Familiarity breeds something you are already used to

Familiarity breeds something you are already used to

Ok a crap title but it was the only thing I could dream up so early in the morning. Second day of my trip to Johannesburg and woke up at 5:20 and not leaving the hotel until 8:00 so got to do something and this is it.

I was in the taxi going to the airport Sunday which was a late booking. Luckily Judi asked which airport I was using as I would have been on the train to the wrong one Doh and the taxi driver was only slightly strange. A Vauxhall car not too big just an ordinary saloon car but he had driving gloves on which seemed a little unnecessary and seemed to have made an office out of the front two seats. There were clips and folders and holders of various sized all laid out neatly. Phones and pens and his Bluetooth were all laid out to hand. Not one but two air fresheners and given they were different scents the fragrance in the car was slightly nauseating. Car air fresheners are a little intense at the best of times so you can imagine two different ones can fast become overpowering.  Curiously there was also quite a large pair of scissors not sure what they were for but no matter.
Anyway he cut down a street I had not been on before but I though I know where this comes out and sure enough a couple of moments later we were next to the English pub. When I say pub it is a real English one, sticky tables and smoke stained walls. Not like you get back home. Up across the bridge and around by the White house (where Yeltsin stood on the tanks and saved Russia from reverting back to communism. A sharp left onto Tervertskia past the gourmet food shop which can only be likened to Harrods. Onward past the high price clothes shops up and across the Garden ring and out of the centre. All of this is familiar to me now and a thought crosses my mind that it is almost a year since we first “nipped” across to take a look at the place and see if we could life here.

A year wow, somehow it just flies by.
Now of course it is all second nature once you get a handle on where you are and where to get Cigarettes, milk and vodka things get easier. The Metro which is my friend has taken me too many places, not quite sure where they all are but the train knows and that’s all that matters.

Once you get the hang of a place it all becomes familiar I know which short cuts to take and when places open and close. The assistants recognize the weird Englishman who points at things and never pays with any coins always notes. (It is difficult to add up the very small coins they have so I save them up and use coins to purchase Metro tickets which only delays the queue slightly.
Life is still ever so slightly routine that is we have regular places to eat and shop but we do push out on a little and adventure off the beaten path occasionally. There must be something of a wandering bug in us but you knew that anyway.

The Russians know how to keep warm and the heating came on 1st of October and 2 days later I was opening windows as the place got warmer and warmer. We even have two rooms with under floor heating. The car goes in the underground garage and the winter coats hats, gloves and scarf’s are all out of their storage and in use. Judi and I both purchased fur lined boots as we prepare for a cold but more importantly a dark winter. So far it has by local standards been mild which means the temperature hovers around freezing all the time with only a couple of short snowfalls which disappear in the city quickly.  

I have seen the future and its called……………….

I have seen the future and its called……………….

Its called the Internet, but you all ready knew that so what’s so special now ?.

Well nothing really other that the realization that it is taking over more and more of our lives. When I lived in Brussels we never bothered much with the internet at home in fact we did not actually have a home Pc. Other than the Sinclair ZX80 and the commodore 64 (Google them) I had probably 20 odd years ago I never had a box at home. The 64 I used to play adventure games in text and once programmed it to flash in 256 colors, my first ever program (you see there is a value in Boolean Algebra). It wasn’t until we had been in the US for a couple of years that I caved in and bought one. Really because I began to feel guilty about all the home banking the pictures and the music I was keeping on my work machine and keeping it on a spare hard drive was becoming a pain.


So the internet whilst useful was not the be all and end all of our lives. Slowly things like Google Talk (and video if you have combed your hair and got dressed) and Facebook started to become the norm. Google Talk allows me to keep in touch with family without additional cost and the quality most of the time is better than the phone. Facebook keeps me up to date with friends I would otherwise have lost contact with although it is a little erratic at staying up to date. I remember the hype of “Friends Reunited” which reconnected you with people from school. Well to be honest I was happy to forget most of them so it never really pulled me in (the jibes about the red hair still aren’t forgotten).

It does allow me to watch the progress of people I care for and people who I have shared experiences something I did not do a for the many people I had the pleasure of working with over the last couple of dacades which is a shame.

There is instant messenger which is just another thing to interrupt people with although I was as guilty as any in pinging people at inappropriate times. Funny how we stopped using the phone and just jabber with people instead. Emoticons to the ready as you want people to understand when you are being funny and when you are being sarcastic. (well sometimes).

