As July came to an end I packed up my things and said goodbye to the Travel Lodge in Ealing for the last time. I was looking forward to being back home with Lara and happy to see my little gay family. That’s truly what we had become over the years, Daryl was the baby of the bunch and he was the only gay guy we would hang out with regularly these days. Heidi had been long established as one of by best friends. No sooner had I returned from London we were all excited about getting ready for our holiday.
Everything had been booked a long time ago, now all we had left to do was pack our things, get our travel money and be on our way. We’d been doing our research and had discovered that we were headed to the lively resort of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. It was getting more and more popular with the likes of the 18-30 club goers, and although this is on my things to do list before I turn 30 in 2015 this wouldn’t be the year for that holiday.
We were staying in a nice hotel on the beach removed from the main strip of bars and clubs so that we could have some peace and quiet if we wanted it, and when we did want to party we could head into the centre and get messy. It promised to be a great week away. I bought myself some new holiday clothes for the trip, I was even brave enough to buy a bikini to wear by the pool. I thought since the only people I knew there would be my gay family I had no reason to feel self conscious and I really had lost a lot of weight by this time.
I had taken care of the parking arrangements. We would all load up my car and set off for Gatwick with plenty of time to spare. I’d booked the car parking months ago. We had an evening flight and I’d allowed over six hours to travel up to the airport in time for check in. I always erred on the side of caution when flying as you could never plan for traffic.
It was a really sunny day here in the UK, we had been enjoying an unexpected heatwave throughout much of July and now we were in early August the weather seemed to be on it’s best behaviour still. We had put our favourite songs on our iPod playlists ready for whiling away the hours by the pool or on the beach, they also came in handy for the car. Earlier in the year I traded in my Peugeot for a diesel Renault Clio, I wanted one ever since I’d used one as a hire car in Corsica the year before and the moment I’d settled the car finance on my Peugeot I traded Leo (yes, I name my cars) for a younger model. My upgrade (Gloria or Glow for short) had a handy aux in for iPod connectivity and this meant that we could blast out all our favourite Glee tracks as we powered down the motorway.
We stopped in Fleet which was often the habit for a long drive out east. Once we were fed and watered we piled back into the hot car and I turned the Sat Nav on my mobile on, although I’d driven to Gatwick before I was too lazy to look up directions this time and I’d let the Sat Nav tell me which exits I needed to take. After a while we started to see signs highlighting that there was some congestion ahead on the M25 at J8 and J9, I asked Lara to find out if that would affect us. We couldn’t figure out if it would or not to begin with and then while on the M25 we noticed that it almost certainly would since these junctions were between us and the exit for Gatwick.
We thought at the worst it was only congestion, even if we were stuck in traffic for a couple of hours we’d still have plenty of time to spare to make our flight. A short while later traffic started to slow down, we’d just passed the exit for junction eleven. Then just a mile or so later we were at a stand-still. We didn’t move for hours. Every time the traffic crawled forward a millimetre I would hope that we would make it to the next exit and find an alternative route to the airport. I hoped in vain.
Time ticked slowly by and with every minute I got more frustrated. We were all getting worried about missing our flight but there was nothing we could do. We were in complete gridlock with hundreds of other cars on the M25 going nowhere. We soon heard that there had been a horrific accident up ahead which had closed traffic in both directions of the motorway. We couldn’t even see far enough ahead past the queueing cars to where the accident had happened. All we could do was watch the clock and hope that the traffic would get moving in time for us to make our flight.
It didn’t look good. Around about the time that check in opened we were still stuck in the car going nowhere. We’d figured out that if the traffic cleared we might still make it on time, better still we had just learned that the flight was delayed by an hour. It still looked like things could go our way, none of us had quite given up hope. Traffic started to crawl along but not fast enough.
Enough time passed to make me realise there was no chance of us making our flight, I was the first in the car to give up hope and get upset, then angry and then simply desperate to get off the road. It became the strangest journey, I think we experienced every spectrum of human emotion possible that day in the confines of my car. There was laughter, there were tears, there were harsh words when Lara tried to tell me there was still hope when our flight had already taken off. We decided to continue on to the airport, we couldn’t be the only ones in this predicament and there might be another flight we could book onto and reach our destination.
In a cruel twist of fate almost as soon as we had decided this the traffic started to move. The accident still had the road blocked off, the police were now on the scene and shepherding everyone off the motorway at the next exit. The worst thing that we all realised afterwards was that had riots not been breaking out throughout London at the same time as this accident there would have been more available emergency services resource to help calm the traffic. Instead only a limited number of personnel made it to the scene and the traffic was allowed to build, after all the police, fire crews and paramedics were desperately needed elsewhere.
However while we were stopped I do remember several highlights, when we’d finally all broken down and then decided there was nothing to do but make the most of a bad situation we tried to keep each other entertained. We cracked up the music and started singing and dancing, we danced the most exuberantly to Proud Mary and attracted a lot of looks from fellow motorists stuck alongside us. I also remember being intrigued by a camper van up ahead whose number plate read as N00K13 with a bumper sticker saying “If the van’s a’rockin’ don’t come knocking’…” we were all interested to see what the occupants of that vehicle looked like. By the time we drew level with them we were sorely disappointed and a little sick in our mouths. They were a repulsive couple wish gaudy gold sovereign rings, their grey hair dyed as yellow as this atrocious 9ct gold they wore and lastly they looked like they’d spent so long on a sun-bed, they might actually have turned to leather. Ah, the memories.
We arrived at Gatwick about two hours after our flight had left, still hoping that we might be able to reach Bulgaria somehow. However after a few short enquiries we discovered that there weren’t any flights leaving from Gatwick until Monday, that meant that we would lose 3 days of our holiday. We were gutted, and we had no idea what to do next to get ourselves booked onto flights on Monday… the staff at the airport weren’t particularly helpful, all they did was give us a phone number to call and send us on our way.
We got back to the car, that was another frustrating point, after speaking with the car parking attendant I discovered that they wouldn’t be able to refund my parking even though we weren’t leaving the car there for the full week and if I wanted to bring my car back on Monday I’d have to book it in all over again. I was fuming. By this point we’d all contacted our parents and let them know about the whole unhappy affair, there was nothing left for us to do except get back on the road and head home.
We all got back to Somerset without any incidents. The four of us crashed at my place, Heidi and Daryl took over the living room and Lara and I went up to my room for the night. My parents were gutted for us, we all had to scrimp and save to afford these holidays and to have something like this go wrong and lose so much of the time we had planned to be away sucked. We were lucky enough to have amazing weather at home and my parents pulled out all the stops as they tried to cheer us up, they put a BBQ on for us and everything. Not to mention when they realised we’d have to pay for our flights out to Bulgaria on the Monday they put them all on their credit card for us to pay back when we could.
Our outbound trip was further complicated by availability of the flights. Only three of us could fly from Gatwick, one of our group would have to travel from Luton airport and meet us out there. Since I was driving and had rebooked the car into the car park at Gatwick I had to go where my car was, Lara was a terrible flyer and it wouldn’t have been fair to make her go on her own so that left Daryl and Heidi to sort it out between them. Heidi generously volunteered to depart from Luton, we booked her onto a coach that would take her from Salisbury to the airport and we would take the scenic route to Gatwick and drop her off in Salisbury on the way.
Our respective trips to the airport this time went without a hitch. We kept in touch the whole journey as much as we could to make sure we’d all be arriving in Bulgaria around the same time. However as we were boarding our flight in Gatwick we learned that Heidi’s flight had been delayed by a couple of hours. It was the worst thing that could have happened for her. We had to turn our phones off and lost all contact with her until we reached Bulgaria.
When we arrived we were anxious to hear whether she’d left yet. Daryl had several text messages come through to let him know she was on her way and that she should only be a couple of hours behind us. When we arrived in Bulgaria it was the middle of the night, we were shown to our rooms and then we waited in the foyer for Heidi to arrive, we wanted to make sure she had a good welcome for all the hassle she had to put up with that day. When Heidi arrived it was a relief that we had all finally made it, all we wanted to do for that night was relax, we had a quick look around the hotel before calling it a night, we could explore in the morning. All we could do now was hope the the 4 day holiday would be amazing and we’d be able to go home knowing it had all been worth it.