29 September 2016

Flying Drab

s some of you will know I have to wear compression stockings..
[Ed: Of course, they know! You've written 6 posts - let me look – and 13.500 words on the subject …!]
Ok, you don't have to go on about it!
[Ed: me going on!]
Hey! Don't get your knickers in a twist .. or in this case your garters.
Anyway this will be a quickly ..
[Ed: I'll believe it when I see it!]
Go and put the kettle on and then I’ll begin..
[Ed: sounds like listen with mother!]
As some of you will know ... stop looking at me like that!

Some time ago, I mentioned that I had bought a 6-garter suspender belt to keep ‘them’ up. In the last three months, I’ve been wearing my garters to work and at home, 24/7 one could say. They go on first thing in the morning (following the bathroom phase) and off the last thing at night (before the bathroom phase). I’ve had to be very strict on this due to acute problems leg wise, but more on that in the next stocking update.
Fastening my stockings has now become routine, although it’s a bit of a bind going through the motions, especially the contortion act at the back. But it’s the only girly like thing I do regularly so one tries to persevere. Of course, this summer’s heat wave was great fun while having ones legs encased in heavy duty elastic...

Last week I had to fly to Zagreb for a couple of days on business. Note: I don't fly pretty, not like some of the girls we know. I don't even get out under the cover of darkness fem.

[Ed: you wouldn’t dare!]
Oh don’t rub it in. For our tea your find some rich tea biscuits by the new delivery from the English Shop. Wonder what the prices will be like when we start paying customs duty on them..

Well, as I was lying in bed and slowly coming to I went through my ‘to-take with me’ mental checklist for the trip: paperwork, tickets, diverse adaptors, USB stick, a fully powered up notebook so I could try and work (cramped) on the train, at the airport and highly unlikely in the air. Thinking about it, I doubted that I would have any time, as I would have two colleagues with me and we would talk shop most of the journey.
As I would be flying in the afternoon, I wasn't in any hurry to get up even though I had to go to work first and then catch the train. I continued my check list and moved on to what to wear and pack ...

[Ed: you mean what the misses packs for you, anything you pack looks the next day like an abortive piece of origami.]
True, it usually does have that somewhat slept in look.
I decided on a light rain jacket, t-shirt, grey trousers and my silver grey stockings for flying and for the meeting pack - ok layout to be packed - my business suit and my anthracite stockings.

[Ed: you match your stockings to what you wear!]
As far as I can that is, as I don’t wear stocks anymore only stockings, I match when I can.

I usually fly from Cologne/Bonn but this time we had to fly from Frankfurt, where it takes at least 30 minutes to get to your gate not taking into account the traffic jam at security. And then I realised lying there that at one point on my hike I would be subjected to a body scan of the high tech type in a very public area, a highly sensitive metal and god knows what else detector!

I then though about my garters ..
and then I thought about the metal clips on the garters ..
and then I thought about all 6 of them nicely placed around my thighs ..
and then I thought oh!
and then I thought bugger!
and then I though no way mate are you going to have someone from airport security tell you to drop them in full view of colleagues, fellow travellers and any of the numerous CCTV cameras recording the event for later reply at staff parties.
and then I thought without a second thought..
I’ll stick them on instead.

Well insight or caution whatever one wants to call it paid off.

On arriving at the security zone, I saw the scanner cabin up ahead and a number of airport staff in our lane doing their thing. I wouldn’t say I’m a routine flyer but I usually trigger my strip down routine to the decent minimum before being asked. I don’t like causing delays as I don’t like being delayed.
I stop and wait when it comes to belt and shoes. We don’t usually go in for sock walking on the continent but there can be random checks shoe wise. I was lucky. The security person took pity on me and I was allowed to keep my belt as well as my shoes on.

[Ed: Maybe he thought the belt was plastic.]
That’s what my colleague remarked to me as I watched him buckling up afterwards.

I distributed my case, notebook, wallet and jacket into different trays and headed for the scanner. I didn’t know what to expect as this would be my first time raising my arms reminiscent of a heist. I entered, looked down and saw yellow footmarks. I turned placed my feet on them and was told to raise my arms as in the caption.

Although the cabin wasn’t in anyway claustrophobic I automatically started to hold my breath reminiscent of a CT I had a couple of weeks beforehand. I think it was the seconds in the caption that had triggered me off. All I heard was a low sounding hum as the front and back scanners swung by and that was it!
I was asked to come out and as the guardian of the scanner looked at the display, I followed suit. I’m use to peeps or a whining noise if anything is detected, here was a picture with yellow blotches.

There were two highlighted areas; one was obviously my belt and the other looked like there was something located in my right back trouser pocket. Without further ado, I was directed to an open booth and the booth man looked at my belt and then asked me to empty my pockets. I had totally forgotten that I had my medication in my back pocket! I hadn’t though much about them, but the three blisters with their thin metal foil had triggered the scanner!
On showing them to him, he nodded and I was allowed to go back to the queue and wait to collect and repack everything. I was quite surprised at the sensitivity of the machine, had to be I suppose.
I had a chuckle imagining the garter clips appearing on the scan followed by funny looks and sniggering or other guttural noises and wondering how they would have proceeded. Thankfully, I will not know.

[Ed: that trip no, but knowing you..]

