I love surprises!

I know; me doing something I’ve wanted to do for ages is hardly new. And getting excited and feeling the need to tell people about it is no big surprise. But I LOVE surprises, especially when they’re things I’ve conjured up for someone else. Call me sad, but I get uber excited seeing the look on people’s faces when they realise something they’d love to happen, is actually about to happen, or happening right there and then. It’s an incredible feeling, when you have made it happen.

For instance; on my mum’s 59th birthday, I kidnapped her and flew her off to Spain to spend a few days with her best friend, and the first thing she knew of it was when we got to the airport.

I’d told her I was flitting off on one of my random weekends away, to Milan, and she thought she was giving me a lift to the airport. Dad came too, for a ride out, and in the car on the way there, I couldn’t help but laugh as mum saw this as an opportunity to do a ‘big shop’ at Sainsburys on the way home. So spent the entire journey writing a list of groceries!

But I’m wearing my big winter coat?…

When we got to the airport, she said “I wish I was coming with you…” to which I replied “that’s good, because you are” Her face was a picture! Questions then came out of her mouth which were clearly blurred by excitement… “but I’m wearing my winter coat?” (No reference to her passport) “but I haven’t brought my toilet bag?” (the passport still didn’t figure in her thought processes) “what about my handbag? I’ve only brought my big one?” At this point, I revealed that with a little help from one of her friends in the village, I’d already packed her clothes in my case, booked her time off work, snuck out her passport, and as dad lovingly gave her a little envelope, with instructions not to open it until she was in duty free, she actually started to get excited!

As we trundled through security, mum proceeded to tell everyone she could, that she “had no idea about this until five minutes before, and was even wearing her big winter coat!”

By the time we reached departures, and she had her first G&T in hand, she was still under the impression we were going to Milan. It wasn’t until our flight was called (after a slight delay, a few more G&Ts and much excitement) that mum realised we were actually going to Spain. At that point, the penny dropped and she said “are we going to see my bestest?!!” …and the surprises just kept on coming, brilliant! The best thing about all this, was that mum had no idea what was going on, at any point. She was so focused on her 60th and planning her retirement trip of a lifetime, she didn’t consider that we’d do anything for her 59th, it was brilliant.

Today’s surprise

Since moving to London, I’ve been car-less. Now most people (including me) would agree that, living and working in London, you don’t need a car. It occasionally proves handy, but it’s far from a necessity. So when I moved here, I got rid of my beloved Bruno and, if I’m honest, day-to-day I haven’t missed him. However, having the freedom to just jump in the car and disappear was something I loved, and I do miss. But there are ways and means, it’s just a case of doing things differently.

So today, I’m jumping on a train and heading up to Suffolk to surprise my grandparents. They’re both 90-odd so I’m hoping they’ve not decided to do the same as me and flit off somewhere! Clearly I can’t call to check they’re at home, as they’d ask why. But dad spoke to them this week, and apparently they’re in all weekend.

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The drainpipe (London’s shortest tube line)

Unusually for me, I’m not in a mad dash this morning. I think, having the morning off yesterday meant I got a few housey chores out of the way, leaving today to enjoy lazily. So I’m up at about 7, have a leisurely breakfast overlooking the river, before heading up to the station about 8:30, to make my debut on the Waterloo & City line… I didn’t even spot that this existed on the tube map! In my defence, it’s a watery green colour on the map (not striking) and only has two stations – Waterloo and Bank. I guess it’s designed to help commuters coming into the City from the South West, so probably crazy busy during rush hour… right now though, it’s Deadsville Tennessee, I have just an elderly couple and a festival-goer for company (I’m assuming the occupation of the latter, based on her attire of tiny denim shorts – no I’m not just getting old, cheeks were on full view, although fair play, no cellulite in sight – a flower power t-shirt, turquoise willies and a backpack twice her size.)

It’s a quick train and I’m at Liverpool Street by 9:20 – my train doesn’t leave until 10:00; excellent, time to people watch!

