And so we are now into our second week Down Under and I think that everyone in our away party (two American ladies of a certain age and two British lads in their prime) is feeling a little jaded and quite a bit homesick.
We are, however, still managing to play nicely together and no punches have been thrown, or cutlery brandished………yet. Indeed, we all managed a thoroughly nice weekend together over a few pitchers of beer and a bucket of prawns at Darling Harbour on Saturday and an excursion by train into the beautiful Blue Mountains on Sunday.
But, we are all missing loved ones, pets, and home. As such, most of our conversations centre on our resentments towards our company travel and expense policies – although I have to admit that the American policy and the American administrators of that policy seem to be a lot more onerous than the Rest of World (as Americans tend to think of us) policy. So much so that I find myself almost feeling sorry for my American colleagues. Almost. Methinks we need a revolution. We might just form a Union while we’re down here…..
When not complaining about how the Company is (mis) treating us, we are all obsessing about contact with the real world and trying to maximise every opportunity, timezones allowing, to make a call home, to send a text, or to try to make a Skype connection.
Even contact with the virtual world has become more important. I for one find myself constantly looking for news on Facebook (my little sis is on her hen party in Ibiza which I’m hoping will provide invaluable material for my father-of-the-bride wedding speech!), or for comments on my blogs. It’s incredible how rewarding a simple comment or a “Like” or a or a poke (ooh er missus) can be when you are on the other side of the world. I also seem to be spending an inordinate amount of my rare downtime writing restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor (the hotel reviews will have to wait until I have checked out for obvious reasons).
I am also spending a lot of time in my room watching movies downloaded from iTunes that I don’t really want to watch. But they are all I have access to, seeing as IPlayer, Netflix and Blinkbox don’t allow you access when outside of the UK. Bastards.
i have also progressed through several levels of Clash of Clans – how low have I fallen……
But, our merry bunch of travellers is bonding nicely and we are slowly learning more about each others little foibles. Or I am learning about theirs I should say, being foible-free myself . Expect more references to “women of a certain age” – they read my blog and got quite exercised by that comment to the point of palpitations and hot flushes, which kind of proved my point.
And my fellow Brit is slowly coming out of his shell. In between his constant trips to the bottle store we are entertained with tales of getting married in a pirate hat and how to snort ouzo……
A special call out to the partners of the two American ladies. We will look after them for you – we are keeping a special bail money pot to hand for whenever it might be needed. And a special thanks to E for organising our Sunday trip so well.
I am ten days into a twenty-four day business trip to South East Asia and Australia. And, I am missing home. And, I am still struggling to establish any sensible sleep pattern. Any pattern other than waking every two hours with my head buzzing with work and trying to figure out what time it is in the UK, Atlanta, and other parts of the world.
Many of those sleepless nights have been spent listening to the sounds of the city. I am in Sydney, Australia. Thankfully, I am only listening to the sounds of the city. So far, my hotel walls have proved to be very effective in blocking sounds from neighbouring rooms. Which is a relief. So, I have spent my sleepless nights listening to the sirens of emergency vehicles speeding through the streets on some mission of mercy. I have spent my sleepless early mornings listening to the sounds of empty bottles from the local bars being dumped into rubbish skips, and to the beep, beep, beep of reversing delivery vans. Rural Cheshire this is not.
Thankfully, so far at least, the social side of my time Down Under has been easy and enjoyable. I am travelling with three colleagues – two American ladies of a certain age, and a fellow male Brit. We are all playing nicely together and, as far as I can tell, no-one is being particularly irritated by the habits of another. Unlike on other long-haul trips with one particular diminutive Scotsman, I have not yet felt the urge to smother any of them in their sleep. But, there is still time. All of us have suffered with jet lag and struggle with the time zones when trying to make contact with loved ones back home. We Brits are plus nine hours from home, but the poor Americans are plus fourteen.
Americans remain a source of wonder, amusement and entertainment to me. They are very foreign. Very strange.
