A weekend in Manchester

Ahhh. Summer’s here at last. Well, no it’s not, because I saw a gritter on my way to work this morning, but the past weekend certainly felt like summer. A warm spell in an otherwise cold month.

But what was I doing in Manchester, I hear absolutely nobody ask? Well, I’m sure I’ve talked about the ol’ #speccy meetups in here before, where once a year, a few of us from the afore-mentioned IRC channel and the World Of Spectrum forums meet up, and have a few pints and a bit of a chinwag. Well, this time, it was going to be in Manchester.

I’d prepared for this *well* in advance, and by that, I mean I somehow managed to book a train and a hotel without getting the whole thing completely mixed up, and ending up booking a room in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the train heading off into the middle of the sea. Or something. Still, a little of me had a feeling this trip was going to be doomed to failure.

Marko, the main organiser, who has commented a few times on here (probably about the meets, I can’t remember), unfortunately pulled out and couldn’t go, so I was left in a bit of a situation. I didn’t have any contact details for anyone else going, other than Facebook. So, I pictured myself getting there, not actually knowing what anybody looks like, and spending the entire night on my own. Well, that is, if I was going to get there at all.

Wednesday came, I was in the snooker place, batting some balls about when I received a text…

“You aware of Northern rail strikes on Saturday? ”

As the white ball shot off the table, it became clear I wasn’t aware. This threw all sorts of spanners in the works. The Transpennine trains were running normally. Northern Rail trains weren’t.

Saturday was also Grand National day, and although getting to Thornaby for 08:32 wasn’t a problem (I bribed Daddykins into giving me a lift), there was no telling how packed the train was going to be. I was worrying the night before about finding my seat, and finding a random Boro chav sprawled out across it. that is, if I could even get on the train for the crowds.

I needn’t have worried. Maybe the news of the rail strike caused most people to stay in bed or make alternative arrangements. Maybe most people were just still hungover. Dunno. I just knew I had my seat, and the rest of the journey would be a breeze.

The guy say next to me got off at York, so I had a window seat for the rest of the journey, and the next two hours were spent watching England’s green and pleasant land roll past.

I arrive in Manchester, and there was two hours before I could check into the hotel. There was only one thing for it… LET’S GO BARGAIN HUNTING! RECORD SHOPPING!

As I mentioned before, I’ve been to Manchester a couple of times, and I know that Piccadilly is a good spot for vinyl. I knew of at least 3 shops…. the Vinyl Exchange, which is probably the biggest of the three. Piccadilly Records, which just sells new stuff, and it’s really up my alley, plus another one, which I can’t remember the name of.

Unfortunately, despite spending some time in all three, I came up empty. All seemed a bit expensive, and to be honest, considering how warm it was, I didn’t really want to carry many heavy records with me anyway. Plus, I had put some time away on the Sunday, to go back and have a better look.

I checked the time, and it was time to check into the hotel. On my way down, a board caught my eye, advertising the “Vinyl Resting Place”, in a rather “hipster” location known as Afflecks. It was on the top floor, and the more I went in to the place, the less I felt like I fitted in. It was one of those places you go to have a tattoo, buy black lipstick, or some type of… oh, I can’t describe it. I just know that in this maze of little shops was a place selling vinyl.

Eventually, I found it., and started rummaging through the boxes. There was some stuff, that on another day, I might have purchased, but even at 3 for £1, I almost didn’t get anything.

In the corner was a box of 12″ singles, and I managed to pick three out of there….

“Played A-Live” by Safri Duo, “Let there Be Light” – dance version by Mike Oldfield, and “Angel’s Symphony” by RAF. The latter of the three I used to have as a CD single, but it went for an absolute fortune on ebay. I’m not going to sell this one though as it’s a good little tune.

those, surprisingly were going to be my only 3 music purchases of the weekend. And, on that note, I checked into the hotel!

After a slight rest, and to allow my phone battery time to charge, I headed off to the meet. The stop for most of the night was “The Moon Under Water” on Deansgate, which from what I heard, claims to be the biggest pub in England. It used to be an old cinema, so yes, it was pretty big. I’m sure I’ve been in bigger though.

Of course, this was Grand National Saturday, and, as tradition would have it, I watched it in a pub, making this the 28th Grand national in a row that I’ve watched.

Beer flowed nicely, and after grub was consumed, we headed to another place. I couldn’t remember the name of the place, but my handy “google Timeline” thing tells me it was “the Ape and Apple”. I liked this place. Not crowded, and we could all talk. The night started winding down at about 11, as everyone was going home. I waddled back to the hotel, and that was me asleep until 9:30 the next morning.

Sunday was obviously the shortest day of the two, but I still found time to walk to the record shops for one last look… aaand, they were all closed. Bugger.

