Saturday, 25 July 2009

The 'Odd'yssey (Part 1)

This past fortnight has been as complex as any since we left on our travels, with a combination of packing up our lives ready for the next move to Qatar, combined with the last week or so of work with the attendant farewells. Tuesday July 15th saw our dining table and chairs disappear to the home of one of the other members of staff. On the following day most of our possessions (packed into tea chest sized boxes) were loaded onto a truck to make the trip to Qatar. This left Wayne and Meg in a largely empty house with just a couple of suitcases. Compensating this has been the fact that more people have been taking the opportunity to invite us out as they know we are leaving, so we haven't been spending much time at home anyway.

On the Wednesday evening there was a camp out at the school for the boys who had behaved particularly well during the final term. We were invited to the barbeque dinner as the guests of honour, which was lovely. However, on our arrival Meg discovered one of the boys rubbing his eye which looked very sore. In fact, on closer inspection, the white of his eye seemed to be swelling up. Along with one of the other staff members she took him to the hospital, having rung his mother (who asked her to also call the student's father so that he wouldn't accuse her of lying to him). When they had been waiting a while the boy's father arrived, however he left after an hour or so because he was tired. Eventually, it was determined that the student had had a piece of ash fly into his eye from the barbeque and that he would need to have eye drops for the next few days. His mother had rung the hospital to make sure that he wouldn't be taken home, so at 9:50pm they arrived back at the school. His eye drops had to be refrigerated and administered every two hours; so that evening we found ourselves up at 11:50, 1:50, 3:50, and 5:50, walking out to the tents and putting eye drops into his eye.

Come the weekend we were still recovering from the broken sleep of Wednesday night however we were determined to get out and do things. Saturday saw us drive to Brents Cross to pick up some farewell gifts, sell our clothes dryer to another member of staff, and go to the movies to see 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' [Meg's verdict, 'good']. The following day was overcast with intermittent rain so we went down to Enfield to buy a couple of books with the credit we had accrued at Waterstones. We had lunch in a wonderful pub called 'The Victoria' and then, to kill some time, decided to go to the movies again and watch a double feature of 'Public Enemies' [Meg's verdict, 'excellent'] and 'The Hangover' [Meg's verdict, 'not my taste but very funny and still enjoyable']. That evening saw us venture to Stansted Abbots where a former member of staff was compeering a quiz night. Given that the majority of questions were based on British television we were very pleased to not finish last and it was lovely to see her once more.

The following Monday saw the farewell of another staff member (in the last 12 months there have been 17 members of teaching, boarding or ancillary staff leave the school). Most schools in the county had already finished on the previous Friday but because of the scheduling of training days for staff we were left with two extra days and a bunch of students who were resentful that all their friends were already on holidays. This was complicated by a number of staff and students being off sick and by the end of the day we had our first two confirmed cases of Swine Flu. Although classes were smaller the students that were present were very uptight at everything that was happening.

Tuesday was a very emotional day, being the final day for 5 members of the teaching staff and one of the students (who had been informed the night before that he is changing both his foster placement and his school). Meg made a wonderful speech that all the other staff had trouble following and which saw some of the toughest students in the school overcome with tears. After farewelling the students it was time for saying 'adieu' to many of the other staff with whom we had become quite close. In what is quite a difficult situation the non-management members of staff have banded together to provide support for each other and the students, and we will miss them.

Wednesday saw us packing up our suitcases and the remainder of the house so that three of the single female members of staff can move in there in September. We went into Hoddesdon to organise banks, post office redirects and cancel our account with the library then came back to farewell our home for the last 12 months. One of the other staff members took us to her home (which is much closer to Heathrow) and in the evening a couple of our other friends came over to have dinner and play Singstar before we crashed into bed at around 1:30 am.

Later that morning, at 4:30 am, the alarms went off and we were soon up and packed into Trish's car to make the trip to Heathrow Terminal 4. Our car, Madge, had been sold to another member of staff and had been left in the car park at school for that person to pick up the next time she is in. The trip was relatively quick, and without too many tears we were at the airport ready to book in for our flight to the USA. It was at this point that things began to get interesting again.

