Perth, the Australian one.

We arrived in the dark of night in Western Australia. The level of excitement at finally getting here was momentous, not dampened in the slightest by the fact that it was at night and we might not actually see anything of the skyline or surrounding landscape. The dimly lit arrival area was host to a plethora of tour operators or drivers waiting a little bit patiently and looking a big bit bored for the passenger arrivals to finally make it out through immigration. Our particular tour Tigress introduced herself and welcomed us to Australia. I let that welcome sink in for a few minutes, that we were actually here was truly amazing and I couldn’t help smiling with complete happiness at the reality of this moment. We were directed to a waiting bus and the remaining 17 people who would be joining us. In Singapore we had yet to introduce ourselves widely so while some faces were familiar we wouldn’t really know anyone until much further on in this tour. In any event those who had also undertaken the tour of New Zealand were joining us in Perth and soon 19 would be 28.

I made a couple of mistakes about Perth, or misplaced assumptions perhaps would be a better way of describing it. I believed Perth was on the southern coast, this particular assumption (despite having a higher Geography I might add) was based on the writing of Perth on the Australian Map, going from left to right its position was something of a confusion. I thought this positioning of the name placed the location on the south coast, when in actual fact it was on the west. Secondly I thought it would be a bit of a backwater and once the glimmers of sunrise flickered through the curtains, I realised instantly how wrong I had been. It is a beautiful city, bordered by the river, spotlessly clean and uplifting in every aspect of its being.

The Rough Guide to Australia puts the population of Perth around 1.5 million people. Built along the banks of the Swan river, famous for its black swans and dolphins, early Western Australian settlers were free, that is they were not criminals but those who wanted to relocate. The reality of spending 6 weeks on a boat saw many of these intrepid travellers ditch their hopes of making it to eastern Australia and disembarked and settled as soon as the boat docked. The large expanse of the Swan River is perfect for boats, canoeing, fishing and a range of water sports, all of which was regularly going on. The City, built on a grid system, is easy enough to navigate so a trek around takes no time really. The newly developed Elizabeth Quay is a popular place for visitors, with play areas for the children and assorted seating, sculptures and cafes and bars for the adults. I loved the design, the views and the welcome of the whole area.

We were shown the City by bus to help orientate ourselves, then we were driven the short distance to Fremantle. Now this was a hidden gem. Quite hip, a university town, with loads of buildings with balconies that reminded me of New Orleans. Beneath were little shops, secondhand bookstores and coffee shops. Each one alluring and inviting to everyone except the Lion. Along the front we could take our pick from the coffee shops in Cappuccino Strip and watch the flood of tourists swarming the streets and browsing the wares on offer. From Freo, as the locals call it, we boarded the Captain Cook, and headed west back to Perth via the Swan river. No sooner had we moved from the wharf when two dolphins emerged from the water and tipped their fins high in the water. I screeched with delight, much to the shock of those seated around me, at seeing these mammals in the wild in the proximity of the boat, but we were unable to snap them as the boat chugged its way hurriedly back toward Perth.

Before Fremantle we stopped momentarily for a paddle in the Indian Ocean at Cottesloe. This small but beautiful sandy beach was littered with families and seniors enjoying the warm weather in the high 30’s. The sea ebbing and flowing on the warm golden sands and me dipping my toes in and feeling like I was five years old again. It was idyllic and so far Australia was living up to my expectations.

On our final day in Perth we wandered around the City streets, locating London Court, with a Tudor facia, this lane was gaily swathed in colourful bunting and little shops and coffee houses bringing a little feel of England with a lot of Australia on offer. It was a lovely place to spend an hour or so idling before striding around the grids of Perth looking at buildings and people before heading back to our hotel. The Tigress had us up early for the next trip to Adelaide so the cases were packed up, the pictures edited and organised, family updated and we were off on our travels again.

