Saturday, 31 October 2009

It's a tough life

There is one thing that I don't understand about us English ...... we spend most of the year complaining about the contemptible weather, then summer arrives, and instead of enjoying the five days of patchy sunshine that comes with it, we jet off on a summer holiday abroad.

It's mentalist. Not only do we miss out on grappling with wasps whilst 'al fresco' dining on a charred barbequed beefburger, but we pay a premium on flights for the priviledge.

Hence I made the decision about eight years ago that I would take all 'summer' holidays in British winter time.

To prove it makes sense, I have got the photographs showing what I have actually got ............

Pic. No. 1 It's me! In British wintertime! Blimey it's tough

Video. No. 1 Izzy tries her hardest to enjoy the sunshine

Compared to what I would have had in Oxford..........

Pic. No. 2 The four day weather forecast for Oxford, UK

Actually, looking at the weather forecast above, can someone please explain why the 'sunrise' time changes from day to day? Surely the earth goes round the sun at the same speed every day?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Views of Florida

After the weekend in Jacksonville, Clare, Izzy, Gary the dog and I jumped into the car to drive the three hours back to Clermont (the reason being that there is a swimming pool there - yep, I am shallow like that).

Not relishing another long journey after my disatrous trip to the US, I decided to keep myself amused by taking my camera and getting some pictures of Florida for you to look at.

Pic. No. 1 Portrait of Clare driving

Pic. No. 2 The route from Jacksonville to Clermont
Apart from the fact that it is always sunny, another cool thing about Florida is that there are thousands of lakes. Many of the houses are built on the lake shore with jetties giving them boat access. I want one!

Pic. No. 3 Arty shot of jetty

Pic. No. 4. Another arty shot of a jetty

Pic. No. 5 Yawn, ok, I'm bored of jetties too

Finally, I decided that I wanted a picture of something that was archetypal America. Oh, yes, I managed to pull a right gem out of the bag.......................... feast your eyes on..............

Pic. No. 6. A genuine trailer park
Jerry Springer, eat your heart out!

My luggage has turned up

I thought you might like an update on my luggage. After being lost in Amsterdam three days ago, we finally received a telephone call from the airline to say it had been found and was on its way (thanks to much expediting by Clare, who by this stage was tiring of my odd clothing combos).

Pic. No. 1 Our luggage finally turns up

To be honest, I was a bit gutted. I had got used to living footloose and fancy free like a treehugging hippy. I was even going to braid my hair, get a henna tattoo and start calling everyone 'man'.

Clare on the other hand was overjoyed because it meant that the rapid consumption of her toiletries came to an abrupt end.

Day at the beach anyone?

After arriving in Jacksonville, Clare and her husband Jody (yes, he is a lamb shank) had to go out for a work's dinner. So that left Izzy and I in the apartment with a take-away pizza, and 32 episodes of 'on demand' Spongebob Squarepants to watch back-to-back. Aah, the joys of childhood. Just let me get my hands on the person who created that bizarre, preternatural bath sponge........

The next morning, we got up to find that Clare had cooked an appetising American breakfast to get us all ready for a day at the beach.

After shoe-horning our paraphernalia and Clare's 6'5" husband into Clare's sporty hatchback, we set off on the 15 minute journey.

Pic. No. 1 Missing lifeguard at Jacksonville beach

Now I am not a fan of beaches for three particular reasons;

(1) they have got sand, and I hate sand. It gets everywhere, and once it is everywhere it bonds itself in situ;

(2) the sea has got bits in it. Uggghh. There you are swimming along with all the weird tentancled creatures beneath you, and a bit of seaweed tangles itself around your ankle. Completely gross.

(3) Once you get to the beach you suddenly have to start enjoying mundane activities, such as putting sand in a bucket and turning it upside down, throwing a plastic disc to another person to catch, or (god forbid), sunbathing.

So in summary, if you took the sand, the sea and the inane pastimes away, I would just love beaches.

Clare declared me, 'a miserable git,' and suggested that, 'I try and get in the swing of things.'

Pic. No. 1 Me and Izzy jumping waves at Jacksonville beach

So I did. I went wave-jumping with Izzy, and then spent the rest of the time designing a beach that would appeal to me. It would incorporate beach-side wi-fi, and the replacement of the bog standard sand with my new invention called Astro-sand©. I would also have a big underwater seive that would stop bits and creatures from getting into the bay area....... oh and I would have a LOT more lifeguards doing random macho things.

Pic. No. 3 The excitment of a day at the beach proved a bit much for Izzy
I thought you might like this cute picture of Izzy after we got back to the house. A day at the seaside is just too much excitement!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Bears and snakes en-route to Jacksonville

We loaded the car with our luggage (or lack of it in my case), fastened-in Izzy and Gary the dog, and set off for Clare's house in Jacksonville so that we could spend the weekend at the beach.
"Fancy going the scenic route so that you can see a bit of countryside?" asked Clare once we were underway

"Sure do," I replied, "it will give me the opportunity to get some arty shots". [Because I am a bit like David Bailey you know].

