A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

I’ve Become Boring... and I Love It

I used to think settling is what houses do... or what women do when they decide to date me.

sunny 24 °C

The last day of July was my last day up in Birmingham, and after returning from Toronto, I have been working on developing some internal systems training for my company, which has me working at home most days, but with the occasional trip down to my company’s HQ in Egham.

Getting to Egham requires travelling for about an hour and a half, transferring from the London Underground to Southern Trains at Victoria Station, and then transferring to South West Trains at Clapham Junction, the self-proclaimed UK’s busiest train station.

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I snapped the photo yesterday when I headed down to Egham because I thought about writing a blog entry that incorporated Clapham Junction. Either I was going to go all mythbusters on the claim about being Britain’s busiest station or write an entry about commuting.

I tried writing an entry about Clapham Junction, but after reading the though the first paragraph under “Today” on the Wikipedia entry for Clapham Junction, I realized that I really had nothing to add. So I decided to try and tackle an entry on commuting. I figured it seeing as “The Esoteric Globe” has (nominally at least) become a blog about me living abroad, I guess it would make some sort of sense if I gave you an idea of what my commute is like. After all, commuting is part of living abroad.

After writing the introduction for the blog entry though, I re-read it and realized it was as boring as tweets regarding chicken breast deals at Co-Op or ferries in my line of sight. Not that things have exactly been overwhelming interesting in my other blog entries this month - an entry on how flying internationally in economy is annoying (not exactly a novel observation given the 1.5 million hits that come up on Google on the subject), an entry comparing weather forecasts and another entry on flying, though this one having nothing to do me actually flying...

Sigh.

In all honesty, I almost didn’t post my last entry on The first scheduled international flight. I read the article on it and thought it was a vaguely interesting fact. The kind of thing that one should sock away in their brain in the event they are ever at a pub quiz and one of the questions is asked “When was the first scheduled international flight?” It is not, though, the kind of thing that is deserving of its own blog entry, surely.

The fact is that earlier this week I looked at the blog and realized I hadn’t posted anything in a couple weeks and felt I needed to post something. So I posted something tediously dull, and I almost did it again today.

Fact of the matter is that life here in London has become somewhat boring. Not much travel other than the morning commute, and so little to write about. My life has become very domestic of late...

...and I love it.

I realized about a week ago that I was really starting to feel settled here in London. My life is filled up with things that normal people with normal lives do -

Work during the week and relax on the weekends; poker on Friday nights; the pub on Sunday; Wednesday night pizza night; the occasionally film or concert; putting together flat-pack furniture; going to the bank; going to the dentist; watching Top Gear.

The above mentioned concert - U2 at Wembley

The above mentioned concert - U2 at Wembley

It is like I’ve become a real person now, after living much of the last year in a kind of disconnected from real life state.

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Before I was experiencing London, but not part of it. It felt like I was a ghost, floating through the town. Now I am here, I am employed, I have a place to live, I have friends, I have plans in my social diary (I am even going to the Opera next weekend). In the past few months it feels like the immaterial and disembodied life in London is becoming corporeal and real.

Back a year and 3 months ago, when I first arrived here, I wrote about floating on the surface of London. I said that, “If the first day I felt like I was floating on top of London, not at all immersed into it, the second day I felt that at the very least I had a toe in the water, slowly sinking into my life.”

I’m no longer floating. I am on the ground - solid and real. The streets are crowded, the tube trains too hot, there are workmen banging on metal like a steel drum band outside my window. It’s dirty and hot and real.

...and I love it.

Posted by GregW 09:16 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

Happy Anniversary, International Fliers!

First stop - Paris... Next stop... Mars?

sunny 17 °C

90 years ago today, the first international, scheduled passenger air service started up, flying between London and Paris. The Aircraft Transport and Travel flew a little four seater bi-plane between a field just outside of London and Le Bourget, just outside Paris. Flights cost 42 guineas, about 3 months wages for an average working man, and worth about £7000 in today's money.

It wasn't long until international air travel took off, of course. Just 30 years after that first flight, The De Havilland Comet was introduced, the first commercial jet entered service. Today, flying 'round the globe is pretty commonplace, and in most cases, a real pain in the ass.

British_Airways_Plane.jpg

All that being said, its pretty amazing when you think about how far we've come in 90 years since a little 4 seater took off for Paris. Makes you wonder where we'll be flying in 90 years time.

Last call for Passenger Wesson for Virgin Galactic flight 508 to Mars. If you do not board within the next 5 minutes, your luggage will be removed from the flight and you will be denied boarding.

Posted by GregW 02:36 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

A Tale of Two Cities' Weather Forecasts

It was the sunniest of times, it was the rainest of times. It was the era of smog, it was the era of clear skies. It was the epoch of high wind warnings, it was the epoch of calm breezes...

sunny 25 °C

I write this sitting in my flat in London, overhead fan whirling at top speed trying to keep me cool on a hot and overcast day, and I realize I have no idea what the Humidex is today.

I recently returned for a very short 5 day stint to Toronto. It was a whirlwind tour of family, friends and responsibilities like renewing my passport and cleaning out my storage locker.

It had been 8 months since my last visit to Canada and in that time I have certainly done my share of settling into England. This has allowed me to view Canada with a touch of the eye of a foreigner. A few things I noted are that chicken wings are better in Canada, beer is REALLY expensive in Toronto, the trains are slow and expensive and the buildings are really tall and shiny.

Toronto_Highrises.jpg

Mostly though, I noted the difference in the weather forecasts.