Maybe, next time when flying alone I might let it come to a ‘drop them’. Just to give you an idea of what a garter scanner could have looked like, I’ve played around with a scanner picture. One is never sure if they would have done a visual check. I suspect just the blue gloves pat down. My trousers where thin and with a little verbal hint from me, it would have been obvious what the blotches were. Depending on the experience and let’s call it chivalry of the booth man I might have got off with a smile. Of course worse case, I could have been carted off for a 3rd. degree.
[Ed: In the case of 3rd degree as you have detailed ‘the reason why’ for wearing them often enough in this blog, a link to the appropriate posts would have explained everything.]
Oh yes, I would have then been on my way in no time!!
So where is that tea?

15 June 2016

ObserVation: The Boat-Train {A Journey in 4 Acts} -:- Act 4

hat has gone on before..
I was on my way between Cologne and London with the boat train. I had offered an inebriated Yugoslavia Tsimahian to accompany her onto London. On the boat I offered my assistance to a girl (not inebriated) on her way back to the British Museum from Kabul. Our luggage was now 5 pink cases, a hay rake, 2 butter churns (one content rancid), one still unopened 15 litre flagon of red wine and one two thirds empty, a spinning wheel and a sea chest of dubious and semi-unknown content. We were now heading for the train to London.

Act 4. Scene 1
Well we finally arrived at Dover. No mishaps for this stage of the trip, we got all our luggage off the boat okay, Jo was glad to leave and made the effort to walk down the gangplank under her own steam. Being now a professional in trolley acquisition we were off in no time. Same mode as before:
Me pushing, Jo riding.
Diana at this point informed me that she had to deal with the customs concerning some complicated paper work or other. I didn’t understand exactly what she was going on about, but she said that it would be advisable if she would run off ahead as it may take time and we would meet up again at the train.
I would have agreed to anything at this time, I was just glad to have reached terra firma. I nodded, she was off and the pushing resumed. Jo was at last in a good mood. She was singing to herself while finishing off the last of the fire water found to her joy in one of her bottomless handbags. As I was not up on Inuit languages and their customs it sounded like either an Inuit lullaby or a fully-fledged war dance for senior members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
With this thought there rang a bell off in the distance….
Now what was that?
Something in the last few minutes rang that bell..
was it ‘war’? no...
‘languages’? no...
‘fire water’? ... no ...
‘customs’? ... that bell rang again, closer at hand and with now a frantic overtone...
Customs! Oh h**l!
We had to go through Customs with a capital C!
And not only that, this was Britain!

British Customs: renowned worldwide for their ways of making you tear your luggage apart in front of the other terror stricken victims in the queue and make you smile all the time as you do it.
British Customs: who brought out the best seller ‘101 excuses for having you walk through the metal detector in bare feet’ [Ed: 4th. edition.]
British Customs: with their subtle ways of getting you to tell them where the secret compartments in your luggage are (which you didn’t even know you had) and without any use of narcotics and sharp needles.

Narcotics! The bell was now deafening and doing overtime..

The whole thing came up and swamped me, I had had a nagging feeling since the second butter churn appeared on the scene, but I could not put a finger on it. Until then I saw Jo’s 'alcoholic presents' as not a problem, we had drank almost half of the wine anyway and rancid butter doesn’t usually ferment, gooey and smelly - yes, noteworthy to customs - no.
But now Diana was on the scene …

But that was the point, d*m it, she wasn’t there! She was off and away. Was this a set up? No, no way, I threw that scenario out straight away. I admit that we were possibly naïve and hadn’t thought this through, but that was all.
Here I was, on me Todd, (in a worst case scenario, I didn’t see Jo being a reliable witness, more rather in the way) pushing the following:
1 rucksack
• 1 singing Jo
• 5 pink cases of various sizes
• 2 flagons of Yugoslavian homemade red wine (one flagon almost empty)
• 2 butter churns (one presumed to be filled with rancid butter)
• 1 spinning wheel (with wool in different stages of spun-ness)
• 1 five tined hay rake (could this be classified as a weapon?)
• 1 sea chest
And that was it – the sea chest.
A chest which didn’t belong to me, but a girl who I just happened to meet on the boat and whose address and family name I did not know!
A chest with large padlocks to which I hadn’t the keys!!
A chest which contains… which contains..
Hell! I don’t know what it contains!!!
Diana said something about medicine, remedies, ok, but shamans also used trance inducing drugs! It was dawning on me that Diana may well have not realised what she had carted half way around the world. There could be anything in there, from magic mushrooms, Lophophora williamsii Peyote and the rest of its crazy family or at least the Central Asian equivalent and there was the chance of a ‘touch of the hard stuff’ as well, and I wasn’t thinking of liquids either!
Oh b*ger!

This wasn’t amusing anymore.
I held the panic button pressed
until the level reached max.

What was I to do? That was it. I couldn’t do much other than push and hope for the best. My only thought was a repeat performance of Oostende. I pulled up the hood of my anorak, head went down, whispered to Jo to stop singing, look straight ahead and put on her “Bodicia look”, if it worked in Belgium it might work here.
Her singing changed to humming. As I couldn’t see her I hoped the rest of my commands were being acted upon. The gods were either taking bets, or occupied elsewhere, for we sailed through once again minus any mishaps. Following this the only other highlight at this stage, was having to leave Jo on her own to get through the passport control, which in her state she mastered with bravo.

