23 September 2007

The plane now leaving gate A47!

"I decided to ask an official (who were rarer to spot than the Loch Ness Monster).....I thought 'great' trust me to get the lunatic!!"

It's amazing what a difference 72 hours can make. One minute you are literally in Sydney and the next you are in England! Well this is something that I have experienced in the last few days. On last Tuesday I received an urgent phone call that required me to travel to the Mother Country as soon as possible. By Friday morning I was in Kent having a cup of tea with my mother and sister!

If anyone has had to travel at the last minute they will know that there are a lot of things that you need to do. First thing is to book a flight. Simple enough, really. However, in practice not as easy as it may seem. Virtually all airline websites will not let you book a flight within 72 hours notice. However, there are a few that will. With some great help from a work colleague (Jia) I was able to book a flight with Virgin Atlantic.

My first minor obstacle that I needed to overcome was in relation to my passport. As I am a dual citizen of Britain and Australia I have two passports. I normally use the GB one to travel to England. However, as I had not renewed it I would have to travel on my Aussie one. So for immigration purposes I would have to state my nationality as Australian and queue up with 'all other nationalities' at London Heathrow instead of going through the EEC channel (which is very quick).

So I swiftly packed a suitcase and was dropped off at the airport by my wife and youngest daughter. By some miracle I had checked in within 5 minutes and I promptly made my way through to the departure side of the airport. With the new restrictions I placed my essentials in a clear plastic bag for inspection at immigration. The customs official smirked at my plastic bag as I had used a very small sandwich one! I think it made his day as I had in it my asthma medication and some cough lollies and breath freshener.

Once through, I decided to check out which gate my plane was leaving from even though I had a fair bit of time to keep myself occupied. My ticket said that the plane was leaving from Gate 58 but the departure board said A47! Cripes, I thought, where is gate 47??? and what does the 'A' in front of it mean? Having walked around all the departure gates I decided to ask an official (who were rarer to spot that the Loch Ness Monster). When I found one the official too was baffled. There was no such gate as 47. Was someone playing a trick on me? was I part of an elaborate TV reality show cover up??

Fortunately I was not as the display board eventually changed to Gate 58.

The first part of the journey was quite unremarkable. I was in cattle class which sometimes is a struggle for me as I am just under 6 feet tall and cannot always stretch my legs properly. I chose an aisle seat as it is easy for me to move about without annoying my seating companion next to me. For some bizarre reason my companion, whoever she was, kept the light on the whole trip. If I moved about in my seat she would give me an evil stare. I thought 'great' trust me to get the lunatic!!

What made it worse was that this person was also travelling to the UK. Fortunately, my trip from HK to London would be in a different seat.

I immersed myself in the films and tv shows on offer (I can recommend Hot Fuzz if you like quirky English comedy movies). Also, I did a few su-doku's to keep the brain active and forced myself not to think about the lunatic next to me.

The second leg of the trip was much better. I was seated next to a lady who was taking her two sons to Blighty. As I had done a similar thing last year with my girls we had something in common. This part of the journey was more relaxing. Only twice did I feel pity for the lunatic's new seating companion! Anyway, I played the online trivia game and blasted away all opposition (2 other people situated elsewhere in the plane). Trivia and I are definitely soul mates!

I slept for a few hours and arrived at Heathrow at about 5.20am. I queued up at the 'all other nationalities' queue with a number of Japanese, Chinese and other SE Asians. When it was my turn I got asked how long I was expected to stay in the country as I was an 'Aussie'. I wanted to point out that I was English but remembered that I was travelling on my Australian Passport. So I mumbled something about a few weeks and had my passport stamped accordingly.

I collected my suitcase and made sure that the lunatic was not near me for sanity reasons. Then I went through Customs and was into the main part of the airport. I was still a couple of hours away from my parents home but at least I was in England.

There was one thought, however, that I'll finish with. Every time I get off the plane at London the first British person I see is always a Sikh in a turban! Given that I am married to a Sikh that may not be a bad thing.

11 September 2007

More fun from Fortress Sydney!

"she was the only leader who could spell ‘existentialism’....he made Vladimir Putin and our Johnny streak down the corridors of the Intercontinental Hotel while singing ‘achy break heart’!