Passing the dutchy

My first targets are a West Indian-looking family getting coffee. Well, I think they wanted coffee, although I’m not sure they got anything? Costa Coffee in Liverpool Street station is a pop-up booth with no customer seating, but it’s cleverly positioned close to some station seating. Here sits Mamma, wearing the most flamboyantly coloured dress (I think Nanny used to have a tablecloth with a similar pattern?) accompanied by her flock: two girls with their hair tightly pulled into bunches on top of their heads – too cute for words – and two boys dressed in yellow (Pele?) football shirts. The girls sit quietly surrounded by ‘stuff’ – I say ‘stuff’, because I’m not sure if it’s their possessions, their shopping, or just some random articles they’ve chosen to bring along? Think metal cooking / mixing bowls of various sizes, a rolled-up rug, a plastic bag (not sure of its contents) and a wheelie bag (the kind Nanny used to use to go for her shopping, as opposed to the airline variety).

Whilst the girls are immaculately behaved, the boys are full o’ beans; running around tripping over the metal bowls, which makes quite a tune, and I half expect a flash reggae ensemble to kick in. Then Mamma pipes up “now you boys, come sit down and be’ave, gotta get me a drink, yeah…?” Despite her request and desire for hydration, she never actually moves any closer to Costa. Is this a ploy to get them to sit down with the girls? Is she in need of something stronger than coffee? Is Popps with them, already queuing for coffee? Who knows. I just queue for my latte, as the tuneful metal bowl dance continues, with the boys choreographing different moves each time a bowl goes flying. By now, I’m not sure what’s more entertaining; the fact that Mamma continues to shout at them, without actually getting more irate, or that fact that the boys seem to have made a game out of tripping over things, and each time, striking a new pose. My fellow coffee queuers are clearly as aware of the show as I am (it’s hard to miss, to be fair), yet in true British fashion, no one dares turn round and look… we’re so British!

Surprise…!

So I’m now aboard the Great Yarmouth flier. This is weird – I’m tempted to stay on the train to GY and explore the Norfolk / Suffolk coastline… I haven’t done that in nearly 30 years. I’m long overdue a trip to Southwold, and Aldborough would be a high choice for a coastal retreat, if I ever won the lottery… But today is about Nanny and Hampa, so I’m changing at Ipswich and heading for a little village a few miles from Bury St Edmunds called Thurston…

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As my train speeds across the glorious Suffolk countryside, I’m wondering how to make my entrance. The simplest way is to just ring the doorbell, but I want to do better than that. However, I need to think about logistics here. Nanny and Hampa age over 180 years between them, so can’t just jump up to answer the door. If they’re in the garden, they might not hear the doorbell. I could call them, to make sure they’re indoors, then ring the bell whilst I’m on the phone, finish the call (on the pretense that they have to go to answer their front door) and there I’ll be. Perfect…

Flowers; ah I can’t turn up at Nanny’s without flowers. I have a 13-minute connection at Ipswich – long enough to get flowers? Probably, if we were running on time, but I think we’re about 5 minutes late. That just leaves Thurston village shop. Well, I’d be supporting their local community that way, the flowers would have less time out of water, and I’d have less distance to carry them. That’s if the shop sells flowers. Let’s hope so…

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Hello sausage!

I’m now on the train back to London, having spent a lovely day with my grandparents. The post office sold flowers, which made Nanny smile on my arrival. I telephoned as I was approaching the house, and when he answered, I told Hampa he should open his front door. And as I walked in, Nanny said she knew it was me because of Hampa’s welcome of “Hello sausage!” and my squeels of excitement (never too old!) The picnic went down a treat, and conveniently left two of everything, so they can have some supper later on.

Despite being 92, my grandfather still has his marbles and is pretty quick on his feet. Sure, he has a few niggles, but he seems incredibly well, probably better than I’ve seen him in a long time. No coughing, no visible pain, he was even singing – I always know when he’s feeling affectionate, because he sings back to me the song I used to sing to him when I was 5!

Nanny was also very well. She’s 89, and although she did recite to me the same story she called to tell me last week, about getting a bottle of Cointreau for her birthday, she too has all her marbles. She probably should think about getting a hearing aid, as her hearing seems somewhat intermittent; she hears Hampa singing in the morning but fails to hear common details as well (he says two, she hears three, he says Saturday, she hears Sunday etc). But they are wonderful – they’ve been married for 66 years and she still refers to him as ‘her chap’. He is talking about changing his car, she rolls her eyes at me, giggling; he quotes Spike Milligan, she doesn’t hear properly, he winks at me and wiggles his eyebrows up and down… They are wonderful parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, and I love them dearly. I’m so pleased I went to see them today and because I wasn’t’ driving, I was even able to enjoy a pint of IPA with Hampa. Ahhh, there’s lovely.

