Tuesday, 15 March 2016

On travelling - part two

So - now we have to collect DD from Heathrow, having travelled back from NZ.  Easy-peasy, no?

First, decide which day she's actually coming back on.  For a month we have thought 29th January, a Friday.  But then when she still appears to be doing things in NZ on Thursday, her "last full day in NZ", I start to think that logistically she cannot then arrive at Heathrow on Friday morning.  So, after much hunting around, I find that the travel document actually says "+1 day" in very small writing, in red which doesn't show up very well in b/w printing, so we decide that actually she won't be back till Saturday our time.

Before that we have spent a considerable amount of time measuring cars trying to find out whether anything we have access to can actually carry back a bike bag and a bike box, plus various other bags, and three people.  There is much consideration given as to how much the bike box can be cut down.

So.  Now we're at Saturday morning.  We need to leave at 08.30.  I've gone to the loo when OH opens door and says, "Er, actually it's 9.00 now."  After several "Oh, shit"s (not literally), I suggest we better get on with it then.

Rapid washing, dressing, eating breakfasts.  We ditch the idea of taking bacon sarnies for sustenance on the way back.  I look at the planetracker site and say, "her plane is 20 minutes away".  Bear in mind that from Bristol to Heathrow is around 90 minutes.  By the time we're ready to leave the planetracker says her plane is "taxi-ing to the terminal".

Right, well let's get going.  We'll probably have to make excuses about traffic.  After all, she has got to retrieve all the baggage.

We're about two-thirds of the way there when DD rings to say she's waiting by the Costa outlet.  Tell her to go and get a coffee as we might be a while yet.  We still have to make a fuel/loo stop at Reading.

Eventually we arrive and park in the car park.  Make sure we remember where we have parked.  Find daughter. 

Okay, now on to the easy bit.  Take all baggage upstairs.  Cut bike box down to fit in car (this is not the quickest of jobs).  I shall have to sit in what's left of the back seat with a box hard up against me and things on my lap/round my feet.  I can handle that.

Go to pay for parking ticket.  Nearly on our way home now, no? 

Well no, not exactly.  Look at phone and say, "we've got six minutes before we go over the first, and cheapest, tariff".  That should be alright.  OH stuffs ticket into slot.  Nothing happens.  Display still reads "insert ticket".  I look at machine more closely.  There is a big yellow slot in centre of machine where you should insert ticket, but no, OH has put it into another slot.  It was reluctant to take it so he pushed it in harder.  That slot says "insert notes".  Ticket is only just visible, but no apparent way to get it out again.

Push button that says "help".  Nothing happens.  Press it again.  Still nothing.  Does this surprise me?  No.

"Okay, so now we've lost the ticket."  Tariff says lost ticket will cost you £75.  "So we've lost the ticket, we can't get out the car park or it will cost us £75."

Hunt in handbag.  Find multi-tool which has a nail file on it with a serrated surface.  After multiple attempts manage to tease the ticket out of the slot.  No, we do not put it into the correct slot on that machine - after all, that machine is still asking for help, which hasn't been responded to.

Move over to another machine.  Put ticket in.  Attempt to pay money.  By now, of course, it's the next higher price.  Haven't got that much cash on me.  Attempt to pay by debit card.  Machine refuses to acknowledge my debit card.  

OH says he'll run back to car as there's more cash in glove pocket.  DD says "how long is this taking.  I need to go to the toilet."  Pay cash.  Aah, at last, we have managed to pay to leave the car park.  We have ticket to leave.  It says "you have 15 minutes to leave the car park otherwise you have to pay full whack".

Go back to car.  DD is nowhere in sight.  Pace up and down looking for her.  Absolutely no sign.  Minutes tick past.  OH gets increasingly wound up.  Still no sign. 

I go back to ticket machines and find three (Eastern European) LHR employees emptying the machines.  Assume 'poor little old me, don't understand these things, my daughter has disappeared and we've only got 15 minutes to exit the premises and time's nearly up' attitude and ask for their help.  They say "no problem.  Just say that Marc has said we're okay and they'll let you out".  They then take registration number.

Finally DD turns up, we head towards outbound barrier, expecting to be quizzed, and the guy behind the checkout desk just lifts the barrier.  He must have recognised the licence plate.  Thanks Marc!

No wonder we don't want to travel abroad!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

On travelling - part one

Us oldies have had a little adventure recently.  We've been to Heathrow Airport.  Twice.  I've never been there before although OH has many times in his days as a film sound recordist.  Things have changed though.

On 29th December 2015 DD was due to fly to New Zealand for the holiday of a lifetime.  She was going with the 2014 Downhill Mountain Biking champion and BBC Wales Sportsperson of the Year (MC) who has been a good friend of hers for a long time.

MC was taking the bikes as she was going via Essex so that her friend could take the van and not leave it (expensively) at Heathrow.  We were taking DD with her hand luggage and a few things which needed to be packed in the bike bag/box.

At this point I should say that DD was taking 2 bikes and MC was taking 3.  As you do.  Here's a picture of their luggage when they finally arrived at Auckland:

DD's is on the left.  Just think in terms of what a normal airport trolley for a family looks like.
So we arrive at Heathrow a good 2½ hours before departure because we know it will take time to book all the luggage in.
Wait 15 mins for MC to turn up with the bikes.  OH has gone off to park in neighbouring suburbia so that we're not paying a fortune for car parks.

