Don’t conform, make travelling your norm

Opinion

Slaloming and snaking through one of London’s innumerable underground tunnels, I come to a somewhat sobering conclusion as I try to avoid the throngs. On this particular day, I’m one of the worst of all the scurrying rats.

While cursing those who push, shove and fight for an inch of real-estate in the labyrinth of passages people navigate on their daily commutes to work, I realise, at times, it’s hard not to get dragged into the dogged underground tussle.

A few days ago I saw a cumbersome woman racing for a vacant seat on a Piccadilly Line. Despite her tumult and effort she failed to secure a seat and stood disconsolate and visibly dismayed. Anyone who makes the daily commute on the tube can surely relate to her desperate plight.

The winner of the dual wasn’t the least bit concerned about scoring a seat, the Holy Grail of the underground. A sense of satisfaction, like a plume of smoke from a wildfire, emitted from the seat winner.

And while nobody hops out of bed at the crack of dawn and fancies standing all the way to work, so close to a stranger that you can smell his breakfast, the repugnant waft of tuna and eggs filling the air like a toxic gas, is a modicum of civility too much to ask?

Competition starts at the crack of dawn in London and if you’re not willing to battle, scratch and claw for every spare inch of space, you’ll quickly be left in the dust.

Travelling on the London underground can make one feel like sardine, packed in tight.

People compare living and working in London to a “rat race”, summing up perfectly life in the big city. You’ll more likely come across twerking Siamese twins than catching a glimpse of someone smiling on their morning commute. There’s an omnipresent and ubiquitous stoicism on the tube, a sombre aura more suitable for a funeral procession.

Doing my utmost to avoid unleashing devil-like death stare upon fellow commuters, I focus unwaveringly on my iPad. Suffice to say, I’m not immune to the underground blues.

If someone sat smiling opposite me – had I somehow procured a seat – I’d find it somewhat unnerving. We’ve become so used to miserableness pervading that I would perceive a mere smile as eerie, abnormal, even perplexing.

It makes you wonder how many of us our actually happy. I travelled to Asia a few years ago and what struck me most was how incredibly happy, hospitable and accommodating the locals were.

It gives even more credence to the old adage that happiness is not achieved through a wealth of possessions, toys and money but the fulfilment in your heart and soul, the state of mind with which you awake every day.

I dream of escaping the rigid and robotic lifestyle a big city comprises. I yearn to live in a place where the thought of Mondays don’t give me night terrors, filling me with angst, a place where everyone isn’t purely working for the weekend and where smiles replace scowls.

And I’ll sacrifice all the material goods money can buy to feel free, at peace and not only exist, but thrive in a state of tranquillity.

London’s pigeon problem

Opinion

Pigeons, the dirty vermin that they are, have unquestionably and irrefutably become too comfortable in their surroundings, or more to the point, our surroundings.

I express my escalating discord not purely because, regrettably, I once was open-wing slapped in the face by one of the rats with wings, but more because of their nonchalant, flippant, inconsiderate and blasé attitudes.

Living in London, the unofficial pigeon capital of the world, only exacerbates my disillusionment.

Scavenging on our scraps, defecating anywhere and everywhere they please and incessantly bobbing their heads as they saunter obliviously along, like a resident DJ is implanted in their tiny bird brains, pigeons have become all-too accustomed to shitting on our parade.

Here the dirty freeloaders fight each other for a piece of bread, which was obviously provided to them by a pigeon enabler.

Here the dirty freeloaders fight each other for a piece of bread, which was obviously provided to them by a pigeon enabler.

And apparently children are the only ones that have switched on to pigeon’s nefarious intentions. They are, without a doubt, the only ones doing anything about it.

Children across the world seem to be on the same strategic wavelength and, like battalions of old, charge toward lingering flocks, making them scamper, scurry and flee. It’s not their playful curiosity coming to the fore, but, in my opinion, their unbridled desire to banish pigeons to an uninhabited swathe of land far, far away.

I lionize children for coming up with such a simple, yet effective plan and carrying it through. At least they are taking a stand.