Since I was up this way, I thought I’d take in one last “tourist attraction”, and it’s where you’ve reading this from now.

Some photos from the Manchester Speccy meet

This is Turner St, Manchester. The home of 34SP, fine purveyors of website stuff, and my money flows down this road every month to keep mercuryvapour.co.uk afloat. Well, I actually doubt that the servers are hosted here, but it’s where the staff are.

Unfortunately, I’d entirely misjudged where it was, and it turns out it’s just to the right of this photo, out of shot. But look how close it is to that pub, though.

And, that was my lot. I’d studied the train timetable long and hard (oo-er), and thought I knew the train times. Well, this was incorrect. I’d reached the station and found that there was only a 20-minute wait until Thornaby.

“The person who cannot be named” had offered to pick me up from Thornaby station, which means I didn’t have to travel back to Hartlepool. Overall, a good weekend. And I’ll be back in Manchester in a weeks’ time.

Amsterdam, day 1

I’ve just came back from a few days away, and my first visit to Amsterdam. Technically it’s my second, but you can hardly call Schiphol airport a visit.

So, the journey started on Tuesday morning. There were a group of about 12 of us, who meet up on a Monday night in the Mill House.

We boarded the coach, and instead of being all in a group, it turned out we were scattered all over the coach. We’d block-booked, so you’d have thought we’d all be in the same area of the coach, but no. Not that it actually mattered, because the next pickup was in Hull. I was perfectly happy with my seat anyway. Right at the back, and with a window seat. Couldn’t have been better. It gave me chance to photograph the loveliness of Hartlepool town centre, and the journey to Hull, which is where we would embark our floating hotel.

There was a brief stop in Ferrybridge, long enough to partake in some chips from Burger King. I also invested in two bottles of water. At 2 500ml bottles for £2, it was almost double the price of petrol. Still, it was cheaper than the pop, and with arguably less sugar, this was to be my choice.

Of course, that is, until we arrived in Hull. We got chance to have a stop-off which meant only one thing… a pub. Apparently, the nearest Weatherspoon’s was about 10 minutes’ walk away, so we just picked a street and headed down it, hoping for the best. It wasn’t long until we’d found a little place, namely “The Masters Bar”. Therefore, at 2PM, the first pint of the trip was to be consumed.

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The place was small. Really small. The beer was cheap and the locals friendly. Really couldn’t go wrong. It was freezing when we got in there, but it started warming up, or maybe that was the beer kicking in.

We had to be back at the bus station for 3:40PM. The other pick-up had already embarked by the time we’d got there, so the bus was a little more full than it was originally. Well, that’s natural, but you know what I mean.

There was only about 20 minutes left of the bus trip, and we arrived in the Hull docks at just after 4. Of course, there was the obligatory sit-around for about an hour while the customs searched the bus and checked the passports. Everything was in order, and none of us got dragged off the bus in handcuffs. That would have been a blog entry on its own.

Eventually, we got on board. I was surprised at how big it was, even though it’s the maritime equivalent of a Cityhopper plane. There was also the trick of working out who I was sharing the cabin with. There’d be two of us to a cabin, and after the bus mix-up, I wasn’t with who I was expecting!

I don’t think anything quite prepared me for just how small the cabins were going to be. I gathered they’d had to be small, but just how small would be a surprise. Turns out I didn’t take a photo so I’d just have to try and describe it. For those who have never been on one of these budget cruises before, the room was about 6 feet wide, and that’s including the beds attached to the wall. If one of us wanted to get past the other, we’d either have to get on the bed or press right against the wall.

Amenities were scarce. There weren’t any, basically. You’d have thought that seeing as the ship sailed between Rotterdam and Hull constantly, that there’d be two types of plug sockets on-board. No. Apparently, these must have cost extra to fit, because there was only one European socket. Or maybe it was the “special” cabins that got these. Needless to say I didn’t pack my European adaptor. Three days for my devices to survive.

Thankfully, I’d invested in an emergency battery charger while I was in Asda a few weeks ago, so I knew I’d at least get an extra few hours out of my phone. The camera would just have to survive on whatever juice it had remaining.

Anyway, back to the cabin. The only other thing in there, except for two bunk beds, was the bathroom. This was amazingly small. Shower, sink and toilet. This was also my first encounter with one of those vacuum toilet things. I was a bit alarmed when I was stood there having a pee to see the water level rise. I thought the toilet was blocked. Then I realised, you had to close the lid, and flush. There was an almighty roar, everything had gone, and the water level had returned to normal. Phew.