Recently I added Skype which has been around for a while but I never felt the need. Given where I am now and the erratic nature of telecommunications here. The lines are still analogue (would you believe you can hear the click, click, click as you dial) and rather expensive Skype is ideal to make those international calls and it is so easy and extremely cheap I can see the demise of home phone lines. You have a mobile (everyone has a mobile don’t they?) so why would you need a home phone. Many Pc‘s now come with built in gizmos to wirelessly connect to the internet and I found the wonders of wireless (with the help of someone from comp USA) a while back and now it is the norm and allows me to wander the house at will without interruption. I mean who amongst us would not want to be able to receive the same message on 2 Pc’s on a local wireless networked blackberry and have it printed off at the same time. Cool eh, pointless but cool but it also means the computer is on all the time and we now have 2 home pc’s although one was bought so Judi and I could stay connected when she first moved to Russia. So what’s new then you may be wondering ?.

So my new find ? well it is Internet TV. There was a new sound bite not so long ago saying Internet advertising had overtake TV advertising which is hardly a surprise but not that bad for something only in existence for around 20 years. I used to use internet Radio to get my English comedy shows and maybe listen to football (soccer) matches and finding out you could listen in to the pit crew radios on NASCAR race day was fun. Now of course what ever you want can be found on “t’internet” (its an English joke and some of you are laughing). Films were first but slowly TV shows if you searched hard enough then places like HULU and P2P4U and lots of others sprang up. Hooking the HD Tv up to my computer is within my technical capability so there you are all you favorites whenever you want them. Now it does take something away from the anticipation of the next episode when you can actually get them any time you want but that’s just how it is.

Network address maskers make it possible to see anything you want where ever you are so have we now entered an age where recorded items are so available we will get bored with them (well not until Judi has seen the last season of House, Grays anatomy and big Band Theory anyway).

Question for you all have you ever been asked a question and replied “I don’t know but I will Google it when I get home”. Its funny not so long ago there was so much we did not know about and now of course we can find anything we want when ever we want I wonder if that is making us smarter or dumber as we no longer have to learn, why would you when someone will give you the answer in an instant.

Did I every tell you about the day when…………….

Did I every tell you about the day when…………….

Not much happening right now so though I would tell you about a trip we took one time whilst on holiday. We were on a tiny (and I mean tiny) Caribbean island called Bequia which is reached via a very small plane from Barbados. Now not sure if you have ever been in a 10 seater plane which actually had 10 people on it but there is not much room especially after you put your own luggage on. I wonder if this is what sardines are thinking as the lid closes

Think I have said before I prefer airplanes to be big, actually the bigger the better. Anyway this was not big and you could feel every dip and climb. It got slightly better when most of the passengers got off at Richard Branson’s luxury island but not us. We are going to meet up with Judi’s parents who have already been there for a week or so. Landing on grass airstrips is also not something I look forward to however as they say any landing you can walk away from is a good one. Customs control was interesting it consisted of someone passing our case through a hole in the wall of the terminal building, I say terminal building I mean hut. The taxi was actually a pickup truck and we sit in the open back whilst the driver casually ambles to our final destination.

Bequia is one of those quiet islands not yet spoilt by the mass tourist trade. The main reason being that it is not easy to get to. 10 seater planes do not bring the volume of people needed to support a McDonalds or all inclusive resorts so it still retains that relaxed “we will get around to it sometime” atmosphere.

We hook up with Mike and Lan and find the little house we will be staying in. Mike is on a mission to make the perfect Rum punch (well some form or rum drink) and seems to be doing a fine job of the testing process.

When you live in a fast paced world it is difficult to just shrug it off and it takes a few days to settle in. I read a couple of books (I only really read on vacation) however the first book I read is about all the details of the World War II Normandy invasion was possibly not conducive to relaxing but the rum helped.

The island is so small that when I decide I want splash out one night and have Lobster for dinner Mike has to ring around all the local restaurants to see who has one. (now that’s a small island). Interestingly it is one of the few places where whaling is allowed the locals are ok to catch up to 4 humpback whales per year using traditional methods. I have no idea if they actually do as the culture seems to be more of a “maybe tomorrow” type of place.

This blog is actually about a trip we took from Bequia to St Vincent the closest island. There is a ship which shuttles back and forth between the two islands. Quite a nice looking ship actually an ex Norwegian fiord boat. Good and sturdy and not too small so by the Tuesday we have developed a taste for an adventure and hatch a plan that on Wednesday we want to take the aforementioned ship on the 1-1.5 hour journey to St Vincent a much bigger island (everything is relative). Not many people join us possibly only 3 maybe 4 (which should have been a clue). We sail off only 20 minutes after the schedule says which causes Judi to make some comments. (You know being late is never acceptable with Judi) so out of the bay and into the Atlantic. This is the point you suddenly start to fully appreciate the difference between a quiet calm Norwegian fiord and the Atlantic Ocean. This thing is rolling around like a barrel up and down and side to side and the sea is not even rough, it is just the shape of the boat is not designed for open water. Also of course true to local custom it is going very slowly. So slow in fact a small sail boat passes us which gives me some good photos whilst also being somewhat of an embarrassment.

