I made the decision a while ago to attend the first half of the first match of the season. The timings would be tight but it was entirely doable. Some thought it an insane idea but to be honest it felt only natural to be there on the day that I left for China as it would be where Mummy Pen would be, somewhere up there on her cloud watching over us with a fag in one hand and pint in the other screaming at the top of her voice for our boys!!
So after managing to park in the sports centre car park to ensure a speedy exit at half time, Paddy and I headed to Cafe Retro for a fairly slap up breakfast prior to the match. I’m not too sure that my stomach could actually cope with it as I had a whole swarm of butterflies going mental in my poor tummie! My nerves were totally gone I was beginning to get REALLY nervous about what lay ahead. After spending so long planning it, finally the day was here that we were to leave. I hadn’t really thought about how I would deal with the eventuality of actually going, as a result on leaving day I was all over the place.
It was definitely the right thing to have done. It was so nice to see so many familiar faces all wishing us well (even though it was only me there!!) and to be honest only make my tummie turn more, particularly when people asked how I was doing as I still had no idea!! I had a text off of Peter alerting me to my ugly mug being in the programme so I got 2 checking that Jim and Stace would want one too. It’s quite funny and really very fitting that I was the main focus for the advert this week!! I greeted the Brunton clan and Gouldy in the usual place behind the east stand for a fag and a catch up before we all headed to our seats. It was lovely to see them all – all 3 brothers, Kelvin, Hannah + bump and my rugby niece Amelia. It just felt so right to be with them all.
So we found out where our seats were as there have been some modifications to the east stand, apart from it being the mens and not the ladies at the bottom of the exit stairs I am pretty pleased, not much has changed. The weather was glorious, man alive it was great to be ‘home’. Still tainted somewhat by the lack of Mummy Pen tho. I spent the majority of the first half counting down the mins until it was time to leave. When it was, I gave huge hugs and was wished well as I sped to the car and got on the road to my parents. I think it’s safe to say that I cried pretty much the whole way home, thankfully there was no traffic and it was as if the road and traffic lights had all been fixed for me. I made excellent time. When I arrived there I put everything into Dad’s car which was waiting in the middle of the driveway, ran in to powder my nose and then after hugs and kisses from Dad I was on my way with my amazing taxi driver at the helm once more. My Mum is an actual angel. As well as catching her up with how my last couple of days had been I was chopping pieces of cream paper to the appropriate size to fit the travel journal as I was very conscious that I didn’t have enough pages to write on. She wanted to come in to wave me off, bless her. It’s not as if I’ve never done anything like this before though?! So I convinced her to just to drop me and go. Sadly I managed to leave not only my fleece on the back seat but more importantly – my Indy hat!!??!!
I had texted Stace on the way up to the airport to keep her updated as to how far away we were. To be fair though, I was not last and it was not all the massive rush that I thought it would be. I collected my packet from the random lady at the airport that was waiting for us with our T-shirt, luggage labels and of course the ticket. After all of the skillful packing and repacking to get everything in it transpired that I could have put 31kg in my bag for the hold. I was asked to repack my rucksack as carry on as they weighed it and it was too heavy which got me all in a fluster. I took out about 3 things then sat on my bag whilst I tried to shut it. After finally getting sorted we went thru after saying goodbye to the Ginger Bird fan club. Just getting through the X-ray machine was a mission in itself. The whole palava of taking off and putting back on again the boots was rediculous, had a bit more of a sensible pack so that the things that I wanted for the flight itself were actually on the top of my bag.
Then we headed straight to the pub for a much needed ‘calming of the nerves’ drink! It was here that I realised that I had left my hat behind. Sadly there was not an appropriate outlet in Duty Free for me to find one. I did get a bigger memory card and a proper camera case so I could carry all the bits together. I was sweating lots and so decided to stick with the rugby top for now and change into the Wii Not Fit one on the plane in an attempt too freshen up. I sent a few last min texts and updated my status, even received one too (thank you Emmie, timing was perfection!) and it was aboard we went, nervous giggles ALL over the place!!
