Winter Omens and Portents.

We had Christmas back in good old Windy Nook. Plenty of cold and snow, with a bit of cold and wind and hailstone mixed in for good measure! If we believed in “portents” and things like that, we would have returned to Luxor after only a few days in England. Certainly, many of our Egyptian friends would have “headed for the hills”!

We don’t have a car in England, because it would be a waste of money to maintain and insure a car for the sake of six or eight weeks a year. My lovely sister has me named on her insurance, and lends me her car more or less any time I need it. Well, that’s how families should work, isn’t it? We’d only been home for a couple of days when I borrowed her car to visit my son at his place of work and on arriving there slid it into a skip standing on the roadside. Not only did it just catch the corner of the skip with the front of the N/S/F wing, it also bounced off about six or eight inches and spun the car slightly so that the N/S/R corner also hit the skip as it stopped, damaging the rear quarter panel and bumper!!!!!
And, as if that wasn’t bad enough……….. When I returned it to her home and came to put it to bed, I had to drive it up a short (about two feet) ramp into the garage. The ramp lifts to about 4 inches from the level of her farmyard. As I started up the ramp, the car slid off to the right, and the right hand front wheel fell off the edge. Luckily, it stopped with the front bumper about a half inch from the garage wall, “Phew” thought I, but too soon! At the side of the garage my sister and her husband are having some building work done, and there is a partly built wall standing next to the ramp, which is about two inches taller than the height of the VW Golf’s wheel arch. Yes, you guessed it: the space between the ramp and the wall was just enough to accommodate the front wheel, leaving the weight of the front of the car suspended on top of an insulation block right at the top of the O/S/F wheel arch! I couldn’t have purposely done it in a thousand tries!!!!! After much heaving and lifting, we managed to get it off the wall and into the garage, to wait for the repair shop coming to collect it. Probably the worst aspect of the whole sorry episode is the fact that this is the first car (among a good many over the years) which my sister has really thought something of and taken pleasure in driving. It’s a black diesel Golf which was new last year, and is (was) quite quick! Thankfully, she seemed to forgive me and the incident didn’t spoil the season of “goodwill towards men”.
Here’s a picture of the lane opposite our house, which leads to sister’s farm. The roadway is called Thoma Owen’s Opening, we only found this out recently and have no idea (currently) who Thoma Owen was.
Click on the picture to make it bigger.

As some of you already know, I’ve been associated with the Methodist Chapel at Windy Nook since about 1967, and every year since have taken great pleasure in Carol Singing with members and friends of the Chapel each Christmas Eve. The singers collect money for “Action For Children”, which used to be The National Children’s Homes, I don’t know for how long this has been the case but certainly for the forty odd years that I’ve been involved. The chapel has had Carol Singers going out for as long as anyone can remember. When I first became involved with the chapel one of the old members was one John Patterson (son of the victim of the famous “Windy Nook Murder” of 1907. http://www.real-crime.co.uk/Murder1/DOCN.HTML#Noble, Joseph ) John was a real character. Another of the old men once told us of their trip to Blackpool in John Patterson’s Morris Cowley, taking several days of sleeping in barns on the way, they ended up filling the punctured (and too far gone to repair) tyres with straw to keep going.
The only year that we know of when the Windy Nook folk didn’t get their carols was 1947, when the snow was just too bad to turn out. In the old days, they would start at midnight and finish around 5 o’clock on Christmas Day morning. On arriving back at the Chapel some of the womenfolk would have a monster breakfast prepared for them. When I started to go out, the breakfast comprised minced beef pies and a cup of tea, but it was still very welcome. One or two of the singers leave the group about an hour before we finish singing, in order to get back to the chapel and put the pies in the oven. One year, in the seventies, the appointed person forgot to light the gas oven, and consequently “gassed” all the pies! He became an MP and a famous member of the British Government in later years, so it would be just too embarrassing to mention his name on here. (But I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten!)

