Friday Fun with Secrets

Straight in with the fun today, no messing…

Previously, Friday Fun has featured episodes in a series created by Londonist, sharing the secrets of each London underground line. This week, the series concluded with the Metropolitan Line (and a special on the Waterloo & City – appropriate as I travelled on it for the first time in years on Wednesday!). Honestly, these videos are GENIUS and will provide you with all sorts of tube knowledge that will impress/annoy those you travel with for years to come.

Even if you watched some of them before, they bear re-watching – you’ll always discover something you missed. I now have a list of things I need to look out for on my various travels…

Moving on to a different form of transportation. It’s now 8 days since I favourited a tweet including this video on Twitter (bad me for not Friday Funning last week) and I know it’s been widely shared. However, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone I know share it on Facebook, so perhaps this will be a new one on you. If not, who cares?! It’s brilliant. This is what one man did to kill time while having to overnight at Las Vegas airport, equipped only with an iPhone, a roll of tape and a trolley case – plus a love of Celine Dion:

I love airports and I have a soft-spot for Celine – in fact, this version of All By Myself is the first one I heard, thanks to a teenage collection of her albums. Don’t judge me. It was the 90’s and I love a good power ballad.

On the subject of air travel, I am seriously in need of a long-haul adventure sometime soon – complete with all the novelties and deprivations of flying (limitless films versus limited leg room). I can’t decide if I feel better about flying, or worse, having read this great article on flying in a bygone age – complete with a large slideshow of photos. Definitely worth a perusal.

Sleeping In FlightCan you imagine the luxury??

Finally, a return to one of my favourite Friday Fun topics: periods. It’s been a while (largely because comedy on the subject is rather niche) but this is excellent. Brought to you by the same company who created last year’s Camp Gyno video, what if you were thrown a ‘First Moon’ party because your mother knew you were lying about having started?!

So. Much. Joy.
“Do you sell vagina cakes?”
“Do you know how hard it is to find a uterus piñata?”
“You’re missing the vagician!”
“Periods don’t have glitter in them!”

And with that, I’ll let you enjoy your Friday and all that the weekend throws at you!

Par Avion

Did I tell you I was going to California for 2 weeks? No? Well, I’m here – in San Francisco to be precise. (Or, to be precise-r, San Rafael – a town across the Golden Gate bridge.)  There will be more than enough opportunities to share the joys of this trip later, this is simply an introduction as to why I’m writing a post about the French national air carrier…

One of the things I love about flying is the ways in which the personalities of countries or regions are expressed on board planes. Last year’s trip to Texas saw my first experience of Delta’s southern charm; Aer Lingus is my airline of choice to Belfast (it has excellent music choices and inoffensive uniforms); and flying BA to Uganda was surreal and hilarious – our return flight included the poshest stewardess in the world.

Somehow, en route to San Francisco, I found myself on board Air France. [I booked through Delta – MH’s airline of choice – and they’re a partner.] Overall this was a good thing. It’s the first flight I’ve been on where I’ve been handed a menu of the flight’s food programme, complete with wine list and vintages (including champagne); it’s certainly the first time I’ve had my choice of French films to watch on board; and the flight attendants are certainly very well dressed.

However, there were disadvantages…

A major one was the fact that, 7 hours after I’d arrived at Heathrow, I found myself flying back over it – having spent the previous hours flying to Paris and then boarding a flight to SF. Slightly frustrating, especially at the point when I realised it would have been quicker to take the train from St Pancras to Paris, and then the Metro to Charles de Gaulle. Ho hum. [There was method to this madness. If you’re doing a long-haul flight that requires a change, do the shortest leg first. I’d have hated to do the 11hr flight to LA and then board another plane to SF.]

On the plus side, this did mean that I found myself with just over an hour to kill in Charles de Gaulle airport. If ever you should find yourself there, note that there are more places at which to buy macarons than there are to buy a nutritious lunch. (Although, who says macarons aren’t a nutritious lunch?) My gate was adjacent to a Laudurée wagon, which says it all really.

7 days of NutellaCDG – where you can also buy ‘weekly’ packs of Nutella. You know, for when a single jar isn’t handy enough…

This adventure also provided me with an excellent opportunity to practice my French. Aboard the flight to Paris, there was a drinks service (the flight was under an hour!) and I asked – in English – for a Diet Coke. The steward did not understand me, so I tried again with “Je voudrais un coke light s’il vous plait” – he obliged and apologised for not speaking good English. I began to wonder how a flight attendant on a route operating out of London could get a job without good English, but then I remembered the French attitude towards their own language and their general belief that it is wonderful – and I vowed to try not to speak English for the rest of the journey.

