Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Friendships Revisited

It's wonderful to have good news to report, and lots of it.  I've just returned from a whirlwind week in the UK where I attended the 5th UKAramcon Reunion.  This has been in the works for months but was not mentioned here because my intent was to "crash" the party.  I was only able to do that with the help of co-conspirators, Eileen and Tom.  They kept my name off all lists, arranged for my hotel accommodations, etc. I hadn't even told Ann until she visited in May, when I caved, in anticipation of it all.  

It's something I've been wanting to do for years and, this being the last year Tom and Eileen would be organizing it, I set my intention to go. As the time approached I became more anxious about it all, but I received lots of support from friends here and from the people at Bloom....assuring me my mother would be okay......but anything can happen at any time!!  I didn't mention it to my mother until my last visit before leaving.  I gave her a pink bunny and told her I was going to be away for a few days and the bunny was to remind her of that AND that I would be back soon.....she was to look after him until I returned.  The hospice nurse said she used it a few times to remind her that I'd gone on vacation and would be back soon, and it seemed to help.

Once away and making a tight connection in DC, I settled and began to relax.  That became easier as I met longtime friends.  Ann picked me up at Heathrow and I was through immigration and customs in no time flat (All flights both ways were smooth and without incident).  Once at Ann and Martin's, I got a second wind and we walked around the lake, along the canal, to the grocery, etc.  The fresh air and movement did the trick and I stayed up until my usual bedtime, waking the next morning at my usual time.  Stephen was spending his last few days at home before returning to Uni and it was great to see him....now a strapping young man....taller than Ann and Martin!

The next day we left around noontime for York, which was about a 4 hour drive.  I was pleased to see the beautiful countryside on the way up.  The first people to discover that I was attending were Janet and Allan, who were manning the check-in desk and saw a packet with my name on it.  Even then, Allan said it took a minute to register as he was trying to place a Brit name Donna Morris!!  So, we were greeted by Janet, Allan, Tom and Eileen.....lots of hugs all around!  We hastily got bags to the room and came back down to the lounge, where we ran into more Abqaiqers....Lois and Tony, Rick and Vicky, Alister and Jane, Andy and Margot, Pam, Carmel, and others.  It was a good afternoon, completed by a nice meal at the Fox and Roman Pub.

Thursday was a golf day for the guys and Janet, so Ann and I went into York.  It's a lovely city, perfect for walking and sightseeing.  The Minster is very impressive, but it's a city with even more to offer....a well preserved city wall, walks by the river, a busy pedestrian area for shopping, street performers, and so on.  I'm sorry the time there was so short and it's definitely a placed I'd visit again.

Tom had organized a dinner on Thursday at Toby's Carvery.  About fifty of us boarded the bus for an evening out. By this time, Lyn and Jacqui  and Dave and Rita had joined the group, and with each arrival there were more hugs, gasps of surprise, and even a few tears!  As the evening progressed, we had a short wait for the bus to return and we all congregated at one table.....like old times!

Once back to the hotel, we headed to the bar for one last drink.  Before all orders are placed, in walks Neil, Jenny and Dave, along with Kerry and Sharon and Glyn and Lola......and the party started all over again!  At this point, the old gang is present; as well as Kerry and Glyn, whom I've never met but knew from lore of old!  They left Aramco before my time, but I could see how they could fit right in!  Needless to say, it was a late evening.  The next morning Ann asked what time I went to bed and I said, "You mean after I went to my room and ordered a sandwich!!"  That could have been a better decision than it sounds!

I was down for breakfast on Friday before 9AM. I had no plans for the morning and had volunteered to help Eileen with place cards and goodie bags in the afternoon.  So, in place of trying to rush something in, I went to my room and rested/napped for about three hours......two good decisions in a row!  After a quick lunch, Eileen, Carmel and I did our thing with time to spare, leaving plenty of time to prepare for the evening.

Saturday night's dinner was sponsored by Aramco and was very nice.  The dining room looked great and each table had a lovely centerpiece.  The food was good and the patter even better.  Ali Baluchi represented Aramco and presented Tom and Eileen with a trip to the 2015 reunion in Saudi for their years of putting the UK reunions together.  I even received a lovely bowl of flowers....and I'm not sure why unless it was for coming the greatest distance. It was a delightful evening and great to see everyone gussied up and enjoying the Aramco camaraderie.

Sunday morning everyone began going separate ways and there were lots of goodbyes.  The good thing is that I've reconnected with friends I'd only heard from through others.  We've exchanged emails with the intention of remaining in touch.  I've also met Kerry and Glyn, which is an added treat as I'd heard of them for a long time.  There wasn't nearly enough time to catch up with everyone as I would have liked, but it was just wonderful to be together.  Though we're all older, there is still that connection...the same humor, quick wit and easy friendship.  I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing everyone, even though it was for a short time....the most fun I've had in a long time.

