A few weeks back I received an invite from my cousin Gill to a BBQ celebrating her husband Pete’s 65th birthday – now me, I love a good BBQ, so the prospect of a lovely summer’s day with family, food and beer was one that I was keen to share, therefore a weekend back in the UK was in order.
Popping back from Jeddah to attend the BBQ took a little bit of planning, but with the help of a colleague who is ex-BA, I was able to get great flights that had me heading out on the Friday morning, and returning back to Jeddah by Monday morning, all refreshed and ready to go straight to work – perfect! 🙂
BA operate the wonderful Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the Jeddah-Heathrow route, such a great aircraft, with curved wings and the coolest windows. No pulling down an old fashioned blind, instead, push button control that darkens the window, going via a gorgeous purple tint. These pictures were taken on my outbound, daytime flight.
It was past 2pm by the time I picked up my rental car, so I had 57 hours before I was due to be on the flight back – and in my mind I had planned pretty much all those hours; I had to make the most of my time!
The first 20 hours | Crawley and The Curious Pig in the Parlour
First task was to head out to the M25 and drive down to my home town of Crawley, primarily to meet up with my boys, Jamie and Alex, for dinner. I’ve said it before in these pages, but the most difficult part of being an expat, is the infrequent opportunities to catch up with these two. Yes, they are both fine young men now, but to me they are still my boys, and I miss them both terribly in the weeks and months between our get togethers.
I usually stay in a Premier Inn or something similar when in Crawley, but this time I wanted to try something different, so after some hunting around on websites, I settled on a local pub with the wonderful name of ‘The Curious Pig in the Parlour’ which offered what looked to be very comfortable rooms, plus had a great dinner menu, so a room and dinner with the boys were booked!
The last time we were together was 3 months ago, at Jamie’s wedding in Edinburgh, so there was much to catch up on including stories from Jamie’s honeymoon in Bali, although sadly my daughter in law, Rachel, was unable to join us. However, we had a great dinner of Pizzas and Fish n Chips, washed down with the appropriate beverages; a really enjoyable evening.
The Curious Pig’s Parlour turned out to be very comfortable, and I had a great night’s sleep, followed by a delicious ‘full english’ – oh how I miss those!
The next 24 hours | Rain, M25, Blisworth, BBQ and more rain!
After my hearty breakfast, it was time to drive back up the M25 towards Northamptonshire for the BBQ. Although the skies looked reasonably ok when I left, it didn’t take long for those grey bundles of joy to appear, and release torrents of rain on the mass of cars that had chosen the same time as me to be heading in my direction. It was a crawl for much of the journey, what should have been a 2 hour drive took almost 4, but eventually I arrived at my venue for the night, The Walnut Tree Inn, in the small picturesque village of Blisworth (what did we do before satnav?).
After some rest time, Gill kindly came to ferry me to the BBQ, at the nearby village of Tiffield. In keeping with earlier in the day, the rain began just as I got into her car, and I don’t think it stopped for the rest of the day. However, that did not inhibit anyone’s enjoyment – it was a brilliant afternoon and evening, spent under tarpaulins and tents, with copious amounts of food and real ale, I had a great time. Full credit to Gill, and her sister Michelle, their other halves, Pete and Paul (who was amazing at bbqing in the rain!) – and everyone else who contributed to the success of the event; although I’m glad I wasn’t the one who would have had to wash the kitchen floor the next morning!
I got back to the Walnut Tree Inn just in time to hit the bar, which was hosting a local rock band – just my cup of tea (or glass of beer!). Unfortunately they were coming to their final song as I arrived, but it was one that is special to me and Mrs E – Mr Brightside, so I joined the rest of the bar in bopping about, and screaming “it was only a kiss!” at the appropriate moment. A great way to end an awesome day.
The final 13 hours | An Oxford tourist
As my flight back to Jeddah was not until well into the evening, I had the whole of the final day to myself, and I had decided to use the time to visit the famous University city of Oxford. I had never been there before, and although I don’t really have a bucket list, it is certainly somewhere I have often thought of visiting, so this was an ideal opportunity.
Fuelled by another full english, I drove down the M40, and within an hour I was in the city. One great tip that I had been given in advance (by both Mrs E, and the nice lady on reception at the Walnut Tree!) was to take advantage of the ‘Park and Ride’ facilities that are located around the city outskirts, as finding somewhere for your car within the city itself is a challenge. At the park and ride, the parking was easy and great value, as was the bus ride part to and from the city centre.
Once off the bus, I began to explore, although with no real sense of purpose – one thing I hadn’t really done was to investigate beforehand what would be the best places to visit, but nonetheless, I did tons of walking and saw some wonderful buildings. One thing that did surprise me however was not only how busy it was, but how many groups of students were visiting from China. Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, but it does show how things have changed over the past few decades, as I’m sure this wouldn’t have been the case 20 years ago.
There is much to see and admire as you walk the well-trodden paths that link the famous colleges, although I declined the opportunities to enter inside any of them, as at an average of £6 a time, I wasn’t sure this represented good value for money. Another tip I had read about was to spend less time on the main streets, instead to explore some of the smaller backstreets and lanes, where I found some wonderful photo opportunities, and slightly less crowded locations.
I spent an enjoyable few hours walking around the City, I indulged in a creme tea, and attended two (free!) exhibitions at the Bodleian Library, but by the time I returned to my car I was exhausted! All that was left to do was to jump back on the M40 to Heathrow for an hour or two of rest in the BA lounge before boarding the plane for the overnight flight to Jeddah.
It was a great weekend, and everything went pretty much to plan, it’s just taken the bulk of this week to recover!