Initially, this went very well. An “au revoir” to the cabin crew upon landing and a tour-de-force of conversation skills with security while having my hand luggage checked again.
Security: “iPhone?”
Me: “ici” [Pointing to handbag]
Security: [Beckons me through security gate]
Me: “D’accord”
I was impressed with myself…

Things started well aboard the long flight. I understood most of the French announcements – enough to know that the French speakers were getting more information than the English. I ordered my meal in French, chose vin rouge to accompany it and made polite small talk with my French neighbours. Things only began to unravel when I wanted a gin tonic. No one had taught us this at school. Tricolore did not have a spirits section! So I gave up and asked in English. (The bonus was that because the tonic came in 330ml cans, I got two gins…) As my tiredness progressed, the ability to speak even basic French evaded me. The final straw was my US customs form – which proved to be a French translation. If there’s ever a form in which you don’t want to misunderstand the questions, it’s a document issued by US immigration. With zero help from another flight attendant who claimed not to know much English, my neighbour successfully helped me deduce the correct responses.

All in all, I’m pretty relieved that my flight home is via Virgin Atlantic. They may not have menus and champagne, but at least there will be a plentiful supply of films in English and my poor, jet-lagged brain will not be over worked.

Southern Comfort

Generally, I like to think that I’m regarded as a fairly polite person. Yes, I’m a Londoner, and we’re not known for being super friendly or outgoing, but I do on occasion break the ‘no talking on the tube’ rule and always respond positively to the (many, many) people who stop me for directions on a daily basis. [I’m beginning to wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that offers this service…]

However, I don’t think I was fully prepared for the assault on my London sensibilities that would be the southern form of politeness. Reaching the gate for my flight to Atlanta, my hard exterior proved no match for the hundred or so Americans making their way home to the South (very few Brits seem to fly Delta). I’d barely been there 5 minutes when a group of men with epic beards and wearing dungarees engaged me in conversation – it was my own fault, their dialogue about the ways in which they were transporting Devon roses back to their wives tickled my interest. Before I knew it I was being given recommendations for things to do across the great state of Texas.

On board, the air stewards compounded my feelings of inferiority in the politeness stakes. There’s just something about being called “Ma’am” and having drinks brought to your seat that takes service to another level. It connected with what I like to call my ‘Waitrose mentality’. Waitrose is an upmarket supermarket (a branch is my closest grocery store) with a tendency of employing older ladies on their checkouts. This women are so nice to you that it shames me into ramping up my usual politeness several levels – headphones come completely out of ears; full attention is given; conversation is entered into; and my accent becomes even more plummy than it is usually. On board my flight, and for pretty much the entire time I was away, this was the mentality I adopted. No cynicism, no sarcasm, no ignoring people, no elbowing people out of the way, no avoiding conversation at all costs – it was quite the behavioural mind bender.

For example, when was the last time an attendant at a cheap clothing store (I’m thinking Primark…) wished you a good day, asked about the things you were trying on, or even commented on just how cute the skirt was that you’d chosen? [Lady in Old Navy, I salute you for your confidence inspiring compliments!] Or how about actual sincerity from a waitress and genuine interest from them in ensuring you have the very best frozen cocktail experience? [Cynically, we pondered whether one waitress was genuinely flirting with our male companion, or simply knew how to get a good tip – we went for the latter…]

It’s instilled from childhood too. I was slightly nonplussed when a friend’s 3 year old child addressed me as “Ma’am”, but I suspect he’s being brought up very properly. [As opposed to the child of a total stranger who at that point was using my backside as an obstacle course in the river in which we were lying…]

It all had quite an effect on me. By the time we’d boarded the first leg of our flight home, leaving San Antonio for Detroit, I’d had my first truly positive experience of airport security; a long chat with the man in Duty Free regarding the relative merits of Bombay Sapphire & Tanquerry gin; and then proceeded to chat without inhibition with an elderly lady from Michigan. Texas has changed me, and probably for the better…

…well, at least until my next rush-hour Piccadilly Line experience.

Another reason to fly Delta: that drink on the right is wine. 
It’s served in larger quantities than non-alcoholic beverages, like the Diet Coke on the left.

Phew! Cringe! And other emotions…

Christmas can officially begin. I have battled temperatures at both ends of the scale and tonight successfully arrived at my parents’ in Belfast.

