Thursday 16 August 2007

Weird Weekend - and so it begins

Over the coming few days, I am going to attempt to keep you all updated on the thrills and spills of the Weird Weekend. For us, day one of the event was yesterday – Wednesday.

We were expecting the arrival of one of our star speakers – Grigoriy Panchenko from the Ukraine. He was flying from Hannover to Zurich and then from Zurich to Birmingham – due to arrive at just gone 1.00 pm. Lisa had offered to pick him up from the airport on the way down from Manchester.

That morning, Jon, Richard and I were due in Barnstaple to give a radio interview for BBC Radio Devon at 11.00 am before going off to do various bits of last minute shopping – including some food for the evening – before the arrival of our guest.

We were just eating a hurried lunch in the car, before attempting to negotiate the crush around Morrison’s for our last shopping task of the day, when Lisa telephoned to say that there was still no sight of Grigoriy. This was very worrying, especially as it was now around one and a half hours since his flight had landed. Lisa had put a call out for him – but with no success. Also – due to the stringent data protection laws – try as she might, Lisa could get no information out of any of the airport staff as to whether our guest was indeed on British soil yet.

The trip to Morrisons was abandoned – and we rushed back to base, whereupon we set about trying to ascertain what, if any, information we could find out by telephoning various airlines, airports etc etc.

My allotted task was to phone Birmingham and see if I could persuade them to let us have information that they would not normally divulge. This, I knew, to basically be an impossible task as they have the laws to uphold, and although Jon was expecting me to put on my worried, concerned wife-at-home, voice I didn’t, in the end, actually have to. The lady I spoke to was, in truth, most helpful – she understood the situation and asked me to ring back in ten minutes whilst she contacted Immigration to see if our visitor was being held up there. I was extremely grateful for her helpfulness, as I am no actor – yes I have performed to an audience – but that was many years ago and I am not sure that dancing on point whilst wearing a tutu would actually get me very far down the telephone anyway.

Time went by and I duly telephoned again – but, unfortunately, she confirmed that Grigoriy was not there. Now this posed a big problem – there seemed to be four possibilities: he had changed his mind, he had suffered an accident, he had missed his connecting flight or he had missed Lisa and had wandered off into the bowels of Birmingham Airport – perhaps even to find a taxi to bring him all the way down to North Devon!

What on earth were we going to do?

The Data Protection Act is there to protect people like you and me from the weirdos wandering around out there, but in situations like this it can work against you – big time.

Poor Lisa was still stuck at Birmingham Airport – she had been there since 11.30 that morning don’t forget – and was getting no luck at all with bureaucracy on site.

This, however, is where it all changed. I suppose if I was poetic I would write something along the lines of – ‘the dark clouds lifted and the sun sent its warming rays upon our aching heads’.

The very helpful lady at Birmingham Airport gave us a number for the Swiss airline on the off chance that they may be able to help shed a little more light on the problem. She warned us that they would probably not be able to divulge names etc., but it was another number to contact.

I explained the situation again, this time to the lady down the other end of the telephone at the airline. She asked me the flight details, times, name of passenger etc and, believe it or not – and I had to check this with her a couple of times as I could not believe it myself – she actually confirmed that Grigoriy had missed his connecting flight (for ‘whatever reason’) and was on the next one – due to arrive at Birmingham at 18.15 that evening. It was so easy! If only we had had access to this particular number in the first place! As I say, they were so helpful, I had to check again that she was really confirming that he was on the next flight.

Lisa was informed – poor lass would have to remain at the Airport for another three hours or so – but at least we had located our missing Ukrainian! Our thanks go to Swiss Airlines!

At 9.45 yesterday evening, Lisa and Grigoriy arrived at CFZHQ to a resounding cheer of relief, and heartfelt thanks to Lisa.

It transpired that Grigoriy had missed his connecting flight at Zurich because he had set off a security alert! Now, Mr. Panchenko is a quiet, unassuming man – and not one you would think would set off such an alarm. However, he was carrying, in his pockets, a pair of metal hand exercisers (I am not sure what the correct technical term is) and these had set off the alarm at the airport. Poor soul.

Our other star speaker, Peter Robbins, and our old friend, Larry Warren, had said that they would arrive early this morning – however, we were not expecting early to mean 5.00 am! LOL - yikes!

There really is never a dull moment at the CFZ!

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