For the first two years of the trip we had assumed that we would be flying home from India. With four departure points to choose from it’s fairly easy to find Avios seats in business class, and we had assumed that we would need to return to India for Mr V to finish getting his second batch of dental implants. But the dentist recommended crowns instead, so we didn’t need to return, and then I found some rarely available seats from Bangkok. A longer flight – but in business class it’s really not much of a hardship. All the more time for drinking champagne…
Our first task at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi X airport was to get our tax refund. I don’t know if it’s because mentally I was already back in Europe, but for the first time I got really annoyed with the Chinese passengers who were doing the same thing and assumed that it was fine just to push into the long queue.
It was then a long walk to the hard-to-find business class lounge, which was a real disappointment. In fact, compared to the one at Heathrow, it was downright pathetic. British Airways don’t have their own lounge but share Cathay Pacific’s, and I assume other airlines do likewise – it was far too small and we struggled to find two seats together. We’d had no breakfast, expecting to get some there – but when we arrived at 10:00am there were just a few curling, dried up cocktail sandwiches and mini rolls, some under-ripe fruit, some salad and some tasteless panacottas. At least the sandwiches were meat free, so Mr V could eat them. The only saving grace was that the bar was open and dispensing champagne – to a crush of similarly disgruntled passengers.
Boarding was like being welcomed home – champagne, nice food (I couldn’t decide which dessert I wanted so had both), more champagne… Then I fell asleep in my comfortable almost-bed and woke up 5 hours later. I walked the length of the plane to stretch my legs and winced at the conditions in economy, before returning to the business class cocoon to help myself to ice cream from the fridge. And then another snooze. The 13 hour flight passed in a sleepy, alcohol dulled haze and, once again, I resolved never again to travel long-haul in economy. I was almost sorry to land.
After the familiar Heathrow-Reading Railair bus we grabbed some breakfast provisions from the M&S at Reading station, then it was a short taxi ride to our Airbnb accommodation. We knew our host would be out but found our key in the keysafe. We longed to just fall into bed but it seemed a bit rude, so we managed to stay up until his return at 23:30 for a quick hello.
It all seemed a bit surreal the next morning. There we were by the very familiar Thames – it almost felt as though I’d never been away, except there was an entirely new pedestrian bridge that simply had not been there before. It was similarly disconcerting being at our friend’s house – superficially familiar but in reality so much had changed. It made me feel sad and a little guilty. We had left, abandoning our family and friends and the life we’d had, and I felt kind of responsible for anything bad that happened while we were away – as though our staying would have changed things, made everything work out OK. Which of course is nonsense. Things had moved on without us just as they would if we’d remained.
We’d chosen our Airbnb in Reading primarily for its location, a short walk from the friend who had been looking after our keys and from the town centre. The host was a friendly chap, and we had a relaxed breakfast in the sunshine in his riverside garden. Then we wandered into town to exchange our leftover Baht for sterling and unexpectedly ran in to several people we knew – something that almost never happened when we lived in Reading. A takeaway curry at a friend’s house that evening gave us the opportunity to catch up with our closest friends, but everything else we needed to do in Reading would have to wait – first we were heading north to see family.
We’d booked a hire car from Thrifty, since they seemed to be the only firm that didn’t charge an extra £50 for a one-way hire. The booking process had been our first reminder of the complexities of life in the UK, compared with our mostly easy existence abroad. They would want a driving licence of course, that was fair enough – but a recent utility bill or similar as proof of address? Um…. Fortunately we’d not gone paperless for one of our credit cards, and we’d arranged for a statement to be forwarded to a friend in Reading. We needn’t have bothered though, as the guy at Thrifty didn’t even ask to see it!
We’d booked a Ford Focus. What we actually got was a 6 week old Audi Quattro A5. Which was very nice, but we had to sit in the car park for 20 minutes trying to figure out how to drive it, since almost everything was push-button, even the parking brake. Mr V did enjoy it though, once we got going – we’d always had cheap & cheerful little hatchbacks in the past, so he’d never before experienced people moving out of the overtaking lane when they saw him coming up behind them.
After 2 nights in Worcestershire with my folks (where we relieved them of two large boxes of correspondence accumulated while we were away), we headed for Mr V’s family in Derby and reluctantly turned in our hire car. We had planned to buy a car in Derby, but it just happened that a family member was in the process of getting a new car, so we took their old one – a 2011 mini. And as soon as we had wheels, we could visit our friends at the Borders Cheese Carrying Company, who happened to be on a nearby canal. We’d last seen them on their wedding day in Langkawi, over a year previously
Now we were back in the UK our most urgent task was to submit the insurance claim for our Bali burglary. We had notified the insurance company when it happened, so we knew what paperwork was required. We had receipts for things we’d bought before we left the UK (one advantage of buying through Amazon!), but we’d lost some important receipts in the robbery. Luckily we did have photos of the items and bank records to show cash withdrawals etc, so we just included everything we could find to support the claim, even Facebook posts we made at the time. We ended up with a pile of paperwork almost an inch thick, but we carefully listed each document and cross-referenced it with the list of items stolen, in the hope that making life as easy as possible for the claims processor might make them feel well-disposed towards us. And it worked – a few weeks later we received a cheque that was about twice what I had pessimistically anticipated (although still less than what we actually lost of course).
Although we’d bought some clothes in Bangkok, we did need to dig some of our things out of storage and replace them with clothes we wouldn’t need in the chilly UK. Every box was numbered and we had a list of their contents, but it still wasn’t easy. We had tried to keep boxes we thought we’d need to access at the front, but inevitably some ended up buried right at the back. And I never died manage to find a few specific items it wanted, so I had to buy warm slippers and a hairdryer (letting my hair dry naturally here was not an option for reasons of discomfort and appearance!). We had to be careful though – with only a mini to transport our belongings around the country, we couldn’t acquire too much stuff – we’d still have to travel light now we were back in the UK!