Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Behring Breivik - Monster or merely misguided?

On 22 July last year we were on vacation, at Mieroszyno on the Baltic coast.  The weather over the two weeks was patchy, but on that day it was hot and sunny, and we had a good day on the beach.  When we got back to our lovely rented cottage by the edge of a forest we switched on the tv, while we got showered and changed for our usual stroll in the town for chips and ice cream.

The lead item on the news was the shocking events in Norway that day.   We saw the government building that had been badly damaged, with consequent loss of life, by the car bomb – that was bad enough.  But then the story switched to the carnage and awful events unfolding at the youth camp on the nearby island of Utoeya, and learned that in total 77 people had died, many of them kids, at the hands of a lone gunman. 

Over the next days, as the gunman was captured and the pictures of him in paramilitary uniform, toting an automatic rifle and other killing gear were released, the shock gave way, at least to me, to a feeling of confusion.

Things like this happen, all too regularly, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, even the US where college lockdowns are a regular feature of American life.  Israelis and Palestinians have lived under the threat of terrorist atrocities for years.  New York and Madrid and London have experienced their fair share.  Even the beautiful holiday resort island of Bali, basking in South Pacific sunshine, has suffered terribly.

But Norway – one of the most affluent, tolerant and well-ordered countries in the world……

Unbelievable.  How did that happen?

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It emerged that the perpetrator was one Anders Behring Breivik, from Oslo.

He had acted alone.  He had toured around the country assembling the ingredients that went into the bomb he manufactured himself, in his little apartment, using an internet guide in how to make a bomb – there are, apparently, plenty of militant websites that carry that kind of information if you know where to look (I don’t, and have no wish to).  He did it as a protest against an, to him, alarming increase in Moslem immigrants to Europe generally and Norway in particular.  Quite how slaughtering so many innocent young Norwegians was supposed to stop that remains unclear.

When he was taken into custody, he freely admitted carrying out the acts and in the months since then has shown not a shred of remorse.  The fact that he was arrested unharmed is, in itself, remarkable and demonstrates the pacific Norwegian way.  Can you imagine New York’s Finest, the NYPD, showing that kind of leniency?  Or any other US police force, for that matter…  The French gendarmerie?   Non.  Even the Met?  Well, possibly.    But a bullet riddled corpse would be the most likely outcome, once his whereabouts had been discovered.

But no, arrested he was, quite safely, and he has been incarcerated since then while his sanity is investigated.  Since he’s admitted the killings, it’s not an issue of guilt, but a question of whether he was of rational mind when he did it, or just off his rocker.  A madman.   A monster. 

He is now on trial in Oslo, and for the past week he’s been presenting his defence.   The court has to decide whether he is insane – in which case he will serve a sentence in a secure mental institution – or rational – in which case 21 years or so in the slammer await him.  Neither verdict will satisfy him – he has already stated in his testimony that the only verdicts that in his opinion are respectable are complete acquittal (and probably a vote of thanks for standing up for the rights of every Norwegian citizen) or the death sentence.  Since Norway does not recognize capital punishment neither of those will happen.

He has of course been widely condemned as a madman, a psychopath.

But I’m not convinced.

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Although shocking in the way he has presented his testimony, complete with clenched fist fascist salutes at the start of each day (a practice he politely stopped after complaints – reverting to normal manners), he has not come across as crazy, at least to my eyes.  He clearly put an awful lot of thought into his preparations for a start, with careful selection of his weapons and bomb making equipment, and his choices of targets.  He then carried the acts out with a cool precision, and in his own words fully expected to die that day – a fate he was happy to accept.  He has been eloquent in describing his reasons – the huge numbers of Moslems that are coming to Europe from various middle eastern trouble spots, to him, represent a clear and present danger (to borrow Tom Clancy’s phrase) to Western – for which read white Christian – society, and more than that a danger that governments across the western world seem unable or unwilling to confront.  He has stated that there are many people across Europe and elsewhere who share his views, and has referred to a shadowy organization called the Knights Templar that is dedicated to fighting this Islamification of the Continent……although he insists he is not a member and was not working for them when he carried out his crimes.

