A Short Thought II

i'llbehonest

There is really a whole lot more I could say on this matter, but I’ve got the Christmas Flu (which typically arrived on the big day itself), and at the moment it just feels like somebody’s shoved a cork in my brain.

But what I will say is that (sneeze) the above sentiment has been one that has become particularly apparent to me this year; when certain situations have reminded me of the complexities of human life – not just in terms of the things that can happen, but how they can make us feel inside…

Just remember – you are an individual human being.  You are the only you that exists in the world today, and both before – and after you have lived – regardless of how much time elapses… there will never be another you.

You are not just a gingerbread creation that was shaped by the same cutter used upon all the rest.  Don’t even try to be.  Because neither is anyone else, even though sometimes you might think that they are.

But that’s why we’re all so fascinating…

…Embrace it.  Enjoy it.  Because all too often, I think we forget it.

Song of the Day: AlgoRhythmiK – A Guide to Happiness

Another by-chance Spotify discovery, but this has definitely been one of my favourite tunes over the past few weeks. I have absolutely no idea how I could describe this music, apart from that it’s some of the strangest I’ve ever heard… but what I do know is that if the mash-up of old country ditty ‘Hamburger Hop’ with some electro-beats that starts at approximately 1:55 minutes into the song doesn’t make you want to want to dance, we’d probably be a bit of a mismatch when hitting the tiles…

A 13 Hour Flight from Singapore…

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I have recently returned from a holiday in South-East Asia visiting Cambodia and a wee bit of Vietnam.  For two wonderful weeks, I was back doing the thing I love doing the most in life – travelling – an activity in which you feel constantly sensualised from the relentless exposure to ‘the new’ – new sights, new faces, new knowledge, new sounds, new tastes – all of which open your mind to new ideas and food for thought (often literally) that you can carry back home in your luggage to try and apply in places more familiar.

I remember hearing a wonderful analogy about this once.  A native of a land coloured yellow went to a land coloured blue, and when they eventually returned home, what had previously been unquestionably yellow was now appearing green… different, yet the land itself had not physically changed at all…

I have found the past few days particularly challenging in trying to convince myself that my holiday was not just the dream that reality’s return tries to make me believe it was, but this post isn’t really about that…  instead I wanted to share the story of an aspect of my journey home…

I had to catch two flights in order to arrive back in the UK (oh how I wished that either had have to have been cancelled indefinitely, allowing me to extend my break!).  The second of these flights was a rather ominous sounding 13 hour jaunt from Singapore to London.  Indubitably it was my least favourite part of the entire two weeks, even worse than the diarrhoea, but in it’s own little way it served as a memorable vignette of modern day living…

Having initially boarded the plane, I noticed that a middle-aged couple were sat in my allocated seat, which happened to be in the first row of Economy class – a cheeky little row where you get a bit of extra leg-room and – according to the chap who eventually took up the seat next to me – “more chance of an upgrade – if there are too many babies on board they have to take these seats and so those who were meant to be there can be moved somewhere better!”.  The middle-aged couple were disgruntled to learn that the seats which they were sat in were not actually theirs, and reluctantly shuffled out and into the row behind.  “This is ridiculous”, said Mrs Moody, “we paid extra for these seats”.  Her husband concurred, whilst I stood awkwardly feeling a niggling sense of guilt at the commotion I had inadvertently caused just by heading towards the seat number printed on my boarding pass.

Mr and Mrs Moody continued to huff and puff once they’d sat down behind me, with Mrs Moody’s disdain further being exacerbated by her discovery that her in-flight entertainment system was not working.  Mr Moody caught the attention of a passing flight-attendant – “We would just like to LOG the FACT that the in-flight entertainment system is NOT working.”

“Sir, we have not even started moving yet, the systems need to configure….” came the reply of the flight-attendant.

A few moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Mr Moody had removed my rucksack from underneath my seat and was thrusting it at me:

“Is this your bag?! When you sit on THAT row, you have to put ALL your belongings in the overhead LOCKERS!” – this piece of information was accompanied by a forefinger motioning upwards, in case for some reason my bag-related error of judgment also meant that I was incapable of working out whereabouts an overhead locker may be located – outside perhaps?

