The Strain from Wuhan

Who would have thought that just a couple of months on from our lofty start to the year and return from our wonderful Orlando vacation, the whole World would change so unrecognisably and so quickly. Countries and their entire populations under Government mandated lockdowns; airlines grounded until further notice and non-essential business forced to close to protect their employees. Unprecedented stimulus packages announced by multiple Governments to prevent huge redundancies across all economic sectors and a new word added to our modern lexicon, the “furlough”.

The World is in as dark a place as I’ve ever known it, forced behind closed doors to hide from from the “invisible enemy”, the Covid-19 corona virus. The title of this post is a play on the title of the 2016 South Korean zombie apocalypse film ‘The Train to Busan’ (which is excellent if you haven’t seen it) and although I’m aware President Trump (of whom I’m no fan) has come under criticism for referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese Virus”, since Wuhan is widely recognised as the location of the first human infections, I hope the title will not cause anyone offence.

As many have put it, this is the most challenging time the planet has faced since World War 2. Hundreds of thousands have fallen ill and a terrible toll of thousands have lost their lives, yet here in the UK, we’re told the worst is yet to come. My own office is currently closed to the public with just a skeleton crew still working, including myself, all of us practicing social distancing where possible and keeping our office doors closed. Those who can be placed on furlough whether to protect them, their vulnerable loved ones and/or their jobs have been so placed. My colleague, Paul is also working from home and with Joseph away from school whilst they are closed, Sarah and I are working just a few hours each day, taking turns to parent whilst the other is out of the house.

Our Five Year Mission has of course been placed on hold; given the economic impact the virus will have, I have taken reduced wages to help keep my business afloat and any thoughts of repaying our mortgage and saving for early retirement have turned simply to making it through the current challenging times. Indeed, the firm in which I am a partner has been trading since 1886, surviving two World Wars and none of us wish it to close during our tenure. I’d mentioned in my last post that a return trip to Orlando was already on the drawing board, and we had in fact booked a 2020 Summer vacation return in February. We’re proceeding on the basis that this will not now happen, as at the current time, not even the experts tasked with keeping us safe and well can be sure when the danger presented by the pandemic will pass.  Joseph’s Birthday party in April has been cancelled, and it’s been some weeks since we’ve seen family and friends. It is of course likely to be even longer before face-to-face meetings with anyone outside our immediate family unit resume.

The only positives to this current situation, if there can ever be such, are that for the meantime, Mirabeau remains ensconced in our garage and I am walking to and from work each day. It’s a little eerie with the lack of people and traffic, but the stillness is also quite beautiful. Pollution levels across the planet have declined, with air quality in industrial nations improving drastically. The worry of loved ones becoming unwell or worse has replaced any of our residual desires for the acquisition of material things, meaning we’re being even more mindful with our spending than we have been in the last couple of years. It’s also been a reminder to us of how privileged and lucky we have been to live our lives in the manner we have to date, and in future not to become complacent, but ever prudent, in planning for the unexpected, even if it is just a “rainy day”.

The thought providing most comfort to me currently, is that “this too shall pass”. The Human race will endure, will beat this terrible virus and I hope will learn the lessons it has taught us. That despite local concerns, such as Brexit in the UK, we are a Global community, and something which affects one Nation can quickly affect all others. That we should turn away from greed and concentrate on bettering circumstances for all of our fellow inhabitants of Earth and work together as neighbours and friends for the greater good. I wish you and your family well dear reader in these extremely worrying times.

Orlando, Florida – 17th January 2020 – 27th January 2020

Having pestered and annoyed all and sundry with my rambling on about a holiday to Florida since early 2019 and booking the vacation shortly after my trip to Huddersfield to see H in August 2019, the wait was finally over on 17th January this year. A very excited Joseph, Sarah and I travelled to Orlando, Florida with my parents on that day marking our most recent jaunt across the Pond since Sarah and I last visited in September 2017, when we left a 2 year old Joseph with my parents in Leeds. For me, it wasn’t just the excitement of a return to one of my favourite places, but the fact that I’d be able to share it with my Son and also my Mum & Dad, who thus far had only ever visited Spain (just the once), and finally being able to show them around all the places I’ve been harping on about since Sarah and I first visited Orlando in 2013.

Having the trip booked for shortly after our return from Christmas also added to my enjoyment of the Festive period, knowing that even though January 2nd would yield a return to the grindstone, just 2 short weeks later I’d be hopping aboard our flight for 10 nights away and a welcome dose of sunshine and fun. I’ll write this post as a daily diary, and I apologise in advance as this might end up being somewhat lengthy!

Thursday, 16th January 2020

I switch on my “out of office” at 1pm and say goodbye to my colleagues until 3rd February. Sarah manages to finish work early too and collects Joseph from school after 3pm. My Dad drives to Scarborough to collect the three of us and our luggage to convey us to their house in Leeds, where the airport taxi collects us early, just after 8pm. It’s a very nice looking and extremely comfortable VW Transporter (a vehicle I’d love to own myself) and before we know it, we arrive at the Premier Inn at Manchester Airport an hour or so later and crash in anticipation of the busy day ahead. I don’t even remember saying goodnight to my folks, whose room is adjacent to ours.

Friday, 17th January 2020

We’re all up early and showered ready to take a taxi to the airport, just a mile away. We arrive just after 8am with more than 3 hours until our flight. After checking in and dropping off luggage (except me – I have all my clothes and gear in my 36l Urban Camo CabinZero backpack, travelling light & carry-on as always!) we clear security and sit down for breakfast at Frankie & Benny’s. I go for their Eggs Benedict which are delicious. We peruse the duty free offerings and Joseph soon demands his first purchase of the holiday, a huge Chupa Chups lollipop (which is in fact a giant plastic lollipop containing 15 actual lollipops). After paying £12 for the sweets (which will at least keep Joseph happy for a short while), we board our Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flight, named “Forever Young” and settle in for the 9 hour plus journey. We lose ourselves in Vera, the onboard in-flight entertainment (I swear, I didn’t cry at the finale of Avengers: Endgame) and Joseph copes well for the majority of the time but gets bored after 7 or so hours. We have bought him a new toy he doesn’t know about however, which placates him a little once he receives it.

Touchdown in Orlando at around 15:00 local time (20:00 at home) and after clearing security, which takes more than an hour much to my Dad’s chagrin, we collect our luggage, ride the monorail to the main terminal and head for the Lynx 42 bus to International Drive. Just $2 each fare and Joseph is free; a substantial saving on an airport taxi or Mears motor shuttle. We rode this bus on our last trip as one of my “experiments”, but this trip, as we seem to be riding at the time when there is a shift-change at the many businesses along the route,  it takes more than an hour to reach our Hotel, the Rosen Inn Closest to Universal (this will be our third stay at this location; it’s a more “affordable” hotel, but is always clean and comfortable, plus the location is brilliant for Universal, just 20 minutes away on foot), by which time Joseph has fallen asleep on my lap. We check in (after being accosted by Wyndham timeshare sellers) and quickly unpack the essentials before heading out for dinner at my favourite Denny’s just a short walk away. As with our last trip, I start with the Bacon Cheese & Sriracha Burger with jalapenos, which my Father enjoys too. Then it’s back to the hotel and a long awaited sleep.

