John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Friday 24 February 2017

[Thursday 23 February 2017]

Hanoi, Vietnam–London Heathrow
00:50 (UTC+7)–07:15 Vietnam Airlines VN55 Hanoi–London Heathrow

There was an announcement that the departure gate for our flight had been “changed to Gate 30” — which was no change at all, because “30” was the gate number printed on the boarding pass. The announcement concluded: “We apologise for any convenience [sic!] caused”.

Boarding pass for the flight from Hanoi to London Heathrow

Boarding didn’t start till perhaps half an hour after the “00:00” printed on the boarding pass. We’d met up with P and Y again, and Janet had stood with them; but I, having somewhat sore feet, had gone away to sit down. There was a long line of people queued up, but we didn’t join them because a sign on one of the monitors said that it was “rows 26–40” that were boarding. When I decided to join the line — an announcement said it was “the final call for Vietnam Airlines flight VN55”, though the sign on the monitor still said “rows 26–40” — I couldn’t see the others anywhere; but I figured that they’d end up on the aeroplane anyway, so I didn’t break ranks to go and look for them. I was a bit surprised that Janet hadn’t looked for me. When I got aboard, I found her in Row 24. She preferred the aisle seat 24F that was on my boarding card, and I sat next to her in the middle seat. We were pleased that the seat to my left remained unoccupied. Behind us was a bulkhead, which restricted the reclinability of our seats a little bit; but at least no one behind me could poke or kick me repeatedly, as had happened on the outward journey.

Our seats and an unoccupied one are shown in green.

Takeoff, scheduled for 12.50am (UTC+7), was delayed till 1.22am.[i] There were toilets just behind us; and because Janet was to the right and there was no one to the left, I went left to use the loo. On my first visit, I went into the central cubicle, but found that the seat, and more essentially the lid, wouldn’t stay up — which was a fatal hindrance to male-style peeing! (Perhaps I should have used the sink?!) So I abandoned that cubicle, and went to the one opposite. That was not without its problems, however, as you’ll see. I accepted drinks (water, fruit juice, tea, coffee) whenever the cabin crew came past with them; I declined supper, having no appetite and feeling put off by the food-smell from the galley; by breakfast-time, though, I was sufficiently hungry to accept chicken and noodles, etc. (lukewarm, however!). I watched three movies en route: 1951 musical An American in Paris; 2016 computer-animated family comedy The Secret Life of Pets; and 2016 romantic period drama The Light Between Oceans. Janet began to feel ill, and on a number of occasions had her head between her knees. I found a paper bag in the pocket at the back of one of the seats in front, but fortunately she didn’t need to fill it. I started, as is typical on long journeys, to be troubled by gas that I could not expel; and later by the “runs”…; and by griping pains. I got as mad as hell, when I was thus forced to sit on the loo, because through no will or action of mine it kept flushing; I started to curse and swear loudly — and publicly, given that the walls were so thin! Heathrow airport must have been busy as we descended towards it, for the plane turned round in a counter-clockwise loop, then an S-bend, on approach. Tower Bridge was visible below on the right. Landing, scheduled for 7.15am (UTC), actually occurred at 7.41am.[ii]
[i] 1.22am — according to Flightradar24
[ii] 7.41am — according to Flightradar24

On disembarking, I switched on my mobile phone, which I’d switched off before the journey. There was a text message from Bill, asking me to let him know when we’d picked our bags up.… There was quite a queue for passport control, but we weren’t kept waiting long. We both got through the automatic passport-scanning, face-recognising barrier without a problem; and our cases appeared fairly quickly on the baggage-reclaim carousel. We said our goodbyes to P and Y before heading through “Nothing to declare” to the exit. I sent Bill a text message: “Just picked up bags and heading for exit” (08:30). Outside, nothing looked familiar: we weren’t in the open air, exactly; we were in an enclosed space, open to the far left and to the far right, with a taxi lane, a bus lane, and a short-stay car park before us. There was a phone call or two to and from Bill. It turned out that the unfamiliarity was because we’d been dropped off almost two weeks ago two levels above where we now were. Because the road signs led Bill up there, without it being obvious how to get to the ground-level, we decided to re-enter the building and find the elevator to take us up there. Anyway, we did meet up, and started the return road-journey (8.45am). I first started taking note of the route when we were on the M25 motorway, northbound, passing a sign which said “Buckinghamshire”. We passed a second sign “Hertfordshire” (9.13am); turned on to the M1 (9.17am); on to the A421 (9.42am); passed a sign indicating that we were entering the borough of Bedford (9.48am); turned on to the A1 (9.59am), which became the A1(M) motorway; and reached the end of the A1(M), where it changed back to the A1 (10.23am). As on the outward journey, we turned off to go to the truck stop (10.27am): the “Stibbington Diner”, I noted this time. I had a black coffee and Janet a decaffeinated for £1.50 each (10:36 on the till receipt). We joined Bill at a table. He went to the counter to pick up his food order when it was ready: a sausage sandwich and an egg sandwich. I liked the look of the former, as he was putting brown sauce on it; so I went to the counter and ordered one myself (£2.40, 10:43).… When Janet and I left, Bill had already done so; and we couldn’t remember which car it was. I was looking for a Renault…, but when we found it, it was a Citroën! We returned to the A1 (11.00am). We passed a sign saying we were entering Rutland (11.08am). We turned on to the A46, the road that would take us the rest of the way to Cleethorpes (11.40am). I saw Lincoln Cathedral atop the ridge to the right as we passed it (11.59am). On the radio there were reports of disruptions to rail services because of fallen trees and damaged overhead power-lines caused by Storm Doris yesterday. This was the first we’d heard about Storm Doris. We arrived home a few minutes before 1pm. As soon as we got in, we turned on the central heating because the house felt so cold.… When I went out to replenish the birds’ seeds, I noticed that the recycling containers and the wheelie bin had been put out and put back; but there were plastic milk bottles here and there in the back yard, perhaps blown about by Storm Doris, which I retrieved, before actually refilling the birds’ seed-dispenser and replacing the water. The rear fence had become partly detached at the left end, but still made a barrier between us and those at the back of us, so I took no action; I didn’t see any other storm damage.…


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