A Travellerspoint blog

I may not be from here, but I know where you are going.

Today, on my way home from work I had two (2) people ask me directions to some obscure place, and in both cases, I was able to direct them. One asked for directions to the Walkabout pub near Temple tube station, and the second to The Grand near Clapham Junction. In both cases, I was able to point them in the right direction. (Granted, both were bars, so perhaps I was at an advantage.)

I am always quite proud, as an immigrant, to be able to provide accurate directions.

Depsite my recent attempts to develop a more transatlantic accent (Judy, Judy, Judy), there is no doubt I still sound Canadian. I wonder sometimes what people think when they hear a foreign accent giving directions in London. Do they trust me? Do they abandon my pronouncement and ask the next person they see?

I hope they trust me, because I was two for two tonight.

Posted by GregW 12:45 Comments (0)

My Life at Gatwick

A short little experience of the life of Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

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When you travel a lot, you get into a routine. I used to be able to pack in 10 minutes, walk out the door and never forget a thing. I stopped travelling frequently for business a few years ago. In my mind, though, I can still pack in 10 minutes. However, without the routine, I am forgetting things. Sometimes it is little things - toothpaste, a baggy for my liquids, sun glasses. Recently, though, I had a biggest issue yet. I got the airport and forgot my passport.

I was flying to Florence for a short break. I packed a bag, took some Euros, and even managed to print off the address and directions to my hotel. The next day I headed for the airport. 45 minutes and a train ride later, I was standing in line the Meridiana desk, looking at the folks ahead of me. They pulled out their passports, and I was suddenly gripped by an absolutely horrific thought. My passport was sitting on my dresser back in Battersea.

Panicking, I got a cab which cost me £70 to take me home and back to Gatwick. When it was clear I wouldn't make it back from my 9:45 flight, I got on the phone and rebooked an 11:25 flight. That cost me an additional £170. Before booking, I asked the driver if I could make an 11:25. "No problem," he said.

Problem - traffic. Arrived at Gatwick at 11:00 and the flight had closed. No amount of pleading could get them to switch their opinion. I even pulled out, "My poor 83 year old father is waiting for me in Florence." Sympathy from the folks at Easyjet, but basically got the stiff arm of "rules is rules."

Thoroughly confuddled, I finally booked the third flight of the day, costing me £230. It didn't leave until 19:55, meaning I had more than eight hours to kill before my next flight.

My immediate concern was getting in touch with my Dad and letting him know I wasn't going to be in Florence by 1 PM. I called home to Toronto, and fired off emails to numerous people in both Italy, England and Canada. It was a tense hour, but I was finally able to get in touch with my father at the hotel. Crisis averted, I finally relaxed for the first time in four hours. I looked at my watch - it was just before noon in London.

At that point, I decided to settle in and hang out for my eight hour wait. I couldn't check in for another six hours, so I was relegated to the amusements before security. They consisted, in the North terminal of Gatwick, of a pub, an arcade, a few shops and some seats with a TV on the BBC news.


So there I was, a pseudo Tom Hanks from the movie The Terminal, trapped in an airport and having to make his life there. I bought a copy of the Economist and pulled out a copy of a Gresham thriller that I had in my bad. I watched some TV, did some shopping, played some video games and had a meal and a few pints in the pub.

It was dull. I wouldn't recommend spending over 8 hours in Gatwick. It wasn't awful, but it was without any joy at all. Simply functional.

It wasn't until 6 PM, when I went to check in for my flight, that I finally realised I could have gotten on the train, spend 45 minutes on the train and spent most the day at home - or wandering around London or even hanging out in Brighton by the sea-side. The four hours of panic in booking, re-booking and re-re-booking flights, as well as trying to inform my father, had taken it all out of me. I had turned off my brain and hadn't even thought that I had 8 hours to get out the airport and get back to London.

It is, ultimately, more proof that perhaps I am losing my knack at travel. When I used to do it every week, I would have never forgotten anything, certainly not something as important as my passport. And missing a flight - or even two - I would have figured out a way to get to Florence quicker, or at least how to take advantage of a long layover.

I don't know how to feel about the series of mistakes I made that day in arranging travel. Part of me feels somewhat sad that I have lost my knack of travelling. And the other part, I am a little bit happy that I have settled enough in London that I no longer have that knack of travelling.

After so many years of consulting and travelling, it's almost like I am becoming a normal human being.

Posted by GregW 13:36 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Definition for the Morning Commute: Lumping

Gregwtravels creates a new word to define a part of his morning commute

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I moved down to South London a few months back, now living in Battersea. As part of my new life south of Thames, I no longer commute into work using the tube. I am now going "overground."


Overground is how Londoners describe the commuter trains. The trains come in from all directions - north, east and west - but are most prevalent in the south. This is because there are few tube lines south of River, so the trains act as us Southerners rapid transit solution.

My local station is Clapham Junction station. Clapham Junction is "Europe's busiest train station" by the number of trains which pass through it. There are 2,000 trains a day which pass through the station. Clapham Junction is on the mainlines running into Victoria and Waterloo stations, and away from London heading to the southwest and south.

During the busiest hour there are 180 trains per hour passing through Clapham Junction. 117 of those trains stop at the station.


The good news is that means I never have to wait long for a train heading to Waterloo, near where I work. There is usually a train every two minutes during the rush hour.

The bad news is that as in addition to serving the local community, Clapham Junction is also one of the busiest transfer points on the rail network, and thus there is always a lot of people waiting for those trains. It is not uncommon for me to have to wait for three or four trains to go by before I can squeeze on one of the trains.

