Thunderbirds have returned to base – 17/10/15

Not only returned to base, but gone to bed and it’s only 2:42pm. And I know it’s 2:42PM!!!

Full blog entry tomorrow – if I wake up.

FAB

🙂

15 October 2015

I’m flying home today.

My plan was to get up at 6.00am and have a shower as we wanted to leave before 8.00am to ensure that we could safely manoeuvre Thunderbird Two to Wem Railway Station (which is more like two platforms.)

Of course I woke up at 4.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep. A couple of times I dozed, but would wake up a moment later. Once I was at Heathrow when I realised that I’d left my clock behind at Pen’s. I woke up and checked the time – which was about 5.00am.

This state of affairs continued, with me more or less giving up trying to get any sleep, when I checked the clock again.

6.11am

But I was getting up at six!!!

So I got up, grabbed my clothes, and went and had my shower.

We got to Wem Station with plenty of time to spare. I’d said goodbye to Seth, telling him that his mum wasn’t going away again, just that she was going to make sure that I safely left the county.

He and I have had this ongoing disagreement. His point of view is that the last mouthful of any piece of toast is his. My point of view is that toast is people food not dog food, and that any piece of toast that I’ve buttered and jammed is mine – especially when I’m travelling and want a full stomach… And would you please not slobber on me again?

We were almost the only ones on the train from Wem to Crewe. Pen was pushing Thunderbird Two for me, which was good of her as when she’d brought it home after the Fanderson Convention (remember I took hers to Yorkshire) she had problems. She got it to Wem okay and disembarked off the train onto the platform on the far side. Once her train had gone the barrier arms raised and she was able to cross the tracks to her side. Except that one of Thunderbird Two’s wheels got jammed in the tracks. This wouldn’t have been a huge problem except that the bells started clanging, the arms were lowered, and another train was on its way.

She had visions of stuff flying everywhere, calling me and asking how good my insurance policy is, and trying not to remind me of everything that I’d bought at the convention, when, with a final pull and a yank, she scrapped it free.

I wasn’t worried about the scratches. I’m just glad that the barrier arms are down for a good five minutes before the train arrives, and that she got herself and the bag out okay.

Once again the weather was fine. England’s been kind to me this visit, and even Saltaire wasn’t that bad. But today the middle of the country was quite overcast. However London was clear.

I gave Pen my excess notes – £24 – some of which she’ll give to the church at Clive as a donation, and the rest will go on Lottery tickets to see if we can win enough to travel around the world again.

What day is it?
I’m feeling a little discombobulated. I’m at present in Shanghai Airport and the time here is 11:19am. EOS is telling me that it’s 4:19pm and what I’m expecting it to be is 4:19am GMT or daylight saving time I don’t know.

I made it through the London train network okay. And I’ve got to say that I like Euston a lot better than Paddington. Once again it didn’t have lifts from the overground to the underground. I asked a station employee how I got to the Victoria Line to Kings Cross and he pointed to some stairs. I negotiated the first batch, carrying Thunderbird Two, but then a gentleman picked it up for me and carried it down the rest of the way. I was most grateful. But that wasn’t the only lot of stairs I had to negotiate. I’d no sooner reached the top of the next lot when another man offered to carry Thunderbird Two for me.

Brilliant!

I still got a little confused about which way to go, but caught the Euston to Kings Cross.

Then I had to find a way through Kings Cross to the Piccadilly Line.

Kings Cross has lifts! Yay!

The lifts aren’t well labelled. Not so good.

You have to get into the lift and then read a diagram that tells you that to get to the Piccadilly Line you need to take lift K. But the present lift didn’t have an obvious letter ID (aside from a “you are here” on the diagram) and there’s nothing pointing the way to lift K. (Or A, B, C, D, E, F, or G for that matter.)

So after a ride in the lift with a man who was just as confused as I was, I got out, asked a lady who pointed me in the direction as the same lift, and then as much by luck as good management, found my way to the Piccadilly Line. There was a train already there, but I wasn’t going to take the chance that it wasn’t mine. I don’t know if it would have worked, but as the train to Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5 was coming in four minutes, I wasn’t going to panic.

