writing: of planes, not-trains and automobiles

Hiya Cath.

I’ve found with writing the blog that if I stick to a schedule, I pressure myself with writing and it stops being fun. And I love writing – I’ve always got so much to say. But equally, I’m forever conscious that some people just want a recipe and don’t want to have to trough through 3,000 words about the time I saw a bee. And I love bees! So going forward, I am going to split the lengthy writing bits out from food recipes, and hopefully, if you see a blog article come sailing into your inbox with the writing suffix, you’ll give that a read. Who can say?

With our recent trip abroad I’m positively leaking with things to talk about and although I’m saying right here, right now that I categorically will not be blogging the entire trip, because lord knows you know me well enough to realise I’ll do three days and then stop. However, because the more things change the more they stay the same, I will do the time-honoured twochubbycubs tradition of typing up the initial travel bit. Enjoy!

Our Floridian odyssey began at exactly 4am on Saturday morning – usually you’d find us absolutely catatonic at this point of the day, so to see us bright eyed and bushy-tailed would be a shock. Our own bushy-tailed wonderdog was staying with my parents, I should add, lest we get anyone thinking we’d left him at home with eighty-seven tins of Pedigree Chum and a guide on how to use the thermostat. My parents love him and spoil him rotten, although they take great pains to make the whole thing seem like a terrible inconvenience lest we get ideas above our station and disappear on holiday for six months. I think my mother likes someone to chat with who doesn’t answer back and who also runs his arse along the carpet a lot less than my dad. It’s hard to say.

4am faces. Delighted!

We were up at this ungodly hour because our taxi was due at 5am and I needed to start my holiday with a solid hour of stressing that the taxi driver wouldn’t turn up and we’d be stranded forever. I mean we could have left our car at the airport but as I haven’t won the Euromillions since I last spoke to you, this wasn’t going to happen. Being up this early did give me the opportunity to make sure the house was utterly sparkling and clean in case any burglars broke in and judged us harshly on Skidder Mountain in the toilet or the state of our valances, which was nice, and in an unexpected twist, our taxi driver actually turned up on time.

What he didn’t do, however, was wake up. Now you mustn’t get me wrong: he was very polite, especially in the face of our own barely-concealed excitement, and he didn’t even wince when Paul shut the passenger door with so much vim that I’m surprised it didn’t carry through a full 360 degrees on its hinge and smack him on the arse, but there was definitely something awry. By way of illustration, we set off along the country roads from our house to the airport and had managed a good two miles before I suggested that it might be wise to actually put the headlights on, given travelling by the light of the moon only usually works well for bats. He chuckled as though indulging me a trivial fuss and lit up the road.

Now you would think this would make it easier to see where he was going? Apparently not – I’m not sure if he was trying to acclimatise us to driving on the right but I reckon we spent a good 70% of that journey drifting over to the wrong side of the road then sharply pulling back into the correct lane with a ‘whoops’ or a ‘steady now’ or, perhaps more alarmingly, a sudden snort as though he was waking up from a deep sleep. At one point I considered reaching over and offering to take the wheel if he concentrated on the pedals but, of course, we’re British: we’d rather die in a burning accordion of car than ever look rude. Instead, I tried to engage him in ever more loud conversation which reached a veritable crescendo of ‘WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING FOR BLUELINE THEN’ and ‘GOSH THIS IS A NICE CAR ISN’T IT DRIVER‘ and ‘NO I USED TO BE A LAWYER BUT NOW I WRITE FULL TIME IT’S A LIVING HA HA CHRIST MIND THAT SPEED-BUMP‘ as we pulled into the airport, treating the mini-roundabout as an optional aside. I left him a tip: 7.5mg of zopiclone. I’m kidding of course, we paid in full and left an excellent rating because we aren’t arseholes and anyway, now at the airport, the holiday had officially started.

We are on a bit of a mission to accumulate air miles at the moment and because we’re grasping status whores, we wanted to maintain our position with British Airways, and so it was with them we flew first down to London Heathrow and then onto Orlando. See that’s the difficulty with having Newcastle as your local airport: unless you’re going off to Spain on a cigarette-buying-run or you fancy a weekend in Omsk, you’re going to have to commute down to a bigger airport. That’s no shade at Newcastle Airport though: it’s a great airport for turning up an hour before your flight and not having to worry about being stuck in security. You know what else I love? Greggs wanted to open a store airside but Newcastle Airport said they’d need to increase the price of their food to make the airport more revenue. Greggs refused to rip folks off and so opened a store landside instead, meaning you can take your sausage rolls through security. We took advantage of the Priority Pass doohickey which I get with my American Express to get into the Aspire lounge for free, after a brief but exhilarating moment where I called some puffing old businessman out for jumping the queue. He didn’t even try and do it subtly, just breezed past everyone with that self-important air of someone who spends a good ten hours of the day turning scarlet at articles he reads in The Times. I do hope his free omelette had a bit of eggshell in it to tear up his hoop on the way out.

