A Traveller’s Tale of not starting off quite on the proverbial right foot – but all’s well that ends well!
Digested read: intimidated by hotel staff; lost mobile phone and nearly missed my flight because my wristwatch started losing time dramatically – but without actually stopping so I hadn’t noticed. Oh, and the zip on my lifeline super-secure travel bag with all my important documents broke. Curses. Nevertheless dear reader, albeit it there has not been a narrower escape since that iguana escaped from that wall of snakes, I made take off so I’m on my way…
This traveling malarkey is harder than you think. Or maybe I’ve lost my knack, or maybe I never had the knack and have selective memory meaning I’d forgotten all about how generally crap I am sometimes. It’s not that today’s been bad, but I’ve been either very unlucky or exceedingly lucky depending on your point of view. In essence, lots of things went wrong, but mostly they seem to have been resolved, with a fair measure of good humour, so I suppose ultimately it’s a case of all’s well that ends well is it not?
So, to begin with I woke at what felt like the middle of the night with a splitting headache. Partly my fault, I think it was a dehydration headache partly, I went to bed with it last night but I downed a couple of litres of much – needed water and thought that would be the end of it. Seemingly not so, but I take this as a timely warning, I must drink even more when I’m in Cambodia, it’s easy to forget when you are traveling, but it isn’t worth it. The room was pitch black, and the bed wondrously comfy. I was exhausted and very glad that I could steal a couple more hours kip. Except I couldn’t. I’d booked a precautionary wake-up call for 8.00 a.m. and it came. Lucky it did, it wasn’t the middle of the night at all, it was just the hermetically sealed windows had dulled any sound, and the heavy duty curtains were practically black out curtains so I had no sense of what was going on outside. It was weird. I wonder if this is what it is like being an astronaut in space. The room is undoubtedly comfy but the experience a bit surreal. I showered and went down for breakfast. En route I took some ‘through the window’ shots, because the view is extraordinary. Not quite playschool, but absorbing all the left. Those weird little shuttle pods traversing the skyline from whence to where I have no idea, and more planes than you could shake a stick at. I know, who’d have thought it!
Breakfast was a busy and bustling affair. The spread was certainly lavish, but to be honest I found it all a bit overwhelming. I’m not used to having breakfast in the company of thronging masses, and without radio 4. It wasn’t very calming. Also, I found I was rather intimidated by the staff, who knew the code of conduct and breakfasting rules rather better than I did. I was put at a table for one a bit too close to comfort to another couple on one side, and quickly joined by a single woman on my other. We were like lab rats housed too closely. I do like my personal space in all circumstances, but most particularly in the morning. The breakfast buffet selection was nigh on encyclopaedic, traditional cooked British; continental; Asian style; massive amounts of bread and some alarming food displays (bagels plucked from a mug tree anyone). It looked lovely, but some disappointments. The bread for toasting was low-grade sliced, the cooked British not as piping hot as I’d have liked and the veggie sausages of the rank mixed veg style rather than the more McCartney style which are tastier. I had scrambled egg (not as good as Jonty’s) and mushrooms too – but they were button not field. Everything was labelled (vegetarian, contains dairy whatever) though I think a vegan would have struggled, the mushrooms had diary in them apparently. This confused me, but on reflection, maybe they were sautéed in butter or something. I couldn’t find butter for my toast and went in search. I was reaching out for some pre-packed lightly salted, when a waiter thrust a slate circle of hand cut unsalted butter in my hand ‘this is much better – and better for you too’. Well, I’m obviously a cheap date, because it may have been superior quality but my palate is more accustomed to pedestrian tastes. Did I comment? Of course not. ‘How lovely’ I beamed.