The train was full when it arrived, but the bag parking area was free, so I parked Thunderbird Two and leant against it. One good thing about it, it’s the same height as the bottom of my camera pack, so I could rest it on it. At the next stop the lady in the seat beside me got out, so I claimed that seat, meaning that I could keep an eye on Thunderbird Two, but that it was out of the way.

There were no issues with the trip to Terminal Three at Heathrow.

First thing to do when there was offload Thunderbird Two. I didn’t fancy pushing it around any further. That was fine and I got a slip saying that it was going to be sent straight on to New Zealand, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it at Shanghai.

Then I realised that I hadn’t topped up Pen’s Oyster Card (London Transport travel card). I had a £5 note in my bag so I put that in the envelope with the Oyster Card and found the Royal Mail box.

After I’d had my lunch, which I’d brought from Pen’s, and bought a lemon and ginger drink – and realised that I still haven’t tried the dandelion drink that I saw last time – I had a quick look around the shops.

Then it was the twenty minute walk to gate 22.

I sent a final text and posted a Tweet.

My flight from London to Shanghai was with Virgin Atlantic. There are some things that they do better than Air New Zealand, and some that they don’t.

·    Their toilets aren’t as good. Including not having murals of the sky, or a “library” of books about flying or gently teasing about flying and New Zealand.
·    They supply you with a goodie bag with toothbrush, flight socks, eye mask, earplugs (too big and fell out), and I think a lip balm.
·    Their seats aren’t as comfortable. (I think. I’m going to check that out in a couple of hours.) Both airlines have curved headrests that you can slide up and down, but Virgin Atlantic’s didn’t come down far enough to support my head. Also Air New Zealand’s headrests have “wings” that can be adjusted for your comfort.
·    They had the temperature turned up too much. I like to have something to tuck under my chin when I sleep, but it was too hot to even contemplate taking the blanket out its bag. Air New Zealand’s much cooler.
·    Virgin Atlantic’s safety video isn’t as entertaining as Air New Zealand’s. (Even if Air New Zealand is using the All Blacks instead of Thunderbirds.)

I didn’t get much sleep. I could have happily nodded off at the beginning of the trip when I had to stay awake for the safety briefing, but when it was time to sleep I couldn’t.

The meals were all right.

The guy in the seat next to me was having a good ol’ exploration of his nose, and wiping the residue on his blanket. Pity the poor airline staff.

We arrived in Shanghai.

I made sure that I’d gone to the toilet before the plane went into lockdown mode, so I thought I’d be fine. But as soon as I got off the plane I had to go again. Probably nerves.

There was one Air New Zealand staff member waiting to offer guidance, and I checked that I was the same flight as hers, and that was the last help I had from them. They weren’t as helpful with their directions here as they were in L.A. Maybe because this was going to be a five hour stop over.

I decided that I’d better take care of nature’s needs before I got into the queue for security. As that queue was long, I didn’t think it would be an issue.

They move fast in China. There was hardly anyone left by the time I emerged. I found someone I had a good idea was a New Zealander and who was filling in a form and I asked if I was in the right place. They didn’t think so. So I checked with a staff member and he said I had to get into the original queue, but that I didn’t need to fill in a form.

I got up to the counter and I had to have filled in a form. But the security guy was very nice about it. He directed me to the appropriate desk.

The pen leaked and I ended up using my own.

I went back to the same security guy and gave him my paperwork and told him the pen was leaking and he gave me a tissue to clean it off my hands.

Then he called an associate over.

They both examined my passport, paperwork, and ticket, gave me the departure part of my form – and then let me through.

There was a button arrangement on the counter to give feedback on the staff member. I gave him an excellent service rating with a big smiley face. If all security was like that, going through airports wouldn’t be that stressful.

I went in search of the toilet AGAIN! This time to wash the ink off.

