Here’s to Alcock and Brown

15th June 2019
It’s six hours and three minutes to our destination. We’ve just had an unremarkable lunch that was served while we watched our choice of popcorn movie. We are a touch over 10K above the Atlantic: a more impressive sounding 36,000′ in old money. We’ve covered 2180km/1352miles with 4923/3059 left to run. By the time I finish this sentence we’ve covered another ten miles. (That’s 580mph for you although to be fair I am a slow typist.)
We are en route to a roadtrip: reward for youngest offspring in completing GCSE exams. He put down pen for final time yesterday morning and around 24hours later we thunder into the Sussex sky heading WSW. We booked online, we checked in online, we scanned the boarding passes through the airport using the airline app. Everyone around us is relaxed – headphones on, snoozing, reading, me typing – with the crew quietly going about their business in shirtsleeves.
A shuffle of the Weekend i and on page 12 is a story I’d forgotten about. Growing up in a house shared with Grandparents I guess I have a better working knowledge of 20th century popular culture British characters and heroes. That said, it took me a minute to spot the symmetry and appreciate the moment.
One hundred years ago to this day – 15th June 1919 – Captain John Alcock and RAF Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown successfully completed the first non-stop Transatlantic flight (upon landing unceremoniously in a bog in Connemara). Their converted Vickers Vimy bomber – bombs replaced with auxiliary fuel tanks – was open cockpit. The duo flew a mere 1,860 miles(!) from Newfoundland whilst today we are going all the way from London to Miami. No one had flown further than 600 miles before that day less than a year after the Great War finished.
In the century since their uber-brave feat, we’ve come a long way. I mean, M & I have already flown almost as far this morning. I wonder what the post-war heroes would make of this common-or-garden Boeing Triple-Seven. Its tech’, its capacity, scale, range, comfort, speed and sheer ubiquity. They’d be uncomprehending. No one around me would bat an eyelid. Of the hundreds of fellow passengers I’d wager I’m the only one to have noticed the anniversary. And that by happy accident of reading a paper. At 36,000′.
Indeed, what might the pair make of the demonisation of air travel with it’s role in climate change? Less than their disdain for our lack of style in 2019. On emerging from their crash-landed machine Captain Alcock took the opportunity to change into a lounge suit…
Lest we forget the level of risk involved. To whit there are two facts which bring this into focus. Firstly, such was the peril inherent in their journey it was undertaken in the spirit of adventure and reward (not to mention ginormous cojones). The prize for the first aircrew to achieve the journey was a massive ten grand. In today’s money that’s around a million quid. Secondly, Alcock was to perish six months later in – any guesses? – a plane crash. Flying was not a pastime paired with long life-expectancy.
The prize was funded by the owner of the Daily Mail. (Since I make a point to never knowingly read that title, perhaps someone can inform me if they run a story on it today?) Despite it’s momentous, planet changing significance, it was an event from around eight years later that are higher in the public memory: Charles Lindburgh and his solo flight. Better PR optics for some reason I guess?
Another reflection on how times have changed. Few will remark to my son or I about our journey today. Partly because it’s had a century to normalise and because there is an wholesale lack of curiosity it these self-absorbed times. Back then, Alcock & Brown reportedly didn’t say so much because they were modest. (Of course they were feted by society but I have a sense that one simply didn’t make a fuss.)
Pausing for a peek out of the window of seat 28A  I can see the cloud-base far below us and although the plastic of the window is warm to the touch I know the outside air temperature is well below zero. Without this pressurised cabin we’d suffocate before we froze. Those boys flew blind in thick fog oft below 300′. We are a multiple 120 times their altitude and infinitely less brave.

The mind boggles.

(Well, it does if you are curious to notice what’s actually going on in modern life).

2,648 miles to go then. This 411 mile blog made possible by two who had, well, balls.

Time for a snooze before we reach Florida. Might I dream of Alcock & Brown?
Further reading: Brendan Lynch: Yesterday we were in America.

