The race was on to get packed, buy everything that I had promised I would 'take home', and get everything that had been sitting half filled on the bed, in the spare room, put into my suitcases.
Four pairs of shoes for my grandson, (who will have more pairs of shoes than my husband,) together with t-shirts and jeans, one suitcase was filling up quite quickly. The large monkey holding the goldfish bowl, which I had been unable to leave on the shelf a few months ago, took up a corner of the second case, and together with another couple of cumbersome items, there was little room to add much else. My shoes and cardigans, the latter of which I thought I would need many, were in my 'carry on' bag, and despite there being less volume, the weight was heavier than one of the larger cases.
I managed to clear my desk on Monday, and we left the office at 7:30 p.m. Dana, despite insisting that birthdays really should be celebrating the mother that gave birth, rather than the child that was born, because he had 'nothing to do with it', relented, and allowed himself to be the centre of attention for a little while, when we met Samantha and Edward at the Outback restaurant for dinner.
My bags were packed, and I was ready to go, by 8am on Tuesday morning, and everything was loaded into Samantha's car before we headed to the office. At 1:30, I was loaded back into the car, and taken to the airport by my dutiful daughter. We had to park in the 'overflow' car park, and walk through to the main 'visitors' section, before crossing the road to the terminal. My bags did not want to leave Austin, as they misbehaved as I attempted to roll them along the floor, and up the escalators. They twisted and turned until I got to the 'check-in' desk, and became someone else's problem, for the next few hours! I gave my daughter a farewell hug at the security check point, and went into the lounge to try and 'resume normal programming'. My phone rang, and Samantha's voice came over the airwaves, reciting the words Merle Oberon faintly whispered, as Kathy, to a young Laurence Olivier, taking the part of Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, "Take me to the window". I walked over to the glass partition, many feet above the 'check in' area, and there was my daughter, waving furiously, attempting to attract my attention.
The flight to Houston was almost uneventful. I was told that there were not enough overhead bins to accommodate all passengers, and I would have to 'gate check' my 'carry on'. The lady behind refused, as she had a small connection time, and the hostess said that she could put it in the back! As I was one of the first people on the plane, I decided to see how far my cheek would get me, and ignored the suggestion. I managed to manhandle my case into the small space, and came forward to my seat. There was enough room for everyone! Upon deplaning, a very helpful person retrieved my bag for me, and I followed the lady who, supposedly, did not have long to make her connection, and then overtook her, as she appeared to keeping company with a snail!
My seat, on the main flight, was occupied by a young lady. "Excuse me, I think this is my seat", I said, wondering if I would have a problem removing this person from my seat. From the looks exchanged between her and the flight crew, it would appear that they had suggested she sit in the window seat, and hope for the best! I was not the best! I wanted my window seat, and I was going to get it! However, I was very calm and very polite, and she apologised, saying that she never knew whether 'A', or 'B' was the window, or the aisle. I laughed, and added that it could be quite confusing, knowing full and well, that on my ticket, it said 'window', and on hers, it said, 'aisle'. With a nine hour flight ahead of us, and the fact that we would be neighbours for the duration, it seemed best not to cause conflict!
I watched a couple of movies, between a reasonable snooze, and finally, we touched down at Heathrow. I pulled out my 'English' phone, and fired her up! "Please press one to add credit", said the lady on the other end of the line. I pressed the number on the keypad. "Press two for......", and she continued. I pressed the number '1' on the keypad again, and heard, "Let me give you those options again". After four times, she hung up! I tried again, but it appeared she was 'having a technical difficulty', and told me to try later! I wondered how my daughter was going to react to not being contacted upon landing, but I could not argue with the robot!
My phone would not connect to Wi-fi, on my way to immigration, and once through, it would not connect whilst waiting for my bags. "Press 1 to top up", said the robot once again, as I stood while everyone else collected their belongings. I pressed the corresponding number on the keypad. At last, she took me through the process. Card number, numbers in post code, numbers on the strip in the card that you have at the back of your purse and is at the moment unavailable! Everything was 'not easy' to retrieve. However, finally it went through. Or did it? "Please hold, I will connect you with a representative".
