1996

From winter to summer

11 January 1996 United 935 London Heathrow to Los Angeles
12 January 1996 United 841 Los Angeles to Auckland
14 January 1996 Air New Zealand 8415 Auckland to Napier / Hastings

Soon, too soon, the party was over. It was time to leave the Land of the Long Grey Cloud and return to the Land of the Long White Cloud. During our time back home, if that is home, we had seen some but by no means all of our friends. While my wife and first son had gone to Birmingham to look at his first home and at the levelled building site where a hopsital had stood when he was born there, I took the other two boys to look at the house where I had grown up on Merseyside. I wish that I had not gone there. The house does not look the same. The garden does not look the same. Nothing is the same. Everything changes.

We finally made our farewells. Who is to say when our next journey across the world is to be? Air fares are cheaper in real terms than they have ever been before, but that does not mean that they are cheap. A family of two adults and three children can look forward to a hefty charge wherever they choose to go. As before, we travelled by rail avoiding central London. It was warmer now, but it was still not warm. From Reading, we travelled on to the Sheraton Heathrow, where we were able to meet up with two dear friends who live nearby. It was so good to see them again, but like so many of our friends, this precious time with them was far too short. Although the world can be small in some senses, in other ways it is very large. We can lose touch with those we know and love too easily, drifting away from our friends. McLuhan's global village exists, but such things as aircraft and the internet do not enable true friendship to continue to flourish. The next day, we would be six thousand miles away from them, just like we had been the day after I was their best man. Come the next day, we were on our way.

London Heathrow is a very busy airport, the busiest in the world according to some measures, though there are many to choose from, so that several airports can justifiably claim to be the busiest. This does mean that it can, on occasions, be difficult to keep track of people. This was what happened to us. After we had checked in for the flight, we had some time to wander round the concourse before boarding, so we did so. At one of the newsstands, we saw various things that we wanted, to say nothing of one of sons, who helped himself to a bar of chocolate. Not wanting to break any laws at all, we returned to pay for the item, as well as to purchase some magazines for the journey. While I was paying for these, my wife was elsewhere in the store, so that we did not realise straight away that our youngest had gone astray. This reminds me of the story of Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, but it would surely be straining at the truth to make any other comparison between my son and God's son. After a few minutes, it became apparent that we would definitely need to contact security, which I duly did. I am pleased to say that after a few minutes, we were reunited. He had gone down in a lift and was not challenged until he tried to go through a ground floor door onto the tarmac. At this point he had been stopped by a member of, as I understand, Air Canada's staff, who took him off to the airport police. As I walked up the corridor to the police, I saw him in the arms of one of the female members of staff there. He wriggled out of her arms onto the ground and ran towards me calling for his daddy. I'm glad he did that, not just because I was pleased to see him again, but because, just possibly, I might have had to prove somehow that I really was his daddy.

After this excitement, it would soon be time to get on board the flight. I am sorry to say that I never saw the magazines I had bought ever again. I was particularly disappointed to have lost The Beano, which I remember fondly from my youth, though not so far back as you might suppose, a publication which my boys had never seen.

United Airlines were to be our hosts again, and the flight was to their usual standard. Most of the cabin crew seemed to be British on this flight, which didn't offer much to stick in one's mind, so I furnish one trivial story about language communication.

If I refer to lemonade, a particular drink will spring to mind. However, I cannot know which drink. If you are of British descent, you will be thinking of a carbonated, sweetish drink, often sold under a brand-name such as Sprite or 7-Up. If you are of American descent, you will probably think of a sharper drink, closer to the original fruit, known better as lemon squash on the east side of the pond. So it seemed faintly absurd for an obviously English flight steward to be asking my son whether he would like lemonade to drink when mid-flight refreshment came. Probably both knew that the liquid as lemon squash, but airline instructions were to call it by the American name. As it happened, my son did accept the drink, and drank it. I did too. It was very refreshing.

Not too many hours later, we were privileged to be welcomed, once more, to the United States of America, complete with the picture of the smiling President. It's not the same smiling face that greeted us when we first visited. Immigration is quicker too, so it was not long before we were on our way to Universal City for the first time since 1990. We spent the night at the Sheraton at Universal City. Truly this is a luxurious place to be, and I am sorry that we didn't spend more time there.

The following morning we were up bright and early. It's easy to be up bright and early when you are eight hours adrift. We were to spend the day exploring Universal Studios. The complex had changed a lot in some ways but scarcely at all in other ways. The tour of the backlots was scarcely different: Bates Motel was still there, so was the set of Murder She Wrote and most of the rest. San Francisco is still at risk of earthquakes. Howvere, most of the rest of the complex seems to be different. An extensive escalator system connects the uphill area with the downhill area, which probably have better names. New and exciting things to see included Backdraft, a spectacular about fire, with an enormous display of hot fire whcih is undoubtedly almost completely safe. This didn't stop our sons, especially the oldest, from shaking and quivering with the expectation of what he was about to see. Like so many things in this life, the expectation is so much more significant than the actual event.

The Jurassic Park ride was still under construction when we went, so I suppose this gives us a reason to return one day. We were able to buy a tyrannosaurus rex from the store on site, possibly the only place still selling them. If you are a member of the AAA, the signs told us, you could get a ten percent discount. So did that mean if I was a member of the AA in my home country I could get the discount too? New Zealand AA card comes out of the wallet, ten percent comes off the final charge. It costs nothing to ask: if they had said no, I wouldn't have paid any more, would I?

For smaller children, I cannot really recommend Back to the Future. The waiting area is nicely presented, but the ride itself is quite violent and difficult to understand. It is probably just right for teenagers and adults, though I found myself more preoccupied keeping an eye on my sons than reviewing the ride.

The most wonderful thing was ET. The ride went through beautiful scenery from several planets. It was moving and sad, so much as these things can be. Magic is not dead in the hearts of our children: nor is it dead in our hearts if we are with children. The ride flew from our earth to ET's home, a ride charming in its apparent simplicity.

Come the evening, it was time to go back to the hotel and pick up our bags before going off to the airport. How much would a taxi tot he airport be, seeing as we were five in number with a lot of bags? The bellboy reckoned it would be about USD 40. He asked why we wouldn't take a limo? Too expensive? No, he assured us, it would be about 50. Well, I can tell you that the extra space for bags in the back and people in the front was well worth the extra ten dollars. We got to the airport in plenty of time for the flight, enabling us to unwind a little. My boys found some new friends waiting for the flight. They were flying on our flight, carrying on to Melbourne. They had fun in the departure lounge, but we never saw them once we were on the plane. It was an overnight flight and it was completely full. This meant that no extra seats were available for Premier members, so it meant that on a completely full flight, our youngest boy, almost two years but not quite, would have to be on our laps for the entire journey. This was not welcome news, but we survived.

The flight happened. I can't speak much about it. I drifted in and out of sleep, and it didn't seem that long till we were landing at Auckland and clearing immigration, looking at the stamps telling us we could stay indefinitely.

After that, it was a wait till our flight to Hawkes Bay. There's still not much to say about short flights that hasn't been said before, especially when they are in the past. If I had written this straight away, it would be different. As it is, what is written is written and what is forgotten is forgotten.

That was the holiday to England to see the old place again. As with so many of these trips, all we had to do was wait a couple of weeks and it would be nothing but a distant memory.


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