Monthly Archives: December 2009
Most frequent fliers will tell you that they can recite crew and cockpit announcements by heart: “Welcome to Airy Airways. My name is (muffle muffle) and I am your purser for flight 999 to Istanbul. Your crew today consists of Cindy and Mindy in First Class, Davis and Mavis in Business Class, and should you have the misfortune to be a sardine today, you will be cared for by Travis, Bevan, Morgan and Mercedes. Even if you fly regularly, please pay attention to the emergency procedure demonstration that follows,” Of course, hardly any one does, except for the Nervous Flier who reads and re-reads the laminated emergency brochure all the way to the destination, by which time its corners and fingernails various are in tell-tale shreds. Then we hear various stock phrases along the lines of: “Do not inflate your life jacket until you have left the plane,” “Please turn off all electronic devices for take-off and landing,” “The flight time today will be 8 hours and 23 minutes,” if we’re lucky and, following a rumble of turbulence just as the refreshment trolley comes around, “We are now cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet”.
Recently, Monsieur and I flew to Lisbon. Let me just say that our pilot was a little different to the ordinary. Firstly, he came out of the cockpit, took the speakerphone and addressed his passengers, face to face. To say he was whacky is somewhat of an understatement. After introducing himself and the crew, he told us “I’m driving this thing tonight. We’re off to Malaga.” This was a risky joke to make. I understood that he was being funny, but others around us didn’t, “What did he say? Are we on the wrong flight? He’s joking, right?” Captain Whacky then apologised for the way an excess of hand luggage had been stowed, causing a brief delay. “If you’d like to complain, send your e-mails to Easyjet. They need a few.” he suggested. Okay, so not only was the Captain whacky, he was also unusually keen to solicit e-mail traffic for his employers. “Buy food! Buy duty free!” he then implored, “We need the money!” And, sure enough, as soon as we were bound for Lisbon or Malaga or wherever else Captain Whacky was ‘driving’ us that night, the crew certainly did a repeated hard sell on both as they trotted dutifully up and down the aisles, one (male) cabin attendant being overheard to say “I feel like such a tart.” whilst peddling his trolley of wares. Apparently, things are tough for airlines right now, as they are for most sectors of industry. Having said that, I’ll never forget Captain Whacky. He certainly spiced up the flight.
Not long after Captain Whacky ‘drove’ us to Lisbon, Monsieur and I spent a pre-Christmas weekend in New York. The flight home was just as remarkable as Captain Whacky’s for far less amusing reasons. Firstly, take-off was delayed because US Immigration had decided to check the passports of all passengers on incoming flights as they disembarked, as well as in the customs hall, thus severely delaying the cleaning of the plane that would take us to London. While we were waiting, a fellow passenger approached the counter. “I’ve been vomiting,” she told the airline staff, “and I don’t know if I can travel.” They asked her various questions about symptoms and so forth, then sought out an airport doctor to come and verify whether or not Vomiting Passenger should travel. In spite of my concerns that she might infect 400 plus people with the dreaded Swine ‘Flu, Vomiting Passenger was indeed deemed fit, at least for long enough that everyone could board and the cargo could be loaded and all doors closed. But the plane sat still at the gate for longer than usual. Then the captain spoke. “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for the delay. We have a sick passenger on board who is not deemed fit to travel so she’s being taken off the flight. That means we have to find her bag and remove it before we can leave tonight. Once again, please accept our apologies for the delay.” Searching for the suitcase in the haystack took a while, as you can imagine. Luckily (?) for me I was sitting directly above the cargo door so could watch with ever-decreasing patience as first one, then multiple baggage containers were removed in the quest for Vomiting Passenger’s suitcase.
Eventually, said luggage was located so we could finally push off, taxi onto the runway, hurtle down it and take off. Then the plane banked and banked some more. It felt as if we were going to fall out of the sky, but in fact we were fine. I never really doubted that we were fine. It’s just that, like so many people, when it comes to flying I’m a bit more nervous than I was ten years ago.
Monsieur was sitting in another part of the plane so my seat-mates were a kind English couple who smiled at me every time the plane banked and my knuckles lost colour. We made chit chat, plugged into our respective movie channels, artfully pecked at the in-flight meal and rugged up for a snooze on the red eye.
Sometime later I was dreaming, a rare feat on any flight, when suddenly I was woken by shrill screaming from the front of our cabin. The screaming was panicked, piercing and did not stop. Chillingly, my initial thought was “Oh well. We travel so much, it’s bound to happen sooner or later,” as I wondered whether this was a terrorist situation or the case of an unstable passenger stabbing a flight attendant because the galley had run out of Jack Daniel’s. When I think back to that waking moment, it was one of extreme resignation that Fate had taken over and there was nothing to be done but sit still and wait to see what happened. Losing it didn’t even cross my mind.
