Lady Chocolat returned from Kenya on Saturday, and I was able to unveil my latest surprise by meeting her at Heathrow. This proved to be a particularly wise move, as the flight up on Sunday was delayed, but more on that later.
Originally, my plan for her return had been to take the day off work and meet her at Glasgow airport. That was pretty much the best I could do. However, quite close to her departure there was a change of dates, which meant that her return would be on a weekend. And so a plan was born... The day after she left, once I had confirmed details of her return flights and hotel, everything was ready.
The last week was pretty dire, actually. Whereas previous weeks had been a case of just getting on with things, this last week was like the countdown to Christmas or to the school holidays - I just wanted it done, was excessively conscious of the clock, and so it dragged out. But, finally, I got to Friday, which was spent on an epic painting session, and then in to Saturday, and I was off.
The flight down was fine. I checked in online, didn't have a bag to drop, sailed through security (who made me put my boat away. Spoil-sports!), waited a while with a coffee, got on the plane, read for a while, and got off the plane. Pretty standard, really. I was amused that they quite often showed our journey's progress on a big map of europe, where the plane icon they were using was bigger than the distance we were travelling on the map!
On arrival, I made my way from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3. This proved to be a mistake - for all its faults, Terminal 5 is a much more modern facility and generally more pleasant. I should probably have waited there until the last minute before transferring. But no matter. In Terminal 3 I got a couple of sandwiches, spent a couple of hours reading, and then spent an hour impatiently bouncing from foot to foot while LC made her way off the plane, through customs, collected her bag, and into Arrivals.
We stayed in the Premier Inn. This is the second time we've stayed in one of their hotels (the first being in Belfast), and I must admit to being impressed. The staff were helpful and welcoming, the room was spacious, and the bed was comfortable. Basically, I couldn't fault it.
Now, I'm not claiming that it is the best hotel I've ever stayed in. However, I have now stayed in most of the budget chains, and this one is definitely the best of those. And the facilities put a lot of other, more expensive, hotels to shame - indeed, in terms of the room itself, it even beats out some much higher-starred hotels. So, that's good.
(Probably the best thing, though, is that PI Heathrow seemed pretty much identical to PI Belfast. That consistency is itself a boon, since it allows one to book with confidence with what you're getting. I've had generally good results by picking at random, but there have been some stinkers, one particular hotel in Paris being notable...)
We went for the full breakfast, and stocked up on all manner of foods. Good thing we did, really. (The breakfast was a most welcome start to the day - the range was good, the quality was okay if not exceptional, and the price wasn't too steep.)
We then made our way back to Terminal 5. There was fog, which meant delays...
LC had to check-in and drop a bag off. Fortunately, when checking in, she found that the seat next to mine was still free. (I had checked in online previously - for some reason I had to do both flights together.) We then proceeded through security again, grabbed a seat, and waited.
Our flight was delayed, but we were told that it was expected to leave at 12:45 instead of 12. As a result of this, we decided that it wasn't quite time for lunch, so waited. And, fair play to them, they seemed to be running roughly to-time, albeit offset by about 45 minutes. So, they got us onto the plane at about the right time for a 12:45 departure...
Pretty much as soon as we were all on the plane, and stuck there, the captain informed us that there was going to be another hour to wait before take-off. We had no choice but to wait, stuck in our seats.
It's fair to say I was more than a little annoyed about that. Firstly, I don't think they should have had us board the plane in that case. Terminal 5 has its faults, but it is much more comfortable than being stuck in a plane unnecessarily. However, I think that decision is forgivable.
But they should have made it clear to us what the delays were going to be. Had we known, we would have made sure to get some lunch before boarding. That way, the additional wait and the flight would have been much more comfortable. Instead, we had to go hungry. And, of course, there wasn't any meaningful food on the plane. Polo mints do not make a good lunch.
Anyway, eventually the flight took off. I read for quite a while, finished my book, started the next one, and then we landed. And all was well - Lady Chocolat was home.
#32: "The Books of the South", by Glen Cook