Upgrade, what upgrade?

One of the benefits of being a frequent flyer is that occasionally, just out the of the goodness of their heart, an airline may decide to upgrade you from the cheap seat in the back of the plane to a much larger, much more comfortable and far better fed seat at the front of the plane.

On journeys that cross an ocean this truly is a treat, and the only danger is that you get so used to the superior service that the prospect of travelling in the back fills you with fear and dread.

On intra-continental journeys the upgrade is frequently less impressive; in Europe the expensive ‘business class’ seats are actually the same width as the cheap seats at the back. Also, the extra legroom for business class is typically available through the first 7 or 8 rows rather than just those defined as premium. On the other hand, the food is normally good and the service is far, far improved from that typically received by the cattle in the back.

A few weeks ago I was given an upgrade on my regular, early morning flight to the Netherlands. Though, upon reflection, before embarking on this particular rant, I should perhaps explain my routine on this particular flight that takes of at 6am:

  1. Drive into the airport car park between 5:05 and 5:15am (depending on how enthusiastic I have been about getting out of bed- let’s face it, I can hardly blame traffic congestion at that time of the morning)
  2. Walk to the terminal and pick up the ‘Priority’ sticker on my Boarding Pass (there are privileges to being a frequent flyer- and one of them is swooshing through the security checkpoint and incurring the wrath and looks of daggers of the waiting tourists as they line up for hours on end)
  3. Grab a muffin and OJ from the business lounge and wander along to the aeroplane so that I am boarded by 5:50
  4. Install my butt in a none-too-comfortable seat and stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me; place Bose QC2 Noise Cancelling headphones over my ears, pull a sleep mask over my eyes and, if the plan has worked, fall asleep right around the time the Flight Attendant is showing us the way to exit the aeroplane should there be an emergency
  5. Ideally, I will then wake up as we pull up to the gate in Amsterdam, approximately 100 minutes and 1 somewhat fitful but thoroughly needed nap later.

This system seems to work fairly well for all concerned, so why would there be an issue if I was given an upgrade? Well, the upgrade consisted of

a)No food
b)A ‘bulkhead’ seat

Given my previously stated plan to sleep through the entire flight, the lack of food would not be a problem (it would be on a long haul flight, but the increase in seat size would probably make up for that). No, my issue is with the whole concept of the fact that a bulkhead seat is somehow better than a non-bulkhead seat. The reason I choose to sit where I do is so that I can extend my legs under the seat in front. Now I am not the tallest guy on the planet, far from it, but years of various sporting abuses has left me with a knee that doesn’t take kindly to being cramped and bent for too long. Having a seat in front means I can extend my legs out fully, the result of which is that I am able to walk off the plane at the other end rather than limp. Obviously, the person at the check in desk was unaware of why I choose to sit where I do, but when I looked at my ‘upgrade’ and rejected the change of seat I threw the whole system into chaos.

According to the airline, not having any food and not having any leg room must be better than my previous seat because now I was in ‘Business Class’. I tried to politely explain that I didn’t want the seat that they had assigned me, I wanted the seat that I had chosen for myself, but this was not possible, instead, I had to take it up with the cabin crew.

Fortunately, as is often the way, the people actually in the firing line (the cabin crew) quickly resolved the issue and I was able to sit in seat that would not cause me pain. But it still begs the question: Why have airlines invested in all the technology to allow on-line check-ins and self selection of exactly the seat you want only to then totally override your choice? Then if you do decide not to accept the change why is it such a major hassle? And finally, and most crucially, why do they think that a service that too most casual observers would appear inferior is an ‘upgrade’ simply because you are sitting in a different section of the plane?

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much- after all, at least I am assigned a seat and may be offered food (even if I choose to sleep right through it all)

The Difference is Day and Night

The nature of modern living means that we are frequently forced to do the same task over and over  again. One of the great things about the world is the way things subtlety and imperceptibly change but ultimately thoses changes are quite significant. So although we are doing the same thing as we did yesterday the experience is wholly different.

