Since moving to Ambergris Caye in May 2012 I never once had the slightest interest in returning to the UK for a visit. In fact before relocating here when saying our ‘goodbyes’ I actually said that the only way that my family and friends would see me again would be if they came to visit me here.
During the intervening time there wasn’t the merest inclination to waiver. There were no strong reasons to go back. And they , whoever ‘they’ ( these people of perceived wisdom ) are , they always say “you should never go back”.
Well that all changed last December when I received an email from a previous work colleague. He was organising a major event.
No it wasn’t an invitation from Rupert Murdoch to attend his upcoming wedding to Jerry Hall (still can’t understand why I wasn’t on the guest list!). It was better than that. It was from my best friend John Townley. He wanted me to join around another 130 family and friends to help him celebrate his 60th birthday. It was definitely a case of London calling!
Now I first met John in either March or April 1982, I can’t remember the month let alone the day. I interviewed him for a vacancy we had with News Group Newspapers, a Rupert Murdoch owned company that comprised The Sun and the now defunct News of the World. I recommended ( at that time I didn’t have the authority to appoint ) him for the job. And so our friendship began. A friendship that grew stronger as each year passed even though we went our separate ways – work wise – some 13 years later.
We ‘went through’ the Wapping dispute together and I believe that the hostile environment that we faced on a daily basis -sometimes there were as many as 3,000 very volatile pickets outside our place of work- brought us closer together. So, when I got the invitation my resolve not to go back to England disappeared and, after speaking to Rose ( I’m brave but not stupid), I replied and told him that nothing would stop me from being there.
I assumed that Rose would be going there with me but when I said I was only going to stay for a week she declined saying she’d only go if we were going for a month. Well, I wanted to go but not for that long so we reached a compromise. We’d have 4 nights together in Houston – go to a few restaurants, ‘hit’ a few stores- and she would head back home to Ambergris Caye and I’d take the plane to Heathrow.
I then got down to making the necessary arrangements. Flights to and from Houston ( we’ve used Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte as ‘entry’ points for Belize but much prefer Houston) for Rose and me and then flights for me for the UK leg. And I decided to spoil myself and go business class for the transatlantic legs.
Where to stay? Well for Houston it was a no-brainer. We’d stay at the same hotel that Rose used last year when she went to the UK, the Hampton Inn, Humble. A conveniently located hotel that offers a free airport shuttle. And within a 5 mile radius of the hotel which is really handy for trips to the local shopping mall and restaurants. As far as London was concerned I booked at a hotel in the Strand. I wanted somewhere that was centrally located with easy access to public transport.
With the travel and accommodation sorted I then got on to the important stuff. What stores we were going to visit in Houston to buy the stuff that you either can’t get on Ambergris Caye or, if you can, it’s exorbitantly priced. This was going to be a meticulously planned trip. The Garmin – and my wallet- were going to get a real work out!
Once I’d finished planning the Houston visit I turned with a vengeance to planning how I would spend my 7 nights and 8 days (my final day would allow no more than getting to Heathrow airport to catch the plane home). There were people to see, favourite (and sorely missed) food dishes to say ‘hello’ to again , stores to visit and British pubs to frequent to wet my whistle ( I love Belikin but …).
But would 7 days provide enough time to purchase enough ‘stuff’ to use my 140lbs bag allowance? I pondered over this. And I pondered some more (regular readers will know that I quite like a little ponder) and concluded that I may need to have some help. So I called on my good friend Mr World Wide Web for some online shopping. And did I do some shopping (you’ll have to wait for a future issue to see just how much shopping I did).
The months flew by and before we knew it the 12 May had arrived, it was time to drop Ziggy off at Pampered Paws for his vacation
Four and a half hours after leaving Ambergris Caye we landed at George Bush International Airport and joined the unbelievably long queue waiting to clear Immigration. What is it with airports? Why don’t they allocate staff numbers in line with anticipated air traffic?
Anyway we cleared Immigration some two hours after we landed, collected our suitcases (I’m sure they’d gathered dust they’d been there so long) and ‘phoned the hotel to come and collect us. They were great and the shuttle bus was with us in just over ten minutes and we were in our room within thirty minutes of calling the hotel.
We were up bright and early the next morning and after breakfast headed to collect our golf cart substitute.
Armed with our recently updated (my CIO Rose had taken care of this) Garmin Sat Nav we intrepidly set off punching in the co-ordinates (the zip codes) that I written down months before when drawing up the master plan (impressive eh!).
First on the list was the Apple store. Rose needed (I’ve never quite been able to work out the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’) a new ‘phone. With this insatiable ‘need’ taken care of we traversed the highways of Houston hitting store after store after store.
The four nights flew by and it was time for Rose to head back to Ambergris Caye with our purchases (and my dirty washing)and that’s when she found out her suitcase was nearly 25% over weight. Fortunately for us she was taken care of by an extremely friendly and helpful United Airlines employee who accepted the overweight bag without any penalty.
Me? I headed off to the United Club lounge for a well deserved drink!
Oh and if you’re wondering about Ziggy well he had a great break too making new friends.
The next thrilling instalment finds me in London doing my version of Men Behaving Badly (or, I’m old enough to know better).
The headline for today’s much awaited edition (who am I kidding) is based on the single released in 1979 by The Clash which reached number eleven on the UK Singles Charts.