by Juliette Kando
Now that I no longer live in England, the changes that are taking place there are much more noticeable during my infrequent visits.
In England people are being made to feel completely paranoid by scare mongering tactics all in the name of “security”. We are told it is for our own safety, all because of the threat of terrorism of course, just like the non-existent secret weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, remember?
Here are a few examples: At Gatwick Airport, every time I get to the end of a stretch of rolling sidewalk of a bleeper goes off loudly followed by a female robot voice: “You are now reaching the end of the rolling sidewalk, mind your step!” as if I was a toddler in the playground. Am I blind? No, I am not blind, only tired from a very uncomfortable flight.
On the train to London I try to relax and close my eyes for a moment. But between every station a loudspeaker bellows: “This train is terminating at (pause) London Victoria.” The misuse of the word terminating in this context has annoyed me for years. British Rail introduced it and now all the privatised train companies have followed suit. The train is not terminating, the journey is terminating. If the train was to terminate it would have to crash or explode or something. The journey comes to an end, the train hopefully not. The British people have a terribly unfair advantage in the world: Whatever they say has an air of validity, whether it’s total poppycock or not: it’s the British accent you see.
At this point, trying to relax during a stressful journey, I merely get annoyed by the fact that Big Nanny does not need to tell me where the train is going, hopefully not terminating, because I bought a ticket, remember? I bought a ticket to a particular destination on a particular train. Duh!
Five minutes later again I jump out of my slumber: “Please do not keep luggage unattended at any time or it will be removed and may be destroyed!” And every time the train stops at a station: “Mind the gap!” I get a distinct feeling that such unnecessary messages thrown at me every few minutes are trying to make me feel blind, uncoordinated and stupid.
Later, when I have fought my way through the crowds at Victoria Station I get on the 52 bus to Kendal Rise (to my son’s family). On the bus in front of me a large flat screen scrolls a message: “Be vigilant. If you see anything suspicious, report immediately to staff or police. Trust your senses.” Does that mean if you don’t like the look of someone you’re supposed to report him or her? This message makes me feel scared like I imagine people must have felt in Stalin’s Russia.
The next morning, in front of Sainsbury’s supermarket in Golders Green, a huge rolling poster issued by the local Council orders me to: “Make a shopping list. Only buy what you need. 60% of all waste is food.” That is a valid message but do we need to be told such things by people we elected to run certain vital services - brainwashing not among them? Who do they take me for? A food waster? These are the very same administrations that support and encourage the expansion of stations and airports into commercial malls (the greatest food wasters) completely overlooking the desperate need for improved travel conditions for the client, the traveller.
A few days later, my flight from Amsterdam to London is delayed. This delay threatens to cause me to miss my connecting flight back to Malaga (home sweet home). Hence I ask the flight attendants if I can sit in the front row, ready to run like hell to a different terminal (This airline doesn’t assign seats).
Luckily I am already in possession of a boarding pass. “That’s all right, Madam, of course you may sit in the front row. Of course you’ll catch your flight, there is plenty of time,” they smile reassuringly. Flight attendants are trained to be very polite and friendly and to switch on a smile for no reason whatsoever whenever they speak to you.
I discovered later that we landed three minutes after the gates had closed for the next flight. Had I been told this, it would have saved me the 3 kilometres dash like an escaped lunatic through stuffy corridors. Puffed out, I push my way through yet another security queue explaining I’m trying to catch a flight but after some computer searching the guard tells me I missed it and points me to the EasyJet desk. I am now suffering from the common preliminary stress factors of air travel: noise pollution, lack of air and ITCD syndrome (Inner Time Clock Disruption). No, not jet lag, this is different and happens also on shorter flights. ITCD is tempo failure, no flow of time. One minute you have to rush beyond your limits, the next wait for hours.
Even though the delay is the airline’s fault I have to pay extra for changing the last flight home. In Europe, where the distances between countries are much shorter than in the US, you have to be at the airport two hours before departure, even if your flight only lasts, say one hour. Now I get so angry I belt out: “I’ll never fly EasyJet again and I will tell all my friends to do likewise!” Upon which the girl at the desk smiles: “That’s fine Madam, you don’t have to fly EasyJet.”
Come to think of it, I am considering boycotting flying altogether, whenever possible. I’ll take the train next time. Or hitch a ride, even better. Or a donkey?
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Friday, February 27, 2009
by Juliette Kando