Norb’s book is extra special though, because not only is it personally signed by Norb, but I was mentioned in the dedication!
I was gobsmacked when I saw that. It’s incredible to think that I made not only a difference in the life of someone I’ve never met who lives thousands of miles away from me, but enough of a difference that he mentioned me in the dedication of his very first published book. I never imagined being mentioned in the dedication of a book, unless perhaps one of my immediate family wrote one.
I’d seen the dedication online, because Norb shared it with us, but opening the physical copy of the book and seeing the words there in print, I felt awed and humbled at the same time. It feels unreal.
I’m super excited for Norb. I think he’s the first friend I’ve had that has been through the traditional publishing process. I’ve self-published and so have other friends of mine, but Norb has actually been chosen by a publisher because they read his poems and realised they deserved publishing. SO PROUD OF YOU, NORB! And so excited! I am really enjoying his shock and excitement as he takes each new step in the process. Wish it included a book signing event here in New Zealand, but maybe for the next book, eh, Norb? You can read his updates at his blog: NorbAikin.com/blog
We went into the town of Southend today. Was a beautiful walk along the beach front. With the pier in the distance, it felt like we’d stepped in to a postcard.
We strolled, with no particular destination in mind, just seeing what was there. We walked past some bakeries that sold old-fashioned Cornish pasties, juxtaposed with a McDonalds and a Burger King. There were, what seemed like, a million traditional fish and chip shops.
We bought the kids a Cornish pasty each to try, one traditional steak and one chicken. Everyone liked the steak one best. Jayden didn’t seem too fussed on the whole concept, but Caitie enjoyed it.
As we were heading back toward the beach (and Adventure Island), we saw Mr Simms Old Fashioned Sweet Shoppe. Caitie took off at a run, and I wasn’t far behind her although at a more decorous pace.
The sweet shop was just gorgeous. I truly felt like I’d stepped back in time. There were jars of sweets along the back wall, and a mix of traditional and modern confectionery along the sides. The confectionery was both British and international. They even had rock. I remember having a stick of rock when I was a child. In my head, I only knew of Blackpool rock, but the shopkeeper told me that each seaside town has their own version, so this was Southend rock. I desperately wanted to buy some, but I didn’t want to eat it! I tried to think of anyone at home that I could buy some for, but all the kids in my family were in the UK for the wedding. Caitie ended up buying a stick of rock, which I thought was for her friend back home, but nope, it was just for her to eat!
I hummed and haa’d and oohed and aah’d over the sweets in the jars. I was determined to buy some that weren’t prepackaged, because I wanted the full experience of the traditional sweet shop. I wasn’t sure what I wanted until I saw aniseed balls, then it was an easy decision. They were yummy too.
Then we finally took the kids to Adventure Island, the theme park. We’d promised them that they’d get to go on the roller coaster. When my kids were small, I realised that I was always taking photos of them doing things, but I wasn’t actually in any of the photos. So I made a conscious effort to put down my camera and join in on the activities they were doing. So Jayden, Caitie and I went on the roller coaster. Steve can’t do things like roller coasters anymore as he screwed his back. The roller coaster goes straight up and then straight down again, and while the down part was scary, the going up was just as scary because you felt like you were going fall backwards. Caitie find it quite adrenaline-inducing, but then she and Jayden went on it again.
After that, we decided to pop in to the Baskin Robbins store and have ice creams. Caitie had some horrendous bubblegum flavour. Jayden and I stuck to our classic mint chocolate. I can’t remember what flavour Steve had.
Caitie and I eating ice creams
It was a lovely day. A perfect day to be in a seaside town, eating ice cream.
Last time I was in England, in 2014, I met my nephew Harry. He was 6 months old. Almost a year after that visit, my niece Evie arrived in the world, and I had yet to meet her. Meeting her was definitely on my bucket list! And today, that happened.
Harry doesn’t remember us from our last visit of course, and my kids have never met either of their cousins. So we spent today getting acquainted.
Neither of the kids, Harry and Evie, are very cuddly with us, but of course we’re strangers, so that’s to be expected. Evie keeps calling us all Daisy, as she can’t remember our names. When we tell her Caitie’s name, she pronounces it as Casey. Very cute. She talks a mix of proper sentences and babble. She’s super polite. “No, thank you,” she says, when you offer her something she doesn’t want. She sings all the time. Her favourite song is the baby shark song. She makes me want to cuddle her all the time.