Our flights had been booked so that we would fly out from Heathrow at 8:50am to Detroit, Michigan. From there we were changing planes and heading for Houston, Texas to stay with Meg's High School friend, Christine, and some of her extended family. However, when we were queuing to load our baggage we were handed a piece of paper which said that Northwest Airways (the partners of KLM, with whom we had booked the flight) had overbooked and offering us US$1000.00 per person and a night in a hotel if we would be prepared to wait until the following day to fly. Because our time was flexible we were 2 of only 4 people who elected to take the offer and consequently our bags were marked 'Do Not Load' and we moved through Customs and Security to the Northwest Service area to find out where we would be staying and what time our flights would be.

During the wait we got to know the other two ladies who had elected to also be bumped. One was a Canadian teacher who had spent the last 12 months teaching at a school just down the A10 from us in Edmonton, North London. Her mother had been intending to drive down to Detroit to pick her up and take her back across the border to Canada. The second lady was an IT professional from North Carolina who had been in the UK on business. From Detroit she had been booked to fly to Greensboro where her husband was going to pick her up. They were both to make a number of phone calls over the following two hours to clarify their plans and to stop family members from travelling needlessly.

After an hour or so it became clear that we would not be staying in a hotel after all. Instead the airline was going to try to fit us on to alternate flights to other parts of the United States from where we would be able to make connections to our destinations. For our Canadian friend this meant flying to Minneapolis, Minnesota and then catching another flight to Detroit. However, for the lady from South Carolina she was going to be sent to Minneapolis; from there to Atlanta, Georgia; and from there to Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. This meant her husband would have to change the destination where he would be picking her up and, rather than arriving in the mid afternoon, she would not be touching down till close on Midnight. For ourselves, we would also be flying to Minneapolis and then flying from there direct to Houston, although our arrival time had also been changed from mid afternoon to 9:25pm.

We were able to use some other vouchers from the airline to buy breakfast and then lunch before finally being presented with our $1000.00 in the form of vouchers for flights with Northwest/KLM which have to be used within the next 12 months. Then we boarded the flight to Minneapolis, all sat within a few seats of one another near the front of the aircraft. Meg had no one in front of her so leg room was not an issue and, in all, apart from being very tired it was quite a comfortable flight. Wayne was able to watch 'Gran Torino' and 'Milk' while Meg took in 'He's Just Not That IntoYou' and '17 Again'. On our arrival in Minneapolis we said goodbye to our new friends and went off in search of our luggage. Not entirely to our surprise (given the signs that had been put on our bags back at Heathrow), it was nowhere to be found. When we asked for assistance, we were told just to continue on our flight to Houston and enquire about retrieving our bags on arrival.

The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, are the home of Wayne's favourite baseball team, the Minnesota Twins. He has been following them since his university days when he remembers staying up late to watch the World Series (he suffered from insomnia back then as now). When he was teaching at Ingleburn High School one of his students, a young man named Glenn Williams, was signed by the Atlanta Braves organisation for an enormous amount of money and by 2005 he was playing Major League baseball for the Twins which had a nice circularity to it. Although we weren't leaving the airport it was exciting for Wayne just to be there. The twin cities are also home to the Mall of America, which used to be the largest shopping mall in the world so Meg is not entirely averse to Wayne's desire to one day live in Minnesota.

Domestic flights in the United States are nowhere near as luxurious as the international flights into the country. We were not served any food, nor was there any entertainment in the way of games, music or television. Instead we ended up chatting to some of the other passengers. One man was a current resident of Houston although he had previously lived in multiple other parts of the USA and travelled extensively outside the country. We were able to ask him lots of questions about the area and the sort of places he would recommend us visiting and he made many enquiries about the life we have been living over the previous 18 months. As well we found out that he and his wife are about to have their first child so there was much discussion about children also. The flight itself was just over 2 hours and we had a tail wind so we landed before schedule.

Meg had let Christine know on Facebook that we would be in around 10pm, so our first port of call was to the Baggage Claims area to find out what had happened to our luggage. After a bit of investigation it turned out that, despite the large signs, our luggage had gone onto our original flight from Heathrow to Detroit. It had then been held up there when no one claimed it but was now headed to Houston on a flight that was due in at 10:15 pm. Christine arrived just before 10, so we elected to wait around to pick up the luggage rather than have it couriered out to the house. Lots of catching up was done by the two ladies while we waited then, once the luggage arrived, it was about a half hour drive back to the home of David and Kelly and their five children (Camden, Parker, Lexington, Dallas, Boston and Brittany). By the time we reached our bed we had been up for well over 24 hours and we quickly fell asleep.

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