In those nervous moments already frayed nerves were exacerbated by the actions of the flight attendants. They swiftly turned on all the cabin lights, which had been dimmed for the overnight flight, waking only those whose Beta blockers had left them impervious to the noisy panic, and one spoke code over the speakerphone: “Cabin Crew, Delta Foxtrot in row thirty five,”. There’s nothing like Cabin Crew Code to increase anxiety amongst passengers. “Delta Foxtrot? What do they mean, ‘Delta Foxtrot?” “Is it a bomber?” “Is someone dead?” After what seemed like an age, having seen resuscitation kits and portable defibrillator panels and latex gloves and all manner of first aid paraphernalia sent into action, we learned that a passenger had passed out cold in the aisle. The screaming woman had thought this person was dead, hence her banshee bursts of howling, and although we never found out whether or not the sick person survived the flight, things did calm down considerably and we were all able to relax (ish) in the knowledge that we were not being taken hostage.
Given the Banshee Incident coupled with the Christmas Day event of a Nigerian attempting to blow up a plane bound for Detroit, I’m relieved not to be flying anywhere for a while. My feet are quite happy to be at zero thousand feet, thank you very much. Having said that, even train travel hasn’t been straightforward of late, what with extreme weather conditions and the recent Eurostar debacle where trains broke down mid-Chunnel. It seems we just can’t win. Suddenly the concept of the Staycation is an attractive one, indeed.
If you’ve had any in-flight moments of madness, good or otherwise, please leave a comment below and let’s share. We can call it Post-Flight Therapy.
I have a dear, small, Scandinavian friend who, like me, loves food. This friend has survived a life-altering, direction-changing year, culminating in a decision to leave London in favour of her Tokyo-based love, going via Denmark to enjoy some quality family time. Needless to say, she couldn’t possibly leave the country without first dining with me, not least because such a large part of our friendship exists thanks to passionate discussions about FOOD.
The Tokyo Boy had recommended for us a little tavern-style Japanese place on Goodge Street. I googled it and the first review I read scared me. A Japanese person had written it, slating the staff and taking no prisoners about their surly attitude to white patrons. No no no, we couldn’t risk it, could we? Not on our last dinner together for some time. Scandi-La was resolute, however. Tokyo Boy liked it and so would we. In the wake of her culinary courage, I followed her lead and we went to Yoisho.
On entering this modest little restaurant, it’s obvious that this place is run by Japanese, for Japanese, with Japanese businessmen dotted around the place sipping on sake with loosened ties. We sat at the counter overlooking the grill chef’s work and immediately ordered bottles of Asahi dry and some warm sake. We had two waitresses, both of whom were perfectly professional towards us (no gaijin phobia there) and one of whom bore a fantastic short haircut of some style and geometric precision. Behind the counter the grill chef worked tirelessly, smiling at us and nodding shyly from time to time. Scandi-La and I felt not one hint of hostility towards us, although our enthusiasm for Japanese food and a few words of Japanese definitely did not go astray.
On the counter stood a lucky cat with waving paw and a figurine of a beer-hugging fisherman replete with fish and rod. The decor was hardly inspired, but felt refreshingly authentic in its tattiness, as if we’d walked off an Osaka street instead of a street in a wet and crowded pre-Christmas London. As usual, we struggled to decide on our food but eventually settled on gyoza (dumplings), a mixed sashimi platter, another of tempura followed by eggplant with miso – one of my all-time favourite Japanese recipes. Added to this was a selection of chicken skewers – some kebab-style; others mulched into grillable balls.
The gyoza were exactly as they should be: light, soft and tasty with that hint of Japanese chive, but it was the sashimi that stole the first part of the Yoi-show. In a more favourable review of this eatery, someone had written that the sashimi was so fresh that there must be an ocean in the basement. This praise was not an exaggeration of the quality of the fish we were served. Scandi-La and I hummed with a united appreciation of the yellow-fin tuna, salmon and some sort of delicate white fish – all absolutely fresh and almost creamy as each morsel dissolved altogether too quickly against my palate, with barely the need to chew, but the star of the sashimi platter had to be the prawns. Previously to dining at Yoisho, I’d never eaten sashimi prawns. These were served vaguely blue, ready to pop out of the pink prawn shell, and my word, how they tasted as they slipped around my mouth! Suddenly I wished myself a pelican so I could eat such things all day.