Harry is four and a half, and his speech is excellent. His favourite thing at the moment seems to be Transformers Rescue Bots. He’s super cute when he giggles. He reminds me of my son, Jayden. Like, he seems to be quite sensitive, emotionally. He does things that are naughty, and then is devastated to be told off. I remember Jayden going through that. Shit, Jayden still goes through that and he’s 17! It’s a learning thing, right? They have to push the boundaries to find out what the boundaries are, and if the consequences are something they can cope with. But it’s tough. He has a tendency to isolate himself, which is also something Jayden did/does, so I try to consciously reach out to him to see if he’s isolated because he needs a break from people or if he’s feeling left out and just wants someone to include him.
The weather is gorgeous. Hot and dry. Perfect holiday weather. Maybe tomorrow we’ll go to the park and see if we can see some squirrels. We don’t have squirrels in New Zealand, so both Caitie and Jayden are keen to see them.
The flight from Manila to Heathrow was uneventful. Boring, but I’d take that over some of the dramas we’d had up to that point. We honestly didn’t expect to find our luggage waiting for us at Heathrow. It seemed only fitting that something would go wrong there too, right? Nevertheless, we found our luggage without issue, much to our relief, and hustled our way to customs. We pretty much speed-walked there, and were grateful we had, as we only had to stand in the queue for a relatively short time. There were a LOT of people queued up behind us by the time we got there.
It was a weird feeling, knowing that we were finally in England. Two years of planning, and all the last-minute delays… It didn’t really feel real.
We had a drink while we waited for the taxi to arrive, then headed to my sister’s house. Jayden was struggling to keep his eyes open, but we tried to keep him awake until we got there. We’d landed at about 8pm, and figured if we could just go to sleep once we got to her house, we’d be on roughly the right time schedule.
We had hugs when we got there (her kids were in bed already), found our bedrooms, and basically went to sleep. Tomorrow, the real fun begins. I mean, we’re not going to rush off sightseeing immediately, but with all the stress and drama, it hasn’t yet felt like a holiday (or vacation as Americans call it). Tomorrow we could relax, and I think we were all looking forward to that.
The flight was long and boring, but at least we had the in-flight entertainment system, for what it was worth. There was a random selection of movies, and a very strange selection of TV shows. For instance, they had The Big Bang Theory, but only six episodes from season 9. And not the first six episodes from that season. Um, what? Caitie and I got a couple of hours of sleep, but Jayden and Steve didn’t sleep at all.
We arrived in Manila at about 10:30pm local time. Then we had to stand in queues while they tried to sort out everyone’s connecting flights and accommodation. They seemed just as inept as the Auckland-based staff. Finally we were given our boarding passes for the flight to Heathrow the next day, only to find out we didn’t get the seats we’d pre-booked and prepaid for…again. They gave us a hotel voucher for the Heritage Hotel, and vouchers for a shuttle to/from the airport. We had to find our luggage and re-tag it, but were told we could leave it at the airport and it would be put on our flight to Heathrow. We wondered if we’d ever see it again. Then Caitie realised she didn’t have her phone or camera bag, and realised they’d been left in the overhead locker of the plane. Obviously Steve had overlooked them when he’d taken everything down. We asked someone about it, and they said they’d have a look and try and tag it to join us in Heathrow, but otherwise we should go to the lost and found tomorrow. We tried to prepare Caitie for the idea that she might not see it again.
Walking outside in Manila was like being hit in the face with a hot, damp cloth. It was so humid and so hot. Caitie was overheating in seconds. We were all sweating in our jeans and t-shirts. I think it was about 30 degrees Celsius….in the middle of the night. We were shocked at how much traffic there was in the middle of the night. We got to the Heritage Hotel, which looked beautiful from the outside, and in the foyer.
We were given two rooms on the same floor, one for Steve and I, and one for the kids. The whole floor smelled like cigarettes and was old and tired. The kids’ bathroom had cockroaches. But there were beds, which looked clean, and it was 2am local time (yes, it’d taken us that long to get everything sorted) and we were tired. We slept.
We were woken up at 5am by a phone call from the taxi company in England. We’d forgotten, in all the madness, to tell them that we weren’t on the flight as originally scheduled. They informed us that as we were a ‘no show’, the cost of the taxi was non refundable. Ugh. We still needed a taxi, so we rebooked it and gave them the new details.
We woke at 7am local time when our alarm went off, and we woke the kids for breakfast. Breakfast was a mix of Filipino food and western food. We all tried a variety of dishes. Jayden really enjoyed the stirfry he ate. I had a nice mince dish on toast. Caitie mostly filled up on pastries I think. We all enjoyed the omelette.