Act 4. Scene 2
Well here was the train, we were through! Oh, was I relieved. The last leg should be a breeze.
Diana was not insight but that was not a problem at the moment. It was a long train and she was probably settled down somewhere up front. No matter I would look for her once we got going. I sat Jo down in an empty compartment, placed the wine within easy reach and piled everything else in the next door baggage carriage.
Even though there was no water in sight, on my return Jo had got into the swing of things and there was lots of swigging and singing going on. By the look of it we would be jettisoning at least one flagon before Victoria station. As not to be left out of things I helped to redistribute her liquid luggage as we slowly moved off direction London.

Time was ticking on and I started to wonder were Diana was, I had expected her to make the first move in looking for us. We had the bulk of the luggage and she had only her rucksack when she sprinted off at the boat. After sitting around all day, I wanted to stretch my legs. As we were at the end of the train I thought I would make for the engine end.

For the second time that day I commanded Jo not to move and started my journey - direction front - keeping a look out for Diana on the way.
Well I reached the first carriage with no real problems apart from one – no Diana! I was tired, the wine had gone to my head, but my short time memory was rather good, so I was pretty certain that I would have recognised her in my fly pass. But no, there was no sign of Diana.

In any case, I had lingered at each compartment or moved slowly between the seats long enough for Diana to have at least recognised me. Due to this lingering I was sometimes getting funny looks from the occupants which lead in some cases to a hastily retreat on my part. I couldn’t have missed her, there was hardly anybody on board the train anyway, which was a bit odd as the boat was packed..
That bell again..
Nothing for it, I made my way back in the direction of the wine depot. This time the funny looks turned to level annoyance as I lingered longer this time. On returning to our compartment, I was hoping to see Diana sitting there with an expression of ‘and where have you been all this time?’ on her face. But no, there was only Jo with a ‘Oh, it’s you again on her face’..
Ding… ding … ding….

Ok there was nothing for it.
I unpacked my panic button
and pressed it.

Now what was I to do? I had about an hour to think of a plan. Where to start ...
Ok, simplest answer would be to hand all Diana’s things over to lost property and make a run for it before awkward questions were asked. An alternative just leave it on the train. No, neither of these scenarios was on.
Ok. See if you can find an address or something on the chest. I remembered it was covered with stickers and labels, maybe I would find Diana’s home address. I went off and scrutinised the chest. The only address apart from a hotel in Kabul was a department deep in the heart of British Museum, where I expected she worked. That was no help at this time of night.

My mind started racing - there was no way I was going to convince a BM night watchmen that I just happen to have a chest full of possible homemade narcotics which was not packed in my presence, but in Afghanistan and belonged to Diana ‘somebody or other’ who I suspect, is or was, a member of the staff at this noble institution, or maybe she’s just a freelance worker and therefore you’ve never heard of her and when I come to think of it, you work nights and she would work in the day and therefore, even if she was a permanent staff member you probably would never have heard of her anyway, and no I’m not a hippy and that is not a butter churn bomb...

[Ed: Catches breath brings train of thought to obvious conclusion.]

I would suspect after hearing this, I would get a blank look with a forced smile, asked to wait the preverbal minute and the next thing I know there’s screeching of brakes, blue lights flashing all over the place and a Dixon of Dock Green type voice from behind me saying ..
‘ellow, ’ellow what ’ave we ‘ere then?  

No that was not on. While [Ed:] consults the train time table, I will digress a little….

The only confrontation I had with the ‘Establishment’ was in my late teens, when I was interviewed by the police following a car accident with two fatalities. I was of the opinion that the car - as it drove passed, was going much too fast. I was walking home from the pub at the time. A week later at the same time there was a couple of plain-clothed officers hanging around interviewing “passerbyers” about the accident. I opened my mouth and put the proverbial foot in it.
I didn’t realise at the time that I would get dragged into a court case. It was a right farce; the police were trying to get the driver (who survived the crash) for reckless driving. They were clutching at straws and tried to use me as a witness, even though I hadn’t seen directly the crash. I had to go up to the Old Bailey and stand in the box and say my piece - embarrassing to say the least. It didn’t work - the defence found out I have a problem with my eyes and didn’t drive and so the opinion was I couldn’t judge the speed of the vehicle and therefore my ‘evidence’ was dismissed. 

At least I had the opportunity to see the inside of the Old Bailey and stand in the dock. The only amusing part in all this was, my interviewers name was Pepper, he was a detective sergeant, and I had at long last just bought the album...

Act 4, Scene 3:
Good, where were we.. yes, back on the boat train.
Thinking about it, a night camping outside the gates of the BM was not where I saw myself either, especially with a possible fiasco with a BM ‘day’ watchmen.

Ok, there was nothing for it, Plan B. Just wait at Victoria station and see if she turns up. It was the only place we both knew the other would be at some point. I could wait all night if need be. Jo would have to be solo from then on. If she made it most of the way through Europe before I turned up, she can do the last leg to Alaska on her own.