We arrive and disembark only staggering around for a few minutes whilst we regain our balance. The place is a lot quieter than we had expected. In fact almost all of the shops are shut. Ok its Wednesday so possibly the traditional half day closing, its 2:30 pm so if they have closed for lunch it’s a long one. Anyway armed with a small map (and you thought Judi would not have one ? Shame on you) we make our way through what could be called the “town center” Mmmmm still no shops open and not many people on the streets although the ones we see are very well dressed. Smart black suits and clean white shirts for the men and the women are dressed as if it is a Sunday and they are on their way to church.

Of course they actually are. It would seem that a local Journalist / Politian had been shot dead a few days earlier in mysterious circumstances and was being buried this afternoon. The circumstances were that he was naked in in the back seat of his car at 1:30 in the morning and had been shot dead. Now that seems to be the plot line of a good thriller but that thought escapes me as we round a corner and find 90% of the population huddled around the local church. Now how conspicuous do you think two Caucasians dressed in shorts and bright shirts would look in the middle of several hundred people dressed for a funeral. Its one of those times when you have to just go with the flow. As quietly as possible we slip through the crowd. I desperately want to take some photographs but think this might inappropriate right now. There were some wonderful outfits and lots of somber faces, this contrasted to our straw hats and flip flops. You can not help but feel out of place and whilst none commented you got the sense we should maybe get the hell out of there. You need to know he seemed like a very popular guy and they were giving him a good send off. Everyone seemed to have turned out and the local Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that in his relatively short life-span, and an even shorter working life, Glen Jackson excelled in diverse roles and touched, for the better, the lives of thousands of persons; and he did so joyously and selflessly.

I read later that Scotland yard were sending forensic experts to assist in the investigation and the whole thing got very messy.

All a little too much excitement for us so we head back to the ship to wait for our roller coaster ride back to Bequia. Another interesting day and another experience to remember.

How many do we really need ?

How many do we really need ?

I’m talking about blades on my razor (what else) I had inadvertently bought 5 blade heads for my 4 blade handle an easy mistake but an expensive one. No chance to return them given I am on a different continent so forced to buy a 5 blade handle.

Now why are you not keeping up with the latest trends I hear you ask (well I think I heard you ask). Do I really need that extra option to trim my sideburns I don’t think so I have never been able to grow any. So to put it simply I don’t need 5 blades I actually don’t need 4. I was very happy with 2 or maybe even 3 but time moves on. Once the world decided it could not live without adding yet another blade to its already high performing razors I had to reluctantly move along with it. The down side was the shave came so close I had to stop using aftershave as it actually hurt, not just the initial sting but it went straight through and man it made my eyes water.

Now I know from the initial trials that 5 is one too many I can not seem to complete the task without nicking myself. It may be that I so early in the morning my hand is not so steady or my eyesight that good. It may be the fact that peering into a foggy mirror and seeing my older brother Joe staring back at me is too much of a distraction but whatever the case 5 is one too many but of course now I have 5 brand new blades to get rid of. I am not disposing of them (that’s a pun) and to cap it all when I buy the handle guess what I get another 2 free so now I an around $20 down and know that I now have 6 weeks of “be careful” shaving to look forward to. Managed to cut myself twice already one quite severe and I think they originally called them “safety razors”.  My theme of impressing people with my array of crisp white shirts took quite a knock with clumps of dried blood on my face. (maybe nobody noticed (I think not))

Now one has to ask if all this is necessary I mean really necessary or is it just marketing pushing things forward. I already know I will not enhance my life by adding yet another metal strip. In fact it may even endanger me but maybe there are millions out there who are actually looking forward to the next generation of cutthroats and maybe would even preorder them like you do with Cd’s to download or books on Amazon before their release. The fact that for some reason you can not interchange blades with handles seems somewhat unfortunate how easy life would be if like Microsoft all things were backwards compatible but alas no this is not possible. Whilst we can put men on the moon (granted it was a while ago) see out to the farthest reaches of the universe. Send emails right around the world in the blink of half an eye we can not master having the same locking mechanism for razors made by the same company. One might even believe they may do it on purpose. I apologize for even thinking it.

There are many things which are new and improved however I am not sure they are life enhancing although my flat screed high definition TV could be said to make mine that little bit more palatable and of course I still miss the tivo.

I suppose I am destroying my own argument but still there are some things which don’t need incremental improvements what they need is radical changes like the leap from tape players to walkmans. Now that is a radical change so lets hope the next “improvement” in shaving is radical maybe the “No blade” razor now wouldn’t that be something.

