Friday, 15 July 2016

To Hell And Back (via Toronto)

Q. When is a Maltester Cake not a Malteser Cake?
A. When Sally picks off all of the Maltesers for herself turning it into a plain old chocolate cake.

Well it was always going to be an intense itinerary, and it would all go to pieces if something went wrong.

Monday fly to New York with a very tight connection time to Washington.
Tuesday fly Washington to Toronto for the Microsoft Partner Conference.
Wednesday fly Toronto to Washington to meet potential clients and potential investors.
Thursday meet potential partners and fly back to Manchester via Atlanta with a much more comfortable transfer time.
So, despite the torrential rain that has so far characterised this summer, I got to the airport in good time on Monday morning, I even had time to call in at the Escape lounge for a coffee. I also endured airport shopping. Diesel aftershave in the shape of a fist – there are four different kinds, and a candle made by Jo Malone. There are dozens of varieties of these. Would you like to smell them sir? No not really. Just give me one that’s not very strong and not very expensive. They were fine with the first bit, but the second wasn’t an option. Still, the lady who it’s for is worth it (just in case she reads this!). We actually boarded the flight early, then a fateful announcement was made. ‘We apologise but there will be a slight delay. An antenna on the underside of the plane got hit by a maintenance vehicle which caused some damage. We don’t actually need the antenna so we will just make sure it is ok and then we will be on our way.’ No problem. Only ten minutes late, but that connection at JFK was looking dodgy. Originally it was 1 hour 25 minutes, now at least 20 minutes of that had gone. Now, I’m pretty good at anticipating problems with flights, so I already knew that if I missed the 4.49 I could get the 9.00. I spoke to the stewardess and she suggested getting on the Delta Airlines app to confirm the situation. No sooner had I tried to do this than I got an email from Delta telling me that my flight was delayed, and automatically booking me on the later connection. Impressive. Then it started to get a bit worse. It turned out that the antenna was not important, but where it sat on the plane was, so they needed another antenna to fill the hole! They would have to source the antenna from elsewhere in the airport, but it could take a couple of hours, so we had to get off the plane with a £10 voucher to amuse us. I sat in CafĂ© Nero sipping Americano and tucking into Sicilian Lemon Cheesecake (hey, I’m off to America, a bit of cheesecake is nothing compared to what I’m gonna get through over there!) pondering the situation. The part had been located by British Airways and was now being fitted. I’d already missed my connection, so the anticipated departure time of 2.15 wasn’t an issue. Might as well sit at Manchester airport as JFK.

I wandered back to the departure gate, and several ground crew looked resigned to another long day. A man in an orange coat came to speak to the passengers and said there was a mistake. BA thought there was an antenna in Manchester, but it was actually at Heathrow, and there were no flights to bring it up. Now hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I actually thought at the time that rather than wait until the following day why don’t they put it on a high speed train or get a courier to bring it up. Might take several hours but at least it would be there. Instead, they opted for Plan B. They knew what the part looked like, they even had a template, and it was just a piece of aluminium and some silicon. So, they would make one in the airport. Now obviously you can’t just stick bits of metal onto a plane. Even Blue Peter would have had to use the inside of a toilet roll, a used washing up liquid bottle and some sticky backed plastic, but in this case the Heath Robinson fix would have to be approved by Atlanta (I’m guessing they meant the Delta head office in Atlanta rather than the Greek huntress). Departure time was moved to 4pm, but even that gave me plenty of time to get to DC. The approval was not forthcoming, which worried me not only because of the connection time, but also because if Atlanta weren’t happy with it, that didn’t really fill me with confidence either.

Departure time moved to 5.30 which just about blew my 9pm connection, but unlike Delta I not only had a Plan B I had a Plan C too. Can you get me on the 10.03pm to Toronto? After a bit of umming and ahhing they agreed to do this, and to sort me an airport hotel as I would arrive at midnight. In cases like this there is always a ‘worst case scenario’, and I had now hit mine. After 10.03pm there were no further options. Expedia helpfully sent me an email telling me my itinerary had changed. Delta positively spammed me with flight change emails, but at last we were ready to reboard the plane. At 5.45 I was sat back in my seat with a packet of complimentary cashews and some warm water. Apparently all of the champagne and orange juice had been consumed on the earlier boarding. God knows what the meals would be like as they were cooked earlier too. Well, I supposed that at least I would be in Toronto by midnight which gave me a much better start to the day tomorrow. Passengers were getting a bit tetchy, though generally they were well behaved, but then again I was sat in First Class. No idea what it was like in cattle class. We set off and reached the runway, waiting for a number of flights to land before it was our turn. Anticipation rose. There was almost a round of applause, then came another announcement. They are not 100% sure about the repair, so they are going back to the gate to let maintenance have another look. The seatbelt signs will remain on and hopefully we will be under way after just a short delay. Groans were audible, and the gentleman behind me realised that his somewhat optimistic 9.30 connection would be lost. My 10pm was looking dodgy too. Did I have an even worse case scenario? A Plan D? Yes – but I was keeping it to myself (as there was no one to tell). We returned to the gate and there was very little action on board but frenzied activity underneath. The head mechanic assured us that they were doing everything they could to assess the situation, but there was sadly no news. 6.30 came and went. They now had the satellite phone with which to contact Atlanta to do a live fix. I think they meant Skype – they’ve probably been watching too many disaster movies. 7pm, nothing. 7.30, nothing. 7.45 came the final announcement. The fault could not be fixed, the flight was cancelled. Oh how they wish they would have gone with my suggestion to get the part couriered up from London. Now the plane would be in the wrong place and they had to placate 200 passengers and find them beds for the night. Business class was easy. We would all be in the Radisson, next to the terminal, and our bags would be taken there for us. Economy class, well let  me just say that there were a lot of disgruntled faces, and a short time later, as I walked to the Radisson (it had stopped raining), I saw people being ushered on to coaches for destinations as far afield as Holmes Chapel. It was now after 8pm, and the Delta booking service, reservations and customer service all helpfully close at 8pm. The incident manager assured us that we would be automatically rebooked and we would get email confirmation. It was time for Plan D. I collared Jodie, who had managed to reroute me to Toronto earlier in the day. I told her there was a 5.55 flight the next morning to Amsterdam, and that would connect to the 9.45am to Toronto. Could she get me on to it? I waited ten minutes, 15, 20 then she reappeared with a confirmation note that I was booked onto both of those flights in business class. I was happy. Well, happier, and I could go and get some sleep. The Radisson is a very nice hotel. A bit pricey - £16 for a burger (the Swan at Kettleshulme is more expensive!), but I wanted something quick so I had a couple of pints of Birra Moretti and a philly cheesecake pizza. £26 – but Delta were paying! I got to bed around 10.30 and set 2 alarms for 3.40am. It was a restless night. I awoke at 3.10 and got up at 3.30. I checked emails. A somewhat unbelievable one from Expedia. 'How was your checkin at the Westin Reston Heights? Your feedback is important to us. blah blah blah'. Sorry guys, but I'm not in the mood - your agent (Delta) cancelled my flight and you couldnt be bothered checking it before requesting feedback for a hotel that I was several thousand miles away from? Well ok then. Sadly I can't print my response here as a) it might go legal, and b) there are a lot of profanities in it. By 4am I was checked out and at the airport.

Terminal 3 was busy with lots of budget airline passengers, but I went straight to the KLM check in desk for Business Class. I gave the lady my passport and she looked puzzled.
You do not have a ticket for this flight she said.
Yes I do.
No you don’t.
I had it changed last night.
You may have a seat, but you don’t have a ticket.
Well can you issue me a ticket?
No, it will have to be done by Delta. You will have to call them.
They don’t open until 8am.
Well you will have to ring them at 8am.
But the flight leaves at 5.55am.
Sorry, sir, there is nothing I can do.
What a fuckwit. But, if there is one thing that this experience has taught me it is that for every fuckwit on the ground at the airport, there is usually an angel in a sexy uniform who can sort shit out. In this case it was Derek. Just kidding – don’t know what her name was but she was sat at the KLM / Air France ticketing desk shaking her head. She suggested I try Virgin. I was tempted, but I rang their upper class line and was put through to Delta. You will be on hold for about 30 minutes their automated system told me. Press 1 for callback. So I did. Key in your number. So I did. Sorry, that number is invalid. No it f*cking isn’t – I'm calling you from it now. The machine didn’t hear me so I hung up. On the other side of the desk my angel had reached Delta. Her call back had worked. Meanwhile, another chap turned up with a similar issue. My angel came through so I returned to the check in desk where little Miss ‘Sorry sir there’s nothing I can do’ smiled politely and checked me in. I even had time to call at the Escape lounge for orange juice and a much needed coffee.

I reached Amsterdam without further ado, and unlike the US the transfer through Schiphol is very straightforward, though it did feel like we landed in Brussels, taxied to Paris and had to walk the rest of the way. I boarded the flight to Toronto, and miraculously it took off as I nursed a pot of Dutch cheese and a very nice glass of Cotes Du Rhone! Then more Cotes Du Rhone arrived, with water, and more wine. I’ve heard that some airlines discourage excessive drinking, well KLM positively encourage it. Yes please, just one more glass of wine. A liqueur? Why not? Oh go on then – I’ll have two, hic! And the food was excellent. I am not one for celebrity chefs. I like watching the way Nigella cooks, but not necessarily the food itself if you know what I mean. Especially the way she whips cream. The point is, it could be Oeuf De Caille Richard Shepherd, or egg and chips. It’s all about the taste. So I don’t really care who the airlines have brought in to improve their food (sorry James Martin – it hasn’t worked) as long as it tastes good. And on KLM, in Business Class, its fantastic. I even had mousse with Yuzu in it. The steward tried to explain what Yuzu is. Something from Japan apparently. He is Dutch so something may have been lost in translation, but I may well have eaten a character from the latest Pokemon Go! craze. Anyway, chocolates have arrived, and perhaps one more liqueur. And its no nay never, anyway, I’ll shut up now.

Canadian money is a bit weird. Very shiny and not at all flimsy. It is supposedly waterproof, but I reckon it would also withstand a large dollop of Maple syrup if such a thing was poured over it.
Toronto was hot, but my stay was brief and included a Korean restaurant. My host presented us with the 8 course taster menu, so I thought Poodle, Alsatian, Pug, Corgi, Labrador, Spaniel, Bulldog and Shitzu, but we started with an oyster and it seemed to go down quite well. The other courses were small but well presented, and generally good, until we came to the Foie Gras. Never had it before and will never have it gain. It was, quite honestly, disgusting.

Another stressful morning followed as I reached the airport two hours before departing for DC. It took 15 minutes to check my bag in, and 45 minutes to get through security. Phew I thought, enough time left to get some food. Hang on, you’ve got customs and immigration to negotiate first. That was another 25 minutes. The walk to the gate was 15 minutes, so no time to stop. I hurried along, eventually reaching the gate with ten minutes to spare, only to find that the flight was delayed!
So I got to DC, had breakfast and checked into my hotel, then went across to see an old friend. She was very helpful in terms of setting up new business, so I returned to my hotel where I got ready for another full on session with some potential partners. We went to Eddie Vs, a renowned steak house, and I was not disappointed. Well I was, after eating a 12oz filet mignon I realised I should have ordered the 16oz!

This morning was relatively stress free after three more calls back at the hotel, and with TSA Pre check I have ended up at the departure gate with two and a half hours to spare. I've also got a two and a half hour layover in Atlanta. Plenty of time – so what could possibly go wrong?

So what else has been going on? Well, I’ve made lots of gypsy creams and a ton of nachos with avocado, red onion, spring onion, tomato, jalapenos, chilli and of course cheese. They don’t last long. Sally has been busy too. She made a kind of chicken chilli Bolognese with green beans. ‘Its horrible,’ was Ole’s verdict. I had to agree. It got thrown away.

There’s always a story about Zac, and this edition is no exception. Before leaving for the states I asked him if he had got his school uniform ready for the next day. He got out of bed and picked out trousers, jumper and a shirt. Yes, all here he said, at which point he ceremoniously dumped them in the middle of the floor and got back into bed. There really is no hope!

The next night he wanted to get up early, so he set the alarm on his iPad. For some reason he set it for 4.45am. And it went off, rather loudly. The iPad was next to Zac’s head, like an electronic pillow, but it was Ole and mum that woke up. Ole stomped in and turned it off, whilst Zac was oblivious. ‘I’m a heavy sleeper,’ he explained.

Ole’s junior cricket team made the Compstall Cup Final to be played in September, but they will have to be on their game against Hawk Green or Mottram as both appear to have recruited from other clubs to swell the ranks of their juniors.

So, Fitbits. I think they encourage just a little bit of OCD. The general target is 10k steps per day, and if Sally has not achieved this goal she will spend late evenings randomly walking around the house trying to make up the difference. I don’t really think that this is what its meant to encourage. Anyone else get that effect?

I’ve taken on three new employees for the summer. Three students (including Ole) who will be reviewing websites hoping to find faults with them. Its going well so far, with Middlethorpe Hall their first challenge. The errors and issues have easily reached double figures! If you have a website that you would like reviewing just let me know.

I’ve got a new cycling app, but I’ve not quite got used to it. Or maybe it hasn’t quite got used to me. After a particularly muddy trip to Marple it thought I had returned via the railway line. Then it didn’t notice that I had stopped to chat on Old Road (I guess that was my fault). Finally, it added 5 minutes onto my time back from Marple. Either that or I went really slowly through the puddles, and my mud spattered legs suggest otherwise!


Muddy Fox

As you can probably gather from the cycling reports I’ve become quite health conscious, and this led to some concerns when I discovered a distinctly red tinge in my pee. Fortunately, before panic set in, I remembered the rather large quantity of beetroot I had eaten the night before. Not the first occasion, but I do seem to fall for it every time.

Guess what? The Jam and Jerusalem brigade had better watch out. All of these jams and chutneys that they make, with ingredients picked from our very own hedgerows, are illegal if they sell them for profit. I kid you not. So if a WI lady ever offers you a jar of blackberry jam, you should have her arrested immediately. Its been suggested that they stick to calendars for their fund raising efforts, but looking at some of the shapes and sizes involved that should probably be a criminal offence too.


Sunday saw the Euro 2016 final, and even Sally was gripped by the bug. She decided to have her first football bet, and I guess it lost as she never mentioned it once the game kicked off. Of course she is not a football fan, often just delighting in the negative effect it can have on others (somewhat similar to Darren Crompton). However, when Ronaldo went down injured there was a genuine outpouring of sympathy. Who did that to him? There was real concern, and I reckon Dimitri Payet will not be invited to our house for dinner any time soon. I think she has a bit of a soft spot for Ronaldo, and when he was substituted in tears it was almost like he was one of her own brood. Or maybe she had backed him to be the first goalscorer. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and she was as excited as anyone when he finally lifted the trophy. Maybe now I'll get some help completing my Panini sticker collection for the 2018 World Cup!

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