The plane emptied from the back, and as I was now at the front, I was pretty much the last to get off. Both stewardesses smiled sweetly at me as I thanked them and said 'Are you all right now?' I smiled sweetly back and said 'Yes, thank you'. I suppose I was really. The moment of real crisis had passed and my equilibrium had almost been re-instated. Almost. Till we got to the passport queue at least, where we trailed once more through the endless network of demarcated 'lanes' with a collection of Trunkis and The Family from Hell. Yes, yet again, we were thrown together as if in some weird gravitational pull from their swirling planet of ghastliness (ok, I'm being a bit mean here, but let's just say it was all rather perverse). They reminded me a bit of the Russians of Champery in their clothes and manner. When we got to the Baggage Reclaim, despite the large number of people on the plane, we were, of course - by the time N had gone off for an untimely loo break - the only ones left in the hall with them. Huge amounts of baggage (yeah, so we could talk!), lots of skis and ski boots, lots of Trunkis and lots of children of various ages lying all over the floor screaming - or just lying there. There was also much loud mobile phone action and I was completely au fait with their onward travel plans by the end of it.
N emerges from the loo. My teeth are beginning to clench again. I hiss, 'Can't we get the hell out of here' and he shoots me a slightly non-comprehending look. I think we've finally broken free when I hear some frantic trundling of wheels right behind us and much screeching down mobile phone. I turn to find us being hotly pursued down all the long corridors to get out of the wretched airport by one of the women, clearly trying to locate the rest of her family and their pre-ordered taxi. She is yanking a Trunki along (presumably on behalf of one of her offspring) with a bright pink leash and fluorescent yellow wheels like it was some poorly behaved bitch of a dog. She showed it no mercy and it followed us relentlessly to the bitter end, wheels whining all the way. I, meanwhile, was trying to man-handle a ridiculously over-loaded trolley complete with a pair of recalcitrant skis around corners, through doors and out onto the pavements.
While at this point, with the reunion of the lady with her taxi and family, we finally left Trunki Hell behind, we moved seamlessly into Trolley Hell. There was wet snow on the ground, car parks, busy roads and curbs to overcome on our journey to The Long Term Car Park. The point at which my trolley load overturned on the curb by the main road into a pile of filthy wet snow, my humour, let alone my nerves, were in shreds again. I started screaming at the children to stay off the road and hurtled abuse at my husband for being too mean to pay for some more trolleys. This was all perhaps a little unfair as it was a joint decision to embark on this stupid trolley exercise together - one of us should simply have gone to get the car while the other waited with the children and the luggage. But I think our brains were so fried by the Trunki Experience that we just couldn't wait to get out of there - and also, we had no idea what we would find when we got to the car. Having been left in -15 degrees for two weeks, outside in the elements, who was to say it would even start?
I staggered to within about 50 yards of it, still swearing and with back acheing from being forced into absurd angles and effort by the overladen trolley and the snow, and refused, like a horse at the Grand National, to go any further. N grumpily came to rescue the dirty bags and then I annoyed him further by telling him the skis couldn't possibly go inside the car - at which point he had to unpack what he had packed to be able to get at the magnetic roof ski holders. I was not popular. But I was right. G scraped the snow off the windows and bonnet, we all got in eachother's way and sniped at eachother - but at least the engine started. Spared, au moins, the final horror of being stranded in the long term car park in the drizzle. So with that, we made our dreary way home, feeling as depressed as the damp grey clouds touching the horizon, and wondered what would await us there.
We turned off the main road to find the lane into the village still snowy . No gritters been here then. No change there then. No problem if I'd been in my trusty steed with her 4-wheel drive and her snow tyres. But ah no, we were in the wretched Volvo, the car built for the police (literally, we've discovered to our great cost every time it goes into the garage) built seemingly only for speed and vast expense with its non-standard spec and ridiculously low-profile wheels. Not good in snow. We get to the farm just beyond the reservoir where the road imperceptibly climbs and....we stop. Stuck. Knew it. I say, irritatingly, again to N 'I told you we should have left the Audi at the airport'. He retorts 'We would never have got all the luggage in'. Fair point. A lady comes past in a Land Rover and offers help. I know her from village school days. We push and get nowhere. She offers to drive us up our hill to our house to get the other car. We accept the offer gratefully and N climbs in. I am left abandoned in the Volvo, the house in sight on the hill - so near, so far. The children play by the side of the road in the snow. It is pick up time from school so far too many cars are trying to squeeze past us. All very embarrassing. We are not in the best of places. A performance car (low-profile wheels, not 4-wheel drive), newly acquired by a friend in the village, looms into view in my rear-view mirror. Oh-oh, I think, he's not going to be very pleased with me, knowing I will mess up his momentum by being parked where I am. He squeaks by me then grinds to a halt a few yards ahead. I get out of the car, children throwing snowballs, and ask if he'd like me to push. He grimaces at me and says menacingly 'I thought I wouldn't be able to get past you'. I realise he thinks I'm parked there of my own accord. Would I be that stupid on a snowy lane? Think not. I try and push. Doesn't budge. Another man in a Land Rover pulls over and helpfully offers to tow him in on his tow rope. I'm thinking that would be helpful for us too. Mercifully N reappears at this point with my car and it becomes clear to all that, indeed, our car is stuck too and I wasn't just being a silly-arse female driver. As if. We take all the luggage out of the Volvo (heartily sick of luggage by now) to find the little gadget for towing. Load it all into my car. Nice man in Land Rover sets about towing both stranded vehicles into the village as far as the pub. I tell the children to get in and I follow in my car. Thank God for my Audi. Abandon Volvo, hob-nob for a few minutes with publicans, and embark on final half mile of journey, after a very long 24 hours, up the lane to our house. The place is freezing, I tell N to put on the kettle and go back down to pick up the cat from the cattery.
I finally walk back through the door after dark, cat in basket, fire in grate, gasping for that cup of tea. Home Sweet Cold Home, at last.