I’ve decided to start a blog…
Well, actually, we (Fascinating Aïda) used to write a web diary before the word blog was even invented, so I’m only returning to form. And I’m starting by publishing the e-postcards of my holiday in India earlier this year. I’ll publish them every few days and then I’ll start writing about my life and my forthcoming trip to NYC and all that sort of thing…
So, in 2013, my partner and I went to Burma, and I was so bewitched by the place that I did something I’ve never done before. I bombarded my friends and relations with e-postcards. I burbled like a lunatic. Pals were kind enough to say how much they’d enjoyed them, and so when I told people that John and I were off to India, quite a few of them asked if I was going to send e-postcards again, and if so, could I please include them on the mailing list.
I have to say I was a bit dubious. Burma, or rather Myanmar, as we must learn to call it, was relatively undiscovered, and it felt like I’d stumbled into a marvellous hidden Shangri-La. I wanted friends to share my enthusiasm and visit the place before it gets spoiled by, er, people like me… On the other hand, lots of people have been to India, it’s hardly the most original place to go on yer holliers… Well, our holiday turned out to be so eventful that I sent LOTS of e-postcards after all, and here they are.
For reasons that will become plain, you will also see that we had very good reason to be very cross indeed with our travel company. On our return to the UK, there was quite a bit of toing and froing between us, and they ended up refunding us a very significant proportion of the cost of the holiday. So having concluded business amicably with them, I have decided to conceal their name. They’re actually nice people, we had a great holiday in Burma thanks to them, and I think they learned a lot through our rather mixed experiences. So I don’t want to make them suffer any more by trashing their name in public. But I have to add that if I hadn’t been able to let off steam in these e-pcs., it would have been a great deal harder to see the funny side…
Finally, before you launch into the rest of this nonsense, a word about my Beloved. John is one of life’s originals. He’s not just an Irish “character” – he’s what the Irish themselves would call a character. The first thing you notice about him is his pinkness. He has one of those Irish complexions that have deepened in pinkness over the years through relentless conviviality and a life largely spent on the back of a horse. He no longer rides these days, which gives him even more time for conviviality.
The second notable thing about him is the way his brain works. He can work out the turn of a percentage point and recall the exact sums involved in deals he did forty years ago. He knows the lineage of thousands of racehorses, he can tell you whether the Such-and-such Chase at Chepstow is a 2m 4f event, and will name past winners with ease. He can tell you who is related to who in the county and knows the name of every hill, copse and dale for a radius of 20 miles, whose land is whose, and what they farm. But he cannot remember foreign words or names at all. They just don’t go in. Mortadella, for instance, is now known by the family as Moritelli, because that’s what he thinks it’s called.
We really couldn’t be more opposite. He is utterly Irish, I’m quite English after being born here and spending 63 years living in the UK. He’s instinctive, I’m a tedious fact checker. He says of me, “Ah, Dillie, never uses one word where five will do.” Early on in our relationship, he looked at me gloomily and said, “I don’t think this relationship’ll ever work. We’ve nothing in common.”
“Nonsense!” I said. “We’ve got lots in common.”
“What?” he asked.
“I’m a showbiz floozy and you’re a racetrack Johnny.” He laughed, and the question has never arisen again.
Above all, he’s wonderful company, great fun, and he loves a little gargle. Followed by another gargle or three. And possibly one for the road. And then definitely one for the ditch. He’s a giver, and he’s always the first to buy a round. And he often hasn’t a fekking clue what I’m talking about, but we rub along awfully well.
There’s more to him than that, my long-suffering Beloved, but that will do for a thumbnail sketch.
E-Postcard No. 1
Sent on January 12 2016
Oh, I was so nearly doomed to send this first e-postcard from Abu Dhabi…
Two disasters were averted en route. As we sped merrily out of the gates and down the road, I had a yet another neurotic check in the Travel Document Wallet (handily labelled “Travel Documents” for eezi-identification) and discovered I’d packed my old passport. Fekk! A mistake so simply made – I’d been scanning the old one the night before for my US Visa application and clearly mistook it in my tired state. Only a few hundred yards down the road, phew. Whizz back, run into house. Small black dog delighted to see me back having whined terribly at the sight of the suitcases leaving the house, oh dear. But at least first disaster averted.