Slinging back to Singapore

Singapore is the first stop on this epic tour. By epic I mean we are away for five weeks and by any stretch of the imagination, with the Lion loving travelling(NOT) , this is no mean feat. I have family here so in advance of our arrival had made contact in the hope we might meet up. Despite an 18 hour journey he agreed to meet us on arrival in an Irish pub to watch the Scottish Football later that night! Such a Singapore thing to do. Least said about that, in travellers terms, the better other than the pub was a haven of football fans, suitably attired, singing anthems and behaving like we were actually in paradise. This requires considerable tolerance as my family support our arch rivals but nevertheless showed impartial tolerance, above and beyond what he was feeling, as we trounced this team and claimed the three points.

This partisan activity left us completely available for the next two days to see and experience Singapore. First impressions were that it was a magnificent, shiny and bustling city. They proudly claim they are the most westernised city in Asia and the guide appeared considerably smug about this fact. It was spotlessly clean in every aspect. One of our fellow travellers commented that it was too clean, the Lion was dumfoonert (incredulous) by this statement, how, in his opinion, can anywhere be too clean? This traveller had yet to experience the Lion and all his idiosyncrasies and so limited insight as to what makes a good holiday, in the Lion’s view, would solely be based on his assessment of the cleanliness or otherwise of Singapore.

It is really difficult with globalisation to articulate what makes one place so really different from another. MacDonald’s are in every city, town and village wherever you travel. Most of the retail kings and queens can be found in most modern cities across the world. And everywhere has an Irish bar, at least one anyway. Singapore was no different. It’s unique selling point has to be something about the culture, which on the surface appears western but with subtle but tangible overtones of Chinese, Tamil and Malay who were early settlers here. We visited Chinatown and Little India to experience first hand the 4th and 5th generation Chinese and Tamil people’s culture. Religious places of worship to Chinese gods and Tamil deity were colourful and aromatic as the incense and jos sticks permeated the air inviting you inside to experience calm and peaceful prayer.

Chinese dragons and tigers adorn the doorways on the way out of the temple the tiger symbolising the elderly and it’s cub, the young person and how the two must work together to achieve balance through youth and experience. Much to be acclaimed about this symbolism. Entering on the right and leaving by the left was important, with the key difference here that we could keep our shoes on for the visit. In Little India the moneylenders sat riverside to offer new business funding to the early settlers, clad in little more than a loin cloth the money lenders would purview their investments and hurriedly pull out if they considered the business unviable. Nothing new there then if you have experience with the banking system we have nowadays.

The Singapore river is beautifully lined with walkways offering a warm evening stroll either side with a variety of eating places and watering holes along the way. It is mostly tourists in this area and the prices reflected it at $12 Singapore dollars for a pint and $10 for wine. There are a variety of fusion restaurants as you might expect with a city built around Asian influences so we had Italian. Now that is a frustration to me since the Lion, another of these idiosyncrasies, rejects spicy food as it might upset his tummy, so Osso Bocco it was for the first night.

A must do visit is to Marina Bay gardens at night, the light show dances and entrances the eyes, you feel like you are in Avatar. The beauty of the show enveloped us we then travelled 36 floors up to the Viewing platform surrounding a huge surfboard atop this magnificent hotel which hosts a bar, food and swimming pool. Only residents might experience the latter but the $23 dollar entrance price is deducted from your food and drink bill so it makes for a reasonable trip if you don’t mind the height. At night you get a real sense of the dazzling splendour of Singapore; glistening with lights the tall buildings peppering the horizon it allows you to experience this beautiful city from a completely different perspective. On our way up in the lift we met a couple of people from Dundee, of course it is a cosmopolitan city. They were experienced travellers now living in Gibraltar and they had been to the city before, filling us with recommendations we were unlikely to ever manage given the short nature of our trip.

After an expensive but much appreciated and must do Singapore Sling we descended into reality and headed off in the general direction of Rafffles where we wanted to experience first hand the most traditional element of the Singapore visit. We had stopped there on our travels around the city with the guide but wanted an unhinged experience, more out of duty than want if we are honest. We set off confused by the darkness, down one street, along a tree lined avenue, in the underpass, back onto the river and soon realised we were lost. By 11pm we gave up our quest to be hip the bar was most likely to be closed (things close about 1030pm there) and found our way back to the river hand in hand, back to our hotel. Ah well lets leave that for another night, yeah…………….

