Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rush Hour

I was born in London and spent the first twenty two years of my life in the south west suburbs of same or actually living in the middle. I loved it. I thought London was the centre of the universe and wogs started at Dover. But why would you even go as far as Dover; everything you needed or could possibly want was in London. Through the rose coloured lenses of the retrospectoscope the worst person you could ever meet was Arthur Daly and the few foreigners in the place were either conductors on buses, ran curry shops or visited from the exotic West Indies to show us how absurdly and effortlessly good they were at cricket. They would, of course, drop off a box of bananas at Henry Cooper's greengrocers shop on the way to the Oval to score a ton before lunch in the process of giving Surrey a right good seeing to.

Dad went to work 'in town' using his season ticket on the Southern Railway from Motspur Park. Although I didn't know it at the time, this was commuting. I have never commuted in my life and, after the last couple of days doing a spot of it in order to go to work 'in town', hereby resolve I never will.

Commuting should be classified as cruel and unnatural punishment right up there with the Iron Maiden and waterboarding. It is almost unbelievably unpleasant. For starters it occurs in London and its south west suburbs. Those elysian fields of my youth have been transformed into the lands on the far bank of the Styx. Either that or my perception of same has changed. I strongly suspect it is a combination of the two. You cannot spend thirty years living in much more pleasant places than the location of your birth and remained unchanged but, that notwithstanding, I am sure London is now a totally uninhabitable dump. Visiting there is bad enough (OK the shopping is better than the Albany MagaCentre) but living there? Forget it.

Where to start? People is a good place to start - and, probably, end. There are just plain too many of them. Why is this? Thirty years of wholesale bonking has not produced the absurd number of people now swarming all over the capital. Keeping one's ears even a little in non painted on mode you will soon discern that most of the denizens of London started their existence from beyond the aforementioned Dover. Spotting Arthur Daly or his progeny would be no mean feat. London has been taken over by foreigners. What do they all do? Well, they are not bus conductors as that species went the way of the moa many years ago. London has not been overtaken by biblical plagues of Test cricketers either. Sure, they run curry shops, and kebab stands and Thai restaurants and corner shops and those roadside stalls in Oxford Street selling unadulterated crap and have bought out Henry Cooper on the greengrocer front. But mostly, if the TV news is to be believed, they spend the day stabbing each other. There is a lot of stabbing in London; not very nice.

OK, there are too many people and most are of the foreign persuasion, what else? Coming here at the end of October and early November paints a suitably wet and grey backdrop to make the infrastructure look at its worst. Even in the 1970's you wouldn't really need a car in central London as the public transport service was pretty bloody good. In the middle this was mainly the Tube (never have been one for buses since they got rid of the conductors with those aluminium ticket machines containing micro loo rolls) which I used and quite liked. Whether you wanted to take a car into Central London or not now doesn't really matter as effectively you can't. Regulations and volume stopped all that nonsense years ago. It would cost you the GDP of a small country to take the Veyron down the Marylebone Road and then you couldn't stop as parking it would cost you the National Debt of your neighboring state. You are forced onto public transport.

Do this, as I did for the last two days, at 0745 and, look ma, I'm a commuter. The Tube now looks as old as it is. The walls of the labyrinthine subterranean walkways connecting the Bakerloo to the Central to the Northern look every bit the eighty years or so old they are. That is if you can see them past the gaggle of Lithuanian knifeists jostling up to you on all sides. You are thrust into this hell hole through automatic gates guarded by wearers of the universal Hi Vis jacket using your Oyster along with millions of your fellow lemmings. It is hideous. Down the ancient escalators into the bowels of the earth to await a seventy year old train into which you wedge your self with a carriage full of Moroccans who almost certainly have carving knives secreted about their person. Bloody announcements to not leave your bags unattended or your knives will be taken away to be blown up and reminders that CCTV is operational in all carriages. The entire carriage is either watching reruns of Eastenders on the iPod Touch or reading the Metro freebie newspaper; or both. Let me out of this hell.

Well, they do at Great Portland Street. And it is raining. And there is a bitter Nor'easter and I want to go home. But I have five hours of meetings and these take place in a basement room with no bloody windows. I really want to go home. At least the meeting was fruitful, I suppose. Get through the day's work, and make no mistake that is what it was, and back into the wind and rain for the evening commute.

More of the same. Mind the Gap, Latvian footpads and Angry Birds whilst incarcerated in a piece of nineteenth century technology for an hour. And then there is a two mile walk in the rain as the sun sinks over a slate grey horizon. This is not living but nearly ten million people would argue otherwise.

I'm flying to Dundee this evening with Air France which is a bit of a worry - wogs start at Dover, remember. I am reliably informed that Dundee is in Scotland so the next missive will be from a totally different place. If they don't accept English bank notes I will be severely pissed off.

It can't be worse than bloody London surely.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A somewhat grumpy traveller

I'm getting fussy, grumpy, spoilt or, more probably, all of the above. Starting this post in the ersatz airport lounge run by Royal Thai Airways in Hong Kong. Its a shocker. More detail to follow.

