Well, I guess you’re all saturated by the numerous reports hailing out of Canada, the US, and the UK about polar vortices, ice storms, record frozen temperatures, tidal surges, floods etc.. Basically the sort of climate that would have made Pooh Bear reluctant to ever venture out of Winnipeg, Canada over to the Hundred Akre Wood, Hartfield. He’d much prefer to stay shivering in the woods, I’d imagine. Possibly hunched over a fire with the Pope. One never quite knows.
That said, what better way to spend Christmas than by traveling half the planet and undergoing a temperature shift from 35C to -25C?
Sounds like fun, right? Of course it does.
We were off on our own version of John Candy’s and Steve Martin’s trip.
We waved goodbye to a 35C, sunny Bangkok, heading west on a British Airways 747 towards the more wintry climate of Britain. Not especially chilly at around 5C, but plenty of water to go around. The usual lack of rain over the winter period failing to replenish ground stocks was a myth this year. Floods are all the rage; huffing and puffing the Thames Barrier up against tidal surges has become almost normal. We flew Premium Economy, ostensibly to get a bit more space for Isla and her car seat. She’s entered that “busy two-year-old” stage which means a 13hour flight gained us precisely 2 hours sleep. Not to worry too much as our time was also filled with a drunken youth with a soft Irish accent, bent over by the cabin height because he was about 8ft tall, who was telling us all about how we should enjoy Bangkok with the casual cheerfulness of the easily inebriated. The give away was his repetition of sage advice every minute, his grin telling us he’d entered the goldfish memory phase of wine/spirits/beer induced bibulousness.
Still, that certainly beat the Diplomat’s flight a couple of years back when she sat in a chair only to have a tiny (I hesitate to say wizened) old lady wearing an enormously thick coat perch next to her. Thirty minutes into the flight, her diplomatic serenity was interrupted by the squelchy sliding of two tiny feet under her left thigh as aforementioned wize lady doffed her shoes, curled her legs up under her and then forced them into the Diplomat’s personal space; swiftly followed by jabbing a talon at the screen and saying:
“That. What is That? There.”
“Er? The film? ‘Eat, Pray, Love.'” The diplomatic tone is such a boon. Perhaps Elan Gale should make use of it.
“Yes. You. You, put it on there. For Me. Now.” A finger points at the in-headrest screen.
It’s good to see Canadian diplomacy working well.
Anyway, we bade BA a fond farewell and got on the Terminal 5 hotel bus run to a local Premier Inn. As we were only in the UK for two nights it seemed reasonable to go for business-chic. Lenny Henry’s adverts convinced me, and, to be fair, the place was clean, presentable, modern. Can’t complain at all. What I can moan about though is the 45minute bus ride from T5 to just-outside-T3-on-the-A4. It was raining cats and dogs, but we basically circumnavigated the airport, stopping at five hotels that no one was interested in before eventually pulling up in the purplish glow of PI. Given we did about 5 miles, even the Diplomat was about to lose her legendary patience; though, we did learn all about Vienna eavesdropping on a Singaporean lad who was chatting to (or up) a Chinese girl.
The next day was all about getting the fast Express from T3 into Paddington, then the Bakerloo to Oxford Circus and wandering down an empty Regent Street (check the photo on the left) to a Starbucks. It was cold – about 1C – so we were midway through our planned 60C shift. Oh yes, stories out of Ottawa were telling us it was -25C.
Off we went again; this time Air Canada flight 889 to the 5th coldest capital in the world. A white Christmas had been ordered as we were now a family of five and, by golly, we were going to get it.
As we lazily circled over Ottawa the pilot’s voice came over the stagnant, aerosol borne virus-laden air of the cabin.
“Well, it’s a touch colder than London, eh. Ottawa is currently clear skies, and -25C, eh. ”
There was a pause as he cleared his throat.
“To be honest, folks, those of you needing to drive on from Ottawa tonight. Well, good luck. Freezing rain, eh. I wouldn’t do it.” I’ll swear he chuckled.
Now, for those not in the know, when a Canadian says the weather’s bad, then it means apocalyptic. No one’s going out for a rip, shall we say.
(there is frequent use of explicit language in this Youtube clip; just to warn you before you watch it – but it’s Canadiana in all its glory)
Having managed to get hold of our SUV – which had a heated steering wheel, genius idea! – despite the laconic approach of AVIS personnel trying to say one might not be available despite ordering it 3 months ago, the Diplomat took control with her far superior knowledge of snow and ice driving to usher us all out onto a near four hour crawl south west from Ottawa to Belleville. I attempted to fall into a jet-lag induced coma with the kids but she (rightly) was having none of it. The rain was indeed freezing, an incredibly perilous state of driving affairs as evidenced by the jetsam of cars littering the highway verges.
“Oooh, what’s that? Looks like the Aurora Borealis or a storm’s coming. Funny colours though, Purples and Greens lighting the sky.”
“Those’ll be transformers letting go” came the grim reply from the driver as she hunched over the wheel, peering through the windscreen that was stubbornly insisting on icing over. (We had to stop three times just to scrape it).
No sh*t. Really? Yep, really. We got to Kingston which is normally a welcome glow against Lake Ontario. It was pitch black. Ice storms bring down power lines in short order. Very pretty to see on trees and foliage (check photos below) but a deadly beauty for all that. The temperature outside read -26C. Our endurance continued. We had been on the road for 72hrs from Bangkok and no ice storm was going to stop the Diplomat. Three kids snoring peacefully in the back gave testimony to Canadian fortitude.
Eventually, we chugged off the 401 to our destination; crunched up a driveway under a sparkling night sky (the ice rain had finally eased) and started our Christmas vacation with the welcome that only the Canadians can do when the snow is coming down by the metre. Steve Martin and John Candy would have been proud.
On another note, the situation here in Bangkok is “interesting”. The next round of civil unrest starts Monday. I hear seven major road intersections will be blocked as we move towards the February snap elections. If anything happens, I’ll let you know. For now, I just don’t wear red or yellow when I go cycle. Prudence is best, someone always says
Is this what diplomacy is all about?