An Epic journey

As those of you know who have read earlier blogs, we are not the luckiest travellers in the world. We’ve had near misses, disasters and even missed holidays altogether. You will recall that in September 2018, when I booked the Very Best of Australia Tour with stopovers in Singapore and Bali, I mistakenly booked it for February 2019! It was a cock up before we even got started. Having realised this mistake, I ate humble pie and contacted the tour operator who rebooked the right date to coincide with my 60th birthday, I was assured that nothing else could possibly go wrong, right?

The bushfires in Australia ravaged the country in the summer of 2019/20. Nowhere was safe apparently and the country suffered horrendous loss of life, people lost homes and wildlife was decimated. People were picking through the the ashes trying to salvage what little the fires had left them and we were going there on holiday. It was hard to be so oblivious to their suffering. As the fires continued air quality was now an issue and media coverage did little to quell the rising levels of anxiety. Tennis players participating in the Melbourne Open were complaining bitterly about the air quality there and it was one of our stops. We might not be able to visit any of the places at this rate. We watched with interest as the impact of the devastating fires became all too real in every day life in Australia.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office became our new best friends. We favourited them to assist us getting to the information quickly and efficiently. The insurance company also suggested that unless the F&C stated that it was unsafe to travel, they would not refund the costs if we cancelled. Having paid a telephone number in cash for this trip the dream holiday was quickly becoming a nightmare. Our antenna was raw monitoring the situation. The news continued to sound concerning, I know we have coped before with such threats and risks but this was a major set back.

And it was not over. Kangaroo Island where we were to spend two nights was removed from the tour, anyone who watched it on TV could see the horrific impact on wildlife there. Other trips were also under threat, but daily updates continued to pour oil on troubled waters and glimmers of hope began to emerge. I turned to prayer, only to hear that Trump had started an offensive in Iraq. The thought of a war in the Middle East filled me with dread, we were passing through the Middle East and might be affected. Those chances increased tenfold when some angry men shot down a passenger jet, admittedly mistakenly, nevertheless taking out all on board. I was weak at the knees, finding my seat as I watched and contemplated the impact of these latest developments. And it was about to get worse.

Two weeks before we were about to travel, news of a deadly virus in China was beginning to filter onto our news channels. Wait, we were heading in this direction, with a stopover in Singapore itself with close links to China was one of the areas hit with the virus. It was the third calamity to hit the holiday. We watched with horror as the WHO declared it a global problem and instigated measures to attempt to constrain the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. Our favourite website was red hot as we searched for guidance and information about whether we should travel. Our cases lay empty, no real packing had even begun with this latest development. During all of this, quite innocuously my sister mentioned that there had been a plague of locusts in Africa that had devastated crops, described as giant locusts, the like of which had never been seen before. This piece of information resonated with my religious teaching. It was beginning to be clear, fires, floods, plague, locusts and shooting planes down could mean only one thing, the end of the world, imminent annihilation, the apocalypse was coming.

Never say we are not positive, for despite these threats, the risks mounting on a daily basis, we started to pack the cases, buy the currency, book the driver and buy the guide books. It is called faith. Always looking on the bright side we purchased masks to wear when we arrived in Singapore and ensure we were free of the virus. A little bit of excitement was beginning to take hold the morning the driver arrived to collect us. We threw the bags ( well maybe we dragged them they were quite heavy) into the boot, sat in the sumptuous leather and breathed a sigh of relief. Two miles into the journey an accident on the M8 forced us off the motorway and rerouting our journey added a half hour delay. We breathed a second sigh of relief as we rejoined the M8 only to hit a second accident at Charing Cross. A further delay meant we arrived a little late into Glasgow Airport but we managed to drop our bags and head to the lounge for the first champagne of the day. That is when the Lion said “ These accidents they usually come in three’s don’t they?…………….”

