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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Chuffin' Hell It's Cold! - UK Trip, February 2015 part 4

.....The flight to Newcastle departed on time, courtesy of an Air France City Hopper, but weirdly badged up with KLM motifs. Garuda aren't currently allowed to fly into the UK, something to do with their safety record or something, but the flight was uneventful except for two things.

Firstly the seating is 2-aisle-2 on these small planes and my partner was a Cuban woman who spoke with a Teeside accent owing to the years spent living in Middlesborough. The one hour flight flew by (sorry) and this was due to a most interesting chat I had with my fellow passenger. I've never visited Cuba but am fascinated by the current politics that have seen greater co-operation with the USA, but also with the cigars (they are no longer rolled on the thighs of virgins), the food (Cuban sandwiches are evidently an American idea of Cuba rather than specifically Cuban themselves) and the music (Rumba is her personal favourite). It was a great conversation and before I knew it we were dropping into Newcastle.

Now if you remember that New Ice Age that I mentioned in part three, well this was the literally chilling sight that greeted me from the window seat...

My Auntie Julie and Uncle Mick; Dad's Siter and her husband, had kindly agreed to collect me and drop me at The Scotch Corner Hotel, further down the A1. The plan was that Dad would be left with a mate watching some football while Mum and her friend Pat, on the ruse of doing shopping, would collect me from Scotch Corner and bring me the short distance back to Leyburn.

Arriving back home, I followed the women into the lounge and I'm not entirely sure if Dad was happy to see me or not! I do know that it's the last time I'll give hime a surprise like that as I thought at one point the poor old bugger was going to have a heart attack! He quickly regained his composure and Chris and Pat wandered back home leaving me to catch up with Mum and Dad.

The last few days since I've been here have been quality time. We've shared some laughs and shed some tears, drunk some wine and generally relaxed as a family. Dad's not looking good and there has been a visible increase in the support of medical people. It's all relevant to dad's illness though and as I've said before we've had plenty of time to prepare. Yet I can't help feeling selfish and angry that he's so visibly being gradually taken away.

Dad on the other hand puts a brave face on things and maintains an awesome sense of humour and it's typical of him that his primary concern is that he thinks he's upsetting me by going to bed early.

Chuffin' Hell It's Cold! - UK Trip, February 2015 part 3

.....I have to admit that Garuda were not bad at all. The Boeing 777 with its 3-3-3 seating formation found me in the aisle seat of the middle section. The seat between me and the old guy at the other side was empty so we both stored pillows and blankets there but I realised the minute the snoring started, his, not mine, that conversation wasn't going to be on the agenda. That actually suited me fine as the benefit of a 1am flight is that you're pretty much ready for sleep. I waited until the meal had been served and had a beer with the unimaginative but tasty chicken and rice, watched Lethal Weapon and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up we were about halfway to Amsterdam and at some point during my 4 hours sleep a clingfilm-wrapped sandwich had been deposited next to me. It didn't look particularly appetising so I went to help myself to a cup of tea from the galley. Yes, in the menus that had been handed out we were politely informed that should we need midflight service, we should help ourselves to items from the galley! I would imagine if this delegation of tasks continues, in a few years I'll be flying the plane! Armed with a cup of tea-I did think that a few miniatures and mixers was wrong at 7am Jakarta time-I made my way back to my seat and dug in my rucksack for some snacks that I'd packed. Airline food is passable, but there's never really anything in the way of chocolate-y stuff to go with a cuppa, and certainly nothing to compete with an orange Rocky or a peanut butter Beng Beng.

A few episodes of Big Bang Theory and I fell asleep again, waking this time with only 4 more hours to go. The Superman movie 'Man of Steel' took up another two and a half hours of that and also took in some more unimaginative chicken and rice for breakfast and pretty soon we were descending into Schipol.

Sat in the middle section, I really couldn't get a decent view of conditions on the ground, but once off the airplane it became apparent that Northern Europe was gripped by some sort of nuclear Winter. The sky was white and there was evidence of fallen snow, not bad for a city three metres below sea level. But it was the bone chilling cold which felt like -30 that got to me the most, and this was in a tunnel leading from the aircraft to the arrival/transfer lounge! Turns out it was actually a tropical 4 degrees, but what do I know.

