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I don’t much care for abroad September 12, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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If flying wasn’t such a loathsome experience, these non-stop trips to the island could be seen as mind-, horizon- and everything-broadening, but as it is, they just become something for me to moan about on a blog.

Though I should be grateful. Never having to leave the house apart from when I deem absolutely necessary means I am largely in control of the people I commune with. (Who those people are, I mean. Not that I have powers over them.) I meet my regular group of pals. Even the strangers I see have something of the familiar about them. Familiar local faces. Familiar neighbours. Familiar checkout ladies. I don’t have a commute. I don’t shop or hang out on the high street. I have my own queer little world, which usually has the Russian bobbing around pricklily in it, and strangers remain strange.

So trips to the island are excellent for a bit of people-watching and, reluctant as I am to admit it, having to have an airport involved makes the watching even better for the international angle.

As I drift sleepily through life, I am often only reminded that I live in Germany when a stranger addresses me. I jump out of my skin and think, “What the bugger am I doing here?” and then calm back down when the Russian pats me on the head and says, “There, there, BiB. Russian pat it better,” and explains that we moved here to escape persecution abroad. I drift back towards somnolence. And so it is as I make my way reluctantly towards England on flights from Berlin. The loathsomeness of airport security procedures – although I quite like that laptop-wiping thing they always do now. The only clean the bastard ever gets – is tempered by my imagining that I’m running off to Poland. Berlin-London is a popular route for Poles. And then I have the cultural shock of touching down at Gatwick or Luton and the carpets and the football uniforms and the great British public’s eyes wide with indignation at some perceived scandal or other and remember I’m not in Poland after all.

But, darlings, why don’t Poles play rugby? The men seem just the right shape. I queued up at passport control behind two identical Polish couples. Each woman was petite, had dyed hair that looked like an oil-slick on sand, and spoke in accusations. They bollockingly parried inquiries from other Polish women who wondered if this was the queue for Gatwick/Glasgow/Manchester. Each man was huge, the shape of a cupboard, had cropped blond hair and square shoes to match his shoulders. I would happily have snuggled up and got lost in one of their man-cleavages. When one of the man-mountains got to the front of the queue, and with the due deference of anyone who’s lived under authoritarianism, he rid his throat, adjusted his stance and straightened himself and his clothes up, thinking, mistakenly, this would make his head look less like an anvil.

England-by-Gatwick (not the name of a village or a service station on the M3) looks lovely from the air. And from the ground, indeed. That nice non-flatness that England is good at (as are other places, I hasten to add, non-jingoistically. No-one could call Nepal flat, for example) and the lovely irregular shape of the fields. Towns (i.e. Crawley) which might easily be shit-holes at ground level have their beauty from the air too. The neat (British English, not American) little houses, keeping each other warm. That helps lift the soul – as does a massively huge, rather testy-looking Indian man, sprouting hair from wherever possible, asking the eAsyjEt staff for a newspaper and, realising they didn’t have those, asking if they had anything at all in English to read and the trolley-dolly scampering dutifully off and coming back with some nonsense magazine – can’t remember its name. Damn! Is there a magazine called ‘New!’? (Note to self: buy notebook) – with stories about how someone from Girls Aloud had dissed someone from (or all of) The Spice Girls and him devouring it anyway – as you worry about the rigours of the trip ahead and how your exiled soul will cope with the motherland and will your family drive you mad and should you really have come when you have so much work to do and actually you can’t really afford all this carbon-pacing when you’re as skint as you are etc. etc.

9 million people waited their turn with the three (OK, maybe a few more) immigration officers on duty. By the time the scrum had got to a space wide enough to form queues, indignation was bubbling to the fore. Elderly English folk, in a way that any German pensioner would be proud of, hassled some queue-monitor who harried those with children into a queue of their own and then, once they’d realised their monitor-moan was fruitless, moaned to each other about all the foreigners making the queues so huge, which seemed to me an odd complaint, and even odder at an international airport…

And on into England proper. It’s always good when you’re worried you’re an alcoholic to go to England and see how ordinary people drink. The amount of booze consumed by me, my sister and brother-in-law over the course of the evening would have had me and the Russian crying, praying (before different icons) and ramming our fists into our chests for a week. But there we got slozzled, ate a ton of chocolate (the Russian and I would have had to do an extra week’s penance for that) and got up bright and breezy the next morning none the worse for wear. Another booze-heavy family occasion beckoned which must nearly have drained that wine-lake officials used to bemoan years ago, if it still exists. We asked each other the same questions we always ask each other and which we all know the answers to and drank the boredom away. Actually perfectly enjoyable until, of course, as the subject hadn’t been at the heart of every conversation on screen and off for eight seconds, someone started to talk, again, about that missing child and her potentially murderous parents.

