March 17: Having done the lion’s share of organizing and packing the night before, Marge, Grace and I this morning had only last-minute preparations to complete before leaving the hotel for Heathrow Airport and our 1:25 pm flight home to the US. We had our last breakfast in the hotel from 7:00-7:30 am, leaving us one-half hour before an “estate car” — larger commercial vehicle, contracted at a preset price [in our case, £60], unlike conventional London “black cab” taxis — was scheduled to appear for us at the hotel. We could’ve ordered a “saloon car” taxi — a more conventionally-sized contracted cab — but we were warned by hotel staff that that may not have been big enough for us and all our (now bulging) and extra luggage! Our driver showed up about 8 minutes after 8:00 in a big, full-sized American-style SUV. There was plenty of room both for us and our luggage, which was a blessing. “George” was a very engaging, pleasant person, born and raised in the Lewisham-Blackheath-Greenwich region where we started. He had a lot to say, but only when asked, in the 1:45 time we spent driving directly west through the heart of central London and out to Heathrow. Only on the last leg of the drive did we actually use what we in the States might call a “freeway” – in this case the M4, which goes maybe 10 miles before the reaching the airport. All the rest of the time in the car was spent weaving in and out, up and down, through congested, sometimes hopelessly narrow, but always moving, city streets. Of course that means on the left, so there were a few sudden motions – turning corners or circling roundabouts – which totally startled me. They so ran against the grain of my own driving instincts, I wondered if, in a crisis, I would be able to make the right kind of evasive move. A couple times with George I was really unsure how we had avoided being in an accident!
Interestingly, the first hour of the drive was spent getting us ONLY to the heart of central London at Parliament Square. I was grateful we had agreed on a set price for the transport, and not paying by the minute. Once we got to Heathrow, George took us, as requested, to Terminal 5, the same terminal where we had arrived twelve days earlier. Only problem was, I had this nagging feeling that, since we had arrived on British Air, one of American Airlines partners, at Terminal 5, but were leaving on an American flight, that our departure terminal was in fact not Terminal 5, but likely Terminal 3. Heathrow is of course a mammoth airport, and its five terminals are widely separated. Foolish me, I had not checked on the return flight’s origination terminal, and that was not good. Nonetheless, George soon dropped us off at Terminal 5. Sensing even more acutely that there was a mistake, I even asked him if he’d be willing to take us to Terminal 3 if it was true we were in the wrong place. Surprisingly, he wasn’t really interested in taking us any further, even for additional compensation, so in we went. Luckily, there is free high-speed train service between Terminals 1, 3 and 5 at Heathrow. So, since our real destination in fact proved to be Terminal 3, we quickly figured out how to access that service and soon found ourselves at the right terminal.
We decided to use the restrooms first and, lo and behold, that’s where Marge and Grace ran into Suré — in the ladies room! She had just arrived at the airport herself, having spent the night in a nearby hotel so as not to have traffic/transportation troubles on the day of her flight home. So we all chummed together from then until boarding the flight at 13:25. By then, of course, food was again on the agenda, so we found the food court and had at it, one final time in England.
That’s when Suré unleashed her very good news to me about our concert at St Mary-le-Bow on Thursday. Trolling the internet the night before, she had put her, my and Gregory Rose’s names into a search engine, just to see what might come up. In fact a link to a review appeared, and she was shocked to find a very high-level reviewer’s [Robert Matthew-Walker] appraisal of our recital that day. Neither she nor I had any idea a reviewer was in the audience. Happily, his comments were very flattering to both her and me, so this review proved to be the icing on the cake of a fantastic trip. [The complete review can be read here.] Since we still had time before our flight, I quickly forwarded the link in an e-mail to everyone from our president, provost and my dean on down, letting them know the good news. Amazingly, even before we left the ground in the UK, I had gotten a few notes of congratulation from Wesleyan people who had already read the news!
The return flight to the US was non-stop, on-time and completely uneventful. Unlike the outbound flight on British Air, Marge, Grace and I were seated together in a threesome section, with window and aisle seats on opposite ends. I got the aisle and Grace got the window. Very nice. Suré sat more toward the front of the plane so we saw her only as she made trips to the restroom in the back. Once the Boeing 777 landed, we didn’t see her again that day. She exited the plane before us and undoubtedly was met by husband Vurl for a quick ride to home and hearth.
The three of us passed through customs more or less effortlessly, in part due to use of the newest passport-reading kiosks for returning US citizens. Once it has scanned your passport data, these machines take your picture and quickly create a complete little document you then take with you to show the customs agent upon exiting the secure area of the terminal. Really quite efficient. I didn’t need the customs declaration card I had dutifully filled out for the whole family on the plane before landing! From there it was simply call the Global Parking people off-airport grounds, to send their shuttle and take us to the motel where we parked our car – at HALF the cost of even the least expensive (Remote South) parking available on-airport. They were quick and efficient, and it wasn’t long before we were in our own car driving home and finally knocking on our own front door again! A relatively easy and completely uneventful trip home, ending what I have since repeatedly described as one of the top three overseas trips I have ever had! I’m sure we will cherish this one for a long, long time!
Thanks for listening and following!
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