video

In these more enlightened times; we don’t expect people to lie awake all night waiting for us to sing for them. We now start at around 6 o’clock on Christmas Eve and get finished between midnight and 1 o’clock. It is, without doubt, a long hard slog and we start off with our pockets bulging with bottles of Covonia or ginger wine and the like, but it's well worth it. Neither do we walk now; as we sing far and wide, our good friend Mr Annis, owner of Aline Coaches of Gateshead, kindly lends us a bus to ease our travels. Among others, we usually sing for our Member of Parliament and also our Member of the European Parliament. Our longest distance carol, this year, was listened to (via Skype) in Hong Kong, where one of our Ex Carollers is now living.
This year our takings were down by almost £100, to £411. We put this down to the very cold weather and that because of it, we didn’t get so many of the neighbours of our regulars coming out and asking us to sing for them. Nevertheless, when we add the collection from our “Community Carol Service” which is held at the Chapel on the last Monday before Christmas, it is a worthwhile sum, and I’m sure it will be put to very good use by those at “Action for Children”. There were only a few of us this year, but I hope that you enjoy the carol in the little video.

Our home celebration of the birth of Jesus went off really well. I feel dreadfully sorry for those who cannot be with their loved ones at this very special time. Even if you are a non-believer, as many of my dearest friends are, Christmas is something special for most people with a western sort of upbringing. Several of my friends are a long way from home and loved ones, and my thoughts were with them as I thoroughly enjoyed the blessings of my growing family tucking into our splendid meal on Christmas day.
All good things must come to an end, and we prepared to leave all the family behind as we returned to Luxor. My mother was the last to see before we retired for the night on Tuesday 5th January. We had a relatively early start on Wednesday, airport taxi booked for 07.15. The snow had been falling off and on for a day or two, but wasn’t all that bad. At 07.30 the taxi still hadn’t arrived, so I rang the taxi company, “Oh I’m so sorry, but your driver has been held up in the snow on his last job, I’ll send ‘John’ to you straight away.” It turned out that poor ‘John’ must be the last ditch, stand-by man! By the time we got to the airport, I was beside myself with his inane bantering. Never mind, we got there in one piece and in plenty of time to check in. We took off about an hour and a half late, due to the snow, and when we got down to Thiefrow, we had to sit (no, not literally) on the tarmac for two hours while we awaited a stand for the plane. By this time, we knew that we would not make the 14.00 Egypt Air flight to Cairo. While we were waiting for the baggage to come around on the belt, I asked the man at the nearby “customer service” desk what we should do, seeing as we had certainly missed our connecting flight. He couldn’t help at all, as Bloody Awful (British Airways) had “fulfilled their obligations”! We went to the “Information” desk when we got into the departures bit of the airport as couldn’t find any Egypt Air staff. The bloke there was quite sympathetic, he suggested having a word with the American Airline people, who handled things for Egypt Air. We did, they couldn’t really help other than to send us to the B.A. “Customer Service Desk” in Departures. After standing in the queue for 90 minutes, the girl there said that seeing as we hadn’t booked the entire journey through an agent, there was nothing she could do for us. So take note all ye that do your bookings on-line, when it goes wrong: you’re on your own, mate!!!!! We went back to the Information man who had seemed so sympathetic. He had already tried to telephone Egypt Air’s London office for us, as the two numbers we took from their website “did not accept incoming calls”. After a bit of consoling he gave us a leaflet for an hotel and suggested that we might try the “Hotels Desk” in Arrivals. Freda asked the young man there for one night’s accommodation, I walked away when I heard him mention 350, poor Freda got flummoxed and thought (just for a minute) that he might be talking in Egyptian pounds, but I knew he wasn’t! We eventually rang the number on the brochure; “Yes, I have one twin room left for £65” said the Indian accented voice. After a bit of haggling (the Egyptian influence no doubt) the price came down to £50. He would send a car for us in 45 minutes, at the “Valet Parking” stand outside. This gave Freda enough time to nip into Marksies for something to sustain us through the night! We ventured out into the freezing cold at 7 o’clock. I rang the man at 10 minutes past, “He’s there now!” came the reply, giving me the registration number of the silver mini-bus “RY 07”. Freda stood guard over the trolley full of exciting baggage bound for Luxor, as I traipsed