The Aspire lounge isn’t bad for a local airport lounge and we spent a pleasant enough hour trying to attend to the buffet as many times as possible without people thinking we were greedy fat pigs. I’m not one for breakfast as a rule but stick some bacon under a heat-lamp (which I think they did back in 1987, judging by the fact I could shave with the bacon) and I’m there. There was an amazingly beautiful man stalking about looking thoroughly sick of his life between long visits to the toilet to vape. I know he was secretly vaping because I went in after him and it was like pooping in a mango-flavoured shuttle launch. We drank about eighteen litres of coffee and then took our very short flight down the country. It really is short – it feels as though you barely get time to have a borrower-sized packet of Tyrells and a bottle of water that would struggle to extinguish a lit match thrown at you before the plane is descending and everyone is fussing about with their tray tables and pretending they don’t have any spare change for the charity envelopes. We arrived safely, made our way through Heathrow and went to try and find our bus.

Well, after a moment to pose. I’m only including this photo, which I wouldn’t usually because I’ve got my B&M glasses on, because of the lady growing out of my shoulder

Yes, bus: in a break with our usual tradition of clattering our suitcase sides off the ankles of various Londoners, standing on the wrong side of the escalators and taking a moment at the top of those very same escalators to exclaim loudly how rude folks from the South are compared to us Northerners, we decided to get the National Express bus from Heathrow to Gatwick rather than the train into London and out. I say we decided, we actually only realised we needed to do this when I took a second a couple of days prior to departure to realise we were flying from Gatwick and not Heathrow. How we laughed when we discovered that faux-pas, I can tell you. To compound the issue the trains were on strike. Well, the train drivers were on strike, not the trains – you’d never get a whole 387/2 Electrostar on a picket line, you silly goose – how would it hold a sign? Sometimes you just don’t think these things through, tsk. So it was onto the coach.

You must understand that I don’t have any issue with taking a bus, I really don’t, and Paul and I have had some very good times indeed on a coach: I tugged him off on a Megabus to Newcastle, for one. Don’t judge too harshly – I’d sat on my Game Boy Advance SP and broke the hinge and there was little else to do. I should say the bus was almost empty and it’s a long, long journey. It has given us the unfortunate side-effect of a rush of blood to the head every time we see that bloody Megabus face looming over us on the motorway, mind. None of that funny business on this trip though – we’ve been together sixteen years now and anyway, it was a National Express, there’s standards to uphold.

Now I only mention this little trip because it felt like the fates were conspiring against us. We, for the few weeks prior to the holiday, had been very careful who we were in close proximity with. Masks in public, hand sanitiser everywhere, keeping things strictly to one hole. We were determined to minimise the risk of COVID derailing our plans (again) and despite being fully vaccinated and all that sensible stuff, there was always a chance. Well we needn’t have bothered: this bus was full of folks wheezing and spluttering and honestly, if it had pulled into the Hospital for Tropical Diseases halfway through the trip to offload most of the passengers in bodybags, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. We were sat in the middle and the passengers in front, to the side and behind us weren’t so much coughing as trying to bring their lungs up for a closer examination. You know when someone looks sickly and pale and one cold snap away from rolling a seven and joining the invisible choir? Imagine that but across an entire bus. Paul had to hold me back from checking with the driver that we weren’t on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

You can imagine then how well I coped with this: nothing soothes my health anxiety more than feeling someone else’s spittle pooling on the back of my neck. I put my mask on and tried a breathing exercise – that was, not breathing in for the entirety of the one hour journey save for tiny sips of air. I’m probably one of the only people to ever alight from a National Express coach with the bends. It was just relentless: one passenger would spend a solid five minutes trying to hack up a ball of flob only to be die off and allow another traveller to take up the task in hand with gusto. I knew immediately that there was simply no way we’d be getting off this bus without at least tuberculosis, nevermind bloody COVID, but as it happens we sailed through the entire holiday without so much as a sniffle. Take that science!

Arriving at Gatwick with cobalt lips, we spent a night eating Marks and Spencer snacks at the Gatwick Hilton (a real downgrade on what we were gobbling the night before our trip to Canada five years previous, alas) and then made our way the next day to our Orlando flight.