Predictably, these statements have been roundly condemned in court and in the press.  The parallel of an essentially white anti-Islamic terrorist organization to a historically factual Christian and chivalrous company of knights in shining armour is very uncomfortable to most people, me included.  But then you consider that the original Knights Templar were formed specifically to fight the spread of Islam 800 or so years ago, and spent many years on Crusades in the middle East, sacking Jerusalem, fighting the armies of Saladdin (a Moslem ) and in later years formed a protective barrier to the eastern-most regions of Europe – well, it’s not such a bad comparison. 

I have no evidence that Breivik is doing more than fabricating this organization – but to me it’s plausible enough to hope that the security organizations across Europe and the US and elsewhere are taking it seriously enough to at least investigate the claims, and if they find some truth in them, then DO something.

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You see, I happen to accept his words when he states that there are many people across the world who share his views, and that he has merely had the “courage” to do something other than talk about it.

Over the years, certainly since the London bombings about 7 years ago, I’ve noticed an increase in anti-Moslem e-mails circulating on the internet.  I tend to receive a few in any given month, forwarded by various people I know, who in turn have had it forwarded to them, and so on.  The vast majority of them are relatively harmless, being a selection of very lame and unfunny jokes, attempting to ridicule Moslems and their faith.  Some are actually thought provoking – I received one last week, allegedly a “true story” (aren’t they all?) from a guy in the prison service with an MBE to his name who had attended a seminar where representatives of various faiths (Christian and non-Christian) gave presentations with the aim of helping prison officers understand better the cultural needs of their inmates; the guy claimed to have confused and embarrassed an Imam by questioning him about the meaning of the word “infidel” – the Imam had been unable to provide a non-contradictory answer when questioned.  

Others, and it’s a very very low percentage, have been, for the want of a better word, sick.  There have been cases in the recent past (so this year, and we’re only in April) where pictures have found their way from the internet into reputable newspapers showing American soldiers urinating on Afghan corpses, or waving suicide bomber’s dismembered body parts around.  Rightly, they have been condemned and one hopes that the morons in the pictures, and those who took them, will be suitably and publicly disciplined (though I’m not holding my breath).  But frankly these have been mild.  I’ve received in the past (and a few years ago now) grotesque and violent movies of a clearly military origin that I have no wish to describe.  After seeing the first piece of film on each (the Subject line was suitably innocuous) I deleted them.  All of these mails – the mild or the monstrous – have ended up in my in-box as a result of a simple forwarding process, and there is no telling how far they have travelled, nor how many times they have been forwarded, before their arrival.  Their origins are equally opaque.

The point is, there is quite definitely a strong anti-Islam feeling in many Western countries, especially those with growing Muslim populations.  This past weekend for instance we have seen Presidential candidates in the French election standing on an anti-immigration platform, and the country has in the recent past passed legislation that is clearly discriminatory against followers of the Islamic faith.   I freely admit to knowing next to nothing about that religion, but branding every Moslem a potential terrorist and danger to society is quite simply ridiculous.  It’s like back in the 70s and 80s branding every Irishman a member of the IRA, or every German a Baader-Meinhoff sympathizer.  The difference of course is that nowadays, with the internet being such an integral part of all our lives, it’s so much easier to concoct and circulate this poisonous crap – and there are many idiots who are quite happy to believe it.

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It seems to me that Breivik is one such idiot.  I’m not taking sides here, by any stretch of the imagination.  Massacring a whole bunch of people in defence of a vague ideal, as he did, is wrong.  Palestinians firing rockets across into Israel is wrong, and a disproportionate Israeli response is equally wrong.   The recent case in France where a lone gunman, who alleged he was “associated with al-Qaeda”, carried out a shooting spree that led to a number of innocent deaths (including schoolchildren) and his eventual shooting by the police after an overnight siege of his apartment, is to be condemned.  The 9/11 attacks were evil.  So were the Madrid train bombings and the London bus and tube attacks.  So is what is happening in Syria right now – that is no less than state-sponsored terrorism and no-one seems to be taking strong enough action to stop it.  The unrest last year in Egypt and Libya and Bahrain cost many more lives that Breivik took in Norway, but were all in the name of freedom from oppressive regimes – an argument he has made to defend his own actions. 