I recently had to drive from the UK to the Netherlands. I had made the same journey about a year ago when I moved into my apartment there, and now it was time to move out. Of course, there is often more excitement about moving into somewhere new than moving out of it; and in my case this was more so given that the apartment I lived in for a year was in the heart of old town Delft, overlooking a canal and quite simply stunning. I had decided that I wanted to live there, not because it made any financial sense, but because I needed to feel as though I had a ‘home’ whilst I was away at work. In this respect it ultimately performed magnificently, although there was a period when I was sleeping on the floor and had nowhere to sit down that I doubted the sanity of the decision.

And so, unlike a year ago when the world seemed full of promise and the excitement of living in a a fantastic apartment, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I drove across southern England, northern France and Belgium. I had the added disadvantage of the fact that last year I made the journey is a really rather spangly car, whilst this year the journey was in that ultimate ‘white van man’ vehicle; a Ford Transit. But with all of these differences what really hit me about the two journeys, and how one was so much more pleasant than the other was the time of day I drove.

Last year I left my house early in the morning, drove off into the rising sunlight and cruised through France and Belgium around lunch time. It was glorious- my car seemed to hug the road and although I got lost around Antwerp (thank heavens for Sat Nav this year) and got stuck in traffic jams on the way back, the whole trip  (there and back again) was a fantastic journey. Although I wouldn’t want to do it every week I was quite happy to do it again.

This year I left my house in drizzling rain as dusk fell: The rest of the journey was to be in the dark. Due to my usual combination of appalling planning and preparation I was forced to eat at a typically grim motorway service station before, just like last year, tunnelling under the English Channel and emerging into France. And as I emerged the fog came down. I had never used a sat nav in 3D mode to guide me along a road and tell me when to turn, but I did that night; I spent as much time looking at the road layout on the screen as I did looking out the window. Obviously from the fact that I am writing this I didn’t crash and die, but I would not recommend it as a sensible way to drive. Somewhat effective in fog, but not sensible.

Later the fog lifted and the sat nav managed to take me the right way around Antwerp. As it was now well after midnight the roads were clear and the driving was easy, but it just wasn’t pleasant. It was functional, it was necessary but it was not enjoyable.

And it was only slightly different on the way back; I managed to leave earlier in the day so I was able to drive in that beautiful half light that occurs as the sun slowly sets out of a clear sky. I have heard that film directors call that time of day the ‘magical time’ because people have been working all day and are a little prone to mistakes- it makes for wonderful film-making and I think it is probably my favourite time of the day. It was certainly more pleasant than the five hour drive that I still had to do after darkness had fallen.

And it was at this moment that I realised that it wasn’t the car/ van difference that was critical to the experience, nor was it moving in or out of the apartment: The difference in the experience was almost entirely due to the fact that one journey was in daylight and the other in darkness.

I have had this experience once before: I was working on a seismic crew in southern England and we worked from 7am to 5pm, 7 days a week all winter. This meant that, wherever we were staying, we would leave it before the sun came up and come home after the sun had set. Apparently we were living in holiday homes that people would pay good money to come and stay in, but to me the houses were cold, unpleasant and nothing that I would want to visit ever again. Until one day I had to go back to the house where we were staying at lunch time. Instead of the usual dark, gloomy driveway suddenly I saw a beautiful garden, with an orchard behind it and in the distance a view across the rolling southern hills that was quite stunning. Had I never gone back to that house in the daylight, it would have remained a grim, foreboding place. Instead, although much of my time there was indeed grim I was able to see it in a far happier light.

And so it was with the drive to and from the Netherlands; had I only made that journey in the dark I would have resented the time it took, despised the inefficiencies of the route and disliked the whole experience. Because I had done it in daylight I can recognise the pleasure that driving across a continent can bring, the feeling of elation as a car powers along a road and the ultimate joy of seeing the world around us.

