29 August 2010

Stragapalooza


Well, it’s over and somehow we all managed to survive. In fact, we did considerably better than survive – we positively thrived! It was magnificent to see everyone and to enjoy such a wonderful and laugh-filled couple of weeks. I’ve thrown several of the “least bad” photos I came away with into a slideshow on the web site which should keep you busy for a moment or three. (Available from the main Stragapalooza page – you’ll need to be a bit patient, I am afraid, while it loads).

Our journey home was “interesting”. The coach from Hanover to Logan Airport was fine – on time and very comfortable, as always. We actually got to the airport about twenty minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival time, breezed through the security procedures, had a bite to eat and made our way to the gate to await our departure. When we got to the gate I could see that there were not going to be hordes of folks travelling to London as the area was much less crowded than is often the case. I concluded, therefore, that this would be a pretty comfortable flight. The fallacy of this conclusion was demonstrated as soon as we boarded the plane. Instead of the 2-4-2 seating configuration we were expecting (and on which we had reserved seats 39A and 39B so that Ms Playchute and I could enjoy one another’s company and no one else’s) we were confronted with (a) a much smaller plane with (b) a 3-3 seating configuration. In other words, while Ms Playchute still had a window seat, I no longer had an aisle seat and there was the distinct possibility that there would be someone sitting next to me blocking the all-important exit to the restroom!

To make matters worse, there was no television/movie screen in the backs of the seats in front but rather the “old-fashioned” television monitors were mounted on the ceiling indicating that we were going to be offered one movie of the airline’s choosing. And it was lousy.

And, to make matters worse still, the neighbour who eventually arrived to occupy the aisle seat on our row was a rude, obnoxious US serviceman who fidgeted and farted his way across the Atlantic (which is usually my job). He made no acknowledgement of the smile and “hello” I gave him when he arrived to take his seat, he argued with the stewardesses about his inability to fit his steamer-sized carry on bag in an overhead compartment convenient to his seat, he gave monosyllabic answers to the various stewardesses enquiries and not a word of thanks or appreciation and, as I say, he fidgeted throughout the flight and farted more or less constantly. A most unpleasant travelling companion; fortunately, I had occupied the shared armrest and wasn’t about to give it up for anyone (well, perhaps for an attractive young woman but certainly not for a farty, fidgety flight companion).

We got into London just about on time and breezed through customs and immigration, collected our luggage and made our way to the bus stop to await our collection by the company with whom we had left our car. The deal was that we were supposed to telephone when we had collected our luggage, which we tried to do. No answer. We phoned again. No answer. We phoned the other number. No answer. Then tried them both again. No answer.

By this stage we were beginning to become somewhat concerned. Had they gone out of business? Had our car been impounded to pay off their debts? Back into the airport terminal to the information desk to enquire if they had any information, advice or suggestions. The kind gentleman there made phone calls to the same two numbers. No reply.

The only thing we could think of was to take a taxi out to the off-airport car park and see what’s up, which we did, at an extortionate cost. Fortunately, they were still there and couldn’t understand how our phone call had failed to get through. Even more frustrating, they declined my very reasonable request for the refund of the taxi fare we had been compelled to pay to make our own way to their premises. Still, the fact that our car had not been sold off was a bonus, we felt.

The drive home was uneventful and, after stopping at Tesco to stock up with a bit of food, we arrived home in beautiful downtown Byfield to discover that our electricity was off. This meant that (a) we couldn’t have a hot drink and (b) we couldn’t have a shower – no hot water which, I have to say, was pretty frustrating. The power was eventually restored at about 5.00 pm so, having had a quick nap in our smelly travelling clothes we were finally able to get ourselves cleaned up and restore some semblance of normalcy to the proceedings.

The next afternoon, Wednesday, we set off to collect our Molly from her second holiday home of the summer. She was, thankfully, very pleased to see us and delighted to be restored to her home in beautiful downtown Byfield. And then, just when you think things can only get better, Wednesday evening turned out to be “one of those evenings.”

Firstly, bear in mind that it had been raining all day (seems it’s done a lot of that in our absence). Then, on Wednesday evening Ms Playchute made her way to the gym for a couple of classes leaving me in charge (always a bad idea).

The first thing to go wrong was while I was putting the scrap paper into the recycling bin to put out by the curb for collection on Thursday morning. As I innocently twisted and turned round to deposit some paper in the bin, my back went again. The most innocuous movement rendered me almost immobile. Then, I slowly, carefully and painfully made my way to the lounge and switched on the television to be greeted with the display, “No satellite image is being received.” Quel merde! Here I am almost unable to move and there’s no television to distract me. So, I get on the phone to the satellite provider. Actually, I get on the ‘net to try and find the phone number for support which turns out to be a twenty minute exercise in itself – it’s clear they don’t want anyone to know how to contact them.

Of course, the support line is one of those with forty-seven menu layers through which one has to trudge, all the time being charged 45p per minute for the privilege. Then, when you finally get through the message cheerily announces that my call is important to them and will be answered in under ten minutes.

When someone finally answered naturally they insisted that I go through all the standard actions I had already carried out twice prior to phoning them, i.e., shut the system down, disconnect from the wall, wait five minutes, connect everything back up again and switch on. Wait another three minutes and try it again. (All this at 45p per minute – clearly this is how they generate their profits). You will undoubtedly be surprised to know that, since I had already done this twice, it did not cure the issue. Even more surprising, perhaps – the support technician was now out of ideas. (If switching off and switching back on again doesn’t work, they are flummoxed). The only possible cure is to get the engineer out. Fine, I say, when can he come. Sunday, is the reply, between 8.00 and noon.

So, just to sum up – it’s raining, I’ve tweaked my back, I’m jet-lagged and cranky, I’ve got no television and no engineer until Sunday and, just to round everything off, in the distractions in dealing with the television support line, I’ve burnt the dinner. Welcome home!

Clearly, we should have stayed.

Love to you all,

Greg