14 June 2008
Sant Tomas, Minorca, Spain
39°54'48.37"N 4° 2'39.75"E


First famine, now flood. What a week we've had! Everything went according to plan until the last moment, but we're used to things turning pear shaped and just rolling with it. Firstly, Kens' car started chugging and the engine light was flashing and he was a bit weary of driving all the way to Doncaster. Never take any notice of flashing lights in cars myself. Causes unnecessary worry. Might just be a dodgy light fitting. If it stops going, it's either ran out of petrol or it's broken. Kath and Ken travel very differently to us. Ken kept on saying better an hour early than a minute late. Nah. We've never missed a flight or a bus yet. We're never early, but we're never late.

At Darlington railway station, I got top up vouchers for mine and Peter's mobile phones. Couldn't get mine to activate so I phoned Vodaphone and they told me I'd been given the wrong network voucher and that I needed Talk Talk. I though this was a bit odd as I'd bought a voucher the day before and sent Peter an SMS with the PIN on and it had worked just fine - for some reason he hadn't been able to put more credit on it himself whilst in Barcelona, even at a Vodaphone shop, but I went back into the newsagent just as the train was in sight and got them swapped over. Quickly. Ken's blood pressure was on the rise as I only just made it back to he platform as the train was ready to pull away.

Once on the train, I tried to activate my new voucher but again it wouldn't work. Spoke to someone else at Vodaphone who was pretty grumpy and unhelpful. He told me that I'd got the wrong network again and I should have a Talk Mobile voucher not a Talk Talk one. So why wasn't I told this last time I phoned? Why was I specifically told to get Talk Talk?

I also pointed out that I had been writing it down as I was being told what to do and repeated it back to the person I was speaking to so I could be certain I wasn't on a wild goose chase and was told that it would definitely work if the shop would cancel the Vodaphone vouchers and give me Talk Talk instead. Then he told me it happens quite often, customers get things wrong and - luckily for him the signal dropped out and I lost him or I'd have let go. I had confirmed and double confirmed that I need Talk Talk before going back to the shop.

Once we got to Doncaster station, we still had heaps of time to get to the airport. I went into another branch of WHS and had 2 extraordinary helpful young people trying to sort it out. To be on the safe side, I phoned Vodaphone again and this time got someone who not only grumpy, but was actually quite rude. I didn't have time to take him on as Ken was pacing up and down the taxi ranks, so I handed the phone to the girl behind the counter who sells these things every day and therefore knew more about them than I, and after trying to speak to him for a couple of minutes he hung up on her! Ah, English customer service. How I've missed it. Between the 3 of us, we decided it would be best to get out the paperclip (the height of technology) to remove the SIM card out of my iPhone and have a look at it before doing anything. Yep. Talk Mobile, but they didn't sell them. Kath had come looking for me and she waited for them to sort out a refund for me whilst I ran to Tesco to get Talk Mobile vouchers. Ken was beside himself by the time I got back. I kept pointing out that it wasn't a long drive to the airport but he wasn't listening. We got to the airport exactly 2 hours and one minute before flight time - needn't have bothered as the baggage belt wasn't working and they couldn't check anyone in.

At least we were at the front of the queue and when they eventually did started checking in. Kath and Ken went straight through passport control where everything costs twice as much and there is no smoking area. I sat down and had a very big, very strong mug of coffee before going airside.

I sent Peter an SMS with the voucher number - he used Kirsty's phone to text me letting me know it wouldn't work, then a little while later, phoned me from a public phone box. He'd spoken to someone at the Vodaphone hotline in Spain who told him I had the wrong network again. Not possible, I said. We bought the SIM cards from the same shop. By this time, I really couldn't be bothered any more, so I just put all of the credit onto my phone and decided I'd sort it out when I got there. At least he could receive text messages, and if necessary he could phone me from a public phone booth and as long as the number came up I could phone him back if he ran out of shrapnel.

So, through I went. Two or three flights going out and only one customs official checking passports, so that was quite a wait, then another even bigger queue before getting airside to have our hand luggage checked. Lots of little ones on the flights, lots of parents having to taste bottled food and liquid in front of customs people. It actually took almost an hour to clear immigration - you don't wait that long at major airports!

We had to go to the gate at the first call as Ken didn't want to be last on the plane. Now, here's a travel tip. Believe me - last is best. You ask for a seat at the back and board last, and all of the time you're (very slowly) walking down the isle, you're checking out where the empty seats are. Of course, everyone sat around those seats are eyeing them off, but most people are too scared and wait until take off, leaving an undignified crush as soon as the seatbelt sign goes out. Get on last, pick your seat (with empty ones either side of it) and park yourself on it straight away.

In all the years we've been flying, I've only ever had to move once, when someone got on later than us and I was in his seat - still, that time Peter had his middle block of 5 seats (in this scenario you have to lie down along however many seats you've been able to bag as soon as the seat belt light goes off to mark your territory), and we had been allocated 2 together with an empty one next to us, so we both had plenty of room. Just took turns at the full stretch.

