Our room in the Travel Lodge ‘conveniently’ has serious double glazing and non-opening windows. This is to protect us from airport/traffic noise. Unfortunately, the air conditioning that is therefore necessary is far noisier than trying to sleep on the M25 – although I’ll admit a tad less dangerous. I never sleep well at the best of times. In fact it wasn’t until I was at college and sharing a room for the first time, that I realised that people went to sleep at bedtime and woke up in the morning, without waking up several times in between – something I have never done. Just because I could do with a decent sleep, inevitably insomnia kicks in big time. Normally I solve this by reading myself back to sleep. On this trip I have reduced the strain on the baggage allowance by leaving books behind in favour of a well stocked Kindle (other electronic readers are available). This would have worked well if my Kindle hadn’t magically uncharged itself. I can’t read it whilst charging as the plug socket is too far from the bed, so I spend the next hour or so restlessly wondering why hotel rooms are always so hot and discovering that it is possible to turn the air-con down to a slightly less raucous level.
The alarm was set for 5.15am but as usual we are awake before it goes off (have I actually slept at all?) and attempt to check out. The trouble with the lift is that it always goes up to the very top (level 6) before descending. This means that every time it gets to us on level 4 it is already full. We watch four crowded lifts pass us by, deciding that we really don’t want to attempt four flights of stairs with our luggage and sit it out until we finally manage to squeeze ourselves in to an already full lift. Eventually we are outside waiting for our taxi……….and waiting………and waiting. This is seriously annoying as we were actually ready in time for the 5.32am Hoppa bus. The other difficulty is that the taxi pick-up point is also ‘smokers’ corner’, so our lungs are being imperilled as we wait in rising panic (well I was panicking). Why do places put the smoking zone in such a position that those entering and exiting have to run the gamut of toxic fumes? I abandon Chris and the luggage and run up a flight of stairs to ask reception why our taxi is 15 minutes late. He says he will chase the taxi up. The 6am Hoppa arrives – we should have been at the airport half an hour ago. Of the mindset that a Hoppa in the hand is worth several taxis that are goodness knows where, we board the bus, only to see our taxi arrive as we pull away. We are now keeping a low profile and a sharp look out for irate taxi drivers. Today’s panic 2 (panic 1 was the non-appearing taxi) will they trace us through our room number (which they have) and try to charge us?
The Hoppa bus careers through a red light. Chris thinks this is ok as we are in a bus lane. It clearly isn’t ok as the driver apologises – he ‘forgot’ where the brake was as he thought he was driving his car. This doesn’t appear to be a joke. Is this supposed to be reassuring? Perhaps this is retribution for not waiting for the elusive taxi.
We arrive at the airport at 6.30am – an hour after the time advised and have to serve ourselves to get baggage labels. This involves inputting our booking number – which is not recognised. This is definitely the point at which we vow to remain in Britain henceforth. Fortunately, we are able to use our passports in lieu of the non-existent booking number and have negotiated this hurdle We are invited to press an appropriate button to rate our check-in experience. I firmly press the red frowny face button. Instructing the laptop bag to look small and rather wishing I had brought the cat instead, we go to abandon our luggage. Not a tape measure or a ‘cram your bag in here or else’ box in sight – hurrah. It is a relief that we have decided to circumvent the juggling with plastic bags of ‘liquids’ by putting these in our cabin baggage. I still can’t understand how toothpaste and lipstick can be classed as liquid. We pass through the scanner and there is a loud bleeping – but it isn’t us!! This time I press the pale green almost smiley face when asked for my opinion. I even manage to access the free wifi.
Boarding next. I approach with two passports and boarding passes in hand – Chris’ is on top. The security guard looks at Chris’ picture, looks at me and waves me through. He then realises that I am holding two passports. Either my facial hair problem is more serious than I thought or this is acutely worrying – look out Canada, this guy is responsible for your security. We board late and some people clearly haven’t measured their luggage and are having trouble fitting it into the overhead lockers, fortunately I am not one of them. For a long time the third seat in our row is vacant; at the very last minute it is occupied by a gentleman with very little English and even less idea of what he is supposed to be doing (it later transpires that he hasn’t made this journey (or probably any other journey) before and he has my sympathy, going through all this in a language he barely understands. With him comes a distinct aroma of mothballs – well at least our nasal passages will be clear for the duration. A woman has lost her toddler. How can you lose a toddler on a plane? Said toddler is retrieved. The cabin crew are having difficulty persuading a passenger to take his seat. He too appears not to understand and keeps asking for water. He finally gets the idea and we begin to taxi. We are told that the journey will be approximately seven hours nine minutes long. That doesn’t sound very approximate to me.
At last, breakfast. I am so hungry that egg (cooking method unspecified and it was anyone’s guess), anaemic frankfurter and what appeared to be spinach (strange combination) initially seemed appealing but was about as revolting as it sounds. This was accompanied by the crumbliest roll in the world – whose stupid idea was this? Now all the passengers are liberally besprinkled with crumbs. All in all it is a trouble free flight for us and seems disappointingly short compared to our Antipodean long hauls. Highlights are great views of the Lake District, Scotland, Greenland and Canada. The Canadian lots are clear to see and everything looks so ‘square’. I am aware that this is how land grants were issued but it is even more marked than I expected. I manage to do the final proofing of a good proportion of my book then it is time to land. Our neighbour is struggling to fill in his customs’ declaration card. I have already done mine and Chris’ as he has forgotten his glasses. Chris then of course can’t see to help our neighbour. I am on the far side and a bizarre game of Chinese Whispers ensues. I copy the names of our neighbour and his wife from their passport on to the form. Their names have about 15 characters each and their addresses aren’t much better – you obviously aren’t allowed to live in a town that has more than ten letters. I read the ‘have you got guns?/are you carrying food?/have you been on a farm? questions to Chris who tries to relay them to our newfound friend. There is a lot of nodding and smiling going on but I am really not at all convinced he knows what he is saying yes and no to and our Gujarati is on the minimal side. You’d think they’d have the questions available in several languages. Goodness knows if the poor couple will ever get through customs.
We are told that, as the flight is more than four hours long, all security information has to be repeated. Is all collective memory erased after three hours fifty nine minutes then? We escape customs unscathed and after a slight detour to find our pick up point we are transported by a silent lady shuttle bus driver to the Best Western. Lovely comfortable hotel, free unlimited wifi – what more could one want? The only slight snag is that my plug adaptor won’t stay in the socket so we have had to rig up a Heath Robinson solution wedging the chair leg against the adaptor. Tomorrow’s panics – will we get our camper van without a hitch? Will it really be 33 foot long? Will my travelling companion, who is very confident, be able to cope with the wrong side of the road? Will we get where we need to be so I end up in Ottawa by Saturday? Always like to leave my readers with a cliffhanger.