I Work in an Internet Café; Am I an Internet Barista or a Café Geek?

Our driver to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport was elderly and who, the evidence would indicate, was having an intimate relationship with a flagon of vino blanco. In addition, and probably because of, he was not a morning person and he grunted commands as we heaved the bags into the back of his vehicle for our flight to Venice. However, he was the safest driver I’ve seen, he followed the lines on the road all the way to the airport – left wheels on one side of the centre line and right wheels on the other – he straddled the centre line, ensuring that two lanes of traffic queued behind us. When other drivers became so frustrated that they blasted horns at our man, he would veer over to one side to let them pass before returning to his original position and then swear and growl loudly at those who dared to want to use one of his two lanes.

Upon arrival in Venice, we needed to find a laundromat and an internet café. As far as the children were concerned – not necessarily in that order – this may have influenced the effort they put into searching for a laundromat which we were unable to locate. But we did find an internet café near the Rialto Bridge and the person tending the shop (do we call him an internet barista or a café geek?) appeared to have some pretty flash 486’s just waiting to be fired up. Adjacent to the Rialto Bridge are numerous eateries and we chose what looked like a quaint little restaurant down a nearby laneway. ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ (SWoMBO) was comfortable with the prices and so we decided that this would be our luncheon venue. We stood around at the entrance to the restaurant reviewing the menu which we had learned, from our European experiences thus far, would result in us being welcomed, or even accosted, by a maître d’. On this occasion, no-one came.

SWoMBO ultimately spoke to one of the staff and arranged for us to sit outside in the fresh air. It was November in Venice and the air was, indeed, fresh, crisp or even icy some might say. Interestingly, none of the other restaurant patrons had chosen to sit outside and this should have perhaps been used by us as guidance. Nevertheless, we sat down. At this point a person from the restaurant, who had a look of self- importance about him somewhat incongruent with a man who served spaghetti for a living, ambled across the small courtyard in our direction. He seemed to take an instant dislike to us, an outcome I am normally able to achieve from those who get to know me, but rarely so quickly as, apparently, I did on this occasion. Several of us were served a meal which was not in keeping with previous high standards we had experienced in Italy. SWoMBO said that her food was good, but how one could enjoy a pizza topped with artichoke and mushrooms is completely foreign to me, so I would class her as an ‘unreliable witness’.

07 Venice Rialto Bridge

We didn’t feel like dessert or coffee which was fortunate because it wasn’t offered to us, nor did they bring the bill. I entered the establishment to make payment and tendered my credit card prompting a curt response from the manager that he would prefer cash. I didn’t have much cash and so with the prospect of being unable to pay the bill, my heart started to pump faster with each of the manager’s entries into the calculator which would determine my debt. As it turned out I was able to make good the bill with five Euros to spare. My regard for this restaurant and its staff was not enhanced when I exited the establishment only to observe what was proudly displayed on the restaurant window that a credit card is, at least for others, an acceptable means of paying for your meal.

Next on our ‘to do’ list was to locate a supermarket and obtain the essentials for three nights in Venice. In the delicatessen, they had several plates of food to sample. Demonstrating my open-mindedness to the local cuisine, I sampled something which had the appearance of a white, cold, crumbed chicken nugget but I had no idea what Italian delicacy it would turn out to be. You can imagine my surprise when, upon putting the entire thing into my mouth, it revealed itself to be a refrigerated crumbed chicken nugget. I had never eaten a cold chicken nugget before and can safely say that I will never knowingly do so again. But the damn thing was now in my mouth. There was no graceful way of escape and I had to chew the entire thing and swallow it, to the sheer joy of my son, Chris, who could tell by the look of horror on my face that something was seriously wrong – he had an uncanny knack of being around when I did something stupid.

As we moved around the supermarket, our journey took us back past the food samples. I should, having regard to my chicken nugget experience, have proceeded with extreme caution, however I noticed that next to the cold chicken nuggets there was a tasting plate of something which has been rolled into balls – they looked like they may have something soft and creamy inside and I decided that they might contain a creamy camembert cheese. Therefore, I confidently selected my ‘camembert’ with the tiny toothpick provided for the purpose and placed the entire unit into my mouth whereupon it became immediately and abundantly clear that it was not a cheese ball and I felt instead that I was chewing upon dried miniature trees. It became apparent those trees took the form of cold broccoli or cauliflower. I am not sure what most influenced my response; that the consistency of the ‘food sample’ was so completely at odds with my expectation, or the fact that I routinely avoid both broccoli and cauliflower like the plague. In any event, it was most unpleasant. As soon as I commenced to chew, the look on my face told the story and yet again Chris was watching the entire experience unfold.

The following day we headed to Piazza San Marco aka St Mark’s Square which is the forecourt to the Basilica which gives the Piazza its name. The entire Square was flooded. When I say flooded I mean that the tide had risen to the point where the famous canals of Venice, had spilled into the Square. The water was calf height (no, not as high as a small cow but partially up your leg).

We decided to take a wander through the Basilica which was an extremely impressive looking structure viewed from the Piazza, but less so, it transpired, from inside. Leanne and Sarah then visited an old palace. Subsequent research leads me to believe that this was Doge’s Palace. I was happy for Leanne and Sarah to enjoy this experience in my absence since the prospect of wandering around an old palace had about as much attraction for me as being the subject of the torture which was apparently conducted there in days’ past. So, we did a deal whereby the boys would gather the ingredients for lunch at the ‘supermarcato’ while the girls had the fun of the palace tour.

After purchasing the raw materials for lunch, the boys returned to the apartment building only to realise that we didn’t have the entry key which was in Doge’s Palace with SWoMBO and ‘SWoMBO in training’. After unsuccessfully attempting to break into our unit, I decided it was time to head to reception, swallow my pride and ask for assistance. I did so and was rewarded with a spare key. Before leaving, I attempted to thank the staff. However, I must have temporarily forgotten which continent I was on and instead of saying “Grazie” to the lady behind the desk I said; “gracias” which if pronounced correctly in Spain or South America would mean the same thing. However, I was neither in Spain nor South America and I did not pronounce ‘gracias’ correctly which, had I done so, might have sounded something like ‘grass see us’. Instead I said something which sounded more like ‘grutzy ass’. I was horrified by my own ineptitude. As I walked toward the door of the reception office I started to practice what I should have said. I repeated several times; “grazie, grazie, grazie”. Alas, it was too late and I could hear the staff sniggering at my mutilation of their language as I walked away. And as if matters could become any worse, Christopher along with his brother Matthew, had overheard the entire thing and were already laughing so hard there were tears forming in their eyes as they commenced to mimic me relentlessly repeating, “grutzy ass, grutzy ass, grutzy ass!”.