The shuttle ride back to the airport was eye-opening. The drivers don’t stay in one lane. It seems more like the lanes are just suggestions. At one point we were straddling the line, half in two lanes! And the beeping! They just kept beeping at each other, and we couldn’t figure out the reason for the beeping, even after asking the driver. The streets seemed dirty, and I saw a river that was crammed with rubbish. In my head, I was thinking ‘It’s like something you see on TV, not something that actually exists in real life.’ But of course it does. We’re spoiled, living in New Zealand. I now see why people have this notion of New Zealand as ‘clean and green’. Pedestrians ran or walked through the traffic with no apparent fear for their own safety. The buildings looked tatty and run-down for the most part. My overall impression of Manila was hot and dirty. The advertisements on the plane suggest there are some gorgeous places to go though, so I mustn’t be too judgy. I’m sure Auckland doesn’t look amazing on the trip from hotel to airport either, hmm?
We didn’t have to check our luggage in, so we had a little bit of time and we went to see if we could find Caitie’s camera bag. It took us forever to find the lost and found office, ironically, despite asking for directions multiple times. The lifts kept closing on us. In NZ, the lift won’t close if there is a person between the doors. Not so in Manila. Jayden and I both got squashed by the lift doors several times. It became a game to try and rush in, then rush out of the lifts before the doors closed. The lady at the lost and found office took our details and our description of the bag, then went hunting. We were not hopeful, but she came back with the camera bag. Caitie was so happy, she squealed with delight and almost hugged the poor lady. Everything was still in it, her phone, the camera, the spare battery packs. Steve and I were astonished that we’d got it back. We’d truly thought it was gone forever.
We had to queue to have our boarding passes scanned, and the line was really long, but it moved reasonably fast. Then we sat and waited. Then we boarded. Thankfully no drama llamas today.
I left work at 3:15pm. Nik was leaving on an 11:55pm flight and I was leaving on an 11:30pm flight, so we both left work at the same time. I got a hug from Luke, one of my interns, and then a hug from Dave, my boss. Then another hug from Dave when I explained that I didn’t like hugs. Then a hug from Bonard. That was more hugs than I normally get in a month!
I got home and we ran around doing all the last minute things, putting toothbrushes in suitcases, etc. Then we were ready to go, but we still had a good hour or so before the shuttle was due to arrive, so we made poached eggs on toast for dinner. Then the shuttle turned up half an hour early, but that was fine because we were ready to go.
We got to the airport at about 7pm, despite major traffic woes in other parts of Auckland. The shuttle driver was saying that there would be a number of people missing flights that night due to traffic. There’d been a crash in Dairy Flat involving a bus full of children, and 7 people down south had been killed in another accident. The news (which was streaming in the shuttle) was all doom and gloom. But we made it to the airport without any trouble.
The check in for our flight didn’t open until 8:30pm, so we had an hour and a half to wait. We got the kids some sushi (Jayden is going through a serious growth support and eating constantly at the moment) and waited patiently.
Finally, we headed over, to find a huge long queue. It took us at least two hours of standing in that queue to check in our suitcases. Caitie was a serious drama llama. She complained about being bored, complained that her feet were tired, complained that her finger was sore, complained that she was tired… It was two hours of complaining, and it was not fun. There were tears at various stages. I think her anxiety was playing up big time, and she was freaking out.
Nik caught up with us while we were in the queue and wished us luck for our trip. Iva wasn’t with him at that stage, as they’d come in separate cars.
We didn’t have any trouble (other than the queue) checking in our suitcases, and then no drama going through security to get to the duty free shopping. We had plenty of time still, so we stopped and had a drink, then went to our gate. We were at gate 9, and Nik and Iva were at gate 10, so we wished them both luck.
We sat and waited to board. And waited some more. We were due to fly at 11:30pm and as the time got closer and closer without anyone boarding, we started to wonder what was happening. Then 11:30pm came and went without anyone being boarded. At 11:40pm an announcement came over the loud speakers that our flight had been cancelled due to ‘technical issues’. My first reaction was shock. I messaged the family ‘Holy shit, they just cancelled our flight!’ Caitie went into full meltdown. The build up had been so intense, and then all for nothing, and I think her biggest fear had been that something would happen that would mean we couldn’t go after all, and then it had happened. She cried, and I hugged her. Not much I could say, other than that we’d work it out somehow, and yes, we were still going to go to England. She was certain our whole trip would be used up by the time we got there, if we ever got there at all.
