I was packed and ready to leave on Sunday morning, even though my flight was not until Wednesday. Whenever I used to go on holiday, the packing was never done until the night before the journey, but considering that I had very little of my own in the suitcases, I had to tick everything off my list, and also get everything that had been piled onto the spare bed so that it could be used if the need arose.
My week had been carefully planned, and I managed to stick to the schedule with very little deviation. I had altered my nail appointment to Tuesday evening, and had not considered that I would not be home until after seven o'clock. Although I had thought it would be easier to get 'take out', the craving for shepherd's pie was rather strong, so I prepared two individual pots and placed them in the oven, so that they would be ready by the time I arrived home. Delighted that I did so, Dana and I enjoyed our last meal of the year, together.
I rose at normal time on Wednesday, and finished the last minute pieces of packing, and put on clean bed linen for Dana and the dog! I arrived at the office at 8:15am, and was surprised at the amount of business that was being generated. There was no room to be 'overwhelmed', and I made coffee, finished all my work, and washed up before finally shutting down my computers. Samantha and Edward arrived with Frank, and I bid my husband farewell, before taking the mini home. My cases were loaded into Jerry's large jeep, and after we maneuvered them around four or five time, so that all four cases were on board, with carry on luggage and backpacks, I started to panic. I had reserved a rental car at Heathrow, but as I had booked my flight before the kids had booked theirs, I did not realise that I would have to transport them from the airport. The list of 'economy' cars included the small Fiat 500, which I was given on my last trip, and I had enough trouble fitting me in the car, after I had jammed my suitcases in the back. However, I decided to worry about the problem if it arose!
The queue to check in was not very long, and our bags were weighed and passports scanned rather quicker than anticipated. The kids went to one end of the airport, and I went to the other, as I was 'pre-approved', and could go through the 'short' queue. As I walked through the security gate, it 'dinged'. I stood with my arms out, ready to have the wand passed around me, but it appeared that I was the 'random' person to have my hands wiped! Feeling like a five year old after eating an ice-cream, I allowed the lady to swab my fingers, and then watched while she checked for anything that would constitute contraband. After 'mother' had wiped my hands and the green light appeared, I was allowed through to collect my bags. I stood looking forlorn, as my hat, cardigan and 'overnight' case had all rolled through the x-ray machine, but my backpack was sitting on the side. The lady checking the screen looked up, and I pointed to my bag. She nodded and said that there was something in there that they could not decipher. I assumed that I would have to 'hand over' my crochet needles, but it appeared that it was a bunch of coins that were huddled together. The security guard was satisfied that I was not 'hazardous', and I made my way to the lounge.
Making promises that I have to keep are not always a good idea. As it was Yuletide, there was an expectation of shortbread biscuits. and I had been asked to put a couple in my bag so that my daughter could partake of them on her journey. Although there is a sign saying that food is not allowed into the lounge, there is no restriction on what you take out. There were no shortbread biscuits but there were a lot of cookies. I sheepishly wrapped up a selection, twice, hoping that no one was watching. As my eyes wandered around the area, I noticed that I was not the only one taking a snack for the plane, and decided to be slightly more adventurous. I went back to the bar, and took a plastic cup from the shelf, and took the spoon from the large bowl of olives. Olive oil is not very easy to mop up from any surface, and when it is dripping from the counter on to the floor, avoiding the broken glass makes it more difficult. It wasn't that I hadn't noticed the bottle with the silver spout, which stood proudly next to its parent fruit, but in my new found confidence at packing up food to take to my starving children, I had perhaps misjudged it! A very nice young man came to my assistance, and was concerned that I had hurt myself whilst tossing the jar around carelessly and smashing it on the counter. I assured him that I was not hurt, and apologised. His offer to put the olives in the cup was not accepted, as the embarrassment was starting to return. When he left to get the mop, I continued with my task, and walked back to my table.
