Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Two

Friday 25th August  2017

“Up, up and away…” but, on this occasion, with Rex and not TAA.

A relatively early start this morning – well at least early for me  – so that Carolyn and Tony, who had kindly offered to drive me, could get me to Williamtown to catch the mid-day  “Rex” flight to Sydney.

Rex Saab

I had originally planned to get the train from Gloucester but, as the only one that would get me there in time, left at the ungodly hour of 2:30 in the morning, that was way too early for me, if not for them.

Apart from leaving at a decent hour, one unexpected benefit of taking the Rex flight was that my checked baggage is limited to 15kg –  a restriction I’ve already been grateful for when hefting the suitcase off the carousel in Sydney and transferring to the International Terminal.  And perhaps I’ll be even more appreciative when hauling it up the stairs of the smaller hotels where I’ll be staying  – particularly in the Channel Islands.

Carolyn and Tony dropped me off at Williamtown just before 10:00 am in ample time to meet what we understood were the new reporting times necessary for additional security screening. It turned out that this was no longer the case and that as a result the check-in gates would not be open until 11:00. That didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem as I had a well-sited people-watching spot where I could entertain myself observing how little people read signs. More than a few climbed under barriers to seek assurance from check-in staff that the signs that said that a gate doesn’t open until 10:45 or 11:15 or whatever really meant that – or fronted up to, say, a clearly signed Jetstar desk with a Virgin ticket or vice versa. What was that about small things amusing small minds?

My REX flight was delayed by about twenty minutes but having planned ample buffer time this wasn’t a concern. The flight itself was very pleasant, flying as it did at a height that made viewing the countryside possible. And with only seven passengers to fill the thirty or so seats, we all had more than enough personal space even if the seats themselves were of the tightly form-fitting variety.

I made the transfer between the domestic and international terminals by rail and, if somewhat more expensive, found it much more Norm-friendly than having to drag luggage on an off a bus. As had been my hope, I was at Emirates Gate E by 2:30 pm believing that by so doing I would be first in the queue. Again, the shortened reporting time meant that the check-in desks wouldn’t be open until 3:00. Needless to say, I was first in the queue when they did finally did.

The check-in in was both efficient and friendly and in no time at all I was lining up at “Border Control” to be scanned, patted down, hip-frisked and “wanded”. Again all very efficient but in a much less officious manner than I have sometimes experienced. The police and security presence was much greater, too, than I remember but not obtrusively so.

After a welcome and needed walking expedition within the terminal for a little duty-free shopping and some necessary currency exchange transactions I succumbed to the temptation of a long icy Campari and soda and a small plate of cheese, crackers and fruit, but only to tide me over until whatever the in-flight offering might be. I had a comfortable window seat in the lounge but the outlook overlooking a busy section of the tarmac did not quite match the relaxing ambience of the lounge.

The flights themselves were comfortable enough with good and well-placed seats, welcoming cabin crews and classy-looking menus. The fact that one or two of the meals did not live up to what the menus appeared to promise was disappointing but not sufficiently so for me to rate the flights anything other than very good.

Saturday 26th August 2017

I had forgotten how long the flights were and how mind-numbing. Although I knew that the flight to Manchester was via Bangkok and Dubai, it hadn’t registered how much the route through Bangkok lengthened the whole flight. The stop at Bangkok was quite a short one and we had the option of getting off or staying on the plane for the hour and half it was there. But once we were advised that we had to take all our personal belongings off and recheck them through security on our return, I and a number of others opted stay put. The seven hour leg to Dubai seemed to pass more quickly, but a delay in actually getting off the ground in Bangkok meant that arriving in time to catch my Dubai to Manchester flight was going to be a near thing a – and it was.

No longer noted for my speed over the ground – if I ever was – I made the transfer through a rather cursory security screening, onto the inter-terminal train and a faster than normal shuffle to make the departure gate with only a minute or so to spare. All doubtless good for my cardio-vascular system – considerably less so for my stress levels and blood pressure. But even I was surprised at how effectively another icy Campari and soda and some soothing music helped to reduce this.

Despite the inauspicious start, the leg to Manchester was the most enjoyable and I had a longer and better sleep than on either of the earlier legs. And we touched down twenty minutes early. As if determined to not let me finish my flights on too much of a high, this time advantage was soon lost thanks to an hour long slow shuffle to and through Border Control – something that was the subject of front-page newspaper coverage next morning.

Despite this further setback, in Norm’s eyes anyway, I was delivered to Roger and Denise’s door earlier than I had anticipated – and to as warm a welcome as only long and dear friends can give. It will come as no surprise that in this friendliest of environments, those perceived setbacks just seemed to fade away.

Although we keep in touch by email it is not quite the same as sitting down in comfort and having a good chat. After all, having not seen them for a little over three years, we had a lot of catching up to do. For some reason or other, I only lasted until about seven before collapsing into bed – a really comfortable new one. Thanks to you both for the welcome – and the welcoming bed.

Sunday 27th August 2017

I had been keeping a weather-eye on the weather (LOL) for a week or so before I left home and a single word described it more than adequately “rain”. As if arranged for my arrival, we have been treated for the Bank Holiday weekend with mild temperature and sunny spells. Fine enough in fact to be able to enjoy morning coffee, pre-dinner drinks and dinner in the garden. Really lovely.

Over the next few days, between Norm’s lapses into jet-lag, we shared lots of the chat that close friends happily indulge in, enhanced at the appropriate times with more of Denise’s gourmet home cooking.

While the late summer weather lasted we also ventured out to visit some of R&D’s favourite haunts:

Although Roger and Denise’s favourite the “Bird in Hand” some 30 minutes away in North Cheshire was closed for renovations, there was another one quite handy, the “Plough & Flail”. Here we enjoyed a steak and ale pie and a half pint of one of the local ales in a really nice atmosphere – as you’ll see below.

The “Plough & Flail”, Mobberley, Cheshire
27 August 2017
Norm and Denise, pausing for a photo – Arley Hall and Gardens
29 August 2017

“Arley  Hall & Gardens” some 35 km south west of Manchester where we enjoyed warming vegetable or minestrone soup served in bowls shaped like flower pots. All of which set us up for a leisurely but very pleasant walk through part of the garden, Denise and Roger’s favourite woodland walk being a little too muddy.

Appetites revived by our meandering amble along what I understand is a familiar route through the garden, we then indulged ourselves with scones, jam and cream – with tea of course – in what had become a warmer and sunnier courtyard than was the case at lunch time.  All very salubrious.

Arley Hall & Garden, Cheshire
29 August 2017
The Clock Tower, Arley Hall & Gardens, Cheshire
29 August 2017

Lunch at “Casa Italia” within short walking distance where we shared Carpaccio, one tuna and one beef, served on a bed of rocket, Parmesan shavings and olive oil dressing, followed by Lasagna Di Carne (traditional lasagna with beef ragu in a rich béchamel sauce) and which, with due deference to Carolyn, would be the best lasagna I have ever had. A beautiful meal in authentic surroundings and served by the friendliest of staff. Superb – not a word I use often.

“Casa Italia”, Didsbury, Greater Manchester

More soon from Ireland, internet connections willing.