If Top Gear tested zimmer frames…

Around 3ish, my uncle (Dick) and cousin (Tom) arrived for a cup of tea. Whilst not unusual, this brought much entertainment, as the cross-room looks, loving giggles and Milliganesque winks became abundant, as we noted silly habits, age blunders, ‘Nannyisms’ and Hampa tendencies’ (even more frightening when they came from my uncle)… Nanny referring to my laptop as my ‘pod thingy’… Hampa asking my uncle to show him how to make a call from his mobile phone… endless entertainment. But the finale came when Dick decided to give Nanny’s new ‘tricycle’ a try out.

A little background. People often ask me where my passion for Formula One came from. When I was young, and the family congregated at Nanny’s, the men would generally be found keeping out of the way in the garage, with their heads under the bonnets of some car or other, and if anyone had recently brought a new car, they’d all have to have a test drive in it. Meanwhile, the women would generally be found in the kitchen, putting the world to rights over a G&T or three. At the time, I was a tomboy and would rather be in the garage with the boys than in the kitchen with the girls. Sunday afternoon telly would generally be either Rugby Special or a Grand Prix, and so began my love of cars and preference for rugger over footie.

So when Dick spotted Nanny’s ‘new wheels’ today, he just had to have a test drive. Tom and I were almost crying with laughter, as Dick whizzed it around the living room, testing the brakes, the turning circle, the torque and the power:weight ratio, which was surprisingly good, for a zimmer frame. Its aluminium build makes it more lightweight than its predecessor, and with a 50-something year old rugby player driving it, the result was frighteningly nifty, for a zimmer frame.

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An afternoon snooze (by me, Hampa was merely inspecting his eyelids, as usual) and it’s time to head back. So I wander back to Thurston station and head back to the smoke.

Thank you Nanny and Hampa – I have always loved coming to see you, and nothing changes. Big huge love xxxxxxxxxxx

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Look out, emotional one…

Despite how openly I write about what I think and feel, I actually have little idea who is reading all this. I know my mum does (because she ‘Likes’ them all on Facebook, and relates the stories back to me when I see her 🙂 ) but beyond that, I really have no idea. People rarely comment on the actual blog itself, occasionally they comment on Facebook or Twitter (where I publicise the updates) but beyond that, I suspect the blog goes relatively unread. I therefore feel quite safe in writing this next one. That may sound ludicrous given that it’ll be published in the public domain, but I don’t think of it that way – I think of my blog as being like a diary. Regardless of whoever else may or may not read it, I go back and re-read my posts from time-to-time; that was the whole point in writing it!

So what’s ‘the emotional one’ all about? In a word, Simon. No surprise there then! If there’s a chink in my armour, it’s Simon. My late brother was my best friend, and no-one has or will even come close to beating him at that, not even (when we were together) my husband.

Simon was slightly older than me – enough for him to feel in charge (at best) and ‘always should’ve known better’ (at worst).  Yet we were close enough in age to get on like mates. When he went to college, I used to go clubbing with him and his mates. This caused much amusement when I’d occasionally get mistaken for ‘the new bird’ (to which he’d generally respond with “sod off, that’s our kid”) or I’d get approached by interested potentials, only to see him step in a warn them off.

When I was 11 and Simon 13, we moved 200 miles away from the place we’d grown up and started a new life in Yorkshire. Whilst this meant we got a better quality of life, at the time I hated it because I had my heart set on going to Northgate (the sport’s academy-style school with facilities second to none). Simon on the other hand, was over the moon, as it meant he could do what he’d loved as a small boy and farm. And he did it, and loved it, for a long time. Not too bothered with school, he picked up a job on a local farm, took on a day release NVQ course, and got himself an HND in what he wanted to do. After working on local farms, huge estates down south and even the Royal Agricultural Society in Stoneleigh, he moved into Agronomy (the equivalent of being a vet for crops, as opposed to animals). However, this was cut sadly short, when Simon died at the age of just 23.

I remember this like it was yesterday.

It was my 21st birthday on Friday 27th March. A few of my York friends came down to Nottingham for it, but Simon was working, so he said he’d come and collect me the following Friday, and bring me home for the Easter holidays. Fine by me – my brother coming to pick me up was far cooler than my parents, any day, and I got to smoke in the car going home – happy days. (I was a student then, smoking was accepted by all but my mother!)

