A Steady Stream of Minor Misadventures

I’m on holiday in England at the moment, and although I’m having a good time visiting friends and family, my trip has comprised of an unprecedented number of minor mishaps and debacles.

My trip started brutally early on 31 August, and continued to feel grim as I joined the back of the long, slow Virgin Atlantic check-in line at Kennedy before dawn. However, my mood brightened considerably when I was upgraded to Virgin’s Upper Class! This has happened to me a couple of times before, and is easily the nicest way to fly that I know of. I got a glass of champagne on boarding, a seat that converted into a very comfortable bed, a wide selection of movies, good food and wine and a scalp and shoulder massage.

The contrast with grotty Heathrow airport was stark, particularly when I discovered that the company I’d rented a car from weren’t actually based at the airport, and I would have to take a £4 hotel shuttle bus. But eventually I was driving a brand new VW Polo with only 50 miles on the clock through London towards Brixton, my first port of call.

Things started to go wrong the following day. One of the reasons for my trip is to move two boxes of books and papers from my parents’ house in Kent to my friend Carrie’s house in Brixton, to facilitate bringing the stuff back to New York between us in installments.

I woke up jetlagged later than I’d intended, and set off for Chatham without having breakfast because I needed to get there before my Dad left for a meeting at 1pm. I arrived with plenty of time, had lunch with my father and was setting off back for London when the first of several car-related mishaps happened — I smashed the driver’s side wing mirror into the gate post as I was backing out of my parents’ drive, cracking both the mirror itself and the indicator lens at the bottom of the wingmirror housing. Ouch. I knew immediately that it was going to be expensive (especially since I’d declined all of the optional insurance), not to mention embarrassing, since my father saw the whole thing.

My father & I reassembled the remains of the wing mirror as best as we could, and I returned to London and started looking for a VW garage that I thought I remembered in Stockwell, but I couldn’t find it so I went back to Carrie’s house, found one online in Battersea, called to verify that they had the necessary parts and went to buy them. The replacement mirror and lens cost £47.

I returned to Brixton and started trying to fix the wing mirror, but quickly discovered that I would need a special “star-drive” screwdriver to do the job, so started calling various friends to see if anyone had one.

At this point, my Pay As You Go mobile ‘phone ran out of credit. I was planning to buy food for dinner anyway, so I walked into Brixton and went into Woolworths to top up my phone.

Unfortunately, the card reader in Woolworth’s didn’t like my American-issued credit card because it didn’t have “chip & pin,” so the sales assistant had to call up to authorize my £20 purchase. This took an absurd amount of time, because the person on the other end of the line had to call the United States, and there was some problem with the authorization system. It never did work — after 30 minutes waiting on hold sweating in a stuffy, non-air-conditioned store, I told her to give up and use a different card, and after some more faffing was finally able to top up my ‘phone.

Next I tried to access my voicemail, but for some reason it wasn’t set up properly any more, so I spent another frustrating 30 minutes on the ‘phone to T-Mobile trying to sort it out.

Finally I bought some food for dinner at Sainsbury’s, and called my friend Paul while I was walking back to Carrie’s to see if he had a star driver I could borrow. I was initially delighted to discover that Paul did in fact have a star driver, but my good mood soon turned to panic when I discovered that I was no longer in possession of Carrie’s only set of house keys! I hid the shopping in a bush in her front garden and ran back to Woolworths. Fortunately it was still open and I got the keys back.

At this point, things started to go slightly better. I recovered the hidden shopping from the garden, went round to Paul’s and borrowed the star driver, returned and fixed the broken wing mirror, bought a few more groceries and made dinner.

The rest of the weekend was a lot of fun — I met Francis, Phil & Debs’ four week old son for the first time, and caught up with lots of friends at Claire’s birthday barbecue.

I also managed to destroy yet another digital camera at Claire’s barbecue by dropping it on a tiled floor from a height of about 7 feet, although people that know me understand that I lose or destroy cameras on a regular basis anyway, and now consider it as an opportunity to upgrade.

In fact, things didn’t start to go seriously wrong again until Sunday evening, when I discovered that I’d lost the key to the rental car. I had no idea where I’d last seen the key, and had been out all day travelling across London on the tube and hanging out in verious friends’ gardens. No-one had seen the keys, however.

This meant that I had to contact the rental company first thing on Monday and arrange for a spare key to be sent to me, and then had to spend all day today at Carrie’s waiting for the spare key to be delivered when I was supposed to have been in Sheffield visiting friends and family (including Sophie, my brand new niece). Which is why I had time to write this long rambling blog post!

But the key finally arrived at 3:30pm this afternoon, and I’ll be setting off for Sheffield shortly.

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