This weekend we were blessed with a visit from the mother-in-law who was staying with us as we were celebrating the first birthday of our niece on Saturday. So, it was a welcome relief that C taxied me to the train station nice and early this morning, leaving the mother-in-law snoring in the spare room, in the knowledge that she would be long gone by the time I return on Wednesday.
Unusually, my trip to Paris this week started with a commute into London as I had a business meeting there before heading over to Heathrow in the afternoon.
Thankfully my way into London starts at the sleepy idyll which is Clandon station and a South West train complete with empty seats, a guard and, unlike Southern Rail, a semi-reliable service. I was joined on the platform by a small group of rather sullen and weary looking commuters – perhaps their in-laws were staying for the whole week….
The Guildford to Waterloo train is a very middle-class service, full of a professional clientele sporting briefcases, Mulberry, and expensive hairstyles, traveling into the City from the Surrey Hills and the leafy suburbs of Cobham Stoke D’Abernon and Surbiton of the the Good Life fame (sigh Felicity)
After a few stops the train began to fill up. Those seated sat knee to knee or shoulder to shoulder. Those stood were rucksack to laptop bag or briefcase to handbag.
The modern commuter has seemingly mastered the art of standing while holding safety bars with one hand or leaning against them and operating smart phone with the other hand. Most of the carriage was head down, ear pieces or headphones in place, swiping their phones left to right while rocking gently with the motion of the train and studiously avoiding eye contact with their fellow passengers.
There were the occasional muffled conversations – parents talking to their children having left home before get-up time; some early-morning business telcos. But most were head down on iPhone or Android exploring the overnight updates on Facebook and Instagram, planning their evenings on Tinder, assessing the latest banal Tweet from Trump, or, playing Candy Crush. And, the carriage resonated with a dawn chorus of text message pings and the whooshes of tweets being sent.
Those not engrossed with their smartphones sipped coffee from various chains with a history of tax avoidance. Some ladies applied their makeup. Some, mostly older male, follically-challenged and pin-striped passengers, pretended to do the cryptic crossword of their favourite broadsheet. Others simply closed their eyes and put their heads back to catch a five minute snooze or simply to block out the world.
The rather mild morning had obviously confused many. The on-board dress code was varied with some in shirtsleeves and others sporting full overcoat (mostly those pretending to do the crossword).
Some, like myself, were simply people watching or looking out of dirty windows and watching the transformation of the landscape from fields and forests to suburbia, looking into passing gardens or fleeting back bedroom windows, until they gave way to graffiti-strewn hoardings and office blocks interspersed with cemeteries and abandoned, ghost like stations – due to ongoing engineering works the train did not stop between Surbiton and Waterloo.
Finally we were free of the building works around Vauxhall and Battersea and emerged into a skyline punctuated by glass and chrome steeples and cranes before being disgorged onto the platforms of Waterloo station where we shuffled our way to the underground or though the barriers into the main station accompanied by the click and rattle of a thousand trolley bags.
I pushed my way outside through the smokers and vapers to the relative quiet of the taxi queue and the inevitable conversation about Uber and Brexit. We stuttered through the bikes, the delivery vans, and the buses and I wondered what the traffic would be like if we didn’t have congestion charging, before awarding myself thirty minutes of tranquility ahead of my meeting, courtesy of the free wifi at Pret, an almond croissant and a vanilla latte…..
Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean “Goebbels” Spicer, excluded many of the leading journalists from some of the world’s most prestigious news agencies from a briefing in Washington, including the BBC. And then he tried to “spin” it as an attempt to expand “the pool” of journalists. It just so happened that it was the “cess pool” of journalists, including only sycophants from like-minded red neck rags who are happy to tout the same right wing, racist and frankly delusional rubbish that comes from the flabby lips of the Great Narcissist in the Oval Office. Think of them as the Daily Mail on steroids. Think the KKK with typewriters.
So it seems that nation will no longer talk unto nation until such time as “the leader of the free world” (sic) can control the message and remove all criticism. Trump has branded the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and others as exponents of so-called “fake news” – for pointing out facts that run contrary to the political rhetoric spilling forth from Satan’s jowls. “Facts that run contrary to” being otherwise known as “the truth”. Or in an Orwellian dystopian world of Trump, which seems to be just around the corner, as “thoughtcrime “…..
Resist. Resist. Resist.
