Thursday, 22 December 2011


I was going to start by saying "I hate Christmas", but of course I don't hate Christmas, well at least not all of Christmas. There is enough to love about Christmas to still make it a special time of the year, even if those things don't have much to do with religion,  decorations, santa claus or the baby jesus!  Its probably easier to start with the things I love about Christmas, those are (In no particular order), time off from work, time with my family, James Bond reruns, reminiscing old times with loved ones, and the opportunity to eat and drink far too much to completely digest in a 3 month period.

The thing I hate about Christmas is or are - presents.  Not just the giving, but the receiving also.  I simply do not understand why we put us through the absolute nightmare that is buying presents for family and foe. Don't get me wrong, buying presents for young children and grandparents, or tipping the waitresses at your regular restaurant, even slipping the office cleaner a few extra bucks can feel very rewarding, watching their eyes light up, and the genuine thanks on their faces when they have tore open the carefully wrapped fluffy effigy of a kamikaze bird or their weeks salary in a small red envelope are moments that cant be brought - er well obviously they can, but you know what I mean.

What I hate Is the completely ludicrous tradition of buying aunt Mildred a fruit bowl, or Brian from next door a pair of ear muffs.   Why? if they had wanted those things why didn't they buy them themselves? If I want something I save, compare prices, make a decision and, well go and buy it - it is that simple.  Of course If I cant afford something I either don't have it, buy it on credit or heaven forbid save until I do have enough money - besides these aren't the things that your going to get as presents, and if you do, you will be expected to have given a similar value present back, which defeats the object! Yes I know the object of giving is not the receiving, and yes I know that all of the joy is in the giving and not in the receiving.  Tell that to the bank manager!

This whole issue of giving not to receive is a con, made up by mind bending commercial PR types, using a simple method to break the stalemate that is - you buy me something , and i will buy you something.  No one wants to spend money without the prospect of getting something in return, so to break the deadlock some clever sole decided that they would play the religious and sanctimonious card by suggesting that 'it was better to give than receive" poppycock.  The only people who don't care about not receiving anything are either priests,  billionaires, Jehovah witnesses or liars.  Try it, one year don't buy anyone (except for your children) a present and then watch how many you get the following year - you will be as popular as the Euro.  The idea that presents are supposed to have a emotional, pure or spiritual meaning behind them, that we should give something from the heart is also bullshit - people want DVD's, CD's, Aftershave/Perfume, Store Vouchers, even a bottle of the hard stuff will suffice.  Again try it this year - make everyone a present from things you find around the house, tell them that you put a lot of thought into their gift, that you contemplated how much they meant to you and decided to give them your most valuable possession, your love and your time - see how many toilet roll holders you get the following year!

The whole exercise has deteriorated into almost an exchange of £$20 notes,

 "Here I brought you this, I hope you like it?"
"Oh thank-you, you shouldn't have"
" We got you this, its just a little something"
"Oh thank-you, I wasn't expecting anything in return" 

The first thought both people have is - "Thank god we brought them something", closely followed by "did their gift cost more than ours?" , and when you open it you think, "Oh just what I always wanted, a Avocado peeler", "I wish I had kept the present that I gave them, at least I could have found a use for the Rubber Tree de-fluffier".

Rather than carrying on with the physical activity, I think we should come up with a way of just exchanging the thought, something like this;

"Hi great to see you, Happy Christmas",
"Hi, Happy Christmas, its been ages",
"We decided not to buy you any crap that you didnt really want this year, but we did think about it, and we are giving you the gift to spend the £$20 you would have spent on buying us a cocktail stick holder, on something for your self"
"Thats great, and we would like to give you the gift of keeping your own £$20, to buy something for yourself"

Both parties go away without having spend any money, without having brought something destined for the Church's next tombola, and without wondering who spent the most money - perfect!  Of course the shops needn't worry as all of that money we had been told to keep or 'give to ourselves' could be used to buy stuff we really want or need, and to ensure that we did in fact buy something and didn't just fritter the money pledge to ourselves on something frivolous like a utility bill, food or petrol, we would have to send a letter (or email - lets save those trees, so we can cut them down and put electric lights on them next year) thanking the pledger explaining what we purchased with their pledge and vice versa.  Of course you will always have some dopey uncle who would make you pledge to give yourself a couple of grand because he wanted a new Plasma TV for his dog kennel, but you can always get your own back next year when the bank loan for your 2nd floor patio come in.

Of course the other aspect of present buying this eradicates is the list writing the thought preparation, and of course the requirement to traipse around the shops with a billion other idiots.  Think of the fuel saved, the time, the pressure and the relationships. No more worrying if the Arron jumper will fit Cousin Velma, or the fluffy pink slippers will match your brothers furniture, and best of all no more sycophantic gift giving to those people you cant stand.

I am not proposing you don't give gifts to those who cant give you presents back, the young, the old and the infirm - you should spend your time, energy and money on making sure these few that cant buy themselves anything, and thus don't have to, or don't even think about the consequences of not reciprocating.

I almost forgot - Merry Christmas....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


What is it with airline food? Or more to the point why do people eat it?  I know I'm probably in a minority again, but I would rather eat someone else's ear wax than chomp down on the slop that is served up by most airlines. I guess my distaste for airline food started whilst I worked at a catering company during the summer break from college.

