With Arms Wide Open

The Adventure Begins
Friday 16th March 2018

“And so the adventure begins” read a poster in the supermarket the day before we set off on our latest vacation, a real adventure to Brazil. It got me all excited as if it was put there just for us. Strangely enough I had never seen it before nor have I ever seen it since.

Anyway, awash with good vibes and omens we drove down to London yesterday and stayed overnight in a Travelodge in Hounslow. At only £39 it was a great alternative to the more expensive airport hotels at Heathrow.

It even had that airport hotel feel to it being directly on a flight path which was kind of them. To be fair their sound-proofing was excellent.

It may seem a bit daft staying overnight when our flight to Sao Paulo wasn’t until 9pm tonight but we both felt better being 10 minutes away when we woke up this morning rather than six hours.

Of course, breakfast wasn’t included in that bargain price but with a Wetherspoons pub just around the corner we were fed and watered for just £10.

A few miles away was the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and we considered spending the afternoon there but decided against. In hindsight I wish we had gone. I didn’t know at the time but there was a fascinating connection between Kew and the demise of the rubber trade in Brazil.

Instead we did some retail therapy down Hounslow High Street before leaving early for the airport.

We parked our car with a company called Purple Parking, next to a Premier Inn on Bath Road. We handed over the keys and jumped into a Purple minibus. Our transport whilst colourful wasn’t the funkiest. There was one car park that had these monorail pods the size of a smart car that shuttled back and forth to Terminal 5. They looked like some old-fashioned vision of the future. I’m sure in the 1960s they thought we would all be travelling like this by 2020.

At the BA desks it was a self-service check-in which went rather smoothly. Label printed, scanned and sent down the conveyor belt. “Oh I hope we see them on the other side” said a worried Julie.

We breezed through the security gates without any hassle. No bag inspection, no setting-off of the metal detector, not even a pat down. It all contributed towards a relaxed atmosphere. Ahead of us we had eight hours to wait in terminal 5!

First thing first, it was time for lunch. Somehow we ended up at Fortnum & Masons champagne bar. After some effort we perched ourselves on their stools and ordered some food.

Julie chose the smoke salmon. They had Welsh Rarebit on their menu which ticked my box. We browsed through their recipe book (for sale for £30) and the photo of the rarebit looked delicious.

When my dish arrived I was so disappointed, it looked nothing like the picture. It wasn’t even a Welsh Rarebit but  more of a mustard & cheese toastie. Then to add insult to injury I choked on the dry toast crumbs. With tears in my eyes and turning crimson I was moments away from asking Julie to administer the Heimlich manoeuvre but a good few gulps of my red wine sorted me out.

I swiftly paid the bill and got the hell out of there.

“Well, that’s half an hour gone, just another seven and a half to go” remarked Julie as time seem to slow down. We strolled around window shopping which was all we could do as we appeared to be at the designer end of the airport. Bulgari, Tiffany,

There was a Fortmum & Masons store where we were tempted to buy a £15 hamper to take on board our flight but taking a closer look most of the foodstuffs inside the box were pretty much miniatures.

Usually we would find a Wetherspoons pub and enjoy a few drinks to while away the hours but the one here was being renovated.  Julie, desperate to get some Dutch courage so she could step on the plane decided to buy a bottle of prosecco from duty and we sat behind a pillar like naughty teenagers sipping the Italian fizz from paper cups stolen from Pret-a-Manger.

Julie was trying to get the right balance of alcohol inebriation and diazepam haze.  She’s had plenty of experience. For someone who hate’s flying so much she has done some hours up in the sky. She would follow me to the ends of the earth but it’s not easy for her.

To try and make the time go faster we bought a book each from WH Smith. I went for “Walking the Americas” by Levison Wood. Despite the title it doesn’t go anywhere near Brazil as he walked from Mexico to Panama. The TV series was interesting but reading the book was even more fascinating.

Julie bought a self-help book called “Things You Can See When You Slow Down”. Perhaps waiting for a flight wasn’t the best time to get your head around mindfulness. Her thoughts were all over the place; too erratic to read.

We walked from one end of the terminal to the other a couple of times before settling down in a bar called The Pilots Bar.

“Ironically there aren’t any pilots in here.” I joked.  Then, moments later, two pilots walked in. Well I almost choked on my beer! Julie kept a close eye on them. They were only drinking coffee so all was fine.

Time was moving on and we were getting hungry, so we headed to our favourite airport restaurant, Giraffe. This time however our meals disappointed. My falafel & halloumi burger looked limp and disinteresting with the falafel itself like a small ice hockey puck. Julie’s half a chicken was also a let down as she complained there was hardly any meat on the bone. “It was more like half a sparrow.” For the price we felt robbed. It was more expensive than our hotel last night!

As we left Giraffe our gate information updated telling us to go to area B. Then by the time we got there it was more specific with B36 as our number.

Julie was beginning to unravel. Whilst speaking to our daughter Hannah she made her promise that in the event of our death she would clean our house before letting anyone else in. She also bequeathed our dog Sylvester to her. (We still don’t have a will as it feels like tempting fate.)

Like I’ve said before it’s not so much the fear of flying it’s the fear of dying that gets her.

When we were supposed to board the plane, they announced there would be an hour delay to our departure time. Prolonging the agony was the last thing Julie needed. The medicinal cocktail of prescribed drugs and wine didn’t appear to be working as doom descended onto her face.

Or perhaps they were working too well as she went into lockdown mode, almost catatonic.

An hour later we began to board, joining the queue gradually shuffling towards our destiny.

When we reached the desk, Julie handed over her passport and boarding pass and said, “I hate flying”. “Don’t worry” said the BA lady trying to reassure Julie, ”it’s a brand-new Dreamliner and you’ve got the best pilots”

Julie seemed intent on having a conversation with her, so I gently took her by the arm and lead her down to plane. When we stepped onto the brand-new Dreamliner she again wanted to shake the hand of the cabin crew welcoming us onboard. Instead however she leaned in for a hug and planted a kiss on the cheek.

Our seats, which we had selected ourselves were right at the back, 49A /49B. We chose these ones as there wasn’t a 49C so there wasn’t anyone sat next to us.

Despite the hour delay in leaving the pilot told us that we expect to land on schedule. “How does that work?” Julie questioned “I hope he’s not going to be speeding!”

We strapped ourselves in as we taxied down the tarmac, and then we were off, hurtling, bumping and shaking down the runway until we lifted off the ground. Julie had her head in her hands, fingers in her ears and the look of resignation in her eyes, which was pretty her manner for the next eleven hours.

I settled down to watching The Shape of Water which was a great film about this woman who falls for a sea monster. There was an enforced intermission whilst supper was served about an hour after taking off. Julie didn’t fancy anything. Usually I would also eat her portion but the pasta in a creamy basil sauce wasn’t that nice.

After the film had finished I tried to get some sleep. I had bought off the internet a new innovative travel “pillow”. Well, it was more of a neck brace than a pillow. A neck brace held in place by tightly wrapping a Velcro secured scarf around the neck. It held the head in a more upright position and supposedly a more comfortable position for the neck.

I’m not too sure if it helped. I couldn’t get much sleep. In general, it was quite a turbulent flight. Nothing horrible just a constant shuddering of weather.

I think eventually we both got some sleep but nothing satisfying.

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