At last the APEC circus has departed good ol’ Sydney town and we can now get back to normal. All bar one of the leaders have paid their $4 for an airport trolley, loaded up their luggage, submitted the departure tax and have left Australia with their cuddly koalas, kangaroos and beef jerky. The leader who has pulled the short straw, however, is the Canadian PM who has stayed on for more talks with our PM John Howard, and also to collect more Australian soft toys (I recommend the wombat!).

The main conversational topic around the hot water urn in most offices revolves around what happened during the last couple of days of the APEC summit. The reason for this is that all the meetings were held behind closed doors.

Well, my avid readers, I can divulge what went on as I was privy to some confidential and, not so, confidential information!

Aside from the Chaser’s stunt, who made out that they were part of the Canadian motorcade and somehow getting through two security checkpoints before being discovered, there were plenty of things happening. Our Johnny, Dubya and co were certainly having a good time away from the media spotlight!

As suspected in my earlier blog ‘A PECuliar lockdown in Sydney’ the leaders were indeed having fun on Facebook. It is rumoured that Helen Clark won scrabulous as she was the only leader who could spell ‘existentialism’. Both Johnny and Dubya gave up at ‘exist’. Good news for the US President as he did manage to win the Texas Holdem strip poker night. In fact, he made Vladimir Putin and our Johnny streak down the corridors of the Intercontinental Hotel while singing ‘achy break heart’!

All the leaders took part in a ‘guess the leader’ quiz while drinking some homemade lemon squash made by Janette Howard (our PM’s beloved wife) and eating toasted marshmallows. Unfortunately, no-one was able to guess anyone correctly! Which is, I suppose, hardly surprising. When the clue ‘I am leader of the free world’ was given all 21 leaders shouted out in unison “that’s me!”.

One of the biggest questions was what would the item of clothing be that all the leaders would wear? Remember that it had to be typically Australian and that the garment was personally selected by our PM.

Given the dour nature of John Howard, it was no surprise when he presented all the APEC leaders with a plain coloured drizabone (rain coat) with a coloured lapel. John Howard wore his black plain drizabone with a red lapel and Dubya had his with a blue lapel. In truth, it was extremely bland and a tad embarrassing when you realise that Australia is the hottest and driest continent in the world! Maybe geography wasn’t a strong subject for our PM when he was at school.

The spouses of the leaders were being entertained by Janette Howard. They had lots of activities to keep themselves occupied while their other halves were busy. Janette held a crochet morning over tea and biscuits. All the spouses selected their favourite coloured wool and crocheted away while swapping their favourite food recipes and discussing their favourite home cleaning hints.

On the last day the spouses went to Bondi Beach and had some egg and cress sandwiches while watching a surf carnival. It’s rumoured that on the way back to ‘Fortress Sydney’ they all sang songs and clapped hands. Janette then handed them all a jar of homemade strawberry jam and a t-shirt with the message “I luv Sydney” on the front.

So there it is. The real happenings of the APEC summit as advised to me by a government insider.

Now we can finally get our lives back to normal once all the fences have been removed!

08 September 2007

Where has all the milk gone?

"is the house situated in the middle of a milk Bermuda Triangle?.....the other suspect is the family pet a 14 year old cockatiel"

One of the great things about being at home for an extended weekend (courtesy of the APEC summit - good onya lads!), is that you get an extra day to do whatever you want. Obviously that depends on what plans you have with other members of your family. At present my father in law is staying with us so that makes 5 people in the one household.

I mention the number of people living in our household for a very good reason that will become obvious later on.

As the long weekend was starting on Friday my father in law and I thought we would go to the nearest shopping centre on Thursday night and purchase some milk and cheese as we were not sure if any shops would be open on Friday. As it was late night shopping we didn't get to the supermarket until 8.30pm. Once there we were in and out in a flash. Well, not quite a flash, but more like 15 minutes!

We purchased nine litres of milk that should have easily been sufficient to see us through the long weekend. After all, even though my daughters (aged 5 and 4 years old) like milk they are not excessive drinkers of it.

I woke up this morning (Saturday) and went to the fridge to get some milk for my breakfast cereal. When I opened our ageing fridge door I noticed that there was only 2 litres of milk left. Straight away I thought that was strange. How could we have consumed 7 litres is a shade over 24 hours? Even stranger was that I knew that we hadn't been extravagant milk users yesterday. Obviously for breakfast and our beverage consumption we use milk - but never 7 litres of the fine white liquid!

