Friday was the last day, we would be flying out on the Saturday evening back to the UK and so it would be rude to not have a few drinks. I packed up my clothes and items I had taken over to Cyprus leaving only the absolutely necessary items out which I would pack on the Saturday morning. So we went out for a few drinks, this would be the last evening I would spend with Jo, Kaz and James. James probably not so actually as he also partakes in the aircraft digs at times so I would likely see him again. Ok, so long story short I may have got a little pissed again but it was a great night which ended with me actually getting in to my bed this time….all be it at 01.00. No worries you may think but the ground crews decided to conduct engine tests at 02.30 for an hour which there was no way even the dead could sleep through. It was probably around 03.45 when I dropped back off to sleep but then was up again at 05.00 so understandably I was a little fatigued!
Breakfast was fantastic as usual and I made sure to say goodbye to all of the staff who had looked after me so well on the two week visit before heading back to my room where I packed the remaining items and waited for my bags and wheelchair to be loaded up. There were a couple of drama’s in the morning, some tempers flared but eventually we got to the check in and with our bags all squared I spoke to the staff about getting on to the aircraft. I had met an officer on the Friday who worked in the movements section and we spoke about warning off the Fire and Rescue lads that I would need lifting from my chair on to a seat. She kindly said that she would arrange it and so I was checking that the F&R lads had been warned off. I also spoke about Karl and Jo. Karl with his visual impairment and Jo with her knackered ankles. I simply asked if they would be able to get on at the same time as myself so they were not feeling rushed and could also use the lift instead of the steps. This was squared away and I thanked them for the understanding and help.
We had a long wait at the terminal building but it was nice to sit outside and chat enjoying what was now sunshine after a really impressive thunder storm earlier in the morning and the previous night. After a long wait we were moved in to the last stage of the departure building and it was only a short wait before we were called forward to board, I could see the F&R lads on the hardstanding by the aircraft and I am sure that they were drawing straws as to which unfortunate bugger would have to lift me! I drove in to the lift wagon and then rolled on to the aircraft where the lads were waiting and in no time they had transferred me from my chair on to the seat I had been allocated by Mike who is in charge of the cabin crew. He not only recognised me from the previous year as did I with him but he remembered my name also. With everyone on board we took off on our 4 or 5 hour trip back to RAF Brize Norton.
The crew had kept a row of four seats for me as to assit me with a potential problem and checked on me many times through the flight. They had also given me the instruction that if I needed anything to simply call. During the flight a female Major asked if I would mind if she could occupy one of the seats, I had no worries and explained why the four seats had been allocated to which she simply told me that if I needed any assistance to simply ask. We spoke for over an hour which passed the time and raised a few laughs and at the meal time, the Major was luckily on hand to help me. My ability to balance did not impress and would not win any awards and as a result half of my bread roll did exactly that and had to be retrived by the Major. After a short chat having finished the food she settled herself down to get some sleep. The time passed quite quickly with two films played back to back and then the announcement came that we were starting our decent into Brize Norton. I felt the aircraft reduce speed and was aware of us reducing our altitude, the seat belt lights went on and the Major woke and got herself ready for landing. Ah, the landing…
Now Brize Norton is notorious for fogging and tonight seemed to be no exception. I have no idea how close we were to touching down when the pilot decided to abort, increase power and climb but we couldn’t have been far off wheels on the deck when he did. So we were diverted to Manchester Airport where the weather was clear but obviously they were not expecting us which would mean that we would have to wait on the aircraft while they sorted steps etc. To be fair to the cabin crew they were going to be about as popular as a fart in a broken lift but they carried on regardless and to their credit I think that they did a good job at keeping us updated on the events. I don’t know how long we were on the aircraft, probably close to an hour but the transport had to be sent from Brize which would be around three hours anyway so for me it wasn’t a massive issue. After what probably seemed like an eternity to many, especially those returning from Afghanistan which I can sympathise with, we left the aircraft and headed to the terminal building where we would have to be reunited with our baggage and then wait for the transport to take us to Brize Norton.
I had spoken to Mike about the fact that a coach was going to be more than a little interesting for me which he agreed with and so set about organising a car as an alternatinve to get me back, I had spoken to him at the time about it perhaps making sense that Karl travel in the same vehicle due to his visual impairment and again he agreed. My baggage came around on the belt and in a very short time I had both of my bags. The time now had to be spent waiting for my shower chair. Would this be going on the belt or would it be in a diferent area for large items? I simply had to wait as there didn’t seem to be anyone around to ask, it wasn’t like there was a vehicle waiting outside for me anyway so I just waited to see what would occur, and what did occur was one of the flight crew came to me with the chair and said;” I thought that you may need this, so I bought it to you.” I thanked her and with all of our belongings collected we headed out. To be honest I think that the Royal Air Force did a really good job at handling the fast ball and it wasn’t just us that had to wait for transport as the cabin crew had to also except they have to wait until last before they are alowed to go so it wasn’t much fun for them either. I know people will always bitch and moan about any kind of delay, (to be honest most people would bitch and moan about anything), and I sympathise with those service personnel who were wanting to get home after their tour of Afghanistan, (I have been one of those people when I got stuck in Khandahar), but the pilot is responsible for the lives of everyone on the aircraft and the aircraft itself. We could not see what he could or as the case maybe couldn’t see but something made him take the decision (which he knew would be unpopular) and as a result we landed in clear weather all be it some miles from where we wanted to be. Better to make that decision and land than second guess your training and us end up spread over the tarmac although that may just be my opinion.
After not being able to take the chance on sleeping on the flight, or in the car on the way home I arrived at my bungalow at 07.30 somewhat knackered and looking forward to a hot bath and sleep. No way that was happening though, I had a Christening to go to at 11.30 so it was simply a case of unpack and put my clothes in to the washing machine and then have a bath. It was difficult to remain awake in the bath if I am honest but I did manage to as did I manage to stay awake in the Church and at the hall afterwards but alas it couldn’t last forever and finally at approximately 18.30 I was in my bed and VERY shortly after that I was asleep. I remeber turning the TV on when I was getting in to bed and when I lay down but I guess it got bored and turned itself off because I know I definitely didn’t turn it off but it was off this morning when I woke at 06.00. Now having had a pretty good day, lunch with my Wife and the evening at her house with my kids whilst she went out to the local swimming pool I find the time approaching Tuesday so I will simply say thanks for reading, and I will write more soon.