So, being the last week in January, and being the last Tuesday in that week, I headed up t’smoke for my usual excursion to Earl’s court for the Amusement trade exhibition. Previous years have meant emerging from a warm bed at an unearthly hour, and driving up early on the Tuesday morning to beat the traffic. This year I tried something different and decided to head up the night before, taking advantage of one of Travelodge’s saver rooms and paying only £26, a price that is unheard of in London.
Leaving at 10pm and stopping for the obligatory 4-pack of Carling from Tescos we finally got onto the M4 just after 10:30. It was a particularly boring journey until an overhead sign just outside Bristol notified me that “M4 CLOSED J1 – J3.” No explanation, no reason, no idea why. The problem I had was that my room was in the hotel next to Heston Services, between junction 2 and 3 on the M4(!). The thought of a *very* cold night in the car wasn’t good, and a few phone calls were made.
The first number I got from directory enquiries was for the main customer services number of Travelodge. Now, bearing in mind I was doing 80mph, background noise would have been at a premium. An automated Scottish voice welcomed me to Travelodge, explained what would happen next, and then asked my which Travelodge I would like to contact. I said “Heston,” as clearly as I could. The robot woman replied, “You’d like to contact Chester, is this correct?” Sighing, I said “no,” to which I got to try again. This time I slowed down a bit, and deliberately slowed down where I was trying to phone. “Hessssstttttttonnnnn,” I said, crossing my fingers. “Preston, Chorley?” came back the reply. “NNNnnnno,” I replied. It then had the great pleasure in telling me that it couldn’t understand me (something I think all women feel), and seeing as the customer services office was now closed, I was welcome to phone back at 8 o’ clock in the morning. I hung up.
Brainwave! I know, I’ll phone directory enquiries again, and this time I’ll get the number of the actual Travelodge that was my domicile if I get there. My luck was in, and I got the correct number, and a friendly voice answered the phone. My mate, Mustafa, first of all wanted to verify my details, but couldn’t find any record of my stay. I wasn’t going to argue until I got there, so I just told him we’d sort it when we arrived. I asked if he knew about the motorway being closed, and he said “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that (!).” He then told me I’d have to “come in the back way” and proceeded to give me instructions to, at one point, turn into a darkened single track lane and head through a farm gate and cattle grid. Anyway, we got to Junction 3, and it was open anyway.
Settling down for a swift tinny, and then finally to bed just before 3am. We checked out at 8am, ready to head to meet Misty. Only, the car decided it didn’t want to go anywhere, what with having a flat battery. I had a second battery in the boot (don’t ask!) and even a booster pack just in case, but neither would start the car. A quick call to the AA, and an hour later the car was started.
Arriving at Earl’s court some 45 minutes after opening, we headed into the fun filled exhibition hall. First to impress us was a duo dancing on the latest dance sequence thingy. They were getting perfect scores, and had quite a large crowd gathering around them. Another highlight was a four player version of “Need for Speed – Underground”, which had all 4 of us thoroughly hogging for some 20 minutes. Freebies were being gathered aplenty, especially by Misty who’d seemed to have made it her mission to get as much free as possible.
Her horror when she realised John had been given a small box of Miniature Heroes for driving a slot car slowly for 5 laps and she didn’t get anything was a picture worth beholding. Punch balls, a fairly common machine throughout the industry now, were duly pounded. John gave as hard a punch as he could, and seemed happy with the result. Giles (6ft something and regular pubgoer) gave it his best shot and scored 630. Misty took a high kick at it, giving men all around the area an eyeful. I slammed into the machine nearly knocking it over, but only scored 643 leading me to think it’s not as accurate as we’d like. Giles said “I’m not having that,” and took another 4 shots before finally getting 681, and a new high score.
We headed to the pub for lunch (Misty insisted!) and it was surprisingly busier then normal. Fed and watered (or wined, beered, lagered or J2O’d) be got back into the show and Giles went off to look at the casino bit that didn’t really interest me and John wouldn’t have been allowed into anyway. We headed for my highlight last year, the 3D Theater, and after queuing for 15 minutes or so, we all got in. I thought Misty was close to a coronary as a large boulder followed us on a runaway mine cart, and she laughed harder then was surely safe? John could be heard saying “wee, weeee, weeeEEEEeeee,” as the mine cart skipped from one bit of track to another to another.
We also found a miniaturised bowling alley, and all 3 of us set up a standard game. I kept missing all the pins, and John and Misty headed into a lead. 3 points couldn’t have separated them for most of the game, Misty having the advantage. The last frame and I got a strike, then a 7 and a 2, finally winning over both the others by 1 point. Smug? Me???
Finally leaving, and surprise surprise, the car didn’t want to start. I manage to jump start it this time with both batteries. As we drop Misty back in her manor, I foolishly stop the engine and it won’t start. Darkness draws in, and the AA visit again. The diagnosis is not good, in that the battery was completely caput. The spare was from an old donor car, and so fortunately was rated correctly for my car. The AA blokey swapped the batteries and the car was fine, but it wasn’t just my nerves that were a little more then shattered. We stopped for fuel and grub near Reading, and finally got home a little after 10 o’clock but feeling like it was the middle of March.
Too many lowlights for me to pick one, but what was the highlight for me?
Meeting Misty of course.
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