BBC Article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/bM5diyl48K/alcock

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The ParkRun riots

Why are the mainstream media not reporting this?

My blog posts have been sparse this spring and for good reason. I can now reveal that I have been deep cover infiltrating a shadowy cabal of wellness extremists known collectively as ParkRun. A volunteer run organisation who seem to be able to successfully blossom with no cash money being required to take part and where people are forced to run, jog, walk five kilometers of their own free will.

If that’s not totally, like, well-dodgy, I don’t know what is.

This past weekend a heavily disguised younger offspring and I made the perilous seventeen mile journey across the county line to the lawless town of Andover. Our aim: risking life and limb bravely exposing their local event for the world to read about in a blog post*. To blow wide open the greatest oxymoronical term of the modern world: fun-run.

This is our story.

By dint of bad luck – without which we’d have no luck at all – our mission coincided with the bi-annual British sunny Saturday morning.  It was also  – as if it could’ve been worse – the GP Pledge Day where upwards of 800 GP practices have linked themselves to ParkRun to focus on so-called “wellness”. Ha. Drawbacks like this weren’t to defeat us. We’d trained, we’d taken two bottles of water, we’d committed: we we’re ready-ish.

By ten-past-nine some 400 runners and walkers had amassed with the atmosphere best described as powder keg-y with the seconds clicking by. No oh-nine-hundred-on-the-dot start for these Hampshire badasses: they ratchet up the tension here until something has to give.

And give it did.

The Andover course is two deceptively pancake-flat and therefore torturous laps a round a clearly dangerous park punctuated by intimidating so-called Marshals. This was I suppose some grudging relief: our “home” event at Marlborough Common is characterised by every step being uphill and into the wind with a finish gradient that would give a mountain goat bad dreams for a week and a half. It is at the very limit of what the human body can withstand on a weekend.

Since 2004 this secretive, underground collective have been globally spreading it’s tentacles by hiding in plain sight every Saturday morning across the world at public, easily accessible, well signposted, cheerfully volunteered, open venues where people are often sickeningly healthy.

It gnaws at my very soul: we are forced to share Planet Earth with these people.

Back at Andover the event exploded into life. Elbows flew as 400 vividly keen, tunnel-vision-y joggers made ruthless steps for the first corner. The carnage I witnessed that morning will – I fear – never leave me. Left and right, back and forth we were surrounded by those kind of smiles that mask darkly sinister intent. Within seconds I lost sight of Morgan. Son! Let me tell you, the thirty-seven minutes we were apart were the longest of my life. (Even longer than that time my luggage didn’t appear on the carousel that time at Geneva airport after changing planes that time at Charles De Gaulle.)

Surrounded by Lycra! I did the only thing a man could do. In the thick of this pack of wheezing jackals, their eyes laser focused as assassins on the path ahead, their supportive-yet-breathable technical running gear and excellent quality trainers bright in flattering intentionally-faded-dayglo designs: I put one foot in front of the other. I ran.

I wanted to stop. I wanted to collapse. But somehow I couldn’t. The proximity of others, some offering frankly terrifying encouraging words carried me. Some used the clandestine spoken ParkRun code to the gilet-jaune de le jardin public: “thanks Marshal.” Kids waving to the runners. Kids who were runners waving back. (Kids! Have they no shame, does no one think of the children!?) For those truly on the “inside” it is possible to elicit the highest order faux-Masonic response from some Marshals: the “high five”.

Galling.

Passing the final Marshal he chilled the very fire of my heightened respiration with the brutal words “Final kilometre.” I trudged on heart bursting, sweat pouring whereupon – six and a bit eternal minutes later  – I crossed the line ahead of a terrifying group of so-called “fun running” ladies who were determined to chase me down over the last twenty metres.

Seeing I feared the worst, the officials played mind games with me. Mercilessly I was handed a tag.