DD and I then spend the next 45 minutes packing and repacking the bag/box.  Both are overweight (ie will cost extra).  Re-pack box so that it's within weight.  Check bag.  Now over maximum permitted weight.  "Right", I say, "what can you not take that you don't really need."  First off, she takes off the lightweight shoes she's wearing and replaces them with the 'clip shoes' which are a lot heavier.  Then she removes a set of pedals as she will only be using one set of pedals at a time.  She removes a rucksack that is containing clothes as she already has another rucksack.  Still over limit.  So then she removes the leg hair removal cream (do you really need that?).  Finally the bag is within the limits.
Go to check-on desk.  They're not actually going to weigh anything because there is a bar across and neither box nor bag will fit beneath it.  So they can't weigh them.  Girl on check-in desk is fine with that.  So what have we spent the last 45 minutes doing????
Then comes the final blow (and this is after months' planning and quite a lot of pounds spent):  "The system won't let me issue a boarding pass because you haven't got a US visa".  But she's just transit-ing via LA and will be airside the whole time.  No, you need a visa.  I am ageing visibly.
I now have visions of spending hours at the American embassy in London trying to get a visa.  And who knows how much re-booking the flight is going to cost.
All the while OH is trying to phone me to find out how much longer this is going to take, because (let's face it) he's completely in the dark as to what's going on.  His phone won't connect to me, and I can't phone him back.  We end up corresponding via Eldest Son (in Bristol) who somehow has a connection to the both of us.
"It's okay", says airport desk girl.  "You just need to go onto 'ESTA' on your phone and you can get a travel permit.  It'll cost you 14 dollars but they'll do it almost straightaway."
So DD goes off to get this ESTA thing and I try and maintain a  place in the queue whilst she does it.
Fifteen minutes (or indeed, half a lifetime) later she comes back with the requisite authorisation.  By now, I've let half the plane take my place in the queue.
Now we just need to find a nice baggage handler to take her box and her bag.  This is so the easy bit!
Finally I can kiss her goodbye and hope she has a lovely time.  By now, any tears will be tears of relief that she has finally gone, rather than tears that my baby is going to the other side of the world!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

So now we know the truth


Strawberry and redcurrant meringue pie - do you like it?  In true Masterchef tradition it will take 15 minutes (for the meringue to cook).

Younger son (16): it looks like a big tart.  (Who are you calling a big tart?)
Daughter (20): Lush.  (Should have been gert lush, she is Bristolian after all)
OH:  It was okay.  What was it supposed to be?

Why do I bother?

Friday, 28 March 2014


Yesterday evening I first saw the story of Ratzilla

Now, as some of you may know, I have more than a passing acquaintance with unwanted rodents, and do actually know what dead ones smell like.  So when I smelled something slightly unpleasant whilst reading this story, I went to investigate.

Fortunately it turned out it was just the smell of the cauliflower I was cooking to make cauliflower cheese for lunch the next day.  Phew!  Narrow escape, that one!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Was it ever dry once?

The Bristol to Bath cycle path has been closed due to flooding.  This shouldn't come as a great surprise as it runs along what used to be a railway line, and as we all know the default position of railway lines these days is under water.

Look - this chap's child has been washed away, but still he's managing to get their bike home safely.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Just be careful what you call yourself

Looking at today's news pictures of flooding, I was struck by the thought "When did Staines become Staines-upon-Thames?"

Seems like it did a couple of years ago, mostly in order to disassociate itself from Ali G who allegedly lived in Staines, but also to boost its riverside image.  Not a universally popular move - the local football club described it as "pretentious", but they had a day of celebrations including a regatta.

Now they may wish they didn't have such a riverside image.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

Oh, so now the Thames is flooding, and (without wishing to be at all denigrating to those affected) the precious Home Counties constituencies are under threat of excess water, King Canute Cameron is out in his hi-viz jacket promising unlimited money to deal with all this unnecessary water.

Interestingly, one of his own party has been less than complimentary about the Environment Agency.  On his blog I found the following post:

"In 2012-13 the EA spent £1207.4m compared to £1166.6m the year  before. It ended the year with £95.8m cash in the bank. We are told the “cuts” stopped it doing a good job on flooding. How big an increase in spending would it take to qualify as no cut?"

Oh, and I'm not a Tory.

If you look at this site, a whistle-blowing site, you will find countless examples of how money is squandered by office-bound (this seems to be a very loose term) employees whilst those actually out in "the environment" don't get the back-up they need.  The sheer scale of self-certifying hours worked, mileage, abuse of flexitime is stupendous.  There seems to be in excess of one vehicle for every two employees and no fuel cards or suchlike so no checks on when and where fuel is bought.  I'm sure if I tried this HM Revenue & Customs would be down on me like a ton of bricks.

And at the top are figures earning six figure salaries who clearly are not earning them.  These figures are from 2 years ago, but give an idea of the scale of top salaries:

Lord Chris Smith     Chairman                      Environment Agency     £109,999
Graham Ledward    Director of Resources   Environment Agency     £154,999
David Jordan           Director of Operations  Environment Agency     £164,999
Paul Leinster           Chief Executive Officer Environment Agency     £199,999

And then there's the South-West which still has very limited rail links, standing water even on the motorway, and very little prospect of anything changing.

Now, one of my friends spent Christmas Day with wellies on.  I know people whose friends have been isolated, cut off, for over six weeks.  It has become difficult to even talk to some of these people because the sheer scale of lack of sense of help arriving is, quite literally, "doing their heads in".

And to put things into perspective this is what we thought last week.

(I'm just grateful I live half-way up a big hill although, guess what, it's raining again)