One of my travelling American companions is slightly OCD and insists on everything being neat, tidy, and in its place. I suspect, however, that she will not make it through to the end of our trip – she refuses to wait for the green man at the many pedestrian crossings here and on several occasions has come close to being wiped out by a turning bus, or speeding motorcycle. She also seems to be on a quest. A quest to find a mythical black napkin. One which will not leave visible lint on her lap. Go figure.
The other American lady has been well-trained by our company into the need to minimise expenses when on such trips. This is not a philosophy to which I adhere. So, while I have been pushing every shirt, pair of jeans, pairs of socks and underpants through the hotel laundry system, she is reluctant to pay and reclaim the truly exorbitant prices or to expose her “smalls” (being an American you can guess that is somewhat of a misnomer ) to strangers. She has also insisted that the hotel remove the entire contents of the mini-bar in her room so that she can fill it with cans of Coke Zero acquired at a local grocery store. This is no way to treat the elusive mini-bar which should be treated with deference, as a thing of beauty and an endangered species.
My fellow Brit has yet to display any such strange behaviour.
Now, put Brits, Yanks and Aussies into the same room together and you have the makings of a good gag. We do occasionally get tripped up with the cultural differences and in our use of language. Some of the more interesting, confusing and entertaining conversations have included references to “thongs” and “fluffers”…….
Sydney remains one of my favourite cities in the world but I have noticed a number of changes since I last spent any significant time here back in 2004. It is ridiculously expensive – things here cost at least fifty percent more than back in the UK. And, there is clearly more poverty around – almost every street corner has a homeless person asking for money. And, the number of people of Asian origin seem to be on the rise. But, it remains a beautiful blend of modern and Victorian, eclectic, vibrant and welcoming.
But, right now, I would very much prefer to be home……..
I flew out of Manchester to Bangkok, via Dubai on Wednesday evening, arriving on Thursday evening, local time. I had a business meeting on the Friday, and so, it was a rather weary Middle Man that pitched up for yet another flight this time from Bangkok to Sydney, Australia yesterday evening.
i gave up on the very slow-moving queue at the currency exchange desk and decided to head for the business lounge and the relative comfort of the BBC World News, Jack Daniels and Coke, toasted almonds, cheese and crackers, and free wifi.
I caught up on a few emails and the news headlines and slowly watched the lounge fill up with an assortment of business men – mostly Aussies and Kiwis (my flight goes on to Christchurch), most sporting beer bellies and bad taste in clothes (sandals with suit trousers?), and some sporting a trophy Thai bride who had probably looked a lot more easy on the eye when they first met than after a number of years being married.
I was a bit taken aback when visiting the facilities to find a large Arab guy washing his feet in the hand wash basin. While I admired his impressive yoga technique and flexibility, it was a little unexpected and somewhat unseemly.
My mood was not enhanced any by the news that the flight was one hour delayed. Another Jack and Coke
Eventually our flight was called and I used my business class status to push to the front of the queue to board. They were an eclectic mix in business class. I was sat in an aisle seat. An Arab man, clearly quite affluent and presumably en route from Dubai sat in the window seat next to me. In a rather unsettling fashion he immediately phoned his mother (she didn’t answer), left a message and proceeded to pray quietly in a manner not unlike a scene I remembered from United 93. My fight or flight instinct began to kick in. In front of him sat a proper Buddhist monk in orange robes and sandals. In business class? Well I guess that got most of the world’s main religions covered, at least.
To my dismay a couple of West End Sydney types sat across the aisle from me. Middle aged, morbidly obese, clueless, and sweating like pigs. Indeed, the guy looked most unwell and immediately caught the attention of the cabin crew. My mood was not helped to discover that he was sat in the seat of a beautiful young girl who was too polite to move him. The effort might have done him in for good.
My multi-media system wasn’t working. The extremely attentive cabin crew rebooted my system. Twice. It still did not work, so they relocated me to another aisle seat. That one also did not work, again despite two reboots. The cabin crew were distraught. I had hoped that an upgrade to first class might be in the offing, but instead they moved me into the centre seat of my row of three (the other seats were empty), where the movies worked fine.