As if being forced to run five kilometers in sunny, dry weather wasn’t bad enough, now I was coerced into being “scanned”. This ultimate violation wreaks of Big Brother. Of data mining and probably deffo an exploitation of my human rights yeah? “Beeeep” went the scanner my bar-code sending bits of information into “the cloud.” (Even that was hiding as the sky was clear blue).

Long minutes later Morgan appeared and it was clear from the look on his face that the 5K had taken its toll. His lungs heaved, his muscles burned, he craved water. (The poor lad has shed 5 kilos and counting since Christmas such is the stress of a bit of exercise.)

We hydrated wordlessly.

Silently checking left and right, we made a break ambling to the car. Executing a well drilled escape routine, we put on fresh tee shirts, climbed aboard, belted up, started the engine and eased into the traffic so as not to attract attention.

Fifteen minutes later we were dead eyed, ordering a full English at Choppers cafe in the lay-by just south of Burbage where the A346 mysteriously becomes the A338.

But that’s another story.

We live to jog another day, wellness be damned.

Click here to support ParkRun.

*aka Mum & Hilda because no one else reads this.
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Monday afternoon in Vienna

The only flight the client approved was the 09.05 from Heathrow and we weren’t needed on site until the evening.

Q: What do you do with an afternoon to kill in central Vienna with a budget of zero?

A: Go for a walk.

The pull of the swish hotel was strong, saved only by my room not being ready (as we were ahead of the check-in window). Previous forays into Austria have been up an Alp so this was a maiden visit. (Much like Krakow in March.)

Luggage ditched and shanks’s pony it is then. img_20190513_153504.jpg

And what an elegant city to wander around. (I say “wander” when I really mean “stride at pace” because them calories don’t burn themselves right?) Whilst I am a massive fan of the sci-fi-made-real/super easy-to-use Google Maps, I yearn for simpler times. That means phone away and following your nose for a self-guided tour. Ignorant to the cultural significance of landmarks, buildings and street locations the (anti)plan developed in a grand loop with stops for scoff at some sort of cakery. Cities define themselves with their natural boundaries of transport, topography, look-at-me buildings/features and a whole raft of other nudging factors that serve to steer.

Anti-guidebook is a thing. You’re not lost if it doesn’t matter where you are going.

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The comedy highlight came in the form of a Chinese tour group swarming a formal garden I happened to be traversing. At about five metres out I could – shades of Terminator – project the near jogging arc she was taking, noticing she was not paying the slightest attention to her surroundings. Drawing to a stand I stood fore-square apparently to give her the best possible impact zone. (Personally I find looking in one direction whilst walking in another is not the best recipe for incident free tourism.) As she bounced off my chest, half fell and stumbled she turned her head babbling a fabulous apologetic fusion of the-only-words-of-German-she-knew and – forgive me – Cantonese? “Láojià-Gutentagdanke.”

Both of us unharmed, I – for reasons that seemed wise in the moment – bowed slightly.

All that remained was for a split second of silence before her gaggle of chums fell about laughing.

About a minute later I froze. My heart skipped a beat: My wallet!? My phone!? My passport?!

All present. (Sad that we have to suspect a scam all the time…)

Back at the hotel the evening business was curtailed in short order and – joy! – the client did not require us until 07.00. Still early, a peer was on a mission to find the Danube and waltz over it. So that’s what we did. Luckily no footage of the dance has survived.

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Next time in Vienna a guidebook and spot of Opera I shouldn’t wonder…

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Beware post-truth travel writing

It’s been four months since the following: I think I’ve calmed down enough to write about it.

 

“Oooooooh, I’ve written about the Shimla toy train!”

So says the full-time writer employed at a very, very well established boutique London travel company serving those who like to experience the world from a 5 star bubble. This is said to me at an above-my-pay-grade Christmas reception where I a tad bewildered: how did life come to this? Momentarily, it was nice to be having a conversation to get away from some of the more snooty guests. Nice to talk India.

“What’s it like?”

I slow-blink and almost drop my glass of fizz.

Almost.

(Personal rule: never waste a free bar. Father would be proud, but would question why I am drinking bubbles, not beer.)