I started to rack my brain (which was quite hard as my brain was in weekend mode and I was very tired). After a few minutes the realisation dawned on me that this was not the first time in the past few weeks that our milk consumption had been on the high side. The questions that needed answering were - where has all the milk gone? what do we do about this? is the house situated in the middle of a milk Bermuda Triangle?

My first thought was that maybe we need to buy a cow. Now this might sound strange but we are guzzling milk quicker than a car uses petrol! I am sure a cow in a suburbia might not be too strange given that people keep snakes and other similar reptiles (not that the cow is a reptile). I suppose the issue would be how do you milk it? I wouldn't have a clue! I am sure that there are answers to this on the internet so we might be okay with this option.

My second thought, and one that makes more sense, is that in the middle of the night someone is breaking into our house and rather than steal the television, camera, wallet or other valuable items have decided to drink copious amount of our milk. I must admit that they are doing an admirable job as they are extremely quiet and even shut the door without leaving any evidence behind them.

The only other suspect is the family pet - a 14 year old cockatiel called Victor. Somehow, unless he has had SAS training and knows how to get out of his cage, open a fridge door with his beak, drink the milk, fly back to his cage, get back in and act all innocent then he is in the clear. Mind you, I think I will be keeping a close eye on him for the next few days and monitor his actions.

Whatever the reason is it is certainly a mystery. Maybe the APEC leaders have been partying in the early hours of the morning at my place while I have been sleeping. Who knows?

Anyway, I had to go to the supermarket this morning and buy another 9 litres of milk. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts!

I'm off now for a nice cold milk and to look up the phone number of the nearest security company!

06 September 2007

Further tales from the Lockdown City

"I thought Aussie tucker meant a Big Mac, fries and a shake! However, I was sadly wrong.......the New Zealand PM would hug and kiss all her APEC buddies, grab her Aussie bikini, before being escorted out by a beefy security guard.

We are now just over halfway through the great APEC junket and Sydney is indeed a strange place to be in. Not only are there a lack of people in the CBD but movement is severely hampered by the motorcades that are roaring through the city streets. I even half expect to see Jack Bauer on his mobile phone protecting the President from the latest danger.

Naturally, Dubya has his flotilla of security following him everywhere he goes. I assume they even follow the President to the bathroom! Let’s hope that George hasn’t been eating any Indian food lately!

Actually, the President’s food intake has already been sliced and diced (literally) by food nutrition experts across Australia. A quick search on the internet will reveal all about Dubya’s dietary intake. From what I can gather the President wanted to experience true Aussie ‘tucker’ (food to overseas readers). In my opinion, I thought Aussie tucker meant a Big Mac, fries and a shake! However, I was sadly mistaken.

So when George and John H went for a little boat trip on the harbour (protected by 14 boats and some jet skiers) the maestros of the kitchen came up with gourmet delights such as t-bone steak, sausages, sweet corn, onion and vegetables - all barbecued. If I had known that Dubya had wanted a barbecue he could have come to my place. After all, I make a mean bbq pizza!

Anyway, the leader of the (so called) Free World piled his plate up with lots of steak and sausages and only miniscule amounts of vegetables. Our nutritional fraternity went apoplectic! How could a President eat so much meat! Especially when the sausages contain a large content of fat! Could the carnivorous President be lacking in vital food sources? Could this be affecting his judgement on the world stage? Personally I don’t really care. The only thing I would point out was how bland the food looked. Our beloved PM ensured that the photographers couldn’t snap what was on his plate. Rumour has it that little Johnny disappeared into the kitchen for a vegemite sandwich!

While I was walking around the city of cold war Berlin - oops I mean Sydney I noticed that a number of bins had been wrapped in plastic and had police tape stuck all around them. The funny thing was that not all bins had been wrapped up. To me this defeats the issue. If someone is going to use the bins to plant an incendiary advice then why not cover all of them! I actually decided to make these covered bins the symbol of APEC similar to what the Olympic torch is to the Olympics. I also felt sorry for the bins that hadn’t been covered. When I told my friends this they quickly hastened their step leaving me lagging behind.