I heard someone speaking Welsh behind me on the complimentary shuttle-bus to the airport. I was thrilled to bollocks. I’d never heard spontaneous Welsh before, even in Machynlleth and Dolgellau, so in Luton, the most soulless town in England, it was all the more exciting. I let my mind drift off towards visions of a comely lady, perhaps wearing some lace, a pointy bonnet and modest skirts. I wondered if she was called Nerys or Cerys. Or Delyth. She was probably flying to an eisteddfod in Argentina. But she kept ruining my image by saying words like ‘commander-in-chief’ and ‘all right’ in the middle of all that ll, th and ch.

Travel’s nice ‘n all. But you do it for me.



1. narrowback - September 12, 2007

off on my own equivilent of the “trip to the island” and somehow I suspect it will not be all that different from yours… even tho i won’t cross a single international border…substitute southwest airlnes for easyjet, match on the drinking with relatives to convince yourself you you’re not an alkie, scrum-like crowd behavior at various travel choke points along the way…

but your tale did bring a grin to my face at this late hour – very late night for a workday

2. MountPenguin - September 12, 2007

Shortly I will be attempting a trip by train from Stansted (Air Berlin – the budget airline which does actually attempt to feed you and has reading material) via London to the wilds of Herefordshire, where the stations look like they did in eastern German 15 years ago. Pray for my soul.

So, do you reckon it was the parents then?

3. Geoff - September 12, 2007

Yes, there is indeed a magazine called New! (although there is a similar one called Now as well, so it could have been that). Do Germans have as big an obsession with celebrity magazines as people do over here? Every woman I know reads about 4 a week. And it baffles me.

I suffer from the flipside of visiting England and realising you are not really an alcoholic – I go to abroad and realise that yes, I am in fact an alcoholic. I still cringe at the memory of the stunned silence followed by hysterical pointing and laughter when I was in an Italian bar where you had to get a card stamped for every drink and then pay at the end. I think I was the first person they’d ever served who needed to ask for a second card.

4. marshaklein - September 12, 2007

So no chance of luring you over to Edinburgh at some point then?

5. MountPenguin - September 12, 2007

What’s the laptop wiping? Never had that done to me before.

6. pleite - September 12, 2007

Penguin, well, it’s a disgrace the way they’ve been treated by the Portuguese. It would never happen here. (I mean there.) The Portuguese police don’t even have pointy hats. Or sniffer dogs. It was a military dictatorship once, you know. What hope can there be of justice for nice British people in such a savage backwater? … Gosh, Stansted to Herefordshire. You’ll have to get onto that Deutsche Bahn site to work out a journey as complicated as that. I rang Caroline in Bangalore to find out about trains from Strawberry Hill to Luton Airport and had already drifted off by the time she’d got me as far as Vauxhall and then told me to just make my way from there to St. Pancras. “I can’t be doing with this train-tube-train malarkey,” I thought. So did it all overground. It’s still always a lottery whether your train-line will have been taken over by good or bad people. Trains through Gatwick always seem spic and span. The train to Luton looks like it’s just been burnt out by a band of marauding brigands. But, anyway, I’m sure the UK outside the South East will be lovely. There’ll be a bit of space there for a start… And the laptop thing. Twice I’ve had it now. Once I’ve gone through the scanner/metal-detector thing, having removed my laptop from my hand-luggage, I am asked to come-with-me-sir by airport staff (which is actually quite nice because it’s in view of everyone so they all think I’m a drug-smuggler or terrorist and that thrills me for half a second) and they take me into a separate little room, strip-search me… no, that’s not true, ask me to open the laptop, wipe it down inside and out with a bit of kitchen-roll and then scan that, looking for god knows what. Traces of explosives, I suppose.

Marsha, I’m lying really. I mean, travel does still hold a place in my heart. And I’d like to get to see places. I don’t know Edinburgh at all. Have been once, for one evening, where we went to the theatre first and then a pub where we met a pair of lesbians from Iona. Or something like that. But the fuss of flying, especially when it involves London and you’re flying eASyjet so the airport is nowhere near London really and it’ll cost you 400 quid to get from the airport to wherever it is and take four hours is all too much badness on the worry-to-enjoyment ratio for my liking, especially if just for a couple of days.

