Coronavirus- now in my back yard!

Our final stopover of the trip was to be in Bali, the beautiful Indonesian Island, promising peace and tranquility. A place where we might re-charge our batteries before heading home. The four day stopover was all inclusive, meaning you had little more to do than summon the Balinese waiter with the press of a button to bring you a cocktail as you lounged by the sea. The beds on the beach provided a serene outlook shaded with palms, and you were entertained by the antics of the paddle board rookies as they tried to master the waves. The rush of the waves to the shore, the blistering heat and the cool long drinks affirmed for sure, we were in paradise.

Our resort was within a gated community of around 17 hotels, our Hotel, the Melia Bali, was a grand affair with several restaurants, bars and for the strenuous among us, beach and pool activities to keep the calories at bay. We were initially unaware that somewhere close by a British Woman had died from Coronavirus and when the story did reach us it did little to provide any real context of the scope of the virus now, as opposed to when we left Britain in February.

This tragedy had occurred the week before we arrived and may well have resulted in a slightly stricter regime at immigration when we arrived on the Island. On immediate entry to the immigration hall we had to sign a declaration that we had not experienced any symptoms. Signing this with your name, passport number and next of kin was obligatory and somewhat sobering. Then we were placed through a screening process where those of us with high temperatures would be turned away. We had experienced screening at several airports along the journey but not as vigorous or individualistic as this. It raised the tempo considerably for us but not in a way that threatened our holiday. News items from Australia suggested that Australians should not travel to Bali. Being in our bubble I wondered what the drama was with this, since, as I have said, we had no context for it. Australia then went into lockdown preventing anyone arriving in the country from travelling onward, requiring a 14 day quarantine.

As we sipped our daily cocktails, oblivious to the reality, the world continued to collapse around about us. The waiters here provided constant hand sanitiser all around the hotel, other than that overt gestures that Coronavirus was crippling the country were absent, it was pretty much a non-event, if you were a tourist. Apart from the low numbers in the hotel, to us life was pretty much as it had been for the past 4 weeks, a holiday. How painful it would be when we were kicked into touch in just a few days. Lots of information from my kids, seemed to suggest that we might need to isolate when we got home. I scoffed at this claiming the UK had gotten things a little out of proportion, after all we were in areas also affected and life was going on as normal? Was it not? I’m ashamed to admit we were in a total bubble and it was going to be a very hard floor that we hit when we finally came back to earth.

As we cruised at around 35 000 feet from Bali to Glasgow in nothing short of luxury, we sipped champagne and munched on filet steak, watching the latest movies on ICE oblivious to reality. Little did we know what we were coming back to. Of course we had seen the FB images of empty shelves in the shops, but put this down to our eccentric behaviour as a nation rather than it conveying any real sense of crisis. As if to re-affirm our nonchalance to the matter in hand, our arrival at Glasgow Airport did nothing to dissuade me of my belief it was all a storm in a tea cup. We careered through the Airport unhindered with only customs seizing the chance to upset us by checking our luggage. How disappointed they must have been when they realised we had little but cases full of dirty washing. No-one quizzed us on where we had been, no mass screening, a swift check of the passport and out to our waiting driver to head home. If things were as bad as our children were suggesting how could this be the case?

The reality hit me when the grandkids were kept at a distance, because we had been on a flight and abroad in countries where the virus had claimed lives. My daughter, who is studying to be a Nurse, was somewhat more in the know than me. We realised, very quickly that self-isolation was the only way we might get to see our grandchildren. We sat alone in our home for seven days, watching the news and catching up to the place everyone else was already at. I ventured out to the shops, since the cupboards were almost empty and could hardly believe the shelves were so low. Someone commented that “at least there was bread” as if it was an unusual thing. We had been transported to another planet, I thought.

You know when you’ve been fast asleep and wake up suddenly, you get a bit confused trying to recall how you get here and got into bed. It was much the same as that for us; what was this world we were now living in? It was clear the bubble we had been part of during our holiday had finally burst – and it was traumatic. Slowly during our week of isolation I finally appreciated what needed to be done. I have to say it took us a week to actually process the information and get the message. A week later on the Monday night we were in Lockdown and that was any time with the grandchildren well and truly scuppered.

Life has altered dramatically in the space of five weeks. No Mass ( during LENT!!!), no social gatherings, social distancing between neighbours and all our family over 70 locked away in their little houses with no-one to see them or hug them. It’s a devastating time for many. But we have been so fortunate to even have had a holiday at all, many cannot get away, losing money in some cases. All the trips we had to look forward to are also gone now but at least we had one that was pretty amazing.

