This is a travel blog in one way. I’ve spent 2 days straight on 4 planes, 2 trains, 1 tram, 2 tubes,2 taxis and multiple ubers. I’ve gone back in time and hopped back forward. Covered thousands of miles and seen the insides of 4 different airports but it’s also a blog about love, friendship and the joys of the modern age.
So, Let me start at the beginning. I met Flannel on the Authors Hangout at Literotica.com sometime about 2004. How we became friends is a complicated thing but from odd messages, mornings and goodnights, we became integral parts of each other’s lives. I count him as my bestest friend in all the world. We’ve never met. Never really interacted in any way but text. I talk to anyone I know for any amount of time about him, all his friends know about me.
And so when one of those friends contacted me out of the blue to ask if I fancied surprising Flannel for his birthday I was all for it. It’s not every day you get to fly half way round the world is it, especially without it costing you a penny. Within a few hours of me agreeing, I had plane tickets for 3 weeks in the future. It barely seemed real. To be fair, it wasn’t real until I was in Flannel’s big, tight hug…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Lets go back and start the journey.
3am I woke up on the morning of the 4th February. 4.30am found me in the back of a taxi and 5.25 am had me on the Virgin Train to London Euston.
All this was fairly routine, I’ve gotten many early morning trains to London. Even the tube journey to Heathrow was nothing new. I’ve been on many a tube train but from the minute I walked into Heathrow Airport I was in new territory and totally out of my depth. I’ve flown once before, an internal UK flight which took not much more than half an hour. I’ve been out of the UK twice, once to Germany in my teens and once to Disneyland Paris with my mum about 5 years ago. So a 10 hour flight struck me as a bit daunting. I’d tried not to think about it but getting booked in, going through customs and ending up in the departure lounge brought the reality of it all home.
I’m not afraid to say I was incredibly nervous at this point. I tracked down some food, mooched around the shops then headed to my gate when I was able. The first glimpse of my plane made my stomach sink. Did you know I’m rather petrified of heights? However, every time I felt nervous I just thought to myself “At the end of it all, you’re seeing Flannel.” and that put it all in perspective.
I took my seat on my American Airlines Flight to Dallas. I was just over the wing, by the window and had no one sat on the 2 seats next to me -score. I also found it comforting when I looked at the safety leaflet to find that I was on a plane that could possibly have passed through the hands of a friend of mine. I was very surprised to find myself looking out of the window as we took off, in fact, I think it helped. I spent a lot of time staring out of the window. It was very clear when we passed over Greenland and then parts of Canada.
I spent my time reading, sleeping and making trips to the loo. The flight ended up 9 hours in length about an hour and half shorter than expected. Touching down in Dallas I was amazed by the colours of the ground below, grey blues and mustard yellows completely different to the russet and green colours of back home.
Now passing through customs was a long process, but I did get to have a conversation with a very nice passport control officer. As I explained the purpose of my journey, he asked if it was going to be on the TV. Afterall, it’s crazy enough, right? I said I might write it up and he asked to be credited for the idea as The hot security guy. So here you go, hot security guy. You’re getting your mention! Thanks for helping me feel a little less nervous too.
They let me into America (YAY) and I headed straight to the gate to get to my next flight…the one to Jackson!
The little plane was definitely small and packed. I was sat next to a lovely lady and we chatted easily as we came in to land. She was going to Hattiesburg with the American Red Cross to help those effected by the flooding. It was amazing to hear her story and she loved mine. I love how we crossed paths. Telling her all about what was about to happen was a wonderful way to stop from panicking/worrying about the next bit.
Getting off a plane in Jackson, Mississippi to meet someone, essentially a stranger, to take me to my bestest friend in all the worlds house. To meet, to see, to join in a party. So many potential worries…and when Alex wasn’t there to meet me off the plane I did worry a bit…thankfully, I got the free wifi to work and I got her message about the plan change and moments later I was embraced in a huge, excited hug.
We chatted eagerly and easily in the car, made a stop at the biggest service station I’ve *ever* seen so I could change and Alex could pick up something. I needed that change, it was past 8pm Saturday evening and I’d skipped back 6 hours as I crossed the Atlantic. I’d been wearing the same clothes for a verrrry long time.
It was surreal pulling up at Flannel’s house. Alex went in before me and I hung behind so she could introduce me.
“I’ve brought someone else along with me who wanted to come…” She turned and waved me in. I crossed the threshold and directly across from me there he stood. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. I said hello and waved and he waved back. Now, there’s a video of the whole thing – but Flannel thinks it makes him look like a doof. Not at all. He’s totally adorable. But as I’m a good friend, I’m positing just a teeny tiny clip for you – a bit where he’s not swearing or flustering so you can feel the joy of that first meeting. 13 years (give or take) friendship finally meeting face to face.
It was a moment of joy, elation, happiness and thrill. I was there, with him and it was as amazing as I’d dared dream it would be. We just hugged like, a million times and he was struggling to believe it was real too. It wasn’t until I was clasped in his hug that I truly believed it was really happening.
And I wasn’t just meeting my best friends of many years, I was meeting his friends. Some of which I’d chatted with online, all I’d heard about in tales from Flannel and I just fell in to the group like I belonged there. There wasn’t even one moment when I felt like an outsider.
Okay, so I totally didn’t understand the game we were playing but I’m not sure anyone else did either. Chardee McFlannel. Folks. All I can tell you is it’s based on a game played in a TV programme and it involves challenges of different kinds and weirdly complex rules. Oh and Flannel stood over it all as grand moderator and inflicter of pain and punishment.
