For some reason I found myself asleep in a Starbucks. Well, that’s not strictly true. I was trying to order my morning coffee and set myself up to have at least some small chance of a successful day. “Grande Black Americano to go please, Origin Espresso, extra shot.” Beep… Wait! Someone stole my drink whilst I was still sleeping, another and another came, but no Black Americano. I am asked what I’m waiting for, I’m told it’s coming up, but it never arrives, there’s a caramel latte that appears out of nowhere, but my drink is still nowhere to be found. I’m going to be late for work now and not even a cup of coffee to ease the pain. I complain again. A green aproned person writes my drink on the board with the word ‘free’ next to it. I soon find out that’s for someone else, mine is surely next…
I woke up and took in the mountain air. It turned out I was not in a Starbucks that for reasons unknown was surrounded by supermarket checkouts and inhabited with thieves. I was actually in bed, up a mountain feeling like someone should have made me a cup of coffee last night. I hoped that’s all it was. I’m a kind of simple soul like that.
I headed downstairs to breakfast and helped Anne-So set the table. G had already put the coffee in the filter, the dripping, gurgling sound was sweet music to my ears, the smell that is the daily wake up call my introverted self needs to start a conversation. Fresh baked bread from the boulangerie spread with local organic honey and not so local or so organic butter was delicious. The coffee worked.
I told Anne-So my dream as we are got ready. She told me that I secretly wanted something I couldn’t have, perhaps a new baby like our in-laws. If you know me at all then you’d know that was definitely not what I wanted. “Maybe you just wanted a cup of coffee last night, you’re kind of simple like that…” she told me. Maybe Anne-So was right, at least in part. I asked my friend S for a second opinion which she sensibly side steps. My other friend T was having traumas of her own and whilst my first thoughts are for her to leave me out of them, thankfully I reconsidered and instead sent her some words of encouragement. This definitely proved to be a good decision. However, we all knew the reason for my mood, it was because of the interview.
Eight days prior, riddled with flu, nerves like a Woody Allen character suffering from heroin withdrawal I had an important interview. Not a career defining one, but perhaps a sanity restoring and self-esteem building one. Things had started off OK as I told a good opening anecdote on the misunderstood merits of a good dry rose to break the ice. The rest of the interview went downhill as blush turned to embarrassment as I rambled my way through my best examples of a job well done and what a great candidate I was.
It was still going fairly well till I was asked about the JD. My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember anything about the job description. My head was filled with my manager’s advice from the night before, mixed with a day of training, flu medicine and the weight and expectations of the world, OK, maybe a half dozen people… “I’ll be looking to make my decision by the end of the week. It was nice to finally meet you and put a face to the name. ” I was told. I scuttle out to the tube station and head over to endure what looks like a busy day of investigations and disciplinary meetings. On the upside, that meant I could hang out with S for a bit and thankfully it was only two days till my holiday.
I spent the last two hours of that day showing S the chaotic and hilarious work place I ran. Discussing all kinds of gossip, inappropriate nick names, gender equality in the work place and laughing ourselves silly. We walked our daily tight rope between a memorable client experience and a career ending horrific complaint. But to be honest with the way the day and week had gone it was hard to know who needed the comic relief the most. My employee who had been investigated, me with the interview, the man who came in for a charger and ended up chatting with us (actually mostly with S) for 20 minutes, or S who should have gone home about two hours earlier then she did, but for some reason spent the afternoon with us in the asylum.
Two days came and went and there was no news on the job. I just wanted to be put out of my misery like a sickly dog, instead I would have to suffer the next week not knowing, or finding out via the back door. Oh well, at least there was a Friday night out in Parsons Green with my Grandma and the love of my life to look forward too. This meant bountiful portions of Italian food, a little too much Italian wine, flowing conversation and the typically fun service that the two owners of Nuovi Sapori effortlessly pull off. I finished my meal with the jolt of a quite lethal double espresso, settled up and headed back to spend time with my last remaining grandparent. As Anne-So and I laid down for the night, I remember a conversation started earlier in the week about all the action that back bedroom at my Grandma’s must have seen over the years (and most likely continues to see) from each generation.
