Sunday, February 25, 2007

To travel hopefully…

February 18 Now I don’t mind business travellers in general: only the ones who talk loudly about it on public transport so we’ll all know how important they are – like ‘Well I’ll try but I can’t imagine we’ll get Frankfurt to accept that’, or ‘Sorry, can’t make it – I’m in Madrid until Wednesday and Prague the rest of the week’.
Why all this business travel? Whatever happened to video-conferencing? It was going to cut corporate travel costs, reduce executive stress and carbon dioxide emission. So why do business people travel so much?
Because they like to. There are a number of reasons: it’s a tax-free perk and an ego-massage – not to mention those lovely Frequent Flyer miles, gold cards, executive lounges and free upgrades.
There’s nothing nearly so impressive about, ‘Can’t make it – got a video-conference on Tuesday’.
And besides, what would all those Conference Centres do? (Even Maspalomas, where no one makes anything, ships anything or digs anything out of the ground, has one.) Or the ‘Conferences’ departments of the big corporations? What would all those high-flying academics do? (What self-respecting medical academe hasn’t played every golf course in Florida, Oahu or the Algarve, courtesy of a drugs or cosmetics giant?) How would they be able to say ’74.8% of doctors recommend…’?
No, the only thing we can do if we want to save the video-conferencing industry – and incidentally the planet - is either to develop a video-conferencing system that will guarantee a 5 handicap - or do what the Swedes did and tax people on travel perks.
But they won’t – not while Tony likes his Antillean jaunts and not while John (“Why-didn’t-Clapton-shoot-the-Deputy?") Prescott likes to go to Texas and dress up like a Yorkshire dude.
No, business travel is here to stay: I know - I did it for years. But then my journeys were important.

February 21 There’s a pub in the Maspalomas shopping centre that, before it becomes a tinitus-inducing disco at around eleven, is a jock’s paradise, with five TVs on the wall, each tuned to a different Champions’ League match. Surrounded by large Dutchmen, we watched PSV-Arsenal - with peripheral glances at Lille-Man U next door. Great game (ours) clean – only one yellow card - fast – thought it was on fast-forward in the first half – and noisy – cheers going up from different parts of the room at different times. Tonight will be even noisier: Liverpool-Barcelona - it's the only time I can support the Reds in public.

Notices in Maspalomas camp: Schwimmen Sie nicht nach dem Essen, oder wenn Sie Alkohol getrunken haben. Pity - I used to like the swimming.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Now is the Winter...

February 11 Two days before we left for Maspalomas, our central heating boiler packed up. The day we left, it snowed in England. When we got there it was 24º. For once we got it right – then why do I feel guilty – rats leaving sinking ship and all that? Plus I had not met my Feb 7 deadline – hope my editor doesn’t read this.
It’s at the southern tip of Gran Canaria, one of the group of islands off the west coast of Africa where northern Europeans go in winter to defrost – at the risk of being called a wimp I have to admit that even the Riviera doesn’t quite do it in midwinter
The last time I was here my kids were younger than my grandkids are now – it was more than 30 years ago. And how it has changed! It was just a place name that looked like a failed anagram of the capital, Las Palmas, and some sand dunes – they shot bits of Lawrence of Arabia here. Now you can hardly find the dunes.
It’s a man-made international vacation centre – a sort of Disney-less Florida, with the same green, planet-draining golf courses and the same Hispanic natives. Which means everything looks new; but nicely new: it's tastefully developed – even the big hotels are hidden behind vast gardens of bougainvillia and hibiscus. The whole place looks pristine and the only workers to be seen apart from domestics are men in white overalls with white-spotted faces, carrying buckets of paint
We got here just in time to watch Spain beat the NEW England team. Well no, only the coach was new – the players were the same eerie-dreary mustn’t lose automatons as before. When you see how hard they play when they play club football, you have to assume that the new coach is no better motivator than the old one.
It’s a truly multicultural place – the area we live in is called Campo Internacional. You can distinguish people’s nationality from their feeding times: FWVSCs (families with very small children) and Americans dine at around 5.30, followed by Dutch and Germans. Brits and French tend to turn up around eight, then when everyone has left and the restaurants are so deserted you think they're on the verge of closing, the Spanish start to arrive: waiters cheer up and enjoy animated banter about the relatIve merits of Real Madrid and Barca.
All in all, a very nice place, and it will do nicely until the worst of the winter’s past. Other assets – not much to do and no internet access: ie. very conducive to work. And as for the deadline – what’s Spanish for mañana?
But it's a great comfort, as we sit here surrounded by electric heaters waiting for the boiler men to arrive, to know that it's now 28 degrees in Maspalomas.

Sign language You see some odd signs in Maspalomas, but this one is about the oddest. Even in Spanish it doesn’t seem to make sense – although it must. But in German it does – it's that Kamelstation. Thus I think it must
mean ‘Access only to the camels’ place.’