Clare veered off the highway, and before long we were in the spectacular Ocala National Park.

Pic. No. 1 Arty shot of a tree in the forest

The scenery oscillated between lakes, almost tropical forests and wide open plains, and each mile we travelled, the further apart became the buildings, until we were in remote countryside.

Pic. No. 2 A shot across one of the plains where horse ranches were

I turned to Clare, "blimey, we are like Thelma and Louise," I said after realising that we hadn't seen any signs of civilisation for 20 minutes. "Without the dodgy headscarves, and holding-up banks," she replied.

At which juncture, Gary the dog started whining to be let out.

"We are going to have to stop," Clare said, pulling into a small dirt track that appeared to go nowhere.

Pic. No. 3 Clare and Gary the dog down a dirt track in the middle of nowhere

I decided to get out and stretch my legs, and after walking to the main road, I saw something that made my blood go cold.

"Quick Clare, run!" I shouted, "we are going to be attacked by grizzly bears." I sprinted for the safety of the car, threw myself into the passenger seat and slammed the door shut, pushing down the lock. Izzy didn't even look up from the iPod Touch that she was watching Spongebob Squarepants on. Kids these days have no sense of urgency.

Pic. No. 4 Beware of the Bears!

I suddenly became aware that Clare was still outside with Gary the dog. Maybe she hadn't heard me?

I wound down the window, "Clare!" I shouted again, "just remember that the only way to escape a grizzly bear is to run downhill!" [apparently they have the furry animal equivalent of four-wheel-drive, so you have no chance of survival climbing trees or running up hill, but downhill they are supposed to be a bit cumbersome - I am like Ray Mears see.] It was at that point that I realised the vista was flat and she had no chance of escape.

Clare looked up at me, "Anne, the bears in Ocala Park are black bears, the biggest thing they are likely to attack is a chicken drumstick."

"Aah," I replied, my cheeks reddening, "well you can't be too careful."

Clare was still laughing when she got into the car, "sorry, I am laughing with you, not at you," she spluttered. You just can't get the mates.

"Ten minutes after we had resumed our journey, Izzy piped up; "I need a wee."

"I'll pull over here," said Clare, cutting into a small layby. I decided to get out and stretch my legs again when I noticed another sign.

"Bloody hell Clare! Quick get into the car," I hollered.

Pic. No. 5 Beware of the snakes!

Clare started laughing again and informed me that I was probably only at risk if I decided to go swimming in the lake. She has got one laissez faire attitude to natural dangers that girl.

After our two near-death experiences, we finally arrived in Jacksonville three hours after we started out, and boy was I ready to chill out on a beach which didn't have any bears or snakes.

P.S. I have just realised that in one of the paragraph's above, I 'wound' down the window. Given that the window was electric, there must be a more up-to-date verb for this action. What is it?

What! no luggage?

After a long and arduous journey, akin to something from the film 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles', I was finally, and safely, ensconced at my friend Clare's house in Clermont Florida, albeit without any luggage.

Luckily for me, Clare possesses both benevolence and planning skills in abundance, which resulted in her making a trip to Walmart to procure some clothes for Izzy and I, prior to our arrival.

The morning after we arrived at Clare's, I had a cool shower and donned the new shorts and t-shirt that Clare had left in my room.

"Clare!" I shouted, "the clothes fit perfectly - thanks ever so much."

Clare came into my room and stopped in her tracks.

"What the blazes have you got on your feet?" she asked incredulously.

"It's the only footwear I've got, all my sandals were in my luggage," I answered.

Clare groaned, "you can borrow some of my flip-flops," she sighed and disappeared from the room.

Pic. No. 1 Ok, with hindsight it was not a good look

Once I had swapped my winter boots for flip-flops, Clare announced that it was nearly time to set off. We were going to her house in Jacksonville to spend the weekend at the beach, and I have to admit, this having no luggage milarky is great. I didn't have to pack a thing (but don't tell Clare I said that because she would probably do that 'despairing' look again).

I've killed Vincent the Vaio

Uh oh. There I was all excited about being in America, surfing the net and flailing my arms randomly as the plethora of theme parks on my doorstep revealed themselves [I know that I should pretend that they are beneath me, but I can't help myself].

There is one word in the sentence above that gives a clue as to what is coming next, and that word is 'flailing.' Yep, I managed to flail a whole drink into my laptop keyboard.

As if in slow motion, Clare jumped up and launched herself at my laptop shouting, "quick, unplug your power cable and get the battery out you muppet!"

"I can't see this ending well," I commented to her as she frantically tried to extricate the battery from the bottom of my machine.

Pic. No. 1 Vincent the Sony Vaio is dead

After 10 minutes of emergency surgery, Clare announced that I would have to leave my laptop for at least 24 hours to see if we could dry it out and rescue what was on the hard drive.