Deciding to leave Venice prior to doing any further damage to my reputation, we waited as instructed on the wharf nearby our apartment for the water taxi. Numerous water taxis passed our wharf but none seemed to want to pick us up. After some time, I observed a taxi which appeared to be slowing as it came near to us and I encouraged the family to gather the bags and be ready for a swift boarding. They complied and we hurriedly grabbed each of the pieces of luggage in readiness. Yet no sooner had the taxi slowed that it increased its speed and left us standing on the wharf. All that was left for me to do was contemplate the words inscribed on the taxi; “Servizio Transporti Funeri”. I decided I didn’t want to go in that taxi anyway!

If you can’t be Original then Copy Someone Who Is

Breakfast at Hastings was taken in the hotel where three of us caused toast to catch fire creating a thick pall of smoke throughout the restaurant. The Maître d’ looked at me as if to say; “they are your pyromaniacs – control them”. I thought in silent reply that the blame for one fire may be directed toward my pyromaniacs (I mean ‘children’), but after three fires in 30 minutes my pyromaniacs are in the clear and I would be investigating inadequate cleaning and or poor maintenance in his restaurant. I think he read my mind and in response opened the doors to let some fresh air circulate through the place despite the temperature being near freezing outside. The other guests were thrilled as this private war was waged.

The food itself was your average hotel breakfast (last night’s restaurant menu leftovers, recycled into ‘Old English Chip Potatoes’ and ‘Red, ripe and rich tomatoes’). Leanne had learnt her lesson about ordering run of the mill English coffee and had ordered a cup of tea. And unless the kind waiter had gone to see Mr Dilmah to have one custom made, he had forgotten to bring it. Leanne is not one to worry about things like this and would happily have gone without her cup of tea, but I thought if she’s ordered it – she should have it. The war with this restaurant wasn’t over yet! Therefore, on the next occasion I saw one of the guys running around in suits, I said very politely “Excuse me, I wonder if we could have the cup of tea we ordered?” to which he not so politely replied, “I’m not a waiter, I don’t work here”, and then turned away and continued to arrange his breakfast. The children were mortified, 17 year-old Sarah had ‘never been so humiliated in her life’. I must admit that I too was somewhat embarrassed and chose not to make eye contact with anyone else in the restaurant that morning. Leanne simply laughed at my stupidity. I had to admit my stupidity had resulted in a decisive victory to the ‘bad guys’ in this modern-day equivalent of what I had imaginatively labelled the ‘Battle of Hastings’.

We travelled that day from Hastings to Bournemouth (pronounced ‘Bormuf’ as far as I could ascertain). We ended up staying a nice pub whose rooms, according to the receptionist, came replete with a balcony and a view of the ocean, which I was informed, “normally costs 30 pounds, and so because you have two rooms you are saving 60 pounds”. The fact that it was again freezing and pitch black outside when we arrived could equally be interpreted as us having just wasted 60 pounds on an unusable balcony without a view, but this was not a discussion I felt was necessary to have with the pleasant lady at Reception. We took the ‘dinner’ option which provided everyone the opportunity to get dressed up to eat in a restaurant, the first time we had done so in Europe. The makeup was applied in generous proportions in preparation for the evening and the girls dressed up as well!

Leaving Bormuf the following day we headed for Salisbury and navigated our way to the Salisbury Cathedral complex. I was surprised to see a sheep’s skin in a glass case being passed off as the Magna Carta, lying around in a church in regional Salisbury. I asked the official Salisbury Cathedral Tour Guide whether it was an original. “Well” she said with a slightly patronising tone; “You need to change the way you think about originals”. I didn’t feel the need to change the way I thought about originals at all but I decided to let that pass without response. She went on to explain that when the Magna Carta was agreed after 12 months’ negotiation with King John, there was a …. (what is the collective noun for a group of journalists ….. perhaps a ‘harangue’ or ‘tirade’) of scribes all capturing the words so that they could distribute 35 copies to Cathedrals around the United Kingdom. Therefore, even though each version looked different because they were done in a different hand, the words of each of the documents are the same, and as a result they are all “originals”. So perhaps I just need to change the way I think about the concept of “originals”. As it turned out only thirteen originals were produced and today just four remain in ‘captivity’.

Our tour guide went on to explain that there are only four of the original laws, first writ in the Magna Carta, still in existence today including the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. She also told us how that overly conservative Vatican wouldn’t allow the English to do things their own way, so Henry VIII had to take control of the Church for the good of England. It was a well-rehearsed line and neatly avoided the issue of Henry’s desire to marry anything in a skirt. But it wasn’t the time for me, to enter that debate as this was a formidable tour guide and she had clearly dealt with those who know their theology and its history far better than a lapsed Catholic such as myself.

After moving through the Chapter House where all church business was done including meetings of all the bishops from the diocese, we arrived at the entry to the Cathedral. I paid my dues to the man with the cash register on the door which leads directly to the restaurant (yes – restaurant!) and then to the gift shop before I even had the chance to bless myself inside the church. The Cathedral had a magnificent, well maintained organ, many small chapels off to the sides, old high backed wooden seats for the notables, many sarcophagi and a high vaulted ceiling and was well worth the visit.

However, time was marching on and we needed to see Stonehenge so we set off again. The amazing thing about this country is that you cover it so quickly. We did not set out to travel vast distances but we travelled through five or six counties in three days.

And so, in short order we arrived at Stonehenge (which means Hanging Stones). Stonehenge was excellent. It is arguable that, nobody really knows why it exists and it appears that it was built, remodelled and renovated – between 5000 and 3,500 years ago. I was a bit sceptical about the stone which appeared to have a steel reinforcing insert but I guess those guys were more advanced than I gave them credit for. I was impressed with way that lintels do not simply sit atop the vertical stones but are cut in using, what I thought were, modern woodwork techniques and also that the uprights are one third below ground. There was quite a deal of engineering in Stonehenge which occurred well before the industrial revolution. Indeed, the existence of; pyramids, the Colosseum, the Great Wall, Machu Picchu, and countless other, Egyptian, Roman, Chinese and Inca constructions makes you question whether what happened in the 1700’s was a revolution at all. Perhaps I need to change the way I think about industrial revolutions too.

One Man’s Quest for a Decent Hotel – Why the Normans Really Invaded Hastings in 1066

My son, Chris, who is especially afflicted by the effects of motion sickness, was as pale as a sheet as the train gathered speed through the outskirts of Paris. Making matters considerably worse (and I say this in a caring sort of way) he was sitting next to me! And as the train reached the French countryside, at least I believe it was the French country side, it was raining so heavily and the mist hung so low it was hard to tell where we were, it commenced to sway from side to side and Chris began to look decidedly queasy. Swap seats? …. anyone?