So, the next job was to find the bar. After all, there wasn’t going to be much else to do on the journey. A green sign on the wall read “Irish Bar”. Yup. This’ll do. Turns out there was literally nothing Irish about it Admittedly, they *were* playing The Corrs, but it was just the same as the other bars (there were three overall). A pint of Becks as £3.70. It could have been worse. It’s not as if you could nip over the road and get one, was it? You could have, of course, bought duty free on the ferry, but you weren’t allowed to drink it on the ship. You’d have to buy it and then pick it up as you got off the ferry on the return journey.

A couple of pints were consumed, and then we headed into the restaurant. I pictured scenes of dodgy, cold food, served to you as a set meal, slopped onto a plate. I can happily report this was not the case. If you didn’t like what was on offer, then you didn’t like food. There was everything. Including curry, and it was all-you-can-eat. Well, I was in my element. Unlimited curry. Of course, we hadn’t left the port yet, so I wasn’t quite sure how great my sea legs would be, and if I’d be spewing up everywhere within the first few miles. And, of course, I wanted to leave room for the beer.

Dinner was completed successfully, and we ended up in the main bar. This would be the one where all of the “entertainment” was to be taking place. A large projector was showing what else you could do on board, such as the cinema, piano lounge, etc. The cinema would have cost money, so this was scratched immediately off the menu. There was also a casino. Was I feeling lucky? Good lord, no. I gave that a suitably wide berth, unlike the cabin I’d be sleeping in.

We all ended up downstairs in the main bar. Of course, the first showing was of the obligatory safety video. Don’t panic. This is where your life jackets are. Mackerel have the right of way, and so on. This was to be the best entertainment. They even showed it three times, in different languages.

Of course, if you weren’t in the bar at the time, you won’t have seen the video, so I have no idea what everyone else would have done… it soon became crystal clear why.

Because if you’ve been on this ship more than once, you’d know to avoid the on-board entertainment like the plague. Now, I’ve been taught that if you can’t say nice things about anybody, then don’t say anything at all.

Next morning we…. Hahah, I jest. Seriously, this was the worst sound system I have ever heard. Below is a picture of where we were sat, and the proximity to the stage.

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It was so quiet, you couldn’t actually understand what they were saying, and the choices of songs were absolutely atrocious. It was strange hearing the lady singing songs quite clearly meant for blokes to sing. Examples of this escape my mind. The backing tracks sounded like they’ve been put through one of those internet tools that you can use to strip vocals off and just leave the instrumentals behind. The results were astonishing.

There were three of them, the singer, a bassist and a guitarist. The bassist seemed utterly pointless, as the tracks already had a bassline. In fact for the last part of the show, he just gave up and sat in the audience. The singer was just about there, and the guitarist did perform pretty well. None of them were anything to write home about… oh wait, I just did.

It suddenly became apparent that while you were sat down, you didn’t realise that much you were on a ferry. The movement wasn’t too bad. It was only when you got up to go for a pee, you run into problems. I nipped to the bogs, and pointed Petite Percy at the porcelain, only to almost fall backwards. I thought the Becks was kicking in… nope, just the movement of the ship. Phew.

It must have been about 1 when I called it a night. The times were hazy. Literally. Was it GMT? Was it CET? All I knew is that there would be a tannoy announcement to wake us up. My cabin buddy had already retired to the cabin many hours before. Attempting to sleep would be an experience, but I’d became prepared. I’d preloaded the23rd anniversary of “Crap From The Past”, hosted by Ron Boogiemonster Gerber onto my MP3 player. This turned out to be a smart move. I never knew that “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was originally recorded by Bucks Fizz. No, really.

After that eye opener, my eyes closed, and the slow rhythmic vibration of the ship lulled me off to sleep…

Taking the high road…. day 2 (and horribly incomplete)

Look, I’m *never* going to finish the Scotland trip write-up. I hate having one of those “real life” things. Here’s the partial write-up of day 2, complete with placeholders where I wanted photos to go, because I really am *that* lazy!

Oops, I hadn’t forgotten about this, I’ve just had a few things to do in my “extra curricular” time, and I’ve been laden with manflu, so I’ve hardly had the time or the patience to sit down at the computr. Anyway, onto Day 2. I awoke with very little of a hangover, and it would be the first time I’d get a decent look out of the hotel window just to see what the view was like. Let’s just say when I opened the window, I almost spat my complimentary cup of tea and biscuits all over the window. It was stunning.

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I’ve stayed in many hotels over the years, and this was the first one I’ve had with a decent view. Normally, I’m looking over a service road, or the back of another building or a car park, but this was something different. 10 points for the view. In fact, the whole of the exterior was quite pretty, and looked more like something out of Norway than Scotland

pic of hotel

Breakfast was consumed, which, of course, consisted of one of those rare commodities… hotel toast. It’s just so different to normal toast and I don’t know why. It’s the same product, and I assume the same cooking method. It’s just different. I’ve tried to explain this to people and they don’t understand what I’m going on about. It’s also when I say that milk tastes different if you drink it outside. they don’t understand that either. It just does. It really, really does.