Drama over, she turned to me slowly, "hang on, haven't you done this before?" she asked.

"Yes, last year," I replied, "that time is was a whole cup of coffee," I added.

"You are a danger to yourself," said Clare shaking her head and wandering off.

Anyway, I really need some help - I tried firing Vincent up today and the screen is just blank. No boot-up appears, nothing. What does this mean? is Vincent really dead or are there any cunning tricks that you can recommend to resurrect him from the dead?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I finally made it ... just

So, after leaving the hotel and arriving at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, a most unusual thing happened. We managed to catch our 10.25am flight to Detroit with no problem at all (except for the fact that our luggage was still missing, but to be honest, this made check-in a lot easier because there was nothing to lug around).

We had a fairly uneventful 8 hour 20 minute flight where we were served plastic chicken in a plastic dish, with plastic sauce topping and soggy broccoli. I don't know about you, but I have a partiality for food served in lots of different packages, so aeroplane food is the ultimate cuisine.

Pic. No. 1 The flight to Detroit

The only notable thing that happened on the flight was that the chap sitting in the seat in front of Izzy complained about her new found hobby - putting the tray table up and down repeatedly.

Now if I had been him, I would have probably leant over the back of the seat, calmly ripped off tray table, thrown it into the ether, and sat back down whilst the steam coming out of my ears reduced in pressure.

Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed what she was doing because I was engrossed in one of the funniest in-flight films I have seen in ages called, 'Hangover'. But fortunately, the chap in front was a polite complainer, so the situation was diffused quite easily with me re-introducing Izzy to her 'seatbelts' hobby which kept her entertained for the remainder of the flight.

Pic. No. 2 Detroit Airport from the air. Looks a bit like an etch-a-sketch drawing
After a VERY shaky landing involving cross-winds and some chronic wobbling on behalf of the captain (he was probably suffering a reaction from the E-numbers in the in-flight meal), Izzy and I finally disembarked at Detroit. Hurray! the biggest part of the journey was now over!

It was 1.30pm and according to our schedule, we had to wait around Detroit airport until 7.30pm when our connecting flight would depart. I was not having that. No Sirreeee, so I decided to seek out some 'opportunities'.

I ran to the North West ticket desk and asked if I could change my ticket to an earlier flight to Orlando.

Pic. No. 3 The North West ticket desk
"I can put you on standby but it will cost you $50 per person," she drawled, smiling.

"Yep, ok lets do it." I replied.


Ok, there was a subtle message there, and I decided to hfeed it - there was probably very little chance that I would get on the 3.15pm flight. Hey, no worries - I had a contingency. I had noticed that there was a 5.15pm flight going to Orlando which would still get me there 2 hours before my scheduled landing.

I duly approached the ticket attendants, and they (joy upon joy) confirmed that they had two free seats for Izzy and I. So, to cut a long story short.........

We boarded the aircraft, and after sitting patiently for 30 minutes with nothing going on, the captain picked up the tannoy; "HELLO THIS IS THE CAPTAIN. I AM SORRY TO ANNOUNCE THAT DURING A ROUTINE CHECK WE FOUND THAT ONE OF THE BRAKES IS OUT OF LIMITS. IT WILL REQUIRE A NEW BRAKE FITMENT WHICH WILL TAKE AT LEAST ONE AND A HALF HOURS."

This was nearly the straw that broke the camels back. I picked up our hand luggage, legged it off the aircraft and back to the nearest ticket agent.

"Hi," I said, "I have paid to get an earlier flight, but it has been delayed due to poor maintenance, so I want to cancel my upgrade and get on the same flight that I was originally booked on - the 7.30 from Detroit to Orlando."

The ticket attendant was uber-helpful and reinstated my original tickets.

"Ok," he said, smiling "you have seats on the 7.30pm flight."

Izzy and I embarked, took our seats and started to relax about the fact that we seemed to finally on our way to our journey's end.

Pic. No. 4 Basic, basic, basic. No in-flight entertainment or anything. That is North West Airlines

I tucked Izzy into her seat, got out my book and waited for take-off..............and waited for take-off.......and waited for take-off.


Now I would consider myself a fairly laid-back person, but even laid-back people have a limit. I felt a red mist descending before my eyes and something akin to apoplectic and delirious welling in my chest. I had an urge to shout; "you bloody scoundrels!"

Before I opened my mouth, I paused and remembered the out and out 'arrest policy for anyone causing an affray upon a flight', so I decided to keep my inner chagrin well hidden.

Pic. No. 5 A night flight to Orlando

The Captain finally arrived, swaggering through the cabin like a returning war hero, and promptly announced over the tannoy, "PLEASE NOTE THAT WE HAVE A 30 MINUTE WAIT FOR 34 PASSENGERS ON A LATE CONNECTING FLIGHT."

Sacre bleu! This was never ending.

