Loose Ends

I owe you guys an apology, just suddenly wandering off like that without even saying goodbye. I’ll try to make amends.

I left you just after the Bundala trip, about three weeks ago, though it seems longer. I don’t think a lot of exciting things happened after Bundala, but I must mention my farewell to Thomas Gall School. In order to check up on details, I looked in on TGS on Thursday and Fathima wa pleased to see me, though disappointed I’d not turned up on Wednesday as I’d said I might: she had taken in cakes or biscuits and I’d not been there. She also gave me a lovely card decorated with little paper flowers and “Dear Teacher, you are so…” type doggerel.

The actual official farewell was at Friday Assembly: a special one because Nadeshani was also leaving so there was lots of cake. Barbie (!) Gall told us all how much we had to be thankful for, some of the classes performed stuff and some of my IT kids put on a rather under-rehearsed demonstration of the programs they’d been working on. It was an occasion for mixed emotions: I’m pretty sure that this will turn out to be my last visit to TGS and Sri Lanka, though you never can tell. In some ways I was glad to be leaving the periods of tedium, the noise and the smells: but in others I was sad to be saying goodbye to some great people and all that good weather!

As for the ants: I squished every single one I could see near the laptop and the flight seems to have done for the rest.

My prearranged car to the airport arrived to pick me up at exactly the same moment as the Richdmondites (current and former pupils of Richmond College) took their parade past Sera’s place. This consisted of hundreds of cars, motor bikes etc. all horns blaring, flags waving, engines revving, music playing, water pistols squirting, crawling slowly across both sides of the road towards us. We stood our ground but constantly edged forwards until we were clear after about a quarter of an hour.

The car was very smart: a last year’s model Toyota with a rear view camera for reversing and a whole host of other goodies. We headed towards Colombo on the “Expressway”, the first time I’ve really used that road and it’s much faster and more comfortable than the other roads. We sped along an almost empty dual carriageway in considerable style and comfort.

The rain started. Initially just short sharp showers as we made our way northward, it soon became the heaviest downpour I have ever experienced. We crawled along the dual carriageway, floods of water sweeping gravel and earth across the tarmac. The route changed to urban streets and sandy orange water was often over the hub caps. Even when the water was only a couple of inches deep, we moved at snail’s pace as the driver was concerned about hidden potholes. I wasn’t worried about time as I had factored in quite a safety margin and I suspect the driver had too.

Finally we arrived at the airport in good time. The flight to Abu Dhabi was nothing special and we arrived more or less bang on midnight their time.

My flight to Heathrow didn’t leave until 9am the next morning, so I was destined to have a long wait. By about two am I was almost the sole passenger in the airport but there were squads of Asian cleaners washing the corridor floors, emptying the bins and scrubbing in the toilets. I say “Asian”: to an undifferentiating eye they looked Indian, Pakistani maybe. Time dragged a bit but all in all the time from midnight to eight am, when boarding began, passed better than it might.

Similarly, the flight to Heathrow was the usual mix of movies, dozing, food and reading. Until we arrived over Heathrow, that is.

The in-flight information system showed us about ten minutes away from Heathrow when the pilot announced there would be a delay landing and we would be circling for a bit: a pain, but not unusual. After about twenty minutes of circling the pilot announced we didn’t have enough fuel for all this circling about stuff so we were going to Gatwick instead. A fair amount of muttering could be heard but I thought this might save me having to do the bus transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick.

No such luck. We sat in the plane on the tarmac for two and a half hours whilst arrangements were made to refuel our plane. I could see my five hour window between arrival at LHR and departure from LGW being eroded by the minute. Tantalisingly, throughout our wait on the ground I kept getting updates from EasyJet warning me my flight to Inverness would be delayed – perhaps the two delays would cancel each other out?

Suddenly we were screaming hell for leather down the runway at Gatwick and almost as suddenly screaming to a stop at Heathrow. Etihad staff apologised for the delay and handed out letters saying how sorry they were. I was advised that, even though it was unlikely I’d get the next flight, I should try for it and then arrangements would be made.

I missed a coach by minutes and had a long time in the cold and wet of England waiting for the next one. The journey to Gatwick was enlivened by a Scottish hen party of a certain age, all rouge and fishnet tights.

Needless to say, I missed the flight North. I went to the EasyJet information desk where the staff were very helpful. I was even too late to get on the last flight that night, Thursday. The next flight to Inverness with a vacant seat would be Saturday! Eventually we located a seat to Edinburgh on Friday afternoon and the staff at the desk did a great job of minimising the cost of this. They referred to it as a “rescue flight”, a not inappropriate

The next couple of hours almost brought me to tears. I shuttled back and forth between the two terminals trying to find accommodation. Bloc? Full. Yotel: Full. The Holiday Inn Express rumoured to be within the grounds? Taxi £12. Sofitel?: £200 a night. Finally Premier Inn: £80 and a barely passable evening meal. I slept like a log. Breakfast was better: lots of greasy eggs, bacon, potato scones and sausages all sandwiched between a healthy first course of cereal and fruit and a final round of toast and marmalade.

The flight to Edinburgh went smoothly, as did my meeting with Mrs M who had braved snowy conditions on the A9 to collect me. The cat skirted round me as usual.

A day or two after I got home, I used the email address supplied by Etihad to claim for my expenses. To cut a longish story down a bit, Etihad’s final verdict was “That’s a shame, sorry we were late but our contract was to get you to London and we did. Here’s 10,000 air miles.”

I contacted Nationwide Flex Account Plus Travel Insurance and another very helpful woman took me through the details of my claim: uncharacteristically, I had kept paper evidence of each transaction for scanning to Etihad – but that’s another story – and she was so convinced by my ability to provide details that they apparently don’t even want me to send in the paperwork. I’m told the cheque’s in the post. If so, well done Nationwide.

So, I think that’s you up to date. Sorry about the gap.

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