Meanwhile, closer to home, democracy is also gasping for air in the absence of any credible opposition. After Copeland fell to the Tories for the first time in 80 years, the Great Narcissist of Islington North, blamed Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Storm Doris and the emotional backlash to the sacking of Claudio Ranieri……
He refused to entertain the absolute home truth that HE might be to blame. That he and his policies, and Diane Abbott have made the Labour Party unelectable, no matter how many “members” or how grassy your roots….. Without the people; without the voters, you are nothing more than an ineffective protest party pissing in the wind.
Resist. Resist. Resist.
Well, one out of two I suppose….but with the current industrial action I suspect that British Airways is not doing very much of either at the moment!
Now I am no supporter of the so-called mixed fleet strike action. To my mind if you accept a job based upon a set of contractual conditions then you should do your work accordingly. And, if you subsequently decide that the job doesn’t suit you, go and find something different to do and give somebody else a chance. Don’t just go on strike and torment the very people you are supposed to be serving.
To my mind, this is just another example of those political dinosaurs at the Unite Union – they who have inflicted the inconsequential Jeremy Corbyn upon us – trying to drag us all back to their image of pre-Thatcherite Britain.
I remember it well. When the lights used to go out at the weekend. When rubbish piled up on the streets, and small children queued for bread on ration at the local bakers. A time when the current-day “service” offered by Southern Rail would have been aspirational.
Would those of you who are calling for the nationalisation of our railways please dig out the back catalogue of Morecambe and Wise. There is a reason that most of their best material was at the expense of British Rail and British Leyland. Because they couldn’t run the railway and the cars were shite.
And, sadly, I think we are now witnessing the dramatic downfall of another great industrial icon – British Airways.
In my working life, most of which has been spent sitting in unyielding plastic seats in airport lounges resembling refugee centres, waiting for planes and searching for somewhere to charge my phone, I have seen the sad and steady demise of the British Airways on-board food and in-flight service. Of customer service.
To be honest, the disappointment with the modern British Airways experience begins at the very start of the flying experience. The online check-in.
I am a frequent flier with BA. I fly at least 6 times a month. I have bronze status. And given the current generosity (not) of the loyalty programme I will be lucky if I can attain silver status before I retire. I have registered my preferences online with the BA Executive Club. An aisle seat. No special preferences with regard to food…..nothing too demanding one would have thought.
Despite my loyalty, my executive status, and my preference for an aisle seat, the online check in system NEVER ALLOCATES ME AN AISLE SEAT! And so, I have to pay €10 every time I fly to change my seat. If there are any aisle seats available to change to.
The disappointment continues when you have struggled through all of the security checks and the chaos of the departures area and arrive at the gate. Passengers are essentially kettled into two queues – one for the priority boarding; the other for general boarding.
Now the only real benefit of my bronze status is that I get priority boarding. This is essential if you are to stand any chance of stowing your luggage. More of that later. But, even the priority boarding privilege is being eroded. Now even the most loyal of frequent fliers have to wait while the ever-increasing number of wheelchair users board the flight. We have to wait while the people who volunteer to put their trolley bags into the hold board the plane. And, we have to wait while families with small children and others requiring assistance jump the queue too. I have often considered blagging a wheelchair for myself….
And then we board. And then the “luggage rage” begins.
It is quite simple. Trolley bags overhead. Wheels in first. Other bags tagged with the yellow label under the seat in front of you. Any coat that does not fit on top of your trolley bag should also be placed under the seat. Except in an emergency exit row.
But, apparently these rules only apply to me.
Luggage rage spreads through the cabin like wildfire. Those of us already sat in our aisle seats, having paid €10 for the privilege, get annoyed at being smacked on the shoulder by everyone taking their seats further down the plane with a bag on their shoulder, and, being hit in the face by every rucksack wearer turning to ask their companion what seat they are in. How can so many people be so spatially unaware?
And then everyone else boarding gets annoyed when there is no room for their luggage because everyone else, except me, has ignored the advice about the yellow tag, coats, and wheels in first.
Fist fights almost break out when people see passengers using “their spaces”. Or moving other people’s luggage to make room for theirs. Or, when the cabin crew intervene and snatch any bags with no home from already disgruntled travelers and send them to the hold never to be seen again.
Eventually everyone manages to sit down and begins to relax, ignoring the safety video, and looking forward to a glass of something to calm the nerves. Or not…..
Back in the day, business travellers would look forward to a decent complementary hot meal served with a couple of glasses of your tipple of choice by a smiling, smartly dressed stewardess who had just stepped out of a teenage boy’s wet dream.