The following Friday, it got to about 5ish and I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t heard from him. In a twisted kind of irony, the year before, I remember having a conversation with my flat mate, Alex, in her yellow bedroom, after Simon had had an accident at work and fractured his skull. The conversation went along the lines of “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost him…” the kind of conversation you have when you never actually dream that it’d really happen. Well here we were, one year on, and I was suddenly recalling that conversation. After a few hours, the phone rang and it was my dad, I think, it could’ve been mum, that bit’s a bit blurry because what they told me literally knocked me from my feet. Simon had fallen earlier in the day, hit his head, and suffered concussion. Whilst he soon came round, the doctors decided it wise to transfer him to York hospital to be on the safe side. Whilst on the way to York, Simon became ‘agitated’ and fell into a coma. My dad was with him, and says he said goodbye to Simon then, as we want’ to regain consciousness after that point. By the time he got to York, he was transferred to the Neuro Intensive Care unit at Leeds General Infirmary, which had been open only a few days. So was the best possible place he could be. He’s been examined on arrival at Leeds and the doctors identified swelling in his brain, which with a skull in the way, had nowhere to swell and was therefore putting pressure on Simon’s brain. This could cause serious complications so he was immediately rushed into theatre so that part of his skull could be removed, giving his brain space to swell. Whilst Simon was in theatre, there was little mum and dad could do, so that’s when they’d come and get me, and take me back up to Leeds with them, to wait for Simon to come out of theatre. Right. OK.

At that point, when I put the phone down, it hadn’t really sunk in. I’m not sure if I really realised the seriousness of the situation, or whether I was in shock. But I just sat down on the sofa on the right in the living room, with my flatmates around me, all staring at me, as if waiting for me to scream. I don’t think I did. But the following 90 minutes waiting for mum and dad to come and get me were perhaps the longest of my life.

The journey back to Leeds was weird. We didn’t cry or get panicky. Mum and dad were incredibly calm and I just asked lots of questions. (That was nothing new – mum always said Simon was her ‘how’ and I was her ‘why’!) So by the time we got back to Leeds, I knew as much as they did, and was kind of prepared for what to see. After all, only a year before, I’d seen Simon in hospital in York with a bandage round his head, looking like Basil Fawlty!

Only this time felt more serious. There were more nurses. There was more equipment around him. He wasn’t awake. The side of his head was yellow. He had tubes and cables everywhere. He didn’t look like Simon. But I didn’t want to leave his side.

For the next nine days, I went home in the middle of the night, got a couple of hours sleep, went to work for a few hours then drove back to Leeds for tea time, then stayed with Simon until silly am (whilst mum and dad got some sleep in the family room), before heading back to work. On the drive, I made various phone calls to update friends and family. The updates were generally the same – Simon was still in a drug-induced coma. They were intentionally keeping him asleep to give his brain time to settle down. Every time they reduced his sedative, his brain activity went off the scale – he was fitting in his sleep – so they’d send him back under for another few hours and wait for him to settle. So that was the routing for a week or so.

There were a couple of highlight moments in what became our new routine… the nurses were so supportive, that I brought them a basket full of mini chocolate eggs – it was nearly Easter after all – the chocolate lasted just half an hour! Such a simple thing but went down so well, I still do this (take them Easter Eggs every year)…

Because Simon hadn’t got me a birthday present, I bought a CD and told him he could pay me back for it when he woke up. Knowing it was one he’d like (and undoubtedly swipe when I wasn’t looking), I took it into the hospital and played it quietly beside his bed. The Best of James. I still love it…

Simon was a traditionalist. So if he’d known that one of the nburses caring for him was male, he’d have frowned. But knowing that said nurse was also homosexual would’ve scared the tractor out of Simon’s yard! So when the nurses asked if we wanted to bring Simon’s own boxer shorts in (rather than him wearing horrid hospital gowns all the time), what did we do? We gave the nurse Simon’s reed satin boxers…!

There were some signs of life, well we like to think there were. Simon and dad often used to discuss Assumpter Fitzgerald (of Balykissangel fame); Simon claiming that she liked the younger man, dad convinced of the opposite… So when in hospital, if someone mentioned Assumpter, Simon’s levels would blip on the monitors! His hearlt would literally skip a beat!