back and forth, trying to see numbers on plates covered with dirty British snow. Of course we were dressed for arriving in Cairo after spending 5 hours on a nice warm aeroplane, and not for standing outside in a temperature of 10 degrees below, with a biting wind tearing at us! The mini-bus eventually arrived (RK 07) at around a quarter to eight, just before we froze to the spot. A nice little driver, who went to another couple of terminals before making away to the hotel (The Heathrow Lodge, if you’re interested). Being an eight seater, it was a bit of a squeeze to get an extra passenger into the back row of seats, but they managed. I was too cold and tired to point out that his insurance would be invalidated if he had an accident with us all packed in, not to mention that he could lose his taxi licence if he was caught! We arrived at the hotel after not many minutes, it didn’t look too bad.
After waiting in the queue to register and pay, the man at the desk waived a boy over to help us with the baggage. I was slightly disconcerted when he led us out and onto the road, trudging through the snow and ice and dragging our (fabric) suitcases behind him. We followed him along the road for about two hundred yards (that’s a few less metres, for those of you who are converted to metric) to a house! He unlocked the door and showed us upstairs to our room, the bathroom being at the head of the stairs. Sure enough, twin beds, a wash basin, wardrobe and small TV. But the best thing was the KETTLE with four tea bags, sugar and milk, although we’d bought real milk at M&S. We got sorted out with my night-time tablets (ugly tablets at night and stupid tablets in the morning) and ate our M&S sandwiches and pork pies with two cups of nice hot tea. Watched some of the news on the little telly before deciding to get into the little beds (this is starting to sound like the story of Snow White!!!!). It was COLD. I checked the radiator valves in the room before I rang reception. They sent the same boy, who was carrying a shifting spanner, screwdriver and a pair of pliers. I’ve no idea what he thought I might believe him to be doing with those as he tinkered with the radiator valves, finally apologising and offering two extra duvets to compensate for the lack of heating. The hand basin drain was also blocked. Freda and I went to bed fully clothed, but still didn’t sleep well.
The following morning we all (9, that is) piled back into the eight seat mini-bus and were dropped at our respective terminals. The sympathetic information man had told us to go back to the Egypt Air desks at 11 o’clock. We did. I put on my most pleading face and told the lady of our trials. To my utter joy and amazement, she just started issuing boarding passes for the next Cairo flight!!!! We checked our baggage and went away to spend the £10 in food vouchers, that the kind lady also gave us as the flight would be late in leaving. The only problem remaining was how we would manage to get from Cairo to home in Luxor! We knew that the flight would be too late to catch the last service of the evening to Luxor, and also too late to catch an overnight train. The man on the Egypt Air desk in Cairo airport was very nice and listened intently as we reiterated our tale of woe! He would have no trouble in booking us onto the next available flight (05.00 next day) but what would we do in the meantime. “You could put us in a hotel” I helpfully suggested. No answer! We would have to collect our baggage, as it had not been “booked through” being on the wrong day and all. “If you take a seat over here, I’ll call for you in a few minutes.” The oriental looking bloke who was shouting the odds wasn’t getting anything but more frustrated! At the desk, our man was dealing with another three Europeans (turned out they were English as well) and led them over to us after about twenty minutes or so. “This gentleman has the HOTEL VOUCHER for all five of you, so stay with him.” I was flabbergasted!!!! After being treat so shabbily by B.A.: Egypt Air had really come up trumps. We were taken to the Iberotel Cairo, which was really good. We both had a good hot soak in the bath before ordering from the room service menu and finally going to bed at 02.05, we were being picked up at 03.30 lol.
“Today is our 38th wedding anniversary” I told the stewardess as we boarded the plane, hoping that she would offer to upgrade us to first class. She didn’t, but she did congratulate us. We got settled in and the plane moved off the stand. Then it stopped and the Captain announced that we couldn’t take off for a while because of bad weather, it was foggy! After a good while, I drifted off to sleep, leaving poor Freda as lookout! We were there from 05.00 till 08.30. Many of the passengers were getting quite fractious; I wouldn’t have been the young stewardess for all the tea in China.
We eventually arrived home at “Our Luxor” at 11.30, 52 hours after setting off from Windy Nook.

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