Gate Closing!

Living within a fifteen minute taxi ride to terminal five at Heathrow airport has both spoilt me and lulled me into a false impression that all airports can be traversed in an efficient and timely manner.So when I started to make my arrangements to take an early morning flight to Ancona in Italy from London Stansted airport I think I miscalculated!

Punching in the postcode to the Meet and Greet parking at 3:15 am, I arrived at the postcode dead on 5am only to find no Meet and Greet but rather a security check point for authorised vehicles. 
Bugger! Quickly checked my email and followed the instructions back up the road and within five minutes I was sitting in a queue for Meet and Greet. 5:10am. Heart rate increasing, I was counting down to the gate closing at 5:55 am.

Car parked, now where do I drop off the key? Another queue but this time it was moving quite quickly. ‘What row did you park your car?’ Excuse me? I had no idea but as luck would have it, the couple behind me had parked ahead of me in the same row. ‘Row 40 mate’ I said thanks and headed off to the terminal. 

Entering the terminal what hit me was just a sea of people moving in all directions and not one of them, a business traveler, i.e. in no rush as heading off on their summer holidays. Heart rate up a few more beats, I searched the board for RyanAir bag drop off. Another queue, this time one that snaked back and forth to give the impression that it wasn’t actually that long!

A young girl who was part of a group of young people heading off on holiday called the boys to hurry up and told me not to push in! I dutifully eased in behind the boys who appeared to have never been to an airport before and were blindly following the girls! Stansted operates an electronic bag weighing and luggage tag system. It worked faultlessly and I then queued up to put my bag on the conveyor belt. As I waved my bag a fond farewell I wondered if we would ever be reconnected with it! Right, let’s get through security. Another long snaking queue with people who don’t know the system. Come on! I’ve got about 12 minutes before my gate closes. Through security and now to the gate. Great, gate 58 at the far end of the terminal and I’ve got to navigate all the shops and these relaxed holidaymakers who presumably have hours to kill before their flights. Heart rate increasing and palms getting clammy!!

I start to run, rucksack on my back, hustling my way through throngs of people, too many with small suitcases, pushchairs and little children!
Down a couple of flights of stairs, no time to help a middle aged lady who’s suitcase handle wouldn’t collapse. Running now at my full speed, muttering to myself that I had been so stupid. Gate numbers increasing, dash past a couple who were arm in arm and I made it: gate 58. The plane was boarding but I was cool! I had managed to get from my car to the gate in under fifty minutes. I laughed to myself, there would be no way in hell that I could have done this with my family in tow!! You know it guys!!

Sitting on the plane I had time to give an abridged version of my story to my wife by text before we pushed back. We agreed that we need to rethink our forthcoming family holiday to Spain which entails another 6:30am flight, this time from London Gatwick. 

Four of us with luggage, I have a feeling we’ll be checking into a hotel close by!!

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Kneading it!

Through the power of marketing, last Christmas, my wife started dropping hints that she would like a KitchenAid mixer.

‘Just think of what lovely and ‘good for you’ bread I could make, if we had one of these mixers’

Of course, I relented and purchased a ‘blueberry’ KitchenAid Artisan mixer which, five months on, is still being used on an almost daily basis.

Tonight, I found myself ruminating over the making of bread. As a fifteen year old, I had taken a part time job working in a bread shop in Slough. This had involved getting up so early, something teenagers don’t cope with at the best of times, especially when the start time was 6 am.

I recall that I had got quite good at fashioning dough into rolls and pleating long rolls of dough into plaited loaves. We used a fantastic butter gun that would spray a thick film of butter onto the baking trays to avoid the rolls from sticking to the tray. The highlight would be each morning after the initial rush to make some bread, using concrete style mixers to do the mixing, us ‘bread makers’ would stop for a cuppa and a fresh bacon roll, the roll being taken from the main oven…. and relax!

bread - 1
Proving it!

So, since my wife has started to bake her own bread, the aroma of freshly baking bread has taken me back to my teenage years growing up in the seventies. This was an era when a six minute piece of music, almost operatic, could become number one in the charts! *

Have you ever wondered about the history of bread making? Our civilisation has only had access to electricity for around one hundred years, whereas Jesus was fond of breaking bread two thousand years ago!