How will we cope? What will life be like in isolation for so long, will there be new ways to live our lives? Will we seek out contacts through social media? How will we shop for our every day needs, when all the slots are taken for months on end? Every day, in this new reality of mine, I am grateful for my health, grateful for our NHS staff and Care Workers, all of the shop workers and delivery drivers, pharmacists and teachers, social workers and police officers, dealing with the reality of this awful crisis. Meanwhile I am still trying to get my head around what it all might mean? I have now well and truly admitted that Coronavirus is now in my back yard.

Great Barrier Reef- Scuba Diving for beginners

Our boat moored alongside a giant pontoon, almost as tall as the boat but much wider. This little city on the water was where we would begin our underwater exploration of the reef . Safety of course is premium so we spent 30 minutes on board discussing the skills necessary for the dive. It was my first ever, I have never snorkelled or been very good at diving at all so this was completely out of my comfort zone. On board the safety drill was provided with a real tank, jacket and mouthpiece. We had to observe not try it out here. It’s amazing what fear does to the brain as I watched every detail and forced it into my memory lest I forget when it got down to it. There were three of us doing the introductory dive, a young man in his 20’s, the Hyena in his 70’s and me. Me and the Hyena were already pals, this was going to cement that friendship and acting as a team was helping to conceal my fear, he was a good pal.

Once we berthed it was getting so real. First port of call was to get fitted out for a wet suit. There were rows upon rows of these in a variety of sizes all lined up like deflated penguins waiting to be handed out and filled up. The suit is necessary since it was stinging season for the jelly fish, I suspect this was a bit of a fib, since none of the other instructors or staff wore them, that is other than the Marine Biologist. Now he was a handsome young man, slim, bearded with just the right amount of fluff but he appeared with what I might describe as s designer wet suit. Camouflage, grey in colour it had a little flap across the front of his hips should he need to visit the toilet and slipping out of the skin tight outfit was likely to take time. This little flap drew your eye automatically to it because it was so peculiar. Trying not to seem impertinent I tried to look away , feeling less than ravishing in my penguin suit,without a toilet flap. It did have gloves though so none of my skin was left too visible. All wrapped up I then ventured to the rear of the pontoon where the scuba diving equipment was stored. Stacked neatly against the seating area with life jackets open and ready to wear. A range of tubes, I’d been instructed on using on the way here were flapping around waiting for the action to get underway. I eyed this arrangement cautiously because I’d already forgotten what they were all for. Soon I would be wearing it. I frantically tried to recall the three skills needed on this dive but no matter how I tried my brain froze with fear.

The tutor from the boat seemed uninterested in my anxiety and advised me to try snorkelling first just to get the hang of having my face in the water. I think secretly he thought I’d never do it. He did suggest I could do a helmet dive, but this just made me more determined. With my flippers in hand, mask and snorkel I made my way down to a stainless steel shelf with seating around the edge slightly submerged in the water. A small guy with ‘Snorkel Supervisor’ on his tee shirt eyed me with interest. I told him I was planning to dive but had never snorkelled before, to which he responded that diving was easier than snorkelling. Great news but I needed to feel that first. I sat on the bench and attached the flippers, feeling like Dustin Hoffman in the Graduate, I fixed the mask in place and ventured tentatively into the water. Failing to grasp the basics I inhaled a considerable amount of water through my nose as the mask filled with the sea water when I first put my face down. Gasping and spluttering I made my way back to the safety of the steel landing area. I tried again, but couldn’t manage to fix my mouth securely around the mouthpiece and water once again flooded in. Back to the den before the kindly supervisor suggested I sit on the edge and just face plank while trying to master the breathing. This seemed to work. Slowly but surely I managed to breath through my mouth and put my nose out of commission. With this renewed confidence I pushed off the edge and floated face down looking for the first time at the GBR. I smiled with delight at what I was seeing only to realise this lets water in and once again I was back up fighting for breath. The sight of the fish and coral were too exciting, inviting me to stay and have another go and before long I had the hang of it.

Parrotfish, butterfly fish, tiny plankton swam around me. The colours differ in reality, they were more bland than the enhanced photographs because your mask is probably not the best quality visor. The coral was high at some points, but delved deeper in others, small and round or long and bony the fish darted in and out feasting apparently unconcerned by my presence. Or the other 40 odd people in the water. After half an hour I felt quite pleased with myself and got out ready to face the dive. I found the Hyena and we approached the dive bay. I was feeling more confident now I had mastered the snorkelling. A heavy belt with lead weights was attached to our waist. The life jacket as next with its tendrils of tubes and the all important tank was then attached and secured to our torso. We were asked to stand up but I could not move for the weight was so heavy. With assistance I got to my feet. And we descended into the abyss.

