May 30 – June 5, 2010
As I mentioned before we had to change our flight because of the BA strike and a route that should have been Dallas to Washington to London turned into Dallas to Washington, change airports, to New York to London and just didn’t sound appealing. The changing of our flights as a direct one from Dallas to London wasn’t cheap but giving the increased possibility of problems taking three flights, plus changing airports, plus only a 40 minute connection time in NY meant we both felt much more comfortable and relaxed knowing we only had to make one flight time! The flight to London wasn’t quite as bad as the last American Airlines one we had into Dallas but it didn’t turn out that much better, either. After a cold flight where I got no sleep and had to pass on an $8 blanket, we were grateful that this flight provided blankets, headphones, meals and plenty of drinks. Of course, we’d come prepared for the worst and stolen food and drinks from the airline lounge and taken a blanket from Elizabeth’s parents, none of which we needed now. The real problem wasn’t the airline this time, rather the annoying brat in front of us. I never have too much problem sleeping on overnight flights but when a kid about 3 years old spends 7 of the 9 hours crying there isn’t much you can do except try and ignore it. Unfortunately neither of us could and Elizabeth managed about half an hour of sleep and I much less!
Despite that we weren’t too cranky yet and we disembarked, cleared immigration quickly and got our bags before catching the shuttle bus to pick up the hire car. There we were met by a queue heading out of the door and a number of really slow-working and incompetent staff some of whom struggled with the basics of the English language. Many people in the queue were getting quite wound up as even when they reached the front and checked-in the desk clerks were claiming there were no cars available yet for people. Out in the parking area there were hundreds of cars but when I asked why people couldn’t have those we were just told they’d already been allocated to people – there must have been around 100 cars so I’m not sure where these other people were! After about an hour and 15 minutes of waiting I finally reached the counter, pointed out that my reservation was due to commence at 8am (now about an hour past) and so there should be a car immediately available for me and thankfully there was! After the lack of sleep and that hassle we were both a little cranky but we were relieved the traffic on the motorway complied and we got through to Nick’s house in around 45 minutes to pick up some boxes of stuff I needed to sort through. We didn’t stay long as we were soon off and heading to my parents’ house where my mother was all ready and waiting with lunch for us. Not only was it the first time we had seen my beautiful new niece Charlotte, but it was also the first time we had seen my other niece Phoebe and nephew Joshua for almost a year and it was crazy to see how much they have both changed and grown up. It was so good seeing everyone again and having all the family together. I am so glad that both my mum and Elizabeth’s went through the hassle of making sure everyone got together so that we could catch up.
It was the Sunday when we landed and Monday was my sister Karen’s birthday and so we took the kids out to Howlett Zoo. We had tried doing this last time we were over but the weather was horrible and today looked to be similar – the temperature was more like winter than the start of summer! The rain just about stayed away though and we got to see the zoo. It is a really large zoo here and despite the number of cars in the car park plus it being a bank holiday, the place didn’t seem to be overrun with too many children! The zoo is well known for their breeding programs particularly of gorillas. The massive enclosures here had a couple of gorilla families and quite a few young running around, too. We are going to be gorilla trekking at the end of June and seeing this made Elizabeth and I really excited. Given how time is going, nothing seems very far into the future any longer and we both know June will fly by and we’ll be face to face with some gorillas really soon! In the evening Elizabeth and I cooked a Thai curry for everyone, using the recipe we had learned to cook in Chiang Mai. It was good fun, if a little stressful, and the curry turned out really well although it wasn’t quite as spicy as I’d intended but it all disappeared somewhere so someone must have liked it!
Tuesday was my brother’s birthday and he had taken the day off to spend with us all so again, we all headed out together and went to Dymchurch to visit the little funfair there. Charlotte is too young to appreciate that yet but Phoebe and Joshua had a great time, including dragging Elizabeth and I onto the log flume. It was no surprise Karen and her husband Ryan allowed us to take the kids on as both the kids and us ended up getting pretty damp! Once again the weather just about held up but the drizzle started just as we were about to get lunch. Rather than grabbing some fish and chips and enjoying the open-air, sea breeze, we found a little café to sit inside instead and watched the rain intensify outside. The rain scuppered the afternoon plan a little as we were planning on getting the steam train from Dymchurch to Dungeness and back but no-one fancied hanging around in Dungeness in the rain waiting for the return train. Instead, we drove to Dungeness and stopped at a pub there for a quick drink. The pub overlooked the massive nuclear power plant here and the entire area seemed very bleak to me. I understand many people wouldn’t want to live close to a nuclear reactor given the potential risks but those that did certainly weren’t making the most of the potential of the area, that’s for sure!
