Gaz gets to come back to Britain alternate Christmasses, and Christmas 2017 was to have been one of his ‘away’ Christmasses.
His fiftieth birthday was due to fall on Boxing Day, so decided I should make the effort to spend Christmas with him, it’s what Val would have wanted to do.
I made good time to Heathrow, just two hours from Basildon, despite the best – or worst – efforts of TFL.
Check-in was swift (although at over 28kg I was sailing very close to my 32Kg allowance) and I was soon ensconced in the lounge.
I was frankly unimpressed with Gulf Air, the entertainment was distinctly second rate, as was the food.
The one redeeming feature of the flight was possibly the cutest flight attendant I’ve ever travelled with – in over thirty years of flying!.
I had a brief layover in Bahrain, a bite of breakfast in another anodyne lounge, then a fifty minute hop down to Abu Dhabi.
I had a brief delay in getting my car at Abu Dhabi – the girl arrived after ten minutes with paper reading ‘Robert Messey’ – close but no tip, particularly after another fifteen minutes sorting a car.
Check in at the Sheraton was efficient, but there were many restrictions on the ‘all inclusive’ deal.
I’d been ‘upgraded’ to a ‘club’ room, so no complaints there, the Sheraton was one of Abu Dhabi’s first hotels and is ‘old school’, no complaints there, but there’s little glitz or glamour compared to more modern hotels.
Gaz called round mid afternoon (after work and his radiotherapy zap) and collected his bounty. Parma ham, bacon (lots of bacon), gala pie, salami and a bottle of Port.
We met again later with Nancy and her friend ‘Perfect’ (she’s Nigerian) and we enjoyed an evening of food and drink in the Sheraton.
My meal was included in my AI deal, but I signed for theirs.
Next day, Christmas Day, I spent a few hours by the pool, and grabbed a light lunch before Gaz, Nancy and Perfect arrived.
They arrived earlier than I was expecting, and I was still in my shorts.
After we’d ordered the first round Gaz suggested “get yourself dressed, you look like a bloody tourist”.
I promptly got changed and we spent six hours in the bar (Gaz picked up this tab).
There was a pretty good band playing and we had a good time, although when everyone stood up to sing “Hey Jude” I got a tad emotional as somewhere, in a different timeline, Val was up there singing with them.
I took a taxi to the Abu Dhabi Mall on Boxing Day morning, I needed a book as the one I’d bought in Heathrow simply wasn’t cutting it.
I bought the new Joe Hill book, and a pair of rather nice Mont Blanc sunglasses at 30% off. I later loaded my suitcase up with Gaz’s Christmas and Birthday gifts and headed over to his apartment.
Several more of Nancy’s Nigerian friends were there, they had no social grace between them and thought nothing of sitting down between two people who were holding a conversation, then loudly watching Nigerian YouTube videos, or opening bottled beer with their teeth! Ah well.
We sat outside in the warm sunset, the girls watching Nigerian music videos on their phones.
It was a ‘school night’ (work next day), so it was a fairly subdued affair, only one of Gaz’s colleagues came over, but it was good to catch up with him, I’d met him at my 60th birthday bash earlier in the year.
I returned to my hotel at about eight and drank (All Inclusive) rum & cokes by the beach.
Gaz advised me that his Christmas gift to me would be the Grand Prix tickets in November.
I spent much of Wednesday by the pool reading my new book and enjoying the sunshine, perhaps overdoing the sunshine, but what the heck?
Gaz came over after work, we had a few beers, but it was a pretty low key day. The Sheraton was hosting a Seafood Buffet in the main dining room, so I tried to get into the Mexican restaurant.
I was told it was fully booked, but a Young German lad invited me to join him with his parents, as they had a spare seat.
The meal was a disaster, and we all walked out. I walked down to the beach bar and spent the rest of the evening drinking with a different German Couple.
By the time I had to check out, at lunchtime, I’d finished the Joe Hill book and left my travelling clothes in the sports club. I had lunch at ‘The Tavern’ and then took a cab to ‘The Captain’s Arms’ for a few beers.
Gaz had been undergoing radiotherapy (a daily zap after work) after his recent operation and his hair’s starting to fall out.
He did express his appreciation that I’d taken the trouble to spend Christmas in the sandpit.
My suitcase for my return flight was (literally!) half the weight it was on my outward journey.
The return journey was as mediocre as the outward, and I returned to a cold and rainy London. I was home by ten thirty and within an hour had the washing machine underway, and Layla sleeping on my lap – I was forgiven.