Sunday-Monday, August 10-11, 2013
It is customary for me to end my blog posts with an account of my last day—but this time round, my return home was fraught with so much drama that I simply have to include an account of it.
A Brush with Celebrity:
By a complicated routing that had involved arriving in Europe through Copenhagen, Denmark, almost two months ago, I had to return there to board my flight to the States. Easyjet was by far the cheapest way to do that—so there I was in a serpentine queue at Gatwick airport, at the crack of dawn, periodically passing by a young man that looked annoying familiar. And yet I could place him. Several minutes of rather agonizing brain racking led me to realize he was an actor whom I have grown familiar with through Doc Martin, a show I watch regularly on PBS in Southport. Although I did not know his name, I remember him as Al, the very slim son of the very fat Bert who runs a waterside restaurant, in the Cornwall-based TV series.
Well, I simply had to make sure I wasn’t just imagining things. So, the next time, we brushed shoulders, I stirred up enough courage to say to him, “Excuse me, but aren’t you an actor?” He gave me the slightest smile and replied, “Yes”. I continued, “Haven’t I been seeing you in Doc Martin?” And he responded, “Yes”, again with the same embarrassed smile. And that was it! How shy he was! When I got back home, I googled him and discovered that he is Joe Absalom, a very successful TV actor. And yet how easily he had managed to fade into a crowd. No fanfare, no fuss. How marvelous, I thought, to be an actor and enjoy so much anonymity. How Brad Pitt must envy him!
A Short Stint in Copenhagen Again:
Well, my flight to Copenhagen was uneventful. I had plans to stash my baggage away in the left-luggage locker and go out into the city. But frankly, by this stage in the game, I was tired—yes, indeed, I did write that…I was tired, both physically and mentally—and I was ready to simply spend a few hours relaxing at the airport. And that was precisely what I did. At Kastrup airport, I actually wrote what I thought would be my last blog post about my last day in London. I had a really good lunch from Yam Tam Thai Food To Go (good noodles with Spicy Chicken Peanut Curry), did a spot of duty free window shopping and then boarded my British Airways flight to return to Heathrow which left Kastrup at 4. 25 pm. and was scheduled to arrive in Heathrow at 5. 30 pm.
I clearly spied the great big bridge that takes vehicular traffic from Copenhagen to Malmo in Sweden—part of it suddenly disappears under water! We had passed right under this bridge while on the cruise—just as we were eating dinner on our final night at Tamarind restaurant.
Spectacular Landing at Heathrow:
I know that some people who read this blog regularly poke fun of me when I report how much of a city I am able to sight from 10,000 feet above sea level. And they are more than welcome to their share of guffaws. But I will tell you once again, at the risk of becoming a butt of their humor, that the touch down into Heathrow London was simply one of the most spectacular in my memory.
First of all, it was the clearest day ever. Not a puff of cloud appeared in the perfect blue skies. I am easily able to find my bearings when we are flying right over the city at my first sighting of the Thames or the Millennium Dome. But this time, it was the Olympic Stadium that leaped out at me—and I realized we were flying right over Stratford. Then it was Anish Kapoor’s strange sculpture at the Olympic Park that emerged, crystal clear, like an inverted red exclamation mark. And then there was the Shard—that inevitable steel pin rising up as if to touch the plane’s wing.
Once I spotted the Shard, I realized that we were flying directly above Canary Wharf. Indeed the cluster of skyscrapers was directly below my window! It was simply fascinating! Then my eye drifted across the Thames and over Wobbly Bridge as I tried desperately to spot St. Paul’s Cathedral. You’d think that so massive a structure would be easy to distinguish. But it was a bit of a struggle in the close construction of buildings that comprise The City of London. But spot it I did…and so inevitable my eyes sought out Amen Court where I had spent the last week of my stay in London—and there it was, I swear, I am not exaggerated. It was obliterated by a few trees, but clearly visible beneath me. My eyes then drifted along westward and I clearly saw the red unmistakable points of the Prudential Insurance Building on High Holborn—and, of course, less than an inch from where I was viewing the earth below me was 7 High Holborn, the building in which I had spent close to two weeks on first arriving in London. No, its outlines were not as sharp as the Prudential which towers in height and in appearance, but again, the general sense of the building’s position was easily spotted.
