Locked & Loaded

20 01 2019

It is quite difficult to create a TV series that is very memorable these days. Not only do we have four million channels with nothing on, Internet only content providers such as Netflix produce huge amounts of additional TV that can be forgotten to the annals of history.

Black Mirror was was one such series that was very well received. It was thought provoking and disturbing in equal measures. Forever questioning our evolving human relationship with technology, Black Mirror is (in my humble opinion) a warning upon how far we embrace our technological evolution. Now to those who know me, this seems like a surreal proposition – I am not about to become a Luddite. Rather Black Mirror is a cautionary tale about our ever-changing technological lives, and the subsequent net effect.

One story of Black Mirror really shocked me. Nosedive (S3/EP1) reveals to us a land that is dominated by social media. Every interaction, no matter how small is rated. So much so, that people’s lives are completely dominated by it. From their social circles, even to the employment available to them or the quality of the apartment available. The main protagonist manages to completely destroy up her life and entire existence, simply whilst trying to increase her social ranking. Do watch this episode of Black Mirror, it is amazing what a snowball effect a simple mistake can have,

Whilst I may sound like the harbinger of doom, people within my social circle live their lives on Facebook. Completely sharing everything from or about their life, simply for the instant gratification of a Like. Real life may have become tainted to them, as the real world don’t respond quickly enough to their desires. They socially engineering the content presented to Facebook, giving the impression of a perfect life to followers. Yet the reality is far from the image. Forbes Magazine wrote an excellent article about our modern lives with social media, including how our normal reaction and impulsive behaviour have became skewed compared to ‘real-life’

The more disturbing element of social media is how it has became weaponized. From tit for tat relationship/interpersonal arguments, all the way to governmental interference – social media already interferes with our every day lives. Do you want to destroy a relationship? Simply post questionable pictures onto Facebook involving one of the partners. Want to change people’s opinion on a political issue? Use Facebook advertising to bombard readers and subliminally change their mind.  Is this liberating freedom that we have now  thanks to Fakebook, Instahash and Twatter truly how mankind should have evolved?

The future is indeed now, But beware, as the future has sharp pointy teeth, yet appears to be fluffy and cute.


The eve of uncertainty

8 04 2018

I admire those who can give a live commentary from a major event. Imagine the reporters who stood, watching the crowds tearing apart the Berlin Wall. What went through their head? A sense of jubilation, a new time to come. Hopeful of the new era that may be born.

I sit in a very nice apartment, only three streets away from the bastion of Budapest – Buda Castle. Literally the fate of a nation is being decided closely to me. The liberties of Hungary and those that live within are (still) being voted. Never have I been so engaged in a national vote. The ruling Fidesz party; their shameless corruption and crack-down on civil liberties hanging over my head like the sword of Damocleas.

This vote to me represents more than an election, it represents a potentially fundamental change to my way of life.

More news to come, but I am nervous.

More Cheese Gromit?

1 12 2017

In general flying is a relatively unpleasant experience. Standing in queues, unpleasantly close to the unwashed and strongly smelling stranger in front, the minutes turn to hours. Anyone who tells you that they enjoy the experience of flying is a liar. Or drunk, hallucinating or quite possibly all three at once. The stress level of simply checking in and getting through security likely shaves days from your life, and that is before you get onto the aircraft.

I travel with KLM a lot. Not sufficiently to gain a golden status with them, but just enough that I can get onto the aircraft in the priority queue. This aspect of a ‘reward’ from KLM always puzzled me. Yes Mr R, you can get to the front of the queue. However, please wait until all of the other passengers shove their way to the front as well. Therefore the boarding process becomes more like a rugby scrum. The fight between passengers for overhead space for their multitude of suitcases borders upon muted violence at times.

I continue to travel with KLM, because it is more like an old predictable friend. You have forgotten why you continue to be friends with them, because they constantly disappoint you. Not turning up, turning up late and generally offending you. But, you know what to expect from them.

There is one constant in this friendship that is guaranteed to disappoint, the ubiqitous KLM cheese sandwich. The Netherland’s most underrated export, proudly turning stomachs the world over. Sandwiched in between brown bread, the two tasteless cheese sandwiches are tossed towards you by the cabin crew. Imagine a zookeeper throwing cheesy sardines towards a group of ravenous seals…you get the image. Now I have to admit I am not a fan of cheese, therefore perhaps I am a little biased? However when I consider over my travelling career the sheer quantity of KLM’s cheese abominations I have eaten, it would produce a very large and smelly art exhibition. Imagine the Tate Modern filled with cheese sandwiches from floor to ceiling?

Why do I target the humble cheese sandwich you may ask? Well, take two KLM flights in a row. Each flight you are offered this little cheese bastard, with a grin on the cabin crew’s face. I imagine that they know a) you had this exact same sandwich around 90 minutes ago, and b) don’t like cheese. It is torture at 10,000m, and there is no escape! My core issue is that KLM haven’t changed this awful sandwich for years, all they have changed is the packaging that accompanies it. Why change a winning formula you may ask, well because it is terrible.

Perhaps I wil claim to be lactose intolerant before my next flight? Knowing my luck they will give me lactose free cheese…

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Any Old Iron…

30 11 2017

There is nothing like the feel of a crisp ironed shirt. Empowering you more than a triple espresso. reassuring you more than a salary increase. On the other hand, turning up to an important meeting with a creased shirt does exactly the opposite. Causing you more anguish than a fresh scratch on your car. Affecting your mind more strongly than than pure alcohol.

Arriving in a small hotel just outside Oslo Gardemoen airport late in the evening, my mind was already prefixed upon the early start for a very important meeting. Anticipating the Norwegian tradition of not having an iron and ironing board in my room, I asked for the strykerom (ironing room).  Norwegian hotels for some bizarre reason don’t provide ironing apparatus in a hotel room. I fear that at some point during the formation of the Norwegian hotel industry, there was a massive national theft involving ironing equipment. The mass effect of the iron theft is still ingrained in the national psyche of Norway. Perhaps it is still spoken about in hushed circles, the survivors of the great iron theft giving emotional support to each other? Or perhaps the Norwegian population simply don’t iron clothes?

The receptionist simply answered ‘Upstairs‘. I asked him again in my bestest Norwegian, ‘Hvor er strykerommet?‘. He answered in English ‘Upstairs, you will see it‘. I had traveled for some hours, and was rather tired so couldn’t be bothered to ask again. Walking to my room I looked for the strykerom, which was nowhere to be seen. Figuring that Norwegians still make fun of foreigners who want to iron clothes, I thought my investigation will continue in the morning and walked into my ice cold room.

Waking up dark and early in the morning, my search for the elusive strykerom continued. Typically they are mysteriously unmarked doors, again designed to keep would be thieves away from the gilded iron. My nose helps in this case, smelling the steam and freshly ironed cotton. Or looking for the queue of hungover guests with crumpled clothes in their hands usually merits results too.

Alas my eyes found the iron before my nose did. Straight out of the 90’s, and in possibly the most weird location for a strkerom. On the top of the hotel stairs, in the middle of the corridor was the iron and brotherly board. In the middle of the corridor, yes you did read it correctly. Now the shame of ironing was no longer confined to a quiet side room, I was in full public view and within hearing distance from the jeering comments from passing hotel guests regarding my ironing prowess. This was true business embarrassment.

Undeterred by the catcalls from passing males, jealous of my mad ironing skills – my shirt was suitably decrinkled. The meeting was a success, I believe purely due to a well ironed shirt. There may have been other reasons for its success, but they are not the key focus here!

Nevertheless the question still remains, why do Norwegian hotels have such an aversion towards in-room ironing? Answers on the back of a postcard to…



Knock Knock…

20 03 2017

Taking a well deserved break, we took an early season jaunt to the Algarve region of Portugal. Despite arriving at Faro Airport to torrential rains of biblical proportions, and temperatures that could only be described as ‘disgusting’, I assured those soakenly close to me…’it will be sunny tomorrow’. The look of disappointment in an eight year old child’s eyes when she lands, expecting soaring heat the minute she steps out from the aircraft.  Only to be met with sideways rain, so cold it forms ice on your body. That’s a complete guilt trip ready for one…

As predicted by the weather gods, the ambient temperature did increase to very pleasant proportions the following day.  So it was decided that a trip to the beach was in order.  Luckily the beach boardwalk was only a few minutes stroll from our hotel.  Or several hours if the same eight year old decides to take her ‘Heelies’. To the uninformed, Heelies look like normal shoes, but are covertly equipped with a James Bond 007 escape method. There are many tortures that can be inflicted upon man, but I would raise any of them to deal with a child for five minutes wearing Heelies.  It is a testament to patience. Perhaps I should create a statue of a child in these psuedo motorised shoes, so desperately fed up fathers can throw things at them? What rat-bastard heinous person invented them…I curse thee!

Once it was discovered that a boardwalk and Heelies are not a combo made in heaven, the prospect of a seat in the sun became more appealing to us all.  The sun was toasting us nicely to the tune of around 23°C, which naturally invoked some cold brewskies. Not surprisingly, nature soon took its course – and I had to visit the used beer department.

A visit to the toilet in a new place is always a journey of discovery.  Will it be a pleasure, with a beautifully adorned bathroom? Or will it be the horror, smelling of acidic fish that makes you retch instantly, calling upon all that is holy to make your pee swift? My expectations were the latter, my experiences were wholly unexpected.

Now in Portimão, the beach bars are pretty close together. So spotting a toilet sign close by, I figured relief was coming soon. My confusion began when the toilet door opened upwards, and not outwards.  The two part toilet door was more confusing than an Ikea manual. I abandoned this, as it was obviously a mistake on my part…and went for the nearby disabled toilet door. Incidentally the toilet sign fell from the wall with a huge clatter with my efforts to pee.

The disabled toilet door opened easily, but this didn’t help. I was faced with two more doors. No one was around to assist with my dilemma, and at this point my teeth were floating in my own juices. I chose the right door, and found what resembled either a rudimentary bedroom or squat. Fearing that I would be accused of some terrible crime, the door was quickly closed.

The next door held a surprise that was rather unexpected. Opening the door, I caught sight of three Yorkshire Terriers inside. Two of them escaped with the speed of light, simply brown and black streaks bending time and space due to their velocity. I looked around, expecting screaming aimed at me. Yet there was nothing.  Had I imagined this? I closed the door quickly, thinking to myself ‘What is the Portuguese for I just let out your dogs, and now I see them running around…peeing and trying to hump every dog within a 1km radius’? Strangely this situation wasn’t covered in the language lessons, but I can book a bus ticket to Seville.  Silence, I deemed was the best approach. The dogs were fine, enjoying their new found freedom.

Sitting as inconspicuously as possible, I asked the waiter where the toilets are.  He pointed to the other side of the bar.

I thought this was a good opportunity to leave…

Facing a Nemesis 

2 03 2017

I grew up as a child of the 80’s in the UK. Born in ’75 (yes I am that old), we were always warned about the Soviet Boogyman. The same Boogyman who would destroy our society and way of life, and basically cause the end of days. Not to mention invite the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to put in a celebrity appearance. 

I grew up with a fascination for the bad guy in this story. This story, that seemed to have no happy ending. Even as a teen I tried to learn Russian. Yet through the front door our Thatcherite UK government pushed leaflets called ‘Protect & Survive’ that would tell us how to save ourselves in the event of a nuclear strike. Imagine how fun that would have been. I didn’t like the heroes in a story. Its too cliche, I root for the broken guy, destroyed by the system, spurned by his lover and his dog had left too!

So today I found myself face to face with a childhood nemesis. The very physical thing that represented the Soviet Boogyman –  The Berlin Wall. Berlin is an amazing city, vibrant and metamorphosed. I won’t even talk about the history here, as my blathering would do an injustice. 

I dutifully filed along the boards at Checkpoint Charlie, reading about the history that lead up to the construction of the wall. It gave an edge to the political situation that conceived this huge abomination of concrete. That was up until the point that I saw the fake tourist trap American soldiers, hustling photos for a pittance. 

I spotted a small description, showing a surviving section of the original wall a short distance away. Walking in the incorrect eastern direction (screw you Google Maps), I became instantly aware of the change in architecture.  Ît looked liked a classic architect had suddenly developed a penchant for Lego bricks and LSD – consumed together.

Once Google Maps had been abandoned, my feet and Spidey Sense regained their coordination. Before me was an original  several hundred meter section of the wall. 

Now, remember that I was relatively young for the fall of the wall.  I remember seeing on TV grainy colour images of long haired guys in t-shirts attacking a wall with hand tools.  I didn’t understand why they were doing it, but even at that young age..I understood the significance.  I even remember saying to my parents, this is going to change the world. 

And here we stand in a changed world, the information freedom generation. Ignorant of the basic struggles that were commonplace.  Ignorant of families torn apart by an ideology.  Unconcerned for the political games that we were unwittingly part of, here we stand free.

The Berlin Wall was not just a physical barrier.  It was a psychological block for freedom, that represented all of the injustice in the world.  When I first saw it, I wanted to spit on it. To physically show my disgust. What stopped me was the memory of those who died attempting freedom, from East to West. 

Here I stand, with eyes wide open. Eyes upon the diverse metropolis that is Berlin, yet back to those grainy colour images of a symbol being destroyed. I understood that I was facing a childhood nemesis.  The Boogyman that was so promised, had simply boiled down to a piece of concrete.

Ich bin ein Berliner..

Playboy Wasteland

9 01 2016

As per usual with the job, the information had changed at the last minute.  A six day trip to Singapore with three (roughly) days of travel and an anticipated three days of work was always going to be painful. Especially just one day after returning to work in the new year.

Coming back to my opening line, they were never my strong point come to think of it. I arrived into Singapore and was told that I had around 24 hours to finish a three day job.  “Right, I do my best” was my pensive reply.

The more marine orientated of my readers will scoff and jeer at my next observation…

Pulling up on the workboat alongside my target ship..I saw a saucy rope ladder dangling 10m down from the deck,  just ripe for the pirate picking. Now there may be a romantic impression associated with pirates. Watch ‘Captain Phillips’ and your impression may change somewhat.  Although I would dearly love a parrot, mostly for the entertainment value to be honest…having a pirate experience was never high on my agenda. Factor in the 25kg backpack giving that extra sinking factor, my stomach was doing somersaults as the workboat pulled alongside . The rope ladder leered at me like yesterday’s curry in the morning.

I ventured down the deck, mindful of my colleagues watchful eyes. His eyes joined by the eyes of the ship’s crew. Joined by the eyes of the workboat skipper. Joined by the eyes of the sharks awaiting their English lunch.

One hand on the rope, iron grip.  First foot on the wood. Like a king I rose above my nemesis. Tentatively one wobbly step at a time. What happens when you feel like you have mastered a process? Of course life throws you a curveball. The damn ladder started wobbling and creaking, like it was going to snap. Delivering me to my watery grave thanks to the tools that I was carrying.

Ignoring the increasing sinking feeling in my stomach. Ignoring the hideous creaking noises emanating from the rope. Ignoring those watching eyes, my journey continued onwards and upwards…more eyes now peering over the edge of the ship.

Reaching the top eventually I felt like I had ran a marathon . Although I don’t have a fear of heights I didnt much want to verify my ascent. On with the abbreviated job…

Without providing too much information, at one point I did believe that I was going to be squashed under 150kg  of antenna. The pipe holding the antenna during it’s movement was perilously thin and actually began to bend and fracture. ..whilst I was under the antenna. Fortunately it ended well.

So the end result of the job was on the positive side, which left me with a little free time in Singapore. Now Singapore is my favourite city in the world,  closely followed by Seattle. I was not upset to have the extra time let’s say.

Choosing to eat amazing and cheap food in the food courts. Mastering the MRT system to get where I needed cheaply and easily,  I really enjoyed it – even feeling like a local ang moh.

However the hotel I am staying in is located in the CBD (Central Business District). Post 9pm there is almost nothing going on outside.  Feeling tired and a little jaded, I headed towards the hotel bar.

The bar was subdued apart from the generic pinoy band playing. To be fair they were pretty good, mostly acoustic songs. The band were drowned out by the multiple groups of very drunken prople. Screaming and shouting, throwing back expensive bottles  of Japanese whisky to almost Scottish proportions.  One poor guy had fallen asleep on the sofa, his friends trying their best to wake him to drink some more. I nearly suggested stacking things on him as a game.

My mind was cast back to what I had seen in the non touristy part of Chinatown today.  People who were very far from rich with severe health problems.  Selling napkins and other small things in order to get by. It was a terrible sight to see. I could use other words but they are not appropriate here.

Looking around the bar and listening to people screaming in drunken laughter, This really feels like the wastelands of the playboy and playgirl.

I actually dont know how to end this.

Oh yeah…don’t climb up rope ladders…


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