Ann and Martin were kind enough to drop me at Jean (Allan's sister) and Doug's in Stockport.  We arrived there shortly before noon and the three of us caught up a bit before going to Abi and Paul's. I'd only recently learned that Abi is pregnant and they'd recently bought a new house....a three story, huge house.  They have lots of plans for it and it's a project for Paul, who has a talent for renovating things.  I would love to see the finished product!   When we got back to Jean and Doug's, Victoria was there with Max.....the super-human child that is always smiling!!  He is as adorable as in his photos and all boy.  He has two speeds...full out and stop!!  He is so clever.....soaking up everything around him and keeping mom and dad busy.  Dinner was at Jean's with the whole family, which was great for catching up.  Victoria showed me a book they had put together for Allan's 60th birthday, which he never saw.  She did a great job with it and he would have loved it....and been so touched that she would do that for him.

Monday we met Victoria and Max at the Quarry Bank Mill.  We did a tour of the mill, which was very good.  There were lots of authentic demonstrations, with textile machinery from as far back as the Industrial Revolution.  The mill is well preserved and interesting to see.  It was also the inspiration for a BBC series, The Mill, which you can read about HERE. I was especially interested in Hannah Greg's story.  She was Unitarian and progressive for her time, as my Unitarian friends seem to be today.  Anyway, we had lunch at the cafe before seeing the gardens, which were beautiful.  The weather was warm and sunny, a lovely afternoon. Dinner was at Gusto, a very modern, attractive Italian restaurant.  It was a fun evening but the day had gone much too quickly.

Jean and Doug took me to the train station in the morning as I was going to meet Ann and the girls for lunch in London.  As we were standing on the platform, Jean asked if I'd like Allan's chain that he wore around his neck for as long as I'd known him.  She said he asked her to take it off and look after it and she knew he would want me to have it.  By this time, we are both in tears.  I was so touched, and it meant more than I can say.  The only thing missing for this whole trip was Allan.  He would have loved being with his two favorite groups, his family and his Aramco friends......and he would have been in his element. I was fully aware of how much he would have enjoyed it.

Ann met me at Euston Station and, after getting turned around only once, we met the girls and Olli (Emily's boyfriend) for lunch.  The restaurant didn't have our reservation, but we actually wound up with a better table....a room to ourselves above the main floor.  We could see the whole restaurant but were out of the noise, so we could really talk.  Katie was on her lunch break and I was having so much fun that she got away before I took a photo.  She looked so professional!  After lunch, Emily and Olli walked us to the station, stopping on the bridge for photos of the Tower Bridge and the Shard, which has been built since I was last in the UK!!  I live vicariously through Katie and Emily as they have the worldly-mindedness and maturity that I didn't seem to acquire until middle age!!

Ann and I took the train back. Margaret, Martin's mother, was home, but Stephen was back in school and Martin was in Holland on business.  So, we freshened up and walked into the village for dinner.  Our first stop was Zaza's, which was booked solid, so we went back to Remo's where we dined the night I arrived.  It was as good the second visit as the first, if not moreso!!  We came home and had a relaxing evening and morning, and a nice walk, before leaving for the airport on Wednesday.  Even the departure was not without excitement.  As we walked to the United area, we could hear AM (Arab Music as opposed to FM - Foreign Music!)  We then saw a man in thobe and qutra and four attractive, colorfully dressed women.  I couldn't resist the opportunity for a photo opp, so I went over and asked.  I was quickly surrounded by the ladies, while one of the guys took my camera and took photos (talking on a cell phone all the while!).  By this time, everyone with a camera formed a paparazzi pack and began taking photos.  It was funny.  Ann, having a good laugh, said I should be prepared to be in EypytAirs newsletter next month!!  How funny!  I was so distracted that the man behind he baggage check told Ann she'd better keep an eye on me!

So, from beginning to end, it was a fabulous vacation and the kind of break I needed...with friends and family.  With the exception of Allan not being there, it could not have been better.  I ate too much, drank too much and had too many late nights; but, somehow, I kept the pace and returned feeling renewed, energized and lighter is spirit. A special thanks to everyone for welcoming me as warmly as you always have and for making this an exceptional vacation.  It's difficult to express how much I enjoyed seeing everyone and I hope it won't be so long before our paths cross again.

My apologies for such a long post.....and for a long slideshow.  I wanted to be able to remember it all.  So, take time to view it when you can relax and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the trip.