It seems to me the main difference between Breivik’s actions and all the others is that clearly, and on his own testimony, he acted alone and not as part of a wider conspiracy.  He admits to spending hours on the internet looking at some of its more extreme websites and no doubt has thus seen far more and far worse than I have.  And no doubt these images have influenced his thoughts and his subsequent actions – he has admitted as much already.

But does this make him insane?  No.   Rational?  Well, that’s questionable.  But if you define “rational” as being an ability to carefully plan and execute some task (whether good or evil, it makes no difference) then I would say the bloke was perfectly rational and should be treated and punished accordingly.

But then, I’m just an ordinary man, not a psychologist.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Lake Mary, Fla - way out country

Well, Lake Mary is ok, but very quiet.  I’ve been here five days and seen very little except the hotel, the office and the road between them, so that judgement has a huge caveat attached to it but still….I’ve been in far worse places.

It’s way out in the sticks, a good 30 miles from Orlando and in the middle of the Florida peninsula.  Until relatively recently – as late as the 1980s I’m told – the area was largely swamp, occupied only by alligators, birds and mosquitoes.  But the tourist boom fueled by the various amusement parks around Orlando – the Disney one, Universal Studios, the Epcot Centre, not to mention the dozens of golf courses – generated a need for land and support amenities as people moved into Florida to staff the places.  The climate helps too.  The state has long had a reputation as America’s Retirement Home, and there does seem to be an inordinate number of seniors around: lots of grey hair and blue rinses, baggy shorts, sun shades and varicose veins.  I feel quite at home….  

At any rate, there have been massive reclamation projects, creating thousands of acres of green and pleasant land, dotted with hi-rise hotels and hi-tech offices; pristine bungalows with their American flags and blue pools; and the inevitable shopping malls surrounded by more acres of parking space (they do love a car here – I haven’t seen a bus since I passed through Orlando apart from the odd yellow school bus).   As for trains: forget it!   Interestingly, I don’t recall seeing a taxi either, although they must be around somewhere as I’ve booked one to take me from the hotel to Orlando airport Saturday morning. 

Everything looks like those Ideal Home American townships you see on the movies and tv.   My immediate impression was of Spring Valley, from the Back To The Future films, and Wednesday night, sitting at the local Applebee’s restaurant demolishing a good plate of chicken tenders and fries and a Sam Adams beer or two (and very nice it was) I spotted a guy at a nearby table who bore a spooky resemblance to Doc Emmett Brown.   No sign of Marty McFly or the DeLorean though…..but I’m sure Biff Tannen’s pick-up drove past. 

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The landscaping here is a bit bizarre.  It’s as if the entire town has been magically picked up and transplanted between the 15th fairway and 7th green of some expensive golf course.  The land between neighbourhoods is undulating, with green trees swaying in the warm breeze and there are lots of little, mostly man-made, lakes and ponds, some of which, incongruously, have fountains squirting twenty or thirty feet in the air.   There are lots of bright flowers too – marigolds, roses, tulips, daffodils, plus many local species I don’t recognise – growing everywhere, in well-tended beds alongside manicured lawns.  The township must employ an army of gardeners to keep it all looking so spick and span.  Apparently when the flowers start to wilt the night shift digs them all up and replaces them with a whole new batch, of exactly the same flower in exactly the same place so that, in theory at least, no-one will notice the difference.  Interesting idea, and the place does indeed look pretty, but I can’t see it catching on in somewhere like Luton or Gravesend.