To take my mind off my poor son’s illness I ordered a cup of coffee – and found to my regret that my personal adage that good coffee draws its own borders was, again, proving accurate – and we were still technically in France. And, before I could rid myself of the aftertaste we arrived at the International Terminal of Ashford which, I note in passing, is a particularly grand and not altogether warranted, name for a railway station.
We had booked a car in advance and the rental company representative met us shortly after our arrival. After disposing of the administrative tasks, the representative offered to walk us to the vehicle, and provide an overview of its operation. I felt this was unnecessary and politely declined his offer to do this, only to be over-ruled by ‘She Who Must be Obeyed’ (abbreviated and pronounced ‘SWoMBO’) who thanked the gentleman for his offer and said we would be delighted for him to take us to the vehicle.

As a collective we went to the car park to find our allotted vehicle although I was probably at the rear of the group as part of my personal – but silent – protest at how unnecessary was this ceremonial hand-over of the keys to a rental car. We arrived at the car which looked much like all the other vehicles parked alongside it. However, as the car doors were opened it turned out our car was indeed different in as much as the previous user had mistaken it for the Ashford household refuse emplacement facility! It had clearly not been cleaned since its last use and the floor was littered with paper, used tissues and remnants of fast food. Sticky substances had dripped on and from the cup holders. The car was unfit for human occupation. The rental guy was very apologetic and continued to repeat the word ‘sorry’ a dozen times as he, in turn, located a vacuum cleaner and a damp rag and proceeded to provide the car something – substantially less than the thorough ‘clean and disinfect’ it required but – sufficient to give it the superficial appearance of cleanliness. He then apologised some more – and the ceremonial passing of the keys turned out to be done with less fanfare and with greater embarrassment, on his part, than had been contemplated 30 minutes earlier when this process commenced.

Then came the time I had been dreading since we arrived at the vehicle – it was the ‘I told you so’ moment. I had not thought it was necessary for rental car man to show us to our vehicle while SWoMBO, you might recall, thought this was a good idea. As it turned out, had the guy not been there when the car doors were opened; he would likely not have believed that the condition of the vehicle could be so bad, he would not have been in a position – nor as motivated – to clean it, and regardless of all those things the entire process would have been much longer had we needed to return to the rental car office, explain the condition of the car and then have them respond to it. I had clearly made an error of judgement in not accepting the man’s offer to take us to the car and SWoMBO was proven right again. It defies the laws of probability that she is right, and I am wrong, as often as these events seem to coincide. But SWoMBO didn’t say ‘I told you so’. SWoMBO didn’t say anything, she didn’t need to say anything and that was more irritating than if she had! She knew, I knew, and she knew I knew and I knew she knew, that she was right to ask the rental guy to join us at the car to deal with exactly the type of eventuality which had … well ….. eventuated. No words were necessary from her. No words came to me. None of this improved my disposition.

Following lunch, we set off in the car for Portsmouth and we were travelling without incident when SWoMBO said “stop, we are going the wrong way”. I didn’t think we were going the wrong way but with the ‘vehicle incident’ still fresh in my mind (read: burned into my subconscious), I decided that discretion is the better part of valour (well in truth someone else decided this but I appropriated it for these circumstances). So, we turned around, retraced our ‘steps’ and found what might loosely be described as a fork in the road. We approached it again and chose the alternate option. Once we had proceeded about 8 kilometres down the alternative course, SWoMBO said, “stop, we are going the wrong way”. So, we turned around, again found the fork in the road and took the original option. I kept my thoughts to myself but one of them was that there are streets in my home town which I have never entered, yet there are now streets in the south of England to which I have been twice! However, it was not my day to have a ‘smart mouth’.

SWoMBO appeared more comfortable with route selection on the second occasion we chose it (perhaps it had a familiar feel) and we continued to a place called Hastings which is on the southern coast of England and which was apparently invaded a few years prior. We decided to stay in a hotel by the sea and there were a number from which to choose. After surveying them from the outside we chose one, whose name escapes me, but which I shall not forget. It had lots of coloured lights and looked inviting from the street.

Once inside our hotel room I saw the sign. The sign advised me that the management had ‘removed all those luxuries that people don’t really want in a hotel’. I am not sure who these people are since I can’t think of any luxuries I do not want in a hotel – there are some I can’t afford to pay for but I want them just the same. Which brings me to toilets which flush or in the case of my spartan hotel room – a toilet which did not flush. Memo to Hotel: Flushing toilets are not a luxury. When I should have been admiring the view of where the Normans invaded in 1066, I found myself instead engaging in plumbing work; which is neither my forte nor my activity of choice when enjoying a family holiday. And with each ‘lunge of the plunge’ I became less forgiving about the ‘luxuries’ I was foregoing.

I have no doubt that there is a market for poorly maintained, cheaply appointed, accommodation. It’s just that I am not it. Providing just two towels per room for five guests in the apparent expectation that they may be willing to share – stretches the boundaries of any (hygienic) definition of those things “that people don’t really want in a hotel”. And leaving a note in the room which advises guests to ‘ask at reception if you want another one’ is not a satisfactory alternative. However, I wasn’t going to die wondering and so I asked at reception. And the look on the face of the receptionist indicated that I may have been the first ever to have done so!

The ubiquitous sign in the bathroom was titled; “60 Ways to be a Friend to your Environment” and advised that I might also like to ‘Ask Reception to Change my Linen every other Day’. Although my assessment, based on a casual inspection of the bedding, is that changing it every other week would likely double the frequency of the linen changes!

It is true that I have stayed in less desirable accommodation than on this night in Hastings. And in all honesty my experience did result in a personal epiphany – it became clear why someone would gather together an army and invade this city. I am just surprised it last happened in 1066.

There’s a PC Way to do Things in Boston

Wing of Plane

We were waiting patiently at the Boston Airport baggage carousel when the strangest of things occurred, someone with exactly the same name as mine was called over the PA system and was urged to return to the gate lounge as there had been some lost luggage which had apparently been found (thereby ceasing to meet the definition of ‘lost’ but let’s not go down that rabbit hole).

As you do, when you fear you may have lost a personal item, I immediately started patting my pockets for wallet, passport and phone and convinced myself that if this person with my name, was actually me – I hadn’t lost those important items. Then, making room for the possibility that there may not be two persons with exactly the same name who coincidentally happened to be in the same airport at the same time, I retraced my steps to the gate lounge as instructed by the announcement.

However, I had already passed through the secure area and the extremely large guard who was patrolling this area had no intention of letting me back through the automatic gates. I tried to explain that I had been called back to the gate for lost luggage and referred him to the PA announcement. He didn’t understand my Australian and I didn’t really understand his Bostonian. Now, I have travelled to many places; Italy, Spain, France, the south of England – where they speak ‘foreign’ languages and have been able to find a way to communicate with people, but for some reason I couldn’t make myself understood in Boston. Regardless, he had the home ground advantage and I needed to try a different approach.