I do manage to continue to smile – slightly cracked now – and maintain frothy conversation – after a momentary hesitation – and in no time at all the event tilts on its axis: we part with smiling seasons greetings. When privacy is guaranteed an out-loud eye roll is indulged upon: you are a professional writing travel pieces on places you’ve never even been!? WTAF?

Then it was Christmas and all was forgotten.

This morning researching a new trip, the above moment came flooding back to mind as a I read a too-good-to-be-true blog post about road-trippin’ The Sunshine State.

In these post-truth times, my propensity to cross check sources has increased. With newspapers, TV, social media my BS filters are default “on.” Whether this merely makes me less productive or saves me from harm is a question for another time. What saddens me is that reading more travelogue/journal entry/blog also requires a security check. Today, the way the piece was written just made me wonder. On this occasion it checked out.

19b

To say it’s not a level playing field for (travel) writing doesn’t really capture it. As a rant, this example does not have legs because it’s, well, inconsequential. It only matters to me because I blog from a “been there” vantage point. Of course it’d be naive to expect an unbiased blog from a travel company. The organisation has an agenda: to sell travel. What bothered me was the casual, firm, personal beliefs of the PR trained travel writer. Namely that it’s okay to write about it having never even been there/done it. (Let’s hope guides to brain surgery/bomb disposal/Brexit are not written in the same vein.)

It’s a PR piece, not a blog.

Some say we are in a post-truth era, or one in which we have reached peak bullshit. The world of public relations is a case in point. One wonders why everyone doesn’t communicate straightforwardly… instead we have advertisements masquerading as blogging, PR copy hacks faking travel writing.

EPILOGUE

Manfully on this occasion, the temptation to name and shame has been overcome as the Christmas encounter taught me a lesson. That said, I just looked up re-read the offending piece. Analysis: It’s a cut’n’paste from a tourist board press-release warmed over with stock photos dashed off before coffee time: click here to buy. Yet it doesn’t betray that the authour has never actually been to India.

Nor does being single and childless prevent them from penning a guide to “planning the perfect family adventure” either apparently.

Beware BS. There’s a lot of it around.

Especially [sigh] in travel writing.

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Bungate: how not to have a private meeting

Imagine a small foodie cafe in a market town. Pared down furnishings, limited choice fresh cooked menu, good coffee.

Imagine sitting in said cafe trying to mind your own business, quietly indulging in morning coffee and reading a paper (when you probably should be working). Then the following – purely fictional – scene unfolds.

[Pay attention, it’s reader participation later on.]

The man next to me is looking at graphs and numbers when a local couple of toffs sit down next to him. Next to if not on top of me. It’s properly cosy. Their volume control slider is clearly broken because they appear to be fixed upon a Public Address decibel level. I’d loosely describe their setting as broadcast.

Immediately it’s apparent they are not happy. They own a local business and numbers guy (NG) has been auditing on their behalf. There are anomalies. The graphs show the truth that their managing/key employee is somehow remiss.

It’s barely a minute in and I am now 100% pretending to read the paper. [A skilled act where one must move ones head across the copy, scan up and down columns, occasionally turn the page and repeat. I am so practiced, I could give lessons at Spook school. Probably.] Transfixed on their every word, their less-than-private meeting unfolds.

Posh him (PHi) is incensed and is going to stomp round there and give their employee what for! A showdown no less! Posh her (PHe) coos “nooo dahling, it’s not going to solve annnnything” (with words that suggest reasonable diplomacy but lack any humanity in their delivery).

NG presses on with his suspicion that the £s claimed/spent and the hours worked/materials consumed are simply not tallying. PHi is “fuming” and – I notice from the corner of my faux news-reading eye – foaming ever-so-slightly from his skinny chinless chops. NG suggests a couple of courses of action and I have to stop myself from verbally/physically nodding in agreement with his apparently unbiased choice of next steps.

PAUSE.

