It had been quite hard for us but we had managed to put Gemma’s Mum off the notion that we might be returning for Christmas. Instead when we spoke on the phone or by e-mail we constructed a fairly intricate web of lies about what we were going to be doing over the holiday period. It took a little while but eventually the family bought it. The actual plan, of course, was to turn up in Lowestoft and surprise everyone. It worked like a charm.
At San Francisco airport we were pretty early for check-in. The girl on the desk informed us that the flight was overbooked and asked whether we’d like to volunteer to be bumped in the event of no shows. After some umm-ing and ahh-ing we decided against it. We’d planned hotels and hire cars for our return so we thought we better just go. What gave us pause was the fact that volunteers who are bumped on Virgin get a free return flight (or the equivalent frequent flyer miles) anywhere on the Virgin network, plus the usual nights accommodation. That’s a pretty good offer in my book. In the end though the flight had enough no shows that the volunteers weren’t needed.
The flight was fine but tiring. I didn’t bother trying to sleep and just watched films and TV shows for the 10 hour duration, interspersed with the odd game of Tetris. Once in the UK we had to circle London for about 20 minutes because of the fog. I was grumbling because by that point I just wanted to get off the plane, but it wasn’t any real hardship compared to the poor folks caught up in the chaos of trying to leave on domestic and short haul flights during the next few days.
Because we knew we’d be of no use after the flight we’d booked a room at the Slough Travelodge, definitely the highlight of our trip. Not. Still, it was a convenient stopping off point and easy (i.e. cheap) to reach by local bus. It served it’s purpose well. We wanted to try and fight the effects of jet lag by staying up until later in the day but as soon as we sat on the bed we dropped off and were snoring. Unfortunately this had the knock on effect that we woke up at 22:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep again.
In the morning we caught a cab over to the Hertz rental office inn Slough. I was glad I’d pre-booked everything when the lady said that their Heathrow office was out of cars and sending people to Slough for them. Another side effect of the fog related chaos. Our car was a little Fiat Punto. I reminded Gemma that she had to change gears and we were off into the fog.
It took us about 7 hours to drive from Slough to Great Lumley in the North East. The fog had caused accidents and we had to contend with some fairly slow moving traffic near Nottingham. I mused that out of the places we’ve had a car on this trip the UK seems the easiest to get round. We couldn’t surprise my Mam as she is hard enough to get hold of on the phone, never-mind in person! We spent a couple of nights with my Mam and managed to see my neices and nephews and my friend Lisa, which was nice.
Rather than drive straight to Lowestoft we decided to break the journey for an evening in Nottingham. We didn’t get away from the North East until about 14:30 which meant it was dark as we arrived into Nottingham. Gemma hasn’t had much experience of driving at night and doesn’t really like it because of the headlights reflecting on her glasses. Still, we got to Jo and Andy’s house in one piece. It was nice to see Jo and Andy although I couldn’t keep my eyes open and was like a nodding dog pretty early in the evening.
Because of my messed up body clock I was up at about 06:00 and doing the washing up. We managed to get a pretty early start away from Nottingham and had a reasonably clear run traffic-wise except for getting stuck for a while behind a man who refused to do anything even approaching the speed limit. As we neared Lowestoft I think Gemma began to get a little bit nervous. To keep up the surprise we parked round the corner and snuck up to the front door. I think Gemma’s Mum and Dad may have thought that we were carol singers to begin with as they didn’t open the door for a while. Once they did come to the door though the surprise was sprung successfully, as captured by me: