Eventually, the coach arrived, and we were whisked off to the airport. There were four flights for that day, and four flights were delayed, three to Gatwick and one to Manchester. We were at the airport a considerable time before the flights were called. If I remember correctly, ours was the second or third to be called.
Not long after boarding, we were in the air, but we knew that there was no way we could get back to Birmingham that night. This was unfortunate: I was expected in work the following day, and my wife had a doctor's appointment and a day of teaching practice ahead of her.
I was unable to eat the meal provided on the flight, just nibbling at bread rolls and drinking fresh water. The seats on charter aircraft don't recline, presumably so that there is room for more of them. At one point I went to the toilet, simply because there was more room. It was assumed that I was very sick when I didn't return, but I had just been relaxing for a few minutes with more space.
After what seemed an eternity, we arrived at Gatwick. Considering that it is reputed to be the second busiest international airport in the world, it was very quiet indeed. Generally, the fact that it is the middle of the night doesn't seem to concern airports, so I was quite surprised at the stillness. It was so quiet that I couldn't find any hotel courtesy buses, so we caught a taxi to the Gatwick Penta and checked in for the night. With the turn of the year, the price had gone up by GBP 4, but was still good value.
On arrival, we telephoned a friend in Birmingham who had an answering machine, asking them to contact various places and leave messages. We couldn't sleep straight away, so we switched on the television. CNN is undoubtedly very American in its style, but better than nothing, and becoming increasingly available and reliable world-wide. The main news if I recall, was something we hadn't heard about, something about a missile destroying some aeroplane. Eventually we got to sleep, and when we woke the next morning I felt much better. We travelled at a leisurely pace back to Birmingham, where I arrived at the office in time for lunch. Nobody seemed very sympathetic about me having suffered from heatstroke in January: it wasn't a big risk in Birmingham. I do not recommend anybody to fly charter if they can help it.
The first shock we had on reaching the hotel was that we had been allocated a suite on two levels. This is probably the most elegant place I have ever stayed. The name of the hotel is, sadly, lost in the mists of time. I also long to recommend the company who arranged the package, Hamilton Holidays of Belfast, but alas they no longer operate the Amsterdam route. Perhaps it was not profitable. Certainly if they offer hotel accommodation to this standard and at this price, I cannot see how it could be. The suite was certainly very comfortable, and having a sitting room, a staircase, a bedroom and a bathroom in a hotel was a novel and enjoyable experience. So too was the rest of the holiday, with just one exception. A short distance from Amsterdam we find Scheveningen and The Hague. Just outside Scheveningen, we find Madurodam, a large model village. Dutch railways will take you there in perhaps an hour.
The one blemish on the holiday was the loss of my wallet, containing a significant quantity of cash and my credit cards. I say loss, but in truth I mean theft. They were stolen on the tram journey between The Hague and Madurodam. What was I to do? I made the best of it, and after I had calmed down, I enjoyed reliving the memories of my youth at the model village.
I reported my loss on returning to Amsterdam, from the comfort of the hotel room. Card Protection Plan was most helpful in enabling me to report the loss of the cards in one call, and it was all made easier by my British Telecom Chargecard.
Fortunately, this had not been stolen. There are only a couple of occasions on which I have been grateful for this service. This was one of them. If you have a UK telephone, get one. There is no charge until you use it. It is well worth the small surcharge on a call when you do need it.
One particular Dutchman was obviously very pleased with himself. A Dutch tailor with an unpronounceable name had sold him a suit for about three hundred pounds which later appeared on my American Express statement. Another transaction for about thirty pounds featured on a VISA credit card statement, and a call I had from MasterCard was very interesting. Had I used my card at (name of some place in Holland)? No. I went on to tell them I hadn't used it at all while I was overseas. There was a sort of grunt from the other end of the telephone, and I could see in my mind's eye a long list of transactions being ticked off
The flight itself was every bit as good as the outward journey had been, with a full meal, drinks and a comfortable F-28. I struggle sometimes to write something new, if a flight or a journey has been uneventful.
As we arrived at the terminal at Birmingham, a child looked out of the window and told all who were listening that it was snowing. Quite true, and something of a surprise, for it seemed very mild.