Thursday we had planned on going up in to London to meet up with khaosworks and see some sights, but fate threw a bit of a wrench into our plans. I had logged into all our bank websites in order to see how much money we’d really spent to that point, rather than rely on my own estimations of what currency conversions would actually bring. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of our credit cards showed a discrepancy of funds available amounting to close to 200 pounds! This put me into a small amount of worry, since the credit cards were the bulk of our spending money, and suddenly having that amount disappear without trace was not pleasant-making. We regretfully canceled our plans with Terence until we could find out what was going on with our money.
Because of time zone differences, we couldn’t actually get a live person on the phone from the bank until after 2pm. They first tried giving kitanzi some line of BS amounting to “Well, you didn’t have the account paid down to zero, so this is obviously an error in your accounting.” I had her hand the phone over to me so I could sort out this idiot. “No,” I patiently explained. “This account had a zero balance on February 1st. A payment was made in this amount on this date, and this amount on that date, and this amount on January 31st, and the balance at that time was Zero dollars. I can access records showing that all these checks have cleared my bank, and are clearly displayed on your web system as having been credited.”
The rather confused customer service rep, obviously unaccustomed to people who actually keep real books for their home finances (as I have taken to doing since I acquired my freedom in 2001), went away for a while to ponder our balance again. She came back a few minutes later with the solution. When we checked into the Holiday Inn in Ipswich, the hotel, as is customary, placed a pending authorization against our credit card. When we checked out of the hotel on Monday morning, they charged our room to the same card. And the bank didn’t drop the pending auth. In essence, the bank was still setting aside the cost of our room, in addition to having paid for our room.
Unfortunately, they insisted on blaming this on the hotel, saying that there was nothing they could do about it, and that it would drop off by friday, or saturday morning at the latest, so we should just wait rather than trying to get the hotel to fix the error. Kit, who has worked in customer service for years handling credit card orders, points out that this is utter nonsense, since the bank can damn well take care of this and she’s handled this sort of situation many times for customers, but at this point, relived to simply know that the bank is staffed by morons and that the money wasn’t, in fact, actually missing, decided to let it go. Sadly, by the time this was all sorted out, it was too late to really go anywhere, but we had a plenty good time simply hanging out with bardling. (djbp had gone up to Peterborough to work on WiFi with fleetfootmike).
Friday morning we discovered with dismay what we had been worrying about the night before. Namely, the Quinze con-bug, which had been laying everyone low across the country, had visited upon us. Bardling called in a sick day to work, Kit and I again canceled plans to hook up with khaosworks, and the day was instead spent drinking lots of tea and reading. djbp came home, bearing soup for the sickly, and we all ended up turning in a lot earlier than we normally would.
(On the other hand, last year at Valentine’s Day, my sweetie and I were a thousa nd miles apart. On the whole, spending the day together was a lot more fun than spending it apart, even if we were under the weather)
The original plan for Saturday was to go up into London and do some shopping, then make our way down to the Gatwick airport area to meet up with ladyat and BillS for dinner and relaxation before our scheduled flight the next morning. This turned out to be less straightforward than we’d thought.
We got a call from khaosworks asking what our plans were. “Well, we’re thinking of heading up into town, drop by Picadilly and do some shopping, then head down to the airport”. “Bad idea, man.” he said. “Picadilly Underground Station is closed.” The peace march to Hyde Park was underway, which we’d forgotten completely about. Khaos was right in the middle of it. “There’s about….there’s a whole f*cking lot of people here.”
Ok, so shopping is out (the CDs I wanted to look for are available by mail order, so I’ll just get them that way). We got our bags all packed, made our reluctant goodbyes, and walked down to the Gravesend Rail station and bought a ticket to Gatwick airport.
Standing on the platform waiting for the train, Kit and I cuddled and discussed how much fun we had. “It’s been a fun trip. I’m sorry to see it end. Only the trip home, now.” Always remember, dear reader, that the universe has a sense of humour. A sense of humour that tends toward the perverse.