We'd arrived an hour late, but all that meant was that we'd have an hour less transit so I whiled away some of it in a Heineken bar. I ordered a large beer and after seeing the menu a curried chicken flatbread seemed like a plan, especially as I wasn't expecting any food on the flight to Newcastle and wasn't sure exactly when in fact I would be eating again. If this weather was anything to go by, Newcastle could be one of the first victims of a new ice age.

The beer arrived and I sat surfing the net, messaging Yohana and sipping the beer while waiting for the food, after about twenty minutes, the waiter saw my empty glass and asked if I'd like another. He also asked if I'd had my sandwich yet. I told him that I hadn't but that there was no rush (strange that we English say things like that, especially considering there was only forty more minutes until boarding time) The second beer arrived along with the sandwich five minutes afterwards and delicious it was too. As I came to pay it was the same waiter that served me. "One beer and one sandwich" he declared, not asked. "No, two beers" I replied, what happened next was nothing short of gobsmacking. I'm sat in an airport, a prisoner to whatever pricing structure the airport feel like using and with no choice but to pay, when the waiter said "That's ok, the first beer's on me because of the wait for the sandwich". I thanked him profusely, left a five Euro tip and made my way with a beaming smile that was more about the generosity than the two large Heinekens to wait for the short flight to Newcastle.......

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Chuffin' Hell It's Cold - UK Trip February 2015 part two

Saying good bye to Uchiel at the gates to the check-in desks, next stop was to find KLM. A quck x-ray of my bag later and I saw an official looking guy and approached him with a look of what I hoped said good day my man, i'm looking for something and i think you can help me, rather than I've just had a run-in with an obnoxious pillock and am still stark raving crazy.

"Can you tell me where KLM is please?" I asked in Bahasa Indonesian. "Gone" replied the man in English while at the same time gesticulating in a way that reminded me of an Italian stereotype rather than an Indonesian one. "You're too late, next one tomorrow" he said with an air of finality and turned to talk to the colleague on his left. "er, no" said I, holding out my e-ticket, but at the same time holding back my exasperation "It's tonight and I need to check in". Obviously annoyed that he'd been challenged, he turned to me once more and glanced suspiciously at this piece of contradictory evidence......

At this point let me just tell you that there was only one flight going out at 01.05am, it was going with Garuda, rather than with KLM due to their partnership and we were stood opposite the Garuda check-in desks.

........"Try down there" he said, pointing to the next departure hall, "they'll know." and so off I wandered in the direction he was pointing. Halfway down the next departure hall, with no sign of KLM, I stopped and asked another airline official. This conversation explained everything I had discussed with the first chap and, excusing himself, this new guy went off to consult his superior due to his perplexion at the information I'd been given.

The culmination of this was that 5 minutes later I was trapsing back to the Garuda desk where I had spoken to the first guy. Looking around with a view to giving him my best Paddington 'Hard Stare', where did I see him? Yes, behind the Garuda check-in desk! You've got to laugh, evidently.

Next stop in the airport process is the passport desk. This is pretty much pot luck as sometimes you get straight through and sometimes you get asked a leftfield question. It's possible you may also be asked to donate to the Injured Passport Officials Holiday Fund. Today fell into the second cateogary.

When you arrive in Indonesia, you retain the departure section of your arrival card for when you exit the country. Mine had actually been stapled into a page of my passport by an incredibly organised immigration guy who saw me in from Singapore. You could be forgiven for thinking that this would be pretty straightforward. "Where's your departure card?" he asked me in Bahasa Indonesian. "There in my passport" I replied in Bahasa Indonesian. "This isn't correct" he shot back at me in Bahasa. At this point I became possessed by a moment of pure Bahasa Indonesian greatness and proceeded to tell him the story of my last entry into Indonesia and how the card came to be there. Whether it was my Bahasa or the fact that he really couldn't argue with the actions of a colleague, he had no choice but to somewhat reluctantly let me through.

The next two hours were spent having a couple of beers and a cigarette in Royals Cafe near the final x-ray check and passing time chatting to a Dutch research scientist and his wife in the departure lounge before being called 30 minutes late for the flight......

Chuffin' Hell It's Cold! - UK Trip February 2015 part 1

I was thinking about my parents the other day. Things with Dad's cancer are deteriorating and Mum is Dad's nurse, which obviously isn't easy even with the help they get from the amazing Herriot Homecare girls, the wonderful sitters who allow Mum a few hours respite each week, Macmillan nurses, and the doctor. Additionally, I haven't seen my parents since October last year and whilst Skype is great, it doesn't make up for seeing someone in the flesh. So I spoke with Uchiel and we decided that a trip back to the UK was a good idea.

