Home from the holidays

Well, we’re back. I can’t pretend we’ve suffered terribly as ash refugees. I’ve just been looking at those pictures of poor people sleeping on the floor of Bangkok airport ( I hope they had some Cillit Bang to give the place a good going over before lying down) and I had loads of texts and emails from friends stuck on looless trains all over Europe at the height of the hoo-ha.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that, as usual, I landed on my feet (a big thank you to the poor tired gods who spend all their days looking after me and mine). Stuck in Barbados! I really don’t think there could be a better place to be marooned.  Think Robinson Crusoe, but surround him with branches of Diamonds International, dress him in a polo shirt in this season’s pistachio green, invite him to loads of parties and stick a large rum punch in his hand.

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My lovely friend couldn’t have been more charming about having us to stay for an extra six days. It was fantastic to have more of a chance to catch up – the originally planned ten days was far too short.

Barbados is a paradise on earth, but for those who live there year-round there are disadvantages – the cost of living, and particularly of food, is very high indeed. A lot of food is imported from the US but, even so, if Barbados’s cows are having a bit of an off day, there’s not much milk available. Anywhere. The joys of island life.

My friend didn’t bat an eyelid, however, at the considerable extra expense and inconvenience of guests who have no foreseeable departure date, and was wonderfully kind and welcoming to us all, even when we put all the breakfast cereal back in the cupboard instead of the fridge, and it was full of ants by morning.

All Bajans have fridges as big as houses, and everything, but everything, goes in them to protect from the heat and humidity. By the end, we were pretty well trained – though I was going a bit far when I put the insect repellent in the fridge.

No repellents worked, though, even lovely cool ones – we have mosquito bites ON our mosquito bites. But, as usual, there is a silver lining – Child Two is doing a project on the Black Death so I have taken some snaps of her very own leg, which looks like a perfect text-book example of bubonic plague.

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 Of course we chipped in at the supermarket and also took my friend out for a few meals, which I’m hoping lovely Richard Branson will compensate us for. I did think this would be covered by my travel insurance, which I bought in a flurry just before we left. I was sure I’d printed off a copy and kept vaguely looking around for it when the ash drama was at its height, but of course it wasn’t until we were finally packing to go that I found it and discovered that I’d got the cheap kind which doesn’t cover flight cancellation. I do remember thinking, ‘flight cancellation? But why would a flight ever be cancelled?’ Doh!

One stroke of luck was that I booked our travel tickets through www.dialaflight.com. Normally I would have just got them direct from the Virgin website. This time, my gods were working overtime. I found dialaflight via Google, thought they looked good and  and then booked the tickets over the phone, which I have never, ever done before (Mr X was the family travel agent in days of yore) and was impressed with the cheerful, speedy service, which even included a call the day before to make sure I hadn’t forgotten we were going!

Dialaflight really came into their own, though, when I received a terse text from Virgin the day before we were booked to fly home, abruptly cancelling the flight. Of course, I was well aware by then of the troubles in Europe and was braced for more or less anything. I immediately rang dialaflight and within five minutes I was booked on the first available flight back – 24th April. Obviously, I knew there could be a lot more thrills and spills involved, but the dialaflight lady said, ‘if that flight goes, you’ll be on it,’ and so it proved. It took just one call (though I admit I did ring them one more time before flying just to make sure, only because I was getting a bit nervy, it wasn’t necessary). All over the island, I heard tales of people ringing BAA and Virgin constantly and getting nowhere, and almost all the other ash refugees I met had later departure dates. There was a rumour that one Virgin flight left before mine, with a load of VIPs on it. We were all pretty jealous of that. But dialaflight really did me proud. If I’d just booked via the Virgin website, I’d be a lot more stressed than I am. A friend in South Africa has been ringing, emailing and visiting the SAA offices constantly for nearly ten days – how awful that must be.

By the way, I’m not getting a sausage from dialaflight for mentioning them – though they can certainly pay to advertise chez moi if they like – I am just genuinely very grateful to them for getting us home.

More on the holiday tomorrow – jetlag permitting ….

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