Saturday, 18th January 2020

Effectively ‘Day 1’; after breakfast at Denny’s (Grand Slamwhich for me, something I’ve been really looking forward to!) the first order of business is to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It’s a warm day for us pale white English folk; around 21C, what we would consider a good Summer’s day. We take the shuttle bus provided by the Hotel and find the park is busy; Sarah really wants to ride the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Roller Coaster at Hogsmeade, but the wait time is more than 3 hours when we arrive and understandably she’s not prepared to stand and wait for that length of time. We ride the Hogwarts Express between Studios and Islands of Adventure, as the wait time is just 20 minutes. Sarah enjoys a hot Butterbeer, something she was denied on the last trip as it wasn’t considered cold enough to serve, and I have my customary strawberry & peanut butter hard-pack ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s. Joseph enjoys a strawberry soft-serve with hundreds & thousands (read sprinkles, my American friends). The dragon at Diagon Alley appears not to be working properly as it’s not breathing fire, which is a disappointment. Joseph rides the Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster in Fievel’s Playland (he loves roller coasters, and this is pretty much the only one he’s tall enough to ride) with his Mum and then gets soaked playing in the water fountains in the adjacent Curious George play area. He wears his favourite Spider-Man hoodie whilst his t-shirt dries on the back of his stroller.

Our evening meal is care of Margaritaville at Universal CityWalk – we’d warned my parents about the size of the portions they’d encounter in the States in advance, but nevertheless they both order fish & chips and when their meals arrive, one portion is easily enough to feed them both. My Dad balks at the $100 plus check (which we didn’t think was too bad for 5 of us, especially as both Sarah and my Mum had a $13 margarita each. We refer to this as his “black armband”). We decide to take in just two meals a day owing to the portion sizes; breakfast and dinner. Joseph wants all the toys he sees, especially a Transformers toy in the form of a shark, but we leave with no souvenirs as of yet and a promise to him that we’ll buy it the next time we visit (he so often changes his mind about things we think letting him sleep on it is best).

Sunday, 19th January 2020

It’s a little cooler today, around 19C. Today will be a ‘shopping’ day, and after buying a 7 day I-Ride trolley pass at the local Walgreens for the princely sum of $12 each, we travel a few stops down International Drive and hop off outside the largest McDonald’s in the World to walk the rest of the way to the Walmart store on Turkey Lake Road, with a brief stop off at Dollar Tree to give my Dad his Poundland-style fix (I’d planned the short walk on Google Maps Street View in advance to ensure there were footpaths & crosswalks as usual). It’s pretty much the same junk too – he finds the little craft style knife he has heard about on one of the YouTube camping/hiking/zombie apocalypse-prepping channels he watches but as it has a locking blade, it’s unlawful to carry in the UK and as such he decides against it. Having purchased only a few sodas to keep us hydrated, we walk the remaining couple of hundred metres to the nearby Walmart and spend a little time exploring the toy and camping sections as well as the groceries. Dad spots a huge machete for a fairly reasonable price, but doesn’t make a purchase as it’d likely be confiscated at customs and in any event, what possible legitimate use could a Leeds resident have for a machete?! I would say, that even though he didn’t buy it, he spoke of it several times during the trip!

Walmart all but done, we return to International Drive and ride the Trolley to the Premium Outlets at the North end. Sarah takes no time in spotting a new Coach brand handbag she likes together with a matching purse or two and the purchase is quickly made, making sure we’re still on budget for our spending limits each day for the remainder of the holiday. Sarah often stocks up on handbags etc. when we visit the outlets as they’re relatively cheap compared to UK prices and, as it may be another couple of years before we return, she has a new bag ready for when her current one (bought at the Coach outlet during 2017’s trip) has served it’s time. Disappointingly, the kitchenware store where we have often bought a gift for Mum has closed down; this is a real shame as I’d been looking forward to taking her there and finding the latest gadget to aid in her love of baking.

Dinner is served courtesy of Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill, one of our favourite joints on I Drive. We usually visit here a few nights each time we’re in Orlando, as they have so many gluten-free options for Sarah including pizza & pasta and also Redbridge beer. Sarah tucks into her own pepperoni pizza, whilst my folks, Joseph and I share a huge pizza between the 4 of us accompanied by skin-on fries. Delicious. Bellies full, we return to the Hotel via the Trolley, watching the Disney channel until Joseph falls asleep, when it is hastily changed to Food Network, as usual. No Mark Dacascos and Iron Chef America this time though; instead Guy Fieri’s Guy’s Grocery Games is on pretty much constantly.

Monday, 20th January 2020

We had planned to visit Universal’s Volcano Bay water park today, but the temperature has dropped to 16C and as a result, the park is closed. On checking their website, we note that it will not re-open until Thursday owing to the cold weather and as such, we decide to visit on Friday, when the weather is forecast to be 25C and sunny. As we can’t visit any Disney parks until 21st January owing to restrictions on our tickets (they charge different prices for different days, with lower footfall days being cheaper) we decide to return to Universal. It’s packed again, being Martin Luther King Day, a public holiday (of which we were not aware, but then I couldn’t even tell you the Bank Holidays here in the UK!). The wait time for Hagrid is several hours again, and likewise, Sarah decides not to wait. Again, we barely go on any rides; the wait time for everything in Jurassic Park is more than an hour and the River Cruise Ride is closed for maintenance. I ride the Twirl ‘n’ Hurl in the Simpson’s Springfield section of the park with Joseph who then waits in line for another ride on the the Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster, but this time, surprisingly, with Grandma! Before leaving the park, we make sure to visit the store at the Transformers ride (Joseph calls this “the Robot Shop”) and buy him the shark Transformer as he’s not stopped talking about it since that first day.  We walk the 20 minutes or so back to I Drive (to save hanging around waiting for the shuttle bus), where after a brief stop-off at the Hotel, we walk to I-Ride stop 7 and dinner at a place we’ve never tried before, Chili’s. My research noted that there was an offer for which you could get a refillable fountain soda, appetizer and entree for $10. Sounds too good to be true I thought; the portions must be smaller. My appetizer was a huge bowl of tortilla chips and salsa, followed by a bacon cheeseburger & fries, washed down with root beer. And yes, it was just $10. My folks join in on the deal too and Joseph tucks into a cheese and tomato pizza and fries. Sarah has a nice mexican chicken dinner with rice. Night has fallen and by the time we finish our meals, it’s heading towards Joseph’s bed time. We walk the few hundred metres back to the Rosen and settle in for an hour or two of the Disney Channel / Food Network.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020

