More thoughts from a Sun Lounger

IMGA0475edOne of the most pleasurable things in life surely must be relaxing on a sun lounger. I love it when I have a refreshing dip in the pool, climb out and lie on my lounger and then slowly feel my wet body drying in the sun. Here in Lanzarote in January it’s quiet by our rented villa and the only sounds are the gentle hum of the pool machinery, the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing. Now and again there is the distant sound of a car or motorbike, the sound becoming louder and then dying away into the distance. One thing about relaxing on a sun lounger, apart from getting a tan and recharging those batteries before going back to cold England, is how the mind wanders and with a little effort the beginnings of a blog post can take shape in my mind.

Christmas and New Year

Not a great Christmas for me this year as I was working. Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the UK was made worse by the terrible weather, particularly the rain in the north of England. I work in one of Highways England’s motorway control rooms and Christmas day was unexpectedly busy with crash after crash. Why people continue to drive at high speed when the weather conditions are atrocious, I’ll never know. On New Year’s day I was working on the early shift, starting work at 6 in the morning and it was a particularly quiet drive into work. It seems to me in recent years the rush hour has just got longer and longer and people now travel earlier to avoid the rush which seems to just expand the rush hour. Many times at five in the morning when I leave home for the 42 mile trip to work the traffic can be really busy.

I think that nowadays, people are just doing more and more travelling in order to get the job that they want. It becomes very apparent when my work colleagues discuss where to go for our work’s ‘do’. Colleagues live all over the north west; St Annes, St Helens, Preston, Wigan, Manchester and even the Wirral, so where can we go to suit everyone? It’s hard work choosing a venue but eventually we chose Liverpool which involved a two hour plus rail journey for me. A bit different from the days when I worked in Stockport and every one of my work colleagues lived in, yes, Stockport. Back in the eighties I don’t think the idea of long commutes to work had really taken off.

Travelling by Air

I sometimes wonder whether aircraft were invented by the Japanese, or at least, are modern aircraft designed for people with an oriental like body frame? For me, a six foot tall man with a considerable bulk although surely not that much bigger than the average male, travelling by air can be something of a trial. On the way here flying on a Boeing 737 courtesy of Jet2.com I remember thinking about this problem as I struggled to get comfy in my small seat and fumbled and wrestled to eat my cheese and ham toastie. The thought of all those movies and TV shows that depict air travel with big comfortable seats and lots of room flickered for a moment through my mind as I almost knocked over my plastic cup of red wine. Yes, once upon a time, back in the uncivilised 1940’s and the beginning of air travel they actually used proper plates, cups and glasses. How we have moved on since then!

Another trial was when I realised I had to use the bathroom. I didn’t really want to get up so I tried hard to hold things in but eventually I got to the point when I realised it was no use. I had to go. I had a good view of the toilet so I waited until I knew it was free and no one was waiting then I pried myself up and out of the seat. Just I was doing so a woman nipped past me and into the toilet! Not happy! Anyway, I had to wait at the front of the aircraft, in the way of everyone including the stewardess trying to serve drinks but eventually, my turn came. It was a little cramped but I got on with what I had to do. At least we didn’t hit turbulence while I was there and have a steward banging on the door telling me I had to return to my seat and strap myself in which has happened to me before. I washed my hands in the little basin but dropped the paper towel on the floor which was pretty hard to pick up and I incurred a bang on the head for my efforts.

By the time I returned to my seat I felt as though I needed another wee but with a supreme effort of will, I managed to push that thought to the back of my mind. To be honest, our flight was particularly friendly. The steward and stewardess were nice and helpful and I appreciated the complimentary tea due to French Air traffic Control having computer problems which caused delays on the part of our flight that passed over France. Also, there were many empty seats so we were able to stretch over to the empty ones and relax. Not looking forward to the flight back though so here’s a quick hint to the guys at Boeing: Put bigger seats on your planes!

The Glenn Miller Story

I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Christmases back home with my Mum and Dad and how we would gather round our coal fire to watch a family film on our old black and white TV with my brother, myself, and Bob the dog vying to be closest to the fire. One of the films we watched back then was the Glenn Miller Story. I really loved that movie when I first saw it on TV back in the 1960’s. It was on TV again over this last Christmas and I settled down to watch it, a nice glass of port in hand and a box of Christmas chocolates nearby. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment! James Stewart, as much as I love him, was far too old to play Glenn Miller and the film was in colour, not the expected black and white.