We used to look forward to making that key decision of “beef or chicken?” (always chicken), peeling back the foil lid and tucking in with an actual knife and fork made from actual stainless steel, sipping our Cabernet Sauvignon from an actual glass glass, wiping our mouths with a cloth napkin, cleaning our teeth with a wooden tooth pick, and refreshing ourselves with a hot towel.
But, over the years the great English breakfast gave way to a soggy bacon baguette which would scold your tongue on a short-hall flight because you didn’t have time for it to cool down. Metal cutlery and glass have given way to plastic. And, the choice of “beef or chicken?” gave way to “crisps, nuts, or sweet biscuit?”
And this year, BA has terminated its complimentary service in Euro Traveller (economy) class for good. Thus removing the only thing that differentiated our once great national flag bearer renowned for its customer service from RyanAir’s cattle class. Instead, they have replaced it with a trolley service of M&S produce at Fortnum & Mason prices that you can only pay for by credit or debit card using some over-engineered iPad POS that constantly has to be rebooted and takes forever to process a transaction.
Nowadays the in-flight experience is shattered by frequent incidents of “trolley rage”. It begins with the first free rows behind that irritating curtain that separates the business class passengers with their complimentary food and drink and an accessible toilet from those of us that now get the full-on budget airline experience.
It begins when they realise their free packet of nuts and can of Heineken are no more. For many that was to be their only “meal” after a busy day of international commerce. It builds when they are told that the M&S sea salt and balsamic vinegar hand cut crisps all sold out on the incoming journey. It builds when they are told that they cannot pay with actual money, requiring them to unbuckle and search for their wallet in the overhead baggage compartment. And, it builds when the iPad needs rebooting.
And then the trolley rage spreads. It spreads because the two members of cabin crew, with their one trolley of M&S produce (minus the crisps) and temperamental iPads only have time to serve the first two rows before we have begun our descent into Heathrow. The rest of the plane goes hungry. The rest of the plane gets grumpy. And the whole of the plane, at least those of us behind the curtain, gets angry.
Traveling with BA is stressful. And now you can’t even get a drink to calm your nerves. No amount of the Flower Duet Sous le Dome Epais is going to help you then….
To Fly. To Serve. My arse.
It starts with a wall, a ban on a people and religion perceived to be a threat to the nation. It starts with the infringement of established civil liberties such as the right to an abortion, and the removal of anyone who challenged the validity of his actions. But, where will it end?
Have we learnt any lessons from history? Let’s hope so….
Hitler was a powerful and compelling speaker who used the media channels of his day to attract a wide following to a nation that was feeling forgotten and a people clambering for change. He promised a better life and a return to greatness for Germany. Hitler’s message appealed particularly to the poor, the unemployed and members of the lower middle class.
Once in power Hitler’s Germany soon became a police state. Individuals and protesters were subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Hitler’s Government moved quickly to control the media and the PR around its policies, forcing federal state governments and other political organisations to “toe the line” by putting prominent Nazis into positions of power. This was particularly true for seats of power in the legal sphere, the economy, education and culture. Government effectively became a rubber stamp for Hitler’s dictates. Authority was imposed from above and absolute obedience towards one’s superior was expected, demanded and enforced.
Having established himself as dictator, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to the driving force which had propelled him into politics in the first place, his hatred of the Jews. It began with a simple boycott of Jewish professional and businesses on April 1st, 1933, and ended in holocaust. It took a world war to stop him.
Remind you of anyone?
Hitler was allowed to get away with it because other nations turned a blind eye in those early days. Appeasement. Governments ignored Hitler’s politics in return for assurances that their national interests would be protected. While he shook their hands and smiled for the cameras, Hitler picked their pockets and planned world domination.
Just sayin ‘
Do not be quiet. Resist. Do not be stupid. Resist. Do not appease. Resist. Do not turn a blind eye. Resist. Do not let him get away with it…..
As I sit here having returned from the chaos of a trip to Waitrose Dorking, which was full of hungover shoppers and car park ragers who seemed to have been tipped off that the zombie apocalypse is imminent, no doubt attracted by the odour of recycling bins overflowing with bin bags stretched to their polyethylene limits, stuffed with turkey carcasses and a mound of mince pies past their use by date, it is a time of quiet reflection. Before the New Year celebrations this evening.
There is already a change in the air – C has gone on a cleaning spree muttering “out with the old…..” and I am trying not to stay in one place for too long lest I suffer the same fate as the contents of our fridge.
Our TVs are filled with adverts for Weight Watchers, family holidays (just what you need after a couple of days/weeks of forced confinement with your “nearest and dearest”), Sky subscriptions and imminent war with Russia.