My own mum, God rest her soul, used to bake her own bread. She was testimony to a healthy life style, living to the grand old age of ninety eight. She had baked bread for her whole family  – brown bread – very good for you. Her loaves used to weigh in at a substantial weight! One slice of bread for breakfast would set you up until lunchtime, especially if coupled with a boiled egg, that my Dad would make for the whole family at some ungodly hour. By the time the rest of the family came down for breakfast, the boiled egg had gone stone cold and was not very appetising.

Back to bread.  Bread needs proving. Its not all about working! Bread knows that it needs (no pun intended!) to be rested as well, before being baked in the oven. My research indicates that us humans were consuming some form of bread as far back as 23,000 years ago!! We would mix the ground grains with water and then by leaving in the sun, a bread like crust would be formed.

bread - 2
The Finished Article!

I’ll leave you with this thought  – imagine going back to those Upper Palaeolithic periods but being able to take your KitchenAid mixer in blueberry!  That would certainly cause quite a stir!

*Bohemian Rhapsody, as if you didn’t know!

Blow Out!

It had started with a simple question – are you having a glass of wine with  Sunday lunch or are you planning to go out for a ride?

I had chosen the latter and had been only been riding for around twenty minutes when the handling of my bike felt weird!  I had just been riding down some country lanes at a fair pace and so now I pulled over to the side of the road to check what I suspected was a flat front tyre. All seemed fine. I felt the tyre surface that was quite warm to the touch and could see that there was plenty of air in the tyre. Somewhat stumped, I jumped back on the bike and carried on for a few more feet. Something was definitely awry so once again I pulled over at the side of road. A typical English countryside road; no pavement and just a small ditch separating the road from a field. This time I realised that I had been looking at the wrong end of the bike.  The front tyre was indeed fine but the rear one was flat!

Coming to terms with the fact that I was going nowhere and it was Sunday afternoon, I rang the RAC, grateful that my bike insurance company had texted me earlier in the week with some useful numbers ‘you might want to make a note of’ which included the RAC breakdown number!

I spoke to someone on the line and  gave them my insurance details. Two bikers rode past me and waved and tooted at me. I gave them the ‘thumbs up’ despite feeling anything but fine. My motorbike, a Harley Davidson LowRider had got a sodding puncture and I had a feeling that I was going to be spending my Sunday afternoon standing beside my bike, rather than sitting on it and burning up the Berkshire countryside!

My LowRider - 1 (1)What had started out as a Sunday afternoon ride out has stopped rather suddenly. To make matters worse, the RAC voice advised me that the pick up time was likely to be between one hour and one hour and a half.

With something like a rear wheel puncture, there’s not a lot of options available. There won’t be any tyre shops open on a Sunday afternoon so their only option would be to give me and my bike a lift home.   Anyway, it could have been worse, if it was simply a blowout as I imagined it was, I had been lucky not to be hurtling down some country road at speed.

As I stood on the pavement waiting, cars were charging up and down the road and when there was some momentary silence, all I could hear was a quiet hissing sound emanating from my rear tyre!

Anyway just when I thought I was going to be for a long wait, I received a phone call from Ray, the RAC driver. ‘Should be with you in about 10 minutes’  Fantastic, I thought. I called my wife to give her the good news only for her to say that both Annie and her were enroute as well with a flask of coffee! Wow! how many wives would do that?!

I was surprised when an orange RAC van pulled up a few minutes later. I had been expecting a low loader! Ray, the RAC man informed me that he was going to see if he could put enough air in the tyre so that I could limp home. Fair enough, let’s give it a go. Ray produced a long cable and started pumping in air to the tyre. By now a loud hiss had developed and you could feel  air was escaping from the spokes signifying that the inner tube had gone, evidently!

‘Nothing I can do mate’ said the friendly Ray. ‘I’ll order you a low loader to recover your bike and take you home, should be about an hour to 90 minutes’ and with that, Ray and his shiny orange van were gone.