Since my change in employment circumstance some five months ago I have become, a little reluctantly, a very frequent air traveller. I commute from Auckland Wellington on a weekly basis and I now know how to do it. The flight AKL-WLG is only forty minutes or so so the seat doesn't matter. As long as the row number is not greater than two. What I have found to be essential to make this sort of malarky tolerable, even quite agreeable, is access to a decent airport lounge. Lots of advantages to this. Streamlined no fuss getting from the airport front door to the airplane front door is all good. No queueing with the great unwashed to get boarding passes; just swipe the electronic bizzo on the electronic bizzo swiper, get the green light and you are all good. Swipe one and its all good to get into the Koru Lounge, swipe two and its all good to settle into 1F.

One doesn't get this electronic goodness on international flights but the analogue equivalent is required. Auckland does this well. Check in at desk suitably screened off from the poor wretches taking their tattoos to Surfers Paradise and a separate little lift takes you up to the customs lady without having to walk past McDonalds. Then you are into the Koru Lounge and endless supplies of Black Doris plums and mixed berry yoghourt. Pick your time of day right you get a barista to cobble together a long black. Free wifi (password Kerikeri this month) and all is goodness.

Hong Kong, gleaming new Chap Lep Kok not withstanding does this very poorly. Get off NZ39 AKL-HKG (more of this later) and you are thrust into Kai Tak circa 1975. No fast tracks here. Queue up with thousands of people to go through security. Be shouted at by the pre security screening woman that you don't have a Transit Pass and your Boarding Pass is wrong. Taken by another pre security type bloke to get a 'right' boarding pass. To do this you walk past a couple of hundred people that were behind you in this damned queue and are now in front of you (we'll see about that). New boarding pass is printed and is identical to the old one. Still no Transit Pass. 'Please get in the queue for security'. 'No'. I have had enough of this already. 'Take me via the secret squirrel route to the front of the queue'. This simple request is acceded to. You only have to ask. Nicely.

Shower time so a beeline for the Star Alliance Lounge. Choice of two in Honkers Terminal 1. One run by United (pullease) and one by the aforementioned Royal Thai. That'll be OK. Wrong. Its a shocker. A sort of airline lounge set up like a campsite; an outdoors lounge on a balcony of the terminal. Free wifi to be sure (picked up my itinerary for Gloucester in ten days time) but the nibbles are awful. Chickens feet or instant noodles. Espresso from a self service machine that tastes of acorns and very uncomfy chairs. No matter I am here for a shower. Walk into the ablution bit half expecting a black polythene shower bag hung up on a tree. There is only one shower stall and it is locked; you know - with a key. Trudge back to Camp Mother at reception and am told I can have the key if I leave my Boarding Pass as a deposit. What does she think I am going to do, put her bloody shower into my hand luggage and take it to London? Smile and wave and take the keys to the cleanness kingdom back to the shower. All tools for a shower present and correct? No chance. No razor or shaving foam. Does Camp Mother think I am going to slash my wrists after the hot shower prior to nicking her ablution block? By this time I am sorely tempted. Shower, change of clothes and no shave and one feels a bit better. A cup of acorn extract and a chickens foot and we'll be ready for 12 1/2 hours to Heathrow.

At least my Boarding Pass (both of them) now says 3J. The first leg said 26H which entitles one to sit in Air New Zealand's 'Premium Economy'. Don't do it; shedloads of economy and very little premium. The only advantage to paying extra dosh to get from taxpayer funded Row 56 to Premium Economy is that if your upgrade request is successful (50% hit rate on this trip) you get to a proper seat. Premium Economy is almost as horrible as Economy Ordinaire. Same seat but with 10ยบ extra recline (big deal, you still can't sleep) and six inches more leg room. This is of no use to me as I am built along the lines of a garden gnome. The food is the same wot the punters up the front get but that is about it. I did get the AC power to work eventually after holding my mouth in the special way.

I am at last in one of Air New Zealand's Business bizzos - but the bloody power isn't working. The pod is what it should be with room to spread all ones essential long trip odds and sods around and with no power the only thing to do is ignore the breakfast, have a cup of tea, a handful of melatonin and press the magic bed button. But I don't want to go to sleep at quarter past three in the afternoon in Auckland or quarter past ten in the morning in Hong Kong. It is quarter past three in the morning in London but I'm not in London yet. Grrrr - not a particularly happy camper at the moment.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that if I have to travel long haul I have to get the death adder out of the pocket and pay silly money or just slum it in the peanut gallery and shut up. Neither is very attractive.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The Gold Coast; its pointless.

Sitting in the Koru Lounge in Brisbane at 0657 awaiting the tin budgie to take me back to Godzone. 0657 you would think would just about be the start of the day but in Queensland they don't have about a fortnight of daylight saving so the sun has been up since about 4 am. Why? Not a clue; well I know why the sun came up, that's what it does, but I have no idea why they want it peeking over the horizon so bloody early in the day. Wasn't it something about the curtains fading? And then it's dark by 6.30 in the evening. Bonkers.

Anyway my travails in Queensland took me to the Gold Coast for the day yesterday. Took the Hertzmobile and cunningly avoided the Toll Roads down to Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach. This not because I'm a tight wad but because paying a toll from a rental car is just too bloody hard. No toll booths and the only methods are by using a 0800 number or some arcane website. Far too difficult for a simple artisan; go by the goat track through central Brisbane instead. After that getting to the Gold Coast is easy peasy.

But why would you bother? My business was in Broadbeach but I dutifully made the side trip to Surfers just to get the full Gold Coast experience. I have never seen such a collection of nonsense. Hundreds (literally) of crappy high rise apartments fronting an admittedly good surf beach. Coffee shops and bars for Africa. Even more hairdressers and surf shops. Even more real estate agents trying to flog the unwary any number of identical crappy apartments. And presumably even more tattoo parlours. I felt positively unique in walking around with un-inked skin. Perfectly acceptable members of both chromosomal make up groups seemed unable to go anywhere without showing how they have wrecked their appearance for life by displaying a revolting array of body 'art' peeking (leaping more like) from beneath the board shorts and vest. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

I was in Blackpool in the UK about a year ago and Surfers Paradise is exactly the same. Granted I would swap the Pacific for the Irish Sea but the concept behind both conglomerations is identical. Find an acceptable piece of coastline and then ruin it over decades with the town planning from hell just to turn a buck. Very sad.

The Gold Coast is pointless and I won't be going back unless I have to. I certainly won't go there spending any of my own money. Hundreds of thousands do though. They have my sympathy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Well, what's all this then?

First post on this blog for about six months. The first scribblings are dated 2006. A year of a post every other day, a bit less the next year, even less to follow that and then it all stopped in April this year.

I have written before that I don't need a reason for this. I write here when I feel like it for my own amusement. I am the sort of a cove whose interests vary as time go along. Blogging was getting boring. It all started as a commentary on New Zealand's apology for a leading newspaper. This was a thinly veiled excuse to provide a vehicle for me to vent my spleen on the then sitting Labour Government. I don't do hatred - it is bad for my mental well being - but Clark and Cullen are the nearest I get to hating anything. They are truly the nauseating embodiment of a philosophy I cannot abide. A philosophy built on envy, lack of principal and, in those two wastrels, a lust for power at any price. Fighting for equal rights for the ordinary New Zealander? Yeah right; I did not come down with the last shower of rain - and it is raining now. As is typical of despotic powerful leaders they departed leaving absolutely nothing to fill the void. You don't encourage a strong succession stream; construct a vacuum behind you. There is nothing in a vacuum, especially a threat to one's power, as the Goof and Co. amply illustrate. That very simple principle is in the first lecture of Despot 101. But I'm in a good mood and they are long gone; no point in getting myself nasally dislocated for no reason.

I also stopped penning bits and pieces as I had (still have) a change in employment circumstances which make it prudent for me to be a little circumspect as to what I put into the public domain. I am not a scaredy cat but, to extend the feline analogy, I see no point in pulling the tiger's whiskers. So there will be nothing from me about the entirely delightful demise of that useless wretch, Chris Carter. Oops, there I go I've called him a useless wretch. I can't get into too much strife telling the truth, can I? I see I called him as a waste of space in 2006; what a prescient beast I am. No comment from here on the shameful way in which the only reason to watch Breakfast TV in a Wellington hotel once a week was given the bum's rush. No comment here lambasting those who see offence in telling the truth. No, none of that.

This blog will undergo a phoenix like, and maybe ephemeral, rise from the ashes for about a month - for starters. Reason? I'm off on me travels again and the most pleasure I've got from this blog over the years has been chronicling my overseas trips. These have usually been fairly short forays to septic land to attend conferences. It has amused to jot down musings concerning America (which I think I dislike) and the denizens of big airports and aeroplanes (both of which I like enormously).

Tomorrow at seriously dark o'clock (0320) I will drive the Jag out of Obald Acres to catch the tin budgie to Brisbane. To follow will be the best part of a month away from home with the most western port of call being Dublin. I am giving the land of Uncle Sam the swerve and most of the time will be in the UK. This whole extravaganza is not a jaunt, I can assure you, but definitely in the putting food on the table department. I travel with some very cool transcription software for the iPhone and MacBook Pro a myriad of reports to write. I travel with what passes as a brain in sponge mode during the daylight hours and analytical mode after dark and in those seemingly unending hours spent in a pressurised tube over unpronounceable parts of the globe.

I travel with a sense of foreboding at the magnitude of the piece of work in front of me. There are a few bright spots on the horizon. The tingling anticipation as to which sectors my upgrade request will be fulfilled. Wet'n'Wild on the Gold Coast (if they haven't got one I want my money back), watching the AB's dick England on a mate's telly in Cirencester. But mainly I am a little apprehensive as to whether I can make a good fist of the huge task that lies before me.

A few minutes a few times a week taking the piss out of fat ladies, stupid regulations, too many people, security cameras, Uncle Tm Cobly and all won't go amiss.