Frequent Travellers and Possibilities for the New Year

Most weeks of the year I catch a plane from Birmingham to Amsterdam; and a lot of those weeks I come back again too. Yes this does result in a carbon footprint the size of a small 3rd world country and from an ethical viewpoint I struggle to justify the choice in terms of better career, more money, the fact that as a divorced father I don’t get to see my kids every night or simply the fact that this is the only life I have ever known. But the truth is if I have to stay in one place and live a ‘normal’ life I get bored rigid; so I keep traveling. What makes this all the more ironic is the fact that I suffer from motion sickness; I have barfed on boats and ships that were still tied to the dock; cars, coaches and buses on just about any kind of road and aeroplanes even before they doors have closed (though that may have had something to do with the vast amount of Guinness I had consumed the night before). And yet I still travel on the same flight every week.

You may think that I would be the only person on the plane making the journey on such a regular basis but there is probably somewhere between a dozen and twenty people all flying the same route and always the same flight-times. Over the weeks we start to recognise each other- not only the faces but the look on the faces. It is a world weary look, a look that has been through the check-in so many times, a look that knows exactly what to take out of a bag at security but mostly a look that simply wants to get onto the plane, open a book or close a pair of eyes and have the next few minutes of life pass as quickly and painlessly as possible. For those unable to sleep the look can be described as bored or possibly simply exhausted but it is a haunted look found on just about anyone who travels a lot, particularly those who travel for business.

My own personal routine, particularly on the 6am flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam involves a window seat, a sleep mask and a pair of Bose QuietComfort headphones (incidently I cannot rave highly enough about them- anyone who flies a lot, or even those who fly a little but like to hear the dialogue on an in-flight movie, should have something similar). On numerous occasions I have been able to fall asleep before we take off. Sure, I know I should listen to the safety announcement, but that means losing 10 minutes sleep and it is not as if there is going to be anything happen that I haven’t seen a hundred times before.

Except that every now and then some different does happen. And this is the point of this post: On my last flight of 2009 I was sat next to someone who so totally grasped life that it was just impossible, for me at least, not to get sucked into a wondrous experience for all of the 55 minutes of the flight from Amsterdam to Birmingham. Sure I tried to avoid getting involved- the Quiet Comfort headphones went straight onto my head and my laptop came out: I was going to inhabit my own world of peace and quiet and write a blog entry (the first part of this blog entry in fact). But then I allowed myself to open a little to the possibilities- for example it is just possible to gain a greater experience by interacting with people, rather than just writing about observing them. So I joined the conversation and the wonder began: we swapped silly stories and we laughed; we shared experiences and offered sympathy and understanding. I like to think that all three people sat in that row got off the plane with a slightly richer life. I know for sure that it is unusual to hear that amount of fun and laughter on a plane; we received several ‘looks’ from the passengers on the other side of the curtain in business class (to this day I do not know if the looks were of disapproval or envy, but I like to think the latter). And none of it would have happened had I remained closed to the possibility the world offers or if my fellow passengers had decided to just try to pass the time as painlessly as possible.

When I tell people about the journeys they I take they often look a little envious at a glamorous lifestyle of flying around the world, a notion I am often quick to dispels. The novelty and excitement of catching a flight soon pales; but it shouldn’t fade because even though it happens thousands of time every day the mechanical act of getting several hundred tonnes of twisted metal into the air is truly spectacular. Even more than that, and on a human level, if we are open to the wondrous possibilities out there, even if ‘out there’ is sat right next to us, then the world has the chance of being a brighter place, a better place, a place with more fun, laughter happiness and joy in it than we could ever have conceived.

And won’t it be a great thing if just a few more people open their ears, eyes and hearts as a new year beckons. There is beauty in the world. And fun and laughter. And sadness and sympathy. But it is the whole of the world that makes it the truly fantastic place it is: Sometimes we look around and become very complacent. We become inward looking. We lose the ability to grasp the world and see it for all that it is. Whatever the new year brings to you, I know that I will try to enjoy life more deeply and whatever  it brings. And all because of a chance meeting with a stranger on a plane.

Reasons to live where we live

This is not a big post, nor is it particularly insightful. But as I receive the weather reports for Calgary (oh the joy of customising the feed of information into your own browser) I realise that I know what is the 3rd most important reason for not living in Calgary:

Calgary Weather Forecast

And people in England complain when the temperatue drops into single digits. Ha! They know nothing

A Child’s View

Sometimes we forget what the world looks like to other people.

