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…

DSC04607 (1024x659)

Advertisements




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…

www.smosh_.com-extreme-ironing-snowboard-610x420

 





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…

image





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, I actually dont know how to end this.

Don’t climb up rope ladders…

image





The luxury of height

28 04 2015

As an average sized guy I relish the opportunity to look over people. Feeling dwarfed pretty much whatever European country I travel to, including feeling like an ant in The Netherlands! Actually people are freakishly tall in Holland. Like they were fed a steady diet of Human Growth Hormone and stretched on a Medieval torture rack tall. My 5’8″/175cm is challenged by their insane height.

Yet when visiting the sprawling and deprived metropolis of Manila in the Philippines, height takes on a different meaning. Height abstracts you from the heat and dirt, unpleasant smells and removes you from those sights such as people sleeping under cardboard.

Height gives a feeling of luxury. Cast almost Godlike, these hotels of glass and steel tower above the middern. Five star luxury in a land of zero star poverty. Sipping my beer in the open air bar, listening to the cacophony of noise…it’s worlds apart,

My last visit to Manila gave me a clear view of the ‘Have’s’ and ‘Have Not’s’. Roughly one year later I would like to annouce that change is rapid and prevalent. Sadly that is not the case. Accosted by pimps and prostitutes, eyed up by thieves and with deperate looking children.begging for money – I dare not venture out of my luxury prison at night alone, although I would love to see the underbelly of this city.

Words jumped into my head during breakfast. A poetic moment of clarity.

Gazing out from the 21st floor, I thought :-  From great heights the poverty of mankind appears invisible

Never a truer word spoken.





A case of mistaken identity – Part One – Belgrade

20 12 2013

Tell someone that you are visiting Eastern Europe as a tourist. Instantly they will think of Budapest, Prague or Krakow. Fantastic architecture, culture and cheap beer springs to their mind. However take their mind in a more southeasterly direction towards the Balkans and the perception changes. Mention that you are going to Serbia, their expression will change and you are rewarded with ‘Why the hell are you going there‘!

To most westerners Serbia is still a dangerous country. Images of terrible atrocities committed during the Balkans conflict are still fresh in peoples minds. More recently the impression has changed to hardened criminal gangs who will steal your kidneys, then murder you until you are dead. The media certainly hasn’t helped with this perception, only solidifying the preconceptions deeper.

So as mentioned previously, telling my family that I was going to spend five days in Serbia visiting friends was not received well. I was not particularly worried about the journey, but I did check that my travel insurance covered me.

The plan was simple. Fly into Belgrade and meet my friends, then stay in Novi Sad. That was the sum and total of the itinerary. Although I did have one request to my friends ‘show me Serbian life‘. It sounds easier than it actually is.

Belgrade was a typically busy city, but with very nice architecture. I did feel very far away from my roots in Liverpool though. This feeling was exacerbated by the Cyrillic text everywhere. They pointed out a couple of former government buildings that had been bombed by NATO. It is insane to see the extent of the damage caused by the bombs. You could see that the bomb had dropped into the centre of the building, carving through the concrete spine and blowing out every window. However these were the only signs of any conflict.

We visited the Saborna Crkva Sv Arhangela (Holy Archangel Michael Church), with huge fresco’s adorning the walls. This was my first visit to an Orthodox church. Then to a really small but interesting cafe called Kafana Pavle Korcagin celebrating the former Yugoslavian dictator/leader (delete as appropriate) Tito and communist life. Lots of original propaganda posters and artifacts from the communist era adorned the walls whilst people of all ages drunk rakija and beer chatting away. This was a very impressive place, like taking a beer inside a museum. Maybe the best cafe that I have ever visited the world over? My hosts (Marko & Mirjana) and their friends were informative and keen to tell me about how Tito was revered by the people of Yugoslavia. Again a completely different picture was painted by western media of Tito. It made me wonder who was actually correct. Western media with a hidden agenda, or the people living under his leadership?

Onwards to walk around Belgrade’s expensive shopping areas, which felt rather sterile given the vibrant atmosphere on a Saturday evening. Serbian’s certainly know how to party! We visited Belgrade’s oldest cafe, literally called ‘?’. Cafe ? made a very bohemian impression on me. I imagined long discussions between men with beards and small glasses on how Slavic artistic style was influenced by rakija!

The hour was getting late, and Marko still had to drive to Novi Sad from Belgrade. So bidding farewell to Belgrade, it’s amazing cultural secrets and it’s incredibly cold winds…we drove into the night.





Night Mail

14 07 2012

My latest journey took me from Amsterdam to deepest darkest Antwerp. My destination was a 90,000 tonne vessel discharging coal, which I surmised was for the power station over yonder. I have visited Antwerp a couple of times before, but never really explored the city. Despite dusk swiftly approaching and a light rain, we began to walk around.

It has to be said, Antwerp old city is beautiful. Bohemian bars and cafes surround the streets leading from the amazing Antwerpen Centraal train station. Subtle lighting and discrete neon painting the darkening sodden pavements. An occasional flash as someone rides past on a pedal cycle, silently moving save for a ‘ting ting’ on the bell. It was a living collage, made more vivid by strong Belgian beers ! By the way, look closely at the STOP sign.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once the dirty job was finished on board, and coal dust had rained upon me from above…we needed to get back to Amsterdam Schiphol. Driven by the worlds most miserable taxi driver, who uttered virtually nothing for the 30 minute journey except to sometimes growl at another driver. We arrived back into the splendor of Antwerpen Centraal Station, it was truly breath taking.

The obvious choice for the journey was the Thalys high speed service. For the rather expensive sum of EU70, I got to cover the 115KM distance between Antwerp and Schiphol Airport in just under an hour. The speed of the train was deceptive, as it was traveling without rocking or shaking. It was only when we overtook cars on the high speed roads that I grew curious as to our speed. Checking on the GPS Status app, it displayed our speed as 295KPH (185MPH) !!

As mentioned on my previous post, this thought began it’s usual tsunami of notions. It rested upon an old poem written by WH Auden called ‘Night Mail‘. It tells the story of the night mail train, winding it’s steam driven path through the Scottish hills. The poem indicates the importance that the Mail Train played in society, delivering all manner of communication. It talks of how the environment either interacts or observes the train during it’s journey.

It was narrated by John Grierson, and dubbed over the mail train film. Released in 1936, it was one of the first documentaries to grace the junior screens. Even now, in this digital modern age, the melodic rhythmic opening verses are haunting. Blended with the stark grey images of a steam train, it’s breathtaking.

Firstly read the poem itself –Night Mail

Watch it yourself and feel the flow of the versus – Night Mail

I wonder how Auden would have written about train travel in this era ?








%d bloggers like this: