Disclaimer Again: The story in this post has nothing to with any real persons, places, procedures and events and any resemblance thereto is purely coincidental.
The flight that took off from IGIA at 6:00am IST (departure with 2:30hrs delay), was hovering over east of London at about 8:00am GMT of 13th Jan. Not to mention, I liked the in-flight entertainment of British Airways, no comparison with any Domestic Indian liner. All was well until Pilot informed that due to heavy snow, landing clearance will take a while and switched off the seat belt sign after putting it on for landing once, so that passengers could use conveniences again. It was indeed thoughtful. I have seen on domestic flights that even after knowing that they are in queue and will have to encircle half of UP before landing at IGI, pilots do not switch off seatbelt sign. My fellow travelers, an elderly couple from Delhi, who were to catch a connecting flight for visiting their daughter in Philadelphia, US were still hopeful of making it in time to catch their noon flight. Myself was very confident as my connecting flight BA1332 to Newcastle was at 12:30pm.
We hovered over a quarter of England before eventually touching down. But, the pilot informed that the parking bay was not available and it would take another while before we could disembark. We could come out of plane not before 11:00am and cleared immigration in half an hour.
Before clearing immigration, I came to know that the connecting flight BA 1332 had been cancelled. I was effortlessly guided by BA staff to outside the arrival area. There I was told to approach the flight disruptions counter of British airways. There, the helpful and immensely beautiful lady informed me that I will have to catch a coach (bus) arranged by BA to Newcastle and my checked in luggage will be delivered within 24 hrs. This ringed a bell and I asked her to confirm whether it will be done in 24 hrs. She blinked. And told that as this was an extraordinary situation, it might take more. What extraordinary? She told that about 90% of inbound and outbound flights had been cancelled and I was lucky to have landed. Lucky.
I was to leave Newcastle on 16th morning for my return journey. So I inquired her whether it was possible to collect my baggage from the London airport itself and then leave for Newcastle. She said yes, I could go down the hall and queue up at a door. I went there and stood expectantly in the relatively small but unmoving queue. I was still not fully aware of the enormity of disruptions in services that day. I reached to the head of the queue expecting my luggage to be delivered, but was told to take off my shoes, belt, all metallic objects in my person and put them in trays and my hand baggage, for x-ray scan. They noted down my passport number and did my security check and let me into the baggage claim area. The lady who escorted us so far from the queue told us that within 15 minutes the luggage for flight BA 1332 would start arriving on carousel number 10.
There are just about 14 belts in this claim area at terminal 5 of Heathrow. Now the situation started to dawn upon me. There were scores of passengers moving around anxiously, asking and searching for their checked in baggages. Scores of domestic as well as international flights had been cancelled and their luggage had been pouring in on various belts. I was wondering about the plight of my fellow traveler elderly couple.
As advised by someone, I had purchased a Vodafone sim card for 10GBP from the vending machine. But it had no balance and there was now way I could recharge it from within the Luggage area. I used the payphone with credit card to inform my colleagues at Newcastle and office back in India about the situation I was in.(I made calls worth just Rs 5000 that day) The situation was so hopeless that I was sure that if I left my luggage there, there was no way it would reach me at Newcastle by 15th Jan. In any case my office hours of 13th Jan had been scrapped by delay of incoming and cancellation of the onward flight and seeing the weather and prevalent chaos, I was not sure even whether the next day would be normal.
So myself, alongwith a motley group of passengers of my cancelled connecting flight, who had arrived from different locations, patiently started waiting at the belt 10. In the meantime, someone distributed snacks to passengers. I was also carrying the 10GBP voucher given to me by the disruptions counters for buying snacks etc, from the airport shops all of which were outside the baggage area and I was told that the queue for getting into the baggage area had grown much longer. I could not afford my absence from belt 10. But any baggage for BA1332 was not seen coming despite repeated assurances from the airport and airline staff.
A family with two teenaged girls, their mother and granny was getting anxious as it was one of the girls’ graduation the next morning at Newcastle and they did not have much as cabin baggage. All their dresses and accessories and documents were not with them. Even though their first language was not English, this much I could easily make out from their internal conversation and some shoulder sharing chats. I also noticed a very decent and helpful British couple. When these girls let their vocal cords loose, some movement happened and staff member came and read out the tag numbers of our baggages to the back room staff over his mobile. This gave us the hope of some swift action. Before leaving for the baggage handling area, he informed that these baggages will arrive at Carousel no 8. We expectantly huddled around the potent carousel 8. For 15 minutes same old baggages kept circulating. The helpful gentleman helped another man recover and pick his baggage, which was one of the first recoveries for the BA1332. Glimmer of hope was visible in the eyes of this helpful gentleman and many others. A mother daughter duo had been silently waiting and they looked eager to get their bags. The girl looked like Nicole Kidman, but was younger.