So then I had a two-minute panicked hunt for the new passport. Not in its usual drawer. Not on the desk. Nowhere! Eek and fekk! Second disaster loomed. What prompted me to open my iPad, I shall never know, for there it was, sandwiched neatly between screen and leather cover. Last seen when my occasional PA, Julie, was applying for my Indian visa… Jeez, I could’ha’ been searching for hours. Second disaster averted!
Off again, hurrah, apart from the gloom of the small black dog who whimpered piteously all over again. Pangs of guilt clutch at the heart, but just not quite enough to cancel everything and stay home.
Our holidays always start at the Seafood Bar on the other side of Customs. A crab salad and a glass of something Chablis-ish, wearing the über glam Bulgari sunnies that only come out once a year. I can’t see anything through them, but what the hell, they’re to be looked at, not through. Then Etihad whisked us in enormous comfort as far as Abu Dhabi, and there the well-laid plans fell apart. Our Indian Visas were not complete – we were missing the final page with the bar code – and so the plane flew off without us. Boo hoo.
When something like that happens, a fog descends over the brain as you try to work out why/when/what-the-fekk. We trudged back to the business lounge and over a glass of white, gradually the fog cleared, and I worked out what had gone wrong. Julie, aforementioned, who works for John and I on an ad hoc basis, did the applications for me, and printed out the relevant pages, replies etc. I understood that everything was done and dusted, and that our passports would be electronically scanned at arrival in Cochin and they would wave us through with a merry smile. Anything but. I was apparently supposed to get an email from the Indian Visa office which would enclose another document – with the requisite bar code.
Another glass of wine cleared the last remaining foggy bit from my mind. A month’s worth of emails were lost in the Great iCloud Disaster of 2015 when some kind of malware thoroughly fekked me over. I didn’t get any emails for a month, and then 788 emails arrived. I saw a few of them, went to get a coffee, and when I got back to my desk, every single email had disappeared and all boxes were empty. Yes, including trash. As I said to Paul, the Apple functionary with whom I communicated, it was the equivalent of my Postman refusing to deliver my letters for a month, then delivering all of them, and ten minutes later coming into the house and setting fire to them and my filing cabinet into the bargain. So clearly, I didn’t get those key emails that would have got John and I onto our very expensive Etihad connection to Cochin.
After an hour of navigating the circular nature of the Indian Visa Website, which has obviously taken its inspiration from those telephone automated answering systems that keep sending you back to the primary message, we had our visas printed. Of course they were there all the time. So now all that remained was to get ourselves onto the next flight.
This proved to be another nightmare. I couldn’t get in touch with Expensive Travel as they were all in bed back in England. I couldn’t get in touch with their partner firm in India as they were all in bed out East. And Etihad informed us that if we simply booked ourselves onto another flight, all our subsequent flights would be summarily cancelled – i.e. our flights back home at the end. They absolutely had to be re-booked by the travel company using the travel booking reference. FEKKITY FEKKITY FEKK! What kind of mad bureaucracy is this? Given that we were waiting for everyone else to wake up, this meant we were looking at a longish stopover in bloody Abu Dhabi… I have nothing against the place, other than the fact that I didn’t want to be there at all.
Well, dear reader, if I can keep a three woman singing act going for 32 years in spite of Soprano Number 1, Soprano Number 2, Soprano Number 3, Soprano Number 4 and Soprano Number 5, I can get round this problem. Another glass of wine, therefore: hey, might as well drink as much free hooch as we can, because we’ve well and truly been EtiHad.
(Actually, I will say this – the girls in the Business Lounge were pretty bloody brilliant, and we used their phone for hours.)
A long conversation with a Mr. Abdul in Flight Transfers, me politely pleading and telling him it was the holiday of a lifetime and we were pensioners who’d saved for years for this, produced a result. He wouldn’t reschedule our flights under any circumstances, but gave me the number of the Global Booking Centre for Etihad in Manchester and said they might have an emergency number for our travel agents.