The train arrived, and we lugged our bags on and stowed them in the overhead racks, then found our seats, snuggled up, and prepared for the 45 minute ride into London Bridge station, where we were to change trains for Gatwick. We couldn’t have been sitting there for more than 5 minutes when the loudspeaker overhead came to life.
“Due to an outage on the tracks at Stone Crossing, this train has been terminated. Please return to the platform. This train has been terminated.”
Confused, we got our bags and got off the train, and then found a porter to see what was going on. All service between Gravesend and Charing Cross (which includes London Bridge) was canceled for the immediate future. We heard that if the outage lasted longer than expected, they would set up a bus service to Dartford, but there was no indication what was expected, or how long they’d wait for that option.
We consulted the map, and then called Djbp to see if our plan of action was workable. He indicated that it was, and so we headed to the other platform in order to catch a southbound train to Gillingham. Yes, dear reader, in order to go North, we got on a train going South.
This train didn’t have anything blocking its path, and so we found ourselves chugging along until we reached Chatham, where we got out and again crossed platforms, this time grabbing a train going back north, on a different line, to Victoria Station. I felt like I had been trapped in a cosmic game of “Mornington Cresent: The National Rail Expansion Pack”.
A couple of neat things came out of this detour, however. As we were crossing the Medway just before Rochester, we saw a submarine floating above water just past the bridge. And on our way back, we saw Rochester Cathedral over the treetops, which was amusing since we had bought a postcard picturing it, and I had commented at the time that it was kinda odd to buy a postcard of a place we didn’t actually see, but since it was such a nice photo I couldn’t resist it. There’s that sense of humour the universe has again.
I was worried that at some point along this trip, someone was going to ask for our ticket and inform us that we shouldn’t be on THIS train and our ticket was no good, but no one ever even checked. We got to Victoria station with no further incidents. We wandered into the actual station in order to find the Thornton’s toffee stand and pick up some toffee for spiritdance and filker0, and then caught a train down to Gatwick.
The train to Gatwick was full of people on their way home from the peace march. I had a nice conversation with a gentleman about how the rally went, and about opinions of the pending war in the US. He was happy to learn that not all Americans are supportive of the upcoming campaign. We finally found our way to the airport and made our way to the taxi stand in the South Terminal.
I had spoken with BillS earlier to get the proper name of the hotel we were to be staying at: The Crawley Gatwick Airport Holdiay Inn. I repeated this to the taxi stand clerk three times. He wrote me a ticket and handed me off to a driver, who took us to a hotel about 3 roundabouts from the airport. We called B&B and let them know we were there, and found they’d be arriving in about five minutes. We then called Bardling to let her know that we’d arrived safely at Gatwick despite our adventures, and waited for our friends to arrive. A few minutes later, my mobile rings and BillS says “We’re at the hotel, but I don’t see you.” Yep, despite my careful attempt at communication, we had been delivered to the Gatwick Airport Holiday Inn, *not* the Crawley Gatwick Airport Holiday Inn. I got the desk to call me another Taxi, which took me on a longish ride to the right hotel, which was apparently on the opposite side of the airport from where I was. The entire trip ended up costing about 15 pounds instead of 4 pound 50. I had half a mind to go fight with the taxi stand, but decided it wasn’t worth it.
We got checked in, hooked up with B&B, and walked into Crawley for dinner. Our original plan was to eat at a Chinese place that they had eaten at the year before, but we all neglected to take into account that this was the day after Valentines Day, and no one had made a prior booking. We decided not to wait for two hours for a table, and set out on The Great Dinner Quest II. (See Part One of this report for details on the Great Dinner Quest I).
After much walking around the darkened streets of Crawley, we finally wound up at a Wetherspoons, where we got some good food and tried a variety of beers and ciders, and some rather decadent desserts. Then we went across to the street to a packed pub so Bill could get a pint of Harvey’s. Kit and I decided after a few minutes that it was too loud and crowded and we were overtired after our adventures on the rail, and left them to their pints and walked back to the hotel, into our room, and, after requesting a 5am wakeup call, to bed.