At this stage, dear reader, I am of course wondering a number of things, including “which local business is this?” A little “what would I do?” But mainly I’m quietly outraged that this meeting filled with delicate subject matter is happening in a public setting. We are sat in intimate touching distance yet their voices have that entitled plummy blast that would set off car alarms in the next county. If they possess a dynamic range, they are oblivious to it, to their surroundings, to their fellow diners. They have that irritating way of toffing-up shared space because you don’t matter. You are poor.

Grrr.

Yet, I surprise myself by staying poker faced, surreptitiously attentive, silent in my surveillance, gathering intel’.

RESTART.

PHe intones that key employee may have rumbled them but also that they should’ve this and that when setting the venture up. NG merely shrugs as she makes little sense. I almost ask her on NGs behalf: “Sorry, but are you on drugs?” Luckily I stay silent, turn another page, flick the ‘paper straight and sip my brew (thinking ahh, it’s a recent enterprise then).

We then turn to the subject of buns. The bun calculations are troubling. PHi blusters “why do they need to bake them themselves anyway?” (Ahh, a food business. A recently opened local food business with a certain kind of bunnage. I jolt. I may have eaten there? I may have met the employee in question? Or have I? Steady on The Beers: am I baking my own conspiracy theory here?)

To whit – right on cue – a bread delivery arrives to the cafe. PHe observes for all to hear “it’s the new local bread maaan”. Cafe owner is clearing nearby tables, cottons on and deftly steers kneading guy over hoping to help facilitate a lucrative support-your-local artisan bakery contract.

PAUSE.

At this point, you could – rightly – accuse me of frightful nosiness. There was no mention of names nor hard details given aloud in the meeting next to me. The meeting is somehow public yet non specific. But that’s about to change.

RESTART.

PHi: [Sans polite introduction, piles in announcing] “We own ________________ ___________ & _______ ________ restaurants. Do you make X buns?”

Bread Dude: [Bashfully] “Am trying to cut back actually.”

PHe: “Well that’s no good.” [Turns her back on Bread Dude who shrugs having been left for dead and exits the scene.]

Ooohhh, now I deffo know which business. I also note the time with some alarm. Riveting as this is, things need to get done today. I take my leave from the table, excuse-me-ing around their meeting – we were sat that close – and emerge onto the street.

Once outdoors I begin to consider just how inappropriate and ill considered what I’ve witnessed was. Imagine if your career was being talked about in public in less than flattering terms?

OVER TO YOU.

Using the comments section below, tell me what you would’ve done next (and – if you like – why). Here are some thoughts to start you off:

  • Write a poorly anonymised blog about it.
  • Return to the cafe and take the business owners to task for meeting in public.
  • Walk round to the establishment being discussed and tip-off the employee.
  • Write an anonymous tip-off note and push under the door after hours.
  • Publish a scathing/tell all piece on the town FB Noticeboard.
LESSONS

If nothing else, the above is cautionary tale. When you’re dealing with a sensitive subject, consider your stage/surroundings. And whatever you do, don’t publish online.

Ah.

Whoops.

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Polish Sunday.

After some travails via the ordeal that is Squeezyjet and a replacement bus service from airport to town the opportunity explore Krakow presents. Replacement bussing takes one round the houses, which – with a near pillion to drive’ – is plenty interesting. Alighting at the train station – albeit a train free station today – I’m soon ditching the ‘case at a pleasingly central hotel. Shunning maps, books, Google, I put best foot forward and see where the mood takes me. I find this tactic diverting and arresting because you don’t know where you’re going, what to expect, the force/flow/fancy taking the helm.

Disclaimer: Clearly I’ve not discovered Krakow. From the look of it, plenty of folk have beaten me to it. But I am new in town. New to Poland.

Crikey, it’s rather lovely.

I also note that those making a drunken scene in the old town are Brits.

In the evening several young fellows inquire to my well-being in Polish and then helpfully translate when they clock that my grasp of their language is zero. Apparently I look like I am in need of a lap-dance. Such kind chaps, looking after an older fellow. “Thanks for you concern, but this bracing air is all I require my good man. Good evening to you.”