Now, let me start by confessing that, with the benefit of hindsight I can appreciate that treating the guy standing between me and where I wanted to be – like an idiot, was a sub-optimal strategy – not that I set out to do this. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and I was in possession of none of it at this point. I said; “Sir, it seems that I am not making myself clear”, and proceeded to launch into the following monologue, “You see, I was on a plane which landed here in Boston, I exited the plane and went to collect my baggage, someone with exactly the same name as me was paged to return to the plane and while, initially, it wasn’t me – it turns out that maybe it is me. And while initially I hadn’t lost anything it appears now that maybe I have (since I had a few moments earlier recalled that my lap-top computer was missing). So, would you please allow me to return through these gates to collect my computer?”.

He simply stared at me in disbelief for several seconds. The silence was confronting. He was over 6 feet tall and equally wide – he was confronting too. Finally, he spoke and told me that if I wanted to go back to the gate to which I had been recalled, I would need to buy another airline ticket and he pointed me in the direction of the ticket counter. He didn’t specify a destination for my ticket (although I suspect from his perspective, anywhere but Boston would have been adequate). I stood my ground thinking about my next move. The security guard had already thought about his and waved for his colleagues to come and render their assistance he even shouted; “security!”

I thought he was ‘Security’. And if he wasn’t ‘Security’ then to whom did I just tell my life’s story? However, when ‘Security’ arrived I had decided that a ‘Plan B’ was in order and I changed my communications strategy and explained my predicament to a female officer by saying; “I left my ‘laptop’ on the plane” and she told me to go to the ticket desk and get a gate pass or better still ask them to bring the ‘lap-top’ out to me. Good advice. And I was forced to confront the awkward possibility that my communication efforts may have been a factor in my hitherto spectacularly unsuccessful attempts to retrieve my wayward computer.

I therefore decided to keep it equally simple when I explained my predicament to the lady behind the ticket desk, who after checking my credentials rang the gate staff, who, I presume, confirmed that a computer had been found. She said it was now on the way to a manager’s office and that she would retrieve it for me and told me to wait. Wait I did, for over 20 minutes and she did not return. I phoned my wife, who I had left by the baggage carousel, to let her know that despite my absence for what was now more than 40 minutes, I had not been deported from Boston (although there had been a period when that outcome was more likely than not to occur).

I was starting to think my lap-top computer had become someone else’s computer. Yet my new friend behind the desk who I was confident was genuinely attempting to help me, picked up the phone and rang whatever number airport staff ring when they are looking for a lady with a ‘lap-top’, but to no avail. My friend informed me that my lap-top computer; “… was safely in the keeping of the airline, we think we know who has it but we can’t locate her at the moment, and you should wait, since it shouldn’t be much longer before it is returned”. I think she was being entirely honest in her assessment up to the point where she said “it shouldn’t be much longer”, since she really had no idea how long it would take to find the missing woman. And come to think of it there was now a missing woman in the airport – shouldn’t this have had alarm bells ringing and sirens wailing even without the added weight of my missing ‘lap-top’. There was no appreciable sense of urgency to locate this poor woman who, frankly, could be anywhere by now!

Finally, well after I had stopped counting time, another lady carrying a small black device which looked a lot like my ‘lap-top’ appeared from nowhere and I was re-united with the only piece of memory I have which works effectively. I thanked them all profusely and left clutching my ‘baby’. I was pleased that the airline staff member was ok too.

By the time I returned to the baggage carousel the bags had not only arrived but were starting to gather dust and Leanne had found our friends whom we had arranged to meet at the airport at a time which had now long passed. All three of them launched the same questions at me from several metres away about where I had been and what I had been doing. And demonstrating that the day had been a learning experience in keeping things simple, I responded; “my ‘lap-top’ was lost but now it’s found”. They were satisfied with that explanation however the burly security guard whom I had first encountered when I tried to walk the wrong way through one-way gates, heard my explanation and looked over at me as if to say – ‘if you had been that plain spoken with me earlier in the day maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long to get your damn computer back!’.

 

You’ll Never Guess Who I Ran Into on the Way to St Peter’s

07 Vatican St Peters Square   If you are a tourist in Rome, you must visit the Vatican. I know there are some who say they have no desire to do so because they are not particularly religious. This in my view is like refusing to visit the ruins of the very first Olympic stadium in Athens because you are not a fan of sports. Sure, the Vatican is full of history, religion and art but the ‘experience’ is what it’s all about. And perhaps that is why, on any day, there are literally thousands of tourists seeking entry to this institution. But be warned there is a trap for the uninitiated.

Most visitors want to see St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum (which incorporates the Sistine Chapel) and are likely to be lured into joining a queue which is four persons wide and so long and circuitous that you cannot see its front. This is the trap. This winding slow moving queue has all the indications of being a queue for entry to something of importance. It is. We stood in that queue for 20 minutes before realising that it is the queue for the Vatican Museum. However, at that time, we didn’t want to go to the Vatican Museum – but regardless of how long you wait in it, that queue will only take you to the Vatican Museum. It will not take you to the Basilica – nor to our desired destination – the Excavations Tour. Now, given that the Vatican is one of the most visited tourist destinations on the planet there could perhaps have been a sign telling you this – but alas there was not.

The Excavations Tour as the name implies takes you through underground tunnels, beneath St Peter’s Basilica to the ‘excavations’. I wasn’t sure the purpose of these excavations but the website had said it was an elite tour and was limited to 12 per group and so I figured if there was a tour for elite people, I should be on it and had therefore booked it several months earlier. However, following our wasteful time in the Vatican Museum queue, we now had about 10 minutes to be at the commencement point for the excavations tour and we were clueless about where this commencement point was located. We decided to run and ask for directions along the way from anyone who appeared more knowledgeable than ourselves – which of course left the field wide open.

And although I was pre-occupied making my way to our chosen tour, I couldn’t get a nagging thought from my mind which was, based on the hundreds of people queued for the Vatican Museum experience, that it may have been more appealing than my ‘elite’ subterranean tour. I kept this thought to myself and ran onwards until I almost crashed into a couple of Swiss Guards – who we took the opportunity to ask about the commencement point for the Excavations Tour, and who in return, in a tone befitting a security detail, told us to wait for 10 minutes. I was a little unsure whether they understood the question, but they had serious looks on their faces and swords at the ready and I decided not to press them further. Besides, any guys capable of dressing in bright red, orange and blue pant-suits and berets – I decided were confident men who would be unlikely to flinch if they felt the desire to dissect an incompetent Australian tourist who had foolishly decided to join a small tour beneath the Basilica while the balance of the tourist population visited Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the residence of the Pope. I concluded that it might be best that we wait in silence for something to happen. And in due course, it did.

The tour took us below the Basilica to the bones of Saint Peter which made all my junior school religious studies fall into place since the Bible allegedly (I didn’t say I was a conscientious student) says; “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church”. Since Peter means ‘rock’, I was taught that this meant that the Lord would build his church upon Peter. It appeared that since I was about to view the bones of St Peter beneath the Basilica, I was observing the evidence that he did just that.

