No rush

BulletMy children (or at least one of them, presumably speaking on behalf of them all?) have promised to buy me a new Bristol, as and when they have earned enough money.

The latest Bristol is the Bristol Bullet, which is a 2 seater open top sports car.  It does look stylish, but I will be very happy to wait until the next 4 seater is available, which is apparently going to be very high-tech, and might be a while yet in the gestation.

So there is really no need for my children to be in any great rush to Continue reading

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Daughters in the Frame

annabel with sharksMy elder daughter Annabel’s piece about getting up close and personal with great white sharks in South African waters has appeared up on the MailOnline Travel page.  That was just a few days ago, but a quick search reveal that the Mail has since published another 10 pieces by her. So she has been busy with both her keyboard and her GoPro.

Meanwhile, my younger daughter Lucy’s recent short film A Piece of Cake has been already Continue reading

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Unigh Stays I – The Smell of the DoI

fireworksI had some business in London, and decided I might as well fly home via New York and then Houston.

My own past experience of New York is that it is a hard place to like. For my money, it is too noisy, too ugly, the people (or at least some of them) are too graceless and I do not cope well with the smell of urine and vomit in the streets being never far away.  But this time, surprisingly, I enjoyed myself.

Partly, of course, this was because it was such a pleasure to spend some time with my son Charlie, and to see how happy he is with his beloved. And partly it was because the Penn Club, where I stayed, was very civilised, with a decent library.

But there are things I do not understand about New York. For example, why do the immigration officials need to be so gratuitously unpleasant. Unlike Heathrow, where one is met with a smile and a, “Good morning. May I see you passport, sir?” the reception at JFK is as though one is a felon being processed for a period of incarceration. Not all New Yorkers are like this, of course. The servers in restaurants are typically helpful and charming. Then again, the servers in NY restaurants rely on tips. Perhaps they should stop paying the US immigration officials, and make them rely on tips?

It was 4th July, so we planned to go to Charlie’s girlfriend’s roof terrace to watch the fireworks. But it was raining. So we didn’t. Being 4th July – Independence Day – the New York Times back page reproduced the whole of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Including Continue reading

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Brexit on the Track

Lewis

Lewis Hamilton Unrepentant

Just a few days after the Brexit decision by the voters of the UK, German driver Nico Rosberg attempted to run English driver Lewis Hamilton off the track in the Austrian Grand Prix.  It was on the last lap, when the faster Hamilton was overtaking the slower Rosberg. Rosberg’s brakes were already damaged and the result of the collision was that Hamilton won the race and Rosberg limped home 4th with his car even more damaged.  As I write this, the stewards are considering whether to further penalise the German for his poor behaviour.

The Austrian crowd booed Hamilton as he took his prize.  Unsurprisingly, Hamilton was Continue reading

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A Tower of Babble

Press conference by Danuta Hübner

Press conference by Danuta Hübner

Now, here is a fun story. Danuta Hübner is the Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, and she has just announced at a press conference  that, following Brexit, the English language will disappear from EU documents. She noted (speaking in English, by the way) that “The Irish have notified Gaelic and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the UK notifying English”.

There are 11 Irish MEPs, and it is a fair bet that, for some of them at least, their Gaelic might be a bit rusty.  My research suggests that only a minority of Irish population as a whole can speak Gaelic at all – even Polish is more widely spoken in Ireland. One can well understand why they Continue reading

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A Topical Test Case for the EU

On Independence Day +7, the EU is legally obligated to fix a bit of its own malpractice. Will this happen, or will the EU continue down a path of continuing failure, fraud and cover-up?

Here is the skinny. It is a long story, and I will tell it as briefly as possible. Why am I telling it? Because it represents in a demonstrable and unequivocal way just how corrupt the EU is, and how hard it will be to reform it into an honest and respectable organisation.

In 2003, Robert McCoy was Financial Controller of the Committee of the Regions, one of the many arms of the EU octopus. He had been working in various capacities for institutions of the EU/EEC/Common Market since 1974.  The Committee of the Regions is something that might have been invented by the writers of Yes, Minister. It has a budget of several tens of millions of Euros a year, and (these days) 350 members whose role is, well, shall we say, nebulous. The Commission and the Council can, if they want, consult the Committee of the Regions whenever new proposals are made in areas that have repercussions at regional or local level.  So, members of the Committee of the Regions travel around the regions at EU expense. To be regional. It is, in short, a very expensive talk shop.

440px-Cllr_Sir_Albert_Bore

Sir Albert Bore

Robert McCoy’s job, on its face, was to identify, report on and stamp out financial irregularities in the organisation. He was to verify the accounts.  He was responsible to the President of that Committee, the improbably named Sir Albert Bore, a Scottish Labour party appointee, and a mayor in Birmingham.  With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that what Robert McCoy was actually expected to do by the Committee of the Regions was to turn a blind eye to those irregularities. Continue reading

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Playing FTSE FTSE

FTSESo. The nation (yes, that is the whole of the UK and that includes you, Scotland) has voted for Brexit.

There were dire warnings of economic chaos. But, at the end of a bumpy day on the markets on Friday, FTSE ended higher than at the beginning of the week.  So the market apparently does not think Brexit is a big problem.

The Remainians, whose support for the EU suggests a somewhat lukewarm affection for democracy, now want to overturn the result the democratic vote of the people, and many of them have been signing a petition for a rematch.  That is not going to happen any time soon.

It looks like Boris is in the box seat for Continue reading

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Eurotrash

eurostarThere are no absolutes in these things, but in my own experience, pretty much every interaction I have ever had with any organisation with “Euro” in its name has been bad news. It is a sort of linguistic stigmata of ghastliness. The scent of Euro is the scent of corruption, incompetence or the sort of bureaucratic obstructionism that induces irritation bordering on rage. The sort of rage that one feels when someone who keeps swinging their heavy bag at the back of your knees on a crowded tube train. Or when, after waiting for 45 minutes on a “help line”  the voice at the other end is not only incomprehensible, but plainly belongs to someone who knows sweet Fanny Adam about the problem your rang up about in the first place.

Today it was EuroStar who made a determined bid for my Eurotrash company of the year. I want to go the Brussels, to meet some old friends. I booked on the EuroStar. BAD, BAD IDEA!

So I get to St Pancras in plenty of time. There is a bank Continue reading

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Taking French Leave

In London on the eve of the Euro Referendum, I have been talking a fair bit about it with old friends.

The polls seem very evenly balanced. So no clear answer there. Surprisingly, the bookies are still giving fairly long odds against Brexit, and the bookies are often more reliable than then pollsters.

Pretty much everyone whose opinion I value is agreed about this: there will be no catastrophe either Continue reading

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A Really Useful Thing To Know

WIN_20160617_15_00_20_ProNow, here is a really useful thing to know. At any rate, if you trying to fly around the world and find yourself in the Business Lounge at Doha Airport.

DO NOT TRY TO EXIT THE LOUNGE THROUGH THE DOOR MARKED “EXIT”.

I tried it, and it cost me nine painful and tedious hours of my life.

This is what happened. I had flown from Adelaide to Doha, where there was a 12 hours stopover before the connecting flight to London.  That sounds bad, but is manageable. There are things one can do to make that 12 hours pass. Like a desert safari.  I deal with that below, because I can see that you will want to know right away about the door thing.

So, you do the 13 hours or so on the aeroplane to Doha. That is not too bad, because at 35,000 feet Qatar Airways gives you a decent glass of claret with dinner, even though it is Ramadan. You kill most of the 12 hours with a desert safari and stuff. You get back to the airport with plenty of time for the onward flight to London. It is early afternoon. No lunch because it is Ramadan. An hour before the flight is due to take off (they like to do these things with plenty of time) it is time to exit the lounge in order to proceed to the Departure Gate. Not just go to the Departure Gate. Proceed. You are doing all the procedure stuff, just the way it is supposed to be done, even though it is now really quite a long time since you have slept, and you are getting just a bit travel weary.