Apart from the Interstate, that runs through Lake Mary in a deep cutting (so as to protect residents from undue traffic noise I suppose), the roads seem to have relatively little traffic on them – it’s like a Sunday afternoon most days  driving to the office and back.   Yesterday morning the local tv station, in its Breakfast Show traffic bulletin, showed a security-camera film of a stretch of the interstate at Lake Mary, with a commentary warning of heavy rush hour traffic and probable delays.   But there are more cars on the road passing my apartment block in Warsaw at 5 a.m. on a Saturday than appeared on the film.  These people really don’t appreciate how lucky they are.  Petrol (sorry, gas) is about $4-80 a gallon – that’s around PLN15 - : back home I pay around PLN5-90 a litre, which comes out at about PLN22-50 a gallon – so a good bit more expensive, especially when you consider the disparity between the average US salary and its Polish equivalent – and this is a wealthy area.     And rising petrol prices (amongst other things, of course) are threatening Obama’s re-election chances this year.

The hotel is fine, a Marriott Residence.  This means that my room has a proper kitchen area if I want to cook for myself – which I don’t.  But it’s very comfortable and has a fitness centre and a small pool, neither of which I’ve used as I’ve been late back from work every day (a busy week).   American tv has not improved since the last time I watched – it has way too many advert breaks (although it could be argued the ads are the best part of the viewer experience).   The Residence is next door to a regular, and much larger, Marriott, and all its facilities are available to Residence guests.  I used the ATM in the Reception area once and that’s it.  But the Residence is one of the better hotels I’ve used so I have no complaints on that score. 

Behind the hotel complex is a small mall that seems to be largely restaurants (including the Applebee’s where I spotted Doc Brown), and a larger mall is across the street.  I went there last night, as there is a recommended Irish bar there.  It’s called Liam Fitzpatrick’s, and very good it was too – in fact one of the best Irish joints I’ve visited over the years.  I had a couple of Smithwick’s beers – a new brand for me, not unlike Murphy’s stout, and it was delicious – and a soup and shepherd’s pie: good, well-cooked Irish food.   The soup was particularly good, a creamy potato and garlic soup with finely chopped spring onions and chunks of fried bacon, sprinkled with grated cheese.    I asked for the recipe, but the kitchen staff for some odd reason refused to give it out, so I’ll have to experiment a bit when I get home.  About 50 yards along from Fitzpatrick’s is a bar with the wonderful name of The World of Beer.  That one I intend to try tonight…….work done, successful week, time to celebrate. 

The office, meanwhile, is big and spacious and well appointed.  It’s in a new building in carefully landscaped grounds, a couple of miles from the hotel, and has desk space for maybe 200 people.  There are half a dozen conference rooms with teleconferencing facilities, a fully equipped training room with projectors and desks for about 20 trainees, and a kitchen with half a dozen coffee machines and a water fountain, a huge fridge full of complimentary cokes and soft drinks, a microwave, tables and chairs.   This week, there have been no more than a dozen people here at any given time.  With my home office being closed (and I heard this week of another closure, this time in Moscow, with more redundancies) I do wonder how long this one is likely to remain an economically viable proposition.

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As usual, I’ve watched quite a lot of CNN this week, the parent version rather than the international one I usually catch.   It had a familiar feel though, as many of the programs and presenters are the same, as is the whole look and feel.   Inevitably, this being America, there are far more advertising breaks though.    I also watched a bit of ABC’s flagship Good Morning America show, and couldn’t believe how awful and lightweight it is.  I am struggling to remember any reporting worthy of the name: interviews with an American football player who because of his Christian beliefs is known as “God’s Quarterback”, when there have been earthquakes off the coasts of Mexico and Indonesia, the North Koreans have failed dismally with an alleged ICBM launch, people continue to be slaughtered by the Syrian government in defiance of UN resolutions and this is an Election year in the US, do not for me make it a credible news program.   

