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The year started fairly calmly. A business trip to London which could have been on any date was carefully chosen for 30 January, enabling me to complete my work, and get to the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre in time to hear Sarah Grunstein perform Book I of Bach's The Well Tempered Clavier. Another trip was lined up for 11 February for Book II, but this was not destined to be:
I would have been much happier if he had said he was sorry, he had forgotten his sandwiches, and we were going back to the terminal to collect them. It wouldn't be too bad, but I was to take this particular aeroplane in future, and never be sure about the engine. We did take off, and the engine didn't explode.
The return flight was not much better, if my memory serves me well. The weather was appalling in the extreme, with thunderstorms throughout the country. Even so, after a short delay, we did leave Edinburgh airport, bound for Birmingham. The crew warned us that there was a good chance that we would be diverted to Manchester, if Birmingham Airport was closed. We took a longer route than usual, skirting one storm. I had earlier read the description of a thunderstorm as a beautiful but deadly pillar of cloud, but never really taken much notice. Let me assure you, it is very beautiful: awe-inspiring as it stretches up and down. Probably this one looked prettier than most, as the dark colours of the clouds were offset by the red of the sunset. Words do not do justice to the sight, one which will stay with me forever.
As we came in to land, the rain started to get heavier, and just as we touched down, all the lights in the cabin went out momentarily. The engines did not stop, and I was very grateful for that. On the radio later that night, I heard that another flight leaving Birmingham had been struck by lightning, and made an emergency landing back at Birmingham.
On Monday morning, therefore, I was sent to the far North, with their expectation that if I was given a complete week, this would surely be enough. I knew it would not: but nobody who would listen. These managers would only listen if the news was something they wanted to hear.
However, my manager was interested in my travel arrangements. As we were having a good and profitable year, he would be prepared to let me fly wherever I chose in the country at the weekend. This wasn't as generous as it sounded: he knew that my fiancİe was in Leeds, and that this was where I would choose. Now, however generous it sounds, you cannot help noticing that the distance and fare to Leeds/Bradford is less than to Birmingham.
So it was, nevertheless, that Friday night was a new experience for me: a flight on a propeller aeroplane. One colleague in Edinburgh described the aircraft in question as "a little Fokker" and I feel that although accurate, this term has certain overtones. He said it was a very noisy, bumpy flight, and I followed his advice to get a couple of drinks inside me first.
The interior of the Air UK F-27 bears a striking resemblance to a corporation bus, an impression which did not change when we were served with sandwiches and coffee during the flight. The passenger next to me flew the route almost every Friday, travelling from Aberdeen to Edinburgh with Air UK, and then changing to this flight for Edinburgh to Leeds/Bradford, and then to London Stansted. By the end of it, he said that he felt really knocked about, but that he had tried the sleeper train once and it was worse.
Leeds/Bradford airport was well suited to this aircraft, for it looks like a bus station. I was met there by my fiancİe and a few friends. The five of us were too many for one taxi into town to the restaurant where we were going, so we took two taxis. We two climbed into the first one, leaving a friend to take the once-in-a-lifetime chance of telling the second one to "follow that cab". I am pleased to say that he is reported to have taken the opportunity. The evening was only slightly marred by the fact that although he remembered to get a receipt, he forgot to leave a tip. Our destination proved to be Ike's Restaurant.
The weekend was a great success. If you are ever in Leeds and needing to purchase an engagement ring, I would certainly recommend Rose's jewellers. However, the Baltimore Diner (sometimes called the Boston Diner) is the place I had chosen to propose marriage a month earlier. We had not wanted to announce the fact yet, but a month was as much as we could bear before telling the whole world. So now all was well, except for the small question of how to get back to Edinburgh on Monday morning to meet the consultant from another company who would be working with me. A telephone call to Air UK revealed that the Monday morning flight was full. So there was nothing for it but a train journey. Two, to be precise.
Travelling overland reminded me again how far away Edinburgh was, although this time the journey was much more civilised, travelling on an Inter-City 125 to York, and then changing to another. As I went, I travelled through the Northeast, listening to my Walkman as I went. For a long time, I only ever seemed to listen to a couple of tapes on journeys. One was Sleepless nights by Lindisfarne and this seemed appropriate as the train arrived at Newcastle.
I was astonished to discover snow-covered taxis on arrival in Edinburgh, but went straight to the Ellersley as usual, amazed how much less they charge on Sundays than mid-week.
On Monday, I was to discover that I had been most fortunate not to have been able to reserve a seat on the flight. High winds had prevented the flight from landing at Leeds/Bradford, so they had gone straight from London Stansted to Edinburgh. What I would have done, I dread to think.
The consultant arrived on the British Airways Super Shuttle from London Heathrow. I have never flown on one of these magical show-and-fly services in the UK, but look forward to the day when I will. He didn't do a good job of it, I'm afraid, arriving an hour later than expected.
By late afternoon, he was well into the problem, however, and though I really couldn't say he was worth the figure we reputedly had to pay for a day of his time, two pieces of undocumented information he got from his head office were worth it. He knew what to ask, and whom to ask, and this made a big difference. So it was that with a much happier heart, I climbed aboard the now familiar flight to Birmingham, had a couple or three drinks and went home quietly.