I took the bag and fulfilled Mr Moody’s wishes before sitting back down and beginning to read my book.  Compressed air caught me out, and I started to cough.  Quite a lot.  Loudly.

“For goodness sake!” I overheard Mr Moody retort from directly behind me, whilst feeling a sharp nudge into my back, “This just gets better and better.  We end up in the wrong seats, the in-flight entertainment system doesn’t work, there’s a baby crying over there and now we’ve got somebody with a bloody cough!”

By this point I was beginning to seriously tire of Mr and Mrs Moody’s ongoing huffiness and was once again grateful for the invention of headphones and their ability to drown out external racket.  I spent most of the flight listening to music, sleeping, or speaking with the man next to me, who continued to impart useful bits of information.  He was a lovely man who was very well-traveled due to his work as a theatrical director, and it’s characters like this – who you meet only briefly, and certainly not long enough to exchange contacts – who add to the fun of travel:

“This is the second longest flight that British Airways will provide “, he said, “the longest is London to Buenos Aires.  That one is 16 hours.”

“This is the best sort of time (22:55) to catch this kind  of flight.  Because it requires so much fuel, they always have to replenish it in good time.  These flights are almost never delayed, and because you reach London in the early hours of the morning, you’ll barely ever be queuing for too long at Passport Control”

“When travelling in a developing country you should always have a bowl of local yogurt for breakfast.  The bacteria will immunise you from any illness you might acquire from the food, drink or climate”

“South Africa is one of the most dangerous places to travel.  A lot of people end up being mugged there…I experienced it myself in Johannesburg, they aim for your feet, and once there they try and trip you up.  The worst way in which you can react is by trying to defend your face from any punches.  A lot of these attackers are high on drugs that have impaired their vision… if they see you cover your face, to them it will appear as though you’re trying to punch them back, and that’s when they might get the weapons out”

When not speaking to this chap, listening to music, reading my book, or sleeping, I would occasionally overhear further snippets from the jolly row behind.  At around 2am I heard Mr and Moody complaining about the seats still.

And then at 4am.

And 4.30am.

When it had become time to recline my seat a bit in order to try and snooze, suffice to say that the movement was met with another groan…

The complaints came to a head at 5am, shortly before the flight was due to land, when Mr Moody accosted the flight-attendant once more to express his disapproval, “we paid SPECIFICALLY for those seats, but that’s not what our boarding pass says”

Whilst I do understand Mr and Mrs Moody’s frustrations, what annoyed me was that – in a typically British way – they treated what in the grand scheme of things was a minor inconvenience as akin to a worldly crisis, ranting and raving more about their seats than anything else throughout the entire flight.  Where had Mr and Mrs Moody just been?  On holiday?  Visiting friends?  Where were they going?  Home?  Back to loved ones? Surely that they had something, anything else to spend 13 hours talking about, for the sake of their own sanity let alone anybody else’s.

As the plane eventually reached it’s resting place I turned to the man next to me and commented on how surprisingly pleasant the flight had been given it’s long duration.  “The extra-legroom was a bonus” we agreed.  Mr and Mrs Moody were swift to disembark whilst I tried to locate my shoes.  For extra comfort, I’d removed them at the start of my journey and placed them underneath my seat, next to the rucksack that Mr Moody would later remind me to put in the overheard lockers.  I could not immediately locate my shoes, but on closer inspection noticed them firmly wedged, as if by an irritated human force, between the seats where Mr Moody had been sat.

Welcome Home….

My Favourite Time of Year…

In the school corridor one April some years back, possibly 2003, a friend and I burst into hysterics when we noticed a teacher pinning drawings of bunny rabbits onto a display-board that featured photos from that term’s Drama production of Greek tragedy Antigone (in which yours truly had been cast a typically bit-part role as King Creon’s Servant #12 or something like that, and had still managed to royally muck up her lines).  But it wasn’t the photos that amused my friend and I, more so the caption across it, “Spring Into Drama”, and the way the teacher, ‘Dr. Wazza’ as we fondly referred to her, was gleefully pinning the bunny rabbit cartoon drawings across her display, clearly proud of her pun.  We laughed about this for a good while, especially whenever we passed by it in the weeks that followed.