We have two free breakfast vouchers at the Palms Restaurant in our Hotel and we take advantage of the first of them this morning as today’s the big day; our first of two at Disney World. Originally, we’d planned to go to Hollywood Studios today, but after not being able to book the park shuttle from our hotel or be sure of the local bus timetable, we end up taking a cab to Magic Kingdom. 20 minutes and $50 later, we arrive and ride the monorail to the gates where our pre-bought tickets (I highly recommend magicaltickets.co.uk) glide us through admission with ease. Our research suggested that today would be a quiet day (and maybe it is, by Disney standards!) but we find the park much busier than we expected and again, the wait times for the majority of the rides are between one and two hours. Joseph cannot stand in line for that length of time (he gets bored or needs a comfort break) and as such, again, he barely rides anything. We do all ride the Liberty Square Riverboat, but shortly after departing Joseph announces he needs the toilet and of course there are none on board! A nervous 20 minutes later and we dash off and to the nearest restroom. Having already bought a delightful tea-light holder in the Beauty and the Beast themed part of the Park (perhaps one of the nicest souvenirs we’ve ever purchased on any holiday), Sarah hits the Christmas store and spies a decoration she likes for the tree; a Mickey-shaped iced cookie style bauble (well, not a bauble I suppose as it’s flat, but you get the idea). There’s lots on offer, and Joseph wants anything and everything. We persuade him to wait to look for better toys later in the trip. I’ve forgotten to bring any soda with me and have my own “black armband” moment of the trip by paying $4.50 for a small bottle (just under 600ml) of Diet Coke. I saw a 2 litre bottle for sale in Walmart on Sunday for $1.25. Daylight robbery. We watch the Parade in the afternoon as best we can; there are lots of people doing the same however and it’s difficult to get a good spot but, I try and take as many decent(ish) pictures of the floats as I can. Everyone disperses after the Parade and now being late afternoon and having visited the majority of the shops, we decide to bid the park farewell. A cab takes us to the Vineland Premium Outlets, where Sarah checks the Coach and Disney stores just in case they have anything else she might be interested in after a brief rest break and a far more affordable beverage in the food court there. My Dad’s assessment of Magic Kingdom? “It’s just a ring of shit shops with a fake castle in the middle.” He’s of the view that there should be far more smaller rides, with less concentration on the theme of the park. I remind him that Disney Land is a “theme park”, but he’s definitely more impressed with Universal thus far, as although yes it is heavily themed, there’s more to ride and it’s generally easier to reach and navigate. Can’t say I disagree all that much.

(A few pictures I managed to quickly take of the Parade and a few structures of Magic Kingdom itself – apologies if some of the pictures in this post are blurry; our digital camera isn’t the best despite being a supposedly 20 mega-pixel model!)

We ride the Trolley back to stop 7 again with the intention of going to TGI Friday’s – we’re shown to our table but having not been seen to after 15 minutes even for drinks and there being seemingly nothing on the menu Joseph would like to eat, we leave and cross the road to Chili’s where we take advantage of the $10 deal again. This time, I have a small bowl of chilli (costing $1 dollar more, so $11 in total) for my appetizer and a chicken & cheese quesadilla for my entree. My folks choose from that same menu and Joseph yet again has pizza & fries! For some strange reason, I take off my Last Exit to Nowhere Jack Burton Trucking cap (inspired by John  Carpenter’s ‘Big Trouble in Little China’, which I bought for our first trip to Orlando in 2013) and forget to pick it up when we leave. I return the next day as soon as the restaurant opens to see if anyone has handed it in, to no avail (a replacement was ordered & received on our return, and luckily using the 20% January Sale discount code I had!).

Wednesday 22nd January 2020

Another ‘shopping’ day planned for today, to get over the hustle and bustle of Magic Kingdom the day before. Having already visited a Walmart store, we now visit (in my opinion) a slightly more up-market supermarket in the form of Target in Millenia. Although we had planned on visiting this store in advance in any event (my Dad has always wanted to see a “proper American” supermarket as it’s quite astonishing to us Brits the sheer volume and variety of products on sale. We’d watched a few YouTube videos made by our countrymen marvelling at the very stores we visited), it was quite lucky that we did as we managed to buy a huge Jurassic World Indominus Rex toy Joseph had wanted to buy at Islands of Adventure, but for half the price. Mum also spots a Disney spoon rest she takes a liking to (she’s bought nothing thus far), but alas they’re all damaged in some way. Dad isn’t impressed with their camping section and on the whole decides he prefers Walmart. Mall at Millenia is a short walk away and we visit for two reasons – one, we’ll be having lunch today instead of breakfast and at one of our favourite restaurants The Cheesecake Factory and two, Sarah wants to visit the Tiffany & Co. store to see if they have a particular bracelet she’s set her heart on, which is much cheaper in the States than at home. Alas, it’s not in stock. We’d already learned via my research that the other kitchenware store we frequented in Orlando here at the Mall has also closed down and after a quick trip to a few other shops including department stores Macy’s and Bloomingdales, a disappointed Sarah and we sit down to lunch. I go for a chicken club sandwich and my Dad orders the gumbo, something he’s always wanted to try. It starts to rain as we depart the Mall, but luckily just for a few minutes and it’s dry again by the time we reach the stop to take the short Lynx Bus 24 ride back to the Outlets, from where we catch the Trolley back to the Hotel.

Thursday 23rd January 2020

It’s a second Disney day today, but this time at Hollywood Studios. Joseph and I would like to “fly the Millennium Falcon”, even though he’s no idea at this point in his life what Star Wars is having never seen any of the films; he’s just seen Disney advertising on TV and knows it’s a spaceship ride. A relatively new Star Wars ride has also opened, Rise of the Resistance, something else we’d like to experience if possible. We take a cab to the Park, arriving just after 9am. It’s not as busy as Magic Kingdom was earlier in the week, but on entry we see a notice board to the effect that there is no ‘general line’ for Rise of the Resistance – they are handing out a specified number of passes for it each day, and all for today have already been distributed. It’s a shame, but really I was more intent on riding in the Falcon. We make our way to the ride and the wait time is already 70 minutes. Again, Joseph can’t wait that long and Sarah & my folks entertain him whilst I spend 30 minutes in the single rider line. Whilst there, I overhear conversations of other guests who have been in the park for several hours already, having arrived before 7am. It seems you have to be here extremely early to even have a chance of getting on anything quickly. With small kids, I’m not sure that’s too feasible. The ride itself is ok, but as most are these days it’s just a simulator. The best part is the set decor and scenery, which is straight out of the films and lovely to see. Galaxy’s Edge is extremely well done; I would just have preferred it if it were more styled as per the Lucasfilm Original Trilogy rather than Disney Star Wars, but of course it’s their franchise now and most kids will know the newer characters better. More than anything, it’s an exercise in commerce – there are more shops than rides. Having perused the offerings, I choose a Droid Restraining Bolt magnet for the fridge as my first souvenir of the trip. I’ve seen these changing hands on eBay for upwards of £20, but cost $10 to buy at the Park. My Father suggests I buy a few more specifically to sell online but I decline.