Carbon Dating We were walking along the promenade the other night. It was a warm evening of the kind we sometimes see in UK in mid-August, and there was a gentle sea breeze. As we rounded a bend, there was a fountain – well, not so much a fountain as a mini-Niagara without the men in yellow coats telling you obvious things like ‘do not walk too near the falls’. Anyway, whether it was the surprise of seeing and hearing all that water cascading over pink rocks, or the balmy evening or the wine I don’t know, but we were both moved just enough to exchange a spontaneous - but perfunctory and discreet - kiss. And my immediate thought was of a recent post in which a dear fellow-blogger – who I’m sure would never entertain the slightest age-ist thought - complained about not liking to see old people snog. Now I’d say I’m not a fan of public snoggery by anyone, and can never understand how it is that the escalators on London Underground – especially the Bakerloo Line - tend to make people feel romantic.
But next morning, when we spoke to our neighbour, he asked us if we’d enjoyed our meal the previous evening, so we asked if they’d seen us. ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘by the fountain’.
Should we apologise?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Canary Row

(This being a Canary Island, it´s probably my once in a lifetime opportunity to use this title, so I hope Steinbeck doesn´t mind).

This is an interim post to explain my absence from the blog waves and, it´s hoped, sustain RW-hungry readers until we can get internet access. As you may have heard, contact with the world is limited here: ships take a week to reach England, and although there are ring-necked doves (with the most boring mating call known to ornithology - how they expect to tempt a female from spinsterhood I don´t know. Still, it must work or there wouldn´t be so many of the ring-necked buggers) there are no homing pigeons. But then, since this would be their home, they would not want to take messages to the mainland anyway.

No, the only net access within 40 miles is Stalag 17 up the road, where one is limited to 15 minutes at a time - of which the first 4 are taken up loading the blog and the remaining 11( at my typing speed) in entering the title. I cheat - the DG is typing this. There is no Wifi and the Obergruppenfuhrer does not permit pre-recorded text: uploading pictures is similarly verboten, and when your 15 minutes is up, everything is erased.

No more excuses - clearly the system is designed to discourage blogging and e-mailing - which for a vacation island is probably right. So apologies to both e-mailers and bloggers for this hiatus - I only hope the wait will turn out to have been worth it for you.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Do-roo-do-dooh Mrs Robinson

When the eldest son of King George III was the Prince of Wales (later George IV), he was a bit of a lad. He used to install his mistresses in locations convenient to Windsor Castle, just as Charles II did with Nell Gwynne in the 17th century and, more recently, the future Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
One of the Prince’s dalliances was called Mary Robinson, a poet and actress most famous for playing Perdita in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. He saw the play when he was 17, fell in love with her, rechristened her Perdita and gave her a residence in Old Windsor (the older part of the town, where the Romans built the original Windsor Castle because it was a day’s march from London but which, since it was made of wood, has not survived). He asked her to become his mistress and it was agreed she would do so for £7,000, payable when he was 21, but by then he had tired of her and he never paid up. Not to be outdone, Mary got George III – in exchange for the Prince’s letters to her - to pay half of it and give her a pension, and she spent the rest of her life as a writer in Old Windsor. I’ve been looking for Mary for years because she’s a character in the book I’m researching - and this week I found her right here, in Old Windsor Parish Church:

Fizzy O’Therapy Made two careless mistakes with the wine order. First, I bought a case of ‘mixed Loire whites’. My daughter once nearly married a Tourain and he introduced me to Loire wines so I thought it would be good. But I broke my own rule: never buy 'mixed cases'. Mixed cases are how they get rid of rubbish they can’t sell by the case. It may be a crap bottle, you say of the first, but never mind - it’s only one bottle, and it’s open now, so…
But when the next one you open is also vino crappo you realise you've been conned.
The other mistake was not to read the catalogue properly. We like a cool Pino Grigio after a hard day’s retirement. But it was frizzante. I wondered what on earth I’d bought when I saw all those bubbles, but it's great. Good mistake.

Rough Justice I got my wife back after 3½ weeks of dispensing justice, so, as the British judicial system prevented us from escaping the worst of the winter, we decided to defrost in the Canary Islands. THEN… (disaster chord, followed by solo violin):
As David Letterman would say - what ten things would you least want to happen when you’re on a deadline and 1500 words short and two days from going away and have not yet made any preparations? And it’s the coldest day of the year? And - oh yes, it’s Sunday morning? OK – just one then? You’re right – the thing you’d least want would be for the central heating to pack up.
Well it did. After spending most of the morning in the Yellow Pages talking to answering machines, we finally got hold of Jonathan. He sounded more sleepy than enthusiastic: ‘Yawn. It’ll cost you double time’
‘ That’s OK.’
Jonathan arrives and says – ‘Of course I’m not really a repairer, I’m an installer’. Funny he didn’t mention that earlier (he’s listed under ‘Gas Engineers’.)
‘Can you fix this?’
‘The gas valve has gone.’
‘Can you fix it?’
‘I don’t carry spares’
‘Can you fix it?’ ‘
‘No, but I can install a new-technology energy-saving boiler for you.’
‘Couldn’t say. I’m busy until the week after next.’
‘Thanks Jonathan. By that time we’ll be on a sub-tropical island. We’ll call you. How much did you say?’
‘You'll have to add VAT to that.’

I can’t type any more – my fingers have gone numb.
Can't even stay up to watch the 5-hour car commercial interspersed with the odd few seconds of men in tights and body armour playing American football - also known as the Superbowl. The Bears will win anyway.
Gotta go - as Captain Oates said, 'I may be some time'. Do-roo-do-dooh