Oh top tip if you’re going out of Gatwick and trying the lounges: swerve the Aspire lounge and head to the My Lounge instead. They’ve got an outdoor smoking area which overlooks where lots of security blokes in hi-viz go to smoke, and that was a delight in and of itself. But if you need further temptation, know this: it has a nacho station with pourable melted cheese. I was feeling a bit full from my previous breakfast so in a rare moment of self-possession, I didn’t partake. But I know it’s there for next time. We boarded with minimal fuss, taking a second to capture what we looked like before eight hours of air travel aged us beyond all recognition.

Stunning and brave. I should point out that I have four of those white t-shirts, I’m not a total scruff. Paul is though. 

Our flight over was terrific – eight hours is about the perfect amount of time for a flight, I find. It gives you enough room to:

  • spend an hour to keep glancing fitfully at the curtain to see when the meal is coming;
  • spend another hour or so to eat the meal and pick over your partner’s leftovers (that’s a one-way only deal though – I love aeroplane food so much I surprise myself when I don’t eat the tray it comes on);
  • burn another two hours for a movie you’ve already seen because you don’t want to run the risk of wasting two hours on something awful (I watched Brenda’s Diary, still think she should have picked Daniel Cleaver);
  • take an hour of trying to sleep but the second you nod off you know they’ll bring snacks round so you never truly nod off;
  • wasting another hour spent watching the same couple of episodes of television you’ve already seen because, well see above; and
  • two hours, made up of various ten minute blocks, of:
    • farting quietly into your seat cushion;
    • farting extravagantly into your seat cushion because you forget you’ve got noise-cancelling earbuds in;
    • accidentally farting into your partner’s seat cushion as you climb over in your haste to get to the toilet;
    • looking anxiously out of the window to make sure the engine isn’t on fire and wings are still attached;
    • opening your phone to look at all the games you downloaded to keep you busy but you know you’ll never play;
    • walking down the cabin so you can look at the folks in economy with a pained ‘oh but what a frightful affair travel has become‘ face before returning to your premium economy seat to really get the value out of that extra four inches of fart-soaked cushion;
    • looking at the map and seeing although you’ve been flying for approximately eighty-seven hours you’ve just passed over Wolverhampton (though to be fair, if you listen hard enough, you can hear them shrieking about the sky-dragon flying over, even at 34,000ft);
    • turning to your husband and making the same ‘WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET TO THE FIREWOOOOORKS FACTORY’ at least seven times; and
    • visiting the bathroom for a poo even if you don’t need one, just to break up the flight.

Mind we were only in premium economy because we got a bloody good deal – now that Paul isn’t technically considered as heavy freight we are more than comfortable in economy, so that jibe above isn’t meant as any sort of slight. We flew first class once and I spent most of the time texting and getting pissed, which was delightful, but I can do that anywhere. Won’t pretend it wasn’t a lovely feeling turning left like.

One thing which was utterly wonderful though – on both the outbound and inbound flight – was the staff. British Airways gets somewhat of a bad rap online for having a reputation for somewhat standoffish flight crew but I’ve never found that. After we had taken off one of the flight attendants came over with our drinks and got chatting. We mentioned (in passing, not in the hope of getting freebies) that this was our anniversary holiday and how excited we were for all of the rollercoasters. She spent an age giving us tips and tricks for the parks and you know when someone is just so wonderfully enthusiastic they’re a delight to listen to? That was her – Katie! Later in the flight some brownies and glasses of champagne arrived with a handwritten note from Katie and Lucy, wishing us a lovely time, and later, the chief flight attendant introduced himself and gave us more champagne. It was perfect! We had a similar experience on the return flight – not with the freebies but just another sparkling member of staff, this time an older American bloke. This chap definitely took off from the same departure lounge as Paul and I and I always think there’s a little knowing banter when this happens which I love. I spent a while chatting with him whilst Paul slept (unusually for me, not a euphemism) and I got to ask all the flying related questions I wanted to know, such as how can I get some extra crisps and where do they sleep on long-haul flights and does this in any way link to me getting more crisps. I’m a right terror for chatting on a plane but it gives me something to do between all of the things I listed above.

The flight flew by, as you’d expect for a trip on an aeroplane, and it took only three minutes of being on American soil before Paul exclaimed excitedly ‘oh that’s how you KNOW you’re in America‘ by pointing out a plug socket. He’s a man of simple pleasures and I love him for it, and if a plug socket was enough to stir him into frisky animation, then who knows what five weeks of Disney and Universal would do? Well, you’ll find out. Probably next year when I do the next part of this, but we can live in hope! Tomorrow’s a dream away, after all.


PS: for completeness, the moment I know we’ve arrived in America is when I go for a dump and I end up making eye-contact with fourteen separate people who stare through the crack in the cubicle door as they walk past.