Tuesday, 28th June 2011, was like no other day I can ever remember. Everything about it felt different from all the other days that have gone to make up my 65+ years. And it wasn’t just that it didn’t start ‘at home’. We’d been staying at a B&B for nearly a week, while several sets of goodly persons came in and removed all the furniture from the house, piece by piece (it ain’t much fun living in a house with no beds or chairs ― and not having a fridge doesn’t help much, either!). No, the thing that really made it unique was that, by halfway though this particular Tuesday, there would be nowhere, in England, that we could call ‘home’.
Having checked-out of the hotel (a process accompanied by many cheery wishes of ‘Bon Voyage!’ from the staff there, who all knew what we were about to do) the first port of call was the railway station, to pick up our daughter Mia who was coming in from Manchester in order to drive us to the airport later in the day. The train was, as usual, ten minutes late (there’s still no ‘L’ on the end of ‘Arriva’) but we weren’t exactly short of time, so that didn’t matter. I drove us into the centre of Rochdale, and there we went for breakfast, as arranged, at the Sorrento café at the top of Yorkshire Street. Hache and I had often had breakfast there on those Saturday mornings when a car was ‘in for a service’: it sort-of softened the coming financial blow (well, a bit). So going there was just about the last box to be ticked in the Things To Do One Last Time Before Leaving England category. Forty-five minutes later, and now feeling fully recharged after a Full English with Obbligato Toast, I drove back to Elmpark Way for the last time (thereby ticking yet another box: Probably the last time I shall drive a car… as I’m not yet quite senile enough ― or possessed of a large enough death-wish ― to want to drive one in France).
There wasn’t a great deal left to do, that particular, peculiar morning. Everything had gone ― even the chairs. So we dumped the remaining cleaning stuff into the dustbin (having polished up one final window that somehow seemed to have been missed)… and waited for Sally, the Letting Agent, to arrive at noon.
She was on time. She agreed the gas and electricity meter numbers with me, noted anything by way of repairs that I reckoned needed to be done (there were quite a few, starting with re-plastering the living room and working down from there) before making the regulation tour of the premises ― just to make sure we hadn’t filched the cooker, I suppose. It was all very amicable, and all over within thirty minutes. When she’d gone (kindly trusting us with the spare set of keys, which we were to post through the letter-box as we left) all that was left was to phone British Gas and E.on with the agreed numbers. That done, we squeezed into what had once been my little car (we’d given it to Mia and her husband in grateful thanks for offering to ship our stuff out to France for us) and disappeared in the general direction of Bradford. (Ironic, isn’t it? My final trip in the UK, and going to within shouting distance of the building I’d worked in for nearly seventeen years!)
That was when we found we’d packed the SatNav ― deep inside a large cardboard box that had already been sent off to Mia’s place in readiness for shipping with all the other large cardboard boxes. We did have an A-Z of the Leeds-Bradford area, though (yet another relic from my UoB past): it would just have to do. The Travelodge, where we were headed, was (or so it claimed) “only a few minutes walk from the Airport”; and as an airport seemed a big enough target to aim for with a reasonable chance of hitting something close… off we toddled.
I shall not bore you with the details of how many times we got lost and managed to get ourselves un-lost again. Suffice it to say we arrived at the said Travelodge before 3 o’clock (this being a surprise to all concerned).
If you’ve never stayed at the Travelodge at Leeds-Bradford Airport, you’ll have no idea what a strange sort of place it is ― a kind of bricks-and-mortar oasis that feels as though it’s at least ten feet past the end of the world. It sits in splendid isolation, right in the middle of nowhere-in-particular, and all it can offer you is… a bed. There’s no restaurant-cum-snack bar; you can’t even get a drink (which H and I actually felt in need of, at that moment) ― or, at least, you couldn’t when we arrived, because the (partly) alcohol-fuelled vending machine was empty, had been empty for two days, and wasn’t due to be refilled until sometime the following day.
To be honest, that seemed a bit of a long time to wait (not that we’d have been there, anyway). So, after we’d said goodbye to Mia (during the past month, I really have come to believe that one can have too many tearful farewells in single lifetime) we went to Reception (which was, essentially, a desk with a phone on it) and asked the young lady if she knew of some place ― any place would do, though preferably nearish ― where we could go for a meal that evening. And, should the aforesaid food emporium be properly licensed to dispense alcoholic beverages at around three in the afternoon, then so much the better.
She did, indeed, know of such a hostelry. And was it far to walk there? No, indeed, it was not: not much more than a fifteen-or-so minute stroll (having been a systems-analyst for most of my life, I admit that I made a mental note of that last word, in case I should need it for evidence later). I then politely pointed out (a) that she had seen only some twenty-and-not-a-lot summers; (b) that my advanced age could more than triple that score; and, therefore, (c) that not all of my bits ― and here I was thinking of legs, in particular, you understand ― could be counted on to work nearly as efficiently as her bits: So would she care to upwardly-revise her estimate in the light of the new evidence? No, she most definitely would not (and still smiling). She was quite adamant, in fact ― and added coloured local detail to add weight to her opinion. Less than five minutes’ walk, it appeared, would bring us to the local chip-shop. That would be about one-third of the total distance already-covered. After that, simply continuing would take us to the bar-restaurant that stood in the close vicinity of Travelodge’s rival establishment in this district, the Premier Inn.
What could we say (well, at that point, anyway; we found a great deal to say later)? We thanked her graciously, and off we ‘strolled’, as directed. And, nearly 2·5 miles, a little short of forty-five minutes, and a good deal of hip-pain-and-swearing later, we duly arrived at the Restaurant (which I shall not name, bearing in mind what came later in the day, so as to avoid any action for libel). I drank two pints of distinctly average lager (the first of which ‘didn’t touch the sides’) and then we obtained the number of a local taxi company, and thereby returned to the Travelodge considerably quicker than we’d left it).
We returned to the same restaurant, at around seven, and again by taxi, for a meal. The menu had looked really quite good. But the menu had been the cover, not the book! The waitress made a mess of no less than three bottles of red wine by never once driving the corkscrew in far enough (ye gods! it isn’t rocket-science!); and I seemed to have sparked off an in-house debate that would have done justice to the Oxford Union on one of its good days for casually requesting ‘a little butter’ to go with my camembert starter (and yes, you’ve guessed it: the ensuing steak was as tough as old hiking boots).
We didn’t tip.