But, 2016 has not yet thrown its last die…..except in Australasia. But what a year 2016 has been.
At a personal level it has been a good year. A rollercoaster for sure, full of big change, uncertainty and frustration. But a good year nevertheless. A new job in a new country. A new car (downsizing). Turning fifty (and spending it with the best friends in the world!). Leaving our lovely house and friends in the North. Our last walk to the Edge. The big move South. Vince’s remarkable recovery from his terrible road accident in New Zealand. And, best of all, C beating breast cancer and the arrival of our gorgeous niece, Ella Rose. A very good year indeed.
It has been a good year despite the abject failure of my personal online campaigns against Brexit, against Jeremy Corbyn, and against the monster which is Trump. I must try harder next year.
As ever, there has been a fair amount of travel with one commute into my London office (yes, just the one!), regular trips to Paris, and quick hops to Rotterdam (including my upgrade to the Presidential suite), Amsterdam, Vienna, Milan, Malaga, Frankfurt and Istanbul, and, long-hauls to São Paulo (not my favourite), Porto Alegre, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. I am fast approaching silver status with British Airways…….as long as they don’t spend the whole of next year on strike!
The best, however, was a wonderful holiday with C in Taormina in Sicily. And, the spa weekend in Brockenhurst in Hampshire. And the walk along the Cheshire Way with the Lads. There have also been a couple of memorable day trips into London. It is nice to have the Big Smoke and Durham-ites on the doorstep.
It was a memorable and very hot first Surrey Hills summer interspersed with visits from good friends and family, drinking gin and cider (not in the same glass) outside the White Horse, meals in the Bray and other excellent local pubs, tickling trout in the Tillingbourne, walking to the farm shop, and watching the Ride London Surrey 100 cycle ride rush past the bottom of our lane……and being attacked by wasps. A summer of Olympic triumph and football humiliation at the hands of Iceland.
We have entertained ourselves with trips to the cinema to watch the Revenant, the latest Bourne (so formulaic and cliched), Louis Theroux’ My Scientology Movie. And we have stayed in with the Affair, the Americans, the Making of a Murderer, the Walking Dead, Episodes and Bloodline. We even spent an evening with Rick Stein…..in the flesh!
And, then there was the kind of entertainment you cannot pay for – C teaching her mom to use an iPad and me getting to “fix” the mother-in-law’s Kenwood mixer on Mothers Day. And spending time with Ella Rose…
It has been a good year. But not for everyone.
So many of our great entertainers, musicians and sporting heroes have been taken from us. Many far too soon. There must be one helluva New Years party going on upstairs.
The political world has undertaken a cosmic shift to the extent that we all now live in a surreal reality TV programme which has still to run its course.
Terrible wars continue to rage in the Middle East. Refugees continue to escape the horrors. Terrorists continue to attempt to invoke the end of days – remember Istanbul, Brussels, Orlando, Jo Cox, Nice, Wurzburg, St-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Berlin and almost daily incidents throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South East Asia and the Indian sub-continent. And then there is Putin, Trump’s new best friend ….
And, yet again Pizza Express removed my favourite pizza from their menu….
But we, at least, end the year with good health, great friends, and a long list of Rightmove properties to view. There is so much to look forward to. Not least a new home, hopefully with a big oven, working heating and a shower to die for and without the wasps and the mice. Who knows where we will be theis time next year? Hopefully celebrating with those closest and dearest to us.
True, there may be a deluded, racist, sexist megalomaniac about to take control of the nuclear button in the New Year, as the Tories start to block the Channel Tunnel with the unemployed. And, we might have to all learn to speak Russian. Bt it ain’t going to be dull. So, 2017, bring it on. Do your worst. We can take it!
Have a good one everybody!
But if you arrived here having Googled “being a man” or “perfect man” you’re probably already in the doo doo bro….or, dude….or mate….or whatever the down-with-the-kids reference du jour might be.
Men are, in general, having a bit of an identity crisis. Masculinity is under threat. Apparently it takes more than the ability to arm wrestle, grow a beard (shucks), and being able to assemble flat pack furniture (shucks).
That said, I have just returned from getting my silver fox locks cut in a “traditional” barbershop in Dorking, Surrey, where the air was a heady mix of talc, hair gel, testosterone and banter. And the sweet smell of someone vaping….
I looked down the line and noticed that all five of us in the chairs were hirsute , bearded. Two were having a shave. With a straight-edged cut-throat razor. Like real men. And this was despite an age range from early twenties to much, much older than myself….