I came across a HUGE queue for the baggage collection, but nothing obvious for if you didn’t have to collect your bags. I couldn’t see an information counter, so I asked a cell phone sim card provider if there was one. No there wasn’t and I think we confused each other with our English. And yes, I tried not to gabble.

Keeping an eye on the conveyor belt in case a pink suitcase with white polka dots popped out, I joined the queue and was directed straight through.

Now to find Terminal 2 and Air New Zealand.

Although all the signage was in Chinese and English, it still wasn’t easy to find Terminal 2. Terminal 1 was clearly signposted. Upstairs was departures, so I took a gamble.

It was Terminal 2.

It is HUGE! (But not as impressive as St Pancras.) It was divided into zones lettered from A to M. Each of those zones had 30 check in counters. Surrounding that was a mezzanine floor, some shops, seating, and plenty of walking and queuing space. Like I said, it was huge.

And there were a lot of pink suitcases, but none were pink with white polka dots and black scratches.

Out of zones A to M, which one was Air New Zealand’s? I found a board which told me it was bay B.

Turn right or left?

After a brisk walk down to bay B I went up to the Air New Zealand counter.

First thing: Was my bag going straight through to Auckland?

I could breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, it was. So I checked in and settled in for a long wait.

I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast (which was only fruit, yoghurt and an orange juice. I’m baconed out.), which was about seven hours ago. I can’t recognise any of the foods here and I’m not sure about paying for anything. I guess that if I was desperate I could use my credit card. I hope Air New Zealand are quick feeding us.

I did recognise the Walls ice cream logo and they have “Pringles”, but they’re not really things I want for lunch.

Since I’d been sitting down for 10.5 hours and I’m going to be sitting down for another long haul, I did a brisk lap of Terminal 2. I found one place that appeared to be selling buns. The decorations on them reminded me of hot cross buns, but the cross was blue and white stripes, so it looked as if they knew the product, but didn’t get the idea behind it.

The buns also looked a bit uneven and messy.

I got closer and realised that they were restrained crabs.

I left.

I don’t know how big the airport is, but outside looks mighty hazy.

A note about airport toilets here (the two subjects are unrelated). I don’t know if it’s an international thing, but you walk into a cubicle of the ones here and they’re already ¾ full of water. Is it broken?

I took a chance.

I’d finished when it burst into life and the whole lot was sucked down the drain. The pan was then refilled from the bottom rather than under the rim as ours do.

Talking water, they have water fountains on Terminal 2. You can have warm, hot or boiling. Some people had bought themselves instant noodles and were cooking them with the boiling water. I keep on drinking water to keep myself hydrated and feeling hungry.

The second water fountain I tried wasn’t working properly, so someone came over to help me. He couldn’t get it to work either, and in the end supplied me with a paper cup (one of those conical ones like at Bath) of boiling water.

Oh, well. Blowing on it to make it cool took up a few minutes.

I’m glad I’ve got Kally to keep me company. I just wish she was better at minding the bags.

I think I’ll go for another lap of the building.

The place is kept spotless. It looks like every public facility is looked after by two dedicated staff – two women for the ladies’ and two men for the… You’ve got the picture. And I’ve found three toilets so far so that’s 12 people employed just to keep the toilets clean. And there are always people wondering around with dustpan and brushes to sweep up the tiniest bit of dirt and to check if the rubbish tins need emptying.

And they try to keep you entertained. There was a quartet of a cello, violin, flute and piano playing before. Plus a giant Wii-type games console that was a video camera of the concourse as you walked by… at a little slower than my usual speed.

EOS is telling me it’s 6.00pm. Hopefully that means its 1300 hours. Quarter of an hour and I can head to the gate for another hour’s wait. A pity I couldn’t get the WiFi to work, but my phone didn’t want to talk to it.

Second leg. It’s now 2.16am according to EOS. 9.17pm in Shanghai according to the inflight information. Also our altitude is 11,278m (37,000’), and our ground speed is 869 km/h (540mph). And we’ve still got four hours 38 minutes to go. It looks like we’re currently over Papua New Guinea.