Odd really, I never get spoken to in Arabic in Dubai. But here I get spoken to in Polish… How can that be?

I walked for hours, punctuated by weapons grade coffee, baked goods and a dinner of most of a pig, breaded.

Next day at the office, the locals chuckle at my experiences. Apparently, they enjoy a good whinge about air quality is a thing here: Rural Poles will burn anything. The way we Brits complain about the weather, the Poles do smog. (I just commented on how warm it was.) In bemusing juxtaposition to Brexit fuelled xenophobes, you can imagine what a Krakow native thinks of the Brits “cammin over ere drinkin arr beer, pukin on ourrr cobbled streeets, fillin arrr lapdancin’ bars. Who do vey fink vey are, eh?” (Although why they are heavily accented like a Cockney cabbie in my imagination is anyone’s guess.)

And all this without reference to, ahem, the darker tourism here: the infamous forced labour camps, Schindler’s factory, Soviet rule. IE: the horrors of the twentieth century.

Still, work hard by day, wander the old town by night following an early dinner. Am not an instant local, but am instantly relaxed by the vibe here. How come it’s taken me 49 years to visit?

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I have never been… to Poland.

Until this coming Sunday when I pop my Polish cherry: an inaugural trip to Krakow. Really? That can’t be right? A slightly curious sensation due to the blurring, simplifying, editing effect of memory nagging gently that I’ve “done” Europe.

“Done.” Faintly ridiculous as a tourist notion. For starters I have trouble swallowing the word “done” in relation to travel when people actually mean visited. “Done” oft misses a contextualising prefix: briefly/once/almost/passed through/changed-planes-at-the-airport/school trip/business trip. What’s worse? Dropping it in with a casual one-upmanship flavour.  Yuk. (Or maybe that’s merely a bias I have trained myself to listen for in conversation?) Consider for a moment the sheer wrong headedness of one considering to have “done” somewhere. It implies a full data set. (I’ve accidentally lived in a small country town for approaching 13 years and have no sense of a complete working knowledge.) Places evolve. Simple stuff such as new places to eat mean any valid local info’ is – at best – only fleetingly correct.

Another ingredient to throw into the mix is that this is a work jaunt. The classic double-edged sword of experiencing a place on someone else’s coin, yet insulating the traveler from learning the lay of the land outside of the surreal business orbit.

Plane-taxi-office-taxi-hotel-taxi-office-taxi-plane.

Following weekend in the pub: “Yeah, I’ve done Krakow.”

Liar.

So as I sit here prepping for work, I also am checking practicalities like mondey, public transport, locations and – inevitably – reviews of stuff. At best, my visitation outside of the client office will be limited to Sunday afternoon and evening on foot. The weekday evenings could well be swallowed up with work or a solo self-guided walking tour of the town. There is potential for some client led dinner and a beer shenanigans, but that’s just potential right now. (It’s also potentially awful as you get trapped into a forced social situation.)

Typically, the modus operandi for the work travel gig is to use public transport where possible, try to eat local food in independent joints, walk around and drink it all in. After a day at the client coal face, that room service burger and Coke is mighty tempting. Getting out of the hotel is the crucial first step. Set mind to “open” and stride forth. (Much of the material for this blog is accidentally gathered thus.)

So by next Friday night I’ll be pooped from a full-on work schedule, but also armed with a flavour of a place that was new to me on arrival.

Can’t wait to experience it.

PS: Krakow top tips welcome.

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New PB: 29 hours at the airport

If only the headline above was a legendary yarn telling of a mammoth lads binge in the DXB BA lounge.

If only.

Let’s use a timeline…

Wednesday. Went to bed hoping for a good night’s rest ahead of the (big finish!) final day with the client trialing new material in Dubai. Early start planned, settled down for kip.

01.30: Initial stirring from a deep sleep dreaming of cement mixers, which I then realise is actual loud noise. Road planing works begin outside the hotel.

