Greetings, once again I’m writing to you from a rather damp Britain. I’m currently staying in a small town called Penarth in South Wales, where I’m visiting with some of my family. Getting here was interesting, to say the least. I spent over seven hours locked in a metal tube high in the sky with about 300 other people, more than 90% of whom were not wearing masks.
Masks are not compulsory on international flights any longer, but it seemed to me to be a wise precaution to wear one while being in such close proximity with so many strangers, so I guess you could say I stood out from the crowd.
I’ve crossed the Atlantic too many times to count now, but I’ve never used this airline or flown from Atlanta, Georgia, before so I was keen to see what it was like. They tell me that Atlanta ‘s Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world and, after visiting it for the first time, I’m inclined to believe it. Check-in and the flight from our own Yeager airport was fast, efficient and as good as usual, but the plane landed at Atlanta’s domestic terminal and there the adventure began.
Perhaps it was just me, but I found information concerning flights and terminals at Atlanta is a little sparse, to say the least. There seemed to be no indicators in the domestic area to direct me to the international departure gates, and in the end I had to ask a passing airport employee where to go. She was very helpful, set me on the right track and I found the terminal I wanted was “twenty minutes” walk away, according to a sign. All I can say about that is Georgia minutes must be longer than West Virginia ones because it took me a lot more than that to find my departure gate.
As I said, I’ve never used this airline before but I have to tell you, the trans-Atlantic flight was the best I’ve ever had. Departure and arrival were on time, the in-flight food, refreshments and entertainment offered were excellent and the cabin crew were attentive and happy to help. I will be making more visits in the future and Virgin Atlantic will be my preferred carrier from now on.
So here I am, in a showery South Wales on day one of my vacation, ready for the next part of the adventure to begin. Penarth is on the south coast of Wales. It has a rocky shoreline where fossil evidence shows dinosaurs roamed millions of years ago. Summer there can be warm but in January, the cold, gray Atlantic Ocean brought winds and intermittent cold rain. That didn’t daunt us though, when one is on vacation there are always places to go and new things to see despite the weather.
Today we went into Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. It’s a city I’ve visited before but it has undergone vast amounts of development in recent years. This is despite the fact that it is a place that is at the forefront of the efforts to stem global warming as it is listed as the No. 6 city in the world that is in danger of being inundated by rising sea levels.
We spent the day taking in the sights, including the ancient castle and the Welsh parliament building. We did a little shopping in a huge new mall and I got to play a game of indoor mini golf that I’d never seen before that was very enjoyable, even though my score was beaten by a 6-year-old! It was a good day, yet the downside was I’d forgotten how narrow and winding British streets are in the cities and how parking is so difficult to find. When I lived here I used to drive every day ,but now I think doing so would require some getting used to.
The other thing that was very noticeable from the start of my visit was that Britain is a country in crisis. Today teachers were on strike, tomorrow it is the turn of ambulance staff with strikes by other hospital workers, railroad drivers, the post office and border control officers ongoing.
The reasons for this rash of strikes are many, but mainly stemming from the economy. Energy prices have gone through the roof over the past year thanks to the war in Ukraine and the consequent blocking of Russian oil and gas. People are struggling to keep up with rising prices; a gallon of gas here now costs a little more than $7.50.
Not all the strikes are only about pay, though. The health care workers want more money but they say they are striking because they believe Britain’s free health service is underfunded and understaffed. Brexit, when Britain left the European Union, meant that European citizens could no longer work freely in Britain. Many doctors, nurses and ancillary staff were forced to leave the health service and return to their own countries. That put a strain on the remaining staff working in health care, and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and hospitals were inundated with cases.
That meant nurses, doctors and ambulance staff were working long hours with resources that are stretched to the limit. Because of this, and their dedication to their careers, their strike is rather odd. The strikers wear their uniforms, ambulance drivers collect their ambulances and drive to the picket lines and, if a life-threatening emergency occurs they all respond as normal but don’t get paid for their time. We are told today that the government are said to be on the verge of making an offer to increase pay and to pump revenue in to upgrade the service’s facilities. Whether this will be sufficient remains to be seen.
Today is the end of my first week of a two-week vacation. Overall, my first impressions are that it is not like the Britain that I left 15 years ago. The people seem to be less happy and the country is much busier than I remember, more crowded and with far more traffic on the roads. Tomorrow I am moving northeast, away from the coast to the middle of the country and the city of Birmingham. It’s the place where I was born and I will be exchanging this small Welsh town for a city with well over a million people. Once more, I will be staying with family and I am going to attend a surprise 21st birthday party. Perhaps next time I’ll talk to you about how that goes.