After waiting for the allotted half hour, the mysterious 34 passengers did not materialise and the Captain decided to abandon them to their fate, finally taking off without them. YEAH! we are finally on the last leg of the journey!

After a 2 hour 20 minute flight, we stepped off the aircraft and into the Florida heat, making our way to the baggage claim hall. Do I actually need to write this next bit? Yep, our baggage was still lost, necessitating a trip to 'Baggage Services,' to file a missing luggage report with a smiling representative.

Pic. No. 6 The baggage reclaim hall with none of my baggage in it

There is a upside to losing all your luggage. Do you know when you walk through the 'nothing to declare' channel at customs and always feel guilty even though you haven't done anything? Well this doesn't happen when you don't have any luggage.

Finally, I set foot out of an airport for the first time in two days feeling like Papillon breathing air as a free man. Clare was supposed to be picking me up however, but was nowhere to be seen.
I rang her, using the last bit of battery juice, "where are you?" I hollered.

"What are you talking about?" she asked, "you told me to pick you up a ten to twelve."

"NO!" I hollered back, "I said 10.12 pm"

So after a 45 minute wait in the warm Orlando air, a black car duly pulled up with Clare waving frantically at me, not in a 'hello' kind of way, but in a 'root me to the spot and prevent any more mishaps' kind of way.
So after two long days, my journey finally drew to a close, ready for my holiday to commence.

Monday, 26 October 2009

A night in Amsterdam

After a 20 min trip on the shuttle bus, we finally arrived at the Courtyard Marriott. I was slightly anxious for two reasons; (1) there was bound to be some cock-up with booking given recent happenings; and (2) Clare booked the hotel, so surely she wouldn't miss this opportunity to punish me for missing my original flight.

As we got closer to the hotel, I had visions of a rat-infested dingy hole with a single shared bathroom per floor, frequented by unwashed indigents.

Finally, we pulled up outside a brightly lit facade, and the driver announced; "we have arrived at our destination, you may disembark."

Luckily all my concerns were unfounded and as I headed into the foyer, I realised that Clare had pulled a gem out of the bag - the hotel was absolutely great and appeared to satisfy my epicurean tendencies well. Click here to view hotel. Being the kind-hearted sole that I am, I have taken a few pictures for you so that you can have a sneaky look at the inside. It was decorated in a contemporary theme with Art Deco hints.

Pic. No. 1 Izzy outside the main foyer

If you were a smoker they had a nice touch; a marble smoking area which had a heater that automatically turned on when you approached, along with music to keep you entertained. How cool is that?

Pic. No. 2. The main foyer

Pic. No. 3 The business Corner

The business corner offered free wi-fi which I would have used if my luggage hadn't been lost with my laptop charger contained within.

Pic. No. 4 Our bedroom in the hotel

As soon as I got in, I ordered a couple of paninis on room service and set about hand-washing all our clothes so that they we would have something to wear tomorrow. Without wanting to sound a bit whingy, there is one characteristic that all Dutch hotels have - the room temperature is always a bit too cold and the duvets a tad too thin, making me think that Dutch race have somewhat self-flagellating tendencies.

Hence I ended up trying to iron all our clothes dry, a feat which took about two hours, and led to an overriding worry that amount of steam generated would trigger the smoke alarm.

Pic. No. 5 Our bathroom in the hotel

Pic. No. 6 The ladies toilets in the foyer

After a good nights sleep, Izzy and I headed for the restaurant, had breakfast and prepared to continue on our epic journey to Orlando.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Drama in Amsterdam

"What the devil are you doing in Amsterdam instead of Orlando?" I hear you cry in horror.

Pull up a chair, make yourself comfy and let me take you back to that fateful Friday morning when I missed my flight at Heathrow................


After finding out from the reptile-eyed attendant at the check-in counter that the gate was now closed for my flight, I instantly came up with a cunning plan. Post-haste, I ran over to the Delta ticket desk, and after queuing for 40 mins whilst they efficiently dealt with the two people in front of me, I ended up in front of the affable-looking Petra.

"How may I help you?" she asked with a well-practiced smile.

"I have missed my flight to Detroit, and I would like to be put on the next one which leaves this afternoon please." I replied.

The smile didn't slip one bit as she answered, "I am sorry, but it is half term so virtually every flight out of Heathrow is overbooked."

Things weren't going quite as planned.

"I need to get to Orlando, purrrrleasssse can you explore every avenue?" I pleaded, dropping to my knees and clasping my hands, whilst Izzy tried to extract the cash from my pocket (her opportunism never fails to impress me).

"Ok, but it might take a while," she smiled back, her teeth clasped.

One and half hours later, following the intervention of three co-workers, two supervisors and a complex system of prisms and mirrors, Petra reached over the counter with an increasingly blank smile, and placed six prized boarding passes into my eager hand, "Here you go, I have managed to get you to Orlando."

I fled from the ticket desk with my booty and examined the glorious passes in detail. After studying the itinerary, it began to dawn on me that my journey time increased by a full day EEK [note to self: Clare is going to kill me, start thinking of a viable excuse].

The problem was that I had to fly to Amsterdam first, stay over for the night, and then continue the next day to Detroit (with a six hour wait in the airport) before finally connecting with the Orlando flight. But hey, given the lack of options, I just had to get on with it.

Pic. No. 1. Izzy enjoying her new hobby

After killing time fuelling Izzy's new found fascination with travelators (I spent three hours going one way and then the other on a single 20m stretch) I duly made my way to Gate 18 for the 2.20pm flight to Amsterdam.

I handed over my first set of boarding passes to the flight attendant and recoiled when the scanning machine 'booped' and a red light came on.

"I'm sorry, but we can't let you board, there is a problem with your passes. There is no E-ticket verification number," smiled the attendant.

I looked at the attendant incredulously. "But the aircraft is just sitting there, it has two empty seats on it, and you are saying I can't board because of a number irregularity?"

"I am sorry but I can't help you. This is a KLM flight, and the boarding passes were arranged by Delta, you will have to take up the matter with them," he smiled.

Oh, bloody hell. I watched in desperation as the final passengers boarded and the Gate finally closed, and it was then that I spotted a Delta flight about to board at a distant Gate.

"Come on Izzy," I enthused, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her to the Delta boarding attendants.

Pic. No. 2. Look! a plane at the airport. The novelty wore off after 36 hours

They smiled at me warmly until I said, "I've just been kicked off a KLM flight because a Delta ticket agent cocked up my boarding passes." Then they just smiled (same clenched teeth smile as previous Delta agent).

I continued, "so, I need you to get me on a flight to Amsterdam so that I can catch my Detroit flight tomorrow morning."

Pic. No. 3 Two hours more fun on the travelators..........

Much to-ing and froeing ensued, and two hours later, I found myself ensconced on a flight to Amsterdam. It was only after I had refused the food, that I realised that I was in business class because the chap next to me was tucking into a Cordon Bleu meal of salmon with cream cheese and dill dressing. DOH. Never mind, I was on my way and things seemed to be going ok.

That is, until I reached the Dutch customs. [Before I proceed, I need to explain that the name on my passport is Anne Dickens, whereby my daughter's name is Isabella Wainwright because she took her father's name].

An intimidating border control agent studied our passports, and then looked to me and then to Izzy (who has auburn unlike my brown hair), and back again.

"Is this your child?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied, puzzled, "why?"

"She doesn't have your name," he replied gruffly. "Where's her father?"

"Probably at home watching TV," I answered. It didn't appear to go down well, and a crowd was starting to gather.

"Has he given permission for you to take her out of the country?" he asked gravely, "you are supposed to have a certificate verifying this."

Then it dawned on me. He thought I was kidnapping her. Blimey, this wasn't good and the crowd was growing, and interspersing the conversation with gasps.

Then I had a brainwave, "I can give you his telephone number so you can ask him yourself," I enthused. The crowd shook their heads slowly and disapprovingly.

The border control agent looked at me blankly and decided to take a different approach. To my horror he turned to Izzy; "hello," he said, "is this your mummy?" he asked, pointing to me. I froze, my jaw dropped, and my stomach churned, for the simple reason that Izzy will often randomly answer questions like this with something like; 'no that's not my mummy, I don't know who she is'; because it makes people laugh.

There was a pause, and everyone waited with bated breath, staring at the 2 foot person beside me. She smiled, and answered, "yes, that's my mummy." I sighed a breath of relief and I am sure that if the border agent hadn't waved me through customs with a frown, the crowd would have started clapping.

I grabbed Izzy's hand and made my way to baggage claim. My friend Clare had sent me a text to say that she booked me a hotel for the night, so all I had to do was collect the luggage and find the shuttle bus to the hotel.

After waiting for 45 mins at the baggage carousel, trying to stop Izzy inserting her arm into the conveyor mechanism, the number of bags gradually got fewer and fewer until it dawned on me that our suitcases weren't there. Have I been bad in a previous life or something?

I made my way to the aptly named 'Baggage Services' desk, where a helpful representative confirmed that my bags were indeed lost.

"Ok, I had come to that conclusion myself," I replied, "what I would like, is some indication of when I will get them back."

"I don't know because they are lost, I will have to locate them before I can give an indication of when you will receive them" the man smiled back.

"But I have an overnight stay in Amsterdam and I don't have anything at all with me," I responded.

"No problem, you can have a complimentary KLM toiletries kit," he smiled broadly as though he was doing me a great favour.

"Thanks for your help," I said half-heartedly, and I grabbed my complimentary toiletries kit from the counter, and made my way towards the exit.

Pic. No. 4 This is the KLM toiletries kit which is supposed to compensate for the fact that all your luggage has gone missing

Schiphol airport is one of my favourite airports in the entire world (and I have been to a heck of a lot of airports from my days working in aerospace), so I knew that I would have no problem finding a supermarket to buy the essentials that were lost with my luggage.