Wonderful delights of Scottish January’s

It snowed the day I was born, hardly surprising, the weather in Scotland is predictably poor in January. Nevertheless, it did not deter my plans when I had to select a destination to celebrate my birthday weekend with my friends. Somewhere hot, beach, cocktails, lots of blue skies and dry golf courses. I can hear your brain generating those dreams from here. Nope, my favourite place in the whole world was the only place I wanted to spend my birthday; Kenmore, Perthshire in Scotland. The weather was not a consideration for these plans, you see here in Scotland we are a bit of a unique race, we have innate and eternal positivity when it comes to the weather, this way it has little chance of spoiling things. Generally most Scots are able to adapt their behaviours and clothing to 4 seasons in one day without batting an eyelid. Our weekend bags however, are always large, a bit on the heavy side as we attempt to be prepared for a deluge of rain, a flurry of snowflakes or an arid heat wave (extremely rare). Therefore packing a range of clothing from bikini to polar fleeces is the normal preparatory behaviour of the average Scottish tourist staying local for a holiday or winter break.

So Kenmore, why is this my favourite place in the world? Let me explain its geography and history to give you a bit of context. Kenmore is in the midst of the Perthshire Highlands, surrounded by the Breadalbane Hills and Glen Lyon and on the shores of Loch Tay, everything you’d expect from a perfect Scottish location. 10 miles or so off the A9 with Pitlochry to the North, Aberfeldy to the west, Dunkeld to the south. It’s an area our finest literary minds found enchanting, even Shakespeare.

Kenmore was built as a planned estate village by the Earl of Breadalbane in the 1750’s meaning it’s been there almost as long as the house I live in, we are so connected. Scotland’s oldest inn; the Kenmore Hotel claims it was established in 1572, long before the village appeared. The whole area was also loved and visited by our National Bard; Robert Burns, inspiring many poems about the scenery and location. On the east side of the Kenmore Square is an elaborate stone gateway giving access to Taymouth Castle. Built in the 19th century this beautiful granite and slate Castle has suffered dreadfully from poor or misjudged investments. Each year since 1925 , investors have been trying to make it a hotel, but now nearly 100 years on and several failed attempts, it lies unoccupied with a smattering of works completed by investors who could see the potential but were unable to sell the dream as effectively to the punters.

The River Tay provides some of the best fishing in the area. So it was as a youngster our summer holidays centred around the Rivers Tay or Tummel so that my father could fish for trout or salmon. His younger brother shared his passion and so we took many holidays with his family and other cousins and friends whose first passion was fishing and not holidays, but they tagged along nevertheless. We always stayed in a caravan park on the outskirts of Aberfeldy where we enjoyed terrific holidays as children, free to roam to the park or the pictures or play rounders till the sky turned dark. My poor mother, as a fisherman’s wife, was frequently left with three kids, finding solace in a martini with my aunties and their kids, trying to amuse one another in the tiniest of caravans while the men waded into the water in the hope of catching the big one. We kids, following in our fathers‘ footsteps, often went en masse to fish ourselves with coloured nets on bamboo canes and jelly jars. So intent on catching minnows, our eyes glued to the clear but turbulent waters for the swish of a tiny fishes tail, we hardly paid attention to our compadres or our surroundings. Until the unforgettable day we failed to notice one of our group being tugged away by the dark force of the River Tay’s fierce undercurrent. Later, when it became apparent he hadn’t returned, the force of his mother’s screams that night resonated in our little caravan for the rest of the holiday. We never returned for many years after that.