My intention had been to grab dinner, a movie and the sleep off an innocent. It was not to be so. The overweight Westie really was in a bad shape, and he was now sat behind me. The cabin crew resorted to giving him oxygen and were constantly checking upon his status, which made for a rather disturbed sleep for yours truly, and more than one movie. Upon landing in Sydney we were asked to wait as a full medical team boarded to attend to the guy who was really rather poorly by now.
And so, I was a little jaded when I arrived at my hotel this morning, sorted my laundry and dry cleaning and showered. So tired that I did not immediately notice that my beard trimmer had changed setting in my bag and was on number 1 (closest cut) rather than the normal number 3. I hope it grows back before my colleagues arrive on Monday……
Do you know the classic pub scene in American Werewolf in London where the two American tourists walk into the Slaughtered Lamb pub in the middle of nowhere to be greeted with silence, stares and suspicion and a Satanic sign on the wall?
Well, C and I experienced almost the opposite to that in La Taberna del Zorro in Gaucin yesterday.
Now, I have to admit we are a tad unprepared for this holiday. We dressed for sun and swimming pool and, to our surprise, it has been cold and wet so far, barely struggling to the mid teens (centigrade) in the sun, and it even snowed in parts of Andulucia yesterday – we saw it on the news and could see the snow-capped peaks in the distance.
Nevertheless, mid-morning, we bravely layered up and bemoaned the coats and waterproofs hanging up at home and decided to try the walk into the village, accompanied a fair part of the way by the black and white cat who has befriended us at the villa.
The walk was fine. We are pretty much on a level with the mountain top Pueblos Blancos and in just half an hour or so were at the heart of the village with time to mooch around and orientate ourselves before lunch.
We strolled around the narrow streets being greeted with an “hola!” by almost every local we passed – old men in caps, old ladies with sticks, and disaffected youths alike. We found all of the well-researched restaurants and tavernas on our list (thank you Trip Advisor) and sauntered up to the old Arab fort above the village and took in the spectacular views.
A little too early for lunch we grabbed a coffee and a cigarette outside the police station and bought provisions for the evening before entering into the Taberna del Zorro, to be greeted amiably by our Spanish host and feasting on tapas – croquettes, pancetta (belly pork), chargrilled cuttlefish and a tomato salad all washed down with a couple of glasses of vino tinto.
Sated and satisfied we paid and left only to find that it had begun to rain. We were not correctly attired and did not find the prospect of a soaking walk and sitting in the finca, cold, damp and miserable, very appealing. And so, we turned back into the taverna and attempted to order a taxi.
There was no taxi. And, even if there had been a taxi it would not take us the short distance we were wanting to travel.
But, upon being told this bad news we were at once welcomed into the bosom of the bar and looked after. We discovered that the bar was full of expats, an elderly retired couple from Norway, a bear of a man who was a nut-brown Cockney mechanic cum handyman, and a furtive under-employed painter and decorator, who had been at Durham university at about the same time as C.
All seemed fluent in Spanish and had a tale to tell and a willingness to help. There was a huddle around our map, which they declared out-of-date and subsequently produced biros with which to update it. Our new Cockney friend, upon discovering which villa we were at, popped out to knock on the door of the ubiquitous Chris Barber, our manager, and the guy who had rescued us so gallantly in the gas hob incident of Saturday night. He returned with the joyous news that Chris would be “happy” to give us a lift in forty five minutes.
Even the bar owner who spoke not a word of English had offered to pop us down the hill. And so, another couple of glasses of red and a very unexpected and enjoyable time were had, discovering how the various occupants of the taverna had stumbled upon and settled in this magical village, their backgrounds, and “celebrating” the death of Margaret Thatcher.
It was a moment of spontaneity, camaraderie, and good nature that will live long in our memories.
We love this place.
Now C and I enjoy settling down to a good movie in the evening when we are on holiday. Well, thank you Mr Cruise for ruining an otherwise perfectly fine evening.