So with this in mind, I put panic on hold and returned to our red wine powwow for the strengthening of Anglo-Inuit relations. Victoria was finally reached, as we rolled into the station I stuck my head out of the window and scanned the platform, I had an idea and it had started with that first bell on the train.
During my 'walk-about' I had the feeling that something was not quite right. Nobody was standing in the corridors or aisles and the compartments were mostly empty. It left me with the impression of a half-hearted attempt at a ghost train. The boat had been more like a troop carrier than a passenger ship. Where were they all? Ok, some were off in other directions, but this was the ‘boat train’ and therefore by default should have been full of people from the boat.
Now to put my theory to the test.
Yes! And there she was!
Standing there waving like mad with a relief on her face matching my own.
Theory proven.
There were two boat trains!
The train stopped, we bundled off and Diana ran up and started babbling on about running up and down her train looking for us! It seems she had the same experience, only her train was packed. She had at least the idea to ask if there were two trains, so she was prepared.
Well what next. We were reunited only to see that it was time to go our separate ways. Diana was so pleased to see us again she spontaneously offered to put us up for the night at her parent’s house. Jo jumped at the chance, it was either that or looking for a hotel before her flight in the morning. I was also game and curious to see what was in the sea chest. The concert was the next day and I only needed to ring my friend to say I would see her in the morning at the rehearsals.
So we were off again!

This time the target was a taxi and Diana sat with Jo on the trolley and I pushed like mad. As I sweated out the last of the wine I wondered if Diana had an alternative motive than just thanks. I made a beeline to the head of the taxi rank, the driver sprang out with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. I showed him our luggage and the smile changed instantly into a grimace and a constant grumbling ensured for the whole trip until payment.
It was a bit of a squeeze but nothing was left for lost property.

At Diana’s house we got everything into the front room and finally chilled out. Diana was happy to be home after so long, Jo was happy that she had made London in one piece, and I was happy I would be only carting my own luggage around in future. Diana threw a meal together, the second flagon of red wine was cracked open and as it flowed we opened Diana’s box.
I must admit I was none the wiser after the event than before. It was full of packages with powders of various colours, dried leaves, roots and bean like err… well... beans. The labels were unreadable and even if they were I would not have recognised anything. I can’t remember much else about the contents of the chest, the day had been long, the wine was making its mark again and well it was some time ago.
Next morning we had breakfast together.
Jo took a taxi to the airport.
Diana was off to the British Museum.
I left for rehearsals.
I had a postcard from Jo some time later, but I never saw either of them again.

[Ed: Glad that’s over. I must ask, was all that true?]
Of course it was, you were there!
[Ed: Yes I suppose I was. Still ..]
Yes I know what you mean, rather a lot packed into 12 hours.
[Ed: Nothing weirder than reality.]
Yes very true. How about a cuppa?
[Ed: Good idea, ... by the way anything left of that ‘you know what’ from D’s box?]
No. Long gone..
[Ed: Shame, then a bicky then?]
Ok, why not …

09 June 2016

ObserVation: The Boat-Train {A Journey in 4 Acts} -:- Act 3

hat has gone on before..
I was on my way between Cologne and London with the boat train. I had offered an inebriated Yugoslavian Tsimahian to accompany her onto London. After arriving at Oostende and gathering her luggage (five pink cases, a hay rake, butter (rancid) churn, one unopened 15 litre flagon of red wine and one flagon open with rapidly diminishing content) we were now heading for the Boat.

Act 3. Scene 1
I can’t remember how we got everything on-board; what I do remember is that Jo and the boat had something in common - they were both erratically swaying about. This was not, in more ways than one, going to be the calm crossing I had hoped. 

The next clear recollection I have is circling the boat looking for a large enough space to store the luggage. I marked the new found territory by depositing two of the pink cases on two empty deckchairs. The next phase was executed by running zigzag backwards and forwards between Jo’s last co-ordinates - she had the tendency to wander off in search of further aliquots of high octane - and the pink cased deckchairs. I eventually moved the entire luggage to the new location. 
Jo was the last trip. I steered her to one of the deckchairs where she made a pirouette, sat down, sprawled out and started to snore all in one movement. I made sure that all her bits and pieces were in easy reach, slumped into the second deckchair and let out a sigh of relief that this scene was at an end.

Act 3. Scene 2
I started to reflect. I had time; it was another 4 hours until Dover. I could not quite believe what I have experienced in the last few hours. It was all a bit weird. I was returned to this bizarre reality only by looking at Jo chilled out to my left and a mountain of pink and farm produce to my right. Had the ‘mountain’ grown since I looked last? No matter, I was tired and nothing could surprise me anymore.
But as before I was going to be proven wrong once again.
How wrong was going to be just before embarkation. 

I suddenly realised that I had neglected my own body functions. No not that, the red wine had seen to that earlier. I was famished. Naught to eat in hours. By the look of it Jo was off wandering her hunting grounds or where ever Tsimahians go went they slumber and so I prepared to hunt for the cafeteria or whatever they call them on boats..
[Ed: maybe aquateria?]
Nice one.

Interlude 2a
I will diverge a little while my hungry other self is off in search of nourishment. 
Is that ok?’ 
Sure, carry on; it will give an impression of time passing. 
Good luck and Bon appetite. 
One of me meanders off in the direction of the next watering/eating hole. Arms straight out to both sides trying to compensate for the rolling boat, looking a right charley for the second time that day..
[Ed: Camera swings back.]
While he’s gone, I’ll front-track a little, before giving a commentary on present surroundings.
[Ed: Back tracking would not be the correct terminology as we are off into the future at this point.]

Shipping utensils of today - sorry I was still in food mode. 
I mean boats of today, are nothing like the ones at the time of our four act journey. Today they offer a good British nosh up independent of the nationality of the captain and port of registration. They have stabilisers, giving the impression of a mill pond within contra to the choppy force 10+ gale without and thus relieving you of having to see your breakfast twice in quick succession. They have ‘wall-to-rail’ carpets – sticky in places following gastronomic mishaps due to ‘SSI’, but still carpets, and decent bolted down sit-ables, so that there are no surprises with unwilling sliding ‘deck tours’ when the going happens to gets rough. 
It’s only when they start handing out seatbelts, that you know there’s really bounce-able weather imminent.

[Ed: SSI stands for Spontaneous Stabiliser Instability, this is the nautical equivalent to air turbulence while flying, especially when you have just got your hot coffee.] (see Aerial pastimes no. 46 - Lunch).

But now back to the seventies, at that time, the channel crossing tubs in general and Belgium tubs in particular were - to use one word – diabolical. 
A floating lump of rust. 
I correct - a diesel stinking floating lump of rust. 
I correct again - a grimy diesel stinking floating lump of rust. 
You get my gist? 

The faded paint would flake off just by looking at it. The decks where made out of thin wooden lacquered planks slighly curved upwards in the middle lubricated with a mixture of diesel/oil and salt water. Thus turning into a topsy-turvy skating rink with the slightest roll or jaw. Vacated deckchairs would indiscriminately hit shins by sliding around in droves. Maybe ‘droves’ is not quite the collective noun I’m looking for..

[Ed: How about “a waltz of deckchairs”?]

I must admit ‘waltzing about’ would be more appropriate, synchronised to a spray which slowly and surely soaked anyone above deck. Of course most people would be above deck, which was due to the intolerable heat and smell of diesel below deck. 

I remember on one occasion I booked a cabin for MrsA. and myself for a night crossing, so that we could get a bit of a kip ‘en route’. Talk about a waste of money and mind. The cabin was a miniature version of a box room, had two bunks one above the other with blankets that had never seen a washing machine since their purchase. We were sandwiched between the boiler room and galley with the smell of burnt fuel and food. To top it all there was a constant droning noise and bone rattling vibrations. We held out for about 15 minutes before making a bee line for upper deck into a salt infested spray and freedom! 
These tubs disappeared over the years and were replaced with somewhat modern lumps of rust, the smell was better and the food - well - I’ll leave it just there. I have always wondered where the original floating wrecks ended up, not at the bottom of the channel that’s for sure. As they were a load of 'junk' anyway maybe they were put to good use by pirates for gun running and high-jacking in the Straits of Malacca.

[Ed: I know high-jacking is used for planes, is it used for boats as well? 
In French it literary means ‘pirates of the air’. 
If high-jacking is for planes then low-jacking is probably for boats. 
How about “aqua-jacking”? 
Sounds better eh? 
What about “terra-jacking” for cars?
ok, ok, I know that look it’s getting silly..]

Interlude 2b
As we have time before embarkation I’ll move on to the topic of deckchairs. 
On board there were striped canvas contraptions stacked up ‘en masse’ all over the place. There were a few ‘normal’ bolted down seats available but never enough to go around. The pushing and shoving up the gangplanks from ‘in the know’ frequent travellers and the resulting ‘seat’ skirmishes – a restricted localised variation on ‘street’ skirmishes - were probably the only entertainment on offer for the boat personnel. 

I think it was all a set up so that they could make bets on the number of causalities ensuing. It’s amazing what people will do not to have to strain their IQs by trying to set up a deckchair in a gale force wind. During the many trips I made in the ‘70s, one got to hear of rumours of passengers going over board, tangled in their deckchairs fighting with it to the last gurgle. I believe I now know why the trips to Dover took so long; it’s to allow fatigued passengers following a 4 hour deckchair battle, to sit triumphantly for 5 minutes writing postcards home describing the melee in detail before having to disembark. 

I could see a business here, jobbing on a boat and a side line getting paid putting up deckchairs for passengers. All you would need is a few hours practice, a finished deckchair with a sign on it saying..

Longing for a relaxing trip?
Frustrated due to an unruly deckchair?
This one was put up in 35 seconds flat!
It could be yours for a fee of only 3 pounds!
Delivery to the deck of your choice
for a small additional charge
(Reductions for families)

I must admit I haven’t been around places where deckchairs are popular in a long time; maybe there are people that fill this slot, no idea. 

Hi I’m back, are you finished?’ 
Well yes, I think that should do for this divertimento ... 
Good. I’ll take over from here’ 
One of me disappears in my own literately construct.

Act 3, Scene 3
Now where was I? The food was not to my liking, there was no visible rust in the baguette, but was still uncannily gritty and the Belgium beer is nothing to write home about.
[Ed: This opinion was revised after a pub crawl between small independent Belgium breweries lead by a native. ]

I sat down and surveyed our little island of luggage. Jo was still out for the count. The cases were huddled in the corner probably afraid of the bands of irate deckchair fighters roaming the decks. The rake was propped up against Jo who was hugging her wine depot. Two butter churns standing next to the spinning wheel … wooa ……. rollback. 
Two butter churns?
A spinning wheel?

