(When all else fails) Fly The Plane Yourself

Not the best metaphor given my fear of flying and self-medication on even the shortest of journeys but sometimes you have to break down the cockpit door and wrest control from the pilot, even it if earns you a syringe-full of something mellow and a long stay in the clink.

What am I talking about? Self-publishing, of course.

The jumbo jet that is the publishing industry only flies in one direction, and that may not to the desired destination of the passengers. Apparently, according to ‘some bloke’ my husband met down the pub who works in that field, it departs Oxford or Cambridge some time in your late twenties, early thirties, before a short layover at the University of East Anglia if you fancy a Masters in creative writing. It then cruises along, far above everyone else’s heads, emitting inoffensive literary works featuring at least some author memoir material thinly disguised as fiction. Very occasionally, it can be coaxed into taking on a passenger or two from Luton, but they have to sit in the back and not ask for peanuts.

As for those on the check-in desk, they’re nice people. They smile, respond politely and keep the queue moving, making sure the unworthy travellers are kept away from the plane, but they’re drowning under the volume of hopeful passengers trying to get a ticket. I’ve been trying to get on board for a few years now but I’m terribly English and polite about it. The sign says queue here and wait for the next available agent, so that’s what I do. But there are 500 people behind me and about 2000 ignoring the queuing system altogether.

So my choices were to go home and stay there, or learn to fly myself.

I chose to learn to fly and selected the easiest to fly aircraft I could find – the Kindle HopeItsNotTooLateHundred. The instruction manual couldn’t have been simpler to follow, the simulator was a breeze and soon I was ready to fly.

How much did I pay for my ticket? Not a penny.

Was self-check-in an option? You betcha.

What’s the destination? Mm, harder to tell. I did touchdown in CreateSpace for a paperback version to sleep with under my pillow because, well, you know…   I think it’s going to take a while to get truly airborne but there’s no turbulence, no one complaining about your knees in their back, or shoving theirs in yours, and it feels good to have the controls.

To help keep this little plane in the air, click here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can you hear that?

I have a thing about ambient noise and modern life. I’m not a hippie-type but I do wonder if it’s possible to achieve inner peace without silence yet we’re surrounded by noise all the time. Right now, I can hear the hiss of pipes, the hum of the boiler, the gurgling dishwasher, the drone of an occasional car and the kids playing in the garden.
Okay, the kids were my choice but the rest of it comes from modern living and wanting all the conveniences of hot water, heating and transport, not to mention release from the drudgery of washing up.
I bought a house a few years ago and although I knew it was close to a motorway – very convenient for getting to work – I didn’t realise I’d be able to hear it from my garden on my days off. It was a faint but persistent drone and I steeled myself against getting het up about it – preferable to moving.
When I next moved, it was to the coast, two roads back from the beach road and at least a mile north of a four-lane A-road but when the prevailing winds blew in from the south-west, so did the noise of the cars.
Now, I live in a major town with the buses and the lorries, the shouty teenagers and rolling drunks, and the silencer-less motorbike that seems to circle the ring road endlessly. I prefer these differing sounds to a motorway drone, there’s a lyricism to it I enjoy, but where can I go for silence?
The parks and the woods are all near roads, as is the path along the river sandwiched between another A road and a railway line.
The beaches are so popular, even in winter, there’s no escaping the dogwalkers, cyclists, joggers, mums with pre-schoolers and the occasional nutter.
Even on holiday, now we go in school holidays, there are the ever-present hordes
of other families.
So last time, we booked the most remote secluded place we could find. A real retreat, an escape from it all. Three miles from the nearest village, fifteen miles from anything approaching a town; a lighthouse cottage in a row of six being refurbished, the only one to be finished so no other guests around, sitting on a headland surrounded by sea. A stunning location to escape the fatigues of modern life.
Only, what’s that I could hear? The waves crashing on the rocks below? The screech of gulls?
No, it was a definite hum coming from outside.
In the garden, I followed the source of the noise – the working lighthouse just outside the boundary was making a low vibrating whirr.
Obviously, I don’t want them to turn out the light but, please, for once, could we just keep the noise down?
PS. We prayed there would be no fog…

 

 

 

 

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Dogs or Cats?

