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Friday, December 22, 2006

I haven't the foggiest

Went to Heathrow for a flight to the States. On the BBC news on the radio, Heathrow was reported as being in complete chaos because of fog, three-hour queues just to get into tents to wait to get into the Terminal etc. Yet on the way there was no traffic, when we got to Heathrow it was emptier than I have ever seen it, and the wait in the tent was 10 minutes before they called the flight number and asked people into the terminal. Because of on-line check-in, it was straight to the bag drop and on through security. I guess the deal is that if everyone else's flights are cancelled and yours isn't (it was all UK and some European flights that were cancelled, not the long-haul flights) then Heathrow is actually a convenient and efficient airport!

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Am I the moron?

I fly quite a lot for business, often three or four times every month. We travel a lot for leisure too: our household probably buys half-a-dozen international flights per annum for holidays, visiting relatives and so on. In the old days, all of this business used to go to British Airways, but now our purchasing in more mixed. For example, the family went to the States at the beginning of November on United. But I generally go to BA first, out of habit I suppose. But not any more. When we booked a flight to the U.S. last time, we got a blank web page back after entering a credit card number. We assumed that something had gone wrong -- now, in retrospect, I suspect that it was trying to display an error message along the lines "sorry, we're a bit new at the web thing and our programmers are too stupid to figure out how to make something that works on Apples as well as Windoze" -- so we just called BA to see if the booking had done through. After waiting on hold for 15 minutes they told us that, no, no booking was in the system. So we went back to the beginning and booked again. A few minutes later, there were two confirmation e-mails in the in box. Aaargh! Still, no problem. We'll just give BA a quick call and they'll sort it out. We called and we were held in a queue (on an 0870 number, which costs us money) for 55 minutes. When we finally got through, the guy told me that it was the wrong number, that my executive club "help" desk couldn't help with web bookings, and that he would transfer me to the right "help" desk (which had 31 callers ahead of me). Meanwhile, my wife had gone to run some errands. When I finally got through, they wouldn't help me because although my wife's credit card is supplementary to mine, I was not the named card holder. When my wife got back, she had to start all over again by phoning the 0870 number and sitting on hold again, at our expense, to get through. We should have just cancelled the flights completely and booked another airline, but we didn't. No wonder the service is so bad in the U.K. -- it's our own fault for putting up with it. Next time, it's United again. (Virgin's seats are too cramped). But it has given me an idea for a New Year's resolution: I will refuse to do business with companies that make you call an 0870 number for their call centre rather than an 0800 number. Conversely I will reward companies with 0800 numbers and good call centres. I'll begin with Morgan Stanley: I have one of their MasterCards and whenever there's been a problem I call an 0800 number and get through to a helpful call centre (which I imagine to be in Scotland) and things get resolved quickly.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The good doctor

I know it's a bit childish, but I actually laughed out loud during a tube ride in London today. I picked up a copy of Metro, the free newspaper they have at tube stations. On page nine is a story "Circumcision halves the HIV infection rate" which quotes a World Health Organisation spokesman on the benefits of circumcision. The spokesman's name is (seriously) Dr. Cock.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


So I was on a British Airways flight the other day... I was testing out my current theory of travel, which is that the only way to make public transport of any form tolerable is by playing The Ramones over and and over again on my iPod. I was tired and bored and half nodding off as the plane was taxiing out towards the runway for take-off... pa pa pa-pa pa-pa pa pa-pa I wanna be sedated... pa pa pa-pa pa-pa pa pa-pa I wanna be sedated... when there's a tap on my shoulder. I look over and the male airhostess (airhoster?) is saying something so I take my Shure E3C in-ears out and he's telling me that I have to turn off my iPod for take off. "Why?" I said. "Because it could interfere with the plane's systems", he told me. I looked as bored and disdainful as I possibly good and told him that if I for one moment believed that that was true, then I wanted to get off now. Actually, I didn't. He's only following some dumb memo and it's not his fault. But think about it for a moment: if the miniscule electromagnetic emmnations from my Nano are really enough to send a 767 crashing to the ground, then someone should sue Boeing for building such an unsafe vehicle. If it were even faintly true, then should British Airways want to fly anywhere where there might be any significant electromagnetic emissions (eg, Earth) they would soon find themselves running short of planes and crewmembers. It did give, however, me the best ever title for a novel: iPlot, which I intend to start working on shortly. It will be the most inventive, most plausible and only British Airways fact-checked novel debut novel in history. The plot is this: a gang of dastardly suicide terrorists make their way through security at Heathrow with not so much as a 100ml of Colgate between them. Beyond suspicion, they make their way to Dixons tax free and purchase half a dozen iPods. They hide them under an innocent girlfriend's burkha (she gets to be the tragic lead, of course, and the burkha means that you don't have to pay anyone famous for the TV adaptation that will surely follow) and get on to the plane. It powers down the runaway. At 1000 feet, just at it heaves itself in a slow circle over Hounslow, the criminal masterminds simultaneously switch on their devil machines and to the strains of (and I haven't decided on this yet: obviously it depends on the narrative flow at this point) the live version of the ponderous Emerson Lake and Palmer "Touch and Go" ("come without a warning like a UFO... you're running with the devil... it's touch and go") it corkscrews into the ground taking all souls on board with it. At this moment, the camera pans out to show that planes are falling out of the sky all across London (in fact, all across the Western world) as the MP3 Mullahs hit play on one flight after another. Can't fail. Rock, rock, Rockaway Beach... rock, rock, Rockaway Beach...

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas time, something and wine

I can't remember the words to the magnificent Cliff Richard Christmas no. 1, but that's because I've been drinking mulled wine at the Christmas fair in the Marianplatz in Munich... munichxmas It was a really pleasant evening. The market goes back to the 14th century so it's obviously a well-established tradition. We ambled around in the market -- and even bought a couple of nice mitteleuropan (is that the word?) things there -- and then went to very pork-oriented restaurant for dinner. I don't know if there's going to be a Christmas market in the middle of Woking, but if there is I'll report back.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Train rage

The organisation I loathe the most is South West Trains. Their appalling service, which is going to become even more expensive in less than a month, is plumbing new depths. In the last few days I've found myself trying to get on trains which didn't even have standing room. This morning, one of the trains I couldn't get on at Woking was full to standing capacity in first class, let alone cattle class. Those people must have been really pissed off. UPDATE: Here's a picture proving that (not even at rush hour, this way 9:45) people couldn't physically fit on the train from Woking to Waterloo... trainjam I managed to find a place to stand on the second train the arrived, and decided to spend the journey (since I couldn't do any work) devising vile tortures for the executive officers of the company. Correct: I was literally driven mad by South West Trains. Fortunately, due to my wise policy of refusing to go anywhere near public transport without an iPod, I was able to turn up the Ramone's End of the Century loud enough to drown out the voices in my head.

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