The Lion was frantically photographing me for posterity purposes. I waddled down the stairs and we ran through the skills again. The removal of the mouthpiece to blow bubbles frightened the hell out of me. I was relieved to learn however that this was not expected during the dive but a necessary precaution just in case. I had to master blowing my nose to clear the mask, snot and water splashing around my mask as I tried to follow the instructions given. Suddenly the Hyena’s weight belt fell off and as the instructor tried to fix it I was asked to submerge and practice the breathing with the air tank on. Kneeling down on the ledge, holding on to the barrier for dear life I breathed slowly in and out unaware that the Hyena was having more trouble with the mask now.

I stayed put focusing on slowly breathing in and out when the Instructor appeared and scribbled on a white board that the Hyena was not coming. Giving me the OK signal that we would go alone we left the safety of the ledge and took hold of a rope. Lowering myself down I glued my eyes to the man who held my life in his hands. My ears felt the pressure immediately and I had to pinch my nose and blow to clear them. Mastering this underwater is a bit different than on the aeroplane and water started to feed into the mask. I felt slight panic but managed to master the technique quicker when the pressure was on. Then without warning the instructor tugged my hands off the rope and we were diving, or swimming or whatever you call it. I was doing it. I was actually doing this thing I never thought I would ever do in my entire life. Weightless I felt nothing of the heavy belt of tank. I just swan and looked in awe at very single thing down there. he jerked my attention upward and there was a sea turtle swimming 2 feet in front of me. We followed it for a bit as it looked for food, faster in the water than out, it set a bit of a pace for this beginner but I was determined not to let it out of my sight. A large blue Maori Wrasse swam past, much larger fish were on the sea floor and I fleeting wondered if they were sharks. I was smiling again forgetting the seal and the rush of water into my mouth set me into a panic. The instructor took me to the surface where I apologised and steadied myself. But I couldn’t wait to get back down. We swim freely around the coral taking the sights in only in my memory since I didn’t have a camera to take underwater.

After 45 minutes we headed back to the sea pontoon, I was exhilarated jumping for joy once the weights were off and hugged the instructor for giving me that opportunity and one on one instruction. What an experience. My first thing though was to fetch a cup of tea, the taste of salt water in my mouth was too much and I needed a refreshment. I saw the Lion from the sun deck looking out to sea, no doubt frantically trying to see where I was. I left him wondering as I savoured my experience for a few minutes more all to myself before sharing it with anyone else. I dived at the GBR. Go me!!

The Ghan- living the dream.

Having successfully mastered the narrow walkways and links between carriages we joined our fellow travellers in the bar. Large sofa type seating provided sectioned off areas with little walnut side tables. We joined the group and ordered a round of drinks, little nibbles and canapés were provided to tide you over till dinner time. We had an 8.30 sitting and so would have time to have a few preprandial’s before we needed to shower and change into dinner attire. The sparking wine flowing too well during this first stint, meant the return to the cabin for the shower and dinner change was a hoot.

The birthday luggage looks fabulous but storage in the carriage was at a premium so we couldn’t find a place to keep from falling over it. The Lion was becoming frustrated as we tried to unpack in what felt like a phone box that constantly swayed, clicked and rattled as the train chugged along. I had carefully rolled up my outfits, knowing that there was no iron on the train, but both looked slightly worse for wear when I pulled them out. Hanging them up did little to masque the crease marks. The toiletries were minimised to enable us to maximise shoes on the carry ons as of course there were multiple functions for shoes on the trip. Sitting, walking and looking nice.

We managed to locate everything we needed and drew straws for the first shower. I won, knowing full well that was a fix, given the time needed for me to get ready. I got inside the neat little toilet, thankful I was not much taller than I was and less round than I easily might be. The colourful ribbon released the shower curtain and I skilfully pulled it all the way around to protect the loo and skink from getting wet, leaving less than 2 feet in diameter in which to shower. The first mistake was not testing the water, so pulling it on I was immediately scalded and found no where to jump clear of the gushing flames masquerading as water. I pushed it off, meanwhile the Lion, recognising a drama when he hears one, sat without uttering a word and ignoring my shouts for assistance. I wiggled the tap a bit to the left and tentatively turned it back on, the flames subsided – the water much more bearable now. However the soap and shampoo were behind the curtain and this was my second mistake, it meant a further fight as I became entangled in the wet shower curtain now clinging to my skin like a leech. Fighting back the area it was designed to keep dry now swimming in water. As it continued to cascade I managed to return it to its position and exhausted, eventually was able to commence my ablutions.

