Two days. That’s how long the ‘dash’ home took me. Being close to the border with Ecuador I had to jump on a night bus back up to Bogota, delayed for 3 hours by a landslide. Only comparatively short but felt double that thanks to seat encroachment by my pervy soldier neighbour. I killed a few hours in Bogota shopping and running around before I needed to make my way to the airport for a flight to Madrid.
As Dave kindly pointed out, a last-minute one-way flight from Colombia to Europe should have automatically signed me up for a full cavity search but I was lucky. The flight was fine, if three hours late. My connection was being booked as I was in the sky so I had to jump straight on the net on arrival to discover where to go. Opened the email with 50 minutes until the flight departed. From another terminal, a motorway and a bus ride away. Bugger. You don’t know til you try so I set off anyway at a run, scarcely more than a waddle when fully saddled with the backpack.
Rushed to the check-in desk for a connection to Birmingham via Copenhagen (!) and presented myself 30 minutes before the flight was due to take off. Completely unflustered the lady checked my luggage in and pointed me towards security. Disaster! Here they uncovered two bottles of Colombian booze, packaged in a proper airport security bag but purchased outside the EU and therefore, forbidden. They suggested that I could check it in if the airline would allow it so off I trotted back to the check-in desk to ask the lady to pop it in. No amount of wrangling could find a satisfactory packing solution and she pointed out that I now had 15 minutes before the flight took off. I trudged back to security on the brink of inexplicable tears, stuffing the bottles back in my bag and fully expecting them to be confiscated. Popped my bag on the scanner and waited for the inevitable.
Out came the bag. No one made any move towards it. I glanced shiftly to each side, grabbed the bag and dashed off as fast as my little legs would carry me. Hoorah! Bootleg tastes all the sweeter.
Got back to the UK to reports that Grandad was sitting up in his chair in hospital picking out horses he wanted to have a flutter on, earning him the nickname Lazarus in the process. His lungs were failing as a result of asbestosis and he had taken to calling himself Puffing Bill, after a steam train that used to run from Plymouth to Lyme Regis. As a ‘Get Well’ gift, we adopted him a Puffin in the highlands and named it Bill. Alas, the recovery was not permanent and three weeks later, after spending precious extra time with family gathered from all around the world, he let go.
I was lucky. The day before he died I had sat with him for several hours, watching quiz shows, eating mouthfuls of cake and hearing about his family tree, how his Grandmother was a school ma’am and his father was born to the groom of a castle. Even that day he had sent me down to put his £3 on at the bookies and enjoyed an evening tot of whiskey. But it didn’t stop me bursting into tears as I drove down the motorway to London when the news broke. A white van was playing a traditional game of cat-and-mouse with me as I drove. When they overtook for the upteenth time one of them had found a cat mask from somewhere and was wearing it, waving. Tears were streaming down my face and, obviously worried that they’d harassed me a taunt too far, they sped off into the distance. Chortle!
Twinmas was muted as a result, but Christmas was a jolly family affair as usual. Lunch for 18 (Becci and me at the helm, ably assisted by a couple of aunties), tea for 40, spoof nativity, Father Christmas, Wii dance-off and karaoke til past 3am. We blew the cobwebs away with a morning walk on Dundry hill from where on a nice clear winter’s day you can see all three of Bristol’s main bridges. Spectacular. In between events, I busied myself selling any old stuff in the parental home that wasn’t nailed down.
The funeral was uplifting and celebratory. Grandma had brilliantly chosen two Bob Marley tracks to incorporate, feeling it a fitting tribute to his love of the Caribbean. Dad’s eulogy had some good gags; Ashley’s tribute spoke of happy holidays down at the caravan in Winkleigh. The poems included the lines ‘why cry for a soul set free’, ‘miss me – but let me go’ and ‘why should I be out of mind just because I am out of sight’. As a fun mark of respect, a few of us went down to place a memorial flutter on the horses at Grandad’s BetFred shop, selecting horses in races near the 1pm service time. When we checked them later that night, we’d all won. Pa banked over £300! It even made the paper. He had a wicked sense of humour – would have loved it.
And of course there was a boozy wake where we traded stories (too many good ones to regale here) and wound up in Street’s one and only nightclub. I’m quite sure he would have approved. Check out this pic of him in his hey day.
And they wonder where we got it from.