We woke up the next morning to the smell of warm croissants, bad coffee and the distinctive sound of my Grandma’s voice. The morning played out at a leisurely pace and we’d almost forgotten we had a plane to catch. We said our good byes and headed to the tube for the 45 minute trip on the District and Piccadilly Lines to Heathrow’s Terminal 3.
I should have seen it as a sign of things to come as I somehow found myself headed towards Terminal 2. Anne-So had the fun of redirecting me three times in as many minutes as my instinct managed to lead me the wrong way on every possible occasion. We arrived at check in and for once the Club desks were free and other than the odd look at our early check in time and a knowing, “You know where to find the lounge?” To which I replied, “Which one…”
We headed up the escalators, fast track did exactly what it said. There were no mishaps with liquids, laptops or cameras and we were on our way to the Cathay Lounge, or we would have been if I hadn’t headed in the wrong direction again. We made the five minute walk to lounge heaven and were soon making ourselves at home with two flutes of fizz before starting on the food. How much did we manage? Enough to regret it later but not enough to call it a full on lounge crawl.
I had meant to pace myself so I started with some salad to soak up the prosecco. Anne-So headed straight for the noodle bar and came back with the same proud face everyone has after placing their order for the first time. She waited patiently for the buzzer whilst I make a beeline for the Rioja and a spoon of each of the various delights from the buffet. She then slurped her way through her won-ton noodle soup and I enjoyed my selection of curries, particularly the chick peas and spinach. Feeling guilty for going to Cathay and not having noodles I ordered some beef noodles. Did I need them, no, but I wanted to try them. I poured myself a glass of Shiraz whilst waiting. Buzzzzzz and the sinful red lights flashed telling me to make that guilty walk to the hatch to collect my black lacquer bowl of beefy delights.
There was a lot of beef in that black lacquer bowl, but the steaming broth helped clear the remnants of my cold. After finishing most of the meat I made the executive decision that we needed a walk. Learning from last time we gave ourselves twenty minutes in the BA Lounge before boarding. It was just enough time for coffee and cake. The coffee was needed more than the cake. In fact the cake was not needed at all, but it tasted pretty good. The chance of finishing afternoon tea in the air diminished with every bite.
We said our farewells to Galleries Club and made our way to the gate. We were amongst the last to arrive and boarding was about to commence. The rather camp, Irish sounding chap took a peak at our passes and passports and lets us through, before walking over to the podium to call for boarding. With a lack of small children and those needing extra time, Club boarding was called and as we attempted to show off our 1A and 1C BPs for the second time he beckoned us down the jet bridge saying he remembered us from two minutes ago. The tone was perfect and we were excited for our flight.
We arrived at the aircraft door and our two flight attendants were engaged in conversation with each other and not too bothered about where we sat. We plonked ourselves down in row 1 and prepared for the stares knowing that the £25 each we’d paid for our seats was probably less than the stares had paid for theirs. While the FAs went through the motions the two guys on the flight deck were offering that quality, personalised BA service that I’ve come to love.
Anne-So asked to switch to 1F as it turned out we had the entire row 1 to ourselves as Club was only 4/16 that day. Take off always feels lonely without Anne-So at my side and that day was no different. After a slow get away we were soon airborne. The clouds over Heathrow felt rather menacing as we launched in to those London skies. Once we hit cruise the FA came up to me with a tray and enquired, “Afternoon tea?” I had expected nuts and a drink first. Oh well… The drinks came but the nuts were absent. It wasn’t like I was feeling overly optimistic about clearing my tray but it would have been nice to have nuts with my drink!