Finally it was time to return to the spacious cabin and try to get dried and dressed. Humidity filled the room from the steamy bathroom as I stepped onto the little mat and tried to get dried. Now I knew why I had won as I explained all of the things not to do when the Lion first encountered the shower. All our toileting complete I was glad to have set maximum time aside for this, given that we had not done it before. Still feeling jolly from the wine I had earlier, we made out way back to the bar carriage where we felt obliged to enjoy even more wine before dinner.

The dining experience is fantastic, food is served to you on white table cloths, with sparkling wine glasses and sliver cutlery. A little tight, but nevertheless promising the romance I desired. We were fortunate to dine with the Tigress but our other diner was unknown to us, not to worry we knew everything there was to know and more by the time she had finished and so did the rest of the dining carriage. That said we drowned our her musings as we tucked into our fabulous beef cheeks, prawn starter and cheese and biscuits with port and Cabernet Shiraz providing the refreshments. Not quite squiffed yet I returned to the bar high on life before realising there are no public toilets on the train which meant another lengthy walk back to the cabin. A little unsteady on my feet from the wine and port, I found to my alarm it had been raining. Each of the links between carriages had long since served passengers well enough to stop the rain from leaking through, makeshift tarpaulin was now all that stood between me and the onslaught. I thought I might try to fix it since it seemed to be letting in quite a bit of water but this only resulted in my second shower of the evening and I was drookit once more.

Given the wine was making me sleepy and carefree, the Lion thought it best to curtail my enjoyment by packing me off to bed before I crashed and burned, with clear instruction to sleep in the bottom bunk. I was delighted to see the Parrot had made the beds ready and a set of stainless steel ladders lay invitingly against the window. Having been advised against it, I lunged upwards to the top bunk, managed to put in my ear plugs and drift off to sleep without a care in the world. You can imagine my horror when the disco lights started flashing at 6 am, the Lion wanting to make sure I was up and ready for the day. Breakfast is served between 630 and 830 so he felt we needed to be there early since we had a trip to Nitmiluk at 9 am. Turns out he had not put in his ear plugs and the jolts and clicking of the gauge and rail did not lull him into a sound sleep, he was not alone. He had been awake all night (apart from his time in the bar of course) and had now morphed into the Gruffalo in the process. Grumpiness does not make for a conducive arrangement for the morning ablutions in a confined space and so we bumped and huffed silently as each of us tried to take turns at getting ready. Half an hour later we made it to the dining carriage with our happy faces on.

This was the first breakfast that had been served to us the entire trip, most hotels now favouring the serve yourself arrangements. It was an indulgent pleasure we welcomed. Coffee and tea poured, the three courses began leaving you satisfied and ready for the day, but at the same time wondering how you might manage to find a space in there for Lunch. Following our trip out to Nitmiluk National Park ( more later on that) we returned to the train 20 minutes ahead of our Lunch slot. Dismissing the experience with the shower out of mind I opted to have another more informed and less messy affair this time. Emerging fresh as a daisy we made our way along to the dining car where it was immediately apparent wine would again be the order of the day. Consciously trying to avoid over doing it a second day, the Lion, through lack of sleep seemed to have the alternative view. He struck up a friendly banter with the Cheetah who was the manager on the train. The friendly banter turning into a bit of a competition and soon they were playing tricks on each other. The cheetah at one point walking by pretending to drop a hot coffee all over him. The fellow travellers were in fits of laughter at the normally quiet Lion who seemed to have emerged from his cage for the last part of the journey. With minutes to spare before we disembarked the final jokes and hilarity waning we wandered back to our cabin, nicely prepared for our leaving by the Parrot. Gathering our luggage together we took in the Northern Territories as we disembarked from this marvellous train. Had we been here on our own, a couple of lone travellers, I seriously doubt it would have been half the fun and games that it was. The Ghan did not disappoint in its majesty and comfort and a massive thanks to everyone on the trip for making it all about friendship and fun.

The Lion and the Cheetah

Deal or no deal. Chapter 8 Book of the Lion

It’s not that I was threatened by the people on the Greyhound bus, it was more feeling vulnerable with $2000 and $100 of class A drugs in my handbag. THAT makes you vulnerable, especially when the Lion was high on what’s ever the discharge meds were. Prescribed class A drugs are usually better quality than street drugs and of course you get more for your money. This made my handbag bulge rather suspiciously and if I had seen it I would have searched me and the bag. The Lion’s grey pallor also did nothing to detract from our possible criminal status and only served to reinforce the appearance of drug dealers on the run.

