Sunday, 24 January 2016

"Next time, bring your flute" - From Bright Close to Banff in 20 hours!

The day began with a sleepy 7am start in Saxmundham and a smooth 2.5 hour car journey to Heathrow, accompanied by Mum, Grandma and, of course, Billy Joel! Checking-in with cello in tow is always likely to present some sort of challenge... but really that was a breeze, compared to the challenge faced by 3 generations of Virrs/Wheelers trying to navigate our way through a maze of elastic airport barriers..! Oh dear! So once we'd found our way to the actual check-in desk, it was just a case of finding a name for my cello companion on the Air Canada computer system. So, may I introduce to you all Mr CBBG ZZ... catchy.

After some farewell tea and crumpets, big hugs causing a sudden, brief onset of hay fever (honest!), we headed through security. If I hadn't yet fully woken up, I certainly did when the security guard, upon seeing my cello on the hand luggage belt, exclaimed "Oh I'll just shove it in... It might fit!" Thankfully it did, so after an 'anxious-apple' and a wonder through departures (there's even a Harrods... oh, I say!), it was time to board.

Cue next heart-in-mouth moment when lovely lady at gate said, "We're going to have to take that cello off you and get our maintenance men to put it on the aircraft." I began conjuring up images of Mr Cello sitting on the wrong plane and ending up on a hot beach in Hawaii, or perhaps an eager runway attendant whipping out the cello for a little play before boarding... Anyway, perhaps the lovely lady sensed my slight trepidation at the thought of being parted from my companion, as she took me to meet maintenance man and all round chirpy chappy Andy, who took cello and I onto the plane! Andy greeted me by shouting, "Now THAT'S not a guitar!" Too right! After ripping out half of the seat, adjusting heights, armrests and headrests etc, and strapping the cello in with a big blue web of buckles and straps (no trouble at all!), Andy's job was done, so he wished me a pleasant trip, with the parting words: "Next time, bring your flute." Classic.

Meanwhile, I had been getting to know one of the flight attendants, a cheery lady who welcomed me onto the plane with: "Well I know who's going to be playing for her supper today!" Cheery lady was so very friendly, and she even made me an early cup of coffee "with cream", and we spoke about the town of Banff. After sharing with me her take on the beauty of the mountains in Banff and recommending nice things to do, she said "There are lots of cute guys there too!" (Complete with cheeky wink) And then, an absolute gem: "But I must tell you, Banff has the highest rate of STDs in the whole of Alberta!" Slightly shocked, I (very Britishly) thanked her for the heads-up, whilst she wondered off, calling out "A part of me is always a Mom!"
Easily amused, this episode tickled me for a decent hour out of the 9.5 hour flight!

The friendly human encounters didn't end there, as one of the first people I met after passing through Canadian customs was Duane. At Calgary airport, there were numerous volunteer helpers, all dressed in red and cream, with very cool cowboy hats on... fabulous! Duane saw me looking a little lost and offered to give me a hand - what a lovely chap. We got to know each other rather well - he used to play the trombone, but that was nearly 40 years ago.. and he worked at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canmore... and he broke both of his shoulders and his knee whilst skiing. He had all the stories to tell. Duane very kindly showed me to my shuttle bus - which, unlike the rather swish pictures on the website, only housed a small handful of people... one of which was a man from Quebec. I wish I'd known he was French before I had tried my most O.T.T "Ah, Oui!" when he asked "Is that a violoncelle?" Awks!

The journey out of Calgary and into the Rockies was just amazing. It is quite hard to describe the overwhelming beauty of the proud, majestic mountains - especially as the light faded. I have arrived at The Banff Centre in complete darkness, but I can already tell that our surroundings are breathtaking! I think that waking up tomorrow morning will be unlike anything Mr Cello and I have ever experienced... for now there's just time for a quick read of the Security and Safety manual before bed, which has a double-page spread about the local wildlife: Bears, Coyotes, Elk, Deer... I'd better learn how to climb trees!

P x

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