Unfortunately though, despite our chatting to him, when the nurses showed us his brain scans, there were black areas at the front and at the bottom at the back. This meant that, if he was ever able to wake up, those parts of his brain were badly damaged, perhaps even dead, and therefore his long-term memory would be affected… he wouldn’t be able to talk, walk and was unlikely to know who we were. In simple terms, if he woke up, he wouldn’t be the Simon we knew; there was a high possibility he’d be in a vegetative state and need constant care. I’m sure mum and dad discussed this with each other, as I did with myself. I was doing my finals; they were coursework heavy, so I could do them from home, move back and look after Simon. Mum and dad’s house was big enough for us all – we’d all lived there for 12 years, so it was doable. But it was never really talked about much.

I hardly slept on Easter Saturday night. Nor did mum and dad. Simon had been in Leeds for 8 days and hadn’t really improved. So when the phone range around 7am, I just ran into their bedroom, knowing it’d be the hospital. It was. Simon’s kidneys had failed overnight. The doctors could send him into theatre for a transplant, if a donor could be found, but it wouldn’t change his neurological condition. If anything, the additional trauma of further surgery could be risky in itself…

At this point, it only took us a short time to agree that this was Simon’s way of saying he’d had enough. He was done with fighting. He’d been fighting a hypoglycaemic condition for the past seven years, that was probably what made him fall and hit his head in the first place, who knows. Either way, we were sure he’d had enough. So when asked whether we wanted the doctors to treat his kidneys, we said no. We knew what this meant and the doctors suggested, therefore, that we make our way to the hospital as he may not have long left.

I don’t think we spoke between that call and getting to the hospital. It’s not often that mum doesn’t ‘direct’ dad in multi storey car parks, or dad avoids selecting some decent tunes for the radio. But we just drove there in silence. When we got there, the doctors said his condition had deteriorated and he had maybe 30 minutes or so left with us. Mum sat beside him, hoding his right hand;p dad stood behind his pillow, holding his head; I sat opposite mum holding his left hand. His head was tilted ever-so-slightly towards the left and when the final moment came, it was nothing like Casualty! There were no alarms, no crazy manoeuvres on the monitors, no-one rushing about. The nurses just pulled the curtains round and turned the volume down on the machines, switched the monitors off so we couldn’t see the levels, and left us to it. After a short time, no idea how long, one eye twitched, he drew a short breath and that was it. Whilst the twitch was probably a muscle spasm or something, I like to think he winked at me. But he was gone. And that was it. We sat with him for a few minutes before the nurses came in and suggested we give them a few minutes to clean him up and get rid of the machines and tubes, then we could stay with him as long as we wanted to.

So we went downstairs. Mum and dad went to make some calls, I headed for the door to go for a cigarette, just as my then boyfriend Neil walked in. Bless him, he’d driven up from Birmingham to be with and support us over Easter.  He arrived just a few minutes too late to see Simon, but stayed with us whilst we say our goodbyes to Simon. Neil then drove me to the pub and I got drunk. Very drunk. Last orders that day didn’t count. It probably didn’t take much to get me drunk. I was so exhausted and emotionally drained. There was so much to do from that point, arranging Simon’s funeral and everything, but at that point I wasn’t interested. I remember feeling remarkably calm, I don’t think I had much emotion left in me at that point. So I just drank, and talked about him, a lot.

* * * * *

Today is 5th August. It’s two days before Simon’s birthday. At this time of year, sometimes I’m absolutely fine. But in the years that have passed since Simon died, I still never know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next.

This year is a tough one. I’ve no idea why. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so much change in my own life in the past year or so, that I’m less settled and therefore more susceptible to my emotions? I don’t know – but I’m not going to over analyse it! I lost my brother and best friend, and it hurts. Still. It always will. The gaps between feeling low get longer as time goes on, but they never stop.

I think about Simon every day. I have a photo of he and I beside my bed, and I always will. I have another photo of him beside my make-up box on my dressing table, and I always will. When I worked on the Olympic Park for two weeks, I took him with me. He’s in my wallet. He’s in my head and he’s in my heart every second of every day.

I occasionally wonder what he’d be like now, but I only have to look at his 23-year-old godson Tom (who was just eight when Simon died) and I get a pretty fair idea. I wonder how Simon and I would get on as we got older, and I only have to look at Tom and his sister Sophie (who are equally as close as Simon and I were) and I get a pretty fair idea. I wonder what he’d be like if he became a father, and I only have to look at his best friend Jolly (who now has a little girl called Lily) and I get a pretty fair idea. But whilst I love these guys, for who they are, how much they support me, and how much they still love and remember Simon; they’re not him.