Since snowcalypse descended last week, holiday travel plans have delicately been in the balance. Actually, at the very moment I booked my flights (back in October) I was already formulating potential back-up plans – one reason why I ultimately flew out of Birmingham instead of London. Then on Saturday night, with impeccable timing, I got sick. The illest I’ve been since Christmas two years ago and making it the third of the last four Christmases that I’ve been under the weather. Four nights of awful sleep and virtually no appetite followed, making panic over meteorological conditions and airline vagaries even worse.

Thus I effectively wasted my first two days of holiday languishing in bed till the early afternoon and then attempting to make myself feel more human by seeing actual people. This was possibly a mistake as it led to an inadvertent evening in a draughty exhibition hall and made me incredibly determined to keep my date with the BBC Radio Theatre on Tuesday [much, much more on this at a later date]. The latter also required half an hour queueing in sleet, which might account for how categorically awful I felt yesterday morning as I began my mission to reach the shire for Christmas.

But enough moaning about my woes. By today, with no further heavy snow showers in the West Midlands and a receding feeling of general malaise, things were better – which is lucky, given the fate that befell me today at Birmingham International Airport…

I’m a fairly patient and moderately experienced traveller. I’ve dealt with the ferocity of US immigration and the terror of Israeli Border Control and don’t generally get flustered if unexpected things happen. However, what I do like is order and effective queuing – something usually typical of airport security. No such luck at Birmingham, someone even pushed ahead of me while I was decanting my laptop into a tray – at Gatwick you’d be forcibly removed for such behaviour.

My belongings were spread across two trays and my rucksack. First my laptop was picked out for a swipe (I quite like this, it means my screen’s now clean for the first time in ages) then my rucksack was lifted out. This did not make me happy, anyone who’s familiar with my handbag habits would guess at what level of junk might be contained within such a tote. Here are some examples:
What’s in a Name? [A book on the origin of tube station names which has been in there since my nerd’s day out.]
– A box of Christmas wrapping paraphernalia – ribbons, bows and what have you.
– Two-thirds of a cinnamon & raisin bagel bought for lunch on yesterday’s train (indication of illness that I only managed to consume one-third of it over a 2hr journey). [I’d intended to throw it away.]
– Rather important letters/documentation relating to my holiday task.

Any item whose contents were unclear was lifted out and opened – swift intervention on my part ensured that my purse wasn’t opened upside down, spilling coins across the conveyor belt. My camera case was easily explained, but less so a velvety Ollie & Nic purse that appeared from the depths of the bag. My conversation with the guard proceeded as follows:
Guard: “Madam, what’s in this small bag?”
Me [cringing inwardly and probably outwardly]: “Er, those would be tampons.” 
Guard [also cringing and hurriedly zipping it back up]: “Ah, ok then.” 

Bless him. I think he was actually more embarrassed than I was – though I wasn’t particularly happy about my belongings being displayed for all and sundry to observe. Had I been feeling more fragile, I might have burst into tears at this point, but instead I accepted his apologies and said that he’d been much nicer about it than the guards responsible the last time my baggage was searched – when leaving Israel.

Weirdly (or not), I was much happier sharing this event on Facebook and Twitter than with my fellow passengers – I guess in these cases I know my audience, or at least my audience knows me. Plus, it gave me something to chuckle over during my hour’s delay. [FYI not a lot to do in Birmingham’s Terminal 2.]

Friday fun with flight attendants and farmers

As I’ve been stuck in the middle of nowhere (at a Christian conference centre whose raison d’etre appears to be feeding people as much food as possible), opportunities for discovering something for Friday Fun have been limited. However, I’ve just had a quick look at a Friday favourite in the Guardian – the Viral Video Chart – and found a total gem.

You know how tedious flight safety announcements can be? How they always say you should pay attention even if you’ve flown on that plane, with that airline countless times before? How even the attendants look beside themselves with boredom? Well, on Cebu airlines (in the Philippines) they are far from dull and boring:

Flight attendants, passenger safety and Lady Gaga – what’s not to like?

If you’re the kind of person who refuses to follow links to the Guardian (yes B, I’m talking to you…), other gems featured this week include the rather wonderful Yeo Valley yoghurt advert. This caused more of a stir during last week’s X Factor than the show itself – in fact one of my friends rang to tell me to watch it online (she knew I was stuck on a stupid train). My tweet back at her summed it up:
“Just watched the Yeo Valley ad…not since Ben Fogle has a man in a Barbour jacket looked so hot. Hellooooo farmers!” 

One of my roles over the last couple of days has been doing the PowerPoint for sessions. I’ve done this a few times and you get to know what you can get away with doing while your laptop’s in presentation mode, and what you can’t. Sneaky tweeting/facebooking – yes, watching rather hot farmers rapping about yoghurt – not so much…