Had I ended up in a Grimm fairy story or was there something in that beer! I could not believe my eyes; this was way over what I could handle in one day – a week even. I could probably have forgotten a butter churn it had been a long day, maybe there were two to begin with…. 
But a spinning wheel? No, that I would have remembered. 
Spinning heads – yes, spinning wheels - no!

I was absolutely certain that on arrival at Oostende we did not have a spinning wheel with a dollop of un-spun wool hanging from it. Therefore, my dear Watson, the spinning wheel and the extra churn were not ours! What a relief this knowledge brought, my panic level went down a notch for the first time that day! 

Now my curiosity was aroused - who owned these contraptions? I surveyed the area behind the spinning wheel and found a girl sitting on a huge sea chest with metal clasps and locks, stickers and labels. [Ed: The chest not the girl.] I asked her if the butter churn and spinning wheel was hers and she nodded in the affirmative. She was about my age and looked bushwhacked. 

The reason why was obvious after listening to her story, which was on par with Jo’s. Diana, as this was her name, was returning from a field trip to Kabul where she had been sent by the British Museum.
She was to spend two months with a nomadic tribe and if possible to win the trust of their resident shaman, mainly to obtain an insight into the local customs from a shamanic view point. This she did and before her return was heaped with presents. The chest she was sitting on was full of medications, local remedies and talismans from the shaman. The tribes elders, or equivalent, had given her the butter churn and spinning wheel. I don’t remember how she had got this far, it might have been a land and/or air route.

[Ed: Afghanistan was relative stable at this time and it would be another four years before the Soviets rolled in.]

Respect is all I can say. 
And yet again I threw all sense to the wind.
Diana readily accepted my offer of accompaniment.
It was not just an act of chivalry on my part it was also a tactical manoeuvre as I had now another pair of eyes to keep Jo in check. 

I had added to my entourage a second butter churn, a spinning wheel, a Diana and a partridge in a pear tree….
… no backup.
An old heavy well-worn chest, that by the look of it may have at one time belonged to one Davy Jones of nautical norioty. 

A chest that would in the not so distant future 

made me press the panic button again…

02 June 2016

ObserVation: The Boat-Train {A Journey in 4 Acts} -:- Act 2

hat has gone on before..
I was on my way between Cologne and London with the boat train. On arriving at Oostende I had offered an inebriated (induced due to thalassophobia) Yugoslavian Tsimahian with three pink cases to accompany her onto the boat to Dover and then the train onto London.

Act 2. Scene 1
I was about to leave the train with my rucksack on my back a pink case in either hand and the third tucked under one arm, when Jo said she had to collect the rest of her luggage. I was beginning to regret my spontaneous gallant manoeuvre. 

What was this about ‘the rest of the luggage’? 
Jo said I should get out of the train and she would pass the rest out through the corridor window. “Ok” I said, and stepped down onto the platform. 

In hindsight I should have dropped everything and made a beeline for the boat. But no, that wouldn’t have been fair. At Oostende the train stops directly on the quay next to the boat so it was only a matter of a few hundred yards to go. Anyway she would probably have found me and duffed me up with her homemade silver knuckledusters. 
Well the next sequence of events was most surrealistic to say the least. 
The window was pushed down and a pink case matching the three at my feet appeared to dangle of its own accord in mid-air. Now where did that come from? I took the case and placed it next to its relations. As I looked back up again - déjà vu - another pink case! This was becoming uncanny. I repeated the exercise and low and behold when I looked up again a sixth case was hovering in the same place. I took it and placed it next to number five. 
At this point I was rapidly developing a sixth sense with a pink hue. It was time that I took on myself to have a fit of self-panicking. Most of the other passengers had drifted off in the direction of passport control and onto the gangplanks.  
We were still unloading! 

As if a suite of pink cases wasn’t enough, the next object to appear was not a case but some sort of hay rake. About 2 meters in length and with a wide five tined head. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it was followed by a wooden butter churn with plunger. I packed it and with difficulty brought it down upon the platform. Was it heavy! I had the idea it was still full of butter, rancid butter if the length of Jo's trip was any indication. 

I stood expectantly looking up at the window for the next farm implement. Well at this time I was pretty open minded in what to expect if the past few minutes were anything to go by. But nothing more appeared. I felt a right charley standing there with a rake in one hand and the plunger of a (rancid) butter churn in the other, and the pink of the cases just did not go with the redness of my face. I would have probably got some funny looks - but there was no one around! 

I pressed my panic button
and moved up a level...

[Ed: You have no problem with pink these days - just the opposite!]

True. Also thinking about it a three tined rake would be a tri-dent and a five tined rake would therefore be a ‘pent-dent’. No that can’t be right, sounds like a brand of toothpaste, anyway as I said a right charley... 

I called to Jo, but no reply. While waiting I started to look around for a trolley because in no way were we going to get all this stuff moved without wheels. Before I had the chance to make a move there came from the door of the next wagon a “Hello! I’m here!” 
At the top of the steps was Jo, and in each hand she had what looked like 15 litre flagons wrapped in a mesh of straw. I was slowly coming to the enlightenment that Jo’s relatives had ladened her down with gifts and local farm produce from the ‘old country’. 