I’m not quite sure how or why I still remember this hardly life-defining moment of laughter, but each time Spring rolls around I find myself thinking of it as a season of freshness, movement and fun, and then I think back to that caption and become slightly more appreciative of Dr.Wazza’s sentiment.

Spring IS a season to do new things, to have longer days and find things to fill them with, to re-acquaint ourselves with fresh air and blue skies.  There’s something about it that just makes me want to be everywhere doing everything with everyone in every moment – to make the most of those days, weeks and months that appear all too fleetingly before the darkness will once again descend.  To really start afresh.

And I very much like this feeling.

I very much like Spring.

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Song of the Day:  Wonder Stuff – Piece of Sky

This song is a pretty scary 25 years old… but it still sounds so fresh, and is still one of my favourite tunes to listen to at this time of year.

A February Thought…

justdo

I sometimes wonder how much time we collectively spend, simply trying to ‘figure things out’
Figure our evening outfits out.
Figure our weekend plans out.
Figure our weekly menus out.
Figure our finances out.
Figure our feelings out.
Figure our lives out.

I will always be one to advocate the importance of opportunities for personal thought and reflection, but lately I’ve found myself considering the idea that maybe in some situations the only real way of figuring something out, is to just do it before the opportunity has passed by during all the time you spent contemplating it.  Maybe some things are just not meant to be figured out.  Just do it, and see what happens,

Maybe it will turn out that a bit of extra thought could have prevented a mistake.
Maybe nothing will come of it at all.
Or maybe, it will turn out to be the best decision of your life.

But at the very least, you’ll know, and that knowledge will make future decisions that little bit easier to make.

Song of the Day:  Public Image Ltd – Rise

This was one of the signature songs of former Sex Pistol, John Lydon’s next musical project, Public Image Ltd.  Released in 1986, the track served as a comment against the apartheid which was still prevalent in South Africa at the time.  When I listen to Rise, I do not only hear – but feel – the resentment towards apartheid and the general socio-historical context of that specific time period… something which is nowhere near as evident in today’s generally meaningless chart music.

But that’s not the main reason for posting.  I just generally enjoy this tune.

Four Airports

Gatwick airport

Not many kinds of building will evoke emotions quite like an airport.

Primarily, airports, to me, equate to long-distance travel, and that is always a good thing, right?

Of course.  You cannot travel to the other side of the world without visiting an airport first, but instead of always wanting to celebrate their existence there’s something about them that seems so wrenching to me when they come to mind.

I’ve noticed that my emotions never feel truly balanced on each and any occasion I’m in an airport, and I think it’s that – moreso than the widely maligned concept of queues and customs – that makes my stomach feel so heavy when I think about them.   There’s always a hello or a goodbye involved.  There’s always distance involved.

I do think there is a massive difference in one’s perception of the airport depending on whether they are travelling alone or with others.  When you’re travelling alone, you have no other option but to spectate and truly absorb what’s going on around you, whereas amongst company the trajectory of thought is decided for you by your companions – conversations about what so and so said or whether or not we’ve packed enough soap.  The naked intensity of the airport is tranquilised by the presence of familiar faces and discussions reflecting day-to-day life…but you don’t have that if you’re alone.

The following observations stem from my experiences of travelling solo.

We start with airport number 1.  Our origin, gateway to a dream.  Upon entrance our minds are full of the half a dozen things we are sure we must have forgotten to pack.  We work out whereabouts we’re meant to stand and then we queue.  We say sayonara to our luggage and use our newly free hands to go and  grab a coffee.  We wait. We watch.  We look at all of the other people in the airport and wonder where they’re going and for what reason.  The airport is a microcosm of diversity and we are surrounded by skins of all shades, hear voices of all accents and see whole varieties of dress.  We are mesmerised by it.  We remember how big the world is and smile to ourselves.

The excitement of impending departure causes us to be restless, and we pin our eyes to the Departure boards dreading the sudden emergence of bright red text next to the name of our destination which will signify that there is a problem with our flight.