While somewhat impractical and slightly radical, I assert that all humans should form a unified front and, at least once a week, dash towards an unsuspecting flock with reckless abandon. It wouldn’t take long, if war was waged, for pigeons to think twice before showing up uninvited, lingering and congregating by the masses.

And don’t even get me started on those who opt to feed the repugnant creatures. Thriving on benevolence and weakness, pigeons, like seagulls and vultures, are freeloaders of the bird species.

So join me in scaring a flock a week and there will be no more pigeons of which to speak.

Five types of people watchers

Opinion

Maidenhead, of all places, bustles with activity on this mild and temperate, albeit overcast (no surprise there), English spring Saturday.

Sipping on a flat white I find myself scanning passers-by, fascinated by people’s mannerisms, movements and the way in which they interact.

Locating someone with a smile amongst the clusters is as unlikely as catching a glimpse of a tiger in the Indian mangroves, more rare than an alcoholic passing on a free drink.

Windsor Castle: Fairytales and a fiendish ogre

Travel

It’s an autumn weekend, although the gorgeous summer-like conditions indicate otherwise, and the royal town of Windsor is packed to the brim, almost bursting at the seams.

Town roads resemble parking lots, sidewalks bustle with life and people queue as far as the eye can see to enter Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.

Tourists by the hundreds queue for an opportunity to enter Windsor Castle.

Overran by tourists, one can expect to wait at least an hour before entering a castle renowned for its grandeur and opulence in a royal town richly steeped in history.

Planes descend overtop of Windsor Castle at regular intervals on their final approach to London’s Heathrow airport, their engines emit a constant hum adding to the quaint and idyllic town’s bustling aura.

Some families are clearly put off by the mere sight of the never ending line, turning around and going back from whence they came. Nevertheless, most tourists and locals display sunny dispositions reflecting the perfect weather and are unfazed by the queue resembling a Disney Land attraction.

The same, however, cannot be said for one particular shopkeeper, whose uncompromising and devilish stare is only matched by his dour and gloomy personality.

An ominous cloud coincidentally encroaches overhead with an eerie darkness, blanketing the sun and erasing a near-perfect autumn afternoon.

Locating an ideal spot to capture an image, I rested my laptop and camera bag against a pole metres from the vendor’s souvenir stall. Bending down to retrieve my camera, the stoic character asked if he could help me with anything.

I thanked him for his concern and, thinking nothing of it, returned to my principle concern. I switched my camera on and focussed in on the subject at hand.

The fiendish oaf demanded I leave the area and remove my gear if I had no intention of making a purchase at his makeshift stall. His ramblings continued like a madman who was long off his meds. I half expected froth to form and saliva to spray.

Making a mountain of a molehill, this irascible tyrant accused me of loitering and threatened to call the police, trying his utmost to impress upon me his inherently bullish nature.

How can one loiter, I pondered, while trying to take a photograph of an iconic castle on public property in one England’s most renowned tourist areas? If I was loitering, so were hundreds of other passers by. In fact, anyone holding a camera must be engaged in some sort of criminal activity.

I couldn’t help but laugh at his outrageous behaviour. Eventually I took the photograph I would have captured five minutes earlier had he not made a scene that quite obviously dissuaded numerous other tourists from shopping at his souvenir stand.

The fiendish ogre had quite clearly become his own worst nightmare, estranging many potential customers.

And in this case, as frowned upon and misguided as it usually is, one would have been right in this situation to judge the book by its overtly ugly outer exterior.

London living: Fighting for space

Opinion

Every inch of space is contested and every empty seat fought for. As precious as ivory comprising an elephant’s tusk, personal space is an extremely rare and precious commodity.

This is London.

Crowds start to form as I stand on Maidenhead’s station platform awaiting a train bound for London Paddington. Even with 10 minutes to spare, people mark their spot on the platform and shuffle forward like a herd of sheep in anticipation of the train’s arrival.

People, in the precise spot the train doors will eventually open, amass row on row, all vying for the slim chance at snatching a seat.