So, what had started as an emergency callout at 4pm had already dragged on to around 5.30pm and I was starting to get cold. In the bushes I noticed a CD that had been thrown out of a passing car; Julio Iglesias greatest hits! I saw the cd cover in the bushes and around ten feet further up the road, the actual cd was lying there. What had happened, I mused, to make this the perfect place to rid oneself of Julio’s greatest hits!!

I decided to play a version of I Spy. I saw a lot of plain boring cars from all the major manufacturers but outside of the norm, I saw one Ferrari that blipped it’s throttle as it flew by, a Jaguar and Bentley as well as a beautiful Ford Zephyr in dark green that really looked the business and was out for a Sunday drive.

By now, it was 6.15pm and the sun, what there had been of it, was starting to disappear and it was getting cold.  I pulled up my hoodie top and had to endure the passing motorists who all felt inclined to slow down and stare at me, as I stood there. Amazing how many cars were driving up this small country lane.

Gone 6.30pm I received a phone call from Grant, who was in charge of the low loader. ‘I’m on the M3 coming up from Hastings and should be with you in around thirty minutes’

So, it was finally gone seven pm that Grant and his low loader arrived and started to tie down my bike to his truck.

My LowRider - 2Grant immediately told me that he didn’t like motorbikes but that he hadn’t lost one off the back of this low loader …yet!

As soon as we had set off, the Harley alarm system came into full force with ear piercing alarm sounds along with all the indicators flashing in unison. I had read in the manual there was a way of disabling the alarm but could I remember it?!

I was now at the point that I simply wanted to get myself and my bike home and put it all behind me. I could do without any further embarrassment from nosy neighbours looking out of windows.

As we pulled into our cul-de-sac,  the alarm of the bike continued to blast out, penetrating neighbours houses and announcing to all and sundry that I was indeed home at last!!

Now how to fix a flat rear tyre for a Harley Davidson? I have a feeling this is going to be expensive!

Baby Onboard

I’m currently sitting on a small economy seat at the back of a plane bound for London. I’m tired and feeling rather stressed out after three days at the Frankfurt music fair.

I can hear a baby crying just a few seats in front of me. It’s one of those exasperated cries that comes from being restrained from free movement and not being able to do what babies do best; wriggle and wriggle and generally keep on the move until dropping off to sleep!  I feel for the poor mum who has this baby and another young child with her and is probably wishing she had chosen a quieter Friday night flight!

However much cajoling and ‘coochy cooing’ she’s doing, (what is coochy coo in German?) this baby is having none of it and the pitch and intensity of the crying is rising! We haven’t even taken off yet and the atmosphere around these rows of seats is getting more and more intense.

I would think that 95% of the other passengers onboard this Friday early evening flight are business men and women, probably working in the financial district of Frankfurt. Indeed for all I know, this woman herself is the wife of a successful banker or a successful banker herself, heading home for a weekend in the English countryside.

I can only imagine that this mum would love to stand up and shout something like ‘Look, I’m really sorry ok?! We were all young once upon a time and my little darling is distressed and unhappy. If you think you can do better in calming him down, be my guest!’

At least the BA steward is smiling reassuringly whilst junior is vocalising his discomfort of sitting strapped into an economy seat with no CBBC to keep him occupied.

I’m reminded of my own experience  some sixteen years ago on a flight back from Alicante in southern Spain to London. This flight was quite different as it was full of holiday makers. My own daughter was too young to have her own seat but was sitting on my wife’s lap and was being held with a seatbelt extension. As we had boarded the plane, I distinctly remember offering to be the one to have little Annie on my lap. ‘No it’s fine’ had been the response from my wife, so I sat down across the aisle and started reading a book!

Scarcely had we taken off than we flew into a thunderstorm. Cabin service was suspended with all trolleys stowed and locked. My son was excitedly looking out of the window and letting everyone know how close the lightening strikes were from our plane – ‘that one was really close, oh! our wing is on fire!!’

At this point, our little Annie decided to projectile vomit over my wife and their combined two in one seat. Despite the fasten seatbelt sign, I unbuckled my own belt and jumped up. When the crew member saw what had happened, he allowed me to attempt to clean up the seat, my daughter and my wife! All of this took place through the buffeting and tossing of the plane as we flew through the thunderstorm and across the Pyrenees to our destination. Actually having something to do whilst the plane was bouncing around took my mind off our predicament.