6 miles from Aberfeldy is Kenmore, we often piled into the transit van with a picnic. On the small but quaint Loch Tay beach with inflated tire inners to float and swim in Loch Tay, we huddled in blankets as the wind blew and the sun peeked out behind Schehallion long enough to venture into the water. It was a picturesque place, the setting and surrounding scenery breathtaking. The famous Dr Finlay’s Casebook was filmed here. The opening credits focused on the majestic stone gateway leading into the fictional village of “Tannoch Brae”. To me Kenmore seemed a bit of a Scottish Hollywood, not that it was teaming with big stars, but the fact it was on our televisions every week created a mystique and captured the imagination of this 6 year girl who dreamed of being an actress, or even an extra, if I was fortunate enough.

Most of the Square in Kenmore is now property offered for short term rental. More recently three distinct sites in close proximity offer a range of modern or traditional properties with saunas or hot tubs, sleeping up to 12 people making it a favourite destination for holidays and breaks. We always opt for Mains of Taymouth and have stayed there now for over 10 years. We’ve also used Kenmore Lodges on the other side of the road and now the more recent Taymouth Marina has breathed fresh ideas into the holiday experience, enticing a younger generation to the area. Mains of Taymouth is my personal favourite and hence I return there time after time.

It has a small 9 hole golf course and we have enjoyed many a rivalrous game there. And so it was on my birthday weekend, there we were, 8 of us playing a competitive 9 holes with a trophy at stake, our brollies trundling down the fairways swept off by gusting winds, as we huddled under the shelter of the trees from the horizontal sleet and rain, peppered now and again with blue skies, sunshine and stillness at every other hole. After the 9th hole, it was just too much for the birthday girl to continue and so I scurried back to our beautiful house, leaving the career golfers to play on. As I slipped into my swimming suit and slunk into the hot tub with a glass of fizz, oblivious to the driving snow and wind I could not wish to be anywhere else in the world……..Ahhh bliss, for me is Kenmore and the hot tub.

Nashville Skyline and Hatch Prints. Chapter 11 Book of the Lion

If I wanted to write a country song, for sure I’d have oodles of material for it. Being in the home of Country Music did not inspire me however, for we were too hung up on being safe and feeling well. The trip out with our transatlantic relations, albeit through marriage, however did much to raise the spirits. We learned that our American Superhero worked in the superhero styled AT&T building which has featured in all of the batman films. It stands erect against the Nashville skyline with its two masts and sculptured architecture creating the appearance of the Batman mask. In the dark it glows, effusing a neon aura between its masts drawing you into a mysterious pathway of superhero actions. You half expect the riddler to suddenly beam across the sky and the bat-mobile to hurtle toward him from the landing strip. It is a fascinating building, if only for the hours of endless imaginings on what might occur if you stare at it long enough.

Downtown Nashville was murky and threadbare, reminiscent of days gone by when vinyl ruled and Johnny Cash or Hank Williams wandered drunkenly between the numerous bars and hostelries on the street. There are a few shops selling cowboy boots or hats but not much else for shopping divas. To be honest this is a city where Music dominates the landscape and if its shopping you’re looking for I’d recommend you go somewhere else. However Hatch Prints, over 100years in business, who make the legendary screen printed posters that heralded the appearance of our jakey friends at either the Grande Ole Opry or Legends in the 1950’s and 60’s, remained largely unchanged by time or artists and offered a music lovers paradise.

Cats roam freely within the store, but I had little awareness of this on my first visit. It was dark on the inside, with an inky aroma floating in the air, much of which had settled on the large pane glass windows making it difficult to look in or see out. It was a massive store, barren of interior furnishings aside from several large screen printing machines, bottles of ink and little wooden pigeon holes. These held a host of posters in a variety of sizes and shapes, rolled up and luring you enticingly to unravel the contents. Easy pigeon hole listed the contents alphabetically to ease finding something that might appeal to the music loving buyer.

Some of the most popular prints adorned the brick faced walls but these did not guarantee your purchase and a rotation system meant that when it’s gone it’s not likely to make a reappearance until some uncertain and undisclosed date in the future. Some of the material was completed with a single colour, while others merged a combination of two screen print paints creating a vibrant contrast between the pictures and words. After a leisurely period of unadulterated browsing, I noticed the cats and had to make a swift exit, leaving the Lion to show me a range of purchasing possibilities through the ink-laden windows. I settled on a Patsy Cline, my heroine and Hank Williams, a favourite of the Lion, was chosen in the absence of availability of Johnny Cash.