The majority of the rides have multi-hour wait times and again Joseph just can’t wait that long. I find it baffling the sheer number of adults without kids who are queing for essentially children’s entertainment. I know Disney is BIG business, but as a parent I find it quite frustrating that hundreds of adults are taking the places kids could otherwise enjoy. I could in theory have bought a Fast Pass which would get Joseph to the front of every line, but having paid nearly £100 for each of our tickets for each day on Disney property, I take the view it’s a unfair then to ask you to pay almost the same again for a Fast Pass. It’s capitalism and elitism at it’s best – if you can afford to pay big bucks, you can get whatever you want and be first in line.

We find The Incredibles area of the park and Joseph interacts with Mr Incredible and Elastigirl, taking a picture with the latter. Dad buys a soft pretzel in the shape of Mickey Mouse with some cheese dip and a cookie (which sets him back nearly $17), which we share as we walk around the Park. They’re too salty / sweet respectively to eat to one’s self! We spot photo opportunities with two of Joseph’s favourite characters, Vampirina and Doc McStuffins and he patiently waits just a little while for a picture with both before we watch a short Star Wars show with characters coming out on stage (see pictures below). It starts to rain a little and we work our way round to the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy show to get out of the weather. This was absolutely brilliant and my favourite part of the Park – a “lifesize” Lightning McQueen on stage, complete with digitised eyes & mouth. Whilst he talks, the car and its wheels move as if gesturing, the same as in the animated films. We all really enjoy it and Joseph gets a big kick out of seeing “in person” his favourite characters. I take a quick snap of Cruz Ramirez from Cars 3 outside of the theatre.

With the rain continuing, we duck into a few stores and make a couple of fridge magnet purchases. Mum offers to buy Joseph some Mickey lollipops, but having seen they are $7 for seven lollipops my Dad refuses (this must be another “black armband” moment, having shelled out for the food earlier!). After a quick photo with Chip & Dale at the exit, we hop in a cab back to our Hotel. It’s nearly 3pm and the weather has dried out a little; we head out for dinner at Denny’s before resting for the remainder of the day. All of this walking is certainly taking it out of us!

(We took probably more pictures at Hollywood Studios than anywhere else; I haven’t posted them all but as you can tell, we were very impressed with the Galaxy’s Edge part of the park).

Friday 24th January 2020

With the weather returning to the mid twenties today, we ride the Hotel’s shuttle bus to Universal where we catch the connecting shuttle to Volcano Bay. The price of admission is included in our Universal tickets (14 days unlimited park-to-park access) and as it’s such a lovely day we’d be nuts not to take advantage. Joseph has never been swimming before and he’s very excited at the prospect. It’s also the first time my Dad has been swimming with me since I was a little boy and indeed likely more than 30 years since my Mum has worn a swimming costume. We quickly change and rent lockers; Joseph loves the TapuTapu watch each visitor is assigned and insists we register his so that it can open the locker too. It’s not too busy; we’ve arrived not long after the park opened and there are plenty of sun loungers to choose from. Joseph loves the water straight away – it’s quite warm and with us all in with him he has a wonderful time. Especially with Grandad playing “sharks” with him, where he swims under the water with his hand poking out as the fin. Joseph’s a little too small for the tube slides, but he takes a turn on the Lazy River and goes ballistic at Tot Tiki and Runamukka Reefs. Everyone has such a wonderful time for the few hours we’re there, that we decide to come again in the morning.

We skipped breakfast this morning and as such, head to CityWalk for lunch. Margaritaville is the target once more, but there’s nothing on the menu Joseph would like. My folks instead take him to find an alternative, insisting Sarah and I have the time to ourselves for the first time this trip. As such, we duly order Volcano Nachos to share! I forgot to take a picture for the blog, but a quick Google image search would put you in the know. We’ve attempted to demolish this gastronomic challenge at least twice before, failing miserably. This time is no different, meaning we’re 0 for 3. After settling the check, we find Joseph and my folks tucking into a huge ice cream each from Cold Stone Creamery, Joseph having already sunk a hot-dog and fries. I had no idea that the hot-dog takeaway was even there (Hot Dog Hall of Fame, adjacent to Antojitos), and on inspection, I see the huge 2 foot long dog on offer with a choice of toppings and make a note of insisting we visit for lunch one day before we go home. 

No one can decide where to head to for dinner that evening, and as such & given it’s close by, we decide to visit Chili’s for a third time. On arrival however, and given it’s Friday night, the place is packed and there’s a 45 minute wait for a table. We decide to take the Trolley down to stop 11 and Uno’s, which is far less populated at the time of our arrival. I enjoy a Cheese Steak Pizzanini and although I order a garlic bread with cheese for Joseph, he refuses to eat it (I devour it later back at the Hotel – it was delicious!) and instead shares my Mum’s pasta dish and a few of our fries. By the time we’ve finished our meals, it’s clear Joseph is getting tired as he begins to misbehave. Sarah elects to take him back to the Hotel as I and my folks explore a gift shop across the street and find that same spoon rest Mum took a fancy to in Target. As a bonus, it’s cheaper too! Souvenir purchased, we head to the nearby Walgreens where I buy a 2l soda for the night ahead and then we stand and wait 20 minutes for the Trolley back to the Hotel. Should have walked!

Saturday 25th January 2020

We head to Volcano Bay as planned in the morning, but unfortunately, we’ve packed a different pair of swimming shorts for Joseph (yesterday, he was wearing his Spider-Man shorts & shirt) and he’s so upset that he refuses to even get changed. He sits on a sun lounger sobbing for two hours straight and shouting at us when we try to persuade him to get changed and come in the water. We take it in turns to sit with him whilst the others swim, but ultimately after the couple of hours we decide that today’s a bust and head back to Universal Studios. As it’s early afternoon, we take a walk back to I Drive and have breakfast for lunch at Denny’s (woo hoo!). Mum has decided that she’d like to go back to the Outlet and treat herself to a new handbag, one she took a liking to at the Coach store – what she doesn’t realise is that Sarah and I have already bought it for her when she wasn’t looking as a Mother’s Day gift. We ‘fess up but say that she can now buy a purse to match if she wants to return to the Outlet before we go home. We decide to take the Trolley a few stops down I Drive and have a nosey in the numerous gift shops which line it, including the same store we visited yesterday evening. Joseph of course finds a couple of plush Disney Lion Guard characters he’d like and, as everything’s half price, we let him have both. Mum picks up another spoon rest, this time for my Sister who has now finalised her divorce and sold the former matrimonial home. She’s renting a property not far from my parents’ house and Mum has decided this will be a nice house warming gift.