Pic. No. 5 Schiphol airport is ace. If you can choose where to get stranded, choose Schiphol

By the time I had finished at the supermarket, it was heading towards 6pm, so I made my way outside and immediately found the shuttle bus to my Hotel - the Courtyard at Marriott.

Pic. No. 6 Waiting at Stand A9 for the bus to the Marriott

The bus duly pulled up, and I started to get a bit nervous because nothing had gone wrong for at least an hour, so it was with trepidation that I climbed aboard and commenced my journey to the hotel. Surely there will be some error with my room reservation?

I don't think Clare is too happy

My journey to America was originally pretty straight forward; I was to take a flight from Heathrow to Detroit, and then a connecting flight from Detroit to Orlando, where Clare was scheduled to pick me up from the airport at 6.30pm.

My mobile sounded at 5.30 pm with the beep-beep, beep-beep of an incoming text and I saw Clare's number appear on the screen.

'Hi, just checking that the flight arrived on time. Just setting off now to pick you up. C x'

Blimey. How does one break the news? I paced up and down, and finally dashed a reply; 'Hi, Clare. You don't have to set off quite yet, I have just arrived in Amsterdam, so I might be a bit late. Anne x'

The resulting diatribe arrived quicker than expected; 'A bit late?! what the bloody &*#@ are you doing in Amsterdam? You are supposed to be in Orlando!'

Things weren't looking good; the 'C x' had disappeared from the end of the message. I sensed that she was getting irate and that I needed to inject some calm into the situation.

'Had slight hiccup with the flights. Will get it sorted. Can you book me a hotel near to Schiphol airport because I have lost all my luggage. Anne x'

Unfortunately, upon receipt of her next text, it appeared that my attempts to diffuse the situation were faltering.

'Slight hiccup?! Holland is in opposite direction to US! You are further away than you were this morning! What the @#&* is going on with your luggage?'

Ummmmm. What to do now? Yep, if in doubt...... metaphorically run away.

'Can't talk now, Izzy is stuck in a revolving door. Please send hotel details as soon as poss, and I will Skype if I find a computer. Love Anne xx' [note the addition of 'love' and the extra 'x'. That's why I should be a diplomat.]

Luckily, the 'running away' option worked, and I duly received a text saying:

'Booked Courtyard at Marriott. Take A9 bus from airport. Skype me asap. C'

Phew, a 'C' has appeared at the end of her text, she appears to be coming round.

I will try and post an update as soon as I can... so goodbye for now, or vaarwel, as they say in Holland (blimey, I am going native).

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Ok, so my journey wasn't finely honed

The clue was in the subtle hint that my friend Clare gave me once she heard my travel plans; "are you crazy? You haven't left anywhere near enough time to get to the airport through rush-hour, especially when you are travelling with your four year old daughter."

Yep, that's what happens when people try the subtle approach with me - her comment went right above my head and I woke up this morning following my plan to the letter. Unfortunately, as I drove down south from Oxford, the traffic around Heathrow wasn't quite following my plan quite as avidly to the letter. I finally arrived at, and parked the car outside my London house, and spotted a wild-eyed taxi driver awaiting me.

"I thought your flight departed at 8.50am?" she stuttered nervously.

"Yep, it does," I replied.

"It's 7.50am now ...... I don't think you are going to make it," she added.

"Plenty of time, don't worry," I assured her, yet the minute the car door shut, I was thrust backwards into my seat as the taxi driver accelerated manically towards the Heathrow trunk road.

We weaved, dived, and ducked in and out of traffic (but didn't do anything illegal like jump red lights or exceed the speed limit of course), and breathlessly, the taxi driver screeched to a halt outside of Terminal 4.

"Quick!" she shouted, grasping the fare from my hands.

The urgency of the situation still failed to reach me.

"Come on Izzy," I said, holding my hand out to my daughter who was obsessing with a new found hobby - suitcases with wheels on.

We meandered into the departures area, Izzy dragging her suitcase over the feet of numerous innocent bystanders, and wandered over to the ticket desks.

"Hi, can I check in for this flight," I said languidly handing over my E-Ticket.

"No, sorry ma'am, the gates have closed for this flight," replied the reptile-eyed ticket attendant.
Time screeched to a halt.

"Does that mean what I think it means?" I asked slowly.

"Yep sorry ma'am, we can't accept you on this flight," Lizardy replied in slow motion.

And so began the saga of my two-day journey to the US.

Next installment coming soon.......... and it will also explain the lack of pictures.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Oh crikey, I have just remembered that I am off to America tomorrow.

Not being the best planner on this earth, I am currently running around throwing random 'important things' into a little-red-riding-hood coloured suitcase. On top of that, virtually everyone I know is ignoring my desperation, and trying steadfastly to call me on Skype.

"Go away, I can't talk to you," I have been shouting to aforementioned callers, and the reply is always; "I won't take a minute if you speak now."