We spent a memorable evening in the Wild Horse Saloon with the Miss Teenage America entrants, all of whom could line dance in organised and practised fashion. Country Music in the UK was still stuck in the 1950’s it had not yet appealed to a younger generation and most had never heard of the Dixie Chicks, Kelsey Ballerina or Carry Underwood. They don’t know what they were missing and certainly would have been shocked at the level of engagement by young people with this dreaded genre of music if we had tried to introduced it! The Wild Horse Saloon lived up to its reputation, loud music, modern country and even a rendition of Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane by the resident band to the delight of the pageant girls. It was a colourful spectacular with all of the pageant girls more glorious and beautiful than the last, their skinny frames enveloped by broad ribbons proudly announcing the state they were representing. We know a pageant girl, or I should say a few of them now, and wonder if any of them represented their state in their teenage years and we bumped into them, literally.

Eating in Nashville, and probably in the rest of the USA, was a functional rather than culinary delight in 2003. Most of the eateries were chain, fast food establishments selling hamburgers, fries and salad. Over the years this has changed significantly but back when we first visited the food and choices were limited and mostly awful. So it was a great delight to have the opportunity to dine with the superhero and his family in a restaurant they highly favoured, just a little out of town. Our American Superhero provided us with the transport once more, and we were joined by his family travelling in a separate vehicle, at one of their favourite restaurants. Their children were a mixture of cute and handsome. Their two all American boys, with short neat haircuts, matching casual open necked shirts and chinos were polite and mannerly. They were obviously accustomed to eating out, but not meeting many strange people from Scotland, despite their Gran, Grandpa and Aunty living there. Their baby sister, now a divinely beautiful young woman, was just as beautiful and cute back then. She was dressed in a simple but expensive white cotton dress that showed just a hint of matching drawers. I judged this choice had been easily impacted by the fact her mother had been dressing boys for the past 7 years.

The restaurant was busy, although only 6pm families were comfortably seated, surrounding our party seated conspicuously at a central table, ignorant to the fact we had not met before but bound together in this meal by rather unconventional circumstances. The waiters poured us water and handed around the menus. I was salivating as I opened it and pursued the contents containing what was only the upmarket range of fast food hamburgers, fries and salad………..

Backing into a corner. Chapter 5 book of the Lion.

Tour buses are always well equipped and super comfortable, air conditioning as standard with reclining seats and arm rests, the ultimate in luxury, In normal circumstances this would be fine, but actually with a sore back of this proportion nothing short of morphine will do. Instead he made do with a coffee and was tipped out onto the bus from the wheelchair. Our other travelling companions,as yet unknown had already boarded and so we four took our seats somewhere near the back. We were the youngest on the trip but not obviously, the fittest. The Lion wanted to sit in the aisle seat, I have learned during these testing times to forgo all territorial power grabs and points winning. I sat at the window and watched him wince in pain as he swung his behind in from the aisle onto the seat and gasped in pain as it seared across his lumber region.

Our travelling companions, once very good friends, had some sympathy but it was not sincere and I was only too conscious they had to have a holiday too. I was mostly focused on our situation to be honest, I could see the Lion grit his teeth and he was perspiring, a sure sign he was in considerable pain. The coach chugged into life, we made our way out of the hotel and toward the Peachtree Road, remember Elton… As we settled into the journey I noticed the Lion retained hold of the seat in front and had not really relaxed into the tourist role. I watched closely as he struggled to find a comfortable position, only slightly aware of the white noise of the tour guide retailing us of our wonderful trip ahead. I have very little recollection of that journey other than the drama I am about to describe as I was working our what possible options I might have to get us out of this tour. It was clear that continuing on the bus was absolutely the most unhelpful thing for the Lion. My mind went in to overdrive as every bump in the road resulted in a wince or gasp of intense pain.