The Business Lounge at Doha boasts that it is the size of 10 Olympic swimming pools. Quite why that is supposed to be a good thing is a bit of a mystery. It has some quite striking interior design features, including chairs that would grace the set of Game of Thrones, but which are really not comfortable at all to actually sit in.  There is a business centre, in which it is not possible to plug anything in, unless you have remembered to bring UK style mains adapters (the UK mains plug is just about the daftest thing the UK has ever done. Vast, ugly buggers. With no earthly point to them unless you want to fill in an Olympic swimming pool or two).  Nor, by the way, are you allowed to take a cup of coffee into the business centre. Or any other liquid. Which is annoying, because it is the only one of the 10 Olympic swimming pools that has a table higher than a pair of socks. So if you want to type anything on a laptop, and do not possess the suppleness of an Olympian synchronised swimmer, the business centre is the only place to be. Until your computer’s battery runs out, because the mains sockets in the business centre will only accept UK style plugs, and you bought this computer somewhere else.

Anyway, you have walked around. Peered into the games room, which contains the front of a pretend racing car so you can play simulated racing car games. Except you can’t, because the pretend racing car’s pretend steering wheel has been removed. For Ramadan, perhaps? Maybe Allah reckons racing car simulators are not really that holy? Who knows? Who cares? It is time to exit the Business Lounge and proceed to the Departure Gate, in plenty of time.  Happily (you think, poor deluded fool) there are some helpful signs with arrows saying “Exit”.  You follow them. There is a door, with a sign above it saying “Exit”. You think, “Great! Here is where I exit the Business Lounge in order to proceed to the Departure Gate”. Poor deluded fool!

You open the door and go through it. Ominously, it closes rapidly behind you. You are in a stairwell. Still a Game of Thrones sort of theme, but a bit more towards the dungeon end of the scale, instead of the throne room. Hey ho. You cannot go back; the door has locked behind you. You go down. At the bottom, there is another door with a sign above it saying “Exit”. But this time the door has a small glass window, and you can see that door leads directly onto the tarmac.  In fact, there is a dirty great bit of very large landing gear right there, the other side of this last door. Now, if you are an illegal immigrant, you might think that climbing up the landing gear is a jolly good way to board an aeroplane bound for Heathrow. Otherwise, you think, “No. That is not the right way”. So you climb back up the stairs in a vain effort to find a door that will let you back into the Business Lounge. Or any lounge. Or better still, somewhere near the departure Gates.

Eventually, a security chap turns up, with a blazer and a radio. You explain the problem.  He says, “No problem!” You explain that you really need to get to the Departure Gate. He says, “Wait! No problem!”. His mate turns up. He also is wearing a blazer and has a radio. They take turns going through the door that you cannot go through (they have a special pass card) and telling you it is no problem.

It is really quite hot in that stairwell – perhaps 50 degrees C – and you explain a number of times that you really need to be let back through the door in order to get to the Departure Gate. “No problem” they say, they just need to wait for police. Because you are on the land side of the door, you see. You explain that if they will only let you walk back through the door, you will be on the air side. “Police are coming; no problem!”

At this point you start wondering if Theon Greyjoy had it all a bit cushy. It is a full 45 minutes before they let you through the door and introduce you to the policeman. He wants to conduct enquiries. He wants you to sit down. Eventually, the policeman is satisfied that then problem is that you went through the door marked “Exit”, and that you are not trying to climb up the landing gear as an illegal immigrant. By this time, the flight has closed. They take you to the transfer desk. Did you not know that you were supposed to exit the lounge and proceed to the departure Gate at least 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time? Yes, you did bloody know! What you now want to know is how soon they can get you on another bloody plane.

Nine hours. Nine hours of fruitless searching for a chair in the lounge that was not the work of Ramsey Snow.

No consoling single malt of course, because it is bloody Ramadan! Nor a claret, nor even a beer. For some bizarre reason Allah seems to think it OK for infidels to drink alcohol at 35,000 feet, even during Ramadan, but not in the Business Lounge.

By the end of the nine hours, you are exhausted, not least from the effort of staying awake, after the best part of 24 hours in bloody Doha with no sleep.

What did you do for nine hours? Walk around, and establish there is not a single sign anywhere in the 10 Olympic swimming pools giving any hint as to where the real exit is (turns out that it is behind a feature wall). Have a shower to wash off the sweat of 45 minutes on a 50 degree C stairwell, and then realise that your shirt is still dripping wet. Compose an email of complaint. Read their glib brush-off.  Drink coffee, and yet more coffee, in an effort to stay awake and not miss the nine-hours-later flight.

The moral of all of this? Well, there might be two.

One is, that a door marked “Exit” in Qatar really means “Emergency Exit”.

The other is to stay clear of Doha.

 

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