Things become more real once we are motioned to the gate.  We familiarise with the departure lounge and finally allow the feeling of excitement to pulsate through every single cell in our body.  We think about all of the memorable things we’re going to be doing in the days ahead.  New places to discover.  New people to meet.  New feelings to feel.

The second airport.  “Finally!!” We arrive.  We are jet-lagged.  Turbulence has left us unable to hear a thing and the bright lights which we saw mapping out the city below us have left us feeling romanticised and our hearts beating faster.  This is it.  We are here.  Exiting the plane, sounds become muffled.  Everything seems so much more luminous.  We are tired, but we are excited.  Our mouths are dry and we look haggard but the thrill of being somewhere new is shuffling us towards border control.

Hello there, stern-faced man at the barriers.  The first person I will speak to in this new country.  Here is my passport, there is my nut on the page so that you can verify it’s me – adhering to regulations by looking completely blank and expressionless. No hair over the face.  No headwear.  No glasses.  You look at me intensely to check it’s really me, and then you motion me onward, over to baggage reclaim, where I wait.  For an eternity.  Dreading that mine will be the last case to come out, or that it won’t come out at all.

Just like the panic in Jakarta July 2012, when that hand-drawn sign saying ‘End’ appeared on the conveyer belt but my suitcase was nowhere to be seen.  There was panicked jumping onto the belt to expediate my journey to the other side of the room where I thought I could see my bag, security chastising me for this, but it didn’t matter because I was happy to have located my suitcase, unrecognisable from losing it’s multi-coloured strap I put there for identity purposes.  Thank Heavens, they’ll get their presents, and I have enough underwear to last the trip.

And then: We leave.  Out into the open air.  The foreign air.  The foreign smells.  The foreign noises.
That wonderful feeling of not knowing where you are… and it is a wonderful feeling despite not sounding so, because it ensures that everything that is about to happen to us will be a complete surprise.  We bathe in the blood-rush and this new wave of excitement will be both the fuel and the guide that our jet-lagged bodies need to reach the hotel,  The adventure begins.

These first two airports of the journey will represent the best memories and emotions of the lot.

But then there’s the return, a journey we will eventually have to make, when the airport takes on a completely new context, and emanates a completely different vibe.  Airport number three is the worst one. We turn up tired and the building is no longer a gateway to new dreams and memories, but an arduous formality that stinks of cleaning fluids and concentrated clusters of fast-food outlets.  But we don’t really notice any of that because our thoughts and emotions have been sidetracked by a feeling of hollowness.  A feeling as though we are missing something.  A feeling as though we have left something remarkable behind.  It could be a person.  It could be a place.  It could be an over-friendly street-cat that you passed each morning on your way to the market, or it could be the wistful way that the man selling roti by the side of the road looked at you in hope of your custom as he sat alongside a dozen others selling the same thing.  Whatever it is, you can almost find yourself searching for it in your handbag, because it feels like it should be with you.

Airport number three brings out the worst in us.  It was a hard goodbye to people who are no longer by our sides.  This is the worst thing about travelling alone.  At least when you’re with
other people, you can commiserate one another and reminisce the trip.  When you’re alone and you’ve passed through those doors, that’s it.  You have a long-haul journey ahead of you
in which you will speak to nobody… bar maybe the flight attendant when you confirm you want the chicken option, or the person next to you when you need to pass them in order to get to the toilet.  That’s it.

I have to say… sometimes the goodbyes have been so hard to do that it’s made a small part of me wonder if things would’ve been easier had I not gone at all.  Airports can make that moment so much worse.
The harsh bright lights shining over your sole suitcase.
The doors, heavy and damning.
New friends waving… and then disappearing, gone, from view.
Sitting having a coffee alone trying to use up the last of your foreign notes and the tears are welling up, but you’re more exposed when you’re crying alone.  You cannot bury your head into the shoulder of a friend.  Strangers stare at you with that expression of awkward sympathy.

When the plane takes off you look at the labyrinth-of-a-city below and wonder if the things you will always remember from that place will remember you too, or whether or not you’ll
be forgotten just as soon as the next visitor touches down.  You wonder if you’ll ever set foot on those streets again and possibly find yourself promising to yourself that you will.  A coping mechanism that will make this departure a little easier to bear.  You get your camera out from your handbag and browse through all the photos you took just to keep the flame of this trip burning for that little bit longer.

