I used to say that when I could afford to fly business class I wouldn't as there are much better things to spend money on, but as I sit here, in the back of the plane for the first time in 12 months I know that is a load of old k*** s. I can handle the lack of champagne, I can even handle not having lounge access, but the screaming babies, the firm cramped seats and the fact that the bloke in front has reclined his so it is in my face just feels wrong. Flying is once again an ordeal rather than a pleasure. We will get off the other end tired and irritable rather than refreshed and feeling privileged. What I would say is don't do business class until you know you can always afford it; it is utter s***e going back! (I wrote this at the start of the trip - in the end it wasn't too bad. I just needed to 'get over it).
Flying into London was great - proper lie flat beds, good food, lashings of whiskey etc, etc. Even better, Terminal 5 now has an arrivals lounge; showers, breakfast and a massage centre where you can get a 15 minute foot massage for free. A perfect place to wait for a taxi and sort ones life out.
The next bit of our trip was weird. We were having a car delivered from the ever under achieving Classic Car Club, before breakfast at our old favorite, the Electric Brassiere and the guy delivering it suggested we meet outside our old flat on Portobello Road which he knew. So……a year to the day after flying out from a wet and windy London, we found ourselves standing on the wet and windy pavement outside 55 Portobello Road reflecting on what an incredible year we had just enjoyed. It felt like only minutes had passed, but it was also hard to imagine how much we had packed in.
Once again, the car situation was a little disappointing. Many of you will know that I was getting a Maserati from the Classic Car Club for the first 9 days of the trip and that I was very very excited by it. Almost as expected, the day before we flew in I had a call from the CCC to say the car had broken down and would not be repaired in time, and was then offered a range of disappointing alternatives (very little was going to beat the Massa). We ended up with a 1975 BMW M535 for a day, which whilst I am sure is an icon to BMW fans, made me feel like a pimp and Jodie………. After one day a BMW Z3M was delivered to us in Wiltshire, which is fast and fun to drive, but still a Beemer and nowhere near big enough for all our gear (Jodie spent the journey with a case in the foot well and her knees in her face). The only saving grace was that it was free, but I am unsure if I will ever get to spend my points.
We had a great two weeks n the UK, seeing the cottage (which is being very well looked after), catching up with the neighbors (and John & Barbara's chickens, pigs and lambs), being very well looked after by Chippy and Phil in the George and Dragon at Rowde, catching up with the gossip in the Kings Arms, visiting family, seeing friends and revisiting old haunts. I especially appreciated taking the tube to Embankment, following the route I used to take to work, but knowing the MoD was now part of my past.
I enjoyed being back. Whilst England remains very wet and rather bleak at this time of year, the country side remains lush and beautiful, the towns and villages full of character and the Guinness continues to taste as it should. Most of all I loved catching up with friends and family. The couple of days with Mum were not long enough but we did our best to drink her out of house and home and it was great to see her looking well. It was also good to drink too much whiskey with Nic, and debate the finer points of being the absent son! I am very glad that at least one of us has stayed close by to Mum.
Our trip up to Liverpool was good fun as well. Jodie's parents (Joe and Cath) were on good form and her grandfather (Pop) seems to be getting healthier and healthier - not bad for 90. We stayed in a hotel called 62 Castle Street in the centre of Liverpool and the place summed up the city. It was a lovely old building (which used to be a bank), had pleasant and helpful staff, but also had paint peeling from walls, showers which leaked and broken blinds. There are so many incredible buildings in Liverpool, perhaps more than any other city outside London, but like our hotel, they need an awful lot of TLC. So many of the people we met were warm and helpful, but also not very effective. There was the orange lady behind the counter in RBS who volunteered to get our battered and split cash cards replaced, promising that our current ones would remain active until we left the UK……then cancelled our cards. There was the young waiter in Blake's Restaurant (in the Hard Days Night Hotel……it had good reviews…….but shouldn't have. Rather like Garfunkel's but more expensive), who managed to fit 'sir' or 'madam' into each sentence many more times than required, all but bowed at the end of each conversation, but was unable to rustle up a bit of cardboard to put under the table leg and stop our table from rocking. Lovely people - just crap. We did however find the Panoramic bar and restaurant which is well worth a visit. It is on the 32nd floor of one of the new sleek tower blocks that seem to be springing up, but as Liverpool is essentially low rise the views were great, as were the service and the Martini restaurant seemed a little overpriced but we enjoyed a very good value lunch with Joe and Cathy the following day.
Back down south a particularly entertaining event was the 'Champagne Sunday Brunch' at the Landmark Hotel, Marylebone. It is a favourite of ours and we were joined by 12 friends for 3 hours of good food, free-flowing Champagne and good chat. It was great to see everyone and it did make me realise that I do miss my friends in the UK. After the Champagne dried up in the Landmark we retired to the Hobgoblin pub in Balcombe Street (of the Balcombe Street siege fame) and over the next few hours, drank them dry of bubbly wine. By the time we left (or more accurately were booted out at closing time), Tom was babbling even more than normal and Jodie's high heels were proving to be rather too high to be stable. A great day out!
Before brunch Jodie and I went along with 1000's of others to the Cenotaph and the Remembrance Day Service. It is heart warming to see the strength and widespread support of those who continue to serve but I get increasingly saddened and angry when given time to reflect. Saddened because the ever increasing amounts of fatherless children, lonely widows, grieving parents and crippled young men that are a consequence of our wars, and angry that in the 21st century countries with some incredibly brilliant minds still resort to sending young men and women to inhospitable bits of land to rip each other apart as a means of solving a problem. And don't get me started on the way the government is equipping and supporting those men and women.
Leaving the UK was much harder for me this time. Last time I was just off on my hols and just didn't come back. This time it felt a little more permanent and Australia felt far more distant. Back in Australia I am reminded that we do have a good life out here and there is little to complain about. It is also great to feel the sun on my face again and I cannot help but think that as an Englishman in England, far too much time can be spent looking forward to the warmth of summer then being resentful that when summer does not deliver, and that is one of the major draws of sunnier climes. Sun, sea, sailing, a lovely walk to work and a good social life in Sydney not withstanding, England does have masses to be missed, not least those I love and I am determined to not be a stranger.
On the plane home I realised that our holiday is well and truly over and we are no longer 'escaping from reality' but have a new reality. As already mentioned, it is a good reality and I am so glad not to be in the MoD anymore (that hellhole really is the best posting for anyone about to leave), but it does involve 'working for the man', set amounts of time to spend on holiday, paying bills and shopping for groceries. With this in mind, this blog now lacks credibility and this will be the last entry.
I have enjoyed writing up this account of an incredible year and Jodie and I are working on a plan to ensure this will become a habit. Before we do manage our next flit, we are in Australia, have a spare bedroom and would love to see our friends and family out here.