After viewing the graves of popes’ past and the necropolis, we made our way to what was the climax of the elite tour – to view the bones of St Peter which are contained in a small box which was very difficult to see from approximately 3 metres a result, I have to say, which fell well short of climactic. Yet you could certainly make out some bones (or perhaps stones – they were too old to be identified clearly). Obviously, I have no idea whether these are the bones of St Peter, however it fits quite neatly with the scripture referred to above and what was a plausible narrative provided by our tour Guide. But this, of course, is my summary of information obtained during the tour which may contain some historical inaccuracies and is no way to be read as suggesting that I have accurately captured our tour guide’s shared wisdom (I know he would want me to say that).

After everyone in the group had been given the chance to view the bones of St Peter, we went up one level to see the first altar of the Basilica which was built upon St Peter’s grave, and then to the next level to view the second altar which was built upon the altar which was built upon Saint Peter’s grave, before we finally went up and into the Basilica and saw the current altar which was built upon the altar which was built upon the altar which was built upon Saint Peter’s grave!

After a comprehensive tour of the Basilica, it was 2.30pm and we convinced ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ that it was time for a meal and we walked across the piazza where we found a food vendor and lined up for the obligatory margherita pizzas. While in the queue, the woman standing next to me appeared suspicious. I don’t know why, she just did. Our landlord had warned us to be on the lookout for pick-pockets and with that in mind the woman looked suspicious. In front of us were three young girls whom it is my guess were having their first overseas adventure. I formed this view because one of them had her open bag hanging off her shoulder with her wallet clearly visible.

I remained concerned about the intentions of the woman standing next to me – who did not appear to be examining the luncheon menu at all but whose eyes were darting around over the people in the queue including the girl with the exposed wallet. I then observed the ‘pick-pocket’ woman reach into the American girl’s bag and put her hand on the wallet. Heroically, (and yes, I have given myself this attribution), I reached out and pushed the pick-pocket’s hand away and called to the American tourist that she was about to lose her wallet. Some commotion ensued and there was a lot of noise and movement. The thief, however, adopted the particularly clever disguise of someone standing in a luncheon queue. The American girls looked confused and afraid. The only thing which appeared abnormal to them was me shouting and creating disorder. The three American’s decided that I was the risk to their happy holiday and their wallets and they moved away quickly from the food vendor muttering among themselves about my strange behaviour. Meanwhile the prospective thief who, I re-state for the record, had her hand in the young girl’s bag when I acted, allowed the entire incident to wash over her like the consummate professional that she was.

I came away from the experience, feeling somehow ashamed and embarrassed since it appeared I was the only one behaving oddly. I wanted to approach the Americans and explain what had just happened but decided that would only end in them; calling the Swiss Guards (some of whom were already suspicious of me), yelling ‘Polizia!’, or best case, freaking the girls out even more than I already had.

Instead, we had our lunch sitting against the huge columns which mark out St Peter’s Square looking up at the Basilica, which provided time for quiet contemplation of those things that stretch the capacity of human understanding such as why St Peter’s Square is called a ‘square’ when it is, in fact, circular!

The luncheon interval also enabled us the time to consider what we would do next. And the decision was taken to explore Castel Sant’ Angelo which is situated opposite the Vatican. The Castle has served many purposes over the centuries and I am informed that there is a secret corridor from St Peter’s Basilica to the Castle used by Popes as an escape route. We took the tour of the Castle and while our family of five set off together, Leanne and I became separated from the kids. It was a particularly distressing period for Leanne and I losing our children in a foreign country in which neither the children nor ourselves spoke in the native tongue – and so we decided to have coffee.

And then after a long day, and with children safely back within our care, the pub located directly opposite our apartment was a welcome sight. And while I had been communicating with the Italians sufficiently well to get by, I was a bit daunted by the prospect of having to order beers, wine and soft drink at an Italian bar. With some trepidation and my best “Buongiorno” prepared, I walked into the pub and hesitantly approached the bar. My fears melted as the publican saw me and yelled cheerily “hello mate” with a broad Irish accent.

We left Rome the following day. It was an exciting stay and for me and I have just one criticism; the place needs some renovation. While they have done some work on the Colosseum, St Peter’s tomb is also showing its age. I am advised that the paintwork on Peter’s tomb was done by the Constantines. I am not familiar with this company but I think someone needs to check their trade papers. In the interim, it is my recommendation that if you need a builder around Rome – don’t use the Constantines.

A Long Cold Bath

 

If you think it might be difficult to eat a little chef in Bath, in my experience its the first course which is harder to swallow.

We left Stonehenge bound for Bath. We hadn’t reserved any accommodation but in the middle of winter we deemed that unlikely to be a problem. Yet, after having orbited the city of Bath for more than two hours, hotels were proving no less elusive than when we had arrived earlier during that brief part of the English day when the sun warms things up to a balmy seven degrees Celsius.

I note at this point that we did not have the benefit of technology such as a smart phone to assist in our quest for a hotel and while we did have a lap-top computer it relied on Wi-Fi for internet connection – a resource which was usually available to people who had checked into hotels however we were not, it pains me to emphasise, part of that demographic!

We continued our search for accommodation without success before happening upon what must be said was not a particularly attractive looking establishment. In all honesty, its dimly lit frontage screamed at you; ‘Do not enter this hotel’. And yet I approached what we shall call the ‘Bedrooms in Bath Hotel’ although the Receptionist pronounced the name; ‘Bedrooms in Barf’ which would not, as in the fullness of time I would discover, have been altogether misleading!

Approaching the reception desk, I asked; “Do you have any accommodation?”. “For when?” the young lady shot back. She was not wearing a badge bearing her name so I immediately decided that ‘Einstein’s Daughter’ would be an appropriate, if ironic, moniker. It was almost 8.00pm and I was standing in front of her, speaking in an Australian accent. If she was Sherlock Holmes she may have been shrewd enough to deduce that I was looking for accommodation for that very night.

However, I needed her accommodation more than she needed me. So, I politely explained that I was looking for accommodation for that evening. “How many nights?” she enquired. “Just one night”, I explained pleasantly, thinking that despite my misgivings about the look of the place, I was about to secure a hotel room for the night and after hours of searching I was starting perhaps to feel a little euphoric. Such feeling would be transitory.

“OK” she explains, “You will have to ring Bedrooms in Bath Central Reservations”. It had come to my attention, though maybe not to hers, that there was a computer monitor sitting between she and I – and I was willing to wager that it (and the box attached to it) contained all the information she needed, to establish whether a room was available in the hotel whose reception desk she was tending, and to place me into it. Therefore, puzzled, I said, “I don’t understand” which she thought meant I didn’t understand her instruction to phone Bedrooms in Bath Central Reservations and so she repeated those instructions. Incredulous that I was not making greater progress toward obtaining a room for the night. I asked Einstein’s Daughter, again, whether she had any rooms available, to which she responded, “I might have”. Euphoria … gone.

