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Monday, 2 January 2017

"It's the Final Countdown"

Not having flown or been abroad for nearly 20 years is hitting home. I and my mate are off to Longyearbyen ( I love that word) in just over a week. He, as a seasoned traveller, is currently in Spain and will segway from arriving at Heathrow to departing from Heathrow in less than 24 hours without missing a heartbeat. So organised is he that in his second bedroom already packed is his extreme clime suitcase and he has a small, but extremely functional backpack to take his essentials as cabin luggage.

I received an itinerary the other day detailing the impact of our travel agent using her initiative.

Initially we were booked to fly from Heathrow to Oslo on the 17:30 flight. I thought an immensely sensible time to begin a trip to the Arctic. We'd hang around Oslo for an hour and fly to Slavbard. Except because of the delays at Heathrow the week before Christmas due to freezing fog our agent decided that the one hour change over at Oslo was too tight. A minor hiccough and we could miss the connection to the Northern Lights and spend a day in Oslo and lose a day in Spitsbergen, So she has booked us on the 10:20 fight from Heathrow! That means, as there is only one flight a day to our destination, we spent over 8 hours in Oslo Airport and it environs.

8 hours is the very minimum number of hours I need to sleep any night. I will be spending that number of hours waiting for a connection to get to an airport we'll land at 02:00 the next day! I am not happy. Given the inefficiencies of our transport service, the fear of terrorist attacks and the sheer delight companies appear to get from inconveniencing their fare paying customers, I will be up at 5  in the morning on the day of our departure. Ah well, it's an introduction to 24 hour darkness.

When we log on/book in, or whatever we have to do at Heathrow's Terminal 2 it's all frightfully automated. No nice smiley Scandinavian beauties checking in your luggage - just a ticket machine. My experience of aforementioned pieces of technology is not good. I spent an increasingly panicking half hour at Paddington a while back trying to "validate" my on line booking with one of those automated ticket thingys. Only after many failed attempts did I discover that the machines had been permanently taken off line.

I've been reading all the helpful security information provided by Heathrow Airport. It's difficult to disentangle the potentially life saving info from all the pop up ads for Pizza Express and Duty Free, but I suppose they have to make a profit.

We can take 23 kgm of luggage carried in the hold. That means standing on a bathroom scale and balancing the full suitcase to make sure that one doesn't exceed that limit. You can take 8kgm as cabin stow, except surprisingly such hand held items as guns, ammo and explosives are not allowed. Colourless liquid is suspect, so any perfumes or other toiletries have to be less than 100cc, in a transparent container and in a transparent bag. How do the Beckhams cope?

I need to buy a tiny rucksack for my smalls - you're advised to take a spare change of underwear stowed away should the pilot perform an anal sphincter muscle relaxing manoeuvre at some stage during the flight. I will have my ruff, beanie hat ( made by Peruvian ladies in the Andes) and mittens in my hand luggage so that I don't freeze to death on landing at Slavberg Airport.

Oh, I have to buy foreign currency. I'm not sure what they spend in the Arctic Circle, but I'm sure £ sterling will be acceptable as will my credit card: as long as they don't freeze my account!

As we approach D Day, I'm getting increasingly anxious. I realise I haven't flown since 1994! Images of planes in flames crashing into the sides of mountains, plunging into the depths and overshooting the runway fill my dreams. Just my luck the in flight movie will be 80's themed "Airplane".

Who said the Scandinavians didn't have a sense of humour.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Bye, Bye Miss American Pie

I find myself caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,  the Symplegades or less poetically between 2016 and 2017. It is simply this: I wish 2016 to be over, but that brings on with a horrible certainty - 2017.

I'm not sure any of us has got used to this past year, with its death and destruction, the slaughter of the innocents and the democratic deficiency in so many places. Yet the past is past, in a sense it's over, it's sunk costs. The future is full of potential.Except that potential is Donald Trump.

I don't know if this year has the record deaths of celebs. It may or may not be so. That's not important. It seems to me that the death of so many 60's and 70's children  marks the end of a dream/delusion  that we kids of the Swinging Sixties  held onto for far too long. Against all the evidence. 

2016 is when, the Children of the Revolution surrendered. Those of us who wore a flower in our hair, talked 'bout My Generation and sat on the Dock of the Bay have had to confront our mortality. We can't all be the Rolling Stones, forever singing for the Last Time. 

2016 is our Permian extinction. Except it's still 5 minutes to midnight. Who else is going the way of  George Michael, Prince, Bowie, Gregg Lake and Rick Parfitt et al. Just when we thought death had been cheated Carrie Fisher is snatched. So I want 2016 to be consigned to history. Except....

I'm not that confident of 2017. Is it a coincidence that next year will be the 50th anniversary of "Sargent Pepper's"? I don't want to make too much about Trump: all we can hope for is that he's not as crazy as he tweets. I fear that America will implode; but frankly it's been threatening to do so for a few years now. Will 2017 be when the American Dream bites its own arse?

As for the rest of us, who knows? After the Permian extinction there was the Cambrian Explosion. Let's hope having wiped the log jam of the Hippie Generation, we find new Eco-niches creating weird and wonderful things. Not the treat of mass unemployment through the application of AI to all jobs, manual and professional.  Fulfilment through enforced leisure!

I suppose we'll muddle through sub optimally. More people will starve than should, more wars will be fought that aught to be, and more people will do better than their fellows.

Frankly I'm beginning to feel threatened with extinction. I'm thinking that getting to 69 is chancing it. It won't require a cosmic collision or the Deccan Traps to wipe me out. Just the ending of a fantasy that began 60 years ago...."Bye, bye, Miss American Pie.."

Friday, 23 December 2016

This winter solstice business: it ain't funny

I imagine a very distant relative, huddled in a cave, rubbing two sticks of wood together as the wolves howl and the bears stomp wondering if he'll survive the 21st December. Except, I don't imagine he'd have called it that. He probably had some more appropriate phrase like " Oh, God it's only 4 days to Christmas and I haven't ordered the Mastodon."

Not much has changed in the last ten thousand years.

Today is the 23rd of December and I went shopping. The usual weekly shop - o.k. a few extras - a bottle of single malt and an extra supply of cat litter, but otherwise it was as it always is. Except I hadn't factored in the herding instinct. A primitive genetic defect that somehow was introduced into the English household around 1987 - about the time Mrs Thatcher said "..there's no such thing as society...There are..families."

On any normal shopping day the drive to the local Sainsbury's super store is a piece of cake or stollen. A short trip up the road, past the petrol station and an opportunity to select the optimum parking space. A wave to the security guard on the exit as I wheel my well oiled shopping trolley down uncluttered aisles.

Not today. There was a ten minute queue to get into the car park to be shepherded by a bunch of zero hour contract security staff into a just vacated parking slot. I parked next to a tank - useful in Chingford where off road driving is essential and being 6 feet above other drivers is  a signature of success and manhood.

Walking the three quarters of a mile from the car to the supermarket entrance, I managed to force my way into one of the aisles, to be carried along by the press of the crowd to the "Turkey collection point." Grabbing hold of a passing baby buggy and family, I managed to find my way to the wine section, where I helped a nice lady buy a suitable bottle of wine. I purchased one of the few remaining single malts and with a trolley full of essentials and Christmas cheer headed for the check out. Except...all the queues filled all the aisles.

It was pathetic. Abandoned trolleys, abandoned children, whole families in tears as distracted husbands searched high and low in the vain hope that they might reconnect with their spouses before the store closed at midnight. I made a number of life long friends while queueing.

Such was the panic that shoppers piled high the conveyor belts with provisions to last until doomsday. One fatigued shop assistant smiled limply as she muttered "But we're only closed for a day." No matter, a rumour had spread through the store that a nuclear winter was approaching and there was a run on Warburton's  pack of  9 crumpets.

My check out was faultless: except the mother behind me was so intent of piling her shopping onto the conveyor belt that it caused an avalanche and trapped my bag of cat litter between her pile of goodies and the till. Efforts to unblock the traffic jam resulted in the cat litter bag splitting with kitty poo beads everywhere. No one was happy about that. After a Southern Region like delay it was sorted and I left wishing the cashier a Merry Christmas, should she manage to survive.

My purchases were elegantly balanced: £59 on alcohol and £50 on food, mostly for the new kittens.

Well, if we're going to survive Christmas and the nuclear winter we need  to be prepared to "Duck and Cover".