I didn’t want to draw attention to us unnecessarily, for all of the above reasons. So I leaned against the window, trying to be anonymous and prayed we made it to Chattanooga unscathed. No one gave the Lion this memo however and so the journey began. On the seat directly opposite us was a young American boy, he wore a navy blue matching basketball vest and shorts, with a while number 5 blazoned across his chest. His hair was neatly shaved and he had a diamond earring in his right ear. He also wore brand new white shin length cotton socks and brand new white sneakers and looked askance at this rather odd couple opposite him. Across his lap he had the most enormous boom box that he hugged with the defiant pride that befits a teenager having spent his entire pocket money on a radical purchase. He was a good looking black boy, with a broad smile oozing charm and fun. “Where y’all from?” He asked to no-one in particular and I stared right ahead. The Lion however said “We’re from Scotland”.

I turned to look at him in disgust, this was not the plan, but the young boy was hooked, firstly he did not understand the accent and so he grew more intrigued by this older couple sitting opposite. We piqued something in him, obviously and so he asked ” where’s that?” he had of course, as we were to learn like many Americans never travelled out with his own country. The Lion tried to explain the geography, but when your whole world is in one place, it is difficult to transfer the idyllic scenery and awful weather in a meaningful way. Every time the Lion spoke the boy hit the boom box in guffaws of laughter. He was clearly amused by the ‘fairy story’ and daft accent he thought the Lion was telling. So a little upset by this the Lion added he had been in hospital in Atlanta and regaled the story of the past few days. This was also interesting to me, given he had been comatose for the whole time and I thought he’d little recollection of any of it.

Before he could continue the young boy, now inching closer to our side of the seat to get an intimate look at this funny accented couple, declared he had just been released from Atlanta Jail. I drew my bag closer to my chest and thumped the Lion in the ribs at the same time, the lad continued that this incarceration was for stealing a car and crashing it following a police car chase. This was a fairly loud conversation and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we were only 10 miles into it. Although everyone would probably have heard this, no-one else looked around. This was clearly not the Edinburgh bus, where the whole bus would have turned to look at who had the audacity and shame to declare they had been recently incarcerated and the actual confidence to openly state this. That is what I love about America, there was his history right there in our face and he had no iota of concern. This says so much positively about social status in America, and I love that equalising confidence at least as it appeared in that moment, however back to our story.

Three seats down, there was a grey curly haired person, wearing a denim jacket facing forward and preventing me from determining their gender. This story had clearly travelled to their ears, he ( because we learned it was a man) placed his arm along the metal railing at the back of the seat and as he turned around we could see diamond earrings in both ears, ( clearly some badge of unity) before saying he too had been in Atlanta Jail and how bad the treatment had been there. ( Had they heard of the Bar-L) The young man reaffirmed this hardship and asked the older man what he’d been in for “dealing narcotics” came his reply and I almost fainted. The handbag was now completely immersed in my stomach as I pulled it tighter and tried to conceal the ‘narcotics’ within.

The conversation switched from all matters relating to Scottish geography to the more familiar territory in Atlanta Jail. The conversation was interesting but it began to develop into background noise as I plotted how we might get off this bus with our drugs and cash intact. The only other passengers were men sporadically spaced out on the remainder of the bus, the large guy occupying the whole seat in front of us was Mexican and a truck driver studying his map planning his next route north. He advised us he’d never heard of Scotland either hence his story was also available to the Lion who was now high on life as well as drugs and chattering unabridged to all in sundry. I remained silent and prayed we arrived soon.

It was now about half an hour into our journey, and the bus was slowly and rather laboriously climbing a rare incline on the interstate. It began to lurch, and stutter, perhaps appalled at the conversation. I looked to the Lion, who knows a thing or two about large vehicles, and he was momentarily distracted from the Jail chat to advise me something was not good with the bus. This funny chugging continued for about another mile or so, when Slim Whitman announced from the cockpit, “Atlanta we have a problem” as the bus limped over to the hard shoulder. We were going nowhere fast. You could not make it up. We sat there lost for words, the panic gaining momentum in my physical response. The Lion was non-plussed but the whole bus was now up off their seats and general mayhem was about to break out. Slim Whitman crunched and pulled at the clutch, the brakes then the steering wheel before he cut the engine and arose from his floating seat. I craned my neck to see what he was attempting next and hoped to god he could fix it.

He opened the door disappearing out alongside the bus while he made a few cursory checks and then got back on board. I realised I wasn’t breathing and took in a sudden gulp of air as Slim announced we had ran out of fuel and he needed to switch tanks. That technical information was lost on me but comforted the Lion as the vehicle sat for a few more moments, made a couple of further lurching noises and then started to roar into life. Within about ten minutes we were on the road again and the bus fell quiet, losing the impetus of great stories as each of us just waited and hoped we would get to our destination………………………………………………………..

Part one of our journey by Greyhound Bus. Chapter 7 Book of the Lion

Greyhound Bus travel was on my bucket list, and since we were now in America, and stranded in Atlanta after the Lion had morphed into a Hyena, it looked like this was going to be a reality. Although well covered by travel insurance, I considered that was purely for his intensive care in Atlanta University Hospital. I drew the line at taking an expensive taxi just to catch up with our pre-booked tour that had left without us and was now some 120 miles away. $350 seemed ridiculously expensive for a taxi and since bus travel presented a cheaper and available option, that was what we opted for.

We had elected to carry cash on this holiday, we were not big on credit card use and since we had no idea when we might get to a bank that had seemed a sensible option. But when we left the hospital, with the Lion in Hyena mode, I felt vulnerable. I clutched my handbag close to my heart, while struggling to manage two wardrobes masquerading as cases and the bewildered, pain-ridden and disorientated Lion. We took a taxi to the bus station and should have become concerned when the taxi driver asked with incredulity “are you taking the bus???”

The bus station was awash with travellers; families and individuals, all ages, ethnicity, shapes and sizes. My senses went into overdrive as I scanned the vast area in an attempt to orientate myself with these unfamiliar surroundings. I spotted a bank of seats where I could safely lodge the Lion while I sought to purchase our tickets and work out which bus we needed to take to Chattanooga. He looked so small I thought as I trundled toward the desk with the two overly large cases. I waited in the queue for about 10 minutes before being called forward by a smartly dressed but intimidating Atlanta woman, scowling at my bags. I asked for two tickets to Chattanooga and she looked as if an alien had just asked her for directions to NASA. She stared at me for what seemed minutes and I panicked that she had mistaken me for a fugitive on the FBI most wanted list, who happened to be my doppelgänger.

It was the bags and the accent that usurped her. After she gathered herself together, she advised that I had to have the bags weighed first and assess whether they had met the criteria for transfer to the bus. A bus I had no ticket for yet, I have to add. The Lady pointed to another desk and asked me to lodge the bags there before returning to her desk to purchase the ticket. I glanced across at another lengthy queue, gave her my finest forced smile and trundled the large cases over to the weigh station. I could feel the tears threatening to spill, but I drew in my breath, glanced at the Lion who was half asleep and hoped no one tried to steal my handbag. After a fashion, 15 minutes to be exact, the baggage handler took my cases only to advise me, unsurprisingly, they were overweight. In order for her to accept them I had to decant items into hand luggage and represent them. In response to my information that I had no hand luggage, she pointed me in the direction of the first desk where I might buy additional bags. Sufficient to say that queue had also filled up again.

I trucked back to the first desk where smarting with frustration at another 10 minute wait, I bought the bag before returning to the weigh in desk decanting knickers and other oversized items into the hand bag. After a further but shorter wait, my lighter cases were finally accepted. I was provided with the required luggage tickets to present for my onward journey and returned to the ticket desk where I finally purchased the bus tickets and some 45 minutes later, returned to the Lion. He was struggling to stay awake and I noticed he had been joined by a young black American boy, who was taking up two seats with his expansive backside and a large red velvet pillow that was totally incongruous with his physique.

Despite my initial reservations and ill placed fears, he smiled at me and asked if the New Orleans bus had left yet. He too a bit vulnerable and uncertain. No sooner had I responded and alerted him to my alien status, I turned to start fussing over the Lion. But was prevented by an announcement “They are getting in Line at Door number 9” which came lilting lyrically over the loudspeaker. This colloquialism brought a smile; a uniquely American phrase, that reminds you that travelling is real, different and so interesting. For a nano second I was lulled into tourist mode, only to crash to reality when the Lion was unable to stand up and walk to the Line. Johnny Cash he was not.

With the help of the rather large American boy, the Lion was frogmarched (getting to be a habit) to the Line and I escorted him to the coach stairs where we had to identify our luggage, match the ticket numbers and acknowledge the HEAVY banner that had been strapped across the buckles.

My first impressions of the greyhound bus was that it was grey. Inside the chairs were plastic and mostly burst with foam spewing out, it was cold and unwelcoming,hardly the bucket list ride I had hoped for. The coach was clean enough, but it was clear that it was pre-loved. I guided the Lion to the mid section and again left him to the aisle seat. Most people were travelling solo and had taken single occupancy of the seat, sitting in the middle to ensure no strangers dared to share it. Some required the whole two seats just to accommodate their bulk. I felt so slim, there were some benefits from this experience at least.