I took the two flagons out of her hands and put them down. I then watched her slowly and carefully climb down from the train using all manner of hand holds that she could muster. If she had had rope and ice picks I think she would have used them. 

Jo was not in total communication with her extremities. 

With a closer look at the flagons at my feet I had an inkling of what was behind the slow motion descent. One of the flagons was open. The cork and what looked like red sealing wax was obviously broken and a good measure had been recently been extracted. I suspect for municipal purposes.  
"Try it" said Jo, "It’s homemade"
Why not I thought, what the heck I’ve earned it. I removed the cork and sniffed. Ah! red wine, I took a swig and that was not as easy as it sounds, the flagon was b*** heavy! But it was worth it, it went straight to me head. I took another why not I thought it lightens the load I thought.

Everything distanced itself from me. After what seemed like an age and a bit I was suddenly back in full Technicolor. The 'what the heck' was pushed aside by the harsh reality of the situation.

I took another swig and pressed my panic-button and the additional hit points allowed me to again move up a level...
Act 2. Scene 2
Now was the time to take the upper hand. 

I sat Jo on the largest case, propped her up against the butter churn and placed the hay rake vertically in front of her line of vision. To stop her falling over I told her to grasp the rake with both hands. I followed this up by looking her straight in the eye and commanding her - in a pseudo-American-cop accent - ‘to freeze’. Maybe I’ve seen to many American movies but it worked 2aT. 
Just in ‘case’ she keeled over I spread the other five cases around her to soften a potential fall. If I’d had the chalk I would have joined up the five cases to make a pentangle to ward off any daemons in the vicinity. But I suspect the only “jinn” in the area was leftovers in the little empty bottles tinkling in her handbags.

The flagons were placed in easy reach just in case of a 'de-freezing' before my return. With a glance over my shoulder I set off looking for a trolley.
After what seemed like ages I returned to the scene with four wheels and to my relief Jo was in the same position. Frozen in the stance of which I had left her. The magic imaginary pink pentangle was still intact on the optical and by the feel of it on all other metaphysical planes. 
I packed everything I could find onto the trolley starting with Jo and ending with the rake. To gain strength I took another swig of the wine and we were off! 

We must have looked a right pair. Me in my NATO anorak hood up [Ed: it had started to drizzle] head down pushing like mad. Jo sitting on the trolley, rake in the one hand the other arm cuddling one of the flagons her head held high with a look of serene stupor on her face. 
If I could have captured the scene on canvas I would have probably have called it ‘Bodacia on a binge’. 
I headed for customs with their uniformed Belgium ‘keepers of the coast’. I can only imagine that they were staring on in disbelief as we sailed past. I had my head down if you remember and I had no intention of looking up and making eye contact. 
There was no stopping now. If I had even slowed down it would have probably broken the spell and all hell would have been let lose. Our collective gods were on our side or giving us a reprieve to see what would happen next. 
Which would 
and did..

23 May 2016

ObserVation: The Boat-Train {A Journey in 4 Acts} -:- Act 1

This is a story that rolled out over one day in May 74. The facts are as true as they can be after such a long time. I’ve added my style of telling but that’s all. I was over as often as possible in those days, and the boat train was the cheapest way for regular trips between Cologne and London. This trip was for 3 days to visit a concert of a friend. I was glad to be getting away and needed to get to London to tank up on fish & chips, English tea, HP sauce and books. The trip, although cheap, was quite long about five hours to Oostende, another four to five for the crossing to Dover and a further two until Victoria station.

[Ed: That’s why it was cheap!]
Yes could be it. 

On boarding the train at Cologne I found an empty compartment and so took the window seat facing the front of the train. I have no preferences concerning seats but I think one should be looking in the direction one is going, saves a lot of bruising in the long run. 
At Aachen, about an hour into the journey, I became company. 
A girl took the seat opposite mine and a couple sat on my side next to the door. I’m giving you some idea of the layout at this point before the first act unfolds.. 

I struck up a conversation with ‘the girl’; I don’t remember the content, just a pleasant dialogue. We didn’t get so far as to exchange names hence ‘the girl’ and I don’t think I had remembered it anyway as I would be focused on other things for the rest of the journey.
Act 1, Scene 1
The train stopped at Brussels and as we were moving off gathering momentum the door to the compartment was thrust open and a small man in a dark blue uniform, which I suspect was of the railway company, entered carrying a pink case. I think all present did a double take, not the last one for me that day I might add. Pink and this gestalt in blue just did not go together. He asked if the seat next to the door (diagonally opposite to me) was free. We all looked at each and in sync mumbled something positive with a few shrugged shoulders thrown in. With this he placed the case in the rack over said seat and with all eyes upon him, instead of sitting down (you never could tell), he left the compartment ‘toute suite’. 

One must remember that in those days the leaving of unlooked after packages was no reason for panic, so we didn’t see any reason to make a collective run for it. Today anything which hasn’t moved within 5 minutes of its own accord has to be reported to at least 3 independent authorities within the following 5 minutes or else you’re carted off and thrown in the slammer for not panicking and starting a riot.