No sooner had I surveyed my surroundings than a basket of scones appeared and feeling like I had only seconds to decide, I grabbed a plain one and found a spare corner of my tray to place it on. On my tray there were three sandwiches with ham and/or cheese, a little cake, scone, jam and cream. It didn’t look like much but I struggled to finish the sandwich and scone. I made equally heavy work of my G&T as well. I really should have added a little bit of gin at a time rather than emptying the entire mini bottle into my glass! By the time coffee came and went I felt like I was about to explode.
It was a decidedly average Club sector made all the more disappointing thanks to how much fun the last few had been, albeit in an alcohol fuelled kind of way.
We exited the plane and our average FAs weren’t even ready to receive our thank you. We joined a large queue at passport control and waited for our bags before getting the TGV.
On the platform we enjoyed watching a member of the train crew enjoy the worst sneaky cigarette in the world. The member of staff departed the train before ours and stood in front of the carriage window, cigarette in one hand, a casual puff, hand behind her back and puffed again, clearly forgetting trains have windows… That’s addiction for you. Next up is our TGV and it’s sad to say that the French are copying the British here. Our train looked old from the outside and brand new on the inside. For once we took someone else’s seat as it’s nearer to the luggage car (Those familiar with my trips to France will know we are regular troubled with seat shifters).
We soon arrived at Valence Ville with F ready to meet us. It was raining, screw you 35 and sunny. We diced with death on the way home, the blind led the blind and thankfully nobody got hurt. We had dinner, the rest of the night was a blur.
The following day was raclette day, need I say more. If you beat the raclette you’ve done it wrong. Melted cheese, potatoes and cold meat, though unfortunately no quails eggs this time. I love a high quality raclette. We waited for our first fromage fatality and contemplating death I promised Anne-So and my collection of travel items to T (I really should have added this to my will, but that probably would have been followed by a quick divorce). We rolled the dice and got in the car. It was a nice drive, things appeared to have brightened up. Sadly within five minutes of our arrival it started to rain, the cats and dogs followed shortly after.
We called it an afternoon and headed home, chasing rainbows as we drove.
The following day we traveled to Le Puy en Velay to visit our sick little niece in the hospital, but not without an amazing lunch at the Hotel Regina to carry us through the day. Lovely wine, a solid starter and main followed by a quality dessert. Foodie heaven at a reasonable price. We spent the afternoon at the hospital before a trip to the supermarché and then returned to our in-laws mountain hideaway to bed down for the night.
Later that day I made dinner, we drank, we talked, I slept.
The next day we repeated but we did not rave and got the order all wrong. On the upside our lunch from Bambou et Basilic was even better than that from Hotel Regina.
I felt guilty. I had the Starbucks dream.
The next day with no news heard I expected the worse. I realised other people had more stress to deal with than me and felt like an even bigger piece of crap for my malaise. I finally receive my news, sat in the hospital room, it was good news and we celebrated with the greasiest burger and potatoes known to man.
I followed up my Starbucks dream with a nightmare that I do not want to repeat. Filled with a friendship ending fast food metaphor and the adoption of a child through a cocktail evening, all thanks to a text asking where I was. Trouble, trouble, trouble and I hadn’t even woken up yet.
When I finally rose there was good news is in the air, the other piece of more important good news not involving me. There was cause to celebrate, this meant we’d wash the dog! I enjoy my breakfast and shared the first half of my dream with my friend S who had featured in it so heavily. I still don’t know where the pasty came from, but just from looking at it I knew it was a bad idea. What an odd dream.
We spent the morning wandering through town enjoying the Bird King festival with its bountiful and magnificent costumes, returning to the hospital for lunch. There’s no way in hell I can take another heavy meal and our sandwiches made for a pleasant relief.
We drove back to Le Cheylard, the route was interesting and the speed hurried. My stomach was not doing well, will it be me or the dog who’d be first to cave? We run to the bus stop, it was the wrong one so we hurriedly drove down to the next one to wait, no sign or timetable, just a yellow zigzag on the road.