I digress, and before I become accused of having a point to any of these blog postings, let’s just say we boarded the coach, and headed off deep in to the highlands. Well, you’ll be glad to know, if you’ve seen one picture of a foggy mountainside, you’ve seen them all. So, I took 90 photos. Our first destination was Fort William. We didn’t stay there that long, just enough time to stop in the shadow of Ben Nevis (which, due to the low cloud, you couldn’t actually see the summit) and to get an overpriced drink from the “Wool Shop”. Cor, exciting times. Me and Chris decided to have a quick walk around the streets to see if we could find a cheap paper shop, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

So, that was Fort William, for now. We’d return on the way back, but onto our main destination… Fort Augustus. The reason for this is to visit the most famous loch of them all. Loch Ness. Would we see the infamous Nessie? Sadly, not, unfortunately, there was another just as ugly creature stood at the edge of the water. That’ll be me, taking the photos.

loch ness photo

Ho hum. Well, we’d seen the vast expanse of water. It appeared to be the same as the other expanses of water which we had seen in the day, and so, it was off to explore the village. And by that, I mean explore the nearest pub. You’ll be shocked, saddened, and probably even a little appalled to learn that I had a coke. I really wasn’t feeling the love for the beer, and considering there was the coach ride back to contend with, I didn’t want anything alcoholic pressing on my bladder.

So, we left the pub and explored the rest of the village. There was a museum (which was closed) and a Londis. I was rather happy at the fact the Londis sold “Atomic Fireballs”, a confectionery I hadn’t seen since I was about 13. I’m pretty sure they’d reduced the heat content, but the good old cinnamon flavour was still there. It was the only place I’d seen where things like water were reasonably priced too. I could have drank the water in the hotel (I don’t believe in all of that “change of water makes you shit through the eye of a needle” malarky), but the beakers provided in the hotel were the size of thimbles, and I didn’t fancy having to get up if I was thirsty during the night. Oh, and they had schotch-flavoured condoms on the front counter. I’m lining up the QI klaxon for the raft of predictable jokes that is going to make the comments.

The journey back included the afore-mentioned stop in Fort William. Maybe it was because it was a week day. Maybe it was because it was going on 4PM, but there was very little there. The “High Street” had very little going for it. Naturally there were the charity shops, but as Chris was with me, I didn’t want to just visit those. I’d save that for Edinburgh later on in the week! So, a few 30-second charity shops a Tesco and a museum later, we headed back to the coach, and time to photograph the things I’d neard about on the coach, but didn’t get the chance to photograph, including this…

I can’t remember if it had an official name, but the legend has it, that a farmer buried his dead sheepdog, named Domino, at the base of this rock, and shortly after, a tree started growing out of the rock. Awww.

So, er, that’ll be my Scotland trip. Days 3, 4 and 5 involved Edinburgh, a shirt, a squirrel, the Forth Road bridge, an epic game of cards in the dark, and at the very end, an aching arse. Make of that what you will, because I’ll probably never, ever write any of it up. Oh well!

Taking the High Road…. (Day 1)

Wahey. Finally, something other to blog about other than streetlights and records. Both of my readers must be beside themselves with excitement, for you see, I’ve just came back from five days away in “sunny” Scotland. It was a trip that had been planned long in advance, but due to work commitments, I couldn’t go, but when those work commitments got delayed by a week, the opportunity arose for me to leave the sleepy shores of Hartlepool, and spend many hours on a coach.

A little background on how the trip came about. I belong to an organisation who meet on a Monday night, and every year, around this time, arrange a trip away. Sadly, the five years we’ve been together, there’s only been a handful of holidays I’ve been able to attend.

The majority of the organization were going, meaning there was a bus load of 22 from Hartlepool. I literally knew nothing about this trip. I knew we were going to Scotland, and that was it. I didn’t know where we were staying. I could have easily found out, but I thought where was the fun in that? There have been other trips where I’ve spent hours scouring Google Maps, and pretty much spoiling the surprise for myself. This time, I purposely avoided all known information about it.

So, after an hour of frantic packing, I left Mercuryvapour Towers early on Thursday morning. Chris was also going, so we picked him up along the way.

We got picked up at Christchurch at about 8:45. Now, the odd thing is, that this wasn’t going to be our coach for the full journey. We had to swap coaches at Otterburn, a village somewhere near the borders.Which is just as well, as we had a tour of the north east picking up other people. Sunderland, Whitley Bay and finally Newcastle. It had taken us about three hours to get out of the North-East. Not comfortable.

