While I desperately wanted to re-visit my daughter in rural Oxfordshire, hopefully to enjoy a thoroughly traditional Christmas break with my delightful grand-daughter, who’s almost five-years-old and an only grand-son ofnot quite two months, it would –– candidly –– have been no violent train smash if my last-day-of-the-holiday meeting with Thomas Cook’s representative had produced the authentically eloquent Egyptian shoulder-shrug and the regrettable news that our charter flight was still (like so many other aeroplanes) stuck by ice, snow, frost, fog or sleet somewhere in the northern hemisphere’s Big Freeze.
I’d been in Hurghada on the southern Red Sea coast of Egypt for a fortnight, avoiding the worst of a biting, bitter winter which hit the United Kingdom at least a month earlier than usual. I’d been in Britain since late November, having gone to witness my son, Rhoderick, awarded an MSc in strategic studies at the University of Aberdeen.
As, conveniently, my daughter, Adele, brought young Master Aaron David Vincent into the world, bawling lustily on November 2, I decided to pay him my compliments, then “gap” from Europe on a working holiday for between 10-days to three weeks, returning in time for a Christmas en famille in Faringdon, about 25km from the university city of Oxford’s CBD, en route to Swindon, Wiltshire and its superb railways museum.
And then on to Lothian and the Borders for a real Scots Whae Hi New Year’s thrash in Edinburgh.
Hurghada is a scuba-diving and snorkellers’ maritime paradise, with clear, pristine, indigo-hued waters at blood temperature over coral reefs teeming with colourful aquatic wildlife, under a virtually endless, cloudless, azure sky bathed in a gentle desert winter sun, keeping day-time temperatures usually somewhere north of 27C.
As both rural Oxfordshire — even somewhere as idyllic as a small town /large village of honey-coloured stone dwellings mainly centuries old, under the Vale of the White Horse and on the cusp of the Cotswold Hills –– and the Scottish capital, Auld Reekie, have struggled to achieve temperatures above minus figures for four weeks, this would normally be what the British tabloid press and some of their more vulgar television programmes call a “no-brainer”, I believe.
However, here we had the complications of the two major holidays, with family off work for limited periods and the fact that I really must be back in Harare, via Dubai and Jo’burg, by early January: if for no other reason than I’m invited on a cruise in the Persian Gulf in early February!
So the “good/bad” news was that our plane would fly from Gatwick to bring sun-starved Pommy holidaymakers to North Africa and take us home.
It would merely be delayed about four/four-and-a half hours.
Believe it or not, this would actually suit me, as I’d anticipated having several hours to kill at Gatwick, waiting for an hourly coach to Oxford which tied in with an early bus to Faringdon.
Now when we arrived at Hurghada –– on time –– 14 days earlier it was just dusk, say about 4:30pm. It was never rightly explained how 4:30 plus (say) four hours translated to being uplifted from one’s hotel at 10pm, for a 12 minute shuttle journey.
Then, having cleared customs, immigration and security (surprisingly liberal if not lax, given that it’s preeminently a military airport), hanging around admittedly mouthwateringly-filled duty free shops, until the flight came in at half past midnight and taking off before 1:30am: one of the fastest turnarounds since the Berlin Airlift!
A stewardess told me the crew which brought out the flight from Gatwick was taking us back. If true, that meant at least 10,5 hours in the air, goodness knows how long before initial take-off, waiting for plane de-icing, runway gritting and various bureaucratic clearances, losing two hours on the southbound flight and gaining it on the return leg!
They must have been at least as exhausted as me. (For different reasons!)
I was so tired I slept through the in-flight meal: in fact through the whole journey, essentially from take-off to the pilot announcing entering the landing pattern to descend into Gatwick.
A demure little old lady sitting next to me said absolutely nothing, but a chap behind claimed I bellowed a rather strong single-word expletive in the middle of a restless dream/nightmare over the sprawling city of Cairo, duplicated it soaring over Athens, which was apparently a memorable sight on a night with almost a full moon.
He was apparently a former Warrant Officer in the Royal Marines Commandos and said my involuntary and unexpected cussing raised even his eyebrows!
(I swear it was an accident!)