Apart from chopping wood (Work) and various other minor Saturday jobs, my time at 'Trust House Forte in-flight catering services ltd' was my first real job, based at Birmingham International Airport (Then called Elmdon Airport), we would prepare more than 5000 meals per day for the airlines departing from the airport.  Now when I say meals, perhaps I am exaggerating things a little. We would follow instructions laid down in a book full of pictures to show exactly which direction and how many peas/beans/carrots or whatever was required to fit into it's little plastic home, a sort of food preparation by numbers.  We would be chastised for having too many slices of cucumber, 4 segments of orange rather than the prescribed 3 or having confused the 300 meals for a Thomson Holidays with those for a Thomson Travel Holidays flight which only took two olives and not 3!!

Don't get me wrong the conditions were good as was the pay, and even some of the food (albeit the 1st class menus) were pretty nice, in-fact when no one was looking we would hide in the enormous walk-in freezers and gobble down a sirloin steak or a juicy piece of gammon before the supervisors noticed, and before we caught frost bite! Oh how we laughed when someone would lock you in a room chilled to minus 20degrees and then go on a break for 30 minutes - such fun was had whilst trying to defrost your hands in a pot of boiling vegetables.  However the one lasting memory from my time there was having to make 60kgs of Tuna Mayonnaise, chop 4 million tomatoes and butter 40,000 loafs of bread .  All of this put me off airline food forever. 

I was doing it as a summer job, but many of the people who worked there were full time, and many of them from my old secondary school - people you wouldn't want to share a lift with, let alone ask them to prepare you a meal.  They may of well have been organising delivery's for DHL, assembling jigsaws or preparing walls for painting.  Their culinary skills were non existent and their care for the consumers of the food they were cooking wasn't ever considered.  So I guess all of this formed a fairly distinct impression on me and one that has meant that i would rather feast on my toe nails than devour a meal prepared with the same thought and passion as a car park ticket is issued.

The reason for blogging about this is due to an occurrence on a recent flight where the 'flight attendant' became very insistent that I feed on her plastic tray of delights.  My refusal (politely) to accept the meal being forced into my face turned the whole world order into disarray for her, she could not and refused to understand that someone would not want to eat the delicacies she was offering. After several members of staff calmed her down, and explained that not everyone may want to chew on her delights, I was allowed to continue my self imposed fasting.  I cant imagine that these people get some kind of bonus for force feeding passengers, but then i cant understand why i am always the only person not to eat on a flight?  It cant be hunger? I am sure most people can survive the majority of short haul flights they travel on without food? Is it just a standard reaction or response when someone tries to throw a plastic tray at you, and you accept it regardless of being hungry or not? or is it a case of believing that 'you paid for it, and therefore you will eat it?' maybe you expect there to be a surprise, and the airline has listened to its customers and kept is simple, rather than thinking exotic must mean it will be good!

I have never held to the fact that just because something is 'free', you should take it.  I love good food, and insist on eating food that i enjoy, tastes good and provides an experience rather than just 'fuel'.  Airline food doesn't meet with any of these criteria, and therefore in most cases I choose not to eat it.  The only exception is when I am very hungry or in any normal circumstances - its the normal time to eat (eating breakfast, lunch or dinner at the appropriate times rather than at convenient times for the airline staff), and each time I do it is unsatisfying and results in being fuel rather than food.  The other exception is of course when I am lucky enough to be travelling on a long haul flight in Business Class, real crockery, real food and plenty of alcohol all help to ensure you can at least make out what passes for food, which isn't bad considering it was made several days ago by people who gained a certificate in catering from the local McDonalds!

Whilst I'm here, and just to show my ranting isn't just about airline food.  Why should I close the window blind on a day flight? Don't get me wrong flying during the evening I also like a snooze, and the distraction of laser piercing light via the crack in the thin shield of plastic covering our only connection with the outside world can interrupt this.  However when I board a plane at 10.00am and fly 10 hours arriving in my destination in the afternoon(local) time, I want to feel like I haven't slept for 10 hours - so I can go to bed at a normal local time and wake up at a normal local time!

The conversation goes something like;

"Can I shut the blind for you sir?",
"Why do I look like I don't understand how it works?"
"But we would like to prepare the cabin for everyone to have a rest"
"I'm actually enjoying watching the fantastic scenery from up so high"
"But Sir many of the other passengers would like to get some sleep"
"But it's 1.30pm in the afternoon! What's wrong with them? Are they from Mexico or Greece?"
"Sir your open window blind is stopping people from sleeping"
"Why don't they use the eye patches you provide in the lovely little amenity packs then?"
"Can I shut the blind for you sir?"

And so the conversation goes on in circles until one of us gives in.

The insistence by cabin crew to force everyone to sleep during a flight regardless of the time really infuriates me, of course if everyone is asleep they can stick their own feet up, and don't have to pander to those on flights who feel they own a piece of flight attendants ass, but please stop treating us all as ignorant first time flyers.  On a day flight I want to stay up as long as possible, do some work, watch a movie, write a blog, but most of all catch some jet lag busting UV rays from the window I'm sitting next to. Just as if I was at home on a Sunday afternoon watching a movie after a good lunch and a glass of Pinot, I may doze and nod off for a hour - I wouldn't expect anyone to rush around and pull the lounge curtains and put a blanket over me.

Advice to the un-iniciated, if your long haul flight means that you land in the evening at your place of destination - try and stay awake, so that when you arrive you can fall asleep as if you had lived there all your life, if of course you flight will land in your destination during the morning, try and get some sleep during the flight - feeling bright and breezy for when you land will mean that you get to enjoy a full extra days sightseeing/business before  when arriving.

Rant over time to catch some zzzzzzzzzs