Friday morning – the 19th July – dawned. The long anticipated day.
My younger sister Stacey had a lunchtime String Quartet engagement, so had long beforehand declined a trip to the airport, but then, at the last minute, she wavered and came anyway. We had been determined not to, but when she had stayed with me as long as she could, and ordered a taxi to get to her appointment, we both burst into tears.
This was it. I was really moving half way across the world.
I returned to the terminal, back to Mum and a few friends who had also come to see me off.
A tannoy announcement asked all passengers on our flight to report to the desk. An official informed us that the Adelaide – Kuala Lumpur flight would leave on time, but for the second leg: KL – London Heathrow, the plane was delayed in Los Angeles, so would be 6 hours late arriving in London. We were told that we would stay over in KL at the airline’s expense, and were asked to tell folks at the UK end to delay pick up.
So, I completed check in…. with my “old flame” Geoff. [Sharp-eyed readers may remember the Geoffs from Blog Installment Two (Two Blondes…) ]
Yes, God had sent me a Guardian Angel for my long journey to the other side of the world and the start of my new life there. An angel in the most unlikely form of a tattooed, pierced, rock-guitar-loving, mathematician ex-boyfriend. By some strange coincidence, Serendipity, or Divine Intervention, Geoff – who had also had a Semester’s contract work teaching, and whose dream it was to visit his birthplace England and meet his relatives – had completely independently booked on the same plane.
So we checked in together, and waved our respective Mothers goodbye at Passport Control.
There was a comical aspect in play here, as Geoff, like many of my friends and family, had not had the chance to meet Neil while Neil was in Adelaide. Although Geoff and I had remained friends after we stopped seeing each other around August 1990, since Uni broke up in the November we had only occasional phone contact. And I had rather glossed over the details of my new romance (as you do). So, until we actually got on the plane, I was consciously sitting on my diamond-encrusted left hand, knowing I would have to explain it. In honesty, Geoff was rather taken aback, although he tried to hide it. I suspected he was thinking “Gee, that Pommy Bastard moved fast!”
The Flight was otherwise uneventful, and some 7 ½ hours later we landed, and were loaded onto a coach for the “Courtesy” stopover.
To our amazement, we were not taken to some standard airport motel, but to the Shangri-La Luxury Hotel in the very centre of Kuala Lumpur.
After the complimentary Buffet dinner, as it was still light – not to mention hot and very sultry – Geoff and I went for a decent long walk around the town. It was good to stretch our legs and breathe in the air on this unexpected stopover. When twilight approached we upped our pace to make sure we returned to the “Shangri-La” before nightfall, lest we become lost.
Rather than hang around a stale airport, it was a rare treat to have the opportunity for a hot shower and to change into cotton pajamas and a fluffy white bathrobe with gold embroidered Shangri-La Emblem (with matching slippers) laid on for guest use. (I was very tempted to steal the luxurious robe, but put off by the thought of a lengthy sentence in a Malaysian Prison).
It was wonderful to then sleep in a real bed with fresh white linen. The instant my head hit the pillow I was “gone”. Seemingly only minutes later, this deep sleep was broken by the Hotel ringing all the room phones to wake the transit passengers for breakfast. It was 5am. So I duly got up and redressed in yesterday’s clothes (my main luggage having been checked through to London) and headed downstairs. Holding tight to my delicate violin, I was amused to see a fellow passenger still dragging around what appeared to be a Surf-Ski – amazing what people consider “Hand luggage”!
All too soon it was time to get back on the coach, and then the concierge called Geoff over. It seems he had got hungry and consumed some of the contents of the Mini Bar, for which they insisted he pay before being released. This caused quite some consternation, as neither Geoff nor any others of the transit passengers had any local currency, and I had visions of Geoff either being detained in KL, or us all missing our connecting flight. Many rallied around and retrieved odd Australian dollars or British pounds from trouser pockets or purses, which poor Geoff then had to exchange at the desk for Malaysian Ringgit (at, we suspected poor rates), and then, as a second stage, pay off his “Debt” at the bar! (We forget, these days, how easy Credit Cards have made travel).
The coach wended its way through seemingly endless traffic until it got back to the airport where we were fairly well immediately loaded on the plane. It was 7.00am precisely. As we started to taxi on the runway, the Air Steward announced that it was 12 midnight in London, and asked us all to wind back our watches. Then, somewhat bizarrely, the hostesses turned off all the lights and declared it was the middle of the night!
I thought “But I’ve already lived through Midnight to dawn once!” For the next 7 hours (until “Official” breakfast time came around again) they chose to ignore all the passengers and only grudgingly found us some coffee and a tiny piece of cake when we insisted.
During the last sector of the flight, I started to focus and stress about what lay ahead, and the enormity of leaving home to travel 10,100 miles into the unknown. Geoff, being a “captive audience” was on the receiving end of quite a “stream of consciousness”, I think. After a bit, he just leaned over and picked up my hand. I think we must have held hands for about 4 hours. He was just quietly reassuring.
Finally we touched down and disembarked into the Heathrow Arrivals area.
One final big hug and a reassuring “You’ll be just fine” and Geoff gave his slightly crooked grin, walked towards the “British Passport Holders” queue and out of my life. (I never saw him again).
Alone, I headed for the Ladies’ bathroom, in a vain attempt to freshen up. I was struck with how over-dressed I was in my jeans and long-sleeved black top. I hadn’t expected England to be so warm!
I joined the “All Other Passports” line and cleared Immigration.
Hot, bothered, overdressed, stressed and somewhat struck by the weirdness of having spent much of the previous 30 hours in the company of my Ex, I took a deep breath and pushed my luggage trolley through the doors opening onto the “Meet and Greet” rope.
My eyes frantically scanned the waiting crowd for a familiar face. Had Neil come? Was he there? And then I saw. Right in the centre. He was waiting with shining eyes and an encouraging smile.
Eternally relieved, I greeted Neil quickly, still preoccupied by how hot, sticky and grimy I was.
We found Neil’s car, and on the passenger seat was waiting a small Teddy Bear holding a red carnation and a handwritten “Welcome to England” note.
As Neil made a deft right turn out of the airport, I played with the bear, who I immediately named “Theodore” (the middle name of my piano teacher), and smiled. A beautiful gift from a wonderful man, who knew me well enough to strike just the right note. Conversation flowed easily. The days, weeks and months apart melted away.
I had given in to so many doubts. But Neil had not. He was here, as promised. He was entirely consistent and reliable. He was completely faithful.
All our hopes and dreams and plans could come to fruition.
Great is your Faithfulness…