Sunday 26th January 2020

Our last full day in Orlando. Joseph spent the night in Grandma & Grandad’s room last evening to give us the opportunity to get up & out early to give Hagrid’s another shot. We arrive before the park opens at 8am, but still behind several hundred other visitors. As soon as the gates open, everyone makes a bee-line for Hagrid’s. We follow, but find the that the ride is closed due to “an unexpected delay”. Despite this, there’s already a huge line of people waiting for when the ride does eventually open and we decide to come even earlier in the morning and try one last time. The wait time for every other ride is 5 minutes or less, and so we ride the Hogwarts Express back to Studios one last time this trip. My folks walk to meet us as the bus stop for our last visit to Volcano Bay, and whilst waiting for them I finally try a Voodoo Donut (the Voodoo Doll – it cost $5 and whilst it was okay, like the Cinnabon I’d tried when we first visited in 2013, I found it too sickly). Having made sure we’ve packed the right swimming shorts for Joseph, he has a blast as he did that first day, and Dad even takes in the rapid river ride with me. After a few hours everyone is feeling peckish so we depart on the shuttle back to Universal Studios, where my Father and I share a 2 foot long dog with a portion of fries each. Joseph has his own hotdog and fries whilst Mum & Sarah have lunch to themselves at Margaritaville. We all hit Studios again and make sure Joseph has another toy from the Robot Shop. We’d heard there was a Christmas store here too and we do manage to find it and make a purchase or two of decorations for the tree. Returning to Islands of Adventure, the Jurassic Park River Cruise has re-opened, and Joseph, Sarah, Mum & I all hop on. Joseph loves it and immediately insists that Grandad rides it with him & Daddy. We’re sat at the front of the ride boat and it appears I have omitted to inform Dad that 1) he will get wet and 2) there’s a big drop at the end of the ride. He jokingly swears at me but does appear to enjoy the thrill – Joseph asks to ride again but we decide we’re all wet enough already. After a 30 minute wait, we get to meet Blue the Velociraptor from Jurassic World and have a few pictures taken to show his class when he returns to school later in the week.

My one absolutely must-do for this trip was to take a family photo at the Universal Globe; something to look back on in the years to come and reminisce about the time we all went to America together. The spot itself is quite busy and it’s now evening, but we manage to get a decent enough picture (it’s hanging on my office wall as I write) even though Joseph is quite tired at this point and refuses to look at the camera.

We take the walk back to I-Drive again as it’s still warm despite being dark, and decide to explore a few more of the gift stores on the street – a trip to Walgreens for the evening’s refreshments costs us a Batwing toy for Joseph. We’ve left a visit to the Shuttle Shop opposite the Hotel (so called as it has a Space Shuttle on the front) until the last night, but find a lovely Harry Potter carry-on suitcase covered in themed patches that I suggest Sarah buy as it’s only $35 and will be ideal for weekends away. She decides to sleep on it. Uno’s is our destination for our last evening meal in the States – again I share a lovely pizza topped with pepperoni and anchovies with Dad.

Monday 27th January 2020

The last morning we’ll be in Orlando. Joseph stayed with Grandma & Grandad again last night and Sarah & I get up early to arrive at Islands of Adventure 30 minutes before opening, but again, there are hundreds of people in front of us and all seemingly heading for the Hagrid ride as the gates are opened. By the time we reach the line, the wait time is as usual more than an hour. Although this is our last opportunity, Sarah decides not to try and wait and it’s marked on the list of things to ensure we do next trip. The shame of it is, that in addition to missing out on this new ride, the wait time for everything else is just 5 minutes, meaning Joseph could have ridden more of the attractions at Jurassic Park. The dragon at Diagon Alley has also been repaired and is breathing fire again. The Universal globe, where we hastily took our family photo last night is all but deserted and would have made for an excellent opportunity for a better picture today. Dejected, we leave the park after less than an hour and take a cab back to the Rosen Inn. As we’ll be flying home today, of course that means I have to have one last breakfast at Denny’s, a Super Duper Slam with just 2 pancakes. I make good on my threat made during planning for the holiday, to have a chocolate & peanut butter shake to accompany it, but it’s just too much to sink down all of it. We return to the Rosen to check out and they kindly agree to take care of our luggage in their store room whilst we take one more trip to the Outlets so that Mum can pick up a purse to match the bag we bought for her last week. A final pilgrimage to Walgreens follows so that Joseph can be treated to the Penguin ‘Copter he’d been looking at the night before to complement his Batwing. All in all, we’ve spent less than half of the money we allocated for gifts and food for Joseph, but he’s certainly taking home more than half a dozen new toys. Sarah returns to the Shuttle Shop to buy the Harry Potter themed carry-on case. A cab conveys us to the Airport (my fun riding the bus to the Hotel that first night was not shared by my family!) and we check in our luggage with Virgin Atlantic, amused that our flight home is the only Virgin Flight due to depart MCO that day. A final sweep of the Universal & Disney offerings is made at the Airport stores; Joseph finally gets his Mickey lollipops but Sarah is content with her purchases made to date. I find the Kennedy Space Center store and pick up a NASA fridge magnet, just my second and last souvenir of the trip.

It’s a breeze through security and then the monorail to the gate; I imagine seeing myself and my family, 10 days ago, excitedly jumping off the counterpart train coming the other way, ready for what lies ahead. It’s been a lovely vacation and whilst part of me is ready for the inevitable return to a cold and rainy Scarborough winter, I will still miss all of my favourite sights, sounds and flavours of this wonderful city. It’s never goodbye; always “until the next adventure”.

The flight home aboard “Barbarella” is a “red eye”, leaving at 18:40 local time, but it’s 23:40 in Manchester. We settle in and I watch “Zombieland 2: Double Tap” and “Detective Pikachu” before trying to close my eyes for a short while listening to the dulcet tones of Brian Johnson via AC/DC’s “Back in Black” on the Vera entertainment package. I manage no sleep (I rarely do on flights) but after a couple of hours Joseph is fast on. It’s a bumpy 7 hours (at one point reaching a ground speed of 701 mph with tail winds) but we touch down safely and recover all our belongings intact before hopping aboard the waiting airport taxi back to Leeds (Joseph is fast asleep again in minutes) which takes a little longer than the ride to Manchester, given that it’s rush hour and everyone is trying to make their commute to work. After a brief respite in Leeds, my Dad insists on driving us to Scarborough where the washing machine waits; his return home is then bolstered by a can of much needed Monster Energy Drink but he arrives safely. Joseph and I make it until around 19:30 before crashing; Sarah joins me later and we all sleep solidly until 11:30 the next morning. My folks are pretty much the same, crashing not long after Dad made it home and sleeping for more than 12 hours.

It’s taken me nearly a month to write this post, and I have to admit I’ve found it rather difficult, something I’d not expected. I can’t really put my finger on why; by-and-large we all had a wonderful time, but because it was such a different experience to our previous trips to Orlando, my emotions about it are somewhat different too. There are certainly things we’d hoped to do that did not come to pass – Sarah missed out on the Hagrid coaster after several attempts and despite spending a good amount of time at Universal, we’d spent not nearly as much time there as would be usual for us when it was just the two of us. I had hoped to visit the Kennedy Space Center with my Dad, but I think we’d underestimated how much we’d already planned to do and the time and our energy reserves just ran out on us. The magnet I bought at the Airport is a constant and daily reminder to me that we have “unfinished business” in Orlando and I suspect it won’t be long before planning commences on our return to put those wrongs right.