Stace and I were at the arse end of the plane and as soon as I got on I could tell that this was going to be yet another flight that I would be unable to sleep on. The seats were like boards, they were SO hard and the head rest, even when you moved it just wasn’t in the right place. I had a rather large Chinese man sat next to me and was stuck in the middle which I hate as it means that as soon as everyone nods off I am stuck and can’t get out. I realised that I had left the 2 sleeping pills behind that I had been saving one for the flight another thing to add to the list of things that I had left behind!! Elaine offered me one but I then thought that there was every possibility that being in the middle and with everything else going on the last thing that I would want would be to take a sleeping pill and not be able to actually sleep.
So, as predicted, I got no sleep. I got stuck for about an hour desperate for the loo but didn’t want to wake Stace and the final delight was that, yes the Chinese dude I sat next to was a snorer. I couldn’t believe it, I could even hear it when I had the headphones on trying to watch a film or tv or just listen to music. There is simply nothing more infuriating! As predicted I could eat hardly any of the meal as it had peppers in it or was frankly looking like something that one of my girls would bring up!!
I watched Marley and Me which was an absolutely ridiculous idea. I had no idea really what it was about, I had just heard from loads of people what a good film it was. I think that I balled my eyes out silently for about half if it. Post film tho was my breaking point I think. I couldn’t stop it, waterfalls out if each eye no tissue and a runny nose – it was a great look!!
As we came into land I changed my t-shirt and freshened up for the onward journey to where we were staying for the first nights accommodation. I was really nervous about going through passport control after all of the issues that I had gone through when trying to obtain my visa I really didn’t want any interrogation when I got to Beijing. We walked through some temperature controller to see if we had any form of disease, I could almost feel my temperature rise just at the thought of it being checked. Then we got to border control which thankfully I sailed through with out a hitch. I breathed a huge sigh if relief. We alighted the monorail to the baggage hall there were heaps of belts, where ours came off was no 41?!!! Mine was the very last bag to be collected off the belt, I really was panicking to put it mildly!! I managed to change money before we walked through customs, nothing to declare if course – confidently (but shaking like a leaf, still freaking that they might take my happy pills off me) I walked through, relieved not to have been stopped.
After meeting up with our guides Peter and Michael who would be at the front and Sasha at the back when we start trekking we went out side to the coach where the smokers amongst us could partake in a quick fag. Why does it always feel so good having one after a long flight?!! We sampled some of the Beijing traffic as soon as we left the airport and OMG I could so see how there was a 65 mile tailback where people were reported to have been stuck for 9 days. I fell asleep pretty soon after getting on the bus and woke up in yet another traffic jam nearer to where we were staying I was assured though that we weren’t in one the whole time!
We were struck by the heat as soon as we arrived, that it was going to be very unpleasant to walk in as it was majorly sticky. We were near the Ming Tombs on our first night and had no idea of what to expect accommodation wise. I was pleasantly surprised by what we had as I was ready for a mattress on the floor and a shared bathroom. Not in the slightest, beds, tv, our own bathroom with loo etc. I was glad to have brought my crocs to shower in tho as the floor looked pretty minging! After a bit of repacking and what have you I had what felt like simply the best shower and had a bit of relaxing time on my bed just calming my brain down which was spinning with a variety of things and worries of exactly lay ahead, what we had let ourselves into and of course sent the vital text to the folks to let them know that I had arrived safely.
Before supper we had a bit if a briefing from Peter as to what to expect in the coming days, what the weather was due to be like, when we would get our water etc. We got warned that our accommodation on Wednesday evening could be described as ‘challenging’ which sounded fairly ominous to put it mildly, so we prepared ourself for the worst!
Supper was pretty much eaten in silence, we were so hungry and I guess that reality was REALLY hitting in for a fair few of us. Wonder how long the quiet meal times would last?!! We were suggested to stay up as long as possible as we would probably not be able to sleep for the full night if we went to bed too early, no matter how tired we were. So a few of us had a little natter before bed.
Stace and I crawled into bed absolutely shattered, somewhat petrified of exactly what lay ahead.