When we got to the gate, we realised we had no water, so Kath and I went off in search of a shop (with a queue) and Ken was pacing up and down the queue of people boarding when we got back.

Once on board, we huddled into our seats (I'm used to long haul with proper sized seats) and I pointed out to Ken an empty isle seat with an empty one next to it so he could stretch himself and his leg but, no interest in moving to someone else's seat was shown. I couldn't be bothered - I'd was on an isle and had already marked my territory by temporarily lowering the food tray and placing lower arms along the width of it - "You do NOT cross this line" - and plugged myself into my iPod. Before I knew what was happening we were there - 30 minutes early. I took all of our hand luggage and left Kath and Ken to get the bags off the carousel and went hunting for an ATM and to sort out a taxi - Peter had gone by bus that morning, and it involved going into the town, changing bus and a lot of waiting around. Don't think Ken would have been too pleased with that. I was all done and organised and had time for 2 cigarettes before they cleared customs. I don't understand people taking their own currency with them and changing it once they arrive at their destination, having changed enough for the first couple of days before leaving home. You get a much better rate directly from Mastercard or Visa or Cirrus or whoever's mark is on your card when you get it out of a machine.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Peter had been having a whale of a day.

He'd shown up at the hotel early morning, making Lyn squawk so much everyone in the village heard her. He went to reception under the pretence of buying a meal voucher for that evening (in reality he checked us all in and got two sets of keys and all of our meal vouchers for 2 weeks). He borrowed swimming shorts from Eric, had a shower in Lyn and Geoff's room and got them out for an early dinner. The plan was that he was going to hide out in the room until I sent an SMS from the airport letting him know we were in the taxi and about 30 minutes away, but it fell apart when the entire group insisted on waving him off on the bus for the ferry to the mainland. Our hotel is the bus terminus, so it was a good 10 minutes waiting and waving and upset before the bus left and of course it was a long straight road, so he couldn't get off for about 4 stops. The bus driver got confused. You sure here? You want me wait? You paid to Mahon and want to get off here? He thinks Peter is some kind of nutter. Our timing was perfect - he'd just got off the bus and was standing by the side of the road when our taxi passed him. STOP we all yelled to the driver and in he got. We sneaked straight upstairs and got changed (Peter had only taken a small bag to Barcelona and was glad of some fresh clothes) then Kath and Ken went in to get some dinner before the restaurant closed at 9.15 - they only just made it and had a very quick snack. Peter had eaten earlier with everybody else with his 'meal voucher' - in fact he made sure they ate early so there was no chance of bumping into them as we arrived. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Peter said he thought they were going for a walk after seeing him off, but as well as the walk they stopped off to play crazy golf, so we were there a couple of hours before seeing them.

Eventually we got bored and hid in a corner in the bar, and I stood outside watching for them coming back. I didn't have my glasses on, and saw Leanne and Andy 4 times.

The 5th time, when it really was them, I had a job convincing Peter to come outside with me again. We hid behind a tree just outside the entrance and Lyn's face was a picture when she spotted us. Suffice to say that there was lots of squawking and screaming. We told them we had left a drink on a table in the bar so we would have to go in for it and they all followed. When Kath and Ken came out of hiding there was even more even louder squawking and screaming. 3 heart attacks in one day, but everyone was so happy it was amazing.

We've spent the last few days gossiping and catching up. Tegan, Leanne and Andy's 4 year old daughter was amazed that we were here, and asked Ken how we did it. He told her that we came by plane, but she didn't believe it as we weren't on HER plane. She insisted that it was magic and then said it was a miracle - not so sure enrolling her in a Catholic pre-school was such a good idea. I just hope she doesn't get herself brainwashed and turn into a happy clappy.

She's grown up so much since last year, as has Kelly and Eric's 's boy Rhys it's hard to believe.

Leanne and Andy's son Cole was born while we were in England last year, but he was a good couple of months early, in intensive care, and we'd both picked up a cold and didn't want to spread our germs, so it's the first time I've seen him. He looks so much like Peters' granddad it's spooky. Poor thing doesn't know yet, but he'll be bald by the time he's twenty. With granddad they blamed the helmet from the army (even though he spent almost the entire war in a POW camp with no helmet on) and with Peter, they blamed the motorbike helmets. No blame, it's just those Copeland genes.

Rhys will be 3 in January and has more energy than the Duracel Bunny. Seriously, you take your eyes off him for a second and he's disappeared. I don't know how Kelly copes with him all day. And Kirsty is 13 and all grown up now - she has bigger boobs than me, which is a bit of a worry watching the young blokes checking her out.

Don't know how long it will be before the next installment. A glass of house wine is €1.50 - 70¢ cheaper than a bottle of coke, and it goes down a lot better than that fizzie stuff.