“they are all short they are Japanese” I said

“they are all short they are Japanese” I said

I was responding to the minder at the customs at Moscow’s Domodedevo airport who was instructing us to “choose the short queue” and given we had just landed behind a Jumbo Jet from Tokyo all the queues were full of “shorts” which is not stereotyping or racial profiling its just they are not tall. Anyway my humor was lost on her and I headed for the line with the least people in it.

As I wandered up 6 of these diminutive tourists step across so the queue was not that “short” by the time I joined it. My flights had so far gone quite well. A couple of hours hanging around OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg which is fine I can get into the lounge and play on face book. They have some good snacks but for some reason some terrible wines, one from Tasmania which given all the local choices seems slightly perverse of them. I also know where the smoking area is so not too much stress.

We had to get bussed out to out plane through a quite severe thunder storm, this is after waiting whilst all the crew filed passed (late) all laden with Duty free bags some so late they were on the bus with us the “Guests” we took off almost an hours late but given we are flying for around 10 hours I doubt we will be late in.

A couple of drinks and some fish later I am ready for sleep, so ready in fact that I fall asleep with my ear plugs and mask still in my hand. I had tried to watch a film with Michelle Pfeiffer in but got bored and flicked it off (she was on my laminated list I say was as I think I need to renew it and I fear she won’t make the cut). I was woken abruptly by loud talking and the clanking of cups. This is the point where I think the ear plugs would have saved me but no matter I get coffee then another and another. I should be awake by the time we land in an hour and a half.

The clocks do not go forward in South Africa so we get in around 5:20 am so lots of hanging around time. Customs in terminal 5 are very good and you can get from the plane to the street in 15 minutes. They do have some broken chairs which clutter up the place and seem to have been there for a couple of months making the first impression of the place less than ideal. Anyway I have my expenses to post so I try and find a Post Office I of course go to the Airport information who are not sure if they have one, I casually suggest they may want to Google it and they find on in terminal 3 but is does not open until 9 am and by the way they are on strike I am informed with a smile.

Wandering off to buy Judi some entertainment magazines and get some more coffee I pass a Marks & Spencer’s and pick up a couple of Pork pies (a very English thing).

I also pick up 2 CD’s live sessions from the BBC which if you like live music are extremely good value. I stick as much as I can into my case and get my ticket. These automated machines are a bit of a pain and it soon gets confused by an English man going to Moscow with a ticket purchased with an American Visa without a British Airways card and it suggests I get assistance ( I think I heard it sigh). Only a slight delay whilst someone checks my Russian visa and I am though to scanning which is always fun. They got the design wrong and there is no enough room for the hundreds of people queuing and the solution is a series of mini queues where nobody really knows where they are. The whole system is over engineered. It is almost worth a blog of its own. Just go with the flow ant 20 minutes later I am clear. I want another coffee but boarding is showing so decide to go straight through. The plane is possibly a third full and I have a whole exit row to myself. A snooze and a couple of coffee’s later and we land to light snow. I notice the Nippon Airways jumbo but was not quite prepared for the nigh on 400 tourists who have managed to slip off before us.

We are held up by the swine flu check. Not as bad as it used to be. They used to come on in gumboots latex gloves and masks as a team and keep you for 30 minutes. Now there is only one girl and as she passes me I am sure she gives me one of those “you again” sort of looks but maybe not.

So here I am in the queue which is going very slowly as these are first timers. One guy tries to go through the electronic gate too early and gets a rather nasty reproach from the burly customs girl. I did think for a moment she was going to call the boys over but it soon passes. Ok now only 4 in front of me and two customs girls. Then of course the crew arrive and it would seem the ratio of crew to passenger on Nippon Airways is quite high there is a long line of them and they are all going to get straight to the front of my queue. I barge over to another queue but now back in 12th place. Deep breaths it will all be over soon. Ok through and waiting for my bag, excellent it comes quite quickly and out through the green channel. Nobody takes any notice of me as they are scanning the very small bag of a girl in tight leather trousers and 4 inch heeled boots. In fact all the guards seem to be involved in this exercise nice to see them being so though although given she could be described as stunning this may have influenced them somewhat.

Dashing through the airport (you have to go all the way to the other end) to get my train I wonder why the taxi drivers are a little more aggressive today. Buying my ticket I work it out I have just missed the 4pm and need to wait 55 minutes for the next one.

Now a guy in a blue suit and white shirt with loafers on standing on the snow laden station platform next to people in great coats hats scarf’s and gloves one feels who ever is playing “spot the tourist” will have an easy game.

Note to self pack some warmer clothes next time and get some decent winter shoes.