The bus arrived and after a quick good-bye to G we awkwardly shoved our luggage into the compartment, apparently there’s space at the back . What hit us first, the sound or the smell? Looking around the bus these beings could have been our evil children, all 60 of them. We were the only passengers aboard over the age of 15. We soon became accustomed to the noise, their pranks seemed mild and inoffensive, but the smell of BO from the boys in front was on another level. We were half way to hell and now another hour of stomach churning twists and turns. I can’t think why everyone was always so reluctant to drive us to the mountains.
Like the naughty little school kids we had been sat with, Daddy was there to pick us up from the bus station. Although F cannot see where he is going, his chatter proved a welcome relief. Parents in-law are quite pleasant for 1/2 a day at a time. S, you seem to have dodged a bullet with yours, T, maybe you’re beginning to understand.
Anyway, I feel the best cure for my rather sickly stomach is more food. What could possibly go wrong. We head out to Le Marrakech our favourite Moroccan restaurant that we have been visiting on and off for the best part of 14 years. Our nostalgia filled memories are taken up with steaming bowls of vegetable stew, huge portions of couscous and sizzling plates of grilled meat, rounded off with the jingle jangle of the waitresses skirts and a glass or three of vin rouge. The lurid decoration was alive and well, but the jovial Saturday night atmosphere and jingle jangle were missing. That I was the only one even trying to drink that night probably wasn’t helping.
That being said and despite the pot of vegetables smelling like my feet after a brisk walk, it was one fine meal… Tender meat, fluffy couscous and soft vegetables with a little help from some fiery, garlicky harissa. Not clever, but certainly big and in my eyes a suitable farewell dinner.
We headed off to bed and I dreamt of being involved in some sort of international conspiracy. Holiday time was coming to an abrupt end.
It was our final day and not having learned from my mistakes it’s time to kill the in-laws with one of my heart attack inducing lunches. OK, there’s a salad to break up the tartiflette and crisp omelet. Delicious. I just had time to take in Diego Costa’s fantastic (and terribly missed) wind up skills before we headed to the station and the start of our journey home.
We said our farewells and headed down to the platform. Our first class seats for the 35 minute trip to Lyon, were wide, comfortable and taken, by an old couple, the man with the stick looked particularly frail. Anne-So’s polite exchange had them shuffling off to the correct seats and in a bizarre twist of fate from the previous bus journey we realise we’re old enough to be nearly everyone else’s grandchildren.
We were soon in Lyon, once again the ticket machines for the Rhône Express were broken and once again the staff were also in no hurry to sell us tickets. A half hour later we entered the armadillo, there were no weddings on this occasion and we made our way to check in with a good 90 minutes to spare before departure. It all looked a little bit slow and the lady at the Club desk continually looked like she was about to burst into tears, perhaps some Tier Point running Flyer Talker had reduced her to a mental wreck.
The nervous lady in front of us kept asking me questions. I tried to answer. The queue kept shuffling very slowly forward. After half an hour of waiting it finally became obvious we had a problem. The baggage belts may have died, though the nice staff never once mentioned it. They were busy tapping away at their computers, téléphones, and walkie-talkies paying attention to anyone but the paying customers who (ourselves included) were looking increasingly confused.
The line was split, the remaining passengers checked in and asked to join our queue. After some time we were called forward, we had our bags tagged and were sent to the oversized baggage area to drop our bags. The security queue was the worst we had ever seen. It was not looking great…
To the credit of the staff, the queue moved quickly and we arrived at passport control at the time our gate was supposed to close. Seeing as the flight to Tunis that was supposed to have already departed and whose passengers still took up much of the queue were being pulled, I relaxed knowing that worse comes to the worst we’d have an extra day in Lyon to enjoy. It was that kind of trip.
At least we got spoilt by some gorgeous views into London.
Thank you, S, T, my lovely wife and my in-laws for putting up with me, most of the time…