Anyone who has lost someone so close will know that they can never be replaced. You never get over it, you just get used to it. So whilst the days you feel low get fewer, they never stop. Today was one of those days. I’m hoping tomorrow will be better and that, by Wednesday, I’ll be back to my usual bounce. I better be, it’s Simon’s birthday so it’d be rude not to raise a glass right?!

Here endeth the emotional one! Tomorrow’s another day 🙂 xx

AN: I’m not going to re-read or spell check this one, it’s going up as is, so whatever typos or syntax errors are in there, can stay!

Luton airport and Hungarian airlines – I could end up anywhere

It’s fine, I’ll go straight from work…

Flying from Luton. Never done that before. Flying with an unknown (or at least, unheard of) airline. Haven’t done that before either. Heading straight from work (where I’m notorious for saying “I really need to be away on time tonight…” and rarely achieving it) to catch a flight. Now that has to be asking for trouble, right? Especially given my recent tendency for Anneka Rice-style dashes across London.

So tonight, I’m flying to Budapest, with Wizz Air, at 8.30pm, from Luton after a day in the office on the other side of London. This has trouble written all over it.

Having declined team drinks after work, I decide that, for once, maybe I should take a leisurely trip across town? I check Google to find the quickest route from the Wharf to Luton Airport, and am advised to change at London Bridge, picking up the Thameslink to Luton Parkway, and then taking the shuttle to the airport. Seems logical.

Unfortunately, Google hasn’t experienced London Bridge station at the moment: refurbishment + school children / tourists + rush hour = mayhem. But I have a deal with myself that I always walk up the escalators at Waterloo and London Bridge (in a lame attempt to redeem any lack of gym attendance). So despite my case being heavy, I carry it and walk up to the main concourse, only to find that the 17:36 doesn’t seem to exist? And the next train to Luton is apparently 18:10? Back to the Jubilee line and my sense of calm is starting to go! Having lost 20 minutes, I check my phone to see what time the Thameslink leaves West Hampstead… No signal. Bugger. Well I’m sure they’re pretty frequent, so I’ll head up there anyway.

I get to West Hampstead, leave the underground station and walk over to the overground station. I buy my ticket but the boards show no trains to Luton? Apparently, I’m at the wrong station… there’s another one? How big is West Hampstead?! Next street on the left and I finally find platform 2, and have 3 minutes to find calm before the 18:18 arrives. I eventually make Luton at 19:10, plenty of time before my 20:30 flight departs, so I check in, head through security, locate the nearest bar and cop a squat with a G&T.

Luton airport – about as much character as Kidderminster

At this point, I want to find something funny to write about Luton. But I can’t. There’s no abuse being hurled from a Yorkshire wheelchair, it’s not silly o’clock in the morning, so I can’t laugh at those ‘starting early’ and everyone just seems quite normal. In fact, this is the problem with Luton airport, there’s nothing about it. It’s just lots of people waiting to board their flights. They don’t seem over-excited, they aren’t drinking too much and they’re not overly ignorant or uncouth. It’s not until I’m at the boarding gate that I realise why.

I’m flying with Wizz Air, an airline I’ve never heard of before this trip and one who I’ve never seen advertise in the UK. This is because Wizz Air is a foreign airline. Eastern European in fact, although in my admittedly uneducated manner, I’ve no idea whereabouts in Europe. Most of my fellow travelers are Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, Lithuanian, and from various other European destinations.

Now I’m not sure whether Luton Airport has done this intentionally to cause entertainment to their otherwise relatively bored staff. Or perhaps it’s just because many of their flights are operated by Wizz Air. Either way, the entertainment at the boarding gate is pretty funny.

We are queuing at gate 22, on one side of a narrow corridor, and just meters away from gate 21 across the way. In fact, the only separation is from the retractable fabric barrier under which numerous small people are running wild.