There was about an hours stay over in Otterburn, while the cases were swapped from one case to another. A few of the group I was with had made a similar trip, and knew that Otterburn had a nice little pub called, coincidentally enough, The Percy Arms. Sorted. Nowt like a pint, and maybe a bit of pub grub to make the rest of the journey go quicker. We arrived in Otterburn at 12PM. Four of us headed for the pub, only to find it was shut. Closed. Gone. “For Sale” signs as far as the eye could see. Bugger. There was only one other place. A posh, stately home hotel thing. This really didhave a gravel driveway. I was in my legendary “bus journey” trackies and Primani T-shirt. To say I felt underdressed was an understatement. We asked at reception, and thankfully, the bar was around the corner in what looked like a converted stable.

The only lager they had on was Stella 4%. Not my fovourite, but hell, it’s the first one of the holiday. Why not? Well, I’ll tell you why not, the bloody thing wasn’t actually working. Joy. Instead, I paid £3 for a bottle of Corona. Jasys. If this was how the holiday was going, I’d be skint before the first night. To pass the time, the only entertainment consisted of a jukebox. The barman kindly provided a shiny £1 coin to have three plays of whatever we wanted. Or rather, whatever I wanted. It goes without saying that it included “the Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby + the Range, as I’ve yet to find a jukebox with “Downtown” in it.

We drank up, headed back to the coach, but not before I’d pay £1 for a bag of crisps. Bloody hell, £4 down and I hadn’t even left England.

The next stop was to pick up a couple of people at Edinburgh airport. Bit of a strange pickup point I think you’ll agree, but I’ve never been so thankful for a stop in all of my life, as some way between the border and Edinburgh, the unload bay was full, if you know what I mean. By the time we’d reached Edinburgh, I was banging my head off the seat. The lady driver announced over the coach’s PA system “Aye, ye’s can all have a wee toilet break in the airport”. Trust me, love. It wasn’t a wee I needed. I broke land-speed records trying to get from the coach to the toilets, which seemed a mile through the arrivals lounge. Ironic, as I was about to make a jet-powered departure.

I must admit, I felt just that little twinge of guilt as I watched the coach driver load the parking meter full of pound coins as we’d gone over our five-minute allocated stop time, but then I realised she could probably claim that back off the tour company, so all was right with the world.

The next stop was Stirling services. This isn’t an amazing place. It’s a service station, but with even less charm than your average stopping point. I paid £2.49 for a “supersized” portion of chips from Burger King. Either I’m fat, or the portion really wouldn’t have filled a hole in a badger’s tooth. Not going well for money so far.

My impression on the service station wasn’t helped by the fact it was pissing down. It was 4PM at this point, we’d been on the road for several hours, my arse was numb, and I really could have put up with the hotel being around the corner. But no. Apparently the place we were going to was right in the highlands. As mich as the view got more picturesque, it got more obscured by low clouds, and my attempts of passive the time by photographing the scenery were in vain. YES, almost 1,000 words in, and it’s the first shit picture!

Yeah, so you’ll see what the camera on my phone had to put up with. Somewhere in the journey, it was revealed to us just how strict the hotel was. Doors close at 11:45, and there’s hand foam dispensers everywhere, and we’re expected to use them. Oh, well, that was it. Every foam / hand cleaning pun came out. I’m not sure if they made the journey seem longer. They probably did.

We arrived at the hotel around 6PM. Entry was through some type of greenhouse. No, I’m not kidding. The owner is a large fan of plants, and you enter the hotel through this greenhouse, complete with high-powered sodium lights which are on 24-7. Well, at least I think they were. The gloom never lifted enough to see if they were photocell driven or not. NOT THAT YOU EVEN CARE. There were the now infamous foam dispensers on the wall, which you were instructed to use when entering and leaving the building.

Dinner was at 7:30. After a journey like that, there was only one question… where was the bar? Me and Chris were sharing a room, and I don’t even think the castors on our suitcases had stopped spinning before I had a pint in my hand. And by this, I mean, by finding the bar I’d already found all of the facilities the hotel had to offer. As in, there weren’t any. It was a big place,but if you were to stay there during the day, all there was, entertainment wise, was the bar. I know, I always say, that from a hotel, all I expect is a bed, bath and bog, but that pushed it to the extreme. The room had a TV so small you’d need binoculars to see if it was on or not. It didn’t even have a bible. That, to me, is a sign of a good hotel. Well, except the one in Blackpool, where the bible was present, but included a rather alarming amount of pubic hair.

Anyway, before we knew it, it was dinnertime. the first thing that greeted you on your entrance to the dining room was a member of the staff, greeting you in an eastern European accent, whilst thrusting a large bottle of the afore-mentioned hand foam towards your grubby English mitts. And they wouldn’t allow you past until they accepted. No, really.