Another thought I had was to treat this whole APEC circus as a reality television show similar to Big Brother. What we could do then is have telephone polls to vote who we want to leave the APEC forum first. This way all money raised from dialling the expensive phone number could go to fighting world poverty, saving the environment etc.

I have this vision of Gretel Killeen (BB host) doing a live feed across to the Sydney Opera House and saying those immortal words “It’s time to go……….Helen Clark!” Then the New Zealand PM would hug and kiss all her APEC buddies, grab her Aussie bikini, before being escorted out by a beefy security guard.

Once free I would expect Helen to scream “yay, I’m free! No more strip poker for me!”

Then again maybe not!

04 September 2007

A PECuliar lockdown in Sydney

"all leaders will be given Speedos (budgie smugglers) and thongs....seeing John or George in a taffeta dress and high heels certainly won't do much for the economy"

This week Sydney is in 'lockdown' mode. It is one of those nowadays terms which simply means 'restrictions of movement'. It's quite interesting really as in the past few years buzzwords like 'lockdown' and 'collateral damage' have entered mainstream vocabulary. I am sure there are many more but at present these two seem to be the most common.

The reason that Sydney is in 'lockdown' is because the Australian Government, led by John Howard, are hosting the APEC forum. I am not going to go into what APEC stands for, but in layman's terms it is a bunch of world leaders from a number of Pacific nations who come to a host country for a junket, eat lots of food, drink lots of alcohol, get spoilt and are gifted a ridiculous local outfit to wear! Aside from the Junket I believe they also discuss economic matters that affect all the citizens of the 21 countries that are in attendance. Leaders from world super powers such as USA, China, Russia, Papua New Guinea(!) and Japan etc will be in Australia's number one city. Hence the main reason for the tightened security is that George W Bush is coming Down Under!

Sydneysiders are not keen on the APEC forum being in their city. Simply, we do not like having metal barricades built to keep any protesters at bay and thereby restricting our daily movents. Also, the rites of passage that the dignitaries are getting at the expense of the locals leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.

However, despite this there are a few pressing issues that are really worrying the locals. The most important being what item of clothing will John Howard be presenting to all the other APEC leaders. The idea is that it has to be based on a local theme.

A common train of thought is that all leaders will be given speedos (budgie smugglers) and thongs (flip flops, or jandals for my Kiwi readers). If they apply a bit of zinc cream to their noses they will certainly look 'fair dinkum'. Somehow the thought of seeing John Howard (age 68) and George W Bush (age 61) showing off their speedos might put tourism to Australia back 50 years! Mind you some women might like to see Vladimir Putin in speedos as I believe he makes Russian women hot and flustered. Or it could be the Stoli vodka they have been drinking!

Another suggestion is to give them a blue singlet (vest), blue stubbies (shorts) and thongs. With a fake beer gut and a corked hat they should start to feel at home. Some wag has suggested that the item of clothing should have a 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' theme. Again, seeing John or George in a taffeta dress and high heels certainly won't do much for the economy or help the environment. Mind you, if it meant that John Howard had to wax his eyebrows then it may be a good thing!

I suppose time will tell. Given the limited photo opportunities that the press are going to have the secret item of clothing will be revealed later this week.

There is another interesting issue that has come to light recently. That is that no press will be allowed into any of the conventions or seminars that are being held. Official statements will be issued by APEC on a regular basis. What this means is that there is no way of knowing what the leaders will be discussing!

Well I got to think about this and came up with two possible suggestions. The first one would certainly appeal to George W Bush.

I have this vision of John Howard going up to George and saying, in his best monotonic drawl, "how about a game of poker, George, with the rest of us lads and lasses" "We can play strip poker if you like" George would probably respond and say "okay, but not strip poker as I don't want to see 20 other world leaders naked!" John would then come back and say"rightio George, I am the dealer though - this is MY country after all!" Then the APEC leaders would settle down to a game of Texas Holdem Poker while their staff work on a statement that would be circulated to the press stating that discussions were 'fruitful' and 'ongoing'.