Geoff, did you at least manage to pretend to be American or Irish or South African to leave England’s pristine reputation unsullied? I was once, in what now seems like fourteen lifetimes ago, on a work-trip to France which of course involved everyone getting smashed (and then buying cheap booze to get smashed on at home) and one Irish colleague did actually shout, “It’s OK, we’re English,” to the stunned-from-horror French people witnessing our escapades… I suppose all those magazines exist here too, though perhaps Germany isn’t quite as obsessed with celebrity as the UK. I can’t think of a sport-star who’s as worshipped as Beckham, say. Folk always ask me if Schumacher or Becker is an utter idol here, and I don’t think they are, to be honest. Germany seems like an awfully sensible place after the UK for a couple of days, I have to say.

Narrowback, sorry to hear you’re slogging away. Is that break to Berlin booked yet? Then you can have the full joy of the international airport scrums and, presumably, even stricter security measures. Though perhaps not, actually. Do you know the conversations you’ll be having with your family in advance?

(PS. Everyone. WordPress is underlining ‘worshipped’ and instructing me to change my spelling to ‘worshiped’. That’s wrong, isn’t it?)

7. marshaklein - September 12, 2007

“a drug-smiggler”

Are you going all Inspector Clouseau on us now?!

I imagine that if you’ve spent even 5 minutes in a country with a proper integrated transport system, it’s hard to re-adjust to Britain with its “charge you the Earth for a 10th-rate service” attitude. Incidentally, transport is Mr K’s area of expertise. I promise to do my best to keep him off the subject though!

8. pleite - September 12, 2007

Marsha, bugger, I’d corrected it just before your comment came through. My apologies. Shoulda left it. It’s a pretty spelling mistake as spelling mistakes go.

Right, must e-mail you this sec.

9. Geoff - September 12, 2007

Unfortunately of course I’d had to much to drink to think of a cunning ruse to avoid being identified as being English. Although I didn’t have that excuse when I went to bar in Paris once and being asked what size beer I wanted I asked for large (seeing glasses on other people’s tables that were roughly half pints and pints). What I failed to realise, of course, is that they actually came in THREE sizes. And the one I thought was large was actually the medium. So of course he came back with some ginormous litre-sized tankard and then made a point of annoucing to the rest of his customers (in French) that I was english. They all nodded and laughed.

It’s depressing being reliant on public transport over here – it would be a perfectly sensible option in most european countries. Over here when I mention I can’t drive people stare at me like I’m utterly insane, which perhaps on reflection I am.

10. pleite - September 12, 2007

Geoff, you are a man after my own heart. I can’t drive either. The younger generation of my family was horrified to realise this the other day. I actually enjoy London transport as a tourist, though I’m sure the novelty would wear off quickly enough if I was a commuter. Here it’s fine, of course… You need to change your holiday destinations. Those Latins are painfully civilised. Come here or to Prague or somewhere where your beer-drinking will be applauded.

11. Geoff - September 12, 2007

No, years of living in London have taught me to engage my brain in neutral when using tubes in the rush hour, to the extent that I know find standing for half an hour in tropical heat with a stranger’s armpit in my face perfectly normal. Anyway, beats driving in London, takes ages to get anywhere. And aside from my moral & practical objections to driving, I honestly don’t think I could trust myself with several tonnes of metal going at 40mph without killing people (and myself).

12. MountPenguin - September 12, 2007

The laptop wiping was on the UK of the paranoia fence?

I have three feasible routes from Stansted: a little rattly train which goes to Birmingham (of the kind which tends to stop at Peterborough because they’re running late); Oxford / Worcester via London (used to be quite reliable), and Newport via London (used to be quite reliable). It’s a toss-up between the last two, partly because I want to do a bit of London sightseeing while I’m there.

Marsha, the most depressing thing that can happen to a public transport user is to fly direct from Japan (where they only stop for major earthquakes and suicides) to the UK (where they stop on the slightest hint of a whim).

13. pleite - September 12, 2007

Penguin, no, it happened here, at Schönefeld… Will you stay the night in London? The rattly train to Birmingham sounds nice to me. Anyway, I would like never to take a coach ever again, and recommend any train option as an alternative. My god, imagine what UK trains would be like if the country was an earthquake zone too! “(ding dong) Due to buildings on the track, the 8.57 service to Weymouth has been cancelled.”

Geoff, again, you are a man after my own heart. While I’m not THAT interested in being able to drive (although I do dream I can), I do also think I’d be the least safe driver on the roads. I can hardly operate a kettle. Mind you, lots of friends with insane mothers, uncles, selves have assured me they all manage it.