I seems to me that everything in life at the moment boils down to the single question: dogs or cats?

It is a question which has separated mankind for, one presumes, centuries, if not millennia.

Very occasionally, I would meet the odd person (and they really were considered odd) who had a dog and a cat but I think the last one died out around the time of the second Iraq war.

Now, we are forced to live in such a binary world: dogs or cats? Trump or Clinton? Brexiteer or Remainer? Moslem or Non-Moslem?

What happened to being on a continuum? I’m okay with chocolate but I can take or leave ice cream?

Not any more. You WILL choose between opposing camps. You will not respect the rights and views of the other side, or indeed of the majority. It’s not enough to say, ‘I would have voted Clinton but I respect that Trump has been democratically elected and has the right to rule’. Or, heaven forbid, ‘I voted Remain but I’m okay with Brexit’.

Somewhere along the line, in the last ten years or so, the liberals stopped being liberal and only respected your right to have an opinion as long as it matched their own. Free speech is now such a narrow field I’m surprised anyone bothers with it any more.

The only community bucking the trend is the lesbian and gay one who are becoming more inclusive. Bisexual long since joined the party, then Trans and now Questioning. Can I join under the Q banner if I’m questioning everything I’ve ever been taught about democracy and free speech?

What if I’m questioning all sorts of things I thought I knew about life: weren’t things supposed to be incrementally improving for everyone in the world at any given point in time? Haven’t we never had it so good? Won’t this generation live longer than the last? Why are all the teenagers so tall? And the cancer rates so high?

Back in the 80’s, Charles Handy promised me a portfolio career, matrix management and more leisure time than I knew what to do with.

The reality is I’m working harder than ever for less money, have a mortgage bigger than a mill around my neck and wouldn’t know a day off it tripped me up and made me spend the day in an (underfunded) A&E department.

It seem to me to come down to one, final, binary question: what kind of future do we want for ourselves and our children – better or worse than the one before?

Of course the answer is better. So we need to respect the rights of others to hold views different from our own, stop all the hate, and face the future with a positive attitude and a tolerant heart.

Starting now.

PS. The answer is dogs. No question. (I know – but sometimes you sit at the end of the continuum…)

PPS. About the teenagers – maybe it’s the hormones in food, d’uh. (Probably applies for the cancer question too…)

 

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The Trouble With Showers

Today, I had my first shower in about a year.
Before everyone reaches for their nose-peg, I will say that was because I am a confirmed bath-taker. To me, it’s a bit like the cats or dogs debate – dogs make you feel fuzzy and warm inside, cats leave you cold. Just like a shower.
If someone stripped me naked, poured water all over me and made me stand in a cold tiled room, I’d sue them for assault but, apparently, it’s okay if it’s a shower.
So, I’m standing there, one half under scalding hot water, one half shivering and steaming, and it occurred to me this is how it works; burn the front, freeze the back, and the body is fooled into thinking it’s somewhere in the middle, temperature-wise.
But it’s not!
So, I turn around and put my back under the burn and my front begins to freeze. Somewhere to hang my towel, at least.
I then made the big mistake of washing my hair.
My not-so-long locks seemed to take about an hour to absorb the falling water during which time MY WHOLE BODY froze!
It is inhumane. When we leave the EU, I think we should ban showers as one of those daft European predilections we are happy to leave behind – along with all the European nations’ national liqueurs (pastis, anyone? No, thought not) and the sun-dried tomato.
The reason I had a shower, and I’ll admit they’ve got me on this one, was because time was short. No time to run a bath and luxuriate in its warmth, feeling cosseted and cared for like a love affair with the man of your dreams. No, like a quick fumble with a married man, I didn’t have much time and was left feeling damp, and unfulfilled.
A mistake I won’t be making for a long time to come.

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A Right Pain in the Package

 

“I’m never doing this again,” said my husband, two and a half hours into our transfer from the plane to our hotel.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A package holiday,” he said, fiddling with the ineffective blower above his head.

“Is it our hotel next?” chorused two little voices from the seats on the other side of the aisle.

