Well, for those of you who don't know yet, we are officially home, safe and sound. We were a little sneaky and came back a week early to surprise people (well, and to avoid getting bombed in Sri Lanka). We only stopped off in Colombo for 8 hours in the end! We really wanted to go exploring but unfortunately airport immigration had other ideas... They wouldn't let us leave the airport as we were in transit and they felt there was no point leaving for only a few hours. This was complete crap because we didn't need a visa and we met every official entry requirement but they were adamant that they wouldn't stamp our passports and let us into their country just to let us back out again 2 hours later (I don't think Dave helped the situation by saying "we only want to go outside for a fag and come back in". Nice one Dave). Gits. They had no sense of humour, honestly. To be fair though, we were told about 10 minutes later that it was probably a good thing as it's extremely dangerous to leave the airport after dark in Colombo as you were likely to get accosted/mugged/stabbed/shot as soon as you set foot out the door. After we'd been refused entry, we stomped off to have a commiseratory (is that a word?) drink in the airport bar and whinge about our lack of shiny new passport stamps and Sri Lankan rupees. All the while not realising we'd left our boarding passes and tickets, yes TICKETS, with the grumpy bloke at immigration. We met a lovely northern girl called Jenna and were just finishing our drinks and getting ready to board when she asked us what seats we were in. I confidently opened the front pocket of my backpack to retrieve our boarding passes and found...nothing. That horribly familiar feeling of dread began to tingle in the pit of my stomach and then gradually, torturously, spread up through my body, each desperate and fruitless grope into the empty pocket only increasing my panic as the realisation inevitably dawned on me. The terrible, inescapable truth: THE TICKETS ARE NOT THERE. "Er...Dave, tell me you have the tickets" I mumbled hoarsely.
"What? No. Why would I have them?"
"Um, well, because they're not here, I, er, I don't have them."
"What? Are you sure?"
We both fumbled around pointlessly in our ticketless bags for a while before charging back off towards immigration, having remembered we'd taken them out to prove to the moody immigration guy that we were, in fact, in transit.
Helpfully, no-one was on the desk so we went to the transfer counter in an attempt to find someone who spoke enough English to understand our absurd plight. Fortunately we found someone to help who (eventually) printed us some new boarding passes and photocopied our receipts for our tickets so we could use that to get through security. Inevitably though, that wasn't good enough for security and our "We gave our tickets to immigration to get into the country for two hours but they refused us entry so we walked off and forgot them" story was apparently both unconvincing and highly suspicious. We had to wait what felt like hours as they rang around various officials in various departments trying to somehow verify our pitiful tale and / or refuse us access to our flight.
They then noticed the photocopied receipts had "Emirates" written on them (as we'd booked through Emirates and our outbound flights had been with them) and decided we were clearly supposed to be flying with Emirates and were at the wrong airline departure point. Quite how that would settle the "where the hell are our tickets?" dispute I don't know. I think they just wanted to make it someone else's problem by this point.
Now Dave, God love him, had had a drop taken by this point and was beginning to lose his patience with the unhelpful staff. Several minutes of "You have Emirates ticket, we are Sri Lankan Airlines", "No, we booked through Emirates but we have Sri Lankan Airlines flights", "The tickets say Emirates", "That is because you are partners with Emirates?", "We are Sri Lankan Airlines, the ticket says Emirates" ensued... Dave began to get increasingly irate. When I tried to calm him down he just screeched "I AM CALM" at several decibels louder than was strictly necessary. Eyes flashing dangerously, face flushed alamingly red. Convincing, honey.
The airline eventually decided to let us on the flight if we paid US$35 each. For no apparent reason. At which point Dave exploded,
"Hang on, let me get this straight: We paid extra to fly via Sri Lanka and then when war broke out and we wanted to change our tickets we couldn't fly direct (i.e. not via a war zone) and instead had to pay an extra £75 to change the dates of the flight. Then, one of YOUR staff does God-knows-what with our tickets and boarding passes (he'd disappeared with the tickets, not called after us, put out an announcement or handed them in) and you're demanding we pay you MORE money? For what exactly?"
Dave then began furiously demanding to be put in touch with the British Consulate, at which point the airport staff hurriedly waivered the unexplained fee and finally let us on the plane. Halleluia.
The next 10 hours are pretty much a blur of neckache and trying to delude myself I was in fact, in a comfortable bed and not bent awkwardly in a rigidly upright seat attempting something close to sleep. Landed at Heathrow and then had to wait 45 minutes for luggage...As soon as we'd left the arrivals gate I realised I'd left a little wooden pin from a musical instrument I bought in a carrier bag on the baggage collection room floor (clever, no?). Pants. Tried to go back through but was refused entry and instead invited to join the mile-long queue on my right. After queuing for 20 mins, not having moved an inch and realising I'd have to register all my other luggage and re-enter passport control etc. before I could get back in again, I gave up and stomped off to the car.
Now, a handy hint for you all: When planning a surprise homecoming, you might want to check that at least one member of your family is actually at home and / or in the country at the time of your return... Dad and Steppy had gone to Scotland on holiday, my older brother and his family were visiting rellies in London and my younger brother was working away for the week. Perfect.
After cheerily waving off Dave and his brother I struggled down the front steps with my cumbersome luggage and knocked confidently on the door. No answer. Crap, bad timing, they must be out. I'll break in through the back window...ok, it's overgrown with stinging nettles and thornbushes (I stubbornly tried anyway and it hurt. A lot.)...in that case, I'll climb over one of the next door neighbours' walls into my back garden...right, both sets of neighbours are out...ok, well I'll cut through the old convent, down to the main road,traverse next door's orchard, climb over the hedge into my garden and finally in through the back window...they've changed the security code on the convent...Life.
I have no key (obviously) and no phone. Ok, now I'm stuck. Eventually, I went to Amber's ex-boyfriend's mum's house and got his mum to ring him at work to get him to ring Amb and get her to go to his so I could surprise her...
It worked though, and it was worth it all just to see the look on her face! I think it's safe to say she did not expect me to be at her ex's parents house with his mum when I'd told her a day or two previously that I was en route to Sri Lanka. We went to the pub to surprise another friend at work and have a drink until my tenants got home and could let me in. Oh, the fun and games.
I've been having fun terrifying people the last few days and necking far too many welcome-home shots...The next two weeks will probably consist of visiting people (I am officially homeless, as I've rented out my room until xmas. I'm sleeping on the sofa and crashing at friends' houses), drinking and...no, actually thats pretty much it. Then it's off to Magaluf for 2 weeks with 7 others for muchos clubbing and cocktails on the beach before heading back home, grabbing all my stuff and moving back to Derby ready to start 2nd year of Uni!
Wow, sorry I've written a bit of an essay here...time to sign off methinks. Hope you're all well and happy
P.S. This photo was the closest place I could find to Stroud. Why are there no pictures of Stroud Town Centre in the "Highlights of England" photo album on this site I should like to know?
P.P.S. Where is this heatwave I was promised?! It was clearly ficticious, I should have known that England was incapable of producing anything vaguely resembling a summer.