14. MountPenguin - September 12, 2007

Stay the night in London? I suppose I could if I cashed in my life savings and borrowed against Mrs. Penguin’s inheritance to pay the tube fare…

I remember now: the rattly train from Birmingham via most major settlements in the East Midlands terminated at Cambridge round about the time we should have been checking in at Stansted. Can’t remember how we actually made it the rest of the way.

15. narrowback - September 13, 2007

booked the berlin trip yet? i’ve had little opportunity to do more than work in recent weeks but i still plan on stopping in for a bit to enjoy one of the last times i can enjoy a beer and a cigarette without being exposed to the elements…chicago goes smoke free as of Jan. 1 as well

the exact date depends on (a) when the boss decides to return from maternity leave, (b) the state of my mum’s health and (c) the date when my berlin buddies will be here visiting chicago… i don’t have an answer to any of those yet but if i don’t get out of here before the start of november i’ll be going to a rest home rather than on a vacation… i’ve been looking at dates around the last week of October or so.

actually i find international travel – including security – relatively more civil than domestic. while frankfurt or schipol can be a hassle i find the mob scene at chicago midway far more intimidating.

what will the family and i discuss while drinking? see (b) above, the latest anti-social behavior of distant relatives (always good for entertainment), “war stories” from work, how the “hometown” is changing – fairly innoucuous stuff. we finished with the arguments decades ago

16. engelsk - September 13, 2007

“Each woman was petite, had dyed hair that looked like an oil-slick on sand, and spoke in accusations.”

I loved this – so vivid!

I find Copenhagen a good place to go to not feel like an alcoholic. Or to feel like it but not to care.

I’ve never had my laptop swiped clean. But last March I had the misfortune of flying with ‘Swiss’ via Zurich. Horrible airport. They made me take off my shoes, which I discovered have metal deep within their soles. Flying with Swiss doesn’t give you much time between flights, I found.

Last time I flew to Stansted I had to stay in a cheap hotel, as it was too late to go anywhere and I couldn’t face sleeping on the floor there yet another time. I had to wait ages for the mini-van to the hotel, and it took about half an hour for me and the other victims to be driven there – somewhere in the middle of nowhere. But it was still nicer than sleeping at the airport.

I don’t have a driving licence, either. I had lessons when I was seventeen, but I hated driving and my driving instructor, and so I never took the test. Besides, it was the late-eighties, and it didn’t seem environmentally friendly to drive. It’s all just as well, as I would have surely been done for drunken driving during the years since then.

I’ve never been asked so often and with such a horrified expression: “Don’t you drive?” as I have here in Germany. The way they ask, they might as well be asking: “You have leprosy?”

Eek, my comment is hideously long! Sorry about that – that’s drunken commenting for you! Oh well!

17. narrowback - September 13, 2007

I didn’t get my driving license until I was 28 which in our auto obsessed culture marked me as a major social deviant…(not applicable within the limits of the city of new york) “Ha! add it to the list” was my retort

18. KMS - September 13, 2007

You obviously weren’t in Berlin then, engelsk. As stastically there’s one car for every two people here, and if you consider that in the better-off, more-foresty bits of West Berlin, they’ve got their ‘people-movers’, ‘Chelsea tractors’ and Harley Davidsons, and probably three of each per family with still more space for a small Fiat in the garage, hardly anyone else in the bits of the city where normal people actually live must own one at all. I do have a licence (obtained while 28), and am very scared/dangerous behind a wheel.

And, of course, trains in Britain are shite. I made the mistake of going London-Dublin and back by train/ferry. I didn’t realise that anything could make Ryanair seem so pleasant – but on hindsight, if those people that I had to share the trains would have been on the alternative cheapish flight, I think there might have been some kind of international incident.

19. pleite - September 15, 2007

DZ, is one car for two people a low statistic? But you’re right. As I plough through my feeble mind and try to think if I know anyone in Berlin with a car, I don’t think I do. Not a soul. I do remember once someone asking me how I could live as far away as Pankow and survive without a car. Which seems odd when it’s 8 minutes to Alexanderplatz on the U-Bahn and 13 to Friedrichstraße on the S. Hardly am Arsch der Welt.

Narrowback, well I hope you manage to organise the break before you have to check into a rest home. And I hope your mother is OK and that worries are just worries about a woman getting on. It’s probably about to become topical for my family too. My mother’s health seems all right but I do wonder what’s happening to her bonce at 72. I can’t believe the things she finds to be worried/negative about.