The weather forecast in London will be something like this: “Today will be a mixture of rainy and sunny periods with a high near 24. This evening will clear, temperatures a mild 15. Tomorrow, starting sunny, getting overcast in the evening with a high of 22.”

That’s it. The weather map in the back shows cloud cover, rain and the occasionally wind direction and speed. All very simple to answer the three primary questions “Do I need a jacket?”, “Should I take my sunglasses?” and “Should I take my umbrella?”

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In Canada by contrast, you practically need a science degree to understand the weather forecast. Not only will they tell you basic information like “rainy,” “sunny,” or “snowy,” but you’ll get probabilities of precipitation, amount of precipitation (snow in centimetres, rain in millimetres), percent of cloudy cover, cloud ceiling height, humidity, humidex (impact of humidity on perceived temperature), wind direction and speed, wind chill (how the speed of the wind impacts the temperature), barometric pressure and whether it is rising or falling. Canadian weather men tell you about where the high and low pressure areas are, and how the jet stream is impacting the weather systems from west to east of the country.

Toronto_We..ecast_1.jpg

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That is, you will admit, a lot of extra information just to answer those three primary questions “Do I need a jacket?”, “Should I take my sunglasses?” and “Should I take my umbrella?” Of course, that’s because in Canada you often have to ask not just if you need a jacket, but also mittens, a toque, snow shovel, winter boots, snow pants, face-warmer, salt, emergency food rations or bear repellent.

The two countries do share something in common when it comes to the weather forecast, though. More often than not, the forecast is wrong.

The safest thing… Always carry an umbrella, sunglasses and a jacket. To paraphrase Dickens, it is a far, far better thing that I do, being prepared for any weather eventuality, than I have ever done before (when believing the forecast); it is a far, far better peace of mind that I have in carrying both an umbrella and sunscreen than I have ever known previously when having to choose between them.

Posted by GregW 06:49 Archived in Canada Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

If there is a bustle in your Heathrow, don't be alarmed now

Thoughts on flying now that I don't actually do much of it.

storm 21 °C

I just flew from London to Toronto. It was hell on Earth. Okay, not on earth, because we were actually 38,000 feet above it, but it was pretty bad. Air travel is just full of indignities.

Yesterday was the first time I have flown since last December, which is a long time considering that for the 8 years prior to last year, I tended to fly a good 40 out of every 52 weeks.

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The train ride from my place out to Heathrow wasn't bad, though some woman was sitting beside me on the Heathrow Connect from Paddington sobbing uncontrollably between Ealing Broadway and Hayes and Harlington. Everyone sat on the train in uncomfortable silence as this woman sent and received text messages and let out wails and moans of emotional pain. Like good Brits, we stiff-upper-lip ignored her until she got off, and then everyone breathed a sigh of relief that any show of emotion had past.

Check-in at Heathrow was a zoo. Air Canada, in her wisdom, apparently decided that if one has four desks to man (economy, executive, self-serve bag drop, internet bag-drop) that three staff and two non-working bag-tag printers would be enough to handle the load. It wasn't, of course, and after twenty minutes of standing in one line, I was told to go to another queue. I abandoned my British ways and put on my "American" attitude at that point, and demanded to be checked-in. Luckily the Brits are as uncomfortable with the emotion of anger as the emotion of sadness, and they served me immediately to be free of the situation. They did ask, however, that I write a strongly worded letter to Air Canada management with my concerns. I shall start it "Dear Sirs, Regarding my recent flight of the fourth of August..."

Security wasn't too bad, though of course I got in the line behind the non-English speaker with the metal leg. The metal leg caused the detector to go off, and the poor man couldn't understand any of the instructions barked at him by the security folks. He looked quite bewildered as a young man with a buzz cut ran his hands over his body. It was only a momentary delay, though, and soon I was in the airport proper.

Past security was fine, actually. Heathrow terminal 3, once you are beyond the seventh ring of hell which is the check-in area, is quite nice. I had a pint of lager at one of the many restaurants while I waited for my flight to announce it was boarding.

The flight itself was just long and full of screaming children. Luckily I was on a jet with an individual entertainment unit, so I merely cranked up the soundtrack to "I Love You, Man" and "Push" and ignored the wailing. (Two forms of transport with wailing on it within a single day. Perhaps they are wailing because of my presence. I am the onion of transport, causing all who travel with me to cry...)

We landed in Toronto at the tail end of a thunderstorm, and after an approach so bumpy I couldn't actually read because the book was bouncing around so much, we landed without incident. The airport, though, had been closed for the 30 minutes before our arrival, and so we had to wait on the tarmac for 40 minutes while they cleared the backlog.

The final indignity is, of course, the luggage handling at Toronto's airport. I have discovered something flying into Toronto with checked bags. It is this. No matter how long it takes you to walk from your airplane to the customs area and no matter how long you take in customs, you will wind up waiting for 35 minutes for your bag at the luggage carousel. It is a punch in the stomach, really, being so close to having completed your journey yet having to wait for the slightest of things.

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Truth be told, last night's flight was actually no worse than any other flight I have taken recently. I just think that I have lost the crusty shell of amour of indifference that one develops when one flies a lot. I'm not all that sad at having been out of practice, because I am not planing on flying too much more in the future. Just the occasionally vacation, I thinks. And in a lot of ways, flying away to some fantastic place to have an amazing vacation provides its own sort of amour against all the indignities of air travel today.

Posted by GregW 09:48 Archived in Canada Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

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