The streak finished: 15 consecutive months of spending time outside the UK and then came April 2017, during which I visited Sheffield and Manchester and Stoke but nowhere beyond the English borders. Time to start afresh, then.
It's Helen's birthday this weekend, so it's time for her Christmas present. Some readers may recall that for Christmas 2016 we each bought the other a mystery trip abroad, with the stipulation that no time off work was required. She whisked us off to wonderful Haarlem in January, for a weekend of steep stairs and beer in an owl-themed brewpub. 4 months later, I've brought us to Germany's most boring large city.
That might be unfair. I don't really know much about Hannover and have barely spent any time outside in it yet. What I do know is how I got here.
It started with a trip to my local surgery for yet another check up on my lungs. I had a 2 week asthma flare-up recently, caused amusingly by asthma medication. So they needed to make sure this newer dose isn't similarly problematic. The appointment was at 1610, so I'd booked a cab to the airport for 1700.
Helen was left playing Fable III in my living room, being bemused by onscreen notifications of how many sex acts - solo and group, apparently - some of my xbox live friends have performed in the game, while I sat panicking in the waiting room. My surgery is normally fantastic, but I was nervously tapping my feet as I wasn't called for 15 minutes beyond my time. Eventually I was in and out (and admonished for not yet having my free "you're over 40" health check) and jogging back to the flat in brutal heat.
I was jogging because the panic hadn't subsided. By now it was around 1645 and I hadn't finished packing, plus had been alerted to someone coming round to view my flat the next morning. I thought it was a free weekend so I could leave it somewhat messy but no, a last minute appointment came up. Plus, Mogul Cars cabbies are always super punctual, regularly turning up 10 minutes before the booked time. Grargh!
So, I threw some random clothes in a bag, put my passport in my pocket, panicked more while shouting "don't panic! Don't panic!" at Helen, and was just about ready by 1658, at which point Mogul Cars phoned to tell me their notoriously early driver would be late because he's stuck in traffic. Well bollocks.
Things didn't improve from there. The car was one of the shabbiest cabs I've been in for a while, and the driver was ... interesting. Traffic isn't his fault, but how he behaves in it is, and Helen and I both would have rather he didn't get embroiled in lots of hand waving and wanker shouting (from the other party) and sticking fingers up etc in the awful traffic leading through Hampton. Bleurgh.
In fact, his driving was poor throughout. Lots of needless lane changes, having to brake way too hard due to unnecessary spurts of acceleration in the smallest of gaps, etc. And the journey took forever, over an hour to get to T5. Comfortably the worst cab ride to Heathrow either of us have ever had. The only saving grace is that such a long ride doesn't cost more when it's a flat rate airport run from a decent firm. But, meh. A one off - Mogul are normally amazing - but this left a sour taste.
Anyway. No matter. We're at Heathrow, 2 hours before take off. Not as much time as we'd wanted, but we're still not in a hurry. Time to try something new and fancy: since I was last here, there's a new thing opened called The First Wing. This is a sectioned off security corridor leading directly into the First class lounge - a faster fast track, usable only by those with gold cards or equivalent, or travelling first.
Reports on FlyerTalk are almost universally positive, so I was a bit meh when I saw both lanes were full of people. In fact, I didn't really find anything about it better than regular fast track except that it decants you straight into the lounge, which is a genuine improvement - to get her normally involves a long schlep through the terminal, down some escalators and up some more.
So, eventually, here we are in the first class lounge, again. Time to get on the champagne.