Engelsk, hurrah for long drunken comments! They’re always good ones. The odd thing about the identical ladies with the oil-slick-on-sand hair was that I couldn’t tell in either case if it was naturally blond hair with streaks of black or naturally black hair with streaks of blond. Perhaps one of each for the sake of balance.

Penguin, re. London transport. There’s this thing called an Oyster Card which I’m determined to find out about before 2017. My nephew tried to explain it to me but I couldn’t concentrate because he’s 17 and has the most extraordinary haircut. Long and spiky and boybandish. So it all went in one ear and out the other, but apparently it makes tube/bus-travel less extortionate.

20. MountPenguin - September 15, 2007

Glad you mentioned that… Just looked it up, and it appears it gives you discounts on eel pies from Pearly Kings and Queens in the East End. It also seems to be a stored value electronic ticket, and in order to get people to use it the cash fares have been driven up extortionately, e.g. a zone 1 tube journey costs an eye-watering 4 quid (for that price I’d expect some sort of free drinks service and carpets), but just 1.50 quid (sorry, no pound sign on this keyboard) with the Oyster. But it seems it doesn’t replace the travel cards which are valid for non-LU services.

To get an oyster card it looks like there’s a 3 quid returnable deposit “on new cards which hold pay as you go credit only.” Not quite sure what that means, but sounds like someone like myself who is casually passing through London will be mugged either way by the system (no idea what obtaining and returning an oyster card involves, but sounds like queues and hassle).

Maybe someone with practical experience can confirm this? Am I understanding it correctly that for a casual day visitor a travel card can be purchased which doesn’t involve oysters?

21. KMS - September 15, 2007

You can, MP, but the “advantage” of these total-observation-RFID-chip-based-cards is that you never have to pay more than 50p less than the one day travelcard. So you don’t have the problem of buying a travelcard and then finding that singles would have been cheaper (which is unlikely, considering, as you point out, how much they cost if you insist on buying paper tickets). It is therefore worth getting one, I’m very sorry to say. The 3 quid “deposit” is paid for once you’ve bought your second bus ticket with it.

“Always remember to touch in and touch out. For safety reasons, smoking is not allowed on any part of the London Underground. Big Brother is watching your every move. Get a ticket, not a criminal record.”

22. MountPenguin - September 16, 2007

But it’s not really worth it for less than a day for someone passing through who’s not likely to pass through London again for yonks? If I did get one, and load it up with enough cash to pay for the trips I’m likely to make (2 or 3 journeys in Zone 1), I’d still be looking at an outlay of about 8 quid, with the option of queuing up somewhere to return the card and get my deposit and balance back. Is the Oyster anonymous, or do they want to write your name on it (and if so do they want to see some ID)?

Looks like my best bet is a 1 day zone 1/2 offpeak travel card for a bit more than a fiver. (That’d still be more than 3 single Z1 oyster journeys though, and a lot more than 2). Though maybe the people at Stansted still do combined train / travelcard combinations at a slight discount.

(FYI: My plan is to arrive in a Zone 1 station around 9am, and leave from a Zone 1 station around 4pm, traveling to one or two as-yet undetermined destinations within Zone 1.)

In conclusion: the casual London visitor wishing only to make a couple of short tube trips is screwed either way for a couple of quid and / or some hassle.

23. MountPenguin - September 16, 2007

When I write “traveling”, I meant “travelling”.

Said BiB:
apparently it makes tube/bus-travel less extortionate.

Looks like it’s the other way round, i.e. use this system or prepare to have your wallet pillaged.

Given this kind of stuff, and the Congestion Charge, Ring of Steel etc., I get the impression London is too crowded and they want to keep people away. I have an idea: build a fence around Zone 2 – you could call it the Curtain of Iron – and charge people entrance. It’d be a great way of keeping the Terrorists out as well (they’d never be able to afford the fees).

I’d be very happy to consult on this – living in Berlin I have access to a lot of expertise on inner-urban access control methods. (And did you know Berlin had a system like the one suggested until about 1850 or so – the Brandenburg Gate wasn’t just for decoration).

24. KMS - September 16, 2007

The Oystercard is anonymous – up to a point, i.e. if you don’t use it to get a monthly etc. (non-transferable); top-it-up using a debit/credit card; apply for a customer charter refund…etc. The police are very, very fond of getting TfL (Transport for London) to hand out the journey details of particular Oyster cards, a few thousand a year, if I remember rightly. I mean “asking” for the details, they don’t require a warrant.

I think it would be worth using it for ” 2 or 3 journeys in zone 1″, considering the difference in price between Oyster top-up single ticket costs, and paper ticket costs. You’d have to check on the http://www.tfl.gov.uk website first.

