Those of you who know me will know I recently spent time in the Ukraine on a very successful TV production by ESL TV for the Intel Extreme Masters 6 stop in Kiev. This blog post isn’t about that, instead I wanted to share with you my journey home. Usually these journeys are stressful, but ultimately have little to talk about upon getting home. For all the wrong reasons, this journey ended up being the most stressful I have ever taken, but a few days on and the anger now having subsided I can see it is also incredibly funny, hence wanting to share this experience and to provide you with a laugh or two.
Having had an uneventful journey out to the Ukraine, I perhaps thought my return would be no less mundane, but I was hopelessly wrong. It began with a simple taxi journey to the Kiev main airport. Simple usually perhaps, but I’d run out of cash, had to pay by card and for some reason had to pay the hotel, but then the taxi driver was confused and I didn’t speak any Ukraine, he no English, so we sat there for a good 15 minutes in the hotel lobby waiting for it to be sorted out.
Once in the taxi, it became apparent that the snow was getting heavier and as we progressed from the center of Kiev to the motor way on the outskirts leading to the airport, the roads were getting treacherous. Due to various delays, I was now running rather late and had just 40 minutes to get checked in, but still a while before we were due to arrive and the taxi was getting slower the more snow that fell. At this point I signaled for the driver to go faster if possible where he promptly switched to the outside lane to overtake the car ahead and promptly slid in to the central reservation, luckily bouncing right back in to the outside lane with some deft car control that Seb Vettel would have been proud of.
He didn’t say a word, but did turn round to me in the back seat and sort of chuckled a little. Upon arrival at the airport, I just about made it to security with 10 minutes to go before boarding and then I got taken in to a side room for 20 minutes as they wanted to check my digital SLR camera in my bag and didn’t believe it was real. Once I had taken a few pictures they let me go and I trudged towards my gate, dejected at having missed my first flight to Munich only to realise I hadn’t, it had been delayed 30 minutes!
This was good news, although bad news too as my connection time in Munich had only been 45 minutes anyway and was now down to 15 minutes, this could be tense.
We boarded, buckled up and taxied out to the runway where upon we were set upon by some kind of robotic spray animal that removed all the ice and snow from the wings for 10 minutes. The clock was ticking and I was getting more anxious as the minutes went by. We sat their on the tarmac for another 50 minutes and I thought I was going to burst with anxiety, but then I realised, there was no point in worrying, I had no chance of making my connection, so I relaxed a bit.
We eventually took off in a blizzard and a couple of hours later landed in Munich. My rush to the connections desk didnt really help though as the next flight would be over an hour away and in any case, Munich security also wanted me to take photographs with my camera to prove it was real. Did they have notice that a terrorist was planning to blow up airplanes with a Canon 40d or something?
At 9.45 I boarded by flight back to Heathrow and although I was meant to be back at 8pm, it would be almost 11pm local time by the time I touched down in England. My next worry was my car parking, which was due to expire at 11.30, it would be tough to get my suitcase, then catch a bus to the car park and get out of it before being charged for an extra day.
It turned out, that was actually the least of my worries. After a fairly bumpy flight, I landed at Heathrow having suffered a dreadful “chicken korma wrap” from Lufthansa which contained precisely zero pieces of chicken and headed to passport control. As usual, it was packed, had too few staff on the gates and I was welcomed back to my home country by a person who didn’t sound like he knew much more English than “Can I see your passport” and “ok, you may go”.
It was bag collection time next and in a swift exit from passport control, I had a minor argument with a trolley, which the man pushing it then took offense too and started having a go at me complaining I had kicked him! The trolley had actually run over my foot as I tried to get on the rolling floor, but I didn’t have time to stay and argue and headed at pace to carrousel number 5 where the Munich flight was busy spitting out baggage from the flight. I’d already had a worry that my bags might get lost (having had the unfortunate experience with Lufthansa before) due to the original missed connection, so it wasn’t a complete shock that 20 minutes later my bags still hadn’t appeared.
I then went to baggage services where upon a very rude man and condescending man asked me for my ticket, but insisted I checked my passport for it even though I had given him my ticket. It turns out he wanted the sticky ticket with my baggage number on it, which had been destroyed by the lovely assistant at Munich connections. Ten further minutes of wrangling continued whilst they searched their systems for my bag number and even then all I got was a “fill this form out” response and they had no idea where my bags were. I overheard the guy next to me ask about Munich too and he was told “have you checked carrousel 3 for it as we had another Munich flight in 30 minutes before yours”. I decided it was worth checking, so walked away and promptly found my bags rotating on carrousel 3… What a waste of time that was.
Heading to the long stay car park with just 10 minutes before my ticket ran out was nerve wracking, although I would later find out I actually had a 12 hour window in any case, but it made the bus journey that little more stressful at the time.
Surely nothing else could go wrong today I thought as I jumped off the bus at bus stop 4 in the long stay car park, but what happened next was the final straw and I snapped. I am not known for being the calmest of travelers at the best of times, but somehow, I had remained calm throughout this ordeal, even without nicotine to help me through the last 10 hours, but now, I was fuming.
Approaching the car, I became aware of a strange noise, a ticking of sorts, faster than a clock but not that dissimilar in sound. I’d heard this sound once before, when my car alarm had been going off all night and the battery had been drained. My heart sunk as I got closer, pressing the unlock button on the key fob in the vain hope it would unlock my car and then realising what had happened. I stopped at the car door, opened it manually with the key and placed it in the ignition, turned it to the on position and attempted to start the car and was greeted by fading battery lights on the dashboard, the battery was flat. I got out of the car, looked up to the darkened and now raining sky and shouted “FUCK…… OFF…… NOW!” as if I was communicating with a higher power who somehow had control over this situation and had conspired with other, presumably Ukrainian gods to give me the most terrible journey I’d ever taken.
A moment of rationale thought allowed me to calm down and call the car park attendant for help and luckily this kind of things happens all the time, they were prepared, they had a starter and they’d be with me in 10 minutes. Finally, something works the way it is supposed to.
Ten minutes later a jolly man in a white pickup rolled in to the car park and on exiting his vehicle said “its not blown up yet then?” Mildly confused, I enquired what he meant and here comes the most fantastic and unbelievable part of my journey home. He began to explain that, a few hours earlier, he had been passing by, doing security sweeps and had heard the ticking. He had never heard such a thing from a car and worried he may have stumbled across something dangerous, he alerted the transport police, who duly came out with sniffer dogs to check the car over. They also checked the owner (me), found out my flight details and realised I hadn’t returned when I was supposed to, all slightly suspicious to them apparently, which meant they decided, to be safe, to call in the bomb squad!
They obviously dismissed the situation, but I couldn’t blame the police for reporting it as strange or potentially dangerous, especially as my car park spot was out in the open and directly under the landing flight path of the planes. I was, in hindsight, lucky to return to a car at all!
The final journey home was relatively calm once the car got jump started and I got back at 2am, some 6 hours after I was due to be home.
I hope you see the funny side of this as I did, all be it about 3 days after it had happened…