Fortunately the ever simplification of taking photographs allows us to put a camera in the hands of quite small people and every now and then they are able to remind us in the most glorious, heart stopping way. Most of the pictures are not particularly composed well, but they are digital so it doesn’t cost anything and gives the little person a sense of pride and achievement. But every now and then this very innocence and different view of the worlds results in a picture that makes one stop and realise just how we take things for granted now that we are grown up.

I remember as a child having to stretch up to reach the light switch in my bedroom- that light switch is probably no higher than my navel, but at the time it was a great stretch. As my kids grow up I see the same behaviour: As winter has drawn in and it gets darker earlier in the evening so my 4 year old now needs someone to come upstairs with him. Not because he is scared but because he can’t reach the light switch.

The attached picture was taken by him with a Nikon D40 whilst we were on holiday. It may not be the best technical shot (everything was on automatic) and it may not be framed perfectly but it really made me stop and realise just how he sees me. Not as a regular sized person, but this strange, towering creature who reaches down to hold his hand.

I hope I can hold his hand for a long time to come. Even when I stop towering over him.

Why I am a fan of the Chicago Cubs

Sport plays a significant role in my life: I will play it, watch it and talk about it until long after the cows have come home. But how did someone from England fall hook, line and sinker for the Chicago Cubs? I can trace it all back to a single letter that was published in The International Herald Tribune in 1990 (I think). I kept the letter and read it from time to time to remind me of the power and beauty of words. So, with all rights reserved to Stuart Silverstein of Los Angeles I reprint it here

Ballplayers who lose with panache

It was gratifying to see your coverage (July 11) of the baseball All Star Game. However, the assertion that former President Ronald Reagan, a guest commentator for the broadcast, once “did radio commentaries for the Chicago Cubs before going onto greater things in Hollywood and Washington” is, if cute and facile, also inaccurate.

The Chicago Cubs hold a peculiar yet warm place in the American psyche. They lose with regularity and panache. The last time they went to the World Series was in 1945, when most of the better players listened from bases in the South Pacific during the war against Japan.

Play is in a 75-year-old “bandbox” ballpark, with one of the smallest seating capacities in the Major Leagues. But Wrigley Field- note it is a field– has brick walls covered with ivy. It has real grass. It did not have lights until last year and still hosts most games in the afternoon.

It is also in the centre of the city, and there is not enough parking. An order of nuns pays most of its expenses by parking cars on its grounds, with habited sisters directing fans to slots with the assurance of the most experienced traffic cops. The cost? “Whatever you want to give, dear. Enjoy the game.”

Wrigley Field’s crowd noise is distinctly higher pitched than other; there is less drunkenness and rowdyism, and more families enjoy going to games. Foreign fans encounter culture shock. There is no electronic message to tell spectators when to cheer; balls sometimes get trapped in the ivy. In the Sixties a ball went into the ivy, and when the pursuing outfielder shook it two fell out.

The wall also has pointless little nooks and crannies which cause balls to bounce crazily away from fielders. The dimensions are cosy; when the wind is blowing out, so do the baseballs.

The club represents not only Chicago, but also the Midwest, where a fierce historical rivalry between the Cubs and St Louis Cardinals has split families and divided friends. Roand Reagan covered Cubs games for a small Iowa radio station by reading the action from the wire.

It may seem silly or, at least misguided, to append such lofty sentiments to a business engaged in the baseball trade, but then sentiment has little to do with reason. The Cubs are 113 years old. Wrigley Field was two months old when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo. Two world wars and innumerable social and political upheavals have occurred since. But the game goes on. Are Hollywood and Washington “greater things”? I doubt it

I read this whilst shooting a seismic survey in what I guess to be July 1990. The following year I flew to Chicago to see the Cubs play. I didn’t have any tickets or anywhere to stay or even any ideas of the rules of baseball. I landed on a Friday and asked the cab driver when the Cubs were playing his reply that “they’re on the road for a week” was a perfect example of the complete and utter lack of planning to my trip.