Truly, I am not making this up.

Einstein’s Daughter rang Central Reservations and then handed me the phone where I waited ‘on hold’ for around 5 minutes before speaking to someone whom I asked for accommodation at the Bedrooms in Bath Hotel. She replied that she needed to check and could I ‘hold’ and I agreed to wait. She seemed overly pleased with my decision as she responded; “brilliant” which I heard as “brill-yun”. I have no doubt that she then logged into the system which Einstein’s Daughter had at her disposal to determine whether there were rooms available at the hotel in whose ‘lobby’ I was waiting, predictably, alone.

Central Reservations advised that accommodation for the night was a ‘possibility’ before asking whether I would I like smoking or non-smoking rooms. I said; “non-smoking”. “Brill-yun” she said, and we continued to make arrangements. “How will you pay?” she asked, “Credit Card” I replied. “Brill-yun” says she. “Ok let me confirm; that’s two smoking rooms ……….” she said, self-satisfied. “Ah, that was non-smoking rooms” I said. “Oh, but we don’t have any non-smoking rooms” she says, “will that be alright?” “Yes”, I answered, deciding that asking her why we just went through my preferences for no earthly reason was not likely to advance my cause. “Brill-yun” she concludes and provided me some confirmation numbers to quote to the hotel.

Exasperated, I passed the phone back to Einstein’s Daughter who had been standing directly in front of me listening to this entire, in my mind, avoidable conversation. “How did you go?” she asked as if she had been in another solar system for the past 15 minutes. “Do you have your confirmation numbers?”. “Those would be the ones I borrowed a pen from you to write down and which are on the desk in front of you”, I thought, but didn’t say. God, we needed this accommodation badly!

She moved to her keyboard and the hitherto lifeless monitor sparked into action as she tapped away. She smiled. “I can give you two rooms side by side”. Her entire demeanour changed from playing hard to get, to being the gracious host.

As I turned to walk from the reception area, Einstein called out – what I heard as; “Will you be eating the little chef tonight?” By this stage after being given the runaround by her and her Central Reservations, I was hungry enough to eat a little chef, but I thought this woman was having a bit of sport with me. I assumed that ‘eating a little chef’ must be a uniquely Bathian euphemism for something or just a little humour, by her, perhaps. I figured I must have heard her incorrectly and I said “I’m sorry, I don’t understand?”. She said; “we have a little chef in the car park”. It was indeed conceivable that the hotel might employ a chef to cook for prospective hotel guests while they navigated their way through the Reservations process which, if my experience was any guide, would take most people past a meal time. But no – the Little Chef was the name of a restaurant located in the hotel car park. When this became apparent to me she said, “so do you think you’ll be eating there?” Initially I thought she was going to tell me to call Central Reservations to book a table (in which case she would no longer be around to confirm that this entire account is true) but fortuitously all she wanted to do was to give me a discount voucher for use at the restaurant.

So, that evening we ate the Little Chef!

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Breakfast

I told the travel agent that I would tell all my friends about our holiday experience including the free breakfast vouchers he provided us and he said in response; “I’m very sorry to hear that”.

It was late when we touched down in Honolulu and made our way to the reception desk at our Waikiki hotel. I produced our pre-paid accommodation voucher and said to the man at reception, who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt open to his waist, exposing more of him than good taste might require, “We have a reservation for Brannon, that’s spelled B-R-A….” “No you don’t,” he interrupted, “I received advice from your travel agent that your booking has been cancelled and you are now staying at another hotel”. And he went on to describe its location.

I might have responded; “Sure, ok, no problem, we’ve been travelling for 13 hours, we’ve got a fully paid voucher entitling us to stay here in this hotel, I’ve just paid $40 for a cab to get to this hotel – but you say someone else has dictated that we should stay at a hotel which; was not of our choice, is of indeterminate quality, and which is located at a destination unknown to me – yeah sure – I’m good with that, where do go I from here?” However, that’s not what I said and an uncomfortable conversation with the ‘Hawaiian Shirt’ followed.

I learned that there had been a commercial dispute between the travel company, ostensibly acting on our behalf in Hawaii, and the hotel we had booked. The result was that the travel company had transferred our reservation to another hotel without our knowledge let alone – our consent. The Hawaiian Shirt offered us a room at his hotel (a room which we had already booked and paid for) but said we would have to pay the full rate in addition to the payment we had already made to stay there. We had no intention of paying twice for the same room and it was clear he had no intention of making good our original reservation, so we had to find our way to the other hotel.

My disposition, not at its peak following my interactions at our original hotel, was not improved when, upon arrival at the new hotel my family, of five persons, was told that our booking was for four people and that if we wanted an additional bed we would have to pay a further $40 per night. I checked to see that it was not April Fool’s Day since I was struggling to believe this chain of events was just random. The American’s have an expression they call ‘hazing’ in which a newcomer (usually to a place of employment) has various practical jokes inflicted upon them by their playful and welcoming workmates. I felt I may be in the middle (or hopefully the end) of a ‘hazing’ as a newbie to the Hawaiian Isles. Unfortunately, after a huge day of buses, airport terminals, air travel and cabs I had left my sense of humour in an overhead locker somewhere and this just wasn’t funny anymore! I informed the hotel receptionist what should have been self-evident, since we were all standing in front of him, that we are a family of five, and he responded with; “my advice is that there are four people”. I pointed out that we had been travelling for six weeks across several continents and our family had neither increased nor decreased in size during that time, that I had booked for five persons, paid for five persons and that I struggled to understand how our travel agent would rationalise my family by one person during the final leg of our trip.

The receptionist continually pointed to a computer screen and a document (no doubt a print from the same screen) which unsurprisingly seemed to accord with one another to ‘confirm’ that there were just four people in our family tonight. I felt that I was in a scene from John Cleese’s hilariously funny ‘Faulty Towers’ but somehow the humour I obtained watching John Cleese treat his guests
abominably had deserted me this evening. After considerable debate, Leanne and I were permitted to keep our three children and we made our way to our room at some time after midnight. The room was ordinary – it was not what I had booked or paid for – but it was now well past the hour when Cinderella’s pumpkin lost its magic and all the fight had gone out of me for that night.

….But it returned when the phone rang the following morning at 8.30am. It was Keith, the General Manager of our travel company with his explanation of how we had been “upgraded” to our new hotel, which I note in passing was not on Waikiki Beach as was the hotel we had booked. It was, nevertheless fabulous, according to Keith, that he had managed to upgrade our booking! Keith’s enthusiasm for our ‘upgrade’, I am sure he hoped, would be contagious. However it was not. And the only potential contagion that I felt that morning lay within the confines of my upgraded hotel room. Then, perhaps forgetting that we had been ‘upgraded’, Keith said, “we contacted the hotel to let our customers know about the changes we had to make”, in response to which I told him that nobody bothered to notify us and after 13 hours of travel I was not impressed to be told that my booking had been cancelled. “Oh, we tried to contact you too” he said pathetically. I didn’t even debate that claim. Instead I said, “when we arrived at our upgraded hotel, they only had a booking for four people”.

