Day 21: Sunday 11th August

Another delay!!! After our wait in departures we have a 10 minute walk to Gate 2. Our flight is due to take off at 12.35am. However, when we arrive, there is a sign telling us that the flight is delayed until 1.00am, which is 3.00am for our body clocks. We are all a little weary, and that doesn’t make us feel any better. However, nobody complains.

At 1.15am we have still not boarded, we do so not long afterwards and the plane takes off just before 2.00am. The pilot tells us that the delay was due to the fact that we had to wait for a connecting flight to arrive from China, he hopes to be able to make up for some of the lost time by ‘taking a few short cuts’ I’m not certain what that means and whether or not I should be happy or worried.

Another problem is that the air conditioning unit at the rear of the plane is not working. When we take off, the main engines will work the air conditioning, but while we sit on the run way it is uncomfortably hot. Tom Wallace looks particularly flustered.

When we are in the air, the cooling system works, but the length of the flight (over 12 hours) and the fact we are on our homeward journey and already tired make the flight seem quite arduous. I feel that it is easily the most uncomfortable of the 5 flights we have made.

We do make up a little time, and arrive in London by 6.40am, but this is a busy time at Heathrow and we have to ‘queue’ for a landing slot and eventually land at 7.00am. We leave the plane and walk to passport control-a major problem-Steffan Gibbon hasn’t got his passport. He had used it to board so it must be on the plane. Steffan rushes back to retrieve it but is not allowed by security to go back on board the plane. He returns a little worried, but I ease his concerns-“They’re bound to let you back into the country, you look Welsh.” I tell him!!!!

We have a photocopy of his passport. It would be enough for them to let him through. However, immigration phones through to the flight and his passport is duly found in the seat pocket and brought through to us within half an hour. Dad will be pleased that he hasn’t got to pay for a new one.

We transfer through passport and customs and I tell Steffan that his tactics were excellent. The rest of the group should have collected the cases and just about loaded the bus by the time we catch up with them. True enough, the other staff have dealt with our absence with the minimum of fuss and when we rejoin them the coach is just about loaded.

Things are looking good for other staff to take on the mantle of organizing future tours when old age catches up with me. Similar tours would be in ‘safe hands’ with any of the staff on this trip, they have formed a committed, effective and very professional team. I will be happy to pass the baton on to any of them, when the time comes, as Robert Evans handed it to me in 1994.

I am certain that such ventures are an invaluable learning opportunity for the young people in our community and I’ve no doubt that parents, staff, students and the other stakeholders in our community will want them to continue as long as the financial constraints can be overcome and staff are prepared to give so unselfishly of their time and energy.

Unlike on our outward journey, loading the coach is not an issue. I had rung Davies’ on Friday from Cairns and confirmed the pick up-they were to send a luggage van. We depart Heathrow by 8.15am, but we have another small problem, our delay meant that the drivers’ hours were tight and we would only be able to stop briefly.

We decide to stop for 15 minutes at Leigh Delamere Services and in keeping with the rest of the tour, punctuality is impeccable and everyone is back on the coach and we depart by 10.10am. We phone ahead to tell loved ones that we expect to be in Park Road by midday.

We continue to make good time and as we enter Gowerton, the flags, bunting and balloons are out on Shane Harris’s house. It makes us feel as if we’re the returning British Lions-let’s hope that one day in the future, one or more of the party will be returning victorious from a Lions tour.

I tell the driver that I had left a message on the blog asking parents to keep the bus bay clear of cars-he wasn’t too hopeful. How dare he doubt you!! In keeping with how your offspring have responded while they have been away, the bus bay is clear. The driver is impressed.

The only problem is that Jayde Anderson’s dad is not there-he thought she was coming home tomorrow-it could only happen to Jayde. Molly Kabia steps in and Jayde can go home with her initially, dad will pick her up later.

We arrive on time and the camaraderie between staff, students and parents is clear for all to see. Students are glad to see their parents, parents are grateful for the safe return of their young ones and staff are relieved that all has gone well.

The warmth of the thanks from all is a real endorsement of what has been achieved. Jessica Rees’ mum tells me that Elliot’s hoping there will be another tour. I tell her, I hope so too.

No time to rest then-I better start planning for 2016.

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