The bus stopped near a shopping centre and under any other circumstances I would have been first off. It was clear we were going nowhere. So we let everyone off and remained on the bus. The driver eyed us suspiciously in his rear view mirror. The Lion used this time to try to rectify an un-rectifiable problem. He wanted to just lie on the floor for a minute and things would surely settle down. I knew he was not thinking at all straight, he would never have considered any small change in his posture as a potential remedy for this level of spasms. But nevertheless he wanted to try and so I did my best to help him out of the chair and onto the floor. In actual fact I took no part in this manoeuvre since every time I touched him he winced in pain. It was clear we were truly off this trip.

The driver. who watched closely from the comfort of his suspension floating driving seat, recognised trouble when he saw it. He lurched toward us, all 6 feet 7 of him his bulk only managing to transverse the coach side on. He asked if we needed help. The Lion stretched out on the floor was now writhing with pain, he almost lost consciousness. I said I think we might need a doctor and the driver agreed. With a single grip he lifted the Lion to his feet. This giant was gentle and caring waiting until the Lion could get his breath, while all the time I knew he was cringing with embarrassment, feeling that this level of attention was not what he planned. I was just grateful the driver could lift him up from the floor.

Balancing him on his feet the driver frogwalked the Lion slowly to the door. I exited ahead of them and noticed a taxi flying past, I waved my hands in desperation and although he failed to stop, he seemed to have noticed us and within a few minutes another taxi arrived. The Lion was dwarfed by the giant driver and dangled like a puppet under his massive biceps. The taxi drew up and the Lion was laid along the backseat, now with tears silently falling, he had finally accepted this was not going to be an easy fix.

We were transported to the Atlanta University Hospital where a team met us at the door. It felt like Grey’s Anatomy. Alone in a strange country with no idea what was ahead of us we were wheeled in to the emergency room. The Lion was prepared for a doctor and someone asked me for a credit card. Long before we had paid them a nurse practitioner entered the room, the Lion was still in some pain. I have become accustomed to medical practitioners not really believing people have such a thing as a bad back. I learned later that bad backs are the main source of people looking to source major drugs. So we have to jump through hoops to get help, thanks for that!

The nurse practitioner asked the Lion if she might check the extent of the problem, she took his foot, and I braced myself, as she thrust his leg in the air. It soon turned blue with expletives as the Lion tried to restrain the pain he was experiencing. The Nurse left the room rather hurriedly and soon we were alone, awaiting decisions that would inform our fate. Time passed and before long a Doctor, no more than a youngster, entered the room and the credit card pinged like a crescendo toward expensive.

It was clear the Lion needed treatment and was instantly sedated to alleviate the pain and for an instant I was relieved he had some respite from the pain. The tour guide joined me and took our insurance details to make the necessary arrangements since my credit card could not manage the incessant pinging we were facing, Then we were advised he had to stay. I knew that the tour guide needed to leave with his tourists. I just didn’t want to be left behind, I never felt so alone. The Lion was now in an induced coma unaware but no longer in pain. I went to the door desolate and saw our friends had thoughtfully brought out our cases to me as they waved goodbye and sailed on to Chattanooga. Me. I sat out at the back door to this hospital with two cases and no one and I cried……………….

Back to back disasters. Chapter 4 book of the Lion

Of course we know that British Airways provide excellent service but this was our first long haul, which was now very much in jeopardy, so we needed them to be on the ball. First, however, we needed to find out if the lion had had a stroke. It was certainly very frightening to observe but the whole episode had in fact lasted no more than a minute. When he finally rallied all he wanted to do was sleep and all I wanted were answers. As is normal in these situations we were made to stand out even more by waiting until everyone disembarked at Gatwick. Pitiful glances from our fellow passengers did little to advance our wait and, as you will hear as the story unravels a bit more, our travel companions waited with us… on this occasion. It was all so uncertain, we had no idea if we were on a flight to Atlanta or heading back to Edinburgh.