I left the lounge with cookies and olives in my bag, and wished the ladies at the desk a very merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and great rest of the day. The gate was not too far away, but far enough. I saw the kids sitting, waiting for the board call, and approached them. After handing them the olives and cookies, there was an announcement over the public address system. "Would the female passenger, who just left the United lounge, probably travelling to London, please return as she has left something behind!" I left my bags with Samantha and ran all the way back wondering what it was that was left. I considered that it was a bill for the goodies, or for the olive oil jar, or perhaps it was for the newspapers that I had taken for my sister's partner! As I breathlessly reached the counter, I was told that I had not left anything behind. The lady who was travelling to Frankfurt had left her pink phone behind, and they assumed it was mine. Before they could present me with a pound of butter, flour, eggs and a wooden spoon to whip up some more cookies to replace those that I had taken, I exited, and ran down the stairs and back to the gate.
The short flight to Houston was indeed short, and I had to wait for my bag, which was too big to fit in the entirely too small overhead locker. I made my way to the lounge. As Samantha does not normally eat anything on the aeroplane, she had asked for another 'order'. She did not seem to think there would be a problem with me putting some vegetable soup into a 'take out' coffee cup, and bring it to the plane, so that she would have some sustenance for the trip. The vegetables must not have been the best on the market stall as the option was only chicken-basil. I was quite sure that my fussy daughter would turn her nose up at this flavour, but she messaged me that she would try it! Once again, I approached the counter and thought about my acquisition. I noticed many people taking coffee, for their journey, but what I intended to put into the cup was definitely caffeine free! I poured the soup mostly into the cup and wiped around the edges. Leaving the lounge with my bags and a cup of soon to be sampled chicken-basil soup, in a disposable coffee cup, I made may way to the gate, where I spotted the kids. I was not asked to go back to the lounge over the public address system, because someone who was travelling to Frankfurt had left her pink phone behind, nor because I was required to make another batch of broth, and I was certainly not going to go back to fill another cup of soup because Samantha had finished the first course before she had boarded the plane!
I waved cheerio to the kids, and went forth onto the aircraft. I had recently read a list of the 'worst people to sit next to on a plane'. In tenth place was the person who takes the window seat and needs to use the toilet constantly, and in third was the person who insists on taking to you when you want to watch the movie. Approaching my seat, I noticed that there was someone in the space next to me. As I struggled to hoist my bag up into the overhead bin, he looked up and said, "Can you manage that?" I smiled, and said "I think I have got it", and as he sat down and was about to replace his earphones, I broke my own golden rule, and became 'number three'. In fact, it was one of those moments when the mouth takes over and the brain cannot get it to stop. "Years of practice makes me perfect", I said, and as he was about to put on his headphones for a second time, I continued, "But of course, the older you get the harder it is to perform to perfection". Before I could take my next breath, the headphones had been firmly replaced, and eyes were 'to the front'. I took my seat and phoned Dana to let him know I was ready for 'the off'.
Turbulence is never good, but when the trolley falls over, and the flight crew are asked to suspend service and take their seats, I am definitely not inspired. However, the storm that was to come, did not, and whilst my tray table cover was soaked through, because the liquid in the glasses had spilled over the edge, leaving the receptacles virtually empty, the plane started to fly in a straight line. I walked back to see if Samantha was enjoying her flight, and was greeted with a smile. Although the option had not been open for many years, the newly designed website of the airline had restored old 'preferences', and Samantha was offered a child's meal, which she accepted gratefully! I had been offered ice-cream after my meal, but had refused. I did not refuse the offer of the sorbet that Samantha handed to me. I walked back to my seat, ate my dessert, and put my seat down flat, and dozed off for a couple of hours.
Sleep was not unbroken. My neighbour was not interested enough to stay awake to see if I really was a 'number three', or a 'number ten'. Only having to get up once during the flight, I managed to climb over the flat body without disturbing the sleeping being.