The news has been dominated by two main stories all week – the US Election and the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  In the Election, the Republican Party is going through the ritual of deciding its nominee for the Election in November against Obama.  There have been the usual arguments, slurs, ad campaigns costing millions of dollars, photo opportunities and scandals, but it all seems to be boiling down to the selection of Mitt Romney.  The guy looks pretty slick and Republican presidential – all white button down collar shirts, neatly pressed suits, polished shoes and hair, and a permanent grin.    But he has a number of problems that are preventing him from sealing the deal, even though he’s streets ahead of the other contenders.  First off, he’s a Mormon, and the US has never elected a Mormon before – indeed the sect is still deeply mistrusted, not only in America, and the subject of some ridicule because of some of its beliefs and its insistence on wearing ankle-to-neck all-in-one underwear to prevent temptation.  He also made his fortune running Bain Capital, a venture capital outfit – an investment banker, and a highly successful one at that.  Ordinarily, this should actually be a great recommendation for the Presidency, but unfortunately as everybody knows bankers generally and investment bankers in particular are not exactly flavour of the month world-wide just now.  And if you are a rich and demonstrably successful investment banker – well, you’re a pariah.  So here we have a lovely paradox: a pariah running to be President of the US – and being probably the best qualified guy in the race (including the incumbent).  Many in the GOP just cannot bring themselves to endorse the bloke, and so the race is dragging on even though all bar two of his opponents have dropped out and the two left in are so far behind in the race that they have no realistic chance – they’re staying in out of sheer bloody mindedness.    This week, Romney’s nearest challenger dropped out, effectively handing the nomination to him, so hopefully now we can actually start discussing the issues rather than slagging off the opponent.  But somehow I doubt that will happen.  US politics just doesn’t seem to work that way.  Expect more vitriolic ads and slur campaigns from both the Republican and Democrat parties, and more entertainment value before a decision is made in November. 

The Trayvon Martin case is typically American, and happened only a few miles from here, in Sanford, Seminole County, Florida.  Like many towns, there is a neighbourhood watch scheme in operation – we have them in the UK too.  They are staffed by volunteers and the idea is that communities will look out for each other and take some of the workload off the police.  Now that’s all well and good, except that here in Florida (and one assumes the same is true across America) the volunteers are armed – it’s the constitutional right of all American citizens to bear arms in self defence, after all.   What seems to have happened here is that some six weeks ago, one of the neighbourhood watch volunteers spotted a young black kid acting suspiciously (he was wearing a hoodie, after all), followed him home despite being ordered not to by the local police, whereupon they had a bit of an altercation and the black kid was shot dead.     The neighbourhood watch guy of course claimed self defence, despite there apparently being no credible evidence or eyewitnesses to back him up, and the authorities tried to sweep it all under the carpet.   Not surprisingly, there was a public outcry, demonstrations and so on.  Most people, especially the local black community, called it murder.  The protests spread nationwide.  Lawyers were hired and the Florida prosecutors had to do something.  They announced an investigation.  The neighbourhood watch guy hired defence lawyers then promptly did a runner (as he was entitled to do, no charges having been brought).  This week, the prosecutors brought in a charge of second degree murder, and the neighbourhood watch guy promptly gave himself up to the police – he’s now in solitary confinement for his own safety at the County jail – but not before his legal team had walked away from the case, stating that as they had not spoken to him for a couple of weeks they were not going to represent him anymore.  They were roundly condemned on every network for making the announcement at an outdoor press conference.  The media circus is in full swing – every night there are prime time interviews, mainly on CNN but elsewhere too, with both families, both sets of lawyers (the neighbourhood watch bloke quickly found a new lawyer who seems to be well known local ambulance chaser), with pundits and politicians and other legal talking heads, all speculating and arguing about the case.  In a sick way it’s entertaining tv – better than some of the regular programming.  But in terms or fair and honest justice – well, let’s see.  With all the nationwide publicity the case is being given, jury selection could be tricky for a start.   The only certainty is this one will run and run, and no-one will be satisfied with the outcome this time next year.