But a week later I saw the Cubs play, in Wrigely Field. And I became more than ever before lost in the support of a team that will almost certainly bring me more disappointment than joy. My support of the Cubs has outlasted 2 careers and 1 marriage. It has survived living on 2 continents, evolved from scrabbling around in the small print of a newspaper to find the box score to following detailed ball by ball coverage on the internet. But through all of that, the Cubs have still not gone to the World Series, despite coming incredibly close on at least 1 occasion. So why do I still follow them? I guess we just all live in hope- either that or I am the ultimate incurable romantic

Complexity in Creation

Creating something, anything, that can be admired, enjoyed or simply used involves things that the admirer or user is frequently entirely unaware of. I remember sitting in a meeting with all the bright IT people at a mid-sized oil company and ideas, problems and solutions were being thrown out at a dizzying rate. By the way, I do mean all the bright people- in three years of working there it was the one and only time I saw everyone in the same room working to solve a single problem. What intensely complex problem was all this brainpower trying to solve? Simply to stop the need for a user to type in a password twice- yup that was all, but it took all of us to work out how to do this. Now this is also a reflection on the complexity of systems and the fact that unlike 300 years when an intelligent man (and unfortunately it was all too often only a man) could know the entire sum of human knowledge, no-one knows everything today. But as the solution began to develop I passed a note to the Chief Technical Architect that said “Nola has no idea what we are going through to solve her problem”

Well, it is the same in all forms of life: I listen to music and buy what I like, look at art (and even manage to buy the occasional painting) and watch movies and television (though I prefer to wait and watch them on DVD without any adverts). But really, I have no idea what goes into painting a masterpiece, composing a piece of music lift you out of you seat or directing a scene in a show that works so perfectly that you smile to yourself afterwards. Fortunately, though this lack of understanding does not stop me from appreciating them: the Rijksmuseum has a small (very secure) extension at Amsterdam Schiphol airport that is currently exhibiting 8 pictures by Vincent van Gogh. Having more than $10 million of painting in front of you is something that I could get used to, even if I don’t understand all the complexities of how the pictures were created. And the fact that entrance to the Rijksmuseum is free simply is the icing on the cake.

I get more opportunity to watch television than gaze at impressionist masterpieces; and still following through with my resolution to only watch ‘worthwhile’ television I recently watched the last 2 seasons (6 & 7) of the West Wing. When it first arrived on TV in 1998 the West Wing set the bar for smart, well written, well acted and fantastically produced television. And though most critics felt that is suffered a drop in form during the middle of its run, by the end it was completely back to its excellent best. I think that part of the reason that the ratings did not recover was the the plot lines were so complex, the dialogue so fast (and intelligent) and the advert breaks such low quality compared to the actual program that people gave up watching the broadcast show and simply waited for the DVD to come out (apparently this also happened with Alias). So although the show was broadcast in 2005 and I only watched it in 2008, and to use a line from the West Wing- let’s not knock me for coming late to the party and celebrate the fact that I came at all (courtesy of Sam Seaborn as he attempted to explain the budget to CJ in series 2 I think).

The final strain of this thought before the denouement (bet you weren’t expecting a word like that in this blog!) concerns music and in particular jazz: Although many of my friends are firm blues fans, I have always been more of a jazz guy. I tend to take it in small quantities, but there have been times when music has had such a profound effect on me that the fact that I don’t understand the intricacies of what I am listening too are entirely irrelevant. I spent several months on the Yemen/ Saudi Arabia border in the Empty Quarter. This was before the Internet or satellite TV: the only regular contact we had with the outside world was via the BBC World Service of the Voice of America; and the conditions were not pleasant on so many levels. The fashion these days is to talk about Health, Safety, Security and the Environment (HSSE)- well given that we were exploring for oil I can safely say that the Environment was taking a hit. As for the H, S and S; let’s just say that none of them were being met- raw sewage was being dumped close to the camp, dynamite was being used to blow things up and men who were barely more than boys were walking around with AK47’s and no fear of death. In this environment music and the escape it can bring from what surrounds you is almost essential. Where the music takes you depends on what you listen to and I discovered two bands that took me in opposite directions: I had never understood the attraction of the Doors; not that is, until I was in situation with guns, explosions and living far from home. Suddenly LA Woman (the full version) could transport me far, far from where I was. Which would typically be a good thing, except that where it took me, in my mind, was to a war zone in South East Asia where the Doors were heard for the first time. And that was not a good thing.