In the meantime, the PA system also kept announcing that the baggage of all the cancelled connecting domestic flights was coming on carousel no 3, which was a mile away from 8. Remembering platform changes announcement on our railway station, we made a couple of trips to Belt 3 expecting to catch a glimpse of my old companion which was carrying some of my most favourite clothes and lot of eatable goodies alongwith all the undergarments, including thermals. My cabin baggage had got a coupe of woolens, toiletries, cameras and chargers and the office documents. I had not eaten anything after the jetlagged breakfast and exhaustion and despair was writ large all over my face.
I made a couple of rounds of the ‘mile long’ baggage claim area searching for my hallowed strolley among the luggages of fall brands, hues, origins and destinations lying all over the place and the common uninteresting suspects carousing around the belts repeatedly. It was a sight to hate to see the same baggage doing nth round. I was dying to catch a glimpse of my rundown strolley which was gifted to my brother on the inaugural run of Delhi Metro. The feeling of loss couple with my location in a faraway place all alone was dreadful. On hindsight, I received so many ideas about having left and purchased suits and all and claimed from BA or having spent the night in a BA sponsored hotel, but at that time I had only tow objectives, one to get my baggage and second, to join the meeting next morning. I could have prepared myself better for such eventuality, had I not been so much caught up in the visa process. It was heartbreaking, to say in short.
At about 8:00pm I thought enough was enough and shunning all hopes of getting my baggage or at least while I was in UK, I filled up the PIR form and also the request for delivery to my home place after 15th Jan. I did not take a copy of PIR form and number, which was asked by travel insurer later, when I tried to get some relief fro them. Insurance seldom pays. Despite that, remember to do that.
My body and soul was defeated and tired and I came out of the area and again enquired about the coach to Newcastle. The fear of no coach being available then was also crossing me. Fortunately, a very helping kind of staff escorted me to a place where I was very relieved to again find most of my fellow travelers of BA1332, who had been my companion in waiting for the luggages. Honeslty, It was a huge relief to know that I would be traveling to an unfamiliar place on an unfamiliar route with some familiar faces. I also spotted the helpful couple and I asked the gentleman about his luggage. He could get only one of their three. We chatted a bit and he advised me to purchase some eatable from the M&S store and I rushed and got some cut fruits, sandwiches, nuts, chips etc. Four coaches were scheduled to start soon, one each for Manchester, Edinburg, Glasgow and Newcastle. The one to Newcastle was the last to arrive and I boarded the warm coach and the Nicole Kidman look-alike daughter of the mother-daughter duo was my fellow traveler. We short of exchanged our eatables on the way. It was starting to snow and the windscreen of the Volvo did not have a defogger/demister. The driver was driving with some work of extrapolation. The condition of highway was not bad. Heating was on in full flow and it was almost roasting my ankles. Jacket had to go off. I vouch it was not easy handling the heavy jacket, documents, camera, and the eatable in that cramped seat, without discomforting the neighbor, who fortunately was pretty and understanding.
At about 2:00 am the driver halted at some highway shop where the convenience store and a Coffee shop was open, and the store did have male undergarments but no thermals. I strolled around the place, freshened up and thus spent the 45 minutes of the halt. At about 3:30 we were at the Newcastle airport. It was snowing when we disembarked from the bus. I remember the words of Woodland salesman who vouched tha the jacket was good even for snow and rain. The benign British couple, whose leave alone contact details, I could not ask even names, were kind enough to arrange taxi for me and have me dropped at my hotel New Northumbria in Jesmond area of Newcastle. I checked in at 4:00am, 14th Jan, 2010.
In the morning borrowed a shirt from colleagues and was ready to leave for work at about 8:30am. The hotel is converted from row houses and I got a decent room, except that it had only one international power point and that was for shaver in the bathroom. But I managed to sufficienty charge my mobile, handycam and camera. No, we usually do not travel with good for nothing things like laptop etc.
Newcastle upon Tyne, one of the many ‘Newcastles’ around world acquires its complete name from the River Tyne on whose bank it is located in the North Eastern England, about 300 miles away from London. It is located in the ceremonial county of ‘Tyne and Wear’ and the historical and traditional county of Northumberland. It is a city with a lot of history, right from the times of roman settlements through latter political turmoil.
“Newcastle upon Tyne (often shortened to Newcastle) is a city and metropolitan borough of Tyne and Wear, in North East England. Situated on the north bank of the River Tyne, the city developed in the area that was the location of the Roman settlement called Pons Aelius, though it owes its name to the castle built in 1080, by Robert II, Duke of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. The city grew as an important centre for the wool trade and it later became a major coal mining area. The port developed in the 16th century and, along with the shipyards lower down the river, was amongst the world’s largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centres. These industries have since experienced severe decline and closure, and the city today is largely a business and cultural centre, with a particular reputation for nightlife.
Like most cities, Newcastle has a diverse cross section, from areas of poverty to areas of affluence. Among its main icons are Newcastle Brown Ale, a leading brand of beer, Newcastle United F.C., a Football League Championship team, and the Tyne Bridge. It has hosted the world’s most popular half marathon, the Great North Run, since it began in 1981.The city is the twentieth most populous in England; the larger Tyneside conurbation, of which Newcastle forms part, is the sixth most populous conurbation in the United Kingdom. The regional nickname for people from Newcastle and the surrounding area is Geordie.”
