Back in the UK - 17th December 2004

Most of my last week in the US was spent packing up my things, clearing out and cleaning the van, and getting the balloon ready for shipment, packing the burner and envelope etc in the basket, putting the lot on a pallet, and stretch wrapping it. The company that I had the first quote from for shipment seemed slowish so I picked up an on line quote from a Dallas company, PlaneCargo. The quote came back an hour after they opened, $100 less than the slow quote I had received, I rang them, and my balloon was booked in for shipment. Just like that. As easy as buying a burger at Macdonald's. I wrote out a packing list, emailed that over, and that was OK too.

On Wednesday I took Little Cat round to his new home, in Diana, East Texas, he had great fun exploring everywhere in the house. Outside, where he can't go yet, there are lots of trees to climb, lots more places to explore. Birana was really pleased to have him, her Dad too. I am so glad that Birana has got the best Little Cat in the World but it nearly broke me heart lose my little pal for these last 5 months. This is the last photo I took of him, looking ahead to new places as I myself have to look ahead to new places.

If you're interested there are another 160 photos of him on my web site! Just click here.

On Thursday I took the van over to Tim's, I'll be back for it early 2006. In the evening we went to a local fish restaurant, Tim, his daughter, also Micki, Adam, and Tony. I paid - to try to say thank you for the great Texas welcome I received. I owe particular thanks to Micki, for, amongst other things, putting up with me, and allowing me to camp out in her workshop, for over a month. On Friday Micki collected me and we drove to Dallas airport, dropping the balloon off at PlaneCargo on the way.

Because everything was so easy at PlaneCargo I was early to check in for my flight, after checking in I wandered around then because the seats near the departure gate were full, I sat down at an adjacent gate. I must have dozed off - because I awoke - I alarmed myself with the time on my watch - I dashed around to my departure gate - and it was closed...............

I had missed my flight, by less than 5 minutes.

I phoned British Midland. They almost laughed out loud, and booked me on the next flight from Chicago to Manchester, the next day. Then I went round to the United desk, they were handling the first leg of my flight, and they did laugh out loud, and booked me on the next flight from Dallas to Chicago. Wow! They were all really helpful.

I didn't miss that next flight.

In Chicago I checked with the United baggage office. They looked up on their computers and told me my baggage, which of course had left with the flight I missed, was here with British Midland, and awaiting to join me on my flight tomorrow. The magic of modern computers and bar codes continues to amaze, 10 years ago I am sure they would not have been able to track my cases with such efficiency. The baggage office gave me a number to ring to book a hotel, it was the number for United passengers who had been delayed. I rang the number, said I was a United passenger and had missed my flight (I omitted to say the reason I was delayed was my own silly fault), and booked into the local Quality Inn for $39 which was OK. At the hotel (24 hour courtesy coach) the notice behind the door gave the room price as $79. Thanks United for negotiating such a discount!

I caught the next flight, I arrived in Manchester, took the train to Hull, (on the opposite side of the UK - about 120 miles) and was met by brother in law Tony. I collected my tiny French turbocharged matchbox of a car from the garage where it has been resting and returned to my sister Helen's, photos below. The house was built in 1740. Now that's old. The part of the house behind the front door used to be the village post office. Note the balloon weather vane.


My, that little turbocharged diesel Opel Corsa can show my 5.8 litre monster of a motor home a thing or two when it comes to acceleration. Plus it goes round corners like it was glued to the road. For any American readers who don't know this, there are more corners than straight bits on English roads. And the roads round here are not a lot wider in total than my American motor home. Don't think I don't love my motor home. I do. But it's horses for courses. And that motor home would be tough to drive here.

I must mention Andy at the garage. Like Tim, he's a mechanic. Neither of them are just fitters of new bits. They repair, and understand. I guess they would be honorary Mexicans, and I mean that as a compliment.

No one comes near here, we're at the back of beyond, but if you do, and you need a mechanic, you need Andy. Andy fixed my gearbox. Other people said, terrible job it is to fix the gearbox, takes ages to get the bits out. Andy said, I put a dab of weld on it, good as new. Only took a few minutes he said. He's at Boyes Lane Engineering, Keyingham, East Yorkshire.

I went to Nellie's (really the White Horse Inn, but called Nellies after a previous owner) in Beverley to meet up with my old friend Vic and to hear the 2.19 Jazz Band. One of my favourite haunts, it is, Nellies, when the 2.19 band is playing. I reckon the ambience is, arguably, more authentic than the Preservation Hall in New Orleans. Here at Nellies there are gas lights on chandeliers and candles on the tables - no electric lights - the walls are a dismal dark red, and the Christmas decorations look like they've been there for years. You sit around old tables with plain scrubbed wooden tops drinking your pints of draught bitter, bought downstairs at a lower price and at least equal quality to any other pub round about while the 2.19 band blasts away in the gloom with very pleasurable New Orleans style jazz. Traditional jazz it is called in the UK - for a good example of the medium try Goin' Home by Ken Colyer, on my web site. Entrance to the music at Nellies is $3.50, beer costs $2 pint. That's a full English pint by the way none of your cut down reduced size American pints...........

So my Mexican/American trip has ended. I have a huge bundle of memories, of places, people, things, enough to keep me dreaming for years. I'll not forget my Little Cat. Thank you all for sharing the trip with me, for all your emails, for being in a way my travelling companions. I know many of you have enjoyed reading about my travels, you have told me so.

I'll mention that the whole of my stories, these emails, and some earlier journeys, are to be found on my website as well as the photos of Little Cat I mentioned above.

I leave for Cyprus tomorrow, to spend Christmas with my son Daniel and his family, he works for the British High Commission there, then I go to France, first to visit with my daughter Eleanor studying law at the University of Paris, then I shall be calling around some friends, making annual inspections on some British registered but French resident balloons, I plan to look for a house in the south west of France, I want to do some flying with Eleanor in one or other of my balloons, and I have in mind to buy a motor home in France so I can explore some parts of Europe where I have not been, and to re-explore places I know and enjoy. I expect I shall be writing emails from time to time.

I wish you the very best for Christmas and the New Year, and look forward to renewing our aquaintanship in the future.

Best regards

David Barker

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