05.30: Might as well get up because they are indeed dedicated workers with quite the talent for industrial white noise.

05.35: Emerge from shower to notice they’ve stopped. Silence. Shrug. Sigh. Possibly weep just a little. Checkout of hotel and store luggage.

07-00-18-00: Client facing work stuff with associated jazz hands, concentration, charm offensiveness. (Exhausting, yet quietly nailing it. Yay.)

18.00-23.00: Dinner with colleague who is staying on, watch ridiculous CGI movie in boutique cinema @ hotel, mooch, kick heels, head to airport for 02.25 flight to London on a pensionable Boeing 747.

23.30: Report writing at airport following bewildering security rituals. Eyelids drooping.

00.45: Go to gate. Really rather ready to go home. Resigned to the inevitability of sleeping in a travelling chair in a tube adjacent to 400 other weary bodies.

img_20190221_022700This is the bit where it goes awry.

01.30: “Delay” legend appears on display screen. No information available from terminally clueless ground staff (pun intended). A general sense of dread creeps into my dawg tired being. Screen goes blank. Nervous crowd of passengers coalesce to be told precisely nowt.

05.00: We are sat aboard the now fixed 747, delirium mixed in the tiredness.

05.25 Cap’n comes over the PA. We were to be pushed back 3 hours ago. With a casual lack of accountability uses that special BA captain voice to tell us we are not going anywhere. The “wrong part” was ordered. We are the opposite of fixed. We are a cancelled flight. We are to disembark. Buggah.

Interlude: am writing this in a hotel robe in a neatly appointed “cell” hotel room where 14 hours of my life will elapse.

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Airside Hotel Infinity Corridor

06.00-09.00: Queuing with a plane’s worth of angry, exhausted people. Many are missing connections to the US. Others more fat of wallet re-book the few remaining seats with Emirates. The ground staff have huddle after huddle that provide few answers. We are going nowhere.

Counterpoint: Of course, it could be worse. The plane could have malfunctioned midair. We have WiFi (even if everyone is too banjaxed to use it).

Passengers talk, four fellas drift together. Of my new compadres, one was rebooked on this flight following a cancellation at midday. TWO cancellations in one day. I let out a low whistle.

My new friend also knows – through bitter, fresh experience – of the on-airport “airside” hotel. We make a bleary-eyed break for it. 90 minutes later, we are checked in sans luggage. At thus point I have been awake for approaching 30 hours. My body doesn’t know what meal is next. I kind of pass out only to come to with a sweaty start of someone who doesn’t know when and where they are. My head throbs.

My PC status bar shows that I have very little battery left. It also shows I should have been home with my family three hours ago. But I’m not. I’m in a robe, on a bed, in a air-conditioned box, in a 21st century transit stasis in the middle east.

What was the name of that Tom Hanks movie?

No,  no, not Forrest Gump.

Prologue: Went through the whole process again the following night only at 05.00 on the second occasion we were wheels up and heading to London. Needless to say we made it home eventually. My reward? A stinking head cold and a lament for wasted time.

Still think business travel is glamorous?

Thanks to the Dubai Drifters for getting me a lounge pass before we boarded the second time. Cheers!

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Why no pictures of Swindon?

I had a serious case of the Saturday night blues this week.

The Saturday night blues Ian? Surely some mistake?

Most definitely not an error dear reader – although thanks for asking – because I start work on Sunday morning with an oh-seven-forty pickup. I don’t mind really and am hardly making complaint, but it’s that “here it comes” feeling as a week-long project kicks off. (It’s akin paddling out into a big swell on the surfboard. You know it’ll be exciting, but it’s daunting and exhausting to start with. (Except I’d rather be surfing on the whole. Obvs.))

In case you didn’t know, in the UAE – along with a raft of mainly Arab states – the working week is Sunday-Thursday. Confusing. For starters a well know restaurant chain may want to rebrand: TGiT. Hey, maybe after Brexit we’ll get to work every Sunday when we’ve, y’know, taken back control?