On my first day (my teams second day) in office, we had a great looking and tasting pure vegetarian lunch. I heard the previous day that the vegetarian lunch that the poor unsuspecting souls had arranged for us turned out to have egg (vegetarian) and they had to be at their wits end to arrange pure vegetarian food, a rare and available cuisine. This evening they were hosting a dinner for us at one of the Indian restaurants located on the Gateshed side of the Tyne.
We got off our taxi at the Grey’s monument, dedicated to Lord Charles Grey to honour him for passing the Great Reform act 1832, which granted seats in the house of Commons to newly built industrial towns, and also granting larger number of individuals right to vote. The number of electorate rose after the reform by 60% and no, no ladies were part of the electorate even post reform. Newcatsle upon tyne was one of the major benefactors of the act. Newcastle had emerged as one of the biggest centers of Shipbuilding and other industry including coal mining.
In the monument built in 1838, Lord Grey’s head sits at the top of the 41m high column. The head was struck by lightening in 1941 and it was rebuilt in 1947. Workforce reclaimed from India might have been used.
That evening the monument was being relieved of the Chinese rice lighting that had been adorning it since Christmas probably. The way they were doing it with a huge crane looked as if they were doing some major repairs.
The Monument is located in the centre of City centre, by the side of some of the biggest shopping arcades, the Monument Mall (what else?) and Eldon Square shopping arcade and the Monument Metro station. Our friends of Newcastle had told us that the Grey street is lined up with best in the world Georgian architecture. We then thought them to be joking. They were obviously not.
Did a little shopping for my delayed wardrobe at one of the stores with a good sale tag. It looked so familiar with Made in China tags on most items. Industry of the Industrial town of Newcastle has given way to soft commerce-big stores, MAXX, ASDA, M&S line up the city streets from centre to suburbia. In fact the Eldon Square Shopping Centre, located near the Monument is the largest city centre shopping complex in UK.
Afterwards we thought to catch a taxi for reaching the Tyne quayside and approached a cab. The driver told us to just walk down the Grey street as it was nearby. We walked down the Grey street. The street is a treat to eyes, with identical houses, with signature Georgian architecture lining it in their full glory. The slope of the street, couple with a little curvature was making the set up more exciting. Probably night was hiding the blemishes, in case there were any, but I am sure, the street would look all the more beautiful in daylight.
The street is lined up with eateries, one of them titled Tandoori Nights.
the street houses one of the oldest centre of culture on this side of Tyne, the Theatre Royal. The Sage Gateshed centre is teh new mecca of performing arts, located in the Gateshed borough (the trans-Tyne side)
As we approached the river, one of the most mesmerizing sights started unfolding in front of us. A masonry arch bridge was followed by a gigantic steel bridge.
At the Tyne river bank, people were seen running. At one side was the rather newly built Millennium Bridge with its eye catching, color changing arch and unique design. On the other side were three other bridges viz the Swing Bridge (the lowest and smallest), the Tyne Bridge and finally the Robert Stephenson’s High Level Bridge of 1849, the first road/rail bridge in the world.
These dramatic bridges connect the Northern side of town (Tyne side) to the southern Wear side borough of Gateshed. Gateshed was where we were headed to as our Indian restaurant, picked thoughtfully by the hosts, ‘The Rawal’ was located there. It is a good restaurant which serves an assortment of Chutneys, a novelty that our British friends seemed to have liked, as they did Dahi Bhalla.
Here is a video grab from the Grey street and Tyne river side. While recording night shots, I lower the shutter speed to get enhance light, contrast (sparkling) and colour. This sometimes interferes with the autofocus function. But this was not reason why this video is slightly auto of focus (which i kept trying to correct by zoom in zoom out). Probably the low temperature was the reason.
The next day after work we again strolled in the Grainger town (The city centre) area and with three of four of us being staunch vegetarians, had to settle for pizza dining. It was weekend the streets were busy with youth out to party. Newcastle, an industrial centre of yore has now converted into a centre of nightlife. It was resplendent in the glory of night lights.
The next morning we were to leave for London where we had a short overnight stopover before catching flight back to Delhi. When we reached our hotel, New Northumbria, I casually and hopelessly enquired if there had been any deliveries for myself. To which the lady responded with…. an affirmative… and told me that my luggage had been delivered. I could not believe my ears.
Neither was it easy to believe my eyes when I saw my parted beloved in blue. She was in a good shape, the way I had checked her in at Delhi airport. The tag read Rush in to Newcastle with a date stamp of 14th Jan’10. It was delivered by 15th Evening, well in time before I checked out of the Hotel. I left some eatable stuff in the Hotel room.
Next morning we reached the Newcastle airport, a tidy place and floated over clouds to catch some sun rays, in a while. The sight of another jet flying across is one to behold. The elderly lady next to me was amused when I complimented them on her ear rings, and more so with the term I used for the ear rings.