Incidentally, on one of the news items to do with the case I spotted a familiar face.  The victim’s family was watching the live tv announcement that charges were being brought (in front of their own set of cameras, naturally), surrounded by their legal team and assorted minders, and there, right in the middle, standing directly behind the victim’s parents, comforting hands on their shoulders, was the Rev. Al Sharpton, gaudily dressed as ever, a sombre expression on his face.  Now the last time I saw him was in the front row of Whitney Houston’s funeral.   The time before that was regularly during the trial last year of Michael Jackson’s doctor, with the Jackson family.  In both cases he was described as a “friend of the family”.   Now he’s turning up prominently in the tv appearances of another sadly bereaved black family – is he their friend too?  Or is he merely a publicity-seeking activist who by his antics really does nothing to foster racial integration?   Judging by the fact that he always seems to turn up where there is some high profile legal case or tragedy involving a black family, innocent or otherwise, like an old carrion crow, oozing sincerity and “hallelujah, Jesus!” cries,  I suspect the latter.

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And that’s it really.  Work done for the week, and I think we achieved what we set out to achieve.  Tomorrow I have an early start, and an entertaining journey home via Minneapolis and Paris, arriving at my apartment sometime around Sunday lunchtime.

It’s been a good trip, and I quite like Lake Mary and what I’ve seen of Florida.  The weather has been perfect, sunny but not too hot (mid to high 20s – I can suffer that constantly) and not a sign of rain.  No jacket required, as Phil Collins once said.  The people have been very friendly and helpful, the food good, the beer fine, and I could happily move here.   I didn’t see Orlando or any of its tourist attractions – not a Mickey Mouse cap in sight – and I can’t say that I’m particularly sorry about that.  They are not the sort of places to do solo.

I still think the country is a little bit crazy, but at least here people seem to have a smile rather than a scowl on their face, and a welcome for visitors that I found sadly absent when I visited and transited New York in past years….I guess we can thank Disney for that.  I would like to come back sometime, for a holiday – the beaches, as we flew over, looked wonderful, and I know my kids would love to do the theme parks (so would I actually….).

One for the future then.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Magic Kingdom - Mickey Mouse travel.

Well, well - at last a trip, the first one this year.

Orlando, Florida for a week.  Home of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland.  The Magic Kingdom.

Which means tons of expensive branded tat on every street corner, I'm sure - Donald Duck donuts, Mickey Mouse baseball caps with dumb-arsed ears on get the picture I'm sure.

I guess it's a great place to vacation with your kids - being Florida the weather is pretty much guaranteed hot and sunny - and besides Disneyland, you're within reach of other major tourist attractions like the Universal Studios fun park, Daytona Beach, the NASA launch centre at Cape Canaveral and about a million golf courses and Everglade national parks.  But for business.....well, I'm not sure.

My company, true to form, chose Orlando (or at least the Lake Mary suburb - sounds lovely, doesn't it?) to site its main US Services centre.  We have premises in New York and Miami too, but they're mainly sales based - the workers use Orlando.  It makes travel there, inevitably, more difficult.  As a major holiday destination there are plenty of flights from all over the shop - BA, Air France, Lufthansa, all the Yank carriers have direct flights - but depending on when you're travelling booking is a bit tricky, especially if you leave it late.  So of course, that's what happened here.  Last week we decided a meeting is necessary because of some problems from my friends in Chile and I have to go to Orlando to help resolve them.  It has to be done week of 9 April, because all our team are back to Santiago the following week.  Please book your flights, Bob....

Check the calender.  April 9......Easter Monday.  Terrific - that's cocked up my family's holiday then, because I'll have to fly on the Sunday to get there for 9 in the morning at work.  Now in Europe this would be less of an issue, since pretty much everyone has a public holiday on Easter Monday.  But not, it seems, our God fearing ex-Colonial Cousins across the pond, who work instead.   So after apologizing profusely to my Beloved (who I must say took it very well - clearly she's sick of tripping over my feet at home; she actually cheered when I told her) I sent my flight request off to my local travel agent.  It took two days to get flight proposals back - a right collection too.  Of course, being the Easter period seats were at a premium and direct flights virtually non existant.  A range of combinations was on offer, passing through and changing planes at destinations like Montreal, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, and over this side of the Atlantic Frankfurt, Paris, Munich and London.  I chose a slghtly circuitous route that used my good old Star Alliance and thