November 04, 2010 GMT
A Slow Recovery



Returning home after a journey like this one, more than a year, in strange places, is like moving house without moving out of one.



Entering through the front door is like moving in for the first time, except it's not empty, it's full of stuff.
Your stuff.
And you don't know what a lot of it is for, nor remember where any of it is.
So it feels like utter confusion. But it isn't, because everything is where you left it.


So it takes a while to recover from the deep sense of confusion, particularly as really, there's no confusion at all.
Does that make sense?


So, to keep the tone of this blog positive, I'll report that the recovery is slow but steady.


But not helped by a few incidents on what was, really, an impeccably smooth flight and journey home.


Back to Cape Town, and getting the bike and myself loaded onto airplanes.
It turned out that it will go as cargo on B.A, not on a dedicated freight flight but on a scheduled passenger service. The same daily service that I travelled on, but a few days later.
But here's the rub - almost without asking, the freight people offered to book H.M. The Bike all the way through to Gatwick! Yet all I could get for myself was a flight to Heathrow. I know there should be respect for royalty but that's ridiculous.
Heathrow's a quarter of the M25 away from Whyteleafe, it might as well be halfway to Cairo.
And what's more, H.M. gets carried on board by proper motorised conveyance. I have to walk on, along endless corridors and air jetties.
I'd booked a seat right at the back of the plane, hoping for four seats to myself but only managing three. On the way there a passenger in the aisle was hoisting bags into the locker and apologised for blocking the way.
"No problem," I said, thinking I've just criss-crossed Africa - someone in the aisle is absolutely no issue at all.
"I've walked a long way already, it seems I'll be walking all the way to London! Are we nearly there?"


I just hope those wonderful B.A. crew people remember their training and give H.M. The Bike the proper welcome aboard on his flight.
And I hope all the passengers on that flight know that they have royalty on board. Right there in First Class, underneath their feet in the hold.


Anyway, with all passengers in sardine mode, seated and strapped, my plane was pushed clear of the gate and there was the usual flickering of lights as the engine-start commenced. But the lights went off completely. The whole lot except one or two emergency candles by the exits. It was lucky the doors were closed or they would have been blown out - Cape Town is a windy place!
Then the lights were back on again, then off, and the air flow as well.
It settled down to most lights and all the TV screens off, and a half-hearted air flow, and the Captain's voice. ".......you will have noticed the lights acting strangely there. We have a minor but significant problem with the auxilliary power supply at the rear of the aircraft. It supplies power to start the engines, and we can't at the moment. We'll return to the gate where I'm informed it'll be fixed very quickly."
What??
What's going on here? Yesterday my bike wouldn't start, now the plane won't start. I can feel the hand of destiny here.


True to the Captain's word it was fixed promptly, after a few minutes with no light at all in the cabin, nor air, the temperature rising quite sharply, followed by the announcement that all was well and we'd set sail for Heathrow in a minute or two.
Maybe someone used the kickstarter, because the engines started this time and we were away.


It's all very well this type of travelling, but what does it mean after such a journey over-land?
Riding around new and strange places on two wheels, it's been said many times that you're in the scenery rather than viewing it. You feel the changes in temperature, the heat coming off of rocks and terrain beside the road, the strength and direction of the wind and its changing temperature as you climb or descend. You can stop where you like to chat to the giraffes or elephants.
In places like Ethiopia the children can run right up to you, hands out, as you pass by. I think it was in Tanzania that I scored a couple of 'high fives' as children had their arms extended right out towards me, with shrieks of delight as contact was made. Can't do that up here encased in this aluminium cigar-tube despite flying back over most of the continent. The windows don't open - I tried.
But you can still look out of them. So I'm thinking - I've ridden over this piece of land, seen and felt it close up. So does flying over it all in a few hours mean missing a huge opportunity to see and experience more of it? Or is it, living in the modern age, a huge opportunity to return quickly, regroup, and think of some other great land to cross in intimate contact with the ground (or at least, with tyres in intimate contact with the ground, I trust)?


I was interrupted in those thoughts by the urgent need to speak to the flight attendant as we departed the great continent and closed in on the south of France. On the little TV screen on the back of the seat in front I had checked our progress on the moving map, to make sure we weren't headed to Vladivostok. What I saw made me even more worried.
"Hope you don't mind me asking, but I've been away from home for over a year so I'm a bit out of touch."
"Have they moved Stansted Airport? It's shown on the little map as being where Maidstone used to be. They haven't moved Gatwick as well, have they?"
"Let me have a look," replied the attendant. "Well, I never noticed that before. It's probably a software glitch."
"I have my little GPS in the locker above if the pilot needs it," I offered.
But there it was, Stansted where Maidstone once was.
It seems on this sort of odyssey old memories are easily triggered, maybe that's why people undertake them, and I had the thought, which I didn't feel wise to share with the attendant, "Well, I hope Stansted's radars are working OK."
Back in 1970 or thereabouts I found myself at Stansted Airport, planning the installation of special cables across the airfield to carry signals from new radar scanners to the control hut next to the passenger terminal. The airport was an enormous field with a Portacabin for the passenger terminal and a large garden shed for the control tower. You could probably get a cup of tea there, but not much else. The village of Stansted Mountfitchet at that time was awash with banners and placards declaring, "No Third London Airport Here."
Alas, new scheduled flights were about to start using the airfield, carrying more passengers than before, requiring the provision of radar services. The rest, as they say, is history.
On visiting Stansted now, where you have to take a shuttle train from passport control to reach the boarding gates, I can't begin to visualise where on the earth that portacabin and garden shed were located forty years ago.
Air travel - what's it all for?



Moving on, my first task on reaching home was to nip down to Eastbourne to visit my son and his partner and my grandson. Yes, they grow and progress a lot in thirteen months (grandsons, that is).
My car was also stored down there in my son's garage, so I took a few things with me that I thought would be useful in starting it after it had sat idle for over a year. Not much mind you - most of my tools and other belongings are with H.M. The Bike awaiting their flight back to London.
Well, with jump leads connected, the car started straightaway.
But it was a bit reluctant to move, as though the brakes were stuck on. But we had left the handbrake off.
It freed up OK, then there was the nasty grounding noise as something under the car contacted the tiny concrete ridge at the garage entrance that encourages the rain to flow away from the garage rather than into it.
Well, it's a low car, so it couldn't be serious. It has to be jacked up just to get a spanner on the oil drain bolt on the sump, the ground clearance is that small.
Everything else seemed OK, so it was off to the local garage for an annual test.
Next stop was the scrapheap.
This car has been in the family since new (14 years), and was, for a while, often kept in a wet garage, including after being used in heavy rain. That, and the year in my son's (very dry) garage had taken its toll, and the rust was in bountiful abundance on the underside.
And the suspension had collapsed. "Yes, you should have been worried when it grounded, the front nearside is now sitting on the stops," said Mr. Tester.
So the last few days have been taken up doing one of the worst chores ever invented by modern society, or any other society for that matter.
Acquiring a replacement car.
And, I learn that a new grandchild is also on the way. So congratulations to Richard and his partner Sam. They may have their garage back after the removal of my car, but at this rate it will not be long before their children completely colonise it and they'll never be able to use it again.


So there has been some confusion this past week but tomorrow I hope to return to sanity and make some progress on getting back on the road on two wheels.




Posted by Ken Thomas at November 04, 2010 08:30 PM GMT
 


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