June Alyson played Glenn’s wife and she elevated the use of the word ‘annoying’ to a new level with her constant beginning or ending of a phrase with ‘Honestly!’ I imagine the scriptwriter was fairly pleased with himself, coming up with a cute bit of business like that. Wrong! If I had been Glenn Miller and June Alyson my wife, I would have been sorely tempted to employ some appropriately placed Gaffer tape to remedy that situation.

Another moment in the film comes when Glenn comes home from work and his wife takes him upstairs and says, ‘look what just arrived’, and guess what had arrived: Two children who seemed to have arrived in time honoured fashion via the unseen stork. Of course, they may have been adopted, I really don’t know because it wasn’t really explained very well but it was a little bit like one of those moments in old episodes of Blue Peter, the children’s TV show, where Valerie Singleton or John Noakes would say, ‘and here’s one I made earlier!’

One last thing I want to tell you about the Glenn Miller story, and I do feel bad about taking the mickey out of an old favourite movie but that’s the thing about the sun and sun loungers, as your mind wanders, all sorts of old memories rise to the surface! Anyway, here goes. I must have mentioned in previous posts about how I used to have a cassette tape recorder and how many times I used to drag my poor brother into performing the skits and plays I used to write.

One time we did a skit on the Glenn Miller story and there was me in my best American accent drawling, James Stewart style, ‘that sound, that certain sound, I need to find that certain sound and I’m gonna keep on looking till I find it.’ Enter stage left my brother with a cardboard toilet tube over his mouth and he does a tremendous raspberry fart into the microphone. Cue me as James Stewart: ‘That sound, that certain sound: That’s it! I’ve found it!’


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Flying, Technology, and British Summer Time.

I really don’t like flying. I’ll tell you that straight out. The actual flying isn’t too bad, in fact some years ago I took some flying lessons so you can see that deep down I actually like flying but the thing I don’t like is, well, everything else:! Here’s a quick list: The airport is full of people. Crowds. The constant queuing. The checking in, the passport control. The boarding. When you finally get aboard the aircraft the small, cramped seats are even worse when you happen to be a big lump, like me. The pathetic microwaved ‘meals’ that are foisted upon us, and the scrum to leave the aircraft when you finally land. Yes, I think I’ve made myself clear on flying.

Picture courtesy wikipedia

Picture courtesy wikipedia

It’s a pity really about all the negatives because the invention of flying is something that is really wonderful and has enabled many people to travel the globe and see places they would otherwise never have even dreamt of seeing. Technology can bring great benefits. Take time for instance. The recording and controlling of time is so important in the modern world and it’s something we probably don’t even think about. Time is important in flying too. Flying schedules and timetables. Timings at busy airports; returning to Manchester last Sunday from Portugal, the airport was so busy we spent ten minutes circling around the sky while waiting for a spot to actually land. You could just imagine the poor guy in the control tower with a stack of aircraft wanting to land and him trying to time it all to perfection.

Here’s another thing about time: Greenwich Mean Time. Great, a world-wide standard for time but here’s another thing that sort of messes with that, it’s British Summer Time. Now, maybe you’ve started to see what I’m getting at, that bi-annual messing with our clocks and the hour going forward and then backward. I don’t get it, OK it means that we don’t have to go to work in the dark or come home in the dark or whatever but personally I’m willing to put up with that if it means not messing about with the time!

It just so happened that flying back from Portugal on Sunday to the UK coincided with the hour going back. Now, I know we’re mad enough to do this in the UK but as Sunday approached I started thinking, what about Portugal? Does the hour go back there? Yes it does actually. So, it’s stressful enough situation anyway but now we had to deal with another issue, putting the clocks back! Anyway, what time did we need to get up? First of all, we have to factor all the various problems in:

(1) Breakfast.

(2) Getting washed and dressed.

(3) Driving to the airport.

(4) Handing over the hire car and dealing with the actual people in the car hire place, and we know that this is not easy because it was pretty hard work getting the car in the first place.

(5) Checking in, finding our gate and going through security and all that stuff.