Our flight departs to Budapest at 20:30. Across the way, the 20:25 departure to Bucharest is also gathering a queue. You know what’s coming! As the Bucharest flight starts to board, the attendants at the front of the queue are periodically referring passengers to our queue. At this point, realising that some of them have been in the wrong queue, some of our passengers awaiting the Budapest flight from gate 22 suddenly start to wonder if they’re actually in the right queue? Unfortunately, because this is Luton, there are no departure boards down this corridor, so they can’t see anywhere to check. And the delightful Doris, who periodically tries to explain the proceedings over the tanoy in her local dialect, only adds to the poor Europeans’ confusion. Basically, I reckon if you’re hoping to get to Bucharest you’re in trouble; by the time our flight to Budapest boards, if a passenger discovers that they were in the wrong queue it’s too late. Whereas, if you’re in the Bucharest queue but wanting to come to Budapest, at least you have half a chance of still crossing over the corridor and catching the slightly later flight. Of course, this could in fact be Luton trying to be clever, thinking that by boarding both flights in such close proximity, they have the chance to swap passengers if needs be. Ah the joys of flight security and efficiency… hats off to Wizz Air!

Bilingual demonstrations – brilliant!

Safely on board the right flight and in my seat (I hope), my attention switches to the cabin crew. I’ve often wondered why every airline always seems to converse in English.  I’ve flown with airlines from other countries before, but they’ve always spoken and provided on-board information in English. I appreciate that the first global language (or that which is most widely spoken) is English. But what happens if most of your passengers are of another nationality? What happens then? Well now I know.

None of our flight crew are English. And I appear to be in the minority back here in the cabin too. Being a European airline, I’m wondering how this will work. The captain indeed welcomes us in English, but then proceeds to provide the very same speech in Hungarian. I am, of course, making a couple of assumptions here: one is that he’s speaking Hungarian – I wouldn’t have a clue; and the other is that it’s the same speech – he could be saying “thank god we’re leaving this dreary place, sorry for any confusion in the boarding queue, this was just to give those Lutonians something to do, anyway, feel free to ignore any English passengers, they haven’t a clue what I’m saying to you right now, so give them a wink and let’s get them wondering…”

AN: worth noting that I didn’t get any winks, and had I done, I’d never have known why anyway!

We then move on to the safety demonstration. Now this is good. The voiceover repeats things a step at a time, in both languages. “Your life jacket is located under your seat. Place the life jacket over your head, tie around your waste and fasten in a bow at the side.” *Cabin attendant demonstrates the act  / joy / relief of finding a life jacket beneath the seat, then places it over their head (life jacket, not seat) and demonstrates fastening of bow* The voiceover then repeats  these statements in Hungarian… *Cabin attendant unties and removes life jacket replaces beneath seat, then repeats demonstration of finding life jacket beneath seat, places it back over their head, reties bow etc* — god help them if they got the bow in a knot on the English demonstration; the poor Hungarians wouldn’t have a clue what to do in the event of landing on water…

A-ha, the drinks trolley. Lovely. Time for my second (third?) Gin & Tonic (the in-flight drink of choice for so many). What? They’ve no gin? No tonic? Ah yes, it’s a European airline isn’t it? So they serve three or four different varieties of whiskey, vodka or schnapps, but no gin. They do offer wine though, so I opt for red. And it’s actually pretty good – a nice little French number which is perfectly drinkable. So I sit back and enjoy the sip and quickly nod off.

When I wake, we’re starting out descent into Budapest (relief – it’s not Bucharest) and as usual, my excitement levels lift – it’s an F1 weekend, it’s hot (even at midnight) and I’m a smiling Boxy…

#letsgoracing xx

Anneka Rice and another Carlsberg weekend

30 jagerbombs and a bed full of sesame seeds

I’d planned to do very little last weekend. The sun was forecast and I intended to spend Saturday lying in another of London’s parks, and Sunday preparing for Budapest.

Since when did I ever do very little? It didn’t happen.

The fun begins when I get a text from a friend who lives in Dubai, saying he’s in London on Saturday, if I’m around? This particular friend is of the rugby fraternity, meaning alcohol is bound to be involved somewhere, and most likely in large quantities.

I am not disappointed. We arrange to meet at the 8 Bells at lunchtime. Great, I can nip up to the West End to return those bits I bought 4 weeks ago and haven’t yet managed to take back. Perfect. So I pack my bag full of returns and head for the pub.

Cash. Hmm, will the pub take plastic? Most in London do, but rather than get caught short in discover otherwise, I first head in the other direction to the cashpoint. Luckily, James and Jo are still in their previous establishment, so his brief text of “running late, with you shortly” turns into “sod it, meet us here as we’re still drinking”.