“No, that’s not right” said Keith. “Yes Keith, that is right”, I retorted with more than a hint of frustration since it was me, and not Keith, who had been arguing with two separate hotel reception desks until very late the previous evening. “There are five people on my list”, said Keith. I said, “well the fellow at the reservations desk only had a booking for four people and wanted to charge us more for an additional bed”. “No, no” said Keith, “You have five in your party”. I said, “yes I know how many children I have, it is the hotel you chose for me, Keith, that seems to have a problem accepting that”.

Keith, it appeared, was no stranger to dealing with customers who had been inconvenienced by his organisation and he was now ready to make his big play, “We have given you free breakfast” he said excitedly. We had noted that we had some vouchers for breakfast included in our room key satchel upon check-in, but as I said to him, “we only have vouchers for four people”. “Oh, that’s the hotel’s issue we can’t do anything about that”, he said back-pedalling at the same speed as he had raced to make the offer in the first place. So, I said, “Keith, as a demonstration of good faith, why don’t you throw in another breakfast voucher?”. “I can’t do that” he said, “I don’t have the authority”. I pursued that with him but he would not budge. Keith was the General Manager of a travel company and had just admitted that he was either unable (but perhaps more likely – unwilling) to authorise a breakfast voucher. I would have been embarrassed to admit to either!

I wanted to ask him whether he had selected which of my children should not eat that morning but thought that might be lowering myself to his level, so I concluded by saying; “Keith, this is my first experience with your company and I will be telling all my friends about my trip to Hawaii. “I’m very sorry to hear that” he said.

So Who Put the Water Feature in the Middle of a Walkway

As I proceeded down one of the exhibition halls within the British Museum I was following a large crowd, and in truth probably not watching where I was going, when my right foot struck something quite solid on the floor in front of me. Instinctively, I lifted my foot up to avoid whatever object I had contacted but I was in motion at the time and had momentum and was unable to simply stop instantaneously with my foot perched in mid-air. I had to bring my foot down to the floor. When I did it landed on what felt like a step of some description. However, I didn’t know what I had stepped onto and became immediately concerned that I may be crushing some priceless Egyptian relic, (they do have priceless Egyptian relics in the British Museum), so I shifted my foot forward to remove it from the obstacle and immediately felt a cold sensation running up my leg.

Having just visited the Egyptian mummies, it fleetingly entered my mind that I had perhaps desecrated one of their tombs and this cold sensation in my leg was the spirit striking back. It became immediately clear that it wasn’t. I had instead, clumsily planted my foot into a pond of water with a depth which completely enveloped my shoe and ran partly up my leg. I was aghast.

The first emotion I dealt with was the embarrassment of it all. My head said; “don’t draw attention to yourself” – as if that ship had not already sailed! However, my leg, acting independently, jumped out of the pond drawing with it a substantial amount of water. The movement of this water did not occur silently. There was what I would describe as a ‘whoosh’ as I withdrew my leg from the pond as the water followed it and a loud ‘slap’ as the water hit the concrete walkway of the museum. Very discrete I was I not. I had not managed my first emotion particularly well.

The next thing to go through my head was, a return to a previous thought, that I may have damaged something of significance and my eyes were starting to dart around looking for a curator or security guard, who was going to tell me that the water which was now squelching from my sock within my waterlogged shoe was the only remaining water from the spring which fed the hanging gardens of Babylon. Now, putting my hopelessly inadequate recollection of ancient history and knowledge of the environmental sciences aside, in truth, I didn’t hang around waiting to be told.

But then I saw the face which elicited greater fear than any security guard or curator. My youngest son, Chris, had seen the whole event unfold and was now laughing so hard he could no longer breathe. And I knew that his next move would be to share his latest hilarious story about his father’s misadventures with as many people he could find. Fortunately, in this instance, that likely restricted him to just three persons, since he was in England with his family of five at this point. He raced to find his mother, brother and sister who were all looking at different exhibits in different locations, which was perfect for Chris because he got to tell his story three times embellishing it on each occasion.

Soon the five of us were together, providing Chris another opportunity not only to re-tell his new favourite story but to take questions and answers. No questions were directed to me because they all knew that the answers Chris provided would be a much funnier ‘take’ on the events which had unfolded. I guess it was also true that as I squelched along the corridors of the Museum leaving a wet trail in my wake, I wasn’t the pin-up dad with whom one wished to be closely associated. Sarah, who was 17 years old, repeatedly said; “How embarrassing” not just to family members but also to passers-by – total strangers, whom she felt may be in danger of forming the view that she and I were somehow related – “how embarrassing” she would say and shake her head in disbelief. Some of those passers-by were now less in passing mode than loitering nearby in order to listen to the crazy stories being told by this twelve year old boy who still hadn’t stopped laughing despite the event
having occurred thirty minutes previously. I am sure some felt this was part of a new Museum exhibit – an attempt as museums are wont to do to keep pace with the millennials and ensure they have a service offering to suit all tastes. To my absolute horror there were now complete strangers laughing at my ineptitude.

Yet the ignominy which was to be visited upon me that day was incomplete. I had a shoe and sock which remained saturated and could not continue my day in this condition and so I had to wring the damn things out (which was an appropriate allegory for what my son was currently doing as he was squeezing the last drop of value from his stories about my misadventure). I could not exit the museum to rid myself of this problem since it was mid-winter and without being too melodramatic about it all, my toes would potentially freeze and frankly that was an altogether different kind of pain that I could do without. The alternative was to find a seat beneath a garden inside the museum and remove the offending shoe and sock and wring as much water from them as possible (into the garden). And so there I sat, alone, looking for all the world like a homeless person who had been caught in some peculiar rainstorm which affected only one part of his body, taking refuge from the elements. I am sure kind people would have thrown money into my hat if only I had removed it from my head – but it served as camouflage and I had no intention of doing that. With the leg of my jeans rolled up and otherwise sock and shoeless, I am sure I looked pitiful. And despite all of this, with the job complete, oddly I didn’t feel much better – my foot remained wet since there is a limit to the amount of water one can squeeze from a leather shoe!

The pond turned out to be just that – a pond or water feature – in the middle of a walkway in the middle of an exhibition in the middle of the museum. Why on God’s earth would you put a pond in the middle of a walkway? That said, I think I escaped the incident without too much public ridicule – as far as I am aware there was no story in the Times, although Chris took great joy in telling us all about the other couple who saw the event and apparently received entertainment well worth the price of admission. And as I left the Museum later that day I am sure the security guard at the door had a wry grin on his face as I passed.

