Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eclipse ambivalence

Tonight's total lunar eclipse made me think two things:


  1. Wow look at that, amazing!
  2. Er...what's all the fuss about? Yes, the moon's gone red, but it was upside down anyway so no big deal really.

On the first point it really is quite astonishing to watch the Earth's shadow fall across the moon and the scattering effect of the atmosphere make it appear a rusty blood red. Once you know that's what it is, it does make you feel sufficiently small. Of course if you didn't know that, it might make you feel something untoward and bizarre had happened and that you really should go and work out your frustrations on the peculiar lady down the road and her sizable collection of cats and brooms. Dammit she was probably the reason your turnip crop failed, get the kindling.

The second point is a bit harder to nail down. Once you do know the reasons for the moon turning red, should you really be that impressed by it any more? If you happened to be in the right spot on each occasion you could see this twice a year. Being amazed by it when you know that as well doesn't seem too far removed from standing in a muddy field howling at it, which some people were actually doing.

This is possibly why the majority of people left after ten minutes of staring at probably one of the most beautiful natural phenomena they will ever see to go home and stare at the television for a few hours. Weirdos, how can you ignore that? The moon went red for heaven's sake; it was incredible!

Apologies for lack of pictures, the phone wasn't quite up to the task. I'll steal from the newspaper websites tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A long way home

36 hours door to door; not bad for a journey of 17,000 miles plus, but as always the last 8 hours were the hardest and I was close to suicide by the time the plane finally landed.

I’d been doing relatively well having sat next to a couple a bit younger than myself from London to Dubai who kept themselves to themselves and tried very hard to pretend they weren’t kibitzing at my completed crossword. I tried very hard to pretend their public displays of affection weren’t making me feel ill, probably with an equal degree of success.

A few tips for those travelling through Dubai airport:

  • The best value duty free is the Bombay Sapphire Gin: $11 US for a litre and it’s a proper strength at 47%.
  • The hotel bar takes 8 different currencies and makes a mean double espresso.
  • Avoid talking to cross eyed Americans – they’ve taken huge quantities of Xanax and are unaware of the consequences of drinking large amounts of beer in combination with this and prescription sleeping pills.

From Dubai to Bangkok I sat next to a woman who must have been in her 70’s who couldn’t work out the touch-screen entertainment system. Once I’d shown her how this worked she watched Spiderman films for 6 straight hours. Maybe she just liked young muscular men in skin-tight lycra, maybe that’s why she was flying to Bangkok where a small amount of a UK pension will probably purchase many muscular young men in skin-tight lycra, the mind boggles.

A few tips for people travelling through Bangkok Airport:

  • Do not compare this airport to any other in the world, it will only depress you.
  • The moving walkways are talking to you, they are telling you that the walkway is about to end and are triggered by IR beams across the path. This might seem obvious now but after flying for 16 hours or so being at Bangkok Airport feels like you’ve been dropped into a scene from Bladerunner, if you don’t know small details like this you might start trying to figure out which of your travelling companions are simulants.
  • Smokers should kick the habit before getting on a plane. If you haven’t the smoking rooms will make you wish you had. I gave up smoking years ago but even from the outside they look like an experiment in "pressure and stress" from Guantanamo bay.

As so many westerners can say "my luck ran out in Bangkok". I returned to my seat to find that septuagenarian Spiderman fan had been replaced by a man whose shoulder breadth was probably greater than his considerable height. We had a new pilot, a Dutchman who thought he was funny. If there is one thing the world doesn’t need it is airline pilots with a sense of humour, specifically Dutch ones. The child in the seat in front of me who had been a source of considerable amusement on the previous leg of the journey had run out of patience and become a screaming machine with no off button and had been joined by two more of the same. I drank as much alcohol as I could persuade the attendants to give me to try and knock myself out only to be woken every 20 minutes by the ‘please fasten your seatbelts’ announcements, the Arabic version of which sounds like someone clearing a particularly painful obstruction to their airways, or a fresh bout of screaming.

By the time I reached Sydney I was in such a state of unshaven disarray that I was twitching involuntarily and charging about the place with a slightly haunted look on my face in search of my luggage and the duty-free that would bring the blessed ease of unconsciousness once I finally got home. Every airport security officer in the world has been taught to look for that kind of behaviour and so I was stopped about every 20 metres by a uniformed, and sometimes armed, official who asked me where I’d been, where I was going to and details of the flights I’d been on. These questions are intended to make sure that you aren’t about to set yourself on fire shout "God is great" and detonate your shoes but after more than a full day of travelling it’s quite hard to be chirpy and give concise accurate replies. Nonetheless I made it out of the airport in record time only to find that it was raining heavily. I got in a taxi to find it being driven by a young man who looked like he was about to set himself on fire shout "God is great" and detonate his shoes. I set aside the racial stereotypes and chatted to him all the way home to keep myself awake.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve had a gin and tonic at 9am, but it was definitely the only time I’ve actually needed one at that time of day.