Between then and midnight, our challenge of ‘doing pubs you’ve never been in before’ is an obvious winner… Really? I’ve only lived here a few months, why did I think this would be a good idea? Seven pubs later, said the Putney challenge takes us way beyond sobority and the following morning’s text of “the last pub’s tab alone included 30 Jagerbombs” pretty much sums up the proceedings.

I wake up Sunday morning, accompanied by an empty Pad Thai box and a bed full of sesame seeds… lovely. Needless to say, I now feel even more like doing very little.

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The Wind in the Willows

That’s until I get a text from Oxfordshire, simply saying “On the river again, if you fancy cruising?” A day on a boat, undoubtedly drinking, in the sunshine… Tough call… I’m in – what’s the plan, Stan? Unfortunately for me, Stan’s plan means I need to arrive in Didcot at the same time as another friend who’s also boat-bound. Only, said friend arrives at 10:55. And what time is it now? 10:30. And another Anneka Rice style dash is on – start the clock…

Showered, changed, and desperately trying to forget what I drank last night, I’m running across Paddington to make the 11:36. I make it at 11:29, impressed, knackered – stop the clock!

11:36 cancelled. Bugger. But there’s an 11:40 departing from platform 13 in 7 minutes – start the clock!

Where the hell is platform 13? About as far from the main concourse as possible, with the exception (you’d think) of platform 14, which actually turns out to be closer than 13. Either way, I’m running. Again. Still trying desperately to ignore the hangover and hope there’s somewhere on platform 13 to buy a bottle of Evian. There isn’t. But I get a seat, on the 11:40 to Oxford, stopping at Ealing Broadway, Slough, Maidenhead, Maidenhead plus a bit further, Maidenhead’s outer suburbs… getting into Didcot Parkway a good half hour after the 12:04. At this point, with a hangover, who’s run half way across London, without finding a bottle of water, not having had breakfast, and knowing the lift from Didcot to Sutton will have gone, so a taxi will be needed, eating into any beer funds for the day, I could be getting slightly frustrated. But I soon reach Didcot, hail a cab, and head for the George in Sutton Courtenay. In glorious sunshine, I plonk myself on a bench outside, with an ice cold Crabbies, open my Budapest Rough Guide and read. Paul and Gareth soon arrive and we head for the boat.

AN: given there are two of them, and lock keepers at each stop, I consider it acceptable to play lady muck – that’s fair, right? So I bask in the sun doing nothing but keep refreshed 😉

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We sail down to the next pub, to meet Debs and the girls. Rude not to sample a swift half whilst we wait, right? Agreed. They join us for a half before we set off to meet Simon at the next pub. Simon has a long boat called Charlie. And it’s beautiful. And best admired from the riverbank, where we enjoy the delights of the beer garden before heading up the road for some lunch. Once back aboard, we return Gareth, Debs and the girls to their car at the Plough, sample a swift one, and head back to Sutton.

Unfortunately, by this time, the lock keepers have shut-up shop and left the boats to man the locks themselves. So in the dark, lit by little more than head torches, we set about Culham lock. At this point, I still have hope and intention of making the last train back to London. However, 40 minutes later, and the lock is still filling up, my outlook changes to contingency measures. Right, if we get back to Sutton, we’re guaranteed a mooring overnight. From there, I can get a cab to pick me up first thing, to take me to Didcot to meet the first train back to town, plan.

If Carlsberg did Anneka Rice… perhaps best not think about that…?

Well it would’ve been, except the local taxis are clearly not short of business, and thus unwilling to get up at 5am. Bugger. Luckily, a friend in Sutton does the station run every morning, as she works in the city. So I hail a lift and make the 6:41 to Paddington. This is like doing the walk of shame, only I’m not guilty, I look respectable and I’m actually heading to the same place as most of my fellow commuters! The only difference (other than the fact that they’re all in suits and I’m in shorts, shirt and Pradas) is that my commute this morning needs to go via Putney to change and grab my ID pass! Start the clock…

I arrive in Paddington around 7:30, make Putney by 8am, am back out of the door by 8:30 and am at my desk in time for my first meeting of the day at 9:30… Stop the clock!

I don’t know about Anneka, but by 9:45 I could have murdered a Carlsberg!

So another weekend doing nothing, yet I still haven’t managed to get my returns back to the West End and haven’t planned or packed for Budapest yet. I do love living life to the full.

Boxy xx