Highway to HEL In HIlton Bar bar t'at

Alright, no fucking about here. It's gone midnight and thus October 2nd where I am, but still October 1st in the UK, and I'm already deep into my 10th instalment for 2016. There are so many puns it hurts to make most of them. The Finnish line is in sight, and that. Hello, I'm in Helsinki. Well, I'm in the Hilton which is attached via covered walkway to Helsinki airport. Let's see if I can reconstruct my journey here.

Actually - and come on, you 40 or so people who read this, you know the deal - let's see if I can't spout some nonsense about the day before I got here 'n that. So, Saturday morning, Parkrun. I'd spend the whole of Friday feeling like absolute shit, a hangover plus lethargy and was dead on my feet after virtually nothing to drink in the evening. Honestly, I was thinking that Parkrun could do one and I wasn't even that bothered about the flying.

Come 7am, of course, and none of that is true. I woke up feeling great, but that was at 1am. At 4am I felt less great, but I find Buster the cat's hassle amusing rather than annoying. At 7am I felt meh, neither here nor there. I'd already given up the football home game to spend the time with Helen before the gallivanting, but parkrun was on its 12th birthday so I headed off there. Ran a half decent time, in termporally relative terms. Lots of deer around.

Back to Thames Ditton, late, since all the presentations plus extra people plus time plus etc meant I missed the train back. For the first 2 and a half years of doing parkrun, it genuinely didn't rain between 0900 and 0930 when I turned up - even if it had been raining, it would stop for that golden half hour. Well, today it was lovely when I left the cottage and as soon as we all set off it WELLIED it down. At one point a man apologised for splashing puddles into me. No mate, this is my favourite weather to run in. Me and no-one else. My splits were great. But enough running bullshit.

Thames DItton. Breakfast, then uber to Kingston. Lots and lots of clothes shopping, for me and Helen. A break for food in Itsu, whose tables have 4 USB charging points per 2 seats. Wow! I still wonder why all hotels across the world haven't ripped out their plugs and replaced them with ones that also do USB. Surely it's time?

I leave Helen in M&S, about to try 3 pairs of jeans while still beaming about buying the GREATEST KICKS IN THE WORLD EVER (which look just like mine). The X26 turns up, I get one of the last seats, and put on the second part of the Vince Russo/Kevin Sullivan podcast. Goddamn these men are fantastic heels. I hate their opinions so much.

Oh, shit, I only just started consulting my notes. I totally missed out the thing I'd marked as "Helsinki preamble". Let's deal with that here.

Can you hold my cat sick?

The answer, as if there was any doubt, was "yes". So now let's get back to today. The X26 was much faster than all pubic transport apps had led me to believe, and hey presto here's Hatton Cross.

Tube comes in that's going to weird way round the loop, T4 before T123. Some people board with enormous luggage and I am typically gobsmacked. At T123 I waltz through the corridors with my headphones on, stopping only to chat on facebook to my AFC Wimbledon supporting mates about our glorious 2-0 half time lead that's won me £30.

Inside the terminal are many signs. I know the way to departures, and fast track is one of the fastest fast tracks I've ever seen. As at Tokyo Haneda in July, there is literally no-one ahead of me and they have to fire up the machine when I get there. It's great and I'm through in seconds.

I know exactly where the BA lounge is, but there is appalling signage which attempts to make - and succeeds in making - things way more confusing that it need be.

So gates F-H are to the right, and all the airlines using gates F-H are listed under the left arrow. Meanwhile under the right arrow... I mean just fuck off. Anyway, I know my way to the BA lounge and there I head. At the gate the man tells me there's a delay.

I'm getting a bit fed up with my phone and wrist by now. For my sins, I have alerts set up on both CheckMyTrip and Kayak as well as BA itself and holy smokes. All apps have been alerting me for hours that my flight is delayed: originally it was going to take off at 2005 (scheduled 1840), and ever since it has been getting ever closer to being on time again. But both CheckMyTrip and Kayak deem a single minute change being worthy of an email. Newsflash: it's not. It actually occurs to me that I really don't need these details at all, ever, because knowing there's a delay provides me with precisely no useful information at all. So I guess I'll fuck them off.

Anyway, I'm in the BA lounge. It seems pretty busy but at the back there are seats, and I grab one which is next to the wall and therefore has mains sockets. I get a drink - a large Gentleman Jack bourbon - sit down, and discover this isn't true. No power. So I grab everything and head to a different seat, which is also way more private and comfortable. Excellent.

I head up for sandwiches, and on the way back grab a can of Tribute, which leads me to make a terrible/fantastic joke on instagram and Facebook. Tenacious D 'n that. I also get cake, which I've not seen before, and is lovely.

My flight seems to be settling on being 20 minutes late. Both Helen and Chris independent ask me about champagne and I have to explain to both that there doesn't seem to be any. Also the man who has taken a spot in the seat nearest me is snoring very loudly, which is a mixture of amusing, embarrassing, and annoying. So, fuck it, I have access, I'll go to the American Airlines lounge. It's virtually next door, after all, and I've apparently got a 20 minute bonus. This I tell to the staff at the door there, who are very amused.