The mixed tempura, a heap of gilded king prawns and vegetable pieces, was almost fluffy, so perfect was the golden batter. And when we moved onto the eggplant with miso, I was ascending to eggplant heaven. The eggplant flesh was steaming and soft and slushy beneath the generous layer of miso – which both sweetens and salts the hot fruit beneath. We dug our chopsticks into the flesh, careful to load them with both eggplant and sauce, humming with yet more gastronomic delight.
At some point in proceedings I ventured down the modest staircase to the ladies’ room, tucked away down a corridor in the basement. En route I discovered another dining room, filled with more Japanese people enjoying some post-work down-time. The ladies’ facilities were scruffy, as I’d expected, and there, in the corridor, was the sashimi ocean we’d been discussing earlier. Well, not really an ocean, just more of a large puddle. There was no sign of pipework or a leak in the immediate vicinity, so I wondered how it got there. Could it be a magic, sashimi-producing ocean? Could it be that a sake-swilling patron had leaked on the way to the loo? Perhaps someone had left their brolly there and it the water was its legacy. Whatever it was, it made me smile. Perhaps there really are secret basement oceans capable of producing dream sashimi.
The verdict? Scandi-La and I were more than satisfied that our last London dinner together had been such a success. As we paid up, the grill chef looked sad to see us go. I think he must have enjoyed all our happy hmmm-ing and humming, yet I have to be honest and say that neither diner particularly enjoyed the chicken, leaving most of the skewers intact. In short, if you’re hungry for sashimi in London, give Yoisho a go. Here’s how Yoisho scored against the Epicurometer:
Gyoza – 8/10 (extremely good but not remarkable)
Sashimi – 10/10 (absolutely magical from that ocean in the basement)
Tempura – 8/10 (extremely good but nothing unusual)
Eggplant with miso – 7/10 (very tasty and I hate to admit it but I once had better in Sydney)
Mixed chicken skewers – 4/10 (had the texture of cheap chicken meat. It’s not like Scandi-La or me to leave food on our plates in a Japanese establishment so this was poor going.)
Asahi dry – 10/10 (great to have the choice of dry and comes in large bottles so it keeps you going for a while)
Sake – tut tut, wicked girls! We chose a sake for serving cold and asked the waitress if it was possible to serve it warm. Yes it was and there was no fuss about it or trying to upgrade us to a superior sake for serving warm. I don’t know enough about sake to score it but safe to say that it was perfectly drinkable with that lovely warm rush that’s so precious when you’ve just been drenched by a London downpour, as I had.
Decor – don’t go here if you’re passionate about interiors, unless you want to see a well-seasoned Japanese tavern-style eatery. Upstairs is definitely better than down, and that’s saying something.
Eating at the counter – 10/10 for entertainment value, relative comfort and the fisherman figurine. I think he’d be happy to come home with me and live with Blue Monkey.
Staff – The waitresses get a score of 7/10 and the grill chef earns himself a 9/10 for being so friendly.
Likeliness to return to Yoisho? 10/10 as in extremely likely. If I weren’t watching my pennies before Christmas, I’d teleport myself there right now. Those sashimi prawns are what dreams are made of.
Yoisho – 33 Goodge Street London, W1T 2PS - 020 7323 0477
Everyone has at least one tale of woe regarding lost luggage. So far, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have lost a suitcase (touch wood), although they’ve often been ominously slow to come off the conveyor, or have mysteriously appeared on the wrong conveyor for whatever flight I’ve been on. With this in mind, it’s surely only a matter of time before my dirty socks wind up (without their owner) in New Delhi or Peru or in one of those unclaimed baggage auctions.
Thinking back, my first-ever holiday with Monsieur was largely interrupted by the hassle of waiting for his suitcase to arrive, which it eventually did following a five-day detour to some Eastern European country that bore no relation in name or location to our destination. We were in the land of spaghetti and mozzarella, yet Monsieur’s luggage was travelling through regions of dumplings and sauerkraut, pierogi and borscht. On a practical note, with Monsieur’s bag gone, so were his clothes and shaving foam, but thankfully Monsieur is wise to the foibles of baggage handlers and always has insurance in place, so he wasn’t stuck in his travelling clothes with facial fuzz until such time as the wandering luggage joined us. Instead, he went insurance shopping for essentials, but even that wasn’t straightforward because after 4 days without it, he had so little faith in his suitcase ever turning up that he bought a new one. Then, on the way home, the airline stung him massively for having two suitcases, more than the per person allowance, in spite of the fact that it was their fault his bag hadn’t arrived on time in the first place. The whole exercise took a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to reconcile. Inconvenient doesn’t even begin to describe it.