I didn’t know what it was before we played and I still don’t quite know even though I was part of it! It was fun though, I think and I won a card for my team, woo hoo! It was certainly challenging and I must concede the winning side did so with great aplomb.
After the grand game we watched 90’s pop videos and sung along. There were snap bands and friendship bracelets, tasty food – including the revelation that was stripey cheese- and lots of laughter. It was brilliant.
However, I was pretty relieved at about 2.30am when the gang decided it was time to wind it’s way home. I was very, very tired indeed. Having had only little naps of sleep on my ridiculously long journey, I was ready for bed.
The next day I woke refreshed and looked forward to a day with my bestie. We started off with Brunch at Another Broken Egg Cafe being hardy types, we sat outside, skipping the queue and enjoying the fresh air. It wasn’t cold, a little drizzly but similar to an overcast spring day in Manchester. The staff were attentive, putting on a big heater for us and bringing us warm drinks like we were skiers in the alps or something.
I had a huge Gluten free pancake with blueberries, drowned in maple syrup. It was very tasty indeed.
And me and Flannel talked and talked and talked. Friends, family, life, politics and well, just about anything and everything. It was wonderful. Great to just chat when all we’ve ever done before is type.
We went home after a quick wander around the shops at Renaissance (similar in feel to somewhere like Cheshire Oaks over here) and the mall. We basically went there for the photo booth. Here’s the strip of photos together, look at the end of this piece for the individual shots up close.
After an insight into Jackson retail I got to meet 2 very important characters from House Flannel. Mister the Dog and Scout the kitten.
I’ve heard about both lots, Mister more simply because of his age and was very excited to meet them. It went well. Mister and I got on from the first moment. He is the most genteel, gentlemanly dog I have ever met with the most velveteen ears. Scout, however, is a monster. Soft, fluffy and all teeth and claws. However, we did come to a truce eventually. Cute lil’ bugger that he is. It was a great moment of contentment when the 3 of us shared a sofa. Snuggly animals are a wonderful hot water bottle!
It was an afternoon of more chat, a visit to whole foods (oh yes, I was getting properly acclimatised) to pick up yummy gluten free stuff, and Flannel Cooking for me. I did enjoy watching the cooking but the best bit was the eating. Lord, that man can cook.
Mahi Mahi with GF pasta and Marinara sauce.
I wanted a taste of something new to me, and the Mahi Mahi was that. Cooked so damn perfectly, it was moist and flaky and soooooo good. The sauce was deep and flavourful and the brown rice pasta cooked just perfectly (no mean feat, I can tell you!) I was most happily stuffed after dinner.
Somehow my trip managed to coincide with the Super Bowl! So I got to be part of a real, actual Superbowl party with lovely new friends and my Flannel. Who actually managed to explain the game simply enough so I actually understood some of the stuff going on for a change. It is well known that I carry a curse. Whichever team I pick, loses. So as Flannel’s girlfriend Jo wanted The Falcons to win, I took to supporting the Patriots ‘cos I’m nice like that.
Seemed to be working to…but then it all went wrong and the Patriots actually won. So either my superbowl curse doesn’t work in the US or it goes on the team I really want to win. Anyway, it was a fun evening and I got to actually see the commercials which everyone raves about!
Monday morning saw the end of my whirlwind visit. We were both a bit subdued, but I got in a BFF selfie, some chat and several hugs.
I left Jackson with a tear in my eye, love in my heart and a burning desire to get back there ASAP. We might have built our friendship on typed word but now, nothing more than face to face will really do. :)
My journey home went well, I got a lovely new necklace at Jackson airport and drank actual tea…well, sort of. It was an iced sweet tea lemonade which went down alright actually.
I had no nerves at all, flying back. It seems I actually rather enjoy it. I got to Charlotte Airport after a short flight and found myself with a good few hours to kill. I loved this airport, there were rocking chairs dotted around all over the place to sit and relax as well as lots of shops and restaurants all over the place. I enjoyed a sit on a rocking chair, went to Bad Daddy’s (very tasty, lovely service and a pretty good GF menu!) for my lunch and bought souvenirs for the family at home.
I was ready for a good long nap once I got on my American Airlines flight back to London Heathrow. I had a bite to eat (It was edible…kinda) and a drink then settled down for a sleep. I’m quite glad to say I actually managed to sleep for a good few hours, clearly I was exhausted. All my flights with American were delightful. The staff were friendly and professional and the planes (especially the long haul ones) were comfortable.
Once I got back to Heathrow it was a simple Tube and train and taxi journey to reach home. And I was very glad to get back to my amazing husband and my delightful daughter who I’d missed greatly.
Things I learnt:
Stripey cheese exists and it is delicious (also it’s really called Colby Jack)
The Winter weather in Jackson is the perfect preview of spring for a Brit.
American snickers taste like bum.
Trans Atlantic Travel Trips:
Drink lots of water.
Sleep when you can.
Be prepared for customs (electronics, meds, small bottles in a see thru bag, always have your passport and boarding pass in hand!)
Once on the plane start thinking in terms of the time at your destination. Makes the time jump easier to get your head around.
Flannel’s face when he first saw me.
Flannel’s friends and their friendliness.
Grilled Cheeses. (I only heard about them but they were epic!)
The moment when I understood what was happening in the superbowl before anyone told me.
Mister’s velvety ears.
Mahi Mahi a la Flannel (oh so nom)
Photo booth fun with my bestie.
It was the wildest, craziest weekend of my life and I loved every minute of it. I am truly thankful to Alex for getting me there, to all Flannel’s friends for making me feel welcome and to Flannel for being the awesome, bestest friend he is. Miss your face.
The moral of the story is: Don’t hesitate. Do it. Have an adventure. There’s a whole wide world out there.