So, we picked our table, and this was to be our table for the week. This is standard practice in these large coach tours, where they’ll mass-feed 300 people at a time. I made the mistake of failing to do this on the afore-mentioned Blackpool trip, so I knew, that if I didn’t force the first meal down my neck, I pretty much wouldn’t have a place to sit for the rest of the week. Thankfully, the first meal was perfectly acceptable. I have never been a fan of set meals. I’m not the world’s most fussiest eater, and have certainly broadened by palate over the last few years, but still. There’s a few things I’ll happily die without trying. None of these crept up on the first night’s menu, and I enjoyed a rather lovely roast pork dinner. Choice of vegetables were potatoes, green beans and sweetcorn. I pouched rather a lot. Desert was eaten, and we made our way back to the bar for the night’s entertainment.

Oddly, when they came “on stage”, there was an announcement that we weren’t allowed to film, and photography was only allowed “discreetly”. Normally, I’d grab a few minutes of video to remind me who the acts were for when it comes to the blog, but I have nothing. Completely dry. Whis is a shame, as the two blokes were really, really good. I’ve never been a fan of hotel acts, but these were brilliant. One guy sang, while the other guy provided all of the entertainment through a synthesized accordion. They were genuinely a good turn, and I’m a bit saddened that I can’t give them more of a plug. They even performed a cover of “Working Man”, a song originally by Canadian artist Rita McNeil. That song alone was worthy of a blog entry, which I don’t think I finished writing.

Anyway, much beer was drunk, and upon returning to the room, we found that one of the light bulbs had given up the ghost. Just *look* at that blackened electrode…

Do they replace the light bulb? Stay tuned for Day 2…

Vienna calling, the sodding journey home.

This one doesn’t deserve a day number, as it really wasn’t a part of the holiday, possibly one of the most infuriating 15 hours of my life. You may be interested to know that I’m still halfway through the last day while I’m typing this, but I’ve had a bit to drink, and really fell like I need to get this vitriol out of my system before I bite someone’s face off.

Admittedly, the day started off perfectly. We’d packed early and headed off into the reception 30 minutes before the driver was ready to pick us up. he was a really nice guy, and he has a good chat about what had happened on our trip. He didn’t seem surprised about the conversation we’d experienced on Day 6. In fact, he seemed a bit surprised that we didn’t go for it, and also gave us some tips for locations of that nature should we ever return.

We arrived at the airport, thanked the driver for his excellent service, and this is where things started to go just that little bit pear-shaped. After typing our details into the self-checkin computer, we got our boarding passes and luggage things printed. Jonathan was entirely exempt from the baggage procedure, as his case fitted in hand luggage. Remember, our bags would need to go to Heathrow. We’d pick them up, then make our way to Gatwick for the flight back to Newcastle.

Anyway, Chris went to one desk, I went to another. We both had the same “credentials”. Our bags disappeared up the conveyor, and we headed up through the check-in gates. At this point, all I wanted, and cared about was free wi-fi, which the airport seemed to offer. It wasn’t until we were sat in the departure gate, did I manage to get connected. Some of you may remember my “Hello From Vienna” post, where I said “Or rather, the airport, as I sit in the departure lounge awaiting part one of what will be an awful journey back.” You’ll have to forgive the typos. It’s a touchscreen. I think it all came down the fact I knew we were against the clock. I also thought that Chris was going to bail the Gatwick – Newcastle flight, opting to stay with Jonathan for a bit.

Nothing could prepare me for the horror that would lie ahead. Moments after posting that blog post, I needed the toilet. I headed off to the cubicle, and without me noticing, it turned out to be one of those freaky German “shelf” toilets. You poo onto what is literally a shelf, presumably so you can erm… “examine your stool”. Trust me, there were no surprises, except the one I got when I stood up, looked down and thought I’d used the toilet incorrectly.

The gate opened, and we headed off onto the plane. Chris really hated the experience. At this point, I had nothing to hate.

The flight was brilliant. I oddly fell asleep, waking just as we were coming back to the British Isles. The path down below the clouds was literally like the set of Eastenders. I almost lost a testicle when we flew over the Millennium Dome / O2 Arena. The other testicle nearly burst when we flew near Wimbledon’s grounds. Unfortunately, this would be the last happy experience I’d have on the entire trip. Usual shit ensued, as we passed through passport control. We headed off to baggage. Chris’s turned up. I stood there, waiting. The board said “Still offloading”. By the time there was one bag left, I was freaking out. It wasn’t mine, obviously. The board still said offloading, but after this bag went around the fourth time, I expected a holy fuckup.

I headed off to the baggage desk. I handed my receipt to the guy behind the counter…

Him: “oh yeah, there’s been a mistake. Your bag has landed, but it’s going to Gatwick via van… it won’t make it to your connecting Newcastle flight”. Slightly pissed off, I completed the paperwork, It took ages. It also became apparent that because the plane was delayed and so was the baggage, the three hours we had to travel 50 miles from Heathrow to Gatwick had considerably shrunk.