Ordering coffee was even more challenging. I’m always dubious about the quality of coffee, especially when served from a jug as it tends to be strong and not nice. A food beverages assistant (speciality fulfilling tea and coffee orders) brought coffee to the woman on the table next to me who had arrived after me. She asked for a jug of boiling water too. The waitress bridled at this. Also, looked offended at not being allowed to pour, my dining companion politely sat her ground. I’d prefer to poor myself, and I do want hot water she insisted. I thought this a great wheeze, and catching the server’s eye made the same request. ‘You don’t need hot water’ she said. ‘I’d like hot water as the coffee will be too strong.’ I stated. ‘The coffee is not strong’ she retorted. ‘Try it’. And she stalked off! I was a bit taken aback, I was expecting more of a customer focused approach to be honest, rather than being put in my place for having what must have been a commoner’s taste in caffeine! I poured my coffee from its stainless steel pot and watched it splodge treacle-like into my cup. Quite strong then. The woman sitting on the table next to me (and therefore practically in my lap) asked if I’d like some of her hot water. ‘Yes please’. ‘I’m actually a bit intimidated by them’ I admitted. We both laughed. I told her about the unsalted butter, which was not quite as funny as hot-Watergate but came close. I saw her later on as I checked out and we said hearty farewells. We had shared a moment, we will be forever part of one another’s stories. Isn’t that nice. She said she had learned to be assertive when traveling. I must do likewise as appropriate…
I disappeared back to my room for a bit of down time before braving the airport terminal itself. It was calm and tranquil. However, it is unnerving not being able to open a window and after a while it started to freak me out. I wrote a quick postcard home and then went to check out. Everyone kept calling me Mrs which really annoyed me, so I asked them to amend my title on my booking form for future reference. Call me a fantasist, but I like to think I’ll come back one day – I have unfinished business with a room overlooking the Zen garden for a start… In fact it was correct on my booking, it’s just in this world you can’t be a ‘Ms’ you have to be ‘Mrs’ I think. Very annoying. Less annoying was that the customer service man took me to the post-box in the foyer. It has a model aeroplane on it! How cool is that. Plus there was a sign saying that Cliff Richard himself opened this hotel. He and I have stood on the same ground. I’m a bit dubious about Cliff these days, though I did enjoy Summer Holiday back in the day. I’d be giddier if it were Harry Gration whose steps I was walking in to be honest, or George Clooney. Tough call between those too.
So I made my way through the glass elevators and tunnels into terminal 5. I took a few gasps of air outside before committing to the sealed interior.
The first place I got to was pretty empty for check in and back drop. I had loads of time to spare, and it was too soon to check my luggage in so I wandered over to a friendly faced and unoccupied member of British Airways staff with my most winning of grins on display. I said I knew I was too early, but I was confused – would my bags get checked in all the way through to Phnom Penh and what about my boarding pass? She took pity on my, and made a show of printing off my luggage tags even though it was early, showing me where it said very clearly Phnom Penh as the final destination. I had a brief flash of thinking ‘it won’t make it through’ followed by a ‘oh well, it’ll make me travel light’. I wonder if this was a premonition or not. Too soon to say. In fact it would be very annoying to be without my luggage on arrival, but ultimately it might be liberating too…. As long as it caught up with me before I start at CWF, that would be a different order of annoyingness altogether. Plus I have a marathon to train for too of course! Freed of my luggage and reassured that my hand luggage was compliant too, I roamed the airport for a bit.
Heathrow airport is a hideous and overwhelming place. A mass of lights and over-powering scents, it’s an assault on the senses. I get a sort of motion sickness in these places, it’s like information overload, loathsome. Nipped outside for a final gasp of air and some weirdly sci-fi scenes, before resigning myself to being swallowed up by the heaving metropolis which is Heathrow.
I decided to head through security early on, in the hope it would be better flight side. It wasn’t it was worse. Although on the plus side there was Wi-Fi and I could do a few emails. After a bit I decided I’d use the time to text some people, having found a relatively quiet spot. Uh oh. No phone. I retraced my steps to no avail. I wondered if it had got lost coming through security. They were so helpful. I explained what had happened and they offered to rescan my luggage in case it was just stuffed away. They checked lost property, and then when I conceded it was possible I’d left it at the hotel, provided a phone number for me to call the hotel. This I did. It wasn’t at reception, it wasn’t at the gift shop, it wasn’t with security BUT it WAS with housekeeping. I’d just left it in my room. I rather got the impression this happens all the time. They just gave me a number and said they would put it in their safe and I could retrieve it on the way back if I wasn’t able to get there today. ‘That will be end of February’ I explained ‘that will be fine’ they said. Sorted. The security supervisors said that if I went to British Airways customer support I might be able to nip back for it with an escort if time allowed. Well according to my watch I had two hours plus so it was seemingly possible. I went to the BA desk. Again, they were very helpful but the first person I spoke to said it was dubious. ‘ask them’ she said, pointing at colleagues with specific responsibility for escorting wayward travellers needing to retrieve lost goods from the other side. I did. They were friendly ‘join the club’. It turned out I wasn’t the first today to have left my phone at the Sofitel over the road. However, she said ‘absolutely no chance – there just isn’t’ time to go through security again, but if you are willing to pay we can rebook you on to a later flight.’ Er that would be no. It’s not a smart phone, and it will stop working once I am out of the UK anyway I think. I didn’t mind too much, it was my fault entirely, I know where the phone is, and at least she gave me certainty. What I do mind is that I left it in the first place, that is unlike me. I feel so tired I’m making bad decisions maybe and that isn’t how I want to arrive in Phnom Penh.