The players change, but the game remains the same

Being a socialist (if you haven’t gleaned as much already) and a devoted follower of Star Trek and its tenets of a society without poverty, war or hunger (at least on Earth), I have often yearned for such a reality in my own lifetime. In the December 2019 General Election campaign here in the UK, my party of choice, Labour, campaigned on a number of social policies which I had hoped gleaned the start of the society for which I have longed for many years. Alas, under our first-past-the-post electoral system, the Conservative Party won by their largest margin since the 1980s when the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher ruled with an iron fist, having raided and sold the country’s state-owned assets. It seems therefore, that the future I want for all my fellow inhabitants of this planet will have to wait for at least another 5 years to even begin here in the UK.

Now, I don’t want to ramble on about politics for the whole of this post, but at this time of year, I inevitably turn to my film collection and amongst the more modern classics that are Die Hard (which IS a Christmas film!) and Home Alone, I will also watch at least several celluloid adaptations of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. What often strikes me when watching those films is that despite taking place in the mid 19th Century, the story itself remains relevant, even today nearly 200 years later. You see, despite the enormous advances in science, technology and medicine, socially, we still operate a system where the rich seem to get richer and the poor remain poor. And this appears to be the way that those in Government, the political elite, like it and wish it to stay (they themselves being largely rich either by luck of their birth or as a result of their businesses). Nearly a decade of austerity does not seem to have changed the hearts and minds of the populace here in the UK, who as I’ve said voted overwhelmingly for the Conservatives again just weeks ago, although I suspect that the issue of ‘Brexit’ was largely the deciding factor, the people wanting to “get it done” to pinch the Conservatives mantra, to end the uncertainty around the subject. The fear for many, is that now our healthcare system, the beloved NHS and our social services, will be sold on to private organisations, likely from the United States as part of a trade deal with Trump’s administration, run for profit (which they will seek to maximise) ensuring that the cost of the service is no longer free at point of delivery. This will likely lead to either a two-tiered system where those who can afford better care do so, or an insurance based system, leaving those who can’t afford the premiums high and dry with little to no care at all. We revel in Ebeneezer Scrooge’s realisation that hoarding money does not bring happiness, which can only be found in sharing love and experience as well as wealth with others and joy in his helping Tiny Tim overcome his illness and live. But in our own lives, we’re still only fixated on our own wealth & well-being. Again, the warnings of the past go unheeded and we repeat the same behaviours ad infinitum, ignoring the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves.

2019 has been a very good year for me and my family; our 5 Year Mission is proving a success, seeing all debts but our mortgage repaid, and we’ve actually managed to repay 10% of the balance of that loan too with careful budgeting. I have got to where I am largely due to a lot of luck and support from my friends and family. In 2020, I want to do more to help others. It’s unlikely that those in Government will do what needs to be done to heal our societal ills, so I will do what I can to “be the change I want to see in the world”, and hope you will too dear reader.

May I take this opportunity of wishing you a very happy festive period and all the best for 2020. Thank you for sharing the last year with me.

Happy Birthday BRHH

This coming Saturday will mark the first anniversary of my very first post on this my blog. At the time of writing, I have a handful of followers who have seemingly enjoyed reading my posts such that they decided they might like to read more; I find that astonishing, especially considering my posts are so personal. I find writing here quite a cathartic way to record my ramblings so that should I expire before my Son Joseph has had the opportunity of knowing me, he might discover something about his old man in these electronic pages. Hopefully, something which might help him understand and make sense of this ever complicated and confusing world in which we live. So, to those who have read my posts and my few followers, I say a heartfelt thank you and I hope you’ve found value in them even in some small way.

This will be a short post today, more to mark the occasion than anything else, but I think getting outdoors as a result of wanting to write hiking posts for the blog, into the fresh air and reminiscing on foot during my few walks has made 2019 a very memorable year for me, not least because I managed to get the WRHW off my chest, after 17 years, in early April. With next year being my 40th on this island Earth, I’m hoping I might do a hike of slightly more epic proportions to celebrate (perhaps even cross-country, rather than in an urban setting), but I’ll write about that more in a future post. I hope there’s lots more in store during the course of 2020, that you dear reader have had a happy and prosperous 2019 and have enjoyed sharing the last year with me.

 

 

The meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything…

The clear answer to that question, for the nerdy among us, is 42. Whilst this is of course the result of eons of contemplation by the supercomputer Deep Thought in Douglas Adams’ legendary novels (and later mini-series and film) The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, the ‘real’ answer to this all-encompassing existential and philosophical question is one that still, and perhaps always will, defy a firm definition. The reason for this, I believe, is because the answer will be different for everyone. It’s a subjective question, the result of which varies person-to-person based on their circumstances, wants & needs. Objectively, I suppose the answer to the question is simply to survive for as long as possible and for me, to be as happy & content as I can be with my life. A special mention today goes out to my Mum as it’s her Birthday and of course without her (and Dad!) I wouldn’t have a life at all. Happy Birthday, Mum. I love you.

Life is, I think, a struggle for just about everyone. Even the rich and (in)famous don’t have as easy a life as we might think; their challenges and stresses will doubtless be different from our own but they are there nonetheless. People may try to paper over the cracks of their worries and anxieties by posting on social media about how wonderful their lives are and how great everything is going, but often such posts show only a facet of their life and all too many of them are largely I believe, and I hesitate to say, fake. Social media is I feel a veneer which at best many apply to their lives to make themselves feel better about who they are or where they are positioned in the socio-economic structure or at worst, make others feel bad for the same reason by comparison. Corporations also use social media as a sales platform, with the suggestion that buying their products will enhance our lives or make us better people. Whilst that might be true for some products (tools which may aid us in our work or hobbies), I feel that only education and experience make us better people and although some products may make life easier, the only ‘product’ which will actually make us better are books.

Financially, I’m pleased to report that our 5 Year Mission has been successful in its first year, seeing Sarah’s Student Loan repaid and my car loan on Mirabeau discharged (a saving of just £50 per month but more than £500 off the total I would have paid had I let the loan run its full course). We have had additional projects this year with funding renovations at home and with saving up for Orlando next year, otherwise my Student Loan and a single figure percentage of our mortgage might also have been cleared. A sizeable chunk of my student loan, approximately 30 to 40% I think, will be repaid in January when I make my self-assessment Income Tax payment and I hope the remainder will be discharged during the course of 2020. Our fixed-rate period on our mortgage will need to be reviewed in the coming months also, if not just to ensure that our payments don’t increase going forward as a result of interest rate hikes. All things considered, I don’t think there’s anything else we could realistically do to improve on the monetary side of things.