“No,” we chimed back.

Another half hour later, ten hours after leaving home, we arrived. Seeing as the Greek island of Thassos is only a two and a quarter hour flight from the UK the total time spent getting there did feel rather epic.

Things had started well. Alarm at 5am, in the car at half past, car dropped off at 7 to the helpful man who’ll park it for us and bring it back at the end of the holiday. Admittedly, there was a little hiccup on check-in when we realised my passport was still in my maiden name and the guy on the desk didn’t know how to aggregate the baggage allowance for the four of us to allow for two overweight bags but we were soon through to Security.

So, that didn’t go too well either when my four-year-old set off the scanner and had to stand in the big machine with his arms over his head. I got a bit tearful at the overkill as they patted him down. My seven-year-old’s bag was then searched after they spotted a bottle of Minions perfume she had slipped in there and hadn’t declared. At least my husband didn’t get hauled off for an internal.

Time for a bit of shopping – the kids were promised magazines and an Egg McMuffin but, oh!, what have they done to Gatwick?! It’s less than two years since we last flew but after Security we were herded into a small dark area where lots of people stood looking very confused. The only choice was left to WHSmith or straight on to an Ikea-style pathway leading through the duty-free shop. Once you were on it there was no getting off. And it was all so black. Design statement or depressing and oppressive?

Eventually, we were through to a more open plan area. The Smiths here was smaller – not so much choice for the kids – so we had to go back down the yellow-brick-road to the first one. With only the magazines bought they announced our gate. No time for Maccy D’s!

Back through the winding pathway with no time to contemplate whether my Georgio Armani perfume might be cheaper her than on the high street, we dived into Boots for water and sandwiches, a last minute bottle of Aftersun and some sucky sweets for the ascent and descent.

I must admit I was starting to flag at this point having spent the last two days semi-conscious with a nasty bug. We got to our gate to be told the plane was late to the stand but boarded soon after and took off only half-hour late, making up much of that time in the air.

We landed at Kavala airport at 2.15pm local time. It was a bit hazy but warm enough on the walk into the Arrivals lounge. Passport control was a breeze, the bags came through quickly although, of course, ours were last and we were the last family to leave the arrivals hall. Only an old lady who required special assistance came after us, but, hey, we were through.

Although it hadn’t gone entirely smoothly up ‘til then I think of this as the point it really started to go wrong.

We were directed to coach number 3, a double-decker, and of course the kids wanted to be upstairs. It was as hot as Hades up there but we assured them the air-con would kick in when the engine started. The heat was making me feel distinctly odd but Pedro (I swear that was the name the rep called the driver although this is hotly disputed by my husband not least because we were in Greece and not Spain) seemed in no rush. And how.

Helen, the rep, began her welcome speech over a Tannoy turned up to max volume and max distortion while Pedro sorted the last of the cases. It was so painful for my virus-ridden head I had to put my fingers in my ears. Through this self-muffling I could still hear every long, slow, painful word, only outdone by the long, slow, painful drive to the harbour.

The transfer was to take 20 minutes and we were booked on the 4.15pm ferry. The what?! We landed at 2.15 – a two-hour window to disembark and travel 20 mins down the road?

But we were ignoring the Pedro factor which they obviously knew about at the Thomas Cook HQ when they were designing the itinerary. The 20-minute transfer took us 50 minutes. We were going so slowly other double-decker coaches overtook us. And cars, vans, lorries.

“A donkey and cart just went past,” huffed my husband.

I had to take my fingers out of my ears to hear him as Helen was still giving us her speech – how green Thassos was due to the pine and olive trees covering the island, how they mined marble and exported it to the Middle East, how the tap water was safe but not recommended for drinking. I think it was about then my husband made his comment about package holidays.

Eventually, she stopped and I fell asleep. When I woke we were still in transit. Finally, we reached the harbour and onto a fabulously large, clean and new-looking ferry for the thirty-five-minute crossing which was a breezy sunny delight apart from seagulls dive-bombing the boat for the sandwiches people were throwing out for them. Horrible creatures (see earlier blogs).

Unfortunately, Helen and Pedro came with us and we climbed back on the coach wondering how long this part would take.