We had to listen to the following announcements carefully over everyone exclaiming and talking, and found out that our flight had been rescheduled to fly out at 3pm the following afternoon. Nik came over to commiserate, then had to rush off as his flight was boarding.
We talked through what the cancellation would mean for us. Most obviously, we’d miss our connecting flight from Manila to Heathrow. We didn’t have a car at the airport to get back home, and even if we did, it was midnight and Maddie, our housesitter, was asleep in our bed. We couldn’t go home and kick her out. Fuck.
There was utter chaos as everyone tried to get answers. They told us they would pay for transport home for those who wanted to go home (by way of reimbursement the next morning), otherwise they’d provide vouchers for hotels for those who didn’t want to go home. We opted for a hotel, as that would mean we wouldn’t have to disturb Maddie. Plus, Caitie had been nagging me about the fact that we weren’t going to be staying in a hotel on our trip, so we thought this would be a cool experience for her.
Steve waited in a queue for the hotel vouchers, while I tried to keep Caitie calm. Jayden was no problem. It was utter chaos though, with everyone confused and the airport staff not being much help. Eventually we got vouchers for Jet Park hotel, for two rooms, with breakfast included. They said we had to board ‘the yellow bus’, but to get there we had to go to departures, collect our suitcases from baggage claim, go through customs (including filling in arrival forms – it was totally ridiculous answering ‘0’ to the question ‘How many days have you been out of NZ?’) and then figure out where the hell the yellow bus went from. Others were just as confused as we were, and eventually someone figured out where the yellow bus departed from, but we were so fed up and tired by then. Steve opted to catch a taxi, and said we’d just seek reimbursement for it the next day along with everyone who’d gone home.
It was 2am by the time we got to the hotel. It was reasonably nice. Clean and tidy. We settled the kids in one room, and they pretty much fell straight into bed. Then Steve and I crashed as well, after setting an alarm for the next morning. We’d been told we had to be at the airport by 10am, and we wanted to have plenty of time for Jayden to eat breakfast.
The next morning we got up and showered and dressed in clean clothes before heading down for breakfast. The buffet included cooked food (bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, hash browns), pastries and muffins, cereals, toast and fruit. Jayden had two full lots of cooked breakfast, four serves of fruit and then went back for more cooked food. That is some serious growth spurt! We were charged $20 for the breakfast, because apparently there was a price limit on the ‘complimentary breakfast’ that no one had told us about. Hmm….
I rang the travel agent and explained that our flight had been cancelled and asked her about the connecting flight to Manila. She said she’d ring the airline and she’d also contact our travel insurer. She rang back and said she hadn’t managed to get through, but she could see that our flight was scheduled to leave Auckland at 2:30pm. We were surprised to hear it had been brought forward, and disappointed and annoyed that the airline hadn’t bothered contacting us to let us know. The hotel did complimentary shuttles to the airport, so we arranged to bring ours forward half an hour and got to the airport about 9:30am.
The flight we were supposed to be on wasn’t on the board that shows all the departing flights. There were no flights to Manila showing at all. Someone else on our flight kindly told us which queue to join. The queue was a mile long already. Yay.
By 2:30pm, when our flight was supposedly leaving, we were still in the queue, albeit closer to the counter. What a joke. Finally we got our baggage checked in again, and we got our boarding passes. They hadn’t given us the seats we’d pre-booked and prepaid for. What a waste of time and money that had been. No window seat between the four of us. At least the boys got aisle seats, but Caitie and I had both really wanted window seats, and… Well, no use whining over it, is there? Nothing we can do about it now. Hmph.
In order to get a refund for our taxi, we had to go to the Philippine Air office at the airport and provide a copy of our passports and receipt, and sign. The taxi had cost us $30, but the guy only had $20 notes, so he said ‘I’ll owe you $10’. Seriously? This whole thing was such a farce. We asked about our seats, and they said we’d definitely have the seats we booked for the flight from Milan to Heathrow. Speaking of, they said we’d probably have to stay overnight in Manila, but they’d sort all that out when we got to Manila.
It’s quite scary getting on a plane to go to a foreign country without knowing the details of how you’re going to get to your final destination, and hoping that someone somewhere will know what’s happening and sort it all out for you. With the ineptitude we’d seen so far, we were very nervous about everything being resolved.
We made it through customs without further drama, and boarded the plane. We finally took off at about 4pm.