The other suggestion relates to a craze that is really taking off on a global basis. Given our PM's belated entry into the modern world via technology (i.e. internet), they could all create Facebook profiles. Once this has happened they could add each other as friends and then play scrabulous against each other via the wonder of Facebook! The winner would then decide what economic policy to adopt. Naturally, given the poor grammar displayed by the White House recently (Sidney for Sydney) a panel of wordsmiths will have to be on hand to verify all words!

So there it is my take on the true events that will be happening during the APEC forum!

01 September 2007

Destination somewhere

"spurt out of the can like a fireman's water cannon......who had been deluged by my 1 and 2p coins!

I was recently lent a book by a work colleague (David) called "Who moved my blackberry?" It's a humourous novel about a high powered marketing executive who communicates almost exclusively via email and text messaging. The book itself only reveals the electronic messages sent out by this executive, but you are able to work out quite easily what the other party has said.

Even though I am only half way through this novel it's a really enjoyable read. It also reveals how dependant we are all becoming on technology, possibly which may be leading to the demise of face to face communication.

This book got me thinking about how much has changed from a technological perspective from when I first started out in the work force to now.

Many moons ago I used to work in London for what was then called a merchant bank. Typically nowadays they are called investment banks. I remember I used to catch a train from the tropical south east of England (Chatham in Kent) to the vast metropolis that is called London. Somehow the much maligned British Rail trains got us to our destination generally on time, every day. Obviously BR could perform miracles on a regular basis.

Virtually all our trips up to the 'big smoke' consisted of my friends and I having great conversations and on occassions playing cards. To be truthful, I am not a card player so I would normally just watch my friends play when this was happening. On occasions we would also have 'mini parties' on the journey up to London.

There was one Christmas Eve when a few of us thought it would be a good idea to have a can of guinness on the way to work. This seemed a great idea at the time but it didn't turn out that way.

As the train left Chatham we cracked open the cans only to see the beer spurt out of the can like a fireman's water cannon all over the unlucky passengers sitting opposite us! Fortunately, the two passengers in question were asleep and we didn't have the courage to tell them what had happened. Even now I imagine that they must have got to work only to be ribbed by their colleagues about how much they reeked of alcohol so early in the day! For the record we did finish drinking the guinness.

There was another occassion when I was catching a train home from Cannon Street (London) to Chatham. It was summer so I put my jacket in the rack above my head. As I did that, my loose change fell out of my pockets and rained down over the lady sitting next to me. I didn't know what to say except "erm, you can keep the change". A few weeks later another train buddy of mine wanted me to meet a friend of his. It was, of course, the lady who had been deluged by my 1 and 2p coins! You can imagine then what our first topic of conversation was after being introduced to each other.

I do also remember a really cold snowy day when the train doors froze. In fact there was frost on the inside of the carriage as well as on the outside. When the train stopped at Chatham I couldn't open the door. It was frozen solid. So I had to push down the door window and virtually dive through it and onto the platform. Nowadays the windows on carriage doors are immovable. But back in the old days you could open them.

Contrast the social activities from them to now. What has changed? I hear you ask. Well quite a lot really.

Nowadays, we all get onto a train and put on our MP3 players and listen to the latest music from artists such as Jay Z, Metallica, Shakira (hi Rachel!), Linkin Park or an oldie like David Bowie. We do not think about talking to our co-passengers as we really can't be bothered. If someone starts talking to you the first impression you have is that they must be a lunatic from the outer reaches of some obscure part of Australia.

Becoming more frequent are passengers who get out their latest portable dvd player, plug in their headphones and become engrossed as Bruce Willis saves the world....again. Other passengers seem to be totally obsessed with the latest puzzle craze su-doku. While others are reading what Harry Potter is up to in the last instalment by JK Rowling. Some others are reading the trash magazines to find out what Brad, Angelina, Tom, Katie and others are up to. Also, unlike yesteryear hardly anyone smiles nowadays.

Having said all this and mentioned how 'insular' us passengers are becoming there is one thing that has not changed for as long as I can remember. I still see the 'accountant' type passenger - you know the ones I am referring to. They wear a bland coloured suit and have their hair still styled like they did when they were ten years old. They always invariably carry a briefcase and it will have inside it an apple, a notebook with a blue biro attached to it, cheese and tomato sandwiches on white bread and a small box of paper clips.

The only thing I cannot workout is why they need to carry the paper clips in their briefcase! One day I'll work it out.