Next step was resolving work issues and I asked Katherine how many holiday days I had left. If I was living in the UK I guess I could travel to Leyburn on a Friday after work, spend the weekend and then maybe even travel back home on a Monday morning. But living 8,000 miles away needs a tad more planning.

It turned out that I had three days left to take before the end of my contract in June so, with the use of the Saturdays at either end as my 'Saturdays off' and Nina very kindly allowing me to take a couple of days unpaid, I went ahead and booked the flight.

Last October, Uchiel and I flew with Lufthansa and they managed to lose one of our cases for four days. Because of this, I was reluctant to use them again as I planned on bringing some perishables back so I booked with KLM, one of the better prices on As it happened, two days after booking the flight I received a telephone call from Lufthansa with a most generous offer of 250 Euros as compensation for the situation with the lost luggage. In light of them doing that, it certainly made up for the experience and I would now happily book with them again. (I know that sounds a bit nonchalant, but in my opinion the offer more than made up for a) the loss of the bag and b) the three months of waiting for some resolution to my complaint!).

Anyway, I was now booked with KLM meaning I would travel with their flying partner and Indonesian national airline, Garuda, from Jakarta to Amsterdam, and then on to Newcastle. The return leg would include an extra stop in Singapore and all this for 15 million Rupeah. The original price on Skyscanner was 13.2 million but I waited a few hours before booking and the price went up and then there were the "administration costs" for the company Skyscanner forwarded me to. (it's also interesting to note that the flight actually cost 6 million, the other 9 million was tax and admin costs!)

The Soekarna-Hatta to Schipol leg of the journey would take twelve and a half hours with an extra ninety minutes to get to Newcastle. Added to a layover in Amsterdam of three hours this was still going to be the fastest I had ever done a trip to the UK. The reality was a one hour delay in reaching Amsterdam but a thirty minute reduction in the time to Newcastle due to a very nice tailwind meaning I shaved half an hour off of an already quicker trip. Result!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Uchiel gave me a lift to the airport where I needed to check in at about 10pm. We left with enough time to navigate the complicated entry to the airport, caused by works to create a new MRT terminal, and to get something to eat together. Having parked, we made our way to the new Bakmi GM restaurant in Terminal 2's arrivals section, pushed my case into a redundant space next to a table for two, and off I went to the counter to order the food. I'd only been stood there two or three minutes when this Indonesian guy wearing a Songkok started having a go at me for bringing my case into the restaurant. I'd previously noticed this guy when we arrived as he was loudly complaining to a waitress about something equally inconsequential so I new he wasn't anything to do with the running of the place. I was also quite taken aback by his attitude, as it's really unusual for outbursts of anger, especially over something trivial.

I admit I wasn't in the best of moods as travelling to the aiport is a grating experience. From the amount of traffic on the road to get there, the unnecessarily complicated entry to the airport that I mentioned earlier and the attempts to park the car which are always stunted by the inability to drive of a significant percentage of the population, I was just looking forward to a relaxing bowl of fried rice with my wife, not having to put up with this git.

For a few monents I stood there in two minds. I'd already verbally established, in a defiant manner, that I wasn't moving my case a) just because he'd told me to and b) at least not before ordering our food, but it was his final demand that I was to just make sure that I "do it!" that left me with the indecision. Part of me wanted to just leave the queue, gently take him by the throat and nut him. Another part of me wanted to continue the debate, regardless of the gawking onlookers. Thirdly was the choice to allow others to accept that this guy was some sort of FPI-following, Westerner-hating imbecile and just ignore him. I really was livid at this point and I quickly left the queue, went back and collected Uchiel and the case,and explained to waitress on the way out that due to the behaviour of said gentlemen, they wouldn't be receiving any of our money. She was so apologetic and the sneaky grin on his fifty year old face that he made no attempt to hide nearly caused me to lose complete control.

Five minutes later, sat with some chicken and fries in the nearby A&W, I'd had the chance to calm down and we got to discussing normal stuff. But in the back of my mind I couldn't get over the guy's behaviour and that it is also the first time in six years that I've experienced it....