After what seems like an eternity of floating around in the troposphere, we eventually reach airport number four.  How you feel about that one depends on how long you’ve been away.  If it’s been a considerable amount of time, airport number four is the emblem of a homecoming enriched with pride and excitement.  Visions attached to the warming thoughts of roast dinners, hot water, English pubs and timber-framed buildings with uneven floorboards.  The smell of cloves and potpourri.  Family and friends.

However, if your absence has been much shorter term, we tend to attach thoughts of all the negative parts about the homeland.  Rain.  Dark Monday evenings in Winter.  A conservative society in which saying hello to stranger as you pass them on the street is considered abnormal or overbearing.  Documentaries about our binge-drinking culture.  Formalities.
We still love home, of course, but it lacks that element of surprise.  We know it too well.  Too often it slips into the rhythm of repetitive routine, because we allow it to.

And the fourth airport is the damning rubber stamp to this realisation.

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The 5 Most Annoying Things About My Commute

The railway line between Canterbury West and Ashford International may as well be a secondary address of mine.

As a rough estimate, I have made the journey 536 times within the past year and a half since I started working in Ashford.  (That’s something like £2200 spent on the pleasure of travelling with South Eastern trains – whom incidentally I hold solely responsible for this year’s motivation to start learning to drive again).  Over time the journey has become somewhat etched into my mind, and each time the train sets off from Canterbury I prepare myself to look out for the various mapping points that will define it: the creepy water tower of the former St Augustine’s asylum which looms out of the distant trees to your left shortly before you pull into Chartham, the amusingly titled Bagham Barn antiques at Chilham, the peculiar building next to the station at Wye that looks like some kind of gigantic sweetener dispenser, and the house near Ashford that has a bunch of school-lockers in the back garden, to name but a few.

By all means, it’s not an aesthetically unpleasant journey.  The sun setting over the North Downs Way often serves as a wonderful way to welcome in the weekend after a busy week of work; and likewise in Winter – when the morning mist rises up from the Great Stour against a backdrop of stone-washed sky – I find myself being thankful to the fact that I am now living in the Garden of England and not the junkyard of London.  The train journey from Watford into the capital was never as beautiful as this, and on those trains you also had to contend with a couple of other unpleasantries, namely the overpowering stench of the Wrigleys Orbit remains that had been idly stuck to the bottom of the seats, and a view out of a window the pane of which had been obliterated by rude words innocuously engraved into the plastic.

Yet despite the pleasant surrounds of the Kentish commute, there is something resoundingly tiresome about this journey – something that has somewhat invisibly gnawed away at me over the past few months, eventuating in my desire to drive a car to work instead – but what is it?

Recently, I have begun to identify those recurring themes; not just those permanent features on the other side of the window but those within – those things that gradually build up and start to define my daily experiences with South Eastern trains – those most annoying things about my commute.

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1)  People Who Have Exceptionally Loud Conversations

Either attached to a mobile phone or sat with companions, these are some of the worst kind of people to share a commute with.

I try not to let it affect me.  Time and time again you’ll find me celebrating whichever entity first invented the noise-isolating earphone; but occasionally I must endure those tragic moments when the battery of my MP3 player goes flat leaving me with nothing to entertain my ears besides the warbling racket of other peoples’ conversations.  I often think I would prefer to listen to an orchestral medley of chainsaws, vacuum hoovers and Adele rather than other peoples’ conversations, and here are some recent examples of overheard snippets that can perhaps demonstrate why:

“So e’s sent me this teeeeeeeext, and it says, ‘You’re so fick that if you puked up Alphabettispaghetti you still wouldn’t be able to spell a word’ “

The worst thing about the above – besides the fact it was emitted into the air at such a tumultuous, honking volume – is that it doesn’t even make sense.  Errr…I don’t think that even Einstein himself had a talented knack for regurgitating pasta snacks at Spelling Bees, but whatever.  What do I know! Either way, such dialogue fails to romantically juxtapose the rolling hills surrounding us, so hush to you – girl in glasses who is speaking loudly!