I am a fan of the books in the Jack Reacher series written by Lee Childs. I have read them all, including One Shot, being the book upon which the movie was based. And, I have often wondered why Hollywood hasn’t leapt upon the movie rights earlier. The books are intelligent, packed with action and sex, and with an all-American hero at their heart. I am convinced that, in the right hands, there is a franchise to rival that of James Bond or Bourne in the making.
But, Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have squandered and killed that opportunity for this film was, frankly, a crock of sh*te!
I could join in the ubiquitous debate about who should have been cast as Jack Reacher (I would vote for Liam Neeson or Viggo Mortensen) but, one thing is for certain, it should not have been Tom Cruise. Jack Reacher is six feet five inches tall with a chest size of fifty inches. Tom Cruise is fifty inches tall with a chest size of six and a half inches. Jack Reacher is a veteran, a sniper, an ex-Major in the Army Military Police, with the investigative skills of Sherlock Holmes, with a history, a presence, and a threat in his eyes. Tom Cruise is a closeted Scientologist, apparently.
But, the real reason this movie was so bad was because it was badly acted all round, and, badly directed, and did not build or develop any of the core characters.
Tom Cruise lacked menace and any believability as a “hard man” and delivered his lines with the aplomb of a Herr Schwarzenegger or Stallone, while Rosamund Pike exuded the sex appeal of a lettuce. Cruise seemed to be bored, and going through the motions rather than acting with any kind of credibility. There are times when just taking off your shirt and sucking in will just not do it.
And, Robert Duvall, from the Godfather to this? How the mighty are fallen…..
This must be one of the worst portrayals of a successful character, and, one of the worst movies ever made.
Well, as we all know, Monopoly is a game of chance, requiring absolutely zero skill, and decided by the roll of a dice…….and, I have just been soundly trounced by my better half who was some £28.5 million better off than myself, even after I had mortgaged all of my properties.
I blame it on being tired. I am tired because we were up at 3am yesterday morning for a quick dash to Manchester airport and for a long queue at the EasyJet luggage drop, before catching our 06.10 flight to Malaga as the first leg of our Andalusian adventure.
Actually, the airport run wasn’t too bad. The people watching in the queue was quite good. There were two hen parties. It was Hollyoaks versus Brookside. One group was well dressed and sexy. The other was Scouse. One was Marbella. The other was Malaga.
Anyhow, we even had time for a quick vanilla latte and a cinnamon swirl while watching the table of lads necking pints of lager at five thirty in the morning.
The flight was on time and uneventful. The lady behind me dished out sweeties for takeoff and landing in an attempt to prevent ear popping and regaled her travelling companions with tales of the girl in her book who had just discovered a new friend which was a female goat called, Fran, which apparently is a strange name for a nanny goat. I think she was a nervous flier.
Collecting the rental car at the airport was easy and we got an upgrade to a Quashqai. And, the one and a half hour drive to Gaucin in the mountains was uneventful up until we neared our Pueblos Blancos, when a short toed eagle flew low across our path as if to announce our arrival.As we were too early to get into our villa we parked in the village and sauntered, quickly donning our fleeces as it was overcast, threatening rain, and rather chilly. But, what we saw of the village was encouraging enough with beautiful views, smells and sounds, with eagles souring above our heads. And so, after a quick once around the block, the purchase of a couple of bottles of wine (Rioja) and a not-so-overwhelming tapas, we headed down to the villa.
Stunning. The villa has views looking out over a valley with the Rock of Gibraltar rising majestically in the distance and with Tangiers beyond. The villa itself is designer chic – all split level with art and antiques collected from all over Asia and beyond by the owners, the foreign correspondents Eric Ellis and Sara Webb who live in the property when not overseas being journalists. And, as C herself said, a master bedroom befitting a rock star!
And outside we have a beautiful pool, terracotta terraces and lemon and grapefruit trees.
But, the weather is cold and showery and we did not fancy a wet walk into the village in search of food. Instead, we huddled together for warmth and decided to cook.