Yep, I fell for it, and 3 hours later after many long conversations, I still face three piles of damp washing and two very empty suitcases.

I am due to get up at 5.30am tomorrow morning in order to catch the flight. I will let you know how it goes once I get internet connection.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Eating at Michael and Deanna's house is a very different affair to the cultural soirees held at my house.

My house; dinner is served and this invariably results in one of the guests shouting, "who's got the flavour?" To which I respond, "stop complaining, it's free isn't it?"

Michael and Deanna's house; Michael is a top chef, and likes to relax by cooking Cordon Bleu meals when he gets home after work. I know! it's unbelievably fantastic. Good job that I am currently staying at Deanna and Michael's house then.

So instead of having a Tesco Chicken Tikka Masala ready meal every night for a week because they were on special offer, I dined like a queen whilst in Lancashire. In fact, I even managed to put together a small picture gallery of Michael in action whilst preparing his various creations;

Pic. No. 1 Shepherd's Pie with homemade green and red stuff

Pic. No. 2 Michael slicing Shepherd's Pie wearing a dodgy jumper

Pic. No. 3 Duck breast with butternut squash puree and some sauce or other which is brown

Pic. No. 4. Close up of duck's breast. Who has that for dinner on a normal night?

Pic. No. 5. Deanna (left) and Michael contemplating daffy after he has been served 'rare'

After ascertaining that they ate like this every night of the week, I could not restrain my incredulity; "It's not fair, if I ate like that every day, I would have to be winched out of my roof by a crane, and don a supersized mobility scooter every time I wanted to visit the shops."

Michael and Deanna, as you have probably guessed are of slender build, and have genes that enable them to daily eat their bodyweight in food without getting any fatter. Meanwhile, I have been frequenting Liposuction Forums in an attempt to rid myself of the fat ring that daffy has left as his legacy.

P.S. I forgot to take pictures of the pork stroganoff that Mick made. Bad me.

Babies and Stuff

The main reason for my trip up north was to see Deanna's 10 week old baby, Gabriel, and try and help out where possible [being the domestic goddess that I am *wink]. Firstly, I need to point out what a gorgeous baby Gabriel is; I have never known a baby be so good. Secondly, I would also like to point out that the amout of 'stuff' needed for someone so small is staggeringly unbelievable.

I knocked together a quick formula and realised that the amount of stuff required is inversely proportional to the age and size of the child.

To put things into context, if baby's stuff reaches 150, it means that the entire ground floor of a good sized house is brimming with prams, bouncers, sterlizers, toys, play-mats and other assorted appendages.

Then let's look at things another way - what do babies actually 'do'? They drink milk, sleep and poop. Blimey, those marketing guys at Mothercare deserve a medal.....

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Things aren’t going well

Oh dear, three minutes after arriving at Michael and Deanna's house, I realised that they didn't have an internet connection. Therefore it probably appeared as though I had completely abandoned my blog over the last week. So now I have three days to try and work out how to digitally upload my postings using a carrier pigeon.

Up North is like a deserted outpost, and all that is needed to complete the scene is some tumbleweed. I am actually writing this post using Word, so that I can copy and paste it into my blog once I get back to civilisation. At the rate that technology is regressing up here, I will soon be using one of those old fangled things to write........ what's its name?........ oh yes, a pen.

South meets North. Before and After

"Eh up! Where's yer whippet?" Yep, you guessed it, that's me being Northern.

"Why are you being Northern?" I hear you cry.

Good question. I am practising my accent because this week I am heading to a bleak and desolate place called "the North", and I wanted to learn the language to try and fit in.

Before you try and talk sense to me, I have a very good reason for venturing into virtually uncharted territory. I am off to see friends Deanna and Michael and their two month old baby Gabriel.

As I set off from Forest Hill on my three hour journey northward, the sky was azure, the birds were singing and the autumnal trees were bathed in sunshine. That's what it's like down South that is.

Pic. No. 1 My temperature dial before I set off

My journey took me up the M40 and onto the M6 where the illuminated motorwway signs immediately informed me of 'long delays between junctions 16 and 18'. Is it me? Why does it seem a logistical impossibility to simply get on the M6 and get off again at your desired junction without some drama or other? It just doesn't happen, and I have a theory why; as if paying your road tax wasn't enough, Birmingham has recently opened a toll-road to avoid congestion in the Midlands.

This is the conspiracy; if there wasn't congenstion of some form or antoher on the regular M6, then the supersized toll-road wouldn't be used ......... and therefore no money generated....... ummmm. In addition to this, I have also noticed that there have been 'roadworks' [cough u-hum] for years, just to the north of Birmingham at the point where you decide whether you want to use the toll-road or not. Have I ever seen anyone working on the roadworks? No sirree, it is the 'heavy plant' equivalent of the Marie Celeste.