The irony is that airport baggage security is supposed to be much tighter than this. Theoretically, a bag cannot travel without its owner, yet Monsieur’s bag managed to do so disturbingly easily. To add to this messy mix, it’s not always the fault of the airline that bags go missing.
Following that first trip together, during which Monsieur and I wasted an inordinate amount of time calling the relevant airline/s for updates and ever-changing e.t.a.s, Monsieur’s suitcase continued to go missing, to the point where the lost luggage people at Heathrow recognised Monsieur’s name. Once, it was picked up by accident by someone who thought it was his bag until he got home and started to unpack. Luckily, that meant the bag was in the UK so was delivered the following day. On another occasion, it was left behind at the airport of origin, so arrived a day or two later. On yet another occasion, I was collecting our bags from the conveyor while Monsieur went off to sort out landlubbing transport and had to collar a woman who once more thought that Monsieur’s suitcase was hers. I wouldn’t mind, but his suitcase is distinctive enough not to be mistaken for someone else’s so what is it with these people?
Sadly, we’re not alone in such frustrating moments – many of our friends and colleagues bemoan the loss or misplacement of their luggage on an ongoing basis. In Lost Baggage Blues Therapy, a handful of us can talk easily for hours about misplaced luggage, without changing the topic.
Heads in hands, we groan out loud. Whatever can be done to stop our luggage from going missing when we travel, apart from only packing carry-on? Cue the development of a product that could change all that waiting around for lost bags that may never turn up: Reboundtag.
The folks at Fuelmyblog know that I travel a lot so they sent me this clever little travel accessory to review. It’s simple, really; a bag tag with in-built microchip containing both Reboundtag’s and the owner’s details, including your travel itineraries so that when a missing bag is located it can be immediately forwarded to wherever you are at the time.
I’ve recently activated one of these sturdy plastic tags and it was easy peasy. You just visit the Reboundtag site, register an e-mail address, password and the tag number, then visit the Members’ Area where you store your contact information, describe your luggage along with any identifying features, and upload itinerary information, such as flights and accommodation. You can also take advantage of a rewards system, should you wish to forward Reboundtag’s details to your contacts. So far, so brilliant.
With the amount of travel that we do, I have to say that my mind already rests easier knowing that I have a Reboundtag. Should my luggage ever decide to take a tiki-tour of the world without me, it should find its way back once a baggage handler locates it, realises it’s travelling on its own and logs its whereabouts on the Reboundtag website. Then, wherever I am, I can find out where my bag is (New Mexico/ Indonesia/ Glasgow) and tell the baggage handlers where I want it to be sent and when. (It doesn’t even need to be a baggage handler who does this! One of those accidental conveyor belt kleptos could do it, too.) This is particularly useful if you’re on an extended break because you can arrange to have the wayward luggage forwarded to wherever you are. Then again, if you’re just away for the weekend and concerned about your bag arriving at the hotel when you’ve already left for home, you can tell the handlers/ finder to send it back to your hometown, even requesting delivery to a daytime address so that you don’t have to wait around for the delivery at home when you should be at work. And in case you’re wondering about the safety of your details, you can choose to make them anonymous, so that you’re protected against someone finding out that you’re away and deciding to pop over to ‘borrow’ your DVD player.
In short, when it comes to Reboundtag I’m a fan. I’ve tried it now on two international flights and both times felt a lot calmer than usual about bidding farewell to my luggage at check-in. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one day all new luggage comes with a built-in Reboundtag-type chip. It would certainly make a lot of people’s lives easier, considering that approximately 42 million bags went missing last year, many of which were never reunited with their owners. That’s a lot of unclaimed knickers being auctioned.
Should you decide to try Reboundtag for yourself, here are some useful details:
This page explains the RFID technology behind the tag. Personally, I’m not fussed about the tech, as long as it works, but you may be interested to read more about it.
- Each tag comes with three years’ membership.
- You can choose between one Reboundtag at £19.99, a family pack of three at £49.95 or a business executives’ pack at £149.99. (Whichever way you look at it, that’s a small price to pay compared with the cost and trouble of replacing lost suitcase and contents.)
- There’s also a corporate facility whereby you can order Reboundtags for all your travelling staff and have your company logo printed onto them.
Unfortunately, I can’t yet tell you how well Reboundtag works because so far, my Reboundtagged suitcase is safe and sound. Should this change, I will return here and add my experience. In the meantime, if you have a Reboundtag tale to share, please do let us know in the comments below.