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… 

Marginally judgemental Friday Fun

One word I’d hate to be used to describe me is ‘snob’. While I can appear to be snobby about some things – good gin, genuine Heinz ketchup and Kellogg’s Cornflakes – it’s usually simply because they taste better and I’d rather spend slightly more on something I like, than spend less on something I won’t. My only qualms with shopping at Primark is their possible lack of ethics, but that’s often forgotten in the excitement of a £5 skirt or £2 t-shirt. It’s good not to be judgemental about stuff – isn’t it?

Then I stumbled upon what your e-mail address says about your computer skills and realised that many of my (judgemental) suspicions had been confirmed, in an extremely comedy way. Examples include:
Own domain: ‘Good chance of being skilled & able, maybe even a programmer or designer’. [Rings true to me.]
Gmail: ‘When the internet stops working, actually tries rebooting the router before calling a family member for help’. [Very true, not that I’m at all biased as a Gmail user myself…]

In other exciting e-mail news, this week has seen me lose 5 characters from my address. Yes, that sounds careless (and a little pointless) but when you struggle to fit it onto forms and can do nothing about the length of your surname, every little helps. A few weeks ago Gmail announced that it had sorted out its legal wranglings with a British company who used the same name for its internal mail system and thus, the Brits who’d previously been saddled with @googlemail.com could choose to switch to @gmail.com. I formally made the move at the start of this week and gosh, it feels good. [Simple things please simple people etc, etc.]

Continuing the judgy theme, yesterday a friend and I were discussing our mutual love of the Guardian over lunch. A characteristic we particularly love is its own brand of in-jokes. To unfamiliar Guardian readers, this might come across as intellectual snobbery, and perhaps in appreciating it we are ourselves intellectual snobs, but it’s what makes it a great paper. After all, this was the first national newspaper to have a regular ‘corrections and clarifications’ column which regularly mocks itself for its own stupid mistakes.

Anyway, one of my favourite articles this week was on synonyms. Now, as this is the Guardian, the humour within it is entirely derived from understanding what a synonym is – I’m not judging those who don’t, I’m just warning you that if you’re lacking this particular piece of knowledge you won’t find it funny. Oh, and it has a quiz at the end of it – have I ever mentioned how much I love quizzes?? [And that I’m still sore that my quiz team, despite being in the lead until the final round, were robbed of our rightful reward last week…]

The article’s title is also a gem: My Synonym Hell

Just in case you’ve found this week’s ‘fun’ way too mentally demanding, I’ve one final amusing gem for you:
As of July 1st, Subway are instructing their staff to tessellate the cheese in their sandwiches. Sounds dull and mundane, but the official statement on it is comedy – I never realised just how seriously one has to take the assembly of subs. Incidentally, I won’t judge you on eating their sandwiches, but I will judge the company on their awful taste in cheese.

Burn baby burn

A four-day British heatwave has drawn to a close. Miraculously, a weekend fell right in the middle of it, enabling the population to make the most of the sun. Spending much of the weekend in assorted London parks I had plenty of opportunity to observe what happens to the British when the sun comes out…

Essentially what occurs is that they (we) lose touch with reality. After all, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Not only do the Brits head outside when the sun is at its strongest, they do so in the skimpiest of clothing and with minimal protection.

First off, let me confess that I’ve been guilty on both counts. I forgot the sun-cream on Saturday (but after purchasing more on Sunday I have carefully re-applied it diligently) and did wear a vest-top under my t-shirt yesterday so that I could avoid a tan-line over lunch in the park. [I’m slightly ashamed of doing this second thing as not quite two years ago I criticised others for similar actions.]

But, why do we seem to think that the British sun can’t damage us? Sure, we don’t see much of it and are probably severely deficient in Vitamin D, but risking skin cancer? Foolish. Don’t people realise that in most hot climates people cover up in the sun in order to protect themselves? True, on Sunday I had practically bare shoulders, but I was evening out the exposed flesh-ness by carrying off the maxi-dress thing – meaning my legs were covered and (most genius aspect) could sit cross-legged in a graceful fashion. But you should have seen some of the poor lobsters in the congregation at church that evening!

Also, can I make a plea – bring back hats! Once upon a time, the British were famous for their hats and summer meant Panama time. Now everyone simply gets overheated and burnt. (I have currently have a very sensitive patch of skin where my hair parting is.) Personally, I’d love a big floppy straw creation, 1930s style. Then I could go punting with a charming gentleman wearing a Panama and carry a parasol. (Actually, before I get carried away with this fantasy, presumably if one is wearing a hat one doesn’t also need a parasol?)

As it’ll be at least a week until the weather scorches up again, you’ll have time to read the Guardian’s guide to dressing for the heat. I would like to point out that as I started writing this post last night, I thought of the maxi dress, parasol and hat comments before its author did – it’s just that (yet again) my thoughts ran along the same lines as their writers. Honestly, they should just employ me and be done with it…

Ashes to ashes…

Day five of the volcanic ash crisis…and perhaps the end is in sight (for Europe at least, Canada may be next).

Britain has yet again been reminded that it is most definitely an island nation – or rather, a nation comprised of several islands. For some reason we only realise this at moments of severe weather (freezing fog or extreme cold) or when all planes are grounded thanks to an Icelandic volcano. Despite the fact that we’ve always been surrounded by water, every time we lose our tenuous links with the mainland it comes as a surprise.

Many are saying that we’ve become too dependent upon fast, cheap air-travel, both for travel and for freight. Currently 400,000 Britons are stranded somewhere in the world (and this is after many have made it back from across the Channel) because they were on a short Easter holiday in the sun or a long-haul business trip. Supermarkets have no fresh Kenyan roses or packaged fruit salad. Should we really be relying upon overseas imports of flowers and unseasonal fruit and view regular flights to nice places as normality?