This was when the first signs of tiredness surfaced. I had a senior moment. I could not for the life of me figure out how to light the gas hob. And, after a frustrating twenty minutes or so, I developed a hump and decided to berate the manager who graciously jumped in his car, arrived at the villa, and showed me how easy it is to light the hob if you just press the dial in before hitting the ignite button. Duh! Doh!
But, one rather satisfying bowl of fragrant pork meatballs and a couple of bottles of vino tinto later it was off to our pop star pad for a well-deserved slumber, which was, unfortunately, disturbed by a neighbour’s dog barking its brains out for most of the night.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I got trounced at Monopoly.
(The dog, the hob, and the weather aside, this is a little slice of Heaven and I am very happy to be here).
I have just been “fortunate” enough to spend the last couple of days at a conference in Cannes, location of the famous annual film festival. I have been unfortunate enough to spend this time amongst 750 or so bankers…….which might be a mis-pronunciation……
I stayed in a nice hotel. My room was large and comfortable and the surroundings were befitting of the highly paid entourage and movie celebrities that frequent this place. It was, however, like my good self, looking a tad tired. It had probably seen its high day in the late 60s and could do with a lick of paint and a half-decent wi-fi connection here and there.
But, the cocktail menus had been signed by no less than Michael Jackson (say hello to Jimmy Savile when you see him), Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone and Tarantino. They didn’t invite yours truly to sign. But, I did partake of a very nice Long Island Iced Tea.
It was hot. About 30 degrees hot. Too hot to be in a suit. But, that I was – in a suit. Indeed it reminded me of many a British summer wedding, with blokes, carrying a little too much weight, a little too much booze, and a little long in the tooth, looking a little uncomfortable, and desperate to loosen their ties and remove their jackets and trying not to get caught on the wedding video, and sucking in for all of the photos. But, that could just have been me.
That said, European bankers seem to have a strange concept of what constitutes “business attire” – there was a plethora of Paul Smith, pin stripes, blue shirts, plain ties, and Rolex. But, that was just the men. You could spot the non-Brits because they were wearing brown shoes. I am sorry, but blue pin-stripe and tan shoes do not go! And, why bother with a tie if you can’t be bothered to do your top button up?
The women were either taking power dressing to the extreme – out pin-striping the men – or, dressed like they were out for a night at the opera. There were LBDs and high heels in abundance. It was all rather too Gucci and hair by Stepford Wives.
Both the men and the women of the conference were quite a contrast to the Lycra clad lovelies rollerblading or jogging along the prom. Quite a contrast to the bikini bedecked beautiful people sunbathing or playing volleyball on the beach……which I caught a glimpse of in passing.
I like to spend my time people-watching and nationality-spotting. Some we’re obvious – the floppy haired Southern Europeans; the mafia dons from Eastern Europe; and the western/northern Anglo-Saxons, all of a certain age, with short grey hair and spectacles.
That said, I did not feel at all out-of-place with my Barbour man bag…..
The conference was in the Palais des Festivales, where the annual film festival is held. I like to think that I may have sat in the same seat as Julia Roberts ….. Sigh…..I would sit towards the back of the cinema-style seating looking down on a sea of bald spots shining up at me.
The conference was quite interesting, with high-hitters from Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Samsung making keynote speeches, and the final session was with Sir Stuart Rose. And there was the odd (the perfect word) retail guru who dressed like Doctor Who.
Unlike most business meetings which ban the use of mobiles and computers, this conference celebrated gadgetry of all types. There were apps to be used for booking which sessions you were to attend, make notes, and to send questions to the people on the stage. It was a celebration of multi-tasking as bankers everywhere pretended to participate while reading their emails, and playing games of Solitaire or Clash of Clans.
But, after enduring the Welcome Drinks, on the first night – all cheap wine, cheese and onion crisps and one-upmanship – I decided that mingling was not going to be my forte. And so, I ventured out onto the prom and ate on my own.
I am not sure i will be rushing back to Cannes. The conference had been a heady mix of testosterone, arrogance, money and eau de cologne. The town itself was, well, Brighton but with better shops, better boats, little black dresses, and, bankers.
Unless, of course, Julia Roberts wants to hook up again like the last time we were in France together…..