Cliffhanger to the end!
I made it to the departure gate with one minute to spare!
Of course I couldn’t sleep or settle knowing we had an early start and long journey. We left home at 5.00 am: the taxi company thought that we would probably arrive at Heathrow at about 8.30 am. Since the flight was departing, estimated time admittedly, at 11.00 am this seemed good enough. We were travelling straight down the M1, a journey which should only take three, or at most three and a half hours.
All went well until an hour and a half into the journey: then an hour’s hold up. We were beginning to bite our nails but the driver said we had time in hand for such an eventuality, all should be well from now on.
Then half an hour later, the Radio Travel News said another hour’s hold up was imminent. We sped into a Services and screeched to a halt beside a convenient RAC Van and the driver was very helpful in trying to re-route us, but rush hour was upon us now, and the back routes would also be congested with traffic backed up from the M1, which indeed they were, as we found out. Also there were the inevitable road works both on and off the motorway and other hold ups on the minor roads. So back on to the M1 and fingers crossed!
By this time our helpful taxi driver had contacted his extended family in Luton who were offering to take us in their own car if we could get to them. They knew the back roads and could get us to Heathrow in 45 minutes if we could get to them by 9.00 am. I rang Heathrow and explained my problem: they said there were still a couple of seats left on a later flight but I would not be able to have my currently-checked seat: that would leave four and half hours later and I was already exhausted having had two hours sleep and being up since four thirty. They also said I needed a minimum of 45 minutes to be able to physically negotiate Terminal 5 and Security. The driver took the taxi company plates off the car at this point because he said we were going to have to speed up!!!
However, as we went further down the M1, it looked at if we were not going to stop completely, although the going was slow, and the relatives on the phone said they thought we had just as good a chance of getting there for 10.00 am as they did, although they were still very willing to help. We took the decision to press on, screeched into Terminal 5 dead on 10.00, pressed money into the driver’s hand and fled. I explained our predicament to a helpful customer service rep. who said she thought I could not manage it but showed me where to go. The check-in girl said I might manage it, so on we ran. But when we got to Security the queues were endless and I called to husband that he should wait as I had no chance of getting the flight. A helpful man ahead of me said I was just to jump the queue, and I did so, in stages, explaining to each person as I jumped in, and they all let me in ahead of them. Then a security girl pushed me into a fast track lane and finally I got through. At this point it was 10.25 and the Gate closed at 10.35. Down in the lift to the next floor, along a long corridor to find that I had to catch a Sky Train to the correct Gate and to allow 15 minutes. Despair. Down another lift, along another corridor, just missed a Train, on to another, ran the other end, found the Gate Entry roped off so had to go all round the houses to get to it by another entrance, and I was there. Just got boarding card etc. out of hand luggage and we were loaded at once. Gasping from stout party. I found at this point that I had put my watch five minute fast a few weeks ago to help with punctuality issues (!) and that had saved me, giving me 15 minutes instead of the 10 I thought I had.
So, on to plane, text to husband to say “OK to go now, thanks” and collapse. However, I found that the seat I had been allocated was wonderful. An aisle seat just behind the partition to Business Class – so much leg room I could only just touch the partition at full stretch! There was a crying baby on my section, but it was two seats along, and the mother did her best. We had extra tables in front of us to put stuff on, usually to take baby cots, and apart from trembling at the thought of imminent explosion and slow death in the sea, I had a really good flight. The attendants were super, constant drinks and snacks on offer, very kind and helpful to all, a nice veggie meal at lunchtime followed later by afternoon tea with savoury sandwiches, and I arrived feeling quite fresh.
However, once on the ground I began to feel dizzy with tiredness, so it was nice to be met and transferred by friend’s husband to the car. In the multi storey car park at San Francisco airport, instead of exhaust fumes, I was met by gales of balmy breezes off the Bay smelling of ozone and honey, flowery perfumes: the sun was out, sky was blue, and all the road sides and central reservations were green and full of Californian poppies, lupins, mesembryanthemums, bottle brush bushes etc in full flower, and also the occasional Beaver Tail Cactus. Also something that looked rather like mimosa in flower as we rushed past. We were to drive North for about an hour and a half and were to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Golden Gate Park, via huge sequoias and flowering gum trees, with the air conditioning on! We swept over the bridge with husband driving with great élan, past people taking photos of the Bay and on through the countryside on the other side. Flocks of buzzards were wheeling over the hills and large groups of Great Egrets were congregating on pools and small lakes beside the road. The hills were green, with the grasses tall and waving silkily in the wind and the trees looked to be in full summer leaf. I felt we were driving through a Movie Set.
So, we pressed on to our destination, where friend met us and gave me warm, home-made, vegetable soup, and I then collapsed into bed.
I had arrived.