Jonathan lives in Surbiton, so the plan was to get a taxi to there. He’d drive us the rest of the way to Gatwick.

We jumped into a black cab, £20 each to Surbiton. After my bag shenanigans, I was happy to pay. All I wanted to do was get home. Something became very clear. The bag and plane delay meant that we’d be cutting things incredibly fine. Jonathan did his best to get us there in time, though traffic going through Surbiton didn’t help at all. I don’t think I’ve ever heard C or J get so angry. It was plain sailing from there to Gatwick, until we got close to the airport, there was another half-mile of traffic to the entrance. Chris, probably rightly, thought “fuck this”, and jumped out, heading towards the terminus. I’d got what little baggage I’d accumulated and ran after Chris. Be aware, my feet were still on fire at this point, and I’m watching the clock. I think we had about 17 minutes. We arrive in the South Terminal, with no sign of the British Airways travel desk. Chris asks someone, who points us to the North Terminal. A train takes us over there, and we arrive at the North Terminal… Whoo, British Airways desk. there we go. About 4 minutes to spare. We go to check in.

Him: “We don’t do flights to Newcastle from here”…

Instantly, I check the paperwork. Something stares back at me. A little block of toner that reads “Flybe”.

“Well, you’ll have to go to the Flybe check-in desk, won’t you”, was the reply from this instantly dislikable bastard. That was it, game over as far as I was concerned. Defeated, by the rudest bit of customer service I’ve ever had. Technically I wasn’t actually a BA customer, but you know what I mean. The paperwork I was holding was the victim of a fit of rage. My work colleagues will know this as a “pissy fit”. I was in rage mode at this point, but Chris remembers the afore-mentioned twat shouting at me to pick it up. I didn’t, and as far as I know they’re still on the floor there. I was defeated at this point. How long would it take us to get back to the South Terminal? Dunno. It felt like the longest journey I’ve ever had. Jonathan was there, wondering where WE were. Turns out he was the only one who read the itinerary correctly and knew where we should check in at. We went to the Flybe check-in desk. One of those stupid auto-check in machines wouldn’t allow us to do it, so I went to the desk. I ask if we’re too late to check in. the cheery woman behind the desk gleefully answered that we were still on time… “Oh, thank God for that”, I reply. the last two hours of shit were instantly flushed away.

“So, zis is for the… 8pm flight, yaa?”

There. Right there. That moment. That second. That question. That exact statement. The answer was no. We wanted the 16:20 flight.

“Ahh, sorree, ze check-in is closed”.

The holiday was over. We were stranded. I said something to the woman behind the desk. I can’t remember my exact words, but it was on the lines of “If BA hadn’t lost my baggage, we’d have been on time”. I knew there was nothing she could have done. Technically I do this type of job myself, so her completely apathetic “Oh dear” was noted, yet duly ignored, as the directed towards the customer service desk

Technically, we were stuck, and I’ve never felt so broken in a long while. It’s the first time I’ve ever missed a flight. I didn’t even bother contacting the customer service desk. the mood I was in probably would have seen us (or, at least me) being escorted out of the airport. I have watched countless hours of shows like “Airport”, and they show people kicking off. I always thought they were over-reacting. I felt ashamed and positively gutted that I was now one of those.

My world had ended. I was in London, no flight home, no baggage, nothing. I rang Daddykins, pretty much in tears about the whole situation, mainly through rage rather than actual emotion. Nothing he could say would reassure me that I’d see Hartlepool again without denting my wallet with money I didn’t have. Something I’ve only just realised, is that all of the photos, facebook updates, tweet, phone calls and Endomondo reports provide a pretty accurate timeline of what happened, and if some stupid bitch in Vienna hadn’t sent my bags to the wrong airport, we’d have made it.

There was nothing for it, we would have to get the train back. Chris knew there was a Grand Central back to Hartlepool at about 19:00, from Kings Cross. This was probably the lowest moment. I was in the back of Jonathan’s car. He’d disappeared somewhere to pay the parking charges, Chris was wandering about somewhere. I was in the odd position of feeling the early stages of dehydration, while at the same time busting for a pee. Add that to how depressed how I was, the feeling wasn’t great. Add that to the fact that I rehydrated myself at a petrol station and paid more for the water than what the petrol cost, checked my funds at a cash point and realising, after drawing out the cost of the train fare, I literally had £16 to last me 19 days.

At this point, it was about 16:30. I know this because of my facebook posts. Despite feeling like shit, I thought my troubles might have given someone a smile, so I kept updating facebook. Chad *loved* it. Cunt.