“SHE WAS ALL OVER ME ON SATURDAY NIGHT!!” – Caps Lock to demonstrate the volume with which one particular man on the 06:50 to St Pancras the other week declared his weekend activity to his friend.  As far as I could see, the friend didn’t seem to be attached to anything resembling an auditory aid, so I can only assume that the desired audience for this cacophonous broadcast was not just him, but the rest of the carriage too.  Listen up, everybody on the train!  We have a studmuffin in our midst.  Kent today, Playboy Mansion tomorrow!

“Mummayyy, I need a big toilet…Mummayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, MUUUUUMAYYYYYYY!!!!”
For Christs sake, little kid.  You may be sweet and innocent and all that jazz, but this is not the kind of vocal accompaniment that my music needs.  Wait until you get to Canterbury West where, in a Russian roulette of sorts, you may pick the one toilet which locks properly, has loo-roll AND isn’t clogged up in order to relieve yourself.  For now, please pipe down, and hold it in!

I would at this moment in time again like to give thanks to my MP3 player which most of the time manages to obscure the above sounds, hence making this perhaps one of the least-most annoying things about my commute.

2) Getting Stuck Behind People in Impractical Footwear

Most people want to look smart and professional in the office, I get that, but the office and the commute are two totally different landscapes, the latter of which will almost always host a whole variety of hazardous gradients and terrains.  I am always baffled by women who may look the picture of professionalism in their suits and killer-heels, but who when alighting the train begin to morph into towering wind turbines that sway around, looking as though they could topple over at any minute from a misplaced step.

As they wait for the doors to slide open, you can see them nervously clenching firmly onto the handles, before stepping out slowly onto the platform.  Once balanced and composed, they begin to walk on – slowly – footstep by tiny footstep.  It is painful viewing; I often fear for an onslaught of wind that may blow them over completely.  That just cannot be comfortable, right? Heels so high they could be lopped off and used as skewers for pieces of seasoned lamb and shallots.  It becomes annoying when I find myself stuck behind these women as they totter slowly down the stairs at Canterbury West – arms outstretched to gain the kind of balance that would have any yoga teacher screaming “ASTANGA VINYASA!” in horror, leaving no room for anybody else to get past,just as I’m itching to get home after a long day… It all makes me wonder, why don’t they just do what most sensible people do and swap their shoes around then they get to work?

A pair of trainers and a comfortable power-walk home will, for me, always outweigh a need to look sexy, professional and….stupid, when stumbling down the stairs at the station.

wobbly woman

3) Bicycles

Ok.  I like bicycles.  I like the idea behind bicycles.  I like the dish who looks a bit like Scots musician Colin McIntyre who takes his on the 06:50 to St Pancras, who I shared an elevator with once after we both alighted at Ashford (It was not the romantic liaison it sounds, he scowled at me throughout our descent and I’m still not entirely sure why). Indeed, I sometimes take a bicycle on the train myself if I feel like cycling instead of walking either side of the train, so I’m not going to bash the idea completely.

But none of this atones for the fact that bicycles on trains can be a massive pain in the arse, particularly when their owners seem to be inconsiderate of other passengers who need to get off the train before they do, leaving their vehicles propped up against the carriage doors whilst they stay sat down, staring out the window whilst sweating into their Lycras and daydreaming about bicycle pumps.

And then later on, when leaving the station, they will choose to carry it up or down the flights of stairs away from the platform – its tyres like flailing ferris wheels that wave around mid-air, threatening to concuss any of those around them at any given moment.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this one of the reasons why we have elevators at train stations now?!

4)  Automated Apologies for Late-Running Services

The saddest part is that even now, within the comfort of my own home, I can hear that sentence in my head as vividly as if I was hearing it at Ashford International station, in real-time, as I so often seem to be:

“We are sorry to advise that the *manually insert train time here* from St Pancras International is delayed by approximately *15 minutes*.  South Eastern apologises for any inconvenience caused by the late-running of this train.”

I’m not sure who the lady is that records these automated messages but by Christ, what with this and doing something similar for the likes of BT and Orange, as well as announcing each individual stop on the London Underground, she must barely get anytime for herself, and any respite she does have is probably spent sat at home sucking on a throat lozenge after a busy day’s chatting shite to consumers.