Anyway we wouldn’t have had the time; there he was back again, with 2 pink cases and a middle aged woman in tow. The new cases were placed up next to the old and the woman slumped down in the corner seat. The man acknowledged the woman’s thanks with a nod and a touch to his cap, the door closed and after a moment we were back in the routine of minding our own businesses. The train jogged on in the direction of the coast and as if a silent diner gong had sounded all the occupants started to unpack their respective eatables and drinkables. While muffing my mothers’ cheese and pickle sandwiches (she was quite mad at me for taking them as I found out on my return), I took the chance to have a deco at the latest addition to my ’compartmentees’.
What struck me about Josephine, as I later found out Jo’s name was, was that on all ten fingers she had large wide surfaced rings with ornamental designs. From a distance they looked Celtic in origin. The rings were so large that I would have thought they would have restricted any extreme finger waging, also they were the colour of silver and I suspected they were.
[Ed: This an example not Jo's original.]

Act 1, Scene 2
As not to seem rude I turned back and started up again a conversation with ‘the girl’. She was German that I remember, and spoke English which was good because my German was non-existent at this time. We got around to the boat crossing and praying for calm weather. Up to this point there was a constant noise issuing from our ‘pink cased silver ringed lady’, either she was rummaging around in one of her bottomless handbags or unpacking various colourful packages which looked like the leftovers from a ill-timed Christmas party (remember it was May). With the mention of the boat, all sounds from her corner abruptly stopped and I thought I heard a low gasp. I looked in her direction and got the impression that she had frozen in mid-rummaging and the colour had drained from her face. 

As I knew she could speak English - she had thanked the porter so - and I also knew she was from across the pond – the accent had given it away - I asked her what was wrong. With a shaky voice she asked what this boat crossing was all about. I asked her if London was her destination and she confirmed this. Without trying to sound detrimental, I explained that as Britain was an island there was a strip of water in our way. Also I mentioned that boats where predestined as the optimal method of aquatic transport for this up and coming leg of the journey. She seemed to take this in and after a moments pause blurted out “no tunnel?

I had another double take – a what?

Act 1, Scene 3
Then it all came out, in her home town Metlakatla, which turned out to be in Alaska not Mexico as the name suggested to me at the time..
[Ed: Metlakatla is from Maxłakxaała, a Tsimahian word meaning 'Salt Water Passage'.]
Now what was that all about?
[Ed: Just shows you what the Internet is good for.]

?? .. the travel agent had informed her - get ready for it - that there was a tunnel between the Continent and Britain and that she wouldn’t need to put her thalassophobia to the test. Also as an added benefit the train - she was told - would shorten the land journey before flying home. It turned out she was aviophobic to boot! I really had the urge to look around for the hidden camera. No, this just could not be true, but the genuine panic in her eyes told me that it was!

In the name of the British and French governments I apologised to Jo for the lack of a subterranean alternative route for her passage. I also informed her that the boat would be a really big one and that she would hardly see any water, especially if she kept under deck and her eyes closed. But I could see that in no way was this going to help her nerves. 
I left Jo to stew a while, but still kept an eye on her. The effect of having to cross open water looming up showed itself in that she hijacked the drinks cart every time it went by and started to tank up on little bottles of high octane. I was beginning to wonder where this would lead to. I decided to try and occupy her mind on other things. I asked her where she was from (to the majority of Europeans Metlakatla could have been anywhere) and what had brought her to Europe. 

She seemed relieved to talk, and I was informed that she was from Alaska and had just visited her relatives for the first time in years on their farm in Yugoslavia and was on her way back home via London. Also that she was an Eskimo and the rings where traditional jewellery which she had made herself from silver dollars. 
Another double take and I had an uneasy feeling that it would not be the last. I had before me a partly inebriated Yugoslavian Eskimo! 
Now that, you don’t get to see or meet every day!
[Ed: If we want to be politically correct Inuit would be a more appropriate term and Yugoslavia doesn’t exist anymore, and if we want to be even more pedantic, if she was a native of Metlakatla then she was a Tsimahian. But let’s not get all Entomological about it.]
True, Yugoslavian Eskimo has a certain ring to it. For this writing I looked for Metlakatla using Goggle earth, I landed on an island! With reflection I can’t quite understand why she lived on an island if she was afraid of open water! Maybe our water is wetter or more aggressive than the Pacific, perplexing to say the least. 

Well, we chatted on for a while and she seemed to quieten down somewhat. When we finally reached Oostende, she started to panic again; I just could not leave her to her own devices in this state and offered her company on the boat, and onto London. This was readily accepted. Eyeing the three pink cases, and my own rucksack, I saw no problem in carting cases and supporting a tipsy Tsimahian onto the boat. 

How wrong I was – oh how wrong I was…

Interlude 1

Till this day I just cannot understand how anyone could tell such a cock and ball story to sell a ticket. Of course it could have been someone who genuinely believed that the information about a tunnel was correct, we will never know. It’s funny that now, at the time of telling, we have a tunnel, but then, the original plans of Christopher Wren from 1600 and something, were still gathering dust in a London vault and it would be another 20 years before I would be sitting in my car for the 20 minute tunnelling experience and not a drop of watery substances insight, apart from in a plastic bottle under the seat. 

[Ed: If it’s under the seat you can’t see it either!]  
I know I know..
[Ed: but..]
I said leave it!!!..