9 June 2008
Billingham, England


Well, it's been a few weeks again, but what a few weeks. Peter insists that I point out that the Chelsea and Manchester United games were boring and that Middlesboro won 8-1 (I kid you not). And still, no new photo's.

So, there we were, ensconced in our lovely teak house chilling and trying to figure out just how clever my new iPhone is (VERY) and Peter runs in breathless and grinning ear to ear. Ronnie, who he used to work with, had just phoned - he'd booked a flight to Bangkok, arriving in a few days, could we pick him up at the airport. You can't put a price on the smile on his face. I emailed a quick shopping list for things I hadn't been able to get in Thailand - pharmacy stuff mostly - and got on to finding buses for the airport. It was fairly painless really - Peter went off to meet him off the 6am flight, but Bangkok traffic being what it is, I missed him as I'd arranged to go out for lunch with some friends I've made along the way. By the time I'd gotten back (it was a long lunch - hic!) they'd already had a couple of hours sleep, a quick shower and had hit the town. They were staying in Bangkok overnight, canal path not being terribly suitable for drunken stumbles, and I met up with them the following afternoon in town where Ronnie was doing a bit of clothes shopping. He'd come empty handed except for a heap of codeine and pseudo ephedrine and was a bit worried about being stopped in customs. I was meeting the boys in a department store so I just crank called Peter and waited for the cock-a-doodle-do which is a brilliant way of locating him. Peter looked a bit rough, but Ron looked like he'd had the biggest night of his life. Somehow, they'd managed to cover Nana, Sukumvit and Patpong all in one night. And found somewhere to stay for A$7/£3.60 in Silom. Not bad going really, except they had to share the bathroom with everyone else and there was no towels or soap, so no shower. Did you ask at reception for a towel? What do you think?

After a relatively quiet night, the boys went out exploring and found out bus times and arranged to spend a couple of days at Pattaya which really has to be seen to be believed, and to stay in town on Tuesday night and go to the kick boxing at Luphini. Another big night followed - the bottle of duty free Jim Beam didn't last long then off they were to the 7/11 for beer - Ronnie couldn't make it up to bed so he just fell asleep on the sofa. I had a couple of quiet days while they stayed at the Cantina where we'd been before - they recognized Peter straight away and gave him a discount. All the bar girls and lady boys would have been a bit of an eye opener for Ron - first time overseas - but I think he enjoyed it.

Ronnie had to get to the airport for 5am the morning after getting back from Pattaya, so we decided rather than them trail all the way out to the house, I'd go to the hotel we had stayed in at Khao San Road bringing Ron's bags - I've still got pins and needles in my fingers from a trapped nerve and would have made them cart his stuff to Pattaya if I'd known how heavy it was going to be. I was going to get a triple room, knowing that the boys wouldn't bother with bed as Ron had to be on the mini bus at 4am, but we got a lovely discount for booking 2 rooms which meant at least we had plenty of soap and towels.

(Yet) another big night followed, as I'm sure you can imagine. I set my alarm for 3.45 to make sure that the bus wasn't missed - phoned Peter and met them outside Burger King where Ronnie was being picked up and made sure he got onto the minibus.

The week went amazingly quickly, and I think both of them had a whale of a time. By the time I'd been to the hairdressers, we only had a day and a half to catch up on some sleep, get organised and packed up for England.