At home however, things are proving a bit of a struggle of late. Both Sarah and I work full-time and Sarah also has her Slimming World consultancy, which it’s fair to say does take up a good amount of her otherwise free time. Whilst we’ve grown accustomed to that, the change of daytime scenery for Joseph has been the most difficult thing. As I mentioned in my last post, Joseph has now started school but is finding the transition difficult and his behaviour has suffered as a result. A slight modification to Sarah’s working hours thanks to her employer means that she can now take Joseph to school each morning, negating the need for him to attend a breakfast club. After school club is still a necessity however, with my firm closing for business at 5pm each day and Sarah’s working day ending 45 minutes later, we can’t collect him when he finishes school after 3pm. Joseph was popular with the staff at his nursery and would get an awful lot of attention. At school the position is different however and he often tantrums when he doesn’t get his own way or reacts inappropriately when provoked by another child. We’ve had several comments in his notebook from his teacher and have already had to visit the Headmaster on one occasion to discuss his behaviour. Certainly not the best start given Joseph has only been attending school for 6 weeks. He’s also refusing to wear his uniform each morning (it took an hour today to get him dressed) and is often near hysterical with tears at bedtime, meaning it can be after 9pm when we finally see him asleep. This is unfortunately a result of my spoiling him and behaviour I will need to stop and help him unlearn. It will be very difficult, but necessary and worth it in the long-term (and not just for him, as this uses up the evening hours that Sarah and I would otherwise be able to spend on our own).

Both Sarah and I feel guilt about working so much and not spending enough time with Joseph; I try to console myself with the thought that the 5 Year Mission was created so that we could break from a full-time work cycle once all our debts are cleared if we chose to, and that might see us able to spend more of our day with him as we’d no longer be as reliant on income as we currently are. If we budget effectively and are mindful & purposeful with our spending, I’m confident the remaining 4 years will be sufficient to see us debt-free and more time-rich, I hope resulting in a boost to our happiness and enjoyment of our lives.

Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach…

They say that sorry is the hardest word, but personally, I’ve never had a problem admitting when I’m at fault or in error. For me, the hardest word has always been goodbye, especially when I know there’s a good chance that I’ll never see that person or visit that place again. I suppose I’ve always been a little over-sentimental and I do tend to get emotionally attached to things as well as people (I named my car for pete’s sake!). This is the last week Joseph will attend nursery, as he starts at his Primary School next Monday, where he’ll remain until he leaves for Secondary School just before his 11th Birthday. He’s very excited at the prospect of going to “big school”, although of course for his first year which is referred to as “Reception”, it’ll be mostly play-based learning in a similar format to nursery. He’s already had to say goodbye to some of his friends at nursery, many of whom will be going to different schools and whom he will likely never see again. He doesn’t quite appreciate or understand the concept I think, although I’m sure he will miss them, especially the little girl he’s been fond of since he first started there. There are 3 other children whom he knows from nursery going with him and I’m sure he’ll make new friends at school, so I’m probably far more worried about it than he.

Living in a seaside town, the influx of visitors in the Summer months and other school holidays can often be a bind for us locals; the restaurants and shops are far more populated and the additional cars on the road mean for a longer and more congested trip home of an evening (although of course many of the local business rely heavily on the seasonal trade and as such, they’re necessary evils). To counteract this, I’ve been taking Joseph to nursery in his pushchair, weather permitting. There is a cost element to this for me however, as more often than not Joseph will ask that I buy him a sausage roll, a biscuit or some chocolate on our way to town, and being the pushover that I am, I rarely refuse. I’ve indulged him even more this last Summer, owing to the fact that with his School being further away than the nursery, we’ll no longer be able to walk the distance in the morning with sufficient time for me to then make it to my office by 9am. As such, this week will see the last few times we’ll walk to where we need to be and I’ll have to fire up Mirabeau every day for the short journey. Sarah and I are so happy to watch Joseph grow up, but every now and then, we miss the tiny boy he once was.

This time of year, when the kids have returned to school, the visitors gone home and Autumn officially beginning, always brings to mind one of my favourite songs, Don Henley’s 1984 classic “Boys of Summer” and the title of this post is of course the first line of the lyrics. Until the start of the next season in March 2020, Scarborough will return to being a sleepy little town, dormant but awaiting the next wave of day-trippers to its shores (by and large, the days of people spending a week in the town came to a close in the late 1980s, when the price of package holidays to Spain and other more exotic European destinations hit parity with the cost of a week in the Borough). Summer has seemed to come and go so very quickly this year, and I have to remind myself that it’s already nearly 9 weeks since the Fairholme Way and that I’ll soon have to start making firm plans for Christmas, including our office Christmas party and decisions as to what I’ll buy Sarah & Joseph as gifts (although Sarah’s Birthday will come first in October). With Orlando on the horizon next year and advancing closer by the day, we’ll likely have a Christmas similar to 2018, where we keep things low-key & simple and buy each other just one gift to unwrap on the day itself. I suspect very much that Joseph will go into overload when we finally reach Disney World and Universal Studios and will want pretty much everything he sees, so we’ll try to keep spends at Christmas to a minimum and hope to limit his expectations of what he can buy & carry home with him when we finally do go on vacation.

As with Summer, 2019 itself seems to have gone by in a flash; I’d joked with Sarah in early January that this November we had to take a vacation to Los Angeles, just so I could take a picture outside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House wearing a Blade Runner (my favourite film of all time, thus far) t-shirt design from Last Exit to Nowhere, which I could then post on their Facebook page with the words “Los Angeles November, 2019”. Scenes filmed in the Ennis House were featured heavily in the film and it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, especially if I could tie in the trip with the dates on which the film itself takes place. Alas, although I’m sure we’ll visit LA one day, it won’t be this year. San Francisco is also on my list of must-see places, if not just to visit the future site of Starfleet Academy when it opens in 2161!

To add to my observations re the passage of time, I also realised that in the next few weeks will come the 20th anniversary of my starting the LL.B course at Huddersfield and meeting Sarah for the first time. My, time really does fly.

“It’s just like ‘The Stand!'”

I’m not alone in my recent nostalgia for the “old days”; after the arrival of his daughter, H has been thinking quite a bit about those few years at the turn of the century in Huddersfield and how our life journeys have taken us in directions we perhaps didn’t foresee when we were in our early twenties.

