Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Too lethargic to post something. So - partly inspired by Dilip D's road journals - more from a flying laptop, three weeks late.

Mosul. Tabriz. Qazvin. Mehrshahr. Karaj. Esfahan. Kirovakan. Yerevan. Azerbaijan. Qom. South of the Caspian Sea, Amol, Babol, Sari, Qaemshahr. Ashkkabad. Mashhad. Far to the north-west, Rostad la Danu. Baku, a name hovering in the north. From 7 miles in the air, the lights of Tehran. Amid all the still lights, one glimmers, like a flare at sea or a lighthouse waxing and waning. The city grid outlined in lights, a smudge of cloud or smog floating above the western part. Outlying clusters of lights mark the suburbs, dwindling into hamlets, between them the occasional single pinpoint of light, the “good deed in a naughty world”. Farther east the darkness swallows the scattered lights. It is easy to imagine life in the wastes, miles from any other human settlement. Easy to imagine the dragons of isolation, of solitude, that eat into the mind and start the cancers of fear and exclusion, fuel the winter dark and fill it with the terrible unknown.

Sevastopol. That last line from Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustam - the new-bathed stars / Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea ..."


Nearly midnight in India, "In dinon" from Life in a Metro in the earphones as the plane starts the descent towards Chennai. Four hours in the airport before my connecting flight to Calcutta. Back after nine days, three countries, three cities. Ahead of me, two days of bloodshed in office, but that no longer matters when compared with the prospect of a Small Welcome and a Familiar Teddy Grumble.


Saturday, February 09, 2008


How sad is it when an old man’s idea of a good time is reduced to listening to Iron Maiden at half-eight on a Saturday evening? In office?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Yet another airport

Fifteen minutes ago I was curious. What is a bocadillo? What does Iberian ham taste like? Now I feel like Obelix as a food critic (remember the exchange with Cleopatra’s taster?). Because the answer to the second question is, salty. As for the first, a bocadillo is evidently a sandwich in something like a small baguette. Not quite so crusty. Toasted and buttered, which is very welcome, but still a trifle rugged. Even when filled with Iberian (salty, OK?) ham and melted Brie.

Half past seven in the morning, dawn breaking through the glass walls, aeroplanes squatting on the tarmac like elongated chickens – any moment one of them will shake itself, fluff out its tail and emit a huge chuk-chuk-churr-oo-ook – the terminal warm and colourful like an indoor plaza. Smells of coffee and fresh bakes register somewhere in my lower brain, and my stomach lets out a low contemplative growl. Tell me, my good man, where is this lounge of which we hear so much?

A flood of totally incomprehensible Catalan follows, accompanied by seven finger waves, a shrug, a full arm point and two (consecutive) raised eyebrows. I stem the outpourings with a hurried ‘Gracias’ and back off warily. Have to find the damn thing myself. And I do. Which doesn’t help at all at all, because a vinegar-faced girl all but shoos me away for not having a privilege card. Excuse me, kiddo? I mean, what?! You expect all passengers through Barcelona to apply, WORLDwide, for a privilege card to this lounge that looks like the lobby of a budget hotel at 3 in the morning? Tell you what, senora, you give me back my boarding pass and I’ll go find a coffee somewhere more cheerful. Meantime, you have a nice vinegar-and-horse-piss, it might improve your attitude. Buenos dias, have a nice day, remember to shut the coffin lid when you take a nap.

Which is how I arrive at the Caffe di Fiore and the Iberian ham bocadillo. Table service only and they obviously have a height requirement for the waitresses. The biggest one could just about eyeball my second shirt button, and I’m not a tall man. Small neat packages they are, though. Black hair, black eyes and black uniforms filled just right. But they serve me a cappuccino gone cold and I have to ask for a fresh hot cuppa. Bad poodles! You shall not get your walkies unless you behave!

A Spanish couple and their two daughters take the table next to me. The husband is an ash blonde version of Cary Grant. The wife and daughters, sadly enough, all look like Sammy Davis Jr. So much for Brief Encounter 2008.

Four airports so far in the last seven days, two more to go. India has uniformity in uniform. The rules are the same in all the airports. Europe seems to revel in unpredictability. At Heathrow, they let me keep my belt on but I had to take my shoes off. Here in Barca it’s the other way round. As for ‘Any liquids’, I had wised up and put even the tiny travel bot of Klein (Eternity, yes I know some of you like to know these things even when it’s not Clooney, not that you can tell us apart in a poor light, oh you can? Did I ASK you, right where were we … ?) inside my suitcase. Which apparently weighs TWENTY-NINE kilos. Agh. That’s what comes of buying Moscatell on the cheap!

Idea – I should take up ethnography. Sociology. Whatever. Do a PhD on inter-cultural and intra-cultural differences as evidenced in airport security and tourist information offices. Important and useful, innit? If I can swing funding for it I’m set for a few years – travel and write and get paid for it.

Except that it would mean too many weeks and months away from a Very Small Person. Who has just asked on the phone, ‘Papa, WHEN will you come home?’ On my way, on my way, give me a day or two!

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Friday, February 01, 2008

More airports

The perils of travel. Ah, a Boots right next to check-in. Enter Boots, buy water. Exit Boots, burly guy at international departures says ‘No water allowed, sir’; throw away water. (You have to go buy some more inside. Water is fine, bringing it across the barrier is not. Restrictive trade practices?).

Next, take out all your toiletries. Lucky lucky me, all they can seize is a nearly empty spray can of Old Spice Whitewater. Sucks to yer, mate, Oi’ll get meself a Bulgari in Barcelona. But I do have to bag all the teeny bottles and put them in the tray. Should I be embarrassed at the number of little bottles from hotel loos? Garn, who cares. Then, lose the shoes. Put them in the tray. The jacket? Yes sir, that would be a good idea. WITH the phone. Both phones. Anything else? I stop myself from asking if they want to see my new undies. Could be termed sexual harassment. Even though the guy at the security barrier is about the size of the Chrysler Building (only not so pointy on top). The idea of ANYbody other than the Rock harassing him is utterly ridiculous. Oh, maybe Vin Diesel could do it. Or Chuck Norris.

I’m lucky, they let me keep my belt on.

Figure this out, then – how did they let me through with a box of matches in my jacket pocket and a lighter (a very serious lighter, this one shoots a flame two clear inches, it’s practising to be a flame-thrower when it grows up) in the fifth pocket of my jeans where it’s VISIBLE?

So I’m through security. Where do we go from here? A sign says “Assaults on staff”. Do we line up and take turns? Naw, it’s just another stoopid example of guvmint bumph, warning AGAINST such assaults. Next item, where can I find a hot-spot? All around, mate, but you have to pay. The hotel may have been a little cramped and pokey, but wi-fi was free (not that I had much time to use it). And of COURSE my credit card has to act up NOW, just because there’s no way I can pay cash.

What else can I do to while away an hour and a haff? Check the change in my pockets. Three pounds twenny-one. What can I get for three twenty-one? Dunno, but it’s mid-day and I didn’t have much breakfast. Nor for that matter, much dinner last night. Hang on, there’s a couple of bank-notes in my wallet. Hi ho, Silver, we’re off to explore. I can come back later and fret about the chances of BA losing my luggage. Time out, gentlemen (which term legally includes ladies … )

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