On Saturday – a glorious day with the sun beaming down – I took a trip up to my native city to see Jem’s boyfriend Matty perform in a production penned and produced by the performing arts and music students at Magee college. Based on the Glee TV show, the event was of course called… Maglee! I’d been rather frustrated by my experience as a theatre goer to the newly refurbished Playhouse theatre: the booking of tickets had to be done online, with stern exhortations to bring along ID when collecting them, the website gave no meaningful directions and no information on car parking nearby, and once I had arrived where I thought it was, there was no sign outside to confirm that I was in the right place.

No matter, I met up with Jem at the Diamond, we had a bite to eat at the Wetherspoons on the corner (for future reference, the tables upstairs by the window are the ones to nab) and then strolled around the walls. I pointed out the chapel of St Augustine – the little church on the walls – where my parents were married and where I was christened. From there we could look down on Free Derry corner, and I was relishing giving her a little bit of both family history and political significance during our pleasant walk.

The show itself was great fun, and Matty clearly enjoys performing. Congratulatory hugs duly dispensed afterwards, I set off for the 77 mile journey home. About 5 miles outside the city, I heard a loud bang, and assumed a stone had hit the car. This was followed by a juddering sensation, and I knew as I released my grip on the steering wheel and felt the car pull to one side that I had a puncture. I pulled over safely onto a layby and surveyed my position. I have changed a tyre in the past, but not for ages, and not on this car. But I started by extracting the spare wheel and tools and thinking about how to proceed. I could see that the trim on the wheel was held on with cable ties, so I’d need something sharp to cut those. I needed help.

a hole in my tyre

Thinking fast, I called Matty. “Is your Dad still there?” I asked, since I knew his parents had been at the show. They’d be heading home on the same road that I was on, and I hoped I’d catch them before they left. Sure enough, 5 minutes later their car pulled in behind mine and switched on matching hazard lights. His Mum is a driving instructor, so knows her way around cars, while he makes guitars (how cool is that!) and had his work tool kit with him, complete with knives. In under 10 minutes he’d done the tyre change, and they volunteered to follow me for a few miles at least to make sure everything was OK. They even spotted me stop 3 miles later to close the passenger door properly, and I was enormously grateful to my knights in shining armour for their care and concern.

When God gives you lemons…

I know, the textbook answer is “make lemonade”. Although after a fab weekend with my best friend Sarah, we decided the answer should be “pour gin and tonics!”

I’d gone to London for the h2g2 meet, managing to wave to Prince Charles en route, and get an upgrade to first class on the Stansted Express as I went. Flight uneventful, sitting in my comfy carriage using my newly acquired dongle to keep in touch with the interwebs, Sarah texted and said she was in need of a hug – it was her last day of Law lectures before exams (she used her redundancy money to go back to Uni and convert her degree to a Law diploma). You’re in luck, I said, I’m just pulling into Liverpool Street now!

We met at a little pub round the corner from the station, then schleped in a taxi over to the pub where her fellow students were drinking, then had a cocktail at the posh hotel across the street, me admiring a young Weim passing by, still with its gorgeous blue eyes. then we got a taxi to my hotel to dump my bag, realized how late it was, had fabulous rare steaks in the Argentinean Gaucho restaurant in the basement, before schleping to the pub where we supposed to meet the hootoo lot – only to find they’d gone home!

The hotel proved its worth by managing to procure a bottle of contact lens saline solution at midnight, and having a computer especially for printing off boarding passes (I’d printed mine out on double sided paper so on the outbound flight they tore off the portion I’d need for the return leg – d’oh!)

pc dedicated to printing boarding passes

On the Saturday I met up with my son Harry, who is looking great, and earning plenty of money doing local rigging and sound-man work (including the moving of works at the Tate Mod for it s 10 year anniversary – my next port of call.)

Met up with the hootoo lot at the museum and spent a fun evening in eh pub, where Io, my little netbook, played a blinder! It managed to skype to a non-attendee, and download the half a quiz that had been prepared. I was given the most wonderful gift by one of the Editors – a signed CD of “Better”. Back at the hotel, I settled in to a good sleep…

…and was woken by text from Roger asking if my flight was OK. Why would it not be, I thought, and turned on the tv. Oh no not again – the Haveakerfuffle volcano ash cloud is back! I wandered up to Liverpool Street station, yet again unable to use the first class lounge, and managed to get lost on the way back to the hotel. I phoned Sarah, expressing my frustration at not knowing where to go. “Come to me!” she said. “I have a bed, I have internet” Mmm-hmm, I replied. “I have gin!” she offered – I’m on my way I said! and headed out to Heathrow. If the planes started flying again at least I’d be near an airport. But my hopes weren’t high, having been caught out last month.

At Sarah’s house I started looking for alternative routes home. I wasn’t keen on taking the old National Express coach as last time, and I knew there was a train and ferry link provided by Stenaline. I tried booking online, but because there was less than 7 days before travel I couldn’t do that. I tried phoning their all centre – it was closed on Sundays. I cried.

Despairing, I tried googling for rail links between Belfast and Dublin, and found a brilliant site called raileasy. It allowed me to choose a route and time online, pay with a credit card, and make a reservation there and then. Brilliant!

On Monday morning I headed for Euston, giving myself plenty of time to contend with any later rush hour commuters. I found a helpful Virgin employee who used my credit card to produce the tiny tube-ticket sized card which would take me all the way home. I enquired about reserving a seat, but their computer system was down. I did get some good advice though – head for coach A as soon as the platform was announced. This was the quiet zone coach, and I was glad I’d got there quickly, as the train was very soon full with many passengers standing in the corridors. I gave up on an attempt to reach the buffet car!

I declined to pay Mr Branson £5 for one hour’s worth of his wifi, but was able to reassure friends and fmliy via Twitter of my safe journey through the stunning scenery of that part of northern England and the Scottish borders. Change at Carlisle, and again at Kilmarnock, and I was very swiftly and painlessly esconced on the ferry, thankfully half empty. The HSS has a very chic cafe bar at teh stern, where I was able to access the free boat wifi, enjoy a glass of wine, and admire Ailsa Craig fading into the dusk.

view from the back of the HSS

This is actually not a bad way to pass the day, I thought to myself! Home shortly after 10 pm, I did get a lot of ribbing from work colleagues the next day, who all want to be informed the NEXT time I’m flying anywhere, as I’m obviously being stalked by a volcano.