H and I became friends through Rick in my second year at Huddersfield. They had met at Blackburn Sixth Form college when they were 16, although H tells me at that time they weren’t as close friends as they would later become, after both choosing to study at Huddersfield University & living at the Uni’s Storthes Hall accommodation (this was considered the place to be at the turn of this century, although much grander blocks of student flats have been erected in very close proximity to the main Uni campus in the last few years), where Matt had also lived during his first year. I missed out on making friends in this manner as I moved in with Matt in his second & my first year of Uni. During my second year, after meeting Rick and being assimilated into his circle of friends, I began to spend more time with H and it was quite often the case that we’d meet up, usually after nightfall, either to have a few hours conversation at a town centre bar (although H doesn’t drink, so sodas all round) or we’d chew the fat walking loosely plotted routes around the localities of Huddersfield. During my third year and living at Calton Street, when we might all four of us venture out for a stroll, H once passed comment that it was reminiscent of the walk to Las Vegas from Boulder, Colorado undertaken by characters Stu Redman, Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman and Ralph Brentner from Stephen King’s book (and the subsequent mini-series which stars one of H’s favourite actors, Gary Sinise as Stu) ‘The Stand’, albeit without the post-apocalyptic setting (actually, on second thoughts…). The four of us are quite quick-witted, and of course this seemingly throw-away comment was mercilessly seized upon and is routinely peddled out by Rick whenever opportunity presents itself to ridicule him. When he suggested after reading my post about the WRHW, which I shared on Facebook (and of course marvelling that his Syphon Filter sticker is still in what was his bedroom window at our old gaff), that he’d like to do a walking tour of Huddersfield, I was of course game. With Gav living back in Letchworth and Rick throwing himself into his new career training, H and I decided we’d meet up just the two of us in our old stomping grounds to re-tread some old routes around the town, past our former homes and several locations of personal significance. Here’s what we got up to that day, Friday 9th August 2019.

Mirabeau isn’t really designed for long-distance cruising being a city car, and I don’t really like to take her on long runs or leave her in unfamiliar car parks or streets where she might sustain damage (this is my OCD showing through again). As such, I caught the train to Huddersfield after dropping Joseph at nursery, taking that same service as I did on the WRHW which brings me to Huddersfield just before half past 10 (and again, booking in advance I saved more than £20 on the cost of buying the ticket on the day), with H picking me up at the station before parking outside the house he lived in when we first met in 2000 in Birkby, and not too far from our former digs on Calton Street. When he lived in Birkby, H shared the house with three other students, one of whom was named Alex, but was nicknamed Barry after the ‘Love Walrus’ Barry White owing to his very deep voice. I met Barry only a couple of times, and he was a genuinely nice guy. I was sorry to hear that a few years after our graduation in 2005, Barry was killed in a traffic collision whilst riding his motorbike one morning on his way to work. We take a few minutes to talk about & remember him whilst standing outside that house on Newland Avenue; H regails me with a few stories of their time together, including how Barry once walked from Manchester to Huddersfield overnight, sleeping in woodland before turning into work (in a Bank!) and would often sleep in the woods when he was in Huddersfield, leaving his bag and belongings stashed there whilst he went into town drinking with friends (he’d leave his motorbike at the house of a friend in the town). He was just 27 when he died and H notes that Barry likely did more in those few years than many will in a lifetime and I’ve no reason not to believe him. Rest in peace, Barry.

Nearby is the Fartown Complex, a large sports field for playing Football (read Soccer my American friends), Rugby & Cricket. There’s also a 400m running track around the circumference of the field and a basketball court. Now, as you’ll well know dear reader, exercise other than hiking is really not my cup of tea, but this place does have a special personal significance. You see, it was on the cricket crease of that field, I sat with Rick and another of our Law reading friends, Chris, at 2am on the morning of our final exam of the LL.B course, the dreaded Equity & Trusts. Very few people enjoyed that part of the course (Sarah tells me she did, but then she’s a weirdo) and everyone was very anxious about the exam. I recall one of my friends from the course, another Sarah, was in tears at the thought of sitting it whilst we were waiting outside the exam room to be let in. I still have nightmares to this day where I’m at University and I haven’t completed coursework or have exams to sit which I feel unprepared for, even though I graduated 17 years ago at this point! H brought along a flask or two of hot Ribena and we take the opportunity to have a liberal swig; despite the forecast calling for rain, it’s actually turned out to be a warm, sunny day. I’d packed my emergency poncho in my backpack and again, I’m wearing my usual hiking clothing of choice but resist the temptation to convert my Karrimor trousers to shorts. My Big Red Hiking Hood remained at home.

We take a detour to an area which H and Rick used to call “The Point” (which is up a very steep and narrow hill), before trudging down to Calton Street, past the Slubbers Arms where we’d visited a few times during our tenure and where Rick would often take his Dad Jack on the occasions he’d visit. We arrive outside the gaff and note H’s legendary aforementioned Syphon Filter sticker is indeed still in situ whilst reminiscing about our time there in 2001 / 2002. As I mentioned in the WRHW post, there were a few arguments between all of us during that 9 month stint, but you forget those more & more as the time passes and remember only the good. There were virtually constant evenings of watching films with takeaways from Spicy Cottage (at least one of us ordered from there most nights and as likely some of their best customers, they sent us a Christmas Card in 2001! We visited the site of our favourite takeaway on our way back from The Point – unfortunately we won’t be in town long enough to wait for it to open to sample our old usual order), listening to H’s terrible soundtrack blaring through his PC speakers and hammering away on my PlayStation (the first one, not even a PS2!) at Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Fox Sports NHL 2000. I still have both of those games, and an old PS3 which will still run them, even though it’s extremely rare that I would pick up a controller nowadays. I’m not much of a gamer – indeed I now only have one made for PS3 game, which is still a Sega Mega Drive Classics multi game disc, featuring all the titles I’d play in my early to mid teens!

We venture past the Market Hall and in to the town centre where we stop for a Subway lunch before visiting the University Campus. There’s a huge amount of ongoing development; I suspect the campus will at least have doubled in size by the time the current works are finished when compared to our time there.

Walking what would be my route home during years 1 & 2, and virtually the reverse of that which formed part of the WRHW, we reach the top of Springdale Avenue and I tell H the story of how I came to be there (largely recounted in my 3 part Origin posts in January); we have to be careful not to linger too long at each location as I’d really rather we weren’t accosted by any residents (shirtless or otherwise) as I was on the Fairholme Way. We’ve always enjoyed walking, and H would more often than not meet me at Springdale Avenue to start a hike. Neither he nor any of my University friends really took to Matt; in fact, when we all (coincidentally) met up at the (now closed) local nightclub Visage, Gav introduced Matt to his friends as “some c*nt Andy knows.” Matt was not impressed to say the least.

We return to Newlands Avenue and hop in to H’s car before a jaunt to Castle Hill in Almondbury, which overlooks Huddersfield. The breathtaking view is hastily spoiled by our first short rainshower of the day and we retreat to the car before returning to the train station, a good 5 hours after my arrival earlier in the day. Following our farewells, I enter the station as an elderly gentleman, inebriated and having trouble controlling his bladder, is forced therefrom by a member of staff. After forking out £6.10 for the not more than 20 mile ride to Leeds, I hop on a bus to my folks house and wait for Sarah and Joseph to arrive. I have to pretend that Joseph has beaten me there by putting on my sneakers & backpack and ducking out of the rear door on their arrival to come back to the front of the house to ensure that he is “the winner”; we have to let him downstairs first each morning for this same reason, too.

It was a lovely day reminiscing on foot with one of my closest friends and the weekend made even better by booking next year’s trip to Orlando with Sarah, Joseph and my parents the following day. I will of course post about that trip in detail in future together with lots of photos!