To make it easier for those people waiting to get on the trains, on many of the platforms they have painted lines to indicate where the doors will open. This makes it easy to know where to stand to get on the trains, but does lead to a rather uneven distribution on the platforms, with everyone crowding around the areas where the doors of the trains will be.

When the train arrives, those getting off squeeze through a small channel through the crowds, as those waiting to get on the train wait with nervous anticipation to get onto the train. Once the last person is getting off, the crowd surges forward to push on to the very busy trains.

It isn't complete chaos, though. It has a certain order to it. As there is never enough space on the train for everyone, there is a certain amount of jostling for position. At the same time, there is an honour to it - people do look at each other - making eye contact, and allowing those who have been waiting the longest to get on first.


I have never really been sure what to call this process by which people wait for trains at Clapham Junction. It's not a queue, but it does have some order to it.

Last week, it came to me. It is lumping.

Lump (verb) - to wait and board trains in small groups huddled around where the doors are projected to be.

Lump (noun) - the group of people waiting to board a train huddled around where the doors are projected to be.

And thus it is defined.

My daily commute starts by heading to Clapham Junction and lumping to get on a train.

Posted by GregW 14:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged transportation train_travel Comments (0)

The Best (and Worst) of The British Newspapers

Reading the London newspapers

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Newspapers may be slowly circling the drain, heading down until they are no longer relevant. But they do still provide some interesting bits and bobs.

There are two types of papers here in the UK. The tabloids - those papers that search for the lowest common denominator - and the broadsheets - those who the Tories read.

The tabloids haven't had a great time recently, with the News of the World being discontinued after it turned out they hacked into the voice mail boxes the famous and the powerful.

Yet, the tabloids still serve their purpose. This week, the most talked about story in the office I work in was not about the UK economy, the Eurozone, Libya or any other story. It was about Percy Foster. He died this week, a sad man who probably suffered from a legion of issues. He was a dwarf, and some how ended up working in porn movies. A co-worker on the film Hi-Ho Hi-Ho, It's Up Your Arse We Go said he looked a bit like celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and so soon enough was appearing in Midget MasterChef: Assbasters 7.

This week, his body was found dead, and half eaten, in a badger hole in the English countryside.

And this really highlights the differences between broadsheet and tabloid newspaper editors.

The Times editors splay out the stories on their desk. They quickly dismiss the story of Percy Foster, and instead concentrate on the local stories. Instead, on a story a sheep rustling, adopt the headline "Baad news for farmers.". The Times Editors redeem themselves after the bad pun with "Not even being spartan is going to save the Greeks" with a picture of Gerard Butler and co. from 300 with shields replaced by giant Euro coins. Satisfied with the outcome, they have good chuckle and agree to meet up for G&Ts at Groucho Club.

The Sun works feverishly to come up with "Gordon Ramsay's porn-star dwarf doppelganger eaten by badger," before hitting the local pub for pints and a brawl.

Somewhere between the two stands the British citizen. Half-Tabloid and half-broadsheet, we like our news serious at the same time liking to hear about the strange and wild world that exists outside of our middle class existence.

And so this week, I spent my time reading about the Eurozone and American economies slipping into the darkness, while at the same time reading about the midget Gordon Ramsay look-a-like whose life was so desperate that he somehow wound up walking into the English countryside and let his life slip away.

Posted by GregW 12:03 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

World Trade Center: 10 Years Later

Examining the fall of the twin towers on my own life over the last 10 years.

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Anniversaries drive reflection. And this is a big one. Ten years ago I was sitting in an office in Toronto when someone said to me "a plane has hit the World Trade Center is New York." As the day unfolded, I started to wonder in which direction my life was heading. Do I want to be at my desk, in a office tower, when it comes my time, I asked myself.

2006 09 11..n Light1.JPG
2006 09 11..n Light.JPG

So, my life since September 11th has been quite different than before. Before September 11th, I was living in Toronto, trying to get up a corporate ladder and not taking many holidays at all. Since then, I have sacrificed work for travel, made sure I take all my holidays and looked at how I can mix a love of travel with a life of ... well, not starving to death and actually eating.

I can't claim that September 11th alone lead to this change. It was a catalyst, but September 11, 2001 was just another straw on the camel's back (or another brick in the wall, for the Pink Floyd fans). The big changes that September 11th was a part in feeding, at the time that the twin towers were falling, were still years away.

I experienced a series of events, from 1999 through to 2002 that all ended up changing my life more than any event since... well, probably my birth in 1970. It is hard to add them all up, or separate them out, but the events included turning thirty, bad jobs, failing romantic relationships, strained friendships and September 11th.

The most important event, though, was the death of my mother in 1999. It impacted my life, and continues to do, in ways I could not imagine when she passed away in the autumn of 1999. It was the start of a long, slow slide towards a low point in 2002. And so, in the early months of 2003, to try and recover my sanity and my happiness, I left my job, got on a flight and flew south to Chile.

It was all the start of a long march to where I am today, a 40 year old living in another country, with a reasonable but not overly impressive career, a vaguely decent pension fund and a year long lease on a flat - you know, in the event that something better comes up in South Africa or Hong Kong or Sao Paolo.

Ten years later for September 11th, 2001, the lesson I take away from that horrific day - and all the horrific days in life that came before - my mother's death - and after - work stress, health problems and burn-out in general from life - is that life is too short to stand by and wait for it to come to you. You have to reach out and find it for yourself. Sometimes it won't work out, and sometimes you will make awful mistakes, but at least you tried. Ten years on from September 11th, I am happy to find myself in a place I would never have thought I would be - in another country, on a different career path and just trying to find a way to make my life work.

To me, the best tribute to those that have come before is to live your life - as you want to live it - to the best of your ability.

Posted by GregW 12:35 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

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