In preparation for our insertion into the wilds of Canada we undertook that most popular of training ordeals, the Great North Run. This is our third (and last) Great North Run – it’s just too busy.
If you are training for an expedition that requires you to run more sideways than forwards, that requires you to stay constantly vigilant in case the man or woman in front stops suddenly and lights up a fag, or that prepares you for the day you need to respond to a shout of ‘oggie, oggie, oggie’ in an appropriate manner (‘oi, oi, oi’) – then this run is for you. If you want to run a half marathon – I’m afraid it’s not been possible to do that for some years and I have been too kind to the organisers in returning three times to see if it is possible. Unless you are an elite, an excellent club runner or a celebrity you will not be able to unravel yourself from the pack in order to get any kind of running rhythm. Far too many people clearly overestimate their ability to run 13.1 miles, submit that they will go round in two hours and then take three, stalling the entire field behind them in the process.
In my humble opinion – it has got too big. It’s just a fun run now.
We did get some good preparation for our trip though, through our experience of the British service industry (yet again). If ever we needed reminding that we were heading for a place where visitors are welcome!
Our hotel, like so many in the UK, was comfortable and clean but anything resembling ‘added quality of service’ was chargeable. Breakfast was extra even though we were over a hundred a night for basic accommodation. And the thing that annoys me more than anything else – wifi is £3 per 24 hours.
So of course I didn’t pay. And when I couldn’t search the web for sights of interest in Newcastle – Newcastle’s sights of interest didn’t get my custom – and probably never will. Is that good business?
Before the run we ate at Jamie’s Italian in Newcastle which was very good (it costs ‘very good’ of course). We went to a favourite of ours the next night ‘Five Guys’ and walked back out when we realised they have hiked their prices into the sit-down dining league without providing any of the sit-down dining experience. The thing we loved about ‘Five Guys’ was the quality at a low price, fast food experience. I predict the demise of ‘Five Guys’ in the UK.
We enjoyed a very good sit-down dining experience at Byron’s Proper burgers. The prices were the same and we got someone to serve and clear up after us into the bargain.
So with a dodgy hip from skipping left and right to avoid joggers dressed as cartoon characters and mixed feelings about my eating out experiences, we set off for Glasgow to get our plane to Heathrow and on to Calgary. This was yesterday at about half one, it is 24 hours of sleep deprivation later as I write this. Subtract seven hours for the time in Western Canada.
The food on the flight was quite good to be honest and after watching three fairly new movies we arrived without too much pain. Of course we were exhausted on arrival and I knew we still had to sort out the hire car and find our hotel without SatNav.
Now when we booked out holiday the hire car was a bargain at $20 a day … I think you know how this is going to go:
Thrifty Rental Girl: Good evening Sir, can I have your name?’
I spell my name and pass a few pleasantries in a weary but genuine desire to be polite.
Thrifty Rental Girl: I see you have booked a compact car (shows picture Noddy’s toy car). Would you like to upgrade to an actual car with an engine, a steering wheel, seats and stuff?
Me (smiling knowingly): No thanks – just the compact model will be fine.
Thrifty Rental Girl (smiling smugly): That’s fine Sir. Would you be requiring navigation?
Me (wondering how the hell I will find my hotel): How much is that?
Thrifty Rental Girl: Just $14.99 per day Sir. Shall I include it?
Me (calculating the cost of almost $150 being the cost of a new SatNav): No – I will be fine thanks.
Thrifty Rental Girl (pursing her lips – a right one here!): Would you like our breakdown cover in case the car breaks down?
Thrifty Rental Girl: So you will be happy to be left stranded in the wilds of British Columbia surrounded by bears and wild Deliverance-type mountain men while smoke comes out of the engine compartment of your Noddy toy car?
Thrifty Rental Girl (smiling – as she knows she has the killer blows yet to deliver): Sir is aware that there is a $250 one- way drop charge at the other end?
Me (who forgot but did actually know this would happen): Yes.
Thrifty Rental Girl: Finally Sir. Would you like to take our insurance policy for $11 per day?
Me: What do you mean? I’m not insured in the price?
Thrifty Rental Girl: Oh yes Sir. But this covers you for up to $500 in case you accidentally damage the paintwork or any other part of the vehicle – which our valet team frequently pick up during the post-return inspections. This is the cheapest way – its $11 a day or $500 at the end (sudden threatening expression).
Thrifty Rental Girl: They truly are expert at finding $500 worth of stone chips on returned cars.
Me (knowing that at least I avoided the SatNav cost): Fine!
Thrifty Rental Girl (commission totted up): Would you like some help with directions, Sir?
Me: Yes please.
Now I am not accusing the girl of anything untoward, but without the help of SatNav and following her annotated map as a guide we took a full two hours to get to our hotel – and only after completing a full night-time tour of Calgary and suburbs, and stopping at a 7-eleven to be told that our map made no sense whatsoever. There were moments when I thought we would have to bunk down in the car or abandon it and get a taxi. I was sorely tempted to go back to the airport and rent the bloody SatNav.
We eventually found it using an old fashioned navigational trick my wife’s father taught me from his time driving buses around unfamiliar cities – dumb luck. We more or less drove everywhere until we landed upon it. Well – we did do a bit of mapping with the help of our 7-eleven hero – but our success owed more to chance than anything else.
So we wearily entered our hotel and fell into bed almost immediately. Desperate for sleep we hit the pillow and conked out.
Four hours later we woke up and realised it was midday back home!
Unable to sleep we planned our day and went down to breakfast.
More of that later.