The Problematic Passenger

I was once on a flight somewhere near Philadelphia when one of the flight crew was performing her safety monologue. I try to listen to the safety stories on the basis that some day when I need it I will recall that one piece of critical information I need to survive. On this day I was assisted when the lady performing her soliloquy said, “there may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there is only one way to leave this aircraft – and it is through this door”. You had to be there but it was funny – she made people laugh. And it was the only time I can ever recall airline staff being at all humorous.

We had checked in our luggage and were headed for the gate lounge. Half way down one of those wide corridors was a short, stout woman sitting at a desk by herself (I would subsequently and ironically label her ‘Princess Charming’). My wife, Leanne and I approached the Princess (in truth, we didn’t actually approach her at all as there was no security barrier just a Princess on a chair in the middle of a corridor and our instinct was to walk around her). But she saw us coming and there was no crowd around, we were like deer which been separated from the herd. She pounced, “you can’t be taking all that hand luggage on the plane”. We were taken by surprise at what she had said and the menacing tone in which she said it, and I said to her, “this hasn’t been a problem previously, I don’t understand what you mean”. “I mean you can’t be taking all that hand luggage on the plane!” she said again but this time with sarcasm and in a louder voice in a deliberate attempt, I believe, to attract attention to herself. I tried again, “my wife and I have been travelling throughout America and Canada and have carried the same hand luggage onto the aircraft on each occasion – we must have had ten flights so far – I just need to understand the problem”. She responded with, “you are the problem, and I don’t care where you been or where you’re going – you won’t be taking all that hand luggage on my plane! There may be other airlines that let you do it but it’s not happening on my airline”.

I didn’t want to inflame an already emotive situation but she was simply showing off by attempting to humiliate us and I just had to say, “it is your airline we have been flying with ever since we arrived in the United States and it is your airline that hasn’t had a problem with our hand luggage until today, perhaps you might be prepared to reconsider and let us continue to our flight”. I knew that it was over by this stage but something about her and her attitude (and me and mine) just made me say it. She looked me in the eye and said, “No”. That’s all she said, simply “No”.

We made our way back to the check-in counter and checked in one small black bag and then hurried toward the gate lounge past the Princess, who I felt had a particularly smug look on her face, and onwards toward ‘Security’. With time now being of the essence, we were delighted to be informed that ‘our airline had selected us for an additional security check’ and we were directed to walk through Row ‘B’, away from where others were queued. There was no queue for Row ‘B’. I didn’t pause at that point to ponder why – but that was about to become apparent.

At the end of security Row ‘B’ stood a large man who appeared, judging by the pained expression on his face, to have had a very bad day. When I approached him, he mumbled some words to me which I was unable to discern but which seemed to be a little different to the standard security patter, and I nervously (he was a very large man) asked him to repeat what he had said and immediately wished I had not. This time he spoke clearly and distinctly
and informed me that an ‘Additional security check’ meant that I would experience a full body pat down while I witnessed my (now reduced volume of) hand luggage being torn apart in the quest for unspecified illicit substances. Those may not have been his precise words but that’s what I heard. However, he concluded by advising me in a matter of fact sort of way that “if he felt the need to touch my private areas he would use the back of his hand”. I did not find this at all reassuring and pondered what scope the words, “if he felt the need”, provided this man!

Fortunately, my new, almost very close friend, found nothing about me that caused him to feel the need to touch my private areas. I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or slighted!

Once on board the flight it was not long before I had the pleasure of meeting some of the flight crew. It would appear that I was to have a very bad day. It so happened, due to no fault of mine, that my seat was malfunctioning. Having pressed the little silver button to ‘bring my seat into the upright position for take-off’ – which it did, I found that as soon as I put my weight on the back of the seat it gradually eased backwards into a recline position and started to fall away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Whereas others’ seats performed their roles admirably, mine simply slipped back as soon as I sat back against it. After having noticed this malfunction I was continually pressing the circular silver button on the armrest of the seat to make my seat conform to the rules. But, of course, none of the flight attendants had been watching my efforts to conform and simply assumed that I had not bothered to follow the rules and one of them asked me, curtly, to “bring my seat into the upright position” – and so I did – again – but I also explained to her that my seat was broken. It was clear that she did not believe me and walked away, no doubt consigning me to the ‘another troublesome passenger’ category. As the flight continued and seats were allowed to be reclined, the flight staff lost interest in me and my malfunctioning seat. This changed as we came into land when a different flight attendant came to tell me to put my seat into the forward position. I repeated to him that the seat was broken and that while I could temporarily bring my seat forward it would not stay in position. I demonstrated this to him and his response was to remain silent and quickly move away from the area. I didn’t know where he was going but decided then that this was not going to end well for me. Shortly thereafter the flight attendant returned with (what turned out to be) the senior flight attendant who clearly meant business. The senior flight attendant asked me without humour to bring my seat forward, which I did. And with that he turned and walked away with a self-satisfied look on his face, having just shown the junior staff how to sort out a problem passenger. Of course, to bring one’s seat forward one must take the weight off the back of the seat – which I had done – and so simultaneous with the departure of the senior flight attendant, I leant back in the seat and the seat which surprisingly enough had not repaired itself during the flight, eased back such that it was no longer in the upright position. I am not sure whether the senior flight attendant saw this or one of his underlings reported it to him but he returned to my seat very quickly. He said, “put your seat forward” and I explained that I would do so but that it was pointless because it would immediately fall back again. “Well let’s see” says our man as without further word, he reaches across my wife in the aisle seat and then across me, to press the silver button to bring the seat forward. Of course, the seat again came forward and you could see the smug look of satisfaction on his face. I tried to explain that it wasn’t a malfunction of the silver button (which did its job quite effectively) but what happens thereafter. But again, self-satisfied, he turned and walked away.
And my seat returned to its previous habit of refusing to remain upright. Again, I was approached by the staff – a new recruit on this occasion – to talk about my ‘seat issues’. By this stage I had really had enough of the arrogance of these guys, this was no longer fun and I was set to forcefully explain my position. But she took the wind right out of my sails by asking me to move to another seat for landing. Although I would have preferred to remain seated with Leanne, this seemed like a reasonable solution and I was happy to comply – although I wondered why it was so important to have my seat in the upright position if I was now allowed to wander unsupervised around the cabin as we descended – but I decided in the interests of keeping the peace – I would keep that thought to myself and I moved, with a positive attitude, to the seat number she had allocated to me. My positivity evaporated when it became apparent that she had moved me to baby land – dozens of young crying, whingeing children who seemed to be unparented. This was my punishment for being a problem passenger. I smiled, through clenched teeth, at one of the little darlings who thought it was fun to empty the ashtray (of assorted lolly wrappers and chewing gum) all over my leg. Shortly thereafter we landed but I don’t recall any tearful farewells from flight crew at the cabin door as I disembarked the aircraft. They were, no doubt, mourning my departure privately.