For yours truly it’s a Friday daytime flight out. Factor in a four hour time difference and stick two fingers up at the flat earthers. Eh? Well, because after flying for seven hours you arrive the next day (Saturday) in the wee small hours. After forcing a too-early-to-sleep bedtime, fitful snoozing, grappling manfully with a morning by the pool and a full day of warmth before working all evening in preparation for Sunday morning. Ouch but not ouch.

Thankfully, work works well. A great relief. Good to be part of a functioning team.

It’s Sunday night now and we finished work at 21.00 (local). In all honesty, even though I’m not sure what day it is – only my calendar insists it’s Monday tomorrow – it’s been a long’un. I’m not so sure of anything right now: cognitive powers are slippppiinng.

Work is work. It’s just a different location, right? So why no images posted from Runcorn, Basingstoke, Swindon?

What I am sure of is that a commute home from Swindon doesn’t offer views like these:

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And the view from a Hull Premier Inn bed doesn’t feature the world’s tallest building:

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13th floor bedroom view: ROVE Downtown Dubai #nofilter

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Basking in Bilbao: pintxos paradise

Sorry, but we did bask – Basque? – in the sunshine for a few glorious days. Bilbao locals amazed that we saw the mysterious yellow orb as it is known for near horizontal blatter that would make a wet Swansea weekend look welcoming. Twice as rainy as London for instance. Sunglasses set to smug then.

Top Tip: Book early, during a flight sale, off season. After bagging embarrassingly cheap SqueezyJet seats – IE: the car parking was more costly than 2 X return flights (but that’s Brizzle airport for you) – and a no frills hotel we were good to go. We even drafted in GT to look after bairns in our absence.

Top tip #1. DO NOT – under any circumstances – Google “Bilbao Airport Crosswinds” if you are a nervous flyer before traveling. Why? Oh, no reason…

Top Tip #2. A3247 Aeropuerto bus! Get in. €3, drops you outside the front door of your budget hotel (closer than a taxi could park). Deliriously happy about this. #itsthelittlethings

Top Tip #3. Visit the Guggenheim, get there on a pre-booked ticket as it opens its doors. It is totally worth the hype. There are probably pictures aplenty below to prove it.

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Top Tip #4. Strategically place an auld work colleague as an ex-pat there at least 10 years prior to randomly visiting. Most wonderful to see J and also to get his insider knowledge over many iccle beers on Friday night.

EG: Did you know there’s no letter C in Basque? They use TX instead. So we say “peen-chos” where it’s written pintxos.

Top Tip #5. Pintxos.

Top Tip #6. Actually, can this go before 5? Be aware I don’t mean this in anything other than a straight, functional, practical sense. Ready? If you are a fussy eater, don’t bother with Bilbao. If you are a fussy drinker, ditto. Even if you were fluent in Basque, you’d struggle. Sure, there are vegan/gluten-free/ joints and whatnot, but the essence of a superb social Bilbao night out is bar hopping with a cheerful “Rioja por favor y dos pintxos por favor” whilst gesturing at the dazzling selection of snacks on the bar. In return for this elan? You get great wine and delicious finger food.

That last sentence? That’s an evening in Bilbao. There’s so much competition between bars that they survive by offering bloody excellent local wine – cheaply, by the glass – or good beer, good cava. A G&T is not only costly, it’s missing the point. Pair your random beverage with their own twist on what makes for a gourmet mouthful. The opportunist visitor can flow around the town nibbling and quaffing like a pro. Like a rolling perfect street food/wine festival. Sitting down to dinner seems superfluous.

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Top Tip #7 Sunday late morning wine and cheesecake? Txakoli. “Chaco-lee.” Perfect hair of the dog material.

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Tip Top Tip Top of  the Tips: Take the most beautiful person you know with you and reconnect.

Oh and in Basque there’s no A in Bilbo

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Next time… The Transporter Bridge!

 

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