I’m sure it wasn’t that long ago that announcements made at train stations were made by actual people who actually sat at the station, monitoring each of the goings on?  I recall my sister telling me about the time a human voice boomed at her over a loudspeaker, instructing her not to lean against a flower-feature whilst waiting for a train at Northwick Park Underground station sometime in the late 1990s.  Can you imagine such personal supervision taking place in this day and age?  I for sure can’t; and those automated messages, whilst indubitably relieving the vocal cords of somebody, somewhere within England’s great rail system, only compound those feelings of frustration and rage that a tardy train can cause to the commuter.

Any enlightened individual will know that South Eastern trains couldn’t really give two flying figs about the inconveniences that have been caused in instances like this, that’s why they send generic response lady to deliver those faux-emblazoned messages of remorse.  And that – more so than the additional waiting time itself – is what makes delayed train services so irritating.

apologies

5)  Pointless coffee purchases

Any sketch of the modern day commuter will likely feature a briefcase in one of his or her hands, and a paper cup of coffee in the other.  Indeed, in the years since trains have been a popular mode of travel by which to get to work, the barista on the platform and the paper cup of coffee have managed to evolve into a staple part of the daily commute.

If you can afford it, that is.  I’m not sure of the current prices, but I do know that as of January 2012, when I became a commuter, the going-rate was something like £2 for a thimble of coffee – a shockingly deep excavation into my purse for such a small quantity of liquid.  Furthermore, I couldn’t even enjoy it in the way I was hoping to.  In the twenty minutes between Canterbury West and Ashford on the first day of my new job, my caffeinated thimble had still not cooled to a temperature low enough to drink without doing some serious damage to my tongue.  I took my drink with me when I alighted the train and thought about how at least I’d be able to enjoy it on the walk to my new office.  Unfortunately, the black ice on the pavement at the brow of the railway bridge I was crossing had other plans.  Within minutes of getting off the train, my thimble of coffee was spilled out all over the pavement close to my pink earmuffs about 5 yards from where I was sat writhing in pain from a fall that has probably left me infertile.  Indeed, this coffee was the epitome of a pointless purchase, and I vowed to never bother buying another again.

For me at least, that sketch of the modern day commuter rings untrue, and the disappointment that I cannot at least accompany such a monotonous journey with a cup of my favourite hot beverage forms the final of the most annoying things about my commute.

coffee

So there we are, the five things that have managed to define my daily commute through their ongoing existence in or around the train.  Five of the things which I considered shortly before deciding to learn to drive again.  Five of the things which – if ever I do get my driving license – I will not miss in the slightest.

I have no doubt that the A28 and I will become the best of friends.

Famous last words!?

Song of the Day:  Mother Mother – Ghosting

Canadian indie-rockers Mother Mother have provided a musical accompaniment to my commute on many a journey, with this tune being particularly well-played lately.

Something to Say About May

Not a proper post from me this month as I’ve been using my spare time to swot up for my driving theory test (yes, the thing most people do when they’ve barely outgrown their Pampers Pull-ups, but what idiots like me need to do now because they failed their practical test enough times a decade ago to eventually invalidate the original theory pass).

Instead, I just wanted to share a damning if not slightly amusing observation I made earlier about today’s date and the range in fortunes it has seen over the past few years:

The 23rd of May 2010 – on a plane to Indonesia, looking out the window to this view, sat next to a somewhat dishy Australian surfer, with three months of awe-inspiring moments ahead…:

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The 23rd of May 2013 – on a train to Ashford, looking out the window to this view, sat next to a loud, obnoxious chap in a suit, with an half-hour journey through commuter mundanity ahead…:

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…If there’s anything we can say about life for sure, it’s that it’s loaded with extremes.  I guess it’s that fact alone that can help us to facilitate the savouring of good moments as they occur, but keep on walking through the not-so-good moments.

So… bring on tomorrow and whatever surprises it may bring, because that’s what keeps things interesting 😉

Song of the Day:  Psapp – Monster Song

Psapp are a quirky little duo from London who are often credited as being the inventors of the toytronica genre – a musical style that incorporates the use of childrens’ toys amongst standard electronics.