I still had a couple of hours to kill so ambled about and then started to weave my way to the departure gate. B34. This involved a transit in a little train thingy, which was very space age and ridiculously fun considering. From here we entered a new world of towering escalators, walls of glass and endless passageways. I would not like to have to negotiate this route if I had limited mobility. Once in sight of my gate, I bought a coffee and settled down with my laptop. I’d use the next couple of hours to blog and relax. … not so. Suddenly I heard a final call for my flight! What the… my watch said I had a good 90 minutes to go. Well, dear reader this is really strange, but my watch has stopped working – well it is working, the second hand is moving, but it’s losing time dramatically. Now you may say that this is just a dead battery, but exactly the same thing happened to me when I went to Vietnam, accept on that occasion I noticed the time was wrong and bought myself a new watch at the airport. On arrival in Vietnam, neither my old nor my new watch would keep the time if I was wearing them, but both worked fine say overnight when on my bedside table. It was so strange. On my return to the UK I got the batteries checked and they were fine. The jeweller did say he knew of one other person who’d had the same phenomenon, they also couldn’t get their watch to keep time when worn, really bizarre. After a period when I didn’t wear a watch at all I recently started wearing one of the watches again in the UK and it worked fine, so I forgot all about it. However, now I’m thinking this is really weird. My watch is way out, and so I’m now without phone and without time piece. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I made my flight anyway, albeit by abandoning my coffee and sprinting to the gate. I don’t ever want a shave as close as that again thank you for asking!
So I’m typing this on the plane. Mercifully I have an aisle seat, the plane is packed, I’m trying not to think about it. When I boarded there was someone else in my seat. ‘I think you are in my seat’ I said. ‘Probably’ he said. I didn’t mind too much as he was only supposed to the seat in front, but I was mindful for security reasons airlines do like to know who sits there, also, I’m rather hoping my ordered veggie meal will show up and presumably it will be linked to where I am sitting. I could have said all or any of this. In fact what I said was ‘well I suppose we should swap really, it makes it easier for them to identify the bodies if the plane crashes.’ He looked absolutely horrified. Not someone who shares my sense of humour then. Oh dear. He grappled around the seat to retrieve his worldly possessions and moved forward pretty sharpish. We didn’t chit chat again after that.
In amongst the final people boarding, there was a maintenance guy crawling around the floor with various implements. I think he may have been mending the plane. We are near a wing, so I hope it wasn’t anything overly important.
We took off a bit late as we were in a queue for take-off. It is a relief indeed to be in the air. I really hope I get some sleep. I’ll never survive the trip if I am this tired at the start. Right, now my pre-ordered vegetarian ‘non-specific meal’ is coming towards me. Looks surprisingly good to be fair. Winter vegetable lasagne with red-cabbage slaw accompaniment then chocolate mousse. No tubed houmous in sight. Hooray! Au contraire, it looked like this!
After supper, I listened to some audio books and watched The Secret Life of Pets, in between nabbing the steward and pleading for water every time one passed. You can feel the flight slowly desiccating us, oxygen is depleted and we are all subdued. I say ‘all’ but I did have one ‘best stretch my legs’ foray down the play. I happened across a relatively youthful group (student age) who had clearly buddied up in the hip place to hang out. Outside the toilet and the stewards area, where they could access frequent alcoholic top ups. I presume they were a bit disinhibited, and they were certainly unaware of their surroundings. It was a struggle to pass them in my quest for water. They weren’t at all unpleasant, just totally unaware. Anyway, I overheard this conversation. Between a very slender young woman and her apparently somewhat inebriated new male friend. They were standing within a group of about six similarly aged travellers. She was the only woman. I was squeezing past. She spoke first (in case you didn’t do human biology at school ever).
‘Actually I’m pregnant’
‘Really?’ gesturing to her traveling companion ‘and so is it his?’
Silence. A bit too long a silence truth be told.
‘Hopefully, well say probably’
‘On a scale of one to ten then, ten being definitely his?
‘Two, no, I’d prefer to think five, maybe five, but it’s fine. Honestly, he’s fine with it.’
‘Are you sure’
‘Hopefully. Probably. It’ll be fine’
Wow, a snapshot of someone’s life indeed. Wonder how that one is going to play out.
I’m going to try and sleep now. Wake me at Bangkok in time for interlining through to Phnom Penh!