We got up and showered when the wakeup call came, and then went down for a continental breakfast before catching the airport shuttle to the North Terminal of Gatwick. Being among the first to arrive at check-in for our 9:40am flight, I chatted up the ticket agent and managed to to charm her into switching our seats to an exit row. After the discomfort of the flight over, I was looking forward to having a little bit of leg room.
We made our way down to the actual gate with plenty of time to spare, and I settled down to read the Tove Jansson book I had picked up earlier in the week at the second-hand bookstore. B&B arrived just before the boarding call, since they had been hiding in the Crown Club room after getting checked in.
The new seats were just what the doctor ordered. There was an entire row worth of seats missing just in front of us, and Kit could actually kick her legs straight out and not touch the back of the seats in the next row. I managed to finish the Jansson book, the Frank Muir book, and two Pratchett novels while we crossed the Atlantic. (I’m a fast reader).
We were crossing the tundra of northern Canada when things got really surreal. I needed to use the restroom, so I got up to queue behind a small boy at the one right next to our seat. We waited for quite some time, with the little boy getting more and more restless, bouncing from one foot to another. Finally, his dad got up from his seat and came to knock on the door. “Everything ok in there?” I couldn’t tell if he got an answer or not, but he went back to his seat. About 5 minute later, he got up again and fetched a flight attendant, an action I had just been contemplating myself. The attendant knocked and inquired if everything was alright, and not getting an answer, forced the latch. Inside, an elderly gentleman was slumped over.
She slid him down onto the floor and begin first aid procedures. Another attendant paged to see if there was a doctor on board, and one came up from behind us somewhere to assist with CPR. I moved to the other side of the plane. Within about 15 minutes, the pilot asked everyone to please take their seats and buckle their seat belts, as we would be making an emergency landing in Quebec City.
My heart really went out to the wife of this poor gentleman. She spoke no English at all, communicating through her daughter to the crew, and could only sit helplessly and watch while the doctor and flight attendant tried to revive her husband. At one point, they tried to get her to return to her seat. Kit, who was still in her seat per the pilot’s orders, promptly had the thoughtfulness to give her seat up to this poor lady so that she didn’t have to be seated out of sight of what was going on. She was wearing a headdress (the couple and their daughters appeared to be from the Middle East), which she wrapped around her face in an effort to be private in this very public place.
Within half an hour, we were on the ground in Quebec, and EMTs were brought onto the plane. I overheard the doctor-passenger discussing the situation with them, and saying that he had never been able to recover a pulse. They took the man out, with his family trailing behind. I’ve thought about them often, wondering where they were going, and how they handled this crisis in their life. I hope the family managed to somehow find their way, and found some comfort from somewhere as they dealt with unexpected grief ina foreign land.
We spent about three hours on the ground in Quebec, as the crew attempted to secure new flight plans and refuel. Finally, we got underway and made it down to Atlanta without further incidents. Landing in Atlanta, checking through customs, reclaiming our baggage, and catching a shuttle back to the parking lot where B&B had left their van, took about an hour. Once back up at Bedlam House, we helped them bring their stuff into the house, then got in our own car, which we’d left parked there, and drove home, arriving at about 8pm. I started mail downloading, left the suitcases in the living room, and we went off to snuggle in our own bed.
What a great trip, even with the surreal adventures at the end. We didn’t get to do everything we wanted while we were there, but in retrospect, I think we spent just the right amount of time touristing and just the right amount of time visiting our friends. The things left undone will just give us the motivation to return again, as if the fact that we desperately miss all our friends wasn’t enough.
We love you all dearly. Thank you so much, each and every one of you, for your kindness, your hospitality, and your affection.
Thanks especially to fleetfootmike and Anne, and to bardling and djbp for opening their homes to us. Thanks to Talis and vaurien, for the lovely invitation that we couldn’t keep due to sickness and insanity (and I hope things are healthier and calmer next time!). Thanks to demoneyes and oreouk for a wonderful dinner at their home. Thanks to callylevy for a lovely lunch date at a moment’s notice, to filkerbaby, Keris, and pbristow for a marvelous convention. And to each and every one of you who became dearer friends and closer family as we shared music and love together at Quinze.
See you all next year? We can only dream. And maybe, if the stars are right, those dreams will come true.