The next part of the ordeal was to get back from Gatwick to Surbiton train station. Remember, we still had a time limit. The M25 had an accident which slowed down things considerably. I’d already resigned myself to sleeping in a bush that evening. I just left him in charge. Two tickets were purchased from Surbiton to Vauxhall, and from there to Kings Cross. Basically, a Zone 1-6 £8 day thing. I’d give you all the details, but I’ve literally just given the ticket away to a guy called Geoff who likes such things. Glad you found my blog by the way.

The train picked us up at Surbiton and trook us past some sites such as the Battersa Power station. OK, by sights, I mean one. It was raining, and I really didn’t care

Chris was like a man possessed though the underground tunnels. I literally had to tell him to slow down, thanks to my feet. He told me afterwards, that we were actually extremely late getting the train. We arrive at Kings Cross / St. Pancreas (or whatever it’s called), to see a familiar looking train sat, waiting at the platform. We were at least guaranteed to get home, though we didn’t actually have a ticket. We’d get one when the conductor came around.

I went for a much needed piss at this point. I don’t care about the rule of not flushing the bog at the station. It’s 2011. These things should have tanks, or something. I sat back at my seat, and Chris delivered the ‘bad’. There was a broken down train somewhere near Peterborough, and we’d be stuck in the station for about an hour. I could have cried. Some of you would have noticed the photo of me on facebook, of someone “entirely fucked off with the British transport system”. Well, that was took right at that moment.

Eventually, the train set off. At the first opportunity, I headed off to the bar. I didn’t realise they had an entire carriage dedicated to being a bar. Obviously, everything was out of cans / bottles. I didn’t care, I was happy to return to my seat, my cold Stella ready to be consumed.

We’d got a table seat. Now, on the Grand Central, they have “game boards” printed onto the table. Apparently, you can “rent” game sets for your journey. Some tables have Cluedo, some have Monopoly, but they all have chess/draughts boards printed on them. this journey was going to be filled with abject tedium. Thankfully, I had a bag of Euro coins on me. Plenty of 1cent and 2cent coins. Enough to have a game of draughts!

Things were going swimmingly, until another train went past. The sudden shockwave caused the coins to be scattered all over the board, and the game had to be abandoned. Thanks to a genius bit of real-life bugfixing by yours truly (we simply moved the pieces towards the edge of the squares so when a train went past, there was less change of movement to other squares), we were able to complete a few games. Each game turned out to be a lengthy battle of cunning and stealth, taking much longer than a game of draughts really should. Eventually, the Stella I was drinking in the previous picture made it hard to distinguish between the 1 cent and 2 cent coins, so the games were abandoned.

My mind turned to the fact that we hadn’t actually paid anything for this journey. My heart would stop at every whoosh of the sliding doors. Amusingly, one of those whooshes turned out to be one of the management types at Employment Palace. We didn’t exchange words, more of an acknowledgement of “Is that… nah, it can’t be…”

Stations went past, and we were getting closer to home. Still there was no conductor. We arrived in Hartlepool at 10:48, and my mood instantly lightened. We didn’t actually pay a bean for the journey home. All it cost me was 5 hours of my life, which is, to be fair far less than the time I’ve taken typing these blogs on the holiday, uploading the photos and deleting Chad’s comments.

I’d made arrangements for Daddykins to pick me up once we’d returned back to the town. There was just one thing I had to do. As soon as I left the train station, I was straight down to my favourite Indian… “Chicken vindaloo, pilau rice, naan bread and chips please”.

I’d originally intended to finish the posting there, but if you’ve managed to read this far, another few paragraphs clearly can’t hurt. I thought I’d update you with my baggage story. Pretty much, my entire wardrobe was in that case, compressed to a “zip file” (you have to zip the case to close it, see what I did there? Maybe that’s now zip files got their name? Meh). I don’t think I mentioned what I got given. A stock letter with a claim number scrawled on the top in biro.

I was home, and my baggage still hadn’t turned up at my doorstep. I thought I’d give the website a go. Facebook describes in perfect, stunning HD quality what happened, and my reaction.

Once again, I was spitting blood. I wasn’t shitting blood, but I’m sure that afore-mentioned vindaloo pushed me close to the edge. I gave it a couple of hours, and tried the website again. No joy. I just had to ring their 0844 number via the house phone. Naturally, I was forced into one of those pressy-button scenarios, with images of my bag being fed into an industrial crusher flashing before my eyes.

After pressing some buttons, I was transferred to an Indian call centre. You’ll be disappointed to hear that my experience with them was commendable. The guy promised me that my bag would be here by 5. True to his word, there was a knock on the door at 4:45PM, my bag arrived safe and sound.

Two days later, I arrived back at Employment Palace, only to find this was the backdrop to one of the computers I use…