Back to present day and flight BA909 to London. Junior is still crying and wailing but with a bit of luck he should soon fall asleep, that is until the plane thunders down the runway on take off!!

The Table

Has it ever struck you what an important part of your life is spent in the presence of or seated at the table?

Table 3We bought our kitchen cum dining room table about eighteen years ago from one of those furniture shops in the backstreets of our town, Windsor, Berkshire, which was offering ‘Solid Pine tables at knockout prices!

We wanted the six footer but the room that the table was going to be living in was a little cramped so we settled for the five footer and six matching chairs and I’ve regretted it ever since! That is until this morning.

It suddenly struck me today what an important part in our family life the table and those six matching pine chairs have played.

It has both witnessed and been through so much together. When the table and matching chairs first arrived chez nous, we purchased some special beeswax polish to keep the wood feeling and smelling fresh. Everyday my wife or occasionally I, would stroke the wood with this special wax, coaxing the shine to appear and lovingly polishing the wood. The table certainly responded and we became proud of the rich grain that shone through confirming that this indeed was a quality piece of furniture!  Then our two young children set to work. Playtime at the table with those paints that some well meaning or mischievous relative buys, felt-tip pens from a far away trip and ‘my first’ baby knife and fork set and yet the table didn’t complain and as our lives became busier and busier, the daily waxing of the table became weekly and then tailed off into an occasional once over, just for special events.

The table has celebrated our first Christmas with our young son and then his sister. A total of seventeen family members crowded around the table one other Christmas, banging elbows and trying to claim their space alongside a friendly second table, bought from Habitat twenty years ago that lives in our garage!

I’ve sat at the table to do the mundane and the exceptional. From month end management reports to writing a family will, these activities always taken place at the table.

I know some families who will call their children to the table and discuss important life events; Dad’s changing his job, we’re moving to Australia, that type of thing. I can’t say we’ve ever done that directly at the table but we have held nevertheless important conversations about the topics that play an important part in our lives.

I remember with fondness, my father in law as well as my own mother, sitting at the table over a Sunday roast. In the summer, when we’ve held parties, we would move the table up against the wall and cram it full of salads, fresh rolls and cakes and desserts. Once the party had finished, the table would be moved back to it’s rightful place in centre of the dining area, perhaps with a beeswax polish!

Table 1I also recall the first year that my daughter decided that she would take charge of dressing the table for Christmas. She went shopping with her mum and came home with a beautiful throw and some festive gold place mats. Glitter adorned the table and our special silver wedding cutlery, that had passed it’s twenty five year guarantee, was dispatched alongside individual place settings. Very grand – the table knew how to perform in front of an audience.

Observing our family, my autistic son can’t wait to get away from the table once he’s finished his meal.  We have to call him a few times before he arrives in the first place, and once here, he wolfs down his food in silence before requesting to leave the table, his mouth still full of food!! Myself, on the other side, prefers what the Spanish call, ‘sobremesa’, a congenial post dinner conversation with a glass of wine and a chance to chew over the days events.

Currently the table has taken on the role of floristry workshop – Ruscus and Gerbera cover the table alongside all the paraphernalia associated with making Hand Ties. I know that  once the creations have been finished and wrapped up in cellophane, it’s going to be up to Mum or Dad to put the table and surrounding area back to normality!

Table 2

Now where’s the Beeswax?!

From Zero to Hero in Seventy Two Hours.

Snatched from the claws of defeat, we ended in triumph.

Our synchronised skating team, Absolutely Adults,  of which I am a member, was concerned about traveling to Belgium in the aftermath of recent events. Four members of a team of twelve had already pulled out, leaving only eight skaters available to try and make a team we were going to be looking pretty pathetic. Furthermore, one of those eight remaining skaters was also wobbling as she didn’t want to be part of such a low scoring team, after all the efforts of the season. Somehow managing to coax her back into the team, then we were back to eight, with one hour of practice left before we departed for Belgium to take part in our first international synchronised skating tournament; talk about Mission Impossible!!  No time for drama or stroking individual egos! Just focus on the job in hand and let’s get on and skate!