Now setting my alarm becomes a much bigger issue than it was before; do I put my phone back an hour and set the time I actually need to get up at, or do I leave the time on the phone and set the time an hour later? Now this is where technology tries to fox us. My mobile phone has a gimmick on it which automatically changes the time when the hour goes back! Great -but is it? Would it work? Could I trust this new technology? No, was the answer and so I disabled it, after all, I wasn’t going to chance missing my flight home.

The next morning when I awoke Liz’s alarm was going off but mine wasn’t. It all seemed kind of early and when I checked my phone to see what the problem was I saw that the time had gone back an hour -even though that option was supposed to be disabled! I checked with my Blackberry playbook and it had gone back an hour automatically also. Wait a minute! Had they both gone back automatically or was I an hour early? What time was it? I hated to admit it but Liz’s ancient old slider phone had actually woken us up at the correct time! Anyway, the good thing is that we made it to the airport pretty early and the people at the car hire place seemed to be pretty much on the ball, perhaps because I was bringing their car back safely despite all their horror stories of crashing and uninsured drivers and me not having enough insurance cover and so on. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting efficient service at that time in the morning so consequently we were even earlier than expected at the check in.

Pity about that extra-long wait in the packed departure lounge though! Personally I blame the car hire people.


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The Sound Barrier and My in-flight Canine Friend

I’ve always liked that lazy droning sound of light aircraft; maybe it comes from my childhood, brought up a stone’s throw from Manchester Airport which my friends and I would visit every weekend, cycling to the back of the airport down lanes and alleyways looking for obscure fields where we could get close to the aircraft. We spent many a lazy afternoon on the airport terraces, jotting down aircraft registrations and ticking them off in our flight books.

When I was younger I knew someone who had an ambition to be a pilot and was taking lessons at Blackpool Airport. He used to alleviate his tuition costs by taking friends or colleagues on his training flights if they would drive him down to Blackpool.

On the day that I joined James (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) as an eager passenger, I drove down to Blackpool Airport pretty excited. James advised that on the day he would be doing some instrument tests which involved flying the aircraft on instruments alone.

I stepped into the back of the small plane and strapped myself in. It was a hot day and the aircraft had a huge glass cockpit making it warmer still. I was at a point when I thought I would have to get out and cool off but just then the instructor turned up. He was an older chap and brought his big woolly dog along as he enjoyed, well so I was told, flying. Fido was led in to the rear seat with me and we eyed each other warily as he was strapped in.

The engine was started, we taxied out on to the runway and a few moments later we were aloft. It was exhilarating to look down on Blackpool and the tower, a place where I had spent many happy holidays as a child. After a while James had to put on a rather odd-shaped helmet which blocked out the view through the windscreen and he could only see his instruments. The small plane flew higher and higher, Blackpool Tower becoming the merest pinprick in the distance. Then the engine stopped.

image courtesy wikipedia.

image courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not sure if you have ever seen one of those World War two films when German stuka bombers hurtled down at their targets with a banshee type wail. I only mention that because it seemed very much akin to our current situation and not only that, the pilot was lucky on this occasion that it wasn’t me issuing the wail but as we hurtled towards the ground Fido and I eyed each other with mutual fear in our eyes.

“Now come on James” said the instructor. “What have we forgotten?”

Fido pawed the back of the pilot’s seat in a vain attempt to jog his memory but our downward path continued. If you ever happen to see that rather old film ‘The Sound Barrier’ you might get some idea of our situation hurtling down towards the earth with Blackpool Tower looming ever closer in our windscreen.

“You’ve forgotten something haven’t you? The instructor might have been talking to a learner driver who had not put on his hand brake at the traffic lights.

“What if I mentioned the mixture?”

If that was a hint it was certainly in a much better class than his previous comments but either way the pilot got the message, adjusted the engine mixture and our tiny aircraft’s propeller burst into renewed life and not long later we touched down rather bumpily back in Blackpool.

“Watch out” said the instructor, “Fido gets a bit excited when we land.”

If this was a typical flight with his master then it was clear to me why Fido was excited when he landed but anyway, the dog gave me a look which said in its canine way “We made it!” and hopped out of the plane.

James completed his flying studies and left our company. He went on, I assume to a career in aviation and we never met again but I have learnt one thing.

Next time if, on the way to Spain, the engines of our jet airliner conk out I’ll be shouting to the pilot “What about the mixture!?”


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