getting Visa cards in case the Mastercards were stolen or became otherwise inoperative. Then we kept both cards together in our wallets instead of keeping the back-up Visa in another place – tres stupide! Now we were faced with the cancellation of both cards and possibly no credit cards for the rest of the trip . . .

About an hour later, we got going again and eventually passed the site of a big accident. By this time it was after 2.00pm and there were txts flying backwards and forwards to Bath university trying to make alternative arrangements in case we didn’t get Brian there in time for his seminar! We got to the outskirts of Bath about 3.15 and switched to the GPS to find our way through Bath. What a mistake . . . Having been there before, we were fairly clear that we just needed to get up onto the hill behind Bath, but the GPS took us back and forwards through Bath until we started to think we would never get out! We made it to the university at 3.45pm – no time for seminar preparation, thinking, shopping – just made it.

Brian’s seminar went exceptionally well considering the pressure he’d been under all day, and we left about 5.45pm for the hour-long trip to Cheltenham where we were to spend the night at the fabulous Ellenborough Park. Kate has been very involved in the development of this gorgeous property and is now marketing it. She had organized for us to meet the manager and his wife (Graham and Megan Vass) for drinks and dinner and a thoroughly civilized evening.

It was dark. It was raining. We were tired. It took us about 30 minutes just to get out of Bath. The GPS took us on another winding route, giving instructions too close to the tiny turn-off roads in the dark and rain to be able to take the exits. For a while, we were getting further away from our destination rather than getting closer to it. We even drove down a winding lane called Dark Lane. Yes, really . . . and we did laugh – a bit . . .

Kate did an extraordinary job of driving under very difficult conditions, and drove expertly along the winding roads that rise up and down the hills between Bath and Cheltenham. Brian became quieter and quieter in the back. We assumed that he was exhausted and feeling concerned about the loss of his wallet. Then a little voice said, “Guys, you need to stop – I think I’m going to be sick”. Poor bloke. We stopped (I think it was Stroud) and he walked around for 10 minutes in the rain, hoping the cold air would revive him. He travelled the rest of the way in the front seat with the window down.

All I could think was, “If he does throw up, the wind will blow it back over his shoulder and into my face” Kate was thinking, “We’ll never get there and this isn’t going to look good for me with the Vasses” and I was txting for her to Ellenborough Park to say we were going to be a bit late, and a bit later, and later still . . . BDH was as miserable as I’ve ever seen him – the stress of the past 36 hours finally overwhelming him. It was a desperately uncomfortable trip and we got to Ellenborough Park at 8.30pm. It had been a very long 10-hour day.

Brian went straight to bed, and Kate and I went down to meet the very patient Graham and Megan Vass.

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Comments (3)

  • Tish
    12 December 2011 at 15:19 |

    Wow, what an awful experience for all of you,- poor Brian.

  • Liz Sommer
    Liz Sommer
    13 December 2011 at 13:12 |

    Unbelievable stress!! I feel your pain!! Once circled Heathrow for 3 hours due to fog until re-routed to Manchester due to lack of fuel! Only just made our connection to Durban. Over 8 hours with no food, no drinks, no diapers!!
    So pleased everything eventually worked out well. Kudos to Brian for an exceptional seminar! XX

  • corina
    13 December 2011 at 21:36 |

    what a nightmare!

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