I did not wait for the representative, as my bags had appeared, together (wonders will never cease) and I walked out through the customs hall, into the area where duty free can be purchased before exiting completely. After fighting off a vicious perfume saleslady, who would not remove an noxious smelling piece of white card from under my nose, I walked to the information desk, and asked the young man behind the counter, where I had to go to get the shuttle to collect my car. "Ground level", he said, quite helpfully. "Take the escalator", he continued, smiling through his bright, white teeth. As I had just taken the 'red eye', from across the pond, my wit was slightly dull. I looked at the trolley that I was pushing, with three cases, a backpack, and cardigan, piled high, and looked back with a visual question mark! "It's only one flight", he continued. I did not shout what I was thinking, nor did I flinch. I just smiled, without showing my teeth, and turned the heavy cart to face the other way. "Or you can take the lift", he shouted behind me!
My memory never serves me well, when taking the lift from the arrivals area to the departure area, where the buses live. I managed to get in with the 'second load', and arrived at the floor. Seeing the signs to the underground, I knew this was not my floor. "Are you getting out?", asked one abrupt passenger. "No!" I said, rather politely. "Why not?" she badgered me. I chose to ignore the remark, and stayed put. "Are you getting out", she shouted again. "No!" I quipped, perhaps more aggressively than necessary, but I was now starting to feel the effects of the lack of sleep. "Why not?" she asked again. Again, I ignored the remark, and chose to answer another passenger. After deciphering the code that is the keypad in the lift, I realised that I needed to get out when the sign blinked "0", and it was down, rather than up! When it was finally 'my turn', I thanked everyone for their patience, and let them know that I would make a mental note of where I need to go for next time, as I seem to spend half of my vacation in the elevator.
Espying my shuttle, I proceeded to head towards the crossing. Seeing that they were just loading the last piece of luggage, I started to push the trolley a bit faster, and as I was in the middle of the road, the bottom case slid sideways, and fell, with the other two following suit! With one eye on my cases, and one on the driver of the bus, I realised that I was not watching for traffic! Managing to half carry, half push the luggage, with the trolley, I called to the driver, who was very obliging, and waited as I heaved the bags up the slope, where he kindly took them from me, before I climbed into the back of the mini-van. Four antipodeans sat in the front two rows, and were very vocal, which suited me, as I tried to put some credit onto my phone. Again, I was put 'on hold', and I had to stop the call before I was connected to the person for whom I was apparently waiting!
We arrived at the car hire centre, and the chatty folk from New Zealand alighted, with me following. The driver took their luggage from the back, and they thanked him with a smile, whereas I thanked him with two pound coins. "Let me get you a cart, love", he said, very sweetly, as the four from 'down under' wondered why they were not afforded the same courtesy. I suppose money really does talk!
The lady at the counter was very sweet. We disagreed on a couple of things to do with the insurance policies of the car hire group, but eventually managed to agree. Much of the problem was the difference between 'the law', and 'the policy'. I made another mental note to see what I have to do to be completely covered before leaving the USA. My 'English' card was declined. I was more shocked than angry, but there was nothing I could do about it, and gave her the American edition that Dana had procured before my departure. As we were completing the 'deal', I received a call from the 'fraud department' of my bank. It was an automated call, advising me that someone had attempted to use my card. After answering, (by pressing buttons,) I advised them that it was me using the card, and all was well. As I finished the call, my phone rang. My son was rather distressed. "Are you okay. Steph just received a call from the fraud squad". I explained the situation, and told him not to worry, and that we were not expecting a swat team just yet!
Business concluded, I was taken outside to choose a car. It was like putting three shovels up against a wall, and asking me to take my pic (as in axe). I looked, and decided on the Volkswagen, as opposed to the Renault, as I believed it to be more reliable. After obtaining the name of the young man whom checked out the car, as I pointed out some marks that he decided were not necessary to be reported, I sat and called the number, again, to 'top up' my phone. Once again, after being asked several questions, all of which required an immense amount of concentration on my part, I was told to 'hold'. I put the phone on loudspeaker and continued to the exit. As I reached the booth, a human voice came on the phone, and told me that my card had been declined. "Yes, okay, thank you", I said, rather more abruptly than I should, as I was telling the man in the booth about the small chips on the front of the car. "Can I help you with anything else?", asked the helpful lady. "Nope, bye", I said, again rather more abruptly than I should, as I was now driving out of the facility.
The journey was quick, and I arrived at my mother's in record time! After lugging my bags inside, I made a cup of coffee, and then called my bank. "Can I have the first, third and fifth digits of your post code", said the young man. "Can I have the first, second and tenth letter of..............". He continued to ask, "Can I have the first.....fourth". My mother's newspaper contained a variety of numbers and letters, as I had to write out all the codes, passwords and my great grandmother's birthday, (slight exaggeration, but it seemed a little exaggerated at the time,) and let them know how many times I had attempted to 'top up' my phone! All I could say was "more than two!" It appeared that the card was not now 'blocked', and the phone company were obviously having issues on their end. Joy! I had to call the phone company again. This time, when I was put through to the living being, I had time to talk! "Can you tell me the first, third....". No, I did not have any more numbers on my account. No, I cannot remember the last person whom I sent a text to, as it was eight months ago, and no, I could not remember who called me last! Without checking the phone, with which I am not particularly au fait, I was unable to give her the information she required. However, the fact that I knew that the calls and texts were made so long ago, sufficed!
With credit on my phone, and the computer connected for Internet access, I had a quick shower, and fell asleep for an hour, to catch up on the lack thereof the night before. Mum and I took a quick visit to see Oliver, where he showed me his new garden area, and asked me to join him in his tent! We then came home for dinner. Richard arrived later in the evening, as did my niece, Emma, and we all had dinner with my mum, before we bid each other farewell, and I sat and watched some favourites on the television.
Thursday morning was filled with a variety of events. My mother had to attend the local hospital for a 'procedure'. I had slept reasonably well, so getting up with the lark was not a problem. Although the appointment was not until ten, and the journey should not be more than twenty minutes, we left home a little after nine. I drove into the grounds of the hospital, and did as I was told by my mum, as per instructions that she had been given (apparently) by the people in the unit. The no-entry sign is not really enforceable, as there is one at each end of the road. Reluctantly, I turned, despite the sign, and was told that I could park on the corner. I refused. Breaking the law once was enough for me. I was not going to risk a ticket, or far worse, a tow, from the hospital! I turned the car around, and committed offence number two, by coming back up the road that had the no-entry signs at both ends. Letting my mother get out of the vehicle, I watched as she walked up the ramp to the unit. I drove to the 'disabled' car park, and found a space. Walking down the street that had a no-entry sign very clearly posted, was not a violation.
The procedure went as planned. However, arriving half an hour early would not have been a problem, if the doctor was not running nearly an hour late. By ten past the hour of ten, my mother was fidgeting, and signalling to the lady in the reception area, who was very patient. As the clock ticked, my mother's even forbearance diminished, and short of waving her stick, which she has taken to using when venturing out of doors, she made it quite obvious that the wait would not be tolerated. Eventually, the doctor arrived, and called her into a side room. Once the procedure had been performed, I walked her down the ramp, and told her to wait while I got the car. In order to access the road, that had the no-entry sign posted, I had to exit the hospital grounds, and re-enter. A large truck was stuck in the middle of the road that I had hoped to enter, and it was going to be impossible to get past, as 'road works' were being carried out at the side of the unit. I could see my mother waiting, and looking. Remembering the hospital from many years ago, I followed the signs to the Accident and Emergency unit, thinking that I could drive down the ramp where the ambulances park, and cut in the road from the other end. I did not realise that the entrance to the Emergency room had been moved! Once again, I had to exit the hospital. As I had already committed enough traffic violations to have my ability to obey signals challenged, I decided to follow the ambulance into the 'Authorized vehicles only' entrance, followed it around, and then crashed the no-entry road, to reach my mother. "Get in, quick!" I demanded. As quickly as a slow moving person could, she sat down, positioned herself, found a place for her stick, put on her seat belt, and then went to shut the door. I was unable to move, as I was watching for security officers, or flashing blue lights, and although I knew that I should have leapt out to help, I watched helplessly, as she repositioned herself, moved her stick, and put on her seat belt. I put the car into gear, reversed back down the road, as the truck was still blocking the exit (or entrance, depending on which no-entry sign you chose to ignore) and went out the 'Authorised Vehicles Only', exit.
We arrived home and had lunch, and then I made my way over to Richard. After bath time, in which Oliver managed to make me far more wet than he, and a few goodnight waves and kisses,as the little boy was taken up to bed, Richard made me dinner. As Steph was working late,(at home,) we went to the pub! It was a very nice evening, and despite only having a coffee and an apple juice, I felt rather special!
Dinner on Friday night was fish and chips, with Richard and Steph, and on Saturday I joined my son and grandson and we went to the local farm. The evening was spent watching the television, and falling asleep! Sunday was going to be a big day.
I did not imagine that Sunday would hold as much entertainment, both comedy and drama, but I certainly did not expect to have to return to the hospital with my mother, after a nasty accident. She is, I can report, quite well, and at home, but the experience was most certainly............. another story!