Long enough for Helen to tell us about Thassos – how green Thassos was due to the pine and olive trees covering the island, how they mined marble and exported it to the Middle East, how the tap water was safe but not recommended for drinking – with added bon mots such as ‘when you leave the coach take your bags with you’ and ‘come to the Let’s Meet and I’ll tell you a bit about the island’.

“You can go to that,” I said to my husband.

Even Pedro must have had enough as he seemed to go a little faster.

We dropped off at hotel number 1, the Four Seasons.

“Ah,” I said, knowingly. “They always show you the nicest hotel first so you know to pay more next time.”

“Nah-uh,” said my husband. “Four Season, not Four Seasons.”

“Surely not?” I said, but sure enough, the sign said The Four Season. Apart from the appalling grammar and blatant misrepresentation how would it compare? Not well. It was a smallish, brown affair with a pool, not terrible-looking, just not great. Number 2 was slightly larger, a bit more open, and a few more were released from the hell of the coach and Helen’s narration.

“Okay, that was the Hotel Georgios in the village of Skala Prinou we just dropped off at –“ WE KNOW! We just lived through it twenty seconds ago! “– and now we’ll go on to the Hotel Alea in the village of Prinos.”

Yay! That’s us!

“Kids, we’re next.” They perked up out of their slumped positions.

“Can we go to the pool?”

“Can we get an ice cream?”

We looked at our watches. 5.15pm. Three hours after landing.

“Let’s see what’s what when we get there,” said their dad. They knew he’d take them to the pool, I knew he’d take them to the pool, he knew he’d take them to the pool but appearances had to be maintained.

Pedro slowed ominously as we approached a hotel with grilles on the windows.

“That looks like a prison,” I said. Maybe they’d employed the same design team as Gatwick Airport.

Thankfully, we drove on by albeit at a pace a snail with ME could have outrun.

And then we arrived at the grandest hotel so far. It had a large open reception with hints of beach and pool beyond. The décor was calming teal and beige and it looked spotlessly clean.

“This looks lovely,” my husband remarked.

“I’m so glad it wasn’t the first one,” said another lady from the coach. They shared a ‘lucky escape’ look.

Apart from being ‘tagged’ for the week with a wristband we weren’t allowed to remove all looked good.

“Why can’t we take these off?” said my daughter, tugging at it.

“If you want the nice food and the free ice-creams you’ll leave it on,” I said.

She did.

After they dipped in the pool whilst I unpacked we got ready for dinner and went up in the glass lift to the al fresco dining room overlooking the gardens, pool and sea.

“Next time we go away,” said my husband, sipping at his first cool on-tap Amstel, “make sure we book somewhere like this.”

 

PS. He went to the welcome meeting.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Fine.”

“Did you get a map of the island?”

“Yep.”

“Did she tell you about the island?”

“Yep.”

“About how green it was, and the marble and the tap water?”

“Yep.”

“Seriously? Again?”

“Yep.”

He paused. “She’s missed her calling. She should be on one of those shopping channels where all they do is repeat themselves over and over.” He paused again. “You’re going to the next one.”
PPS. We both know I’m not but appearances have to be maintained.

 

PPPS. “What’s the name of that town on the mainland that the rep said we were near?” I asked.

“Kavala, where the airport is.”

“Not that one. She mentioned a bigger town, began with an H.”

“I don’t’ remember that,” he said, frowning.

“You know why?” I said.

“Why?”

“Because she only said it once.”

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From the Mouths of Babes

Number 1:

Me, feeling mushy: “You’re going to make a lovely lady very happy when you’re all grown-up.”
Four-year-old son, knowingly: “Well, I do know how to make a paper frog.”

Number 2:

“I wanna take a Sophie,” said my youngest, taking my phone and pointing the camera towards him.

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Glass Ceiling over the U.S.

          I said eight years ago, when it was  race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination that they wouldn’t vote for a woman, and so it proved.
I say now, when it’s a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for the White House that they would rather vote for a backward-looking, divisive misogynist than a woman.
Let’s see if I’m proved right this time.
P.S. I’m very happy to be wrong.

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