It struck me today that until I was 17, my experience of flying had been very limited. True, there was my inaugural 24 hour flight aged 6months when I returned from the tropics, but I didn’t set foot on another plane  until I was 10, and not again until I was 17 – that’s 3 trips in 17 years. In the last 10 I’ve been on 17. Admittedly, at least 7(ish) of those are thanks to the parents moving to Belfast and the fact that I’m lucky enough to have had some pretty interesting travelling opportunities, but I definitely take it for granted. I plan my Clinique purchases around my family’s flight schedules and have a well-defined Gatwick routine.

But, even with half the family in Ireland, it doesn’t have to come down to flying. There are ferries, which we’ve used, especially at Christmas, though the 8hour Belfast – Liverpool crossing is a tough test of endurance. When my Dad was a student in Dublin 30 years ago, flying there wasn’t even considered. The journey took a day and you accepted it. Thus, he was fairly non-plussed to find himself stranded in Manchester on Thursday morning. He discovered he could buy a train ticket to Dublin that included the ferry (a bargain at £27 – worth knowing) and got home late the same night.

My sister was stranded in Germany and had a little bit of a rawer deal as she was in the company of 20 choristers. (She has very entertaining holidays…) But, partly thanks to it being a school trip they were safely on a coach back to the UK hours before their original flight was due to depart. Yes, she had 20 hours in a confined space with young boys high on sugar, but at least she got home. Twenty years ago [I’ve actually just shocked myself by writing that…how am I this old?!?] our family went on its first holiday to Bavaria and we drove all the way – it took two days, but that’s what we did. [Random recollection from that drive: For a considerable amount of time I thought all German roads led to a town called ‘Ausgang’…turns out that was just the sign for an exit off the autobahn.] All three holidays that took place outside the UK during my childhood were reached by car, there was never any hint at flying somewhere.

Yes, lots of people are in unenviable situations, but (so far) this ‘disaster’ hasn’t killed anyone. As a bonus, the skies have been quiet – no noise or any other form of pollution being issued from the flying tin cans.

Perhaps we just need to slow down and take time over our journeys. Time is a luxury, but so is our planet and reckless (or even unthinking) flying is damaging it.

Should we really being relying upon planes to import fruit & veg just because we want to be able to eat it all year round?

Lots of questions, but few practical answers. Give it a week or so and things will go back to normal and we’ll have forgotten all about it. I’m not a Green – in all likelihood flight will continue to be my transport of choice to Ireland because I don’t have the time to spend a day getting there and back. My feet itch for destinations beyond the confines of Europe on a regular basis and while I can afford to, I’ll scratch that itch as often as I’m able. [Apologies, not an attractive metaphor.] But I do care for this planet and don’t want to act in a careless or reckless way.

Still, something to ponder, surely?

PS – If anyone’s in need of/interested in good quality, regularly updated information about volcanic travel, check out the Guardian’s live blog. Truly excellent and endlessly diverting.

A question of blurb

Belatedly, here’s a book review I promised you a couple of week’s back. (I know, I’m sure you’ve been holding your breath in anticipation!) Thing is, it’s a little tricky to review…

The book in question is Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand, which I’d read about on a couple of literary blogs last year, to generally good reviews. On a trip to Belfast last autumn I added it to my pile of ‘books to steal from the parents’, despite my mother being rather negative about it.

Interestingly, the book doesn’t have the usual blurb on its back cover. All it says is:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women…

It goes on to say that it’s the story of those two women. Not a lot to go on, but an interesting way to approach the question of what to say on the back of the book. However, because of this approach I was expecting there to be some massive plot-twist in the story – I waited and waited for it to emerge, but it didn’t. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did, I just felt a little disappointed!

It’s an incredibly moving story and had me almost in tears more than once. One of the women is a refugee and hearing her point of view on the British asylum process is eye-opening and damning. I can’t really say much more about it, because, as the blurb goes on to say “please don’t tell them [your friends] what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.”

The question of a book’s blurb is an interesting one. Obviously, it’s what we most often use to make our book-buying decisions, but actually, how much do we need to know? I rather admire an author that’s not willing to spoil the plot for its readers.

Many years ago my mother lent me a book, instructing me not to read the blurb because it would spoil it. As it was a Margaret Forster – a joint favourite of my mother and I – I trusted her instruction. The book was a great read and I enjoyed it immensely. As I reached the epilogue, I discovered that the whole book was a con and threw it across the room in anger.

That particular book, A Diary of an Ordinary Woman, is introduced as a collection of diaries that that Forster was given by an old lady who had documented her life during the major events of the 20th century. I read it believing that every word was true and was utterly distraught on reading the epilogue to find that whilst the diaries had been offered, it was then withdrawn, so Forster decided to go ahead and write the book herself. It’s a fabulous book, but I liked it so much better when I thought it was real!

If I had read the blurb I probably wouldn’t have minded so much. Perhaps in that case it’s my mother I ought to have been angry with, not Margaret Forster, anyway, at least it was honest. Maybe we should all abide by the rule a friend of mine applies to DVDs – no reading the back because it spoils the surprise of the film? That could make life much more interesting…

As an aside…
On the subject of Chris Cleave, this weekend saw him bid farewell to his highly entertaining column in the Guardian Family section (the bit of the paper I go for first on a Saturday). Down With the Kids chronicled the trials and tribulations of his young family’s life over the last two years. Sadly, his children are now old enough to be aware of what he’s writing, so he thought it was time to stop – good call. I highly recommend perusing its archives though, especially if you’re a parent yourself.