Next my eyes moved westward, with the plane to the Tower of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and along Whitehall, I clearly saw the official buildings opposite the Cenotaph (which I did not spot) with the gaping O in the center—not visible to us when we are actually walking past them on Whitehall. On to Buckingham Palace which was bathed in golden sunshine and the Victoria Memorial where I had stood only a few weeks ago with elation the day after the birth of Prince George was announced. “I was there”, I thought, as the plane moved swiftly over Hyde Park where the Serpentine gleamed smoothly. And then we were over the Thames again, losing height rapidly. I tried hard to spot Hampton Court Palace but I was not able to although I was clearly over Barnes Bridge whose distinguishing iron work makes it very obvious.
Finally, we landed at Heathrow Terminal 5. I had less than two hours to connect to another flight—to the US. But this was a Virgin Atlantic flight departing from Terminal 3. I took the courtesy coach provided by Heathrow for inter-terminals transfers and checked into my Virgin Atlantic flight which was scheduled to depart from London at 8.00 pm. I had just enough time to recharge my I-phone and to use Heathrow’s complimentary wifi (available only for 45 minutes at a stretch) before I boarded my flight for my return to the States.
Unexpected Mid-Air Drama:
And then, when we were settled with drinks and were two hours into our flight (over Ireland if one went by the flight map), the Captain came on the PA system and made the shocking announcement that he had made a turn mid-air (unbeknownst to any of us). A technical glitch needing urgent attention had led him to take the decision to return the aircraft to Heathrow. He promised to get back to us soon with developments. Once we got over our shock, the cabin crew brought us snack packets—those would have to suffice as dinner, they said, as there was no time to do a full dinner service. Needless to say, we were starving by then but, left with no choice, simply had to make the best of our situation.
A few minutes later, the Captain announced that ground staff would meet us at Heathrow airport where accommodation for the night had been arranged for us. There was no word about when we would fly out. Right enough, Virgin’s ground staff met us after we cleared Immigration and picked up our baggage. The airport’s Hoppa buses were galvanized into providing us with transport to the Holiday Inn Hotel. There, hotel reception staff, in what seemed like a jiffy, provided us with keys to our rooms and a restaurant voucher for breakfast in the morning. Virgin’s staff informed us that we were all to be put on a flight leaving the next afternoon at 1. 15 pm. We were instructed to reassemble in the lobby by 10.00 am for the complimentary transfer to the Terminal.
Well, most people headed straight to the restaurant for dinner. I was sleepy and tired more than hungry and not able to face another public meal. So I took my key and my baggage, found my room and decided to settle down in front of the telly as I brewed myself a cup of decaff coffee and fished out the bacon and lettuce wrap that British Airways staff had served me on the flight back from Copenhagen and which was lying untouched in my backpack. Replete, I fell asleep in a thrice and only awoke at 7. 30 am.
A quick shower and a change of clothing later, I was down in the lobby tucking into a enormous Full English Breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, baked beans, potato hash and black pudding—yes! What a terrific way to end a adventurous departure from London. As my friend Ian tweeted it, “Quite a dramatic way to ensure one more day ‘s stay in London!”
Post-Breakfast, we were packed into coaches, met my more Virgin Atlantic ground staff, seen speedily through check-in and placed on a flight that does not even exist on the regular roster! Everyone was especially nice to us and apologies were made frequently. I had managed to contact Llew to inform him about the change in my flight schedule. He texted me to inform me that he would pick me up from JFK airport—and so it was not necessary for me to make a shuttle booking for surface transport from JFK to Southport (although Virgin Atlantic would have reimbursed me). My flight was very pleasant indeed and on schedule, we touched down at JFK at the end of what had been for me an incredible summer to remember,
Thanks for following me so faithfully on this month-long journey and for the pleasure of your company as an armchair traveler. Until I am safely back in my London Roost again, I wish you goodbye and good luck.
And of course, I end by saying, cheerio!