The Driver emerged and walked the length of the bus, I thought he looked like Slim Whitman, with a pencil moustache, slick backed hair, and warm brown eyes. He wore a smart, creased shirt and was impeccably presented with a slim black tie held neatly with a gold pin, belted slacks pressed with knife-edged seams and shoes that shone and sparkled as he navigated the narrow passage of the bus. He quickly checked the toilets at the rear before clearing his throat and loudly declaring in a southern drawl. “This is the finest greyhound bus in the fleet, we will be travelling to Ohio and on my bus I will not tolerate no alcohol, no knives and no narcotics” I tried not to process that information and watched him closely as he thrust himself forward dominating the other passengers, establishing himself as the alpha male, marking his territory and making sure that everyone understood who was in charge. We sat in awe of this entire experience, terrified but somehow strangely safe, as the bus slowly edged its way out of the station……

Off on holiday we go. Chapter 3 Book of the lion

So the first holiday you take as grown ups without your kids is a remarkable moment. It is s coming of age, when you arrive and suddenly make grown up decisions for you and no one else. Most of our holidays had been taken with our kids in mind, we’d gone where they wanted to go, we’d given up on our dreams, or at least put them on hold. Our hopes were also on hold, and just for the peace that’s was necessary when you have teenagers, we made sacrifices without any fuss. All of those holidays had been safe, we had gone to resorts where teenagers had been accommodated, where parents were invisible, until of course we were needed. Holidays where you blended in, merged with the sand, sea and sunshine and somehow managed to have fun in spite of your kids and their demands.

So when they were 17 and 16, and no longer wanting to travel with us, we were delighted. We tried to conceal our joy when we booked a trip to the Deep South of America and curtail our enthusiasm for this was a first for us. This was to be a journey to the musical Deep South, where we could indulge in our love of country, blues and jazz. We were uber excited and two of our then closest friends wanted to join us, what was not to like? It was after all our first grown up holiday. We booked with a company that provided us everything we needed from our dream trip; starting in Atlanta, crusing into Chattanooga before moving into Nashville, down to Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, Baton Rouge then finally Houston. What a trip! we were beside our selves with anticipation and excitement and all without our kids.

The night before we set off we had a bit of a blitzkrieg with our daughter, significant at the time, although now, despite my best efforts I have no idea what it was about, but it was significant enough to upset us both that night. We did not sleep. It just goes to show that arguments with children in their teens are an emotional wrench and although hardly worth reflection there is little doubt we were deeply affected by this hiccup because we cared. So much so, we got up in the morning having not slept a wink, for a five o’clock taxi pick up to head to Edinburgh airport with no joy in our hearts for this trip, rather I have to admit we had heavy hearts that day.

We were travelling British Airways, again the most efficient airline customer service wise. And given what was to confront us on this journey, they were to come to the fore once again. Our flight out of Edinburgh to Gatwick was straight forward and after we had been served our breakfast, some 40 minutes into the flight, our journey suddenly turned into a nightmare. The lion who was in the middle seat, like me was making his way through a majestic scrambled egg with sausage and bacon. I glanced sideways to acknowledge the sublimity of this meal, this trip and our happiness when I noticed he was not enjoying his food. I suddenly became aware of how claustrophobic the space was between the three seats we were contained in. Suddenly, without warning, he put his knife and fork down on the tray, and in an instant his eyes rolled in his sockets as he fell backwards into the headrest and turned grey.

My observations were informed by my experiences and the pace of my thoughts had little concern for reality. I immediately thought he had had a stroke. Then I noticed his parlour a pale grey, and thought he had died. I wondered fleetingly where dead people went on a plane. These were flashing thoughts because at the same time I was panicking, I was pushing the button to alert the air hostess. I was screaming silently for help and noticed immediately that the hostess thought I was just seeking more coffee. She looked toward me with disdain but I slowly raised my arms, started waving and my face communicating that this wasn’t a request for coffee but an urgent need for her assistance. All of this while I was calculating where dead bodies might go on the plane.

The outer seat passenger was tucking into his breakfast totally unaware of the drama unfolding before him. When the air hostess arrived with oxygen in hand she dragged him out of his seat without the slightest concern for the progress of his consumption of his breakfast. With a single but swift manoeuvre he was launched into the aisle in shock. So slick was her actions he had no time to absorb what was happening, By the time this response and immediate reaction had take place the Lion was taking a deep breath and with all the effort of the flick of an electronic switch he came to life suddenly, totally unaware of the drama he had created. I was immobile stuck in the corner when this drama unfolded. I could do nothing to inform those around me about what was happening, I could not share with them that I thought he had died. I had to stay put as people were displaced, and while his life was re-ignited I knew suddenly our trip was in jeopardy. The captain was in control of what happened next. I was looking at the lion wondering what had just happened, grateful he was alive and watching those around us who were preparing to land oblivious to anything we had endured on this journey.