And you’re right. All fares have got much more expensive; but if you don’t want the “voluntary” RFID card, you’ll have to pay about 4 times as much for the privilege. And if you just top-up your card (automatically via direct debit, for instance) you have no psychological idea of how much tickets cost and don’t notice the fare hikes, while hearing the news about how cheap oil from Chavez is “pushing fares down”.

If you’re travelling before 9.30a.m. (I assume this hasn’t changed) off-peak’s not much use. Oyster (currently) only works on the buses, tubes, some overground rail lines (e.g.London, Tilbury and Southend, from some of the North London Line stations- ‘Silverlink Metro’, the Croydon tram, and the DLR), but they are rolling it out to cover all stations.

25. marshaklein - September 16, 2007

Hurrah for non/reluctant drivers everywhere!! Engelsk, I know EXACTLY what you mean about the “You don’t drive?” question. It makes me spit. I have dear, dear friends who just refuse to believe that it’s more than a mere lack of moral fibre that prevents me from driving (I do have a licence, acquired around the time of the invention of the internal combustion engine, but found driving to be such a ghastly experience that I gave it up about 15 years ago) But, take heart my non/reluctant driving brothers and sisters, our time is at hand. Soon(ish!), we’ll be able to say “What? You’re still DRIVING?” Oh yes, the moral high ground will be ours! Ours, I tell you!

(This comment sounds mad and I don’t even have the excuse that I’m drunk.)

26. engelsk - September 16, 2007

KMS: I was there in March ’04, staying with a friend somewhere in East Berlin (lots of grey buildings), about 10 minutes by tram up the road from Alexanderplatz. I didn’t make any car observations – I was too busy falling in love with the Ampelmännchen! What I have noticed down here in the south is that almost all of my students drive – and most of them only live a ten-minute walk away!

BiB: It was especially the “spoke in accusations” that I liked. I don’t seem to do as much drunken commenting as I used to, a few years ago. And nowadays my drunken comments are rarely of the kind that makes me groan and hate myself, thankfully. It’s not like I call for the immediate ‘removal’ of Swiss referees anymore!

marshaklein: If I had my wits about me, I’d reply to them with an exaggeratedly shocked: “What! You drive a car? In this day and age? Just how huge is your carbon footprint?” But for the sake of not being disliked by everyone I meet, it’s probably just as well that I don’t!

27. pleite - September 17, 2007

Engelsk, when you say ‘removal’, do you mean you called for a ref to be taken out and shot? (Was that here?) (And who was the Swiss referee? I do now have vague memories of a Swiss referee’s details being posted in papers. The Rooney-Ronaldo incident?) Polish intonation is good for sounding accusatory even when they’re talking about the weather. Russian’s not bad for that either, but the Poles have got it down to a fine art.

Marsha, you’ve made it home safe and sound. Hurrah! And hurrah for cities with decent public transport, eh? And for cities with decent public transport where the decent public transport doesn’t cost a million pounds a ticket. I expect you to sing Berlin’s praises to all Scotland.

Bloody hell, DZ and Penguin, good work. I have nothing to add re. oysters, as I know nothing about them, though am still a bit squeamish about eating things that are alive. But, yes, Penguin, for the sake of me seeming as if I know my arse from my elbow about something, or my hometown, in this case, yes, you can buy an oysterless travelcard…

…On one of my trips to the island, I wanted a one-day card but it was before 9.30am. Thinking my info might be out-of-date, I asked the woman, called Pam, if it was still the case that you could only get a one-day card after 9.30am. “Oh no,” she said, and I was happy to have been surpassed by progress. “In that case, I’ll have a one-day travelcard from Zone 1 to whatever-zone-Twickenham’s-in, please Pam.” Pam tapped away on her computery till. “That’ll be 9 million pounds please,” said Pam, with a British Rail smile. And, yes, it would have only been 4 and a half million (roughly) after 9.30, so progress still left a lot to be desired in this case.

28. Blonde at Heart - September 18, 2007

Alright. I’ll do it in two weeks. Does it really takes five hours to reach Coventry from Heathrow airport?
Do you have Skype?

29. pleite - September 18, 2007

BaH, I don’t have Skype, I’m afraid. I did have it once, but had no microphone, and when I once chatted to a friend in Russia – him chatting, me typing – it somehow felt too much like cyber-sex for me to ever try it again. It was deleted, never to be revived.

Now when it comes to any train journey in Britain, you MUST consult Germans for reliable information. According to that site, it should only take you about two hours, but I DO advise you to sell your parents’ home and a couple of spare internal organs before the happy cashier rings up the price on his or her trusty, thieving till.