In the evening we headed into Ashford to go for some Chinese food. The restaurant my family like does a special meal offer where you get all you can eat appetisers and crispy duck and then a main course each plus rice. We each picked something and all tucked in, with Joshua especially having fun playing with the Lazy Susan and helping himself to a variety of things. Despite being only 2 years old he has developed a taste for just about anything but the excitement on his face when the sizzling king prawn dish he wanted turned up was priceless! Not many 2 year olds have even tried prawns but Joshua was putting them away almost as quick as he could grab them! It was another great evening with everyone together and I hadn’t had an argument with any of my family yet, either!
Wednesday was a quieter day and Elizabeth and I got some of my stuff packed up and ready to send to the US. Nick and Naomi had gone back home last night with Charlotte and Karen, Ryan and the two kids were doing their own things so we got to have a nice quiet lunch with my mum and dad at the local pub, The Six Bells. We didn’t want anything too much though as my mum had promised me a roast dinner and so we had some lovely lamb to look forward to tonight. Karen and Ryan came around later with the kids and Phoebe wore Elizabeth out once again with more chasing around the garden. Phoebe really loves having Elizabeth around and she always makes sure Elizabeth gets her exercise quota when we are around!
On Thursday morning we posted my two boxes, one weighing about 13lbs and the other about 11lbs. I think Elizabeth nearly had a heart attack when it cost over £200 and, honestly, I wasn’t expecting anything near that either. Oh well, I guess it had to be sent. We drove over to Nick’s house on Thursday morning with my mum and we took my mum and Naomi out to lunch when we got there. Charlotte is such a cute, smiley baby and she happily sat in the high chair throwing most of her bread and cheese on the floor and laughing about it! Elizabeth and Naomi went shopping in the afternoon to pick up a couple of swimsuits for Elizabeth and some dinner for tonight whilst my mum and I looked after Charlotte and vegged in front of the TV! Naomi’s sister came round in the evening to give Naomi some pampering and Nick came home early from work so we could all spend some time together. Nick cooked a really nice steak with jacket potatoes, although I managed to drop my steak on the floor whilst serving it and had to quickly resurrect it and give it a quick rinse off and re-fry before I ate it!
On Friday, two of our friends, Simon and Kate, were getting married and it was a pleasure for both of us to be invited to what turned out to be a glorious, sunny day and a very happy, drunken day too. The civil service was over in no time at all so we were able to retire to the lovely garden area at Oaks Farm and drink champagne and chat to a number of friends we’d not seen since last July, some even longer than that. With alcohol flowing, great company and excellent food, it was hard not to have a good time and that we certainly did although by the end of the night I was paying for it having lost my voice.
Saturday morning was a little tough to wake up given my throat was sore and I couldn’t speak and Elizabeth was suffering from a bit of a hangover! We’d left our packing until this morning and it didn’t take us long and once we were done we headed straight off to Heathrow airport to catch our flights to Cape Town going via Cairo and Johannesburg. The traffic on the motorway was pretty bad and it was slow going for quite a while and about half way there I realised I’d left our World Cup ticket confirmations and our anti-malarial tablets in Nick’s front room! I was really annoyed with myself as I’d been rushing around trying to do other, less important things and ended up forgetting two things which are important. There was no-one else to blame as on more than once occasion I’d picked them up and looked at them but for some reason I never thought of putting them into one of our bags so we’d remember them. We shouldn’t need the confirmations and the drugs are for later in our trip so it shouldn’t be too difficult but it is still annoying.
We arrived at the airport and checked in and headed straight through security to the waiting airline lounge. Elizabeth’s lounge membership runs out tomorrow and mine only has one more week left so we might as well make the most of the few flights we have where we can use them – Heathrow, Cairo, Jo’burg and done!