I got through to Steve Morris on the night shift in Manchester. I told him my tale of woe.
“So Steve, Mr Abdul in Flight Transfers told me that you would be able to change our booking.” (Which wasn’t what he’d said at all, of course.) “I see there’s a Jet Airways flight at 10.25 am and they’re apparently Etihad’s partner airway…”
“I’ll do what I can,” said charming Steve.
Another glass of wine.
Steve rang back. He could indeed change the flights, using our booking reference. Joy! But he couldn’t get us on the 10.25, we’d have to wait 24 hours because that was the only option the system was giving him. Ahhh, the good old System. And yet we’d seen that seats were available on all flights before that. Hmmm.
A quick top up of the good old vino, and back to Mr. Abdul.
“Hello, Mr. Abdul, you are a total star! Steve in Manchester can change the flights, he just wants you to release the flights on the system so that he can get us onto the 10.25 Jet Airways flight.” (Which wasn’t what Steve had said at all, but it was worth a try.)
Bless Mr. Abdul, he fixed it so that Steve could book the two seats on the 10.25. Another glass of wine to celebrate.
Several phone calls to both Steve and Mr. Abdul later (believe me, this story is a lot longer in reality) and we had paid £300 each. Ouch. Our seats were finally secured at 8.10 am and Cat, the Hostess who’d dealt with us for much of the night, went off with our passports to get our tickets released while we celebrated with some breakfast. Even John had run out of enthusiasm for wine.
(It turned out that Expensive Travel had been on the case after all – I’m a Facebook friend of B, the guy who organised our Burma trip, and had panic-messaged him at half past midnight UK time. When he hadn’t replied by 1.15, I assumed he was asleep. He’d got the message and rung M, the India specialist, who’d been working on the flights too. I turned on my laptop at the fourth (sixth?) glass of wine to find messages from both of them, and after a long chat with M, we realised I was a lot farther down the road to success with my Mr. Abdul and nice Steve Morris in Manchester than he was. Yay!)
Well, dear reader, you would think that we could now relax and possibly even have a quick kip. HA! The tension ratcheted up yet further. Ali in Flight Transfers (I was on first name terms with about 30 people by the end) was having difficulty in getting Jet Airways to release our tickets and thus our boarding passes. Bianca in Business Solutions thought she knew where our luggage was, but had to speak to Ahmed in Luggage Transfers to find out.
The clock ticked by. Cat spoke to Ali again who contacted Mehmet in Jet Airways. Mehmet could not release the tickets. Dunno why. Mahmood was summoned, and Ahmed from Transfers liaised between all of them. I don’t know where Mahmood fitted in to all this, but he was key. Cat’s supervisor was on the phone to Fatima in Onward Operations who had strong links with Bianca in Business Solutions. At one stage, Cat herself had three phones to her two ears, which was challenging but she managed it with good grace and preternatural calm. It made me wonder how airlines select Lounge Hostesses; perhaps they throw pots of rice pudding over them and only hire the ones who smile and say thank you?
09.45. Still no tickets, and the luggage could not be released till our tickets were printed. Having been dogged but charming all night, I was now having palpitations. The airport is ENORMOUS and the flight gate was at the far end. I had visions of John and I collapsing with heart failure trying to get to the fekking plane.
“Will Etihad take responsibility if we miss these flights?”
“We’re doing all we can, mam!”
Slightly louder, and through clenched teeth. “WILL ETIHAD TAKE RESPONSIBILITY IF WE MISS THESE FLIGHTS?”
“We’re doing all we can, mam!”
Finally, we all belted to the Transfer desk in the hope that we might do better there. No. No ticket, no tickets… Then suddenly, TICKETS!!!
Arrive at gate, just make it on board!
Collapse on plane!
Message from cabin steward, our luggage is on the plane!
And so we arrived in this lovely spot, only 6 hours late.
And now I am too tired to tell you how nice it is here. But believe me, it is.