30. KMS, your public transport adviser - September 18, 2007

Unfortunately the DB website (or any others using the database called “Hafas”, which is most of the rail websites that exist, anywhere, including some of the British train operators ones, e.g. ‘Southern’) doesn’t get updated enough to include ‘minor’ things like engineering work – or, probably, more exactly, the British train operators don’t bother informing Hafas of which trains they’ve cut out/replaced with buses.

So the DB site is fine – as long as you’re not intending on travelling anywhere in Britain of a weekend. And if you’re going to Brighton from London, you can also stuff the details the train operator provided online up your arse, as they’re not any use either. After about 5 emails of me asking them “why exactly does your website include no information whatsoever on your engineering work” and the ‘handy PDF personal timetable service’ (in theory quite good) gave me details of trains that didn’t exist, meaning the journey time was 3 times as long as it should have been, making a day trip little more than a quick walk along the prom and then getting the last train at 7pm (!) back to London – they wrote back and finally said “serves you right for using our website. Only nationalrail.co.uk has details of engineering work, and only sometimes. It’d be better to phone 0845 454950 or whatever the number is. Everyone knows that, you fool.”

So – get the information easily via the Germans, and then check it via the very badly designed British website (and no, not thetrainline).

31. pleite - September 18, 2007

DZ, you are good, and just caught me having a nice cup of cocoa, or rather Ja! cheapo, no-frills drinking chocolate, which is rather good, actually, though it probably costs me 200 euros to heat the milk electrically, and thinking about starting the working day. It’s 11pm after all.

Anyway, I’ve already favourited the national rail site though, yes, the German one pisses all over it in looks. But, BaH, have a peek at it as it can even claim to tell you what a trip will cost. Unless life on British trains has changed, a first class return may be the cheapest ticket, so check every possible permutation. I was once forced to buy a first class return to Glasgow as it was the cheapest ticket available. A carriage to myself while everyone else, who’d presumably paid 80 times more for a standard, 9th class, away-day-return or something, stood up in their heaving carriages.

I think that number, which I spend about 90% of any trip to the UK on, is 08457484950. Probably costs 15 quid a minute. There was (or perhaps still is) another number for London which I once rang. A recording, of course, but it made me love England because it was made by someone with the strongest French accent I’ve ever heard. Peter Sellers would have sniggered.

32. KMS, your public transport adviser - September 18, 2007

Also: if you ever should need to phone the Deutsche Bahn (and can communicate with someone speaking soft-Schweitzerdütsch) it’s much cheaper to phone 0041 61 69001164, the Deutsche Bahn Auskunft number in Basel, than to bother with the 5 quid a second German number. They also answer queries by email service@deutschebahn.ch – and sales@bahn.co.uk isn’t too bad either.

Also: buying tickets in Germany for journeys in the UK is cheaper than getting them in Britain. Obviously. Ok, if the Apex fares have gone.
And if you buy them in the Czech Republic they’re cheaper still.

Anyone want to set up a chain of rail-appointed travel agents with a branch in Berlin, Prague and Minsk (western journeys costing there 50% of the fare charged west of the EU border)?
I’m sure there’d be a market for it.

Train times and fares would be much more simpler if they brought back train numbers in Britain, surely.

Enjoy the cocoa – I’ve got some real stuff here, that I once bought at Extra. I would like to drink some of it, but I suspect that a load of moths have planted their eggs in it, and if so, that’d be a bit disgusting.

33. MountPenguin - September 18, 2007

Now that’s an idea. I was most delighted by Basel – it not only has its own DB station (separate to the Swiss rail one), but also a SNCF station – both with passport controls. And you can get trams to both the French and German borders. And the airport is in France, but split down the middle into Swiss and French halves (but be warned, there’s a tourist information desk straddling the two halved staffed by a lady of advanced years who was obviously trained at the Ecole de Je shrugge me shoulders dans le classic gallic manier a les losers que ne peu pas parler le Francais et je ne donner pas un merde ob il y a un dispenseur du cash dans l’aeroport.).

So where can one get UK rail tickets in Germany? Any travel agent?

34. KMS - September 19, 2007

Any German station, in theory. Best bet is the international counter at Zoo (if it’s still there). If they sell them as part of a journey from here to there by train, they should be at least 30% cheaper than the standard fare, and they aren’t only valid for a particular train, and valid for a 2 month period.