We flew Fin Airways, and the only thing I can say is - don't. We were denied access to the airline lounge - we've scammed our way into so many over the years and the only times we've ever been knocked back was by Fin Airways and Lan Chile - on BOTH occasions we had a legitimate right to get in. And of course, I thought they were a full service airline. Why wouldn't I? They only served soft drinks, beer or cheap and nasty wine from the drinks trolley - everything else had to be paid for. And both times I asked for a drink (cheap and nasty doesn't bother me after the first one has gone down), I was told the trolley would be coming around soon. Then there was Helsinki. We only had about an hour, so getting into the airline lounge wasn't a big deal, but having my bottle of duty free vodka confiscated was. Qantas really go out of their way on your outbound flight when you go to Europe and when checking in for your return journey to make sure you know not to buy duty free bottles of grog or perfume or aftershave until you hit Singapore as they'll be taken from you. Besides, Singapore is cheaper. Fin told us nothing. When we checked in, the man behind the desk saw the duty free sealed bag with the bottle, knew we were going to stop in Helsinki before going on to Manchester and didn't say a word. Said sealed clear bag was carried separately from other hand luggage from the plane with at least a couple of members of the crew knowing we were going on to Manchester seeing it. It was only when we were getting screened to get on the Manchester flight that I was told no go. EU laws. Fair enough, but they could have told us earlier. Of course I could always clear immigration and come back in again, but the lady was just a little bit too smug when she told me, adding that I really didn't have enough time to do it. Under usual circumstances this would have been the point where I would put on my officious voice and say "I'd like to speak to your supervisor [pause for effect] please" but I was tired and they were making the final boarding call. A formal letter of complaint will be written as soon as I get time and am in the mood for writing such letters. I think one for Qantas too - I let it go when we couldn't get into the lounge in Chile, but these people ticked me off. And thankfully, it was only a bottle of $6 vodka. I know I wasn't the only one caught out, because there was a bit of a collection. Fin Airways - never again. We've had better and more friendly, courteous service on budget airlines

So, in Manchester airport we got a train to Doncaster (why don't all airports have a train station in the basement?) to see my mum. It's the first time we've been to England without hiring a car - I can still get one for just over £100 per week, but there's no way we're paying £5/gallon for petrol. Peter left the following morning for Billingham to see his parent and to have a quick visit around his extended family before they were heading off to Spain for a holiday. A bit of explaining here. Due to family circumstances, Peter and his aunty Lyn (who is only a year older than us) were brought up as brother and sister in the early years. When Peters' mum remarried, it made little difference - I've never known a family as tightly knit as theirs. We were married a couple of years after Lyn and Geoff, by which time they already had Kelly and Leanne was on the way. almost 5 years ago, Lynikins became Nana Lyn (she has three grand kids now). Soon after she became Super Tit Nana Lyn as the replacement was a bit bigger than the one removed, and a few months ago she didn't wait for us to jump in with a new name for her and renamed herself Super Tit Baldy Bastard Nana Lyn when she decided to make a fashion statement and shave her head rather than wait for the chemo and radiotherapy to make it fall out again.

She'd only just finished her treatments when we arrived, and was devastated that she would only get to see Peter for a couple of days before going on her week long holiday and we'd be off exploring Europe by the time she got back.

Or so she thought.

I knew we could pick up a last minute flight to Minorca, so were planning on surprising her on the beach. We were going to stay in one of the hotels rooms - nobody would have noticed an extra couple of bodies with such a large party - Lyn, Geoff, the girls and their husbands and little ones, our 13 year old niece Kirsty, and one set of in-law parents. Didn't have to bother with that though - I had no internet access in Doncaster, but Peters mum found a last minute deal - £112/A$230 for BOTH of us at the same hotel with breakfast and evening meal included for TWO weeks. Not bad, eh? As we weren't going to be sleeping on any floors and it was so cheap, we decided to take Peters mum and dad along with us to give Lyn a double surprise.

So, with hotel rooms booked, it was only up to me to book the flights when I got to Billingham after a couple of days with mum and my sister and her little ones. By the time I'd got there, Peter had already made arrangements to go to Barcelona with the boys at the weekend for the motorbike racing on a one way ticket. I organised him a direct flight from Barcelona to Minorca , a one way ticket for myself and a return for Kath and Ken. Ironically, we are flying from Doncaster, but Ken's car is playing up so we have to get the train to Doncaster and won't get to call in and see mum.

We're just waiting for the taxi to take us to the railway station now. Lyn phoned a few minutes ago screeching that Peter has just turned up. We've concocted a story that we are going to Turkey for a few weeks, and that I'm flying to Istanbul to meet Peter, but couldn't get him on a flight until the following day, so rather than hanging around Barcelona, he'd got the overnight ferry to Minorca and is going to get the overnight ferry tonight back to the mainland to pick up his flight.

I can't wait to see Lyn's face later tonight.