Rubbernecking down the tracks as if a train will magically appear, commuters’ eyes are transfixed on an empty spot far into the distance. Only a quick glimpse at a watch or phone breaks the trance with which they are ensnared. Every second counts; every second matters.

Minutes remain until the train is scheduled to arrive when an unexpected – and uniformly unwanted – message is loudly emitted from the public address system. The five-carriage guest of honour is going to be late once more, and not fashionably so.

Overt displays of displeasure rumble across the ever-increasingly frustrated crowd, whose numbers now far exceed what our tardy, five-carriage friend-turned-foe will be able to accommodate. One man spontaneously developed a fierce twitch, his left eyelid quivering, his entire head shaking uncontrollably. His jugular pronounces its intention, bulging like the Hulk’s muscles when agitated.

It’s as if small pockets of the collective have contracted an isolated airborne version of turrets as profanity is being spewed in an unfettered display of contempt.

But the bevy’s annoyance and anger quickly turns to a uniform and robotic-like readiness at first sight of our late foe, which slowly, and painstakingly, approaches from the distance.

Shoulder to shoulder and toe to heel, the herd inches toward the yellow line in unison. So close to one another, you can pinpoint your neighbour’s breakfast of choice. A brazen bloke has the gall to try cut into the queue but is swiftly brushed aside. Competition for poll position is stiff, but holding your ground takes precedence.

The train doors open and, akin to the rapid rate at which Romans flooded into England during their expansive conquest and great reign over Britain, the collective bundle aboard. A few of the lucky ones, like a king eminently taking his seat on the throne for the first time, claimed the remaining vacant seats.

The rest of us, it seemed, had reverted back to the start.

But instead of on an alfresco platform, we stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder and toe to heel fighting for space aboard our stuffy five-carriage foe that showed up late, unapologetic and remorseless.

For all of its commuting downfalls, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It’s a city full of life and replete with enigmatic charm. I just wish trains – and their passengers – during rush hour weren’t so callous, crowded and churlish.

What do I expect. After all, this is London.

A tight squeeze from Calgary to London

Opinion

Imagining I am sat on a beach somewhere, sinking into the soft sand splayed out on a reclined lounge chair, gazing out onto the open water with a rum and coke in hand, I can’t help but notice something snatching at my big, protruding toe.

Is it a curious bird? Or, maybe, it’s a harmless sand dweller.

Reality comes crashing down when I realize that an impish infant with cold, piercing devilish eyes is trying his best to pull my toe from its socket.

She may look cute, but her voice is untiring and packs a knockout punch.

She may look cute, but her voice is untiring and it packs a knockout punch.

Welcome to an Air Transat flight from Calgary to London. Numerous babies sporadically strewn about the cabin relentlessly squeal at an intolerable pitch, a pitch one would assume only dogs should have the ability to hear. Passengers are packed in like sardines (I don’t recommend travelling with this no frills supplier if your on the higher side of the body mass index scale), a mother complains about the airline’s in-flight protocols – primarily its absence of seatbelts or add-ons for infants – and, arguably worst of all, Air Transat lives in a land devoid of complimentary booze.

But what does one expect at at such low rates?

Paying just over $600 for a one-way flight across the pond, I shouldn’t be in a position to complain, but will do so anyway. Brief silence, like the tranquil moment before a catastrophic storm makes landfall, befalls the aircraft. Without warning, the silence is blown to smithereens by another wailing toddler.

At least I purchased the rights, for a nominal $20 fee, to pre-emptively reserve an aisle seat. There is ample room for my laptop to sit comfortably on the retractable tray. That is, until the disgruntled mother of the fiendish, evil infant decides to aggressively recline her seat. Jabbing into my stomach, the laptop finally settles at an odd angle, coming to rest on my lap. I have every reason to believe, if the laptop had the ability to scream,  it would join the bevy of babies in their deafening chorus.

I sit on pins and needles to see what gruel will come our way at dinner. And I sit not on pins and needles with anticipation but with the unavoidable numbness overwhelming my lower extremities.

On the upside, only seven hours remain on-board this germ-infested airborne daycare centre.