The Joy of Travel


No. 5  Pardon?

I have no idea how many people pass through Stanstead every year – millions, possibly billions. And I assume most of them reach their destinations, with or without their luggage. Which is something of a miracle if my recent experience is anything to go by. The incomprehensible screeching that passed for public announcements would do a good job of shattering glass and put any self-respecting parrot to shame. As to fulfilling its purpose – forget it.

Where on earth do they recruit these people? What criteria do they use in interviews? Maybe they select perfectly normal people with perfectly normal voices, though with a preference for those on the shrill side. Or maybe you really do have to speak on a frequency that would have even dogs whimpering and covering their ears. Perhaps it’s all in the training. Maybe in boot camps where recruits are required to begin  at a normal speed – getting faster and faster and higher and higher as they progress towards their diplomas. Somewhat along the lines of the old speed typing tests except with the added requirement to run the words all together so as to be indistinguishable, one from the other. With extra brownie points for slurring.

Bad as it was in the departure hall, the situation at the boarding gate was even worse. I was a going to try to replicate it here to try and give some idea of what it sounded like but the nearest I can get to describing the tone is the sound of nails being scraped down a blackboard or the high pitched shriek of metal grinding against metal. The only two words I caught were ‘the back’. Whether that was to say we were to board from the back (no sniggering please) or that the plane was for some unaccountable reason going to fly backwards it was impossible to say.

A long line of hopeful passengers milled about like sheep that were one dog short of direction. I approached the desk hoping for enlightement. It did me no good. I still couldn’t understand a word. All it achieved was more confusion, a cold stare and hurty ears. It wasn’t much better on board. Given the vital importance of some safety instructions this is less annoying than alarming. We are all a bit blasé these days about life jackets and whistles and oxygen masks – we know they are more to reassure us than a having any practical use. But the stuff about electronic equipment really does need more than a quick slur. And why not spell it out – mobile phones, MP3 players, iPads and computers can all make the plane crash.

The captain has just made an announcement. All I understood was that we are makings good progress, despite being bounced about like a celestial tennis ball. Whatever he did say was I imagine meant to reassure us. A bit pointless really since he too seems to have been to boot camp with the rest of them.

P.S. For those of you who have yet to see it, this video is hilarious. But it does rather prove my point; I could only catch about one word in five. Nevertheless, I wish all the flights I was on had attendants with such a sense of humour. There’s an interview with Ellen here.


There we all were. Sitting on the bus. Minding our own business. More or less. As less as you can be in these days of mobile phones. The woman seated directly behind me was sharing her complicated love life with everyone within earshot. A Tractor1man at the very back was bellowing into his phone, which was to all intents and purposes redundant. Tinny, discordant sounds were leaking very loudly from the earphones of a pie-faced youth at least three rows away. In other words, just a normal, everyday journey on a London bus.

The bus stopped. As they do. And more people got on. Including a yummy mummy, her progeny and her fancy tractor. When my nieces and nephews were babies and toddlers, pushchairs were small, light and could fold up so that they resembled something akin to an extra large, particularly unwieldy umbrella. It wasn’t easy. Trying to fold the chair with one hand with a wriggling, squalling baby clamped under your arm while attempting to disentangle small fingers from the mechanism. Simultaneously clutching a couple of splitting plastic bags and hanging onto the collar of a toddler with a death wish. No it wasn’t easy but that was how it was. Everybody managed.

I’m not suggesting that those folding pushchairs were ideal but we’ve gone far too far the other way. By all means have a sturdier type of chair. But theres no call to take the piss. I mean, really! The modern pushchair seems to be a hybrid of a small car, an off road vehicle and a tractor, judging by the wheels alone. Unnecessarily large, completely antisocial, these engines of Beelzebub have no place on a bus. Literally. There is no room for them. Modern buses allow up to two pushchairs; one of these monstrosities causes enough problems on its own.

They protrude into the aisle, making it impossible to get past unless you are thin Pushchairand agile, and even then it’s a squeeze. God forbid you should be on crutches, a bit shaky on your pins or somewhat overweight. No chance. The bus is effectively cut in two with people crammed on either side of the obstruction. Bags and clothes get snagged on the handles, shins get scraped and yummy mummy herself adds to the problem as she blocks the passageway, impervious to the glares of the other passengers. No spatial awareness to speak of. But she wouldn’t care anyway.

There’s a whole class of mums these days that believe they have a divine right. I have a friend who calls them ‘Putney mothers’, the sort of mothers with these antisocial pushchairs, who cluster on pavements with their progeny, forcing others to walk in the road. They let their children take up seats on the bus when there are older people standing. Of course they’re not confined to Putney, nor are they all yummy mummys. They come in all shapes and sizes and types. The thing that puzzles me is why they are on the bus at all.

Judging from the size and opulence of the pushchairs, they’re not short of a bob or two. I’m pretty sure they all have cars. So why don’t they drive them? Of course there’s the obvious fact that the engine of Beelzebub may not fit in the boot of an urban hatchback. Making mummy a bit stupid as well as selfish. However, most of them drive enormous cars that wouldn’t be out of place in Texas – all bulging cattle bars and Humvee tyres – so the Xtra-Xtra large pushchairs should be no problem. I’m not saying I want them to drive. I don’t. However, if you are going to use public transport have a thought for others. Don’t try and fit the pushchair equivalent of a tractor on a bus. Since many of these mothers persist in doing so, with the pushchairs getting ever larger and more antisocial, I can only assume it’s an extreme case of showing off. The female equivalent of a small penis.