Detailed queries are best asked here

35. engelsk - September 19, 2007

It was two years before the R&R incident, but also against Portugal. It was a post rather than a comment, and so it was easily and swiftly removed. Only a couple of people saw it, and they did indeed remark to me privately that it sounded as if I was arguing for the merits of a firing squad. God knows where that came from.

English trains are a bugger. If you set off several hours too early, your train(s) will be on time, and you’ll arrive several hours too early. It’s only if you catch the most suitably timed train that you run into problems. That must have an [X]’s Law name, surely?

36. KMS - September 19, 2007

Commuters in sarf Lahndan would have presumably called it “Connex’s law”.

37. pleite - September 20, 2007

DZ, I don’t know about setting up the agencies to sell tickets, but I think there should be a string of offices/shops/establishments set up to worship your brilliant knowledge. You’ve got to admit, folks, DZ’s consumer knowledge is quite utterly brilliant, n’est-ce pas? I’d happily work in the Prague or Berlin branch, by the way, but will gladly let someone else take over the Minsk franchise.

Engelsk, I remember now there being a scandalous incident when England lost to Portugal in the semis of the Euro championships in 2004 but can’t remember what it was. A disallowed goal? Anyway, we must be grateful. What would be the point in bothering to be English at all if we couldn’t revel in some glorious defeat, especially if we can feel wronged into the bargain?

Penguin, I haven’t been to Basel/Basle, but I do think about going just so that I can stalk Roger Federer. Well, not actually stalk. Just bump into him when he’s out buying some chocolate in Aldi and tell him that his tennis is sometimes SO beautiful that it’s actually made me cry. Perhaps I should send him an e-mail.

38. KMS-DZ - September 21, 2007

I hate being a consumer and consume as little as possible. Generally it’s the ‘spending money’ part of it I like least (not to mention the ‘dealing with shop assistants’ bit), but all kinds of shops are the most objectionable places on earth, indeed, the universe. Unfortunately your suggestion reminds me of the Reggie Perrin GROT shops, which have been replaced by ebay, which is the modern place to get all sorts of rubbish nobody needs, and send it back and forth around the world by post. I once got Reggie Perrin out of the library here, unfortunately I don’t think it passed the test of time too well, unlike the 1973 series of Till Death Do Us Part (also in the Amerika Gedenk-Bibliothek), which is still damn good, apart from the embarassing episode with a blacked-up Spike Milligan as “Paki Paddy”.

39. pleite - September 24, 2007

I didn’t know, but wikipedia tells me it’s so, that Ein Herz und eine Seele was based on Till Death Us Do Part and I’ve probably seen more of the former than the latter, and rather liked it.

I always vaguely loathed Leonard Rossiter.

…and, like you, loathe consuming even more. Apart from food shopping, which is therapeutic and the closest thing I’ve got to a job.

40. KMS - September 24, 2007

Ein Herz und eine Seele is indeed “Alf Garnett” – I think it was one of the first German television programmes I saw, and it seemed very, very familar, except that the “Pakis” et al were replaced by “Ostdeutschen” and “Vertriebenen”…even the characters have the same names (and look similar), you must have noticed, surely? (I found the hint “based on an idea by Johnny Speight” finally gave it away after I’d sat through 40 minutes thinking “this is just a poor German copy”, the same way I saw a DVD of “Stromberg” in a shop once and immediately thought, “hang on, this is just a German “The Office”” (which RTL, or whoever, denied for the first couple of series until R. Jevais said he really would sue them, and then they admitted their thievery)).

But “Ein Herz und eine Seele” is “Alf Garnett” with much less (left-wing) political commentary, and the German version of Tony Booth’s character certainly wasn’t a Trotskyist (in West Germany he would probably have had to been a Maoist anyway), and no reading of left-wing papers went on. Not a hint of it in the episodes I’ve seen. “Ekel Alfred” only ran for a few years, unlike the decades Warren Mitchell was playing the same character….the episodes with “Marigold”, his black, over-played effiminate home help, were those of my youth…..

41. KMS - September 24, 2007

And on Leonard Rossiter: his characters generally were ones that should be loathed? Rigsby, for example. Does Channel 4 still fill its schedule with an occasional episode or two of Rising Damp? And Monsieur Rossiter played a pretty good Le Petomaine.

42. pleite - September 26, 2007

Yes, perhaps I let my view of Mr. Rossiter be skewed by the loathsomeness of the characters he played. Though I must also have thought his loathsomeness helped him play them. I didn’t notice the Ein Herz und eine Seele link to Alf Garnett but only because I didn’t know Alf Garnett well, I suppose. Though I did think, when I was watching it, “Isn’t English and German humour similar?”

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