Once we were helped off the plane with a wheelchair for the lion, we were transferred to a buggy which rushed the patient to see a Doctor. The lion was still very much slurring his speech and perspiration was dripping from him. He just kept on about sleeping, but the doctor didn’t seem too concerned. He deemed him fit to fly and carry on our journey. It sounded like a fit he determined and I was mighty relieved at that. Although it was the first time, it would not be the last.

British Airways ground staff accompanied us throughout the process, remaining anonymous but coming to the fore if we had any questions or actions we needed taken care of. We didn’t have time for the luxury duty free shopping as this whole process had taken over a couple of hours and now it was time to get to the flight. Our driver careered the buggy through the droves of meandering public who seemed to have lost all awareness of safety on entering the airport. They were quite unaware why we were being chauffeured around and nothing but an inconvenience to their meaningless meanders. I wanted to shout out that we had every right to have this mode of transport MY HUSBAND NEEDED IT. There that felt better.

We were driven right to the gate where we handed over our boarding cards. There was an unwelcome pause as they were studied then ripped up. Oh no we were not being allowed to travel but then our BA companion advised we had all been upgraded to business. Well, not much takes me by surprise but this did, it was completely out of the blue. All 4 of us travelling together were upgraded, it was astonishing, but if I am honest rather welcome after the trauma we had suffered. And of course it would be much easier to deal with dead people in business, they’d just be left in their beds.

Champagne was such a welcome to receive, but all the lion wanted to do was get his head down and no sooner had the seatbelt sign flicked to off he got into the bed and fell instantly asleep awakening only some 2 hours before landing. I on the other hand indulged myself with the seared filet of beef, the smoked salmon and cream cheese washed down very smoothly with a perfect Rioja. Damn them it is so very hard to travel economy when you’ve sampled that experience. BA you won that round.

We landed safely in Atlanta and met our tour rep and bus driver for the next fourteen days. We were high on life, champagne and the tour that lay ahead. The lion seemed better, was rested and relaxed and up for a wee trip downtown before bed and the start of our fantastic trip. I didn’t bother ringing the kids to alert them to the disaster which had befallen us, it had after all turned out alright and their dad seemed fine now. We spent the first night in the Sheraton Suites in Atlanta, as the next day our trip would begin with a visit to Peachtree Road, where Elton John occasionally resides, although just our luck he wasn’t in. Followed by a brief reconnaaitre to ‘Tara’ the home that featured in the epic Gone with the Wind. before setting off for few days in Chattanooga.

We had two rather large suitcases that were doubling as wardrobes for the fortnight as we had rather a lot of stopovers. I flung the discarded socks and pants into a bag for laundry and closed the case. The lion spotted a scrap of paper no bigger than a fly on the floor, clearly it had annoyed him, at least it had caught his eye. He bent over and picked it up, then in a squeal of pain crumpled in a heap on the floor. He was struggling to move, I knew immediately it was his back. He could not get to his feet so lay on the floor and his muscles went into spasmodic overdrive. I watched in horror and could do little to alleviate his pain. It was incredible that within 24 hours my poor lion had gone to the dogs.

I managed to help him to the bed but what were we going to do about this trip now, was the primary thought I had in my mind. ‘I’m fine’ he kept saying and I kept hoping he was, but i knew this was bad. With much effort and pausing with every spasm we managed to get to the lobby. I found a Starbucks and ordered him a coffee but every movement, even holding the cup sent splinters of pain up and down his spine. His face was contorted in pain, it was clear he was in trouble.

There is something in the makeup of tour reps; they are eternally optimistic, ours was no different. He didn’t feel too phased by my pain beleaguered Lion and quickly produced a wheelchair to transport him to the bus, as if that was all that was required. I suppose getting him on the bus was his priority, he had 40 other passengers desperate to set off. Our friends joined us on the bus but in all honestly no one had a clue about the trouble he was in, except me and I just had a feeling it wasn’t going to end well. Even the lion thought if he got on the bus everything would be fine………………………………..