On Thursday my son went off on his annual trip to Barretstown in Ireland. This is the fourth time he's been there.
Barretstown provide youngsters that have or have had life threatening illnesses with the chance to spend time with others like themselves doing activities that they might not normally do, horse-riding, canoeing, climbing and abseiling, while being looked after by trained medical staff as well as volunteer helpers.
As we had to do last year and the one before it was up to Heathrow to meet up with the two young women that would be chaperoning him and the other young lad that were going this year during the trip to and from Barretstown.
Normally we have to be there for 9:30am and so we're leaving home at the crack of dawn for two and a half to three hour drive to London.
This year was different in that the flight was at 4pm and we had to meet up at half past one. It was also different because this year we didn't have the use of our own car and so had to hire one. Initially I'd been planning to use AVIS as that is who we use at work and we have a discount with them. Instead I took the advice of a friend and went with Enterprise.
Just after 5pm Wednesday evening I received a call from the car hire people to inform me that the car they were going to supply me with wasn't going to be available, they did have a transit van that I could have if I was happy to drive that. Having no option but to take the van because there was no way that we'd be able to organise a car at such short notice and going to London via the train would cost nearly one hundred and twenty pounds. Fortunately I've driven both transit vans and mini-buses in the past so I wasn't overly worried about driving the van.
Thursday morning arrived, everyone was up, washed, fed and ready. One of the guys from Enterprise turned up to give me a lift to the office so I could fill out all the paperwork. He was driving a transit van. A very large transit van. I asked if that was what I was getting and he said that he didn't think so.
We had a nice chat as we drove there and if he realised there was something different about me he wasn't phased by it.
At the office I completed the paperwork and the rather nice and helpful girl that seemed to be running the place that morning explained that the car we were supposed to having hadn't been returned on time and all their other vehicles were booked out. There would be a car available the following day and she would arrange for us to swap the van for a car then.
We went out to the van and it was indeed the one that I'd been collected in, a very tall, long-base transit van, the size of a small bus or as I referred to it throughout the day - a tank.
The two bags that we put into the back of the van were completely lost in there!
The trip to London was pretty uneventful. We stopped at Fleet Services so that we could grab a quick bite to eat rather than trying to find food at Heathrow. Having decided to park somewhere that I would be able to use up two spaces, while manoeuvring my way into the space a guy in a 4x4 decided to go into the space in front of me. I was so gob-smacked, there I was in something that easily dwarfed his vehicle, there were spaces around us that he could have gone into but he pulls into the one in front of mine so that the back 3 feet of the van are sticking out the back of the parking space. I know I should have said something but I didn't want the hassle, I'm too easy going for my own good sometimes.
After eating we headed for Heathrow, arriving with plenty of time to meet up with the chaperones which was good because now we found ourselves with a real problem.
The parking around the terminals is not designed for transit vans. In order to get into the car parks you need to be in a vehicle that is not taller than 8 feet, our van was far taller than that. Our first attempt at parking ended with us just managing to drive through the drop off point with its own height restrictions. A trip around various parts of Heathrow to try and find parking ended up with us back at the drop off point. With no way of leaving the van unattended for long enough for me to take the family into the terminal and try and find the chaperones I had to help them to get my son's suitcase up some steps and then get back into the van and leave them to it while I tried to find somewhere to park up and wait until the chaperones and my son had gone through to departures. In the end I found myself enjoying the scenery on the M25 as I headed south towards Gatwick before turning around and making my way back to Heathrow and picking up my other half from outside the terminal, fortunately going into the area that the buses and police vans use.
It was disappointing to not see my son off, although I wasn't going to be doing that properly because we didn't want to risk the other lad saying something and my son getting any hassles while away.
After leaving Heathrow the rest of our trip was pretty uneventful. I drove my other half to her sister's place in the Cotswolds where she was staying for a few days and then headed for home.
Arriving back home I found myself faced with lots of cars with parents collecting their children from school trips. A 5 minute detour before returning home and everyone had gone. Unfortunately finding somewhere to park the van proved difficult and so I had to leave it parked on the main road, we live on a side road that leads to the school entrance. I was hoping that if I waited until the rest of the school trips had returned that there might be a large enough space. An hour later and there was indeed a space for me to park the van.
Friday was swapping the van day!
Up early, washed, dressed, make-up on and out to the van. Its at this point that my choice of a knee length dress looked a bit silly. Climbing up into the van I definitely felt a bit unladylike.
A few days before I'd seen one of the girls from work wearing a short skirt and getting into a 4x4. I'd commented to the receptionist that it probably wasn't the best thing to be wearing. Now I found myself in the same boat. Well, we learn by our mistakes.
At work I parked the van safely out of everyone's way and waited for Enterprise to contact me about swapping the car.
About mid-morning I received a phone call to let me know that the car I was having would be back with them at midday. A quick clean and it would be with me.
1pm the car arrived, the van was returned and I was in possession of a lovely red Ford Fiesta. A quick trip out to pick up some groceries, including a rather nice, male checkout operator who referred to me as sweetheart, boy did I feel good to be addressed like that, and I was back at work.
Sitting at my desk about half an hour later and my phone rang. By now I recognise the number for Enterprise. Thinking that there might be a problem with the van that I'd returned I answered the phone with a bit of trepidation. Nope no problem with the van, there's a problem with the car I have, its the wrong one. They have the right one and need to come swap it.
5pm and the same guy from Enterprise turns up with my 3rd car in two days. It seems that after a car has been hired out for a certain period it has to be moved on and they are no longer allowed to hire it out. The red Fiesta had reached that point and had been taken off the system, the replacement Fiesta actually had more miles on it and he freely admitted that the situation was a bit stupid. Cars swapped and everything is finally the way it should have been Thursday morning.
We've got to go back up to Heathrow on Thursday to pick up my son and so we've hired a car for that trip. At the moment we have a 20% discount on the car hire but I'm going to be asking for more than that when I return the car on Monday because of the fiasco on Friday. I'm just hoping that come Wednesday night I don't get a phone call to say "Ms Powell, we're afraid that the car we were going to give you isn't available, would you mind taking the transit van." If they do then I will be incredibly miffed as we'll be in the same position with parking as last Thursday but as I'm going to be meeting up with a friend on Saturday to have a fitting for my leather burlesque costume, yes its still a work in progress, driving to Bristol in a van is a definite no no.
I'll let you know how it all goes.