The omelet for breakfast was very nice. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and croissant before putting my chair into the upright position and gathering my belongings before deplaning. I stood at the end of the tunnel and waited for the kids to join me. Three of us waited for an immigration official to call us forward, and we greeted the friendly lady with a "Good morning". Samantha's bright red hair, and my white hair, were of amusement to her, as our passport photos do not show that we could make up two colours of the union jack! We went along to the carousels, and collected our bags, before walking through customs. Half expecting to see Richard, we scanned those waiting for passengers, but did not see a familiar face. Samantha called to see if it was possible to collect her and Edward, should the car prove to be too small to fit us with our luggage, but he was on a mission of mercy at the shopping mall. I told the kids to come with me to the rental facility and we make a decision as to what to do, should the need arise.
The electronic board in the car rental facility showed '47'. My ticket showed '57'. Samantha rolled all suitcases, one at a time, around to a vacated settee. Finally, my number was called, and I went forward to the desk. As I am only 55, completely inadequate at conducting any business on my own, and am unable to speak for myself, my daughter, (who will not answer a phone, nor speak to a drive through machine, let alone ask questions in a restaurant or shop) decided that I was incapable of dealing with the situation alone. The lack of sleep, together with anxiety as to whether we would all fit in the car, suddenly merged, and I snapped rather abruptly for her to "Leave this to me!" She did! As I had not paid for the car, from the other side of the pond, but merely reserved one, I was hit with a large insurance charge. Humbly, I called Samantha back, and we attempted to find a way to use her card, as mine is with a company which the car firm did not accept. However, it does have guaranteed world wide insurance coverage. The more common cards do not guarantee insurance on all rentals and I did not want to take a chance. I finally signed the agreement, did not use Samantha's card, and asked, "What car?"
The back seat was folded down, and the cases were put into the car. Amazingly enough, all cases, hand luggage and passengers fitted in, albeit very snugly, and I drove the car to the exit. "Can I have a look at the contract, please?", said the man at the guard hut. I did not have the contract. Edward did not have the contract. Samantha insisted that I had the contract. We mentally retraced our steps, and after we mentally unloaded the car, Samantha remembered putting it on the 'floor' of the boot. I did not know how to put the car into reverse. Edward, who was sitting next to me, has no idea how to drive a manual (stick shift) car, and Samantha was letting me know that I needed to 'back up', so that she could look for the contract. Panic subsided, and I found the correct gear, by seeking the 'R' on the gear stick! Once reversed, Samantha jumped out of the car, and found the contract, which was fortunately sticking out from under the six cases! As she jumped back in, and closed the door, I went forward, again, and handed the guard the contract.
Finding the motorway was not hard, and the traffic was not too bad. We arrived at mum's a little after midday, and were greeted by virtually the whole family. Richard and Ollie were sitting in the kitchen with Elise, Emma and her husband. They ate lunch, as I unpacked my case and handed everyone their 'goodies' so they could go home and wrap them accordingly. One by one they left, and Richard took Samantha and Edward to her father's house. Elise stayed for a while, and when she left, I slept for an hour. Mum had taken the phone 'off the hook', so it would not wake me in case it rang, but after a while, it started to make a noise. The siren woke me more than a ring would have, and I panicked for a moment as I wondered why she had not noticed. She was in the dining room, laying the table, and could not hear the high pitched wail!
After peeling several pounds of potatoes, so that it was 'one less' thing to do in the morning, I wrapped some presents, and then we ate dinner. Exhausted, I went to bed, and Dana called to say goodnight, before I fell into a very deep sleep. Christmas day was almost here, and we were going to spend all morning cooking, and all evening clearing up.
I will probably summarise the events of the day, but I feel as if I have not actually managed to 'stop' virtually since I got off the plane, so all that remains is for me to wish all those who live by the Gregorian calendar, a very happy new year, and a healthy and peaceful 2016, and I shall keep the rest of the 'fun and games' that ensured before, during and after, for ................ another story!