I have nothing but respect for any artist responsible for that.

A Bit of This, A Bit of That

Around the World in 80+ Pages

In recent months, I have developed a new addiction – travel writing books.  My logic is that if my circumstances are such that I cannot actively be travelling right now then I may as well be doing the next best thing – reading about it.

Since my addiction began, towards the tale end of Autumn, I have visited the 7 most polluted places in the world with Andrew Blackwell, cycled from Mongolia to Vietnam with Erika Warmbrunn, driven around China with Peter Hessler, lived in a Javanese village with Andrew Beatty, and am currently whizzing around Jamaica with Ian Thomson.  Up next – Barbara Demick will be covertly burrowing me through to North Korea before I then head off to the Amazon with John Gimlette.  I am enjoying every moment of my trip.

I would seriously recommend this pastime to anybody else who misses the thrill of being surrounded by the unfamiliar but for whatever reason, can’t be doing it right now.  It’s comparatively inexpensive, you don’t need any vaccinations nor to worry about having enough deet in your repellant, and you won’t be in any danger whatsoever.

Whilst it doesn’t quite equate to the real thing, it’s still comforting to know that you can get off the beaten track and learn about the world without getting out of bed, and that’s precisely what I plan on doing with the remainder of my afternoon.
The Point When It All Makes Sense

Hitting the UK headlines this week was a rather shocking insinuation – politicians are capable of telling lies.  Who would have thought so?  But it’s true, former cabinet minister Chris Huhne was telling porky-pies about his ex-wife driving his car when it was caught speeding a decade ago.

Generally, anything to do with politics tends to go over my head somewhat (mainly because I have a hard time believing anything I read on the matter), but there were two things about this particular story which were of interest to me.

The first was that Huhne’s cowardice fits in perfectly well with the fact that his name, in German, roughly translates as ‘chicken’.  Ja, genau!

The second is the feeling that I’ve seen his ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, somewhere before.  No – it wasn’t when she was ramping up points whilst zipping along the M11 in 2003, it was somewhere else I’m sure…

fabiocapello

N’ah yes, that’s it.  As I recall, she was desperate for points then, too.

Interestingly, when Chris Huhne resigned from the cabinet over the allegations (which were initially made last year), backing came from the somewhat surprising source of none other than Fabio Capello:

“I spoke to the Prime Minister and said that in my opinion someone should not be punished until it is official that he has deliberately conspired with his ex-wife to knowingly deceive the authorities.”  –  Well, you’re the expert on the situation afterall, insider info and all that jazz.

It’s all conspiracy I tell thee!

To Give Up Something, or to Give Up on Trying to Decide What That Something Is?

Last year was the first time I had given something up for the entire duration of Lent.  For 40 days and 40 nights, my stomach was a crisp, chocolate and cider-free zone, and I did feel a lot better for it.  The weighing scales were grateful too, and calculating my weight was a slightly less painful experience for them than usual.

Lent begins again on Wednesday and I am still wondering what I’d like to give up this year.  To repeat the abstinence of the 3C’s mentioned above feels slightly lacking in imagination, and I’m not so sure that crisps are thaaaaaaat fattening, and cider is something I rarely drink anymore anyway.

But what other guilty pleasures do I enjoy yet over-consume?  Wine is one option, but I do believe that a glass of wine every now and then can actually be quite beneficial.  So my resolution is to give up on buying any item of food or drink that isn’t necessary (to the new Sainsburys Local by the cricket ground – you have a lot of fat to answer for, buddy!).  And finally, I’m going to give up on being lazy when it comes to physical exercise.  A brisk 30-minute power-walk each and every day.  Watch this space.

Bring it on Lent, I’m ready and waiting for ya!

Song of the Day:  Ice Choir – Teletrips

I liked this artist the moment I read the name.  ‘Ice Choir‘.  Sounds like exactly the sort of music you want to listen to on a Sunday afternoon in February, when it’s raining and snowing outside, the sky is white, and the windows are spattered with rain and snowflakes.  This song lives up to the image evoked by the name – chilled, soothing and mysterious.  Enjoy.