The lion started to perspire, slurred his speech and was disorientated. Oh my god he’s had a stroke I thought and my holiday dreams as a couple and not parents, flashed before me…………………….

Dramas with Dirhams in Dubai. Chapter 1 Book of holiday dramas

A Facebook post this week reminded me of our eventful trip to Dubai in November 2013. It’s really no coincidence that we take holidays in November, it is our wedding anniversary as I have previously intimated. As we couldn’t afford a honeymoon in 1982 every year since I try to organise a holiday masquerading as the honeymoon we never had. We have had a few interesting trips over the years and not always abroad. But if you go in November and you want sunshine you do have to go a bit further to get it and Dubai appeared to deliver that.

I had never been to the Middle East and, as Dubai was enjoying a period of popularity as a holiday destination, it was an easy decision. I made plans and booked our trip some 6 months ahead for November. I was so excited to be staying in Festival City and travelling Emirates for the first time. For me it was an exotic, untested adventure for us and one that promised romance, mystique and intrigue. For my husband; he was not an explorer, he was non-plussed, not one for demonstrating his emotions, instead he prefers to humour my childlike excitement and anticipation for the trip. However on reflection given all the dramas we have experienced perhaps it’s more likely that he’s quietly speculating what calamity will befall us this time (note the choice of tense).

In a totally separate but connected incident the mermaid put my driving licence in between a space in the floorboards a few weeks before we travelled, and unless we wanted to lift the floor ( which we had to do two years later) I had to apply for a new one. I went on-line, but unfortunately it was early in my silver surfing career and I was not aware of the Google algorithms that would prioritise services for me. Hence it was that I was guided to a site, similar to the Government site, but where you had to pay money for what was in essence a free service. I was reasonably far into this application, including having given my credit card details to pay for what was free, when it crashed and everything was lost.

This alerted me to a potential fraud and misappropriation of my visa credit card, so my next move was to cancel that. Now I was more than a little frustrated by this techno failure but cancelling the credit card took that to an entirely a different level. It was an automated system (non-human) requiring you to speak, fine, except it did not speak Scottish (most of them don’t). Despite using my best rolling r’s accent (received pronunciation) I continued to flummox the computer persona, unable to make any progress with the process, and as I was already frazzled I discontinued the call (threw the phone away) half way through.

I didn’t hear another word from them, and having calmed down sufficiently to make rational decisions, I determined that since the process had failed my card was still active. The card details did not appear to have been compromised so I was going to forget about cancelling it.

The next two weeks flew past, and soon it was time to head off to Dubai. When we arrived at the airport we were immediately approached by a man offering to taxi us to our hotel. Although we later became suspicious of him, when he took us to his car in the car park, we initially judged him harmless and threw in our cases and got in the back. Nothing about this vehicle looked like a taxi, there was no meter, it was sparkling clean (should have been a clue), but lacked any safety or regulatory notices. Our hotel was only a five minute drive from the airport so despite nervously exchanging glances and holding onto our hand luggage just that little bit tighter, we made a timely and safe arrival.

When he charged us 100 Dihram I contemplated whether that was bit too much, but to be honest we were more relieved we hadn’t been slaughtered or kidnapped by this random individual posing as a taxi driver. What a start to our holiday… I was immediately distracted by this absolutely fantastic hotel; splendour and glamour emanated from within the Lobby, which was a vault of statement, stature and style. It was midnight and although there was an absence of guests, clearly staff were still milling around in numbers and smartly whisked our cases off to the desk and corralled us into the reception

Exhausted from the travelling, overwhelmed by the Lobby and relieved we had our lives intact, we prepared to check-in. I provided our details and waited, taking in our palatial surroundings I noted it was almost 1230am. We waited, then the desk clerk went off to find the night manager ( sorry, it was not Tom Hiddleston). He arrived and while we continued to wait, both of them were transfixed by a screen, muttering in Arabic, and then making another call which had the effect of summoning a woman. Half an hour passed while all three continued to stare at the screen, before finally informing me that our booking had been cancelled. Flabbergasted, but ready for retaliation I proudly produced the email confirmation. This created further palaver and to-ing and fro-ing, all the while being reassured that everything would be fine. Then suddenly to a cacophony of 1000 apologies, we were allocated our room, our anxiety palpably disappearing momentarily. ” We just need your credit card” and I handed it over.

We did not have many Dirhams with us, and had planned to rely on using our credit card to savour many of the treasures that Dubai had to offer. But that was until the manager advised me it had been cancelled……………………