Taking me in the other direction- to calm, peace and a more mellow place, was Miles Davis and in particular a track called Bag’s Groove. I have said several times that The Doors came close to pushing me over the edge, but Miles Davis get pulling me back (well, him and Van Morrison). I am not sure why jazz has been able to play such a role in my life but the first jazz song that had impact in my mind was probably a track called Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I think that my father owned the 7” single and I played it a lot as a small boy. Being the contrary character that I am, I was probably attracted to it initially simply because it was in 5/4 time (and though I didn’t understand what that meant) and that sounded different. And cool. And isn’t jazz all about being cool? Sure it is.

Except that maybe I overdosed on Take Five, maybe the unusual time signature threw me off or maybe I just didn’t understand how to use rhythms, the off beat, strangeness of it all the best effect so it disappeared from my conciousness, even after the track appeared on a CD I bought. And then I saw a scene on ep. 19 of series 6 of the West Wing: Picture in your mind the scene- its a Democratic Party Gala ball in the White House. Everyone is dressed up, bright lights are creating a dazzling background and the camera is whirling around people in full party mode. The conversations are rapid, often at cross purposes but occasionally subtleties emerge that were never seen before. And in the background, in 5/4 time a clarinet, double bass, drum solo and piano are perfectly syncopating to the action evolving before our eyes.

In 4 minutes of television involving 7 separate conversations using lights, dialogue, a swirling camera, television acting of the highest level and the perfect background soundtrack I remembered why Take Five is still such groundbreaking jazz and I was completely overwhelmed by just how many components go into making a scene work the way it did. Never mind the 90 minute meeting involving a dozen or so IT geeks to work out how to pass a password to a new system, the number of people and amount of time that must have been involved in creating the West Wing is truly mind blowing. I don’t understand the complexity of 1 of the components that go together to make that scene so wonderful, and maybe if I did the beauty would be lost on me- but for right here, right now, I just love it.

Airline Announcements

OK, I fly a lot. Not as much as pilots or flight attendants, but I have no problem qualifying for Elite level in at least one program each year and often two programs. Which means that I get to experience a lot of different announcements on planes. But this post is not a rehash of the announcements heard on a plane, amusing though they are. This is a complaint about the inconsistencies between flight attendants on different planes and they way they implement “laws”.

On some airlines (United) you are encouraged to wear headphones during taxi and take-off, as they have an arrangement where you can hear the air traffic control announcements for your plane. In fact on one flight approximately half the cabin I was in appeared to have noise-cancelling headphones of one sort or another. On other airlines (KLM) it seems to depend on the time of day- early morning flights (when everyone is trying to go back to sleep) it is OK to wear them, but sometimes in the evening you might be asked to remove the offending cans. Then it gets confusing: KLM Cityhopper (the regional airline of KLM) request that you remove the headphones on every flight, no matter what time of the day. No, I have no idea why 2 parts of the same airline would have different policies, but there you go.

Even more confusing is Air Canada where it seems to depend on which province the flight attendants are from: Get a flight crew from out west and headphones are not a problem. Get one from Quebec and someone (generally undefined, but announced in a menacing way) will be fined $1500 if you don’t remove them. The way I figure it, if it is not me getting fined, what do I care? But if you take that attitude with a French Canadian there is a good chance they play hockey and I have seen what happens at hockey games.

Then finally we come onto the budget airlines: At least these guys are consistent: Damned annoying because they all ask you to remove the headphones for about half the flight, but at least consistent.