Pic. No. 2. The iconoclastic Fort Dunlop building in Birmingham

Anyway, to try and keep you vaguely interested, I managed to get a photograph of the famous Fort Dunlop in Birmingham as I crawled through the roadworks.

"Blimey, that's boring," I hear you complain. But have you ever tried to amass visual material to work with when you are on a motorway for three hours? It's mighty difficult, I can assure you, and Fort Dunlop is a bit of a rabbit in the hat in these circumstances.

As I continued my drive up the M6, I was hoping that the signs warning of long delays further up would eventually disappear. Did they? Nope. That meant that I had to take the scenic route at Junction 15 for Stoke which added another thirty minutes to my journey [interesting fact (notice that it is a singular interesting fact] about Stoke - Take That's Robbie Williams was born and brought up here].

Pic. No. 3 The green country lanes around Stoke

Eventually, I got back to the motorway and as time ebbed by, signs of civilisation gradually waned. There are two definitive ways to know for sure that you have reached 'up North'.

1. When you tap your Sat Nav and look for restaurants in the 'points of interest near you' menu, you will find that Starbucks is no longer listed.
2. The weather is rubbish and deteriorates the moment you pass the invisible yet nearly tangible boundary. And can you believe it? I actually managed to get a picture of the North / South divide.

Pic. No. 4 Blue sky with wispy clouds in the southern bit, then you can clearly see a line of dark clouds over the northern bit (no they are not hills!)

After turning on the windscreen wipers, cranking up the heating, and attempting to take pictures of the numerous pits, mills, hills and pit ponies, I finally arrived at Deanna and Michael's house in the lovely village of Barrowford.

Pic. No. 5 The temperature dial after leaving the south

It's bloody freezing up here - how do people survive in this cold, cruel and inhospitable environment? A penguin would struggle to keep toasty. Even worse than that, how do they survive without Starbucks? I will keep you posted on how I get on with three days of living off the land and eating things that would make a billy goat puke.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Beavis and Butthead

There I was, minding my own business, and wondering why you have to dry-clean raincoats when my telephone rang.

Brrrrinnnnngggg brrrrrrrringggggg .................... Brrrrinnnnngggg brrrrrrrringggggg [for the foreign readers, that is how European phones ring]

"What?" I answered

"Hiya Anne, It's Maaz," came the voice at the other end. [The lovely Maaz is one of my customers in my ex-furniture business].

"Alright Maaz, how are you doing?" I replied.

"Great and how about you? What are you up to, and I must say the blog is great," he replied.

"You want something don't you?" I asked, suspiciously.

"Nadeem and I are stuck with our website, and need some help," he replied.

"No probs. Come round my house this Saturday, and we can sort it out, but just make sure you don't talk 'northern' around the southerners," I responded. Blimey, it's like 'Benevolence R Us' round my gaff.

Saturday arrived, and something really weird happened - they arrived on time at 10am. And I mean exactly 10am which seems extraordinarily precise given that they were driving down from deepest darkest Preston, Lancashire.

Who does that?

As fortune would have it, they telephoned me to let me know when they were 30 mins away, otherwise I would have answered the door in my pyjamas, with my hair looking like it had been styled by a Van der Graaff generator.

After an eventful, stroke, fun, stroke, entertaining morning pouring over their website and realising that they were both complete swots (who learns the complexities of editing HTML code after two hours?), I made a suggestion:

"Lunch dahlinks?"

"Ab-so-bloody-lutely," replied Nadeem, "do you have anywhere that you recommend?"

"How about we go to Pizza Express in Oxford - that way you will see a little bit of the area," I replied.

"Sounds like a plan," replied Nadeem, and without a moments hesitation we all jumped into my car and drove to Oxford Centre.

"Looks a bit like London," noted Maaz.

Blimey, that's what happens when you bring Northerners down 'Sarrrf'. If there are no pits, whippets or clogs, it 'looks like London'. Anyway, we had a bit of a wander around the town centre on the way to Pizza Express, and I took a couple of photographs of aforementioned 'swots' for you ..... let me introduce Maaz and Nadeem........

Pic. No. 1. Maaz (left) and Nadeem looking like bouncers outside Christ's College

Pic. No. 2 Maaz and Nadeem watching some bloke moonwalking in Oxford centre

After arriving at Pizza Express, we were greeted by a waiter who uttered words that chilled my heart; "Sorry, there is currently a 35 minute waiting time for a table for three." My stomach hit the floor, but then I heard:

"I saw a Pizza Hut on the way in, let's go there instead," said Maaz in a moment of inspiration.

And so we did - we visited the 'low rent' version of Pizza Express and we had a pleasurable lunch even though Nadeem sneakily kept nicking the nachos with jalapenos and sour cream on, leaving me and Maaz with the ones on the edge of the plate. [Don't ask about Beavis and Butthead!].

Pic. No. 3 Nadeem looking scarily like the Godfather.....!

Anyway, I hope to see you both soon, and am looking forward to the time you both earn your first million as internet entrpreneurs!

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