A text arrives from my flatmate, telling me he'll be in the pub with a mutual friend this evening. I reply "I'll be on a plane to Finland", and get back the response "Really?". I've known this guy for well over 20 fucking years, jesus.

Anyway, I'm in the AA lounge. There's no champagne, but there is self-pour prosecco. It'll do. I snarf a glass - well, a plastic, and the second one because the first is chipped - and it's alright. The place is silent, almost creepily so. Helen has lent me a hat after mine got drenched in the morning and she wants photos of it on tour, but I fail to get a pic of it in this lounge until I am on my way out, less than 20 minutes since I got there because the gate has been announced.

I am of course way too early at the gate. But actually, they announce priority boarding early and very few people get up. I'm onboard at around the time we're originally meant to have set off, having battled past the moody teenager in seat 1C. Hang on, why is there someone in 1C? Damn it!

The announcements start, including the non-automatic (i.e. read by a human) one about "to help us get away on time". Um, we've already failed at that...

As we taxi, for what seems like forever, I take a series of pretty naff photos and try not to doze off in the dim light before we take off. I then take some terrible photos during take off, and before I know it there's a hot towel. Pretty swift.

The family in seats 1C, 1D and 1F all fall asleep almost immediately. In next to no time I'm writing down "Stanhope" because I'm reading Doug's book, and then "where's my champagne?" - before I even get to finish writing that, I'm asked what drink I like. Service on here is damn fast.

No, seriously fast. The food choice is offered before we've left the UK border: chicken or cod. I go for cod and it arrives very promptly. The portions seems smaller than recently, but very very tasty.

The faux sunset is pretty nice

Honestly, no idea. Reading? We hadn't been in the air long. So terribly blurry as well. I wish there was a cost effective way to visually express how cool it is to be above big cities at night.

This was very bloody nice.

Of course there was champagne.

The thing about the service was it didn't feel hurried. There's a skill to that, I think. It probably also helped that there was only 4 rows of business class, at least one of which was empty and the rest of row 1 were barely eating. I was probably the most eager customer, which I am neither surprised nor embarrassed by.

With 90 minutes to go - so, about half way through the flight - another champagne arrives. Good work. Earlier there had been a general announcement, "if you want another drink during the flight just ask us or hit the call bell". It'll all be different after next January back in economy, when you have to pay even for water...

I read Stanhope's book for longer. At one point, without prior warning, they dim the cabin lights. I'm convinced this is the first time I've ever been a short haul flight where this has happened. So I turn my reading light on - everyone else was already asleep before the lighting change, damn it.

Another champagne arrives. I keep reading. The captain comes on the tannoy to announce our progress; there's half an hour left, so 20 minutes until the toilets shut and stuff. When the cabin crew come to pick up rubbish I ask "reckon I've time for another champagne?" and he comes back with one open for me to drink, and "one to take with you as well". I grin, which with my teeth is horrible, but it's an involuntary reaction to such kindness. Free champagne!

We touch down at 2335, scheduled arrival time. I can see the Hilton hotel signs as we taxi. We're at the gate by 2339, and then it takes a ludicrous 20 bloody minutes to actually reach the hotel thanks to a very long walk through the terminal. We're going through gates - looks like a decent back to back option - and there are people sleeping on seats, while all the bars and shops have closed. Next flight isn't for 5 hours. Brave folk.

At the airport is a "customer service" jeep. What?

Passport waved through, no bag to pick up, outside and signs directing me through a covered walkway and then, I'm at the Hilton. Landing so late I totally couldn't be bothered to book a hotel in the city centre. I just wanted to step off the plane, already drunk (as I knew I would be) and into bed.

Checking in is easy. Finding my room, slightly less so. The corridor on floor 1 has rooms numbered similarly to a street in England - odds on one side, evens on the other. However they don't line up, despite not actually being a street but a hotel with identical rooms. So my 139 next to 137 is opposite, er, 148 and 146. What?

It's actually a very decent room. I'm impressed. And it's going to earn me a bunch of Avios, which helps. Anyway, I'm drunk and tired so naturally I check in, go to my room, and then back down to the bar. En route I speak to Helen and send her photos and she points out I've already stopped taking her hat everywhere. At the bar, this becomes the phrase "At Hilton bar bar t'at" to the tune of the song "On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at" and I think this is inordinately funny, so much so I really want to shout it out.

But I don't. There are 5 people at the bar and seemingly none of them are speaking to one another. As I arrive - 25 minutes before closing time - someone is arguing with the chef and sending a meal back.

I get a lager. The other people start vaguely to talk to each other, and food arrives for all of them. The staff take the 0030 closing time seriously, asking me at 0025 if I want another beer. I ask for the darkest they have. It's only 3.8%, and I should probably be thankful for this mercy.

Literally as I type this sentence, it's 0135 local time. I intend to be out of here by 0700 for some serious tourism. Wish me luck.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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