I managed to get through Chinese security okay. It’s odd the way that different countries expect different things. America’s the only place where you had to take your shoes off. China insists that you put your keys into the tray. None of them worried about Kally.

And you work your way through the grey, sterile efficiency with unsmiling officials trying to keep their country and all flyer safe, and then find yourself in another world of sparkling lights and glitter and colours and a request to buy, buy, buy before you say bye-bye.

I didn’t buy.

I was pleased to see the Air New Zealand plane though. It meant I was finally on my way home. A ten hour 44 minute trip.

Air New Zealand fed us about an hour into the flight and then I settled down to try to catch up on my sleep. I think I managed a comfortable hour, which isn’t great, but it was refreshing and a relief to know that I was at least going to have some sleep in 48 hours.

Time to destination: 4.33. Outside temperature -40°C.

11:01am. Only 11:01? At least I now know that EOS is telling me the correct time.

D.C. and I are sitting in Esquires on the corner of Hobson and Victoria Streets in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve just had a spinach and feta roll and a cup of Manuka Mint Tea.

And there’s a little two seater Mitsubishi car (like a Smart) parked out front, Ego plate SQOTTY.

The flight home was good. As we drew closer I kept thinking “Only three hours to go… Only two hours to go… Only…”

The onscreen display showed us our flight path and I was thinking that I was on the wrong side to see land as the plane tracked down Northland. But I could see (through the windows on the other side of the plane) what looked to be a glorious yellow sunrise. The clouds on my side were definitely lovely to look at from above.

I figured, with the way the aeroplane was facing on the display, that I wouldn’t get to see Rangitoto. We were either facing nose onto it or, when the plane turned, it was going to be on my side, but towards the rear of the craft so I’d have to stand up to see it, and by that stage the “seatbelts done up” sign was on.

We dove into the fluffy white clouds to be surrounded by a cushion of white. We continued descending, finally emerging from under the clouds. What was the first thing I saw out the window on my side of the plane (I try to get aisle seats), but Rangitoto!

I teared up at seeing that.

Now typing at home, at my PC, the following day.

Getting my bag and through customs wasn’t as bad as I thought it would have been. I declared my hot chocolate sachets and my sheep-dirtied shoes (explaining that they had been thoroughly cleaned after a hike across the Yorkshire Dales, but that I’d wandered through two sheep-infested areas since then…

“Are the shoes you’re wearing now the ones you wore?”

“No. They’re in my bag.”

“But they’re clean now?”

“Yes.”

“Go left.” Through the green exit.

From there it was only a short walk to tear up again when I saw D.C… Who was frantically trying to get a photo of me leaving the international arrivals area.

Like mother, like daughter.

Then it was catch the bus to the city (we had hoped to get to direct to the SkyTower, but the bus stopped in Queen Street) and then I had to push Thunderbird Two, with D.C. steering, up the hill to the lockers. We locked it away while we went back down the hill and got my watch from Michael Hill Jewellers. Remember that incident from day one?

We were rather surprised to see an aeroplane parked in the middle of Queen Street outside the Civic Theatre. Upon closer inspection we realised that it was the nose of a jumbo-sized vehicle and was something to do with Air New Zealand being 75 years old. We would have had a closer look, but it wasn’t open at that point.

Back up the hill for lunch, to retrieve Thunderbird Two from the locker, to thank our kindly bus driver who put it into the bus, promised us the front seats, and let us go and sit down instead of queuing.

I dozed for most of the ride home. But we had to walk (pushing Thunderbird Two) the last bit.

We arrived home to discover that the ceiling over the bathroom had linked – dripping water over the light fitting, pooling on the floor, and doing a right out the door, left turn to the dining room, and soaking the carpet. I put a bit of electrical tape over the light switch to stop us from automatically turning it on.

And then went to bed at about 2:45pm.

I woke up again at 7:30… pm (same day).

After a little dinner I went back to bed. And slept until 6.30am the next morning.

And I’ve still got Chinese security ink on my hands. I have washed them since – Honest!

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