The reality was that all seemed lost with the clock counting down to us not being able to take part in the Belgium event.

Enter head synchro coach, Ryan Sowter, who persuaded my daughter Annie and her BF, Maia, to join our team. One of the other skaters, Patrick was just leaving the rink!! He was coerced, read ‘ordered’ back onto the ice and with around fifty minutes of ice time available , we started to rehearse our routine, against all odds, we just might pull this out of the bag, despite our feeling that we were finished before we had started.

I had been adamant that I was going, at any event, for my team and for the people of Belgium; I wanted to show my solidarity, come what may.  Despite all odds, and various skaters leaving the rink, we, the remaining skaters, were going to make this happen, nothing more needs to be said, that’s the reality and we had fifty minutes to make his happen or fail in the process.

Fast forward to the morning of the event and my own two practice run throughs were pretty dire! Hard ice(!) and becoming disorientated with different people on the ice, left me needing to pull it out of the bag for the main event.  After hanging around for hours and hours, we were on!

Our new team skated really well with the words of coach Ryan still ringing in our ears, ‘enjoy your routine and enjoy the experience’ We increased our personal best from around 17 at Nottingham, UK to a medal earning score of 21.52!!  This was a massive achievement to the end of our season only made possible by our three ‘guest’ skaters who skated down to our level and used our routine as a warm up for their technical four and a half minute routine some time later the same afternoon!

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by the photos that I subsequently posted of our new team’s success.  Why should I be and who in their right mind would want us to play down our fantastic achievement?!

I am elated and want to share our  team success for Absolutely Adults and for GB. This could have been so different had Ryan not intervened at the eleventh hour – everything else is BS. We could have simply walked away over the pressure of recent events, but we each took the decision to take part. Personally, despite having an autistic son who has only ever been left once before in his twenty two years,  I felt drawn to an event where the organisers were desperately willing us to attend, simply trying to hold the event together.

Ironically, everything seemed stacked against us from the start. From the four team members who withdrew from the event to the hotel cancelling the rooms for half of the skaters who had decided to take part(!?) and a good friend’s car being towed away early on Saturday morning (LOL!) – it was as if we were really meant to not have come and I even envied those team mates who had bailed and who would still be in bed in the UK!!  Yet, our end result was success, a real feeling of solidarity towards our Belgium neighbours, and a fantastic experience that I will never forget.

It may only be seventy hours, but the feeling as we stood on the ice, holding hands in one large circle for the people of Belgium will live with me forever. ‘Nobody will take that away from me,’ as the song goes!

I really want to take my hat off and to congratulate Maia Burgess, Annie Hodgson and Patrick Ward for stepping in despite having less than one hours practice time to make what was going to be ‘another country team pulling out’ to end up as a fantastic GB performance ‘against all odds’.

Ryan Sowter and George Strachan need to be saluted for not giving up on the remaining Adults with just one hour’s rehearsal left and for finding a way to make it happen – I doubt that at twenty two, I would have had the single-mindedness  and integrity to focus on the problem at hand, ignore the personal distractions, and work towards a solution, as they both did: respect is truly due!

My personal takeaways from Belgium?

I had a truly memorable three days. There was a particularly special moment for me, holding hands with my daughter on the ice during the routine. I’ve often suggested to her that we should dance together on the ice, only to be met with the usual retort from an eighteen year old daughter! Thanks to the scenario that we had been forced into,  she had no alternative, having been co-opted onto the ice, she had to hold my hand ….   with a smile!

People of Belgium, you will always now have a special place in my heart, I salute you for your endurance in the face of extreme adversity and I thank you for my special memories.

 

 

EU wide speeding ticket day on April 16th

Duvet day!

Tour On 2 Wheels

Speed-laserThe Germans started the so called “Blitzmarathon” which is a 24 hour period in which on nationwide scale in Germany all available speed measuring equipment and personell is being deployed to catch those driving over the speed limit. This year more countries in the EU will join into the effort which will take place from April 16th at 06:00am till April 17th at 06:00am. So note this date in your calendar, and on that day keep your eyes open to prevent getting speed-tax’d. Or better, obey the speed limit rules,

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