Except that on the budget airlines, it seems that mobile (aka cell) phones generate inconsistency. Pretty much all countries require you to turn your phone off once the doors close. Unless there is a delay, in which case you will be allowed to turn them on again. On landing sometimes you can turn them on whilst taxiing, sometimes once parked and occasionally not until you are inside the terminal (which is a real bitch as these are the times when you are most likely to have to catch a bus to terminal. Yes we are back with the budget airlines again).

And then we come to being in the air and the advent of ‘flight safe’ mode. This is obviously a real problem for airlines: unless the flight attendants know which phones have a flight safe mode and how it is indicated, they are basically hosed. So some airlines still refuse to allow anything, some just say “Flight safe mode once the seat belt sign has been switched off” and then the most peculiar one I heard: The only devices that were allowed to be used on the plane: Blackberries. The announcer specifically excluded Nokia, Sony and Samsung and confirmed that only Blackberries were allowed. Almost immediately I heard a voice behind me say “I wonder how much Blackberry paid to get that endorsement?”. And what made it all the more confusing was that this particular announcer appeared to say that this was the law, he was going to enforce and by God, no-one had better get in his way. Mind you, he did try to tell a joke later, so maybe he was just auditioning for his local theatre troupe. By the way, on the joke front; no-one laughed.

To be quite honest, I don’t really care what the rules are- obviously I would like to wear my noise cancelling headphones for the entire time I am on a plane, because they really do make the experience so much nicer. But what I really want is for the airlines to be consistent. Off on, flight safe or Blackberry; I don’t care. Just apply the rules consistently across all airlines. And don’t make out that you know the law when I was on another plane less than 24 hours earlier that had a distinctly different approach.

On Daylight Savings

Like most people, I enjoy many more activities in the evening that take advantage of daylight savings time than I do mornings that are hindered by it. But that is not to say that I don’t suffer the occasional wish for lighter mornings. Take, for example, the fact that pretty much every week I have to get up at 3:30am to drive to an airport for a 6am (or thereabouts) flight.

For the past 6 months this has meant stumbling around in the dark at home, getting into a car or taxi in the dark and boarding the aeroplane, also in the dark. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some attractions to this, not least of which is the fact that because my prime intention upon boarding the plane is to fall asleep as quickly as possibly, so the fact that it is still dark outside means that my body clock still thinks it is night-time thus rendering the falling asleep that much quicker. Add to that a pair of noise cancelling headphones and a sleep mask and I am usually dozing during the safety announcement and rarely conscious for take off. On which point I apoligise to any flight attendants on planes that I catch at 6am: It is not that I don’t find your safety demonstration scintillating entertainment, but you may be able to tell from the fact that I have headphones on, my eyes closed and frequently am gently snoring that you are getting somewhat less than my “full and undivided attention”. (Actually I don’t snore, but you get the point)

However, this is about Daylight Savings Time; unlike the US and Canada, the UK has not changed its clocks. This meant that as I was driving to the airport this morning for my (now delayed) flight, I could see dawn breaking in front of me (I was driving east at the time, so the metaphor is actually correct). Now this was in England, so obviously dawn was only visible through cracks in the ubiquitous cloud layer, but none-the-less it made the drive that little bit more pleasant.

Next week, after the clocks spring forward, the drive will once again be entirely in the dark and I will have to wait a few more weeks before going to work does not feel as though I am some sort of bizarre nocturnal creature. Oh well, roll on summer.

But one final point, the flight that we all merrily boarded in the grey light of dawn then had a problem with its undercarriage, neccesitating a return to the departing airport and a 4 hour delay. Had we all known that at the start then the morning drive would have been all in daylight. But then I guess that flying in a plane that may not be able to land is not such a sensible thing to do, so returning probably was the safe option

A personal impression of Dubai

This year (or rather, last year) my every other year Christmas trip took me to Dubai. Rather than clog this site up with a very long post, I have posted my impressions of Dubai on my personal web site.

I liked Dubai, though not as much as my previous trip to Singapore. And I think that there is a very particular type of travel (and traveller) that will like Dubai. I am just not sure if I am that type of traveller.