We clients were referred all referred to as “boss” by the all-male barbers. And conversations were about football, the weather, work, and someone’s new car. It was a very male experience. Somewhat safe. Somehow comforting. Somewhat harking back to a world when men were men…..confused only by the moisturiser, texture gum and the occasional man bag. It was like it was back at in the day. Back in the old cave. Back on Mars….
For sure men still hold most of the political top jobs today, with notable exceptions such as kitten-heeled Theresa May and last year’s ‘Time’ magazine’ “Person of the Year”, Angela Merkel, both often judged more on their clothes rather than their policies. Which is probably no bad thing for them…..
But even poor old Hillary Clinton could not shatter the political glass ceiling in the USA even when faced with the American equivalent of Alf Garnett on drugs in a Klu Klux Klan cape and a badly-fitting ginger wig.
It is also still the case that less than ten percent of UK CEOs in our top 100 FTSE companies are female, while the gender pay gap continues to hover in the range of twenty percent.
And yet we hear that girls consistently outperform boys at school, at least up to GCSE level. And that suicide remains the main cause of death amongst men under the age of forty five….
It seems that the brave new world is a little confusing, surprising, and terrifying to the non-female of the species….
And, so many people seem to be asking “what does it mean to be a man today?” Indeed, somewhat ironically, this was the topic of Radio 5 Live’s “Women’s Hour” yesterday. And, this weekend sees the third Southbank Centre conference on “Being A Man”.
We must conclude that it isn’t easy being a modern man. Our roles have changed dramatically and quickly and continue to do so. In just two generations the clearly defined differences between the sexes have blurred. Society has changed. Many would say for the better. But not without consequences and complications.
And I haven’t yet found the YouTube video or the iPhone app that tells us how to adapt and make the change….
And the change is rapid. Two generations rapid. My grandmothers worked in service, managed their homes, and raised their children. My grandfathers both fought in World Wars, did manual work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, often quite literally, providing fruit and vegetables from the veg patch in the garden or from the allotment. The roles were clear, distinct, yet complimentary.
Yes my own mom worked but she always made sure that she was around when we kids were small, even working the night shift in a factory while we slept. She cooked the food, did the washing and the ironing. Dad also worked hard and would make himself a sandwich and even do the vacuuming. And yet the roles were still fairly clear, fairly distinct, and complimentary.
The roles may be changing, merging, becoming more equal but not all us men are emotionally equipped to appreciate the change. To feel it.
I grew up being told by teachers and peers to “man up”; that “real men don’t cry”. I was sold on the virtue of the stiff upper lip. I was told to walk on the curb-side when walking with a lady. When I phone “home” as I do every Sunday my dad immediately passes the phone to my mom. It is as if it is mom’s role to enquire about what is going on in the family. If dad does talk on the phone it is normally to exchange information rather than emotion, with chats about football, DIY, or asking directions. Like the men in the barber shop.
Some would argue that men have suffered somewhat in the battle of the sexes. We have sometimes been blamed for the woes of the world. Blamed for the wars. Blamed for the banking crisis. Blamed for the grooming; for the abuse. Blamed for being stuck emotionally in the world of our fathers and grandfathers. But I’m not sure it is true that we are being blamed; or to blame. We just feel blamed….as we continue to wallow in the dark corners of our man caves and our garden sheds.
And for sure we still have to man up. Recognise that a SatNav can’t fix all of the communication problems in a relationship. Take responsibility. I have lived on Mars and taken refuge in my cave far too often….
But it is hard in a world that expects the modern man to be Casanova in the bedroom, Marco Pierre White in the kitchen, with the insight of Freud, and the wisdom of Solomon, the dress sense of David Beckham, and partial to a bossa nova on Strictly Come Dancing.
We are expected to be intellectual, entrepreneurial, entertaining, empathetic, body-aware metrosexuals, lovers, and heroic beard-sporting dads who cry in public and rush home from the office to spend time with the children before walking the dog, cooking dinner for the family, and settling down with a glass of red and a box set of Game of Thrones.
Well I have a beard. I do cry at sad films. I love my wife to bits. She is my best friend. I cook a mean hot pot and Sunday roast. I watch University Challenge and Question Time and enjoy a glass or three of red while watching “Sex and Sandles” . But, I am very much a work in progress. I am slowly emerging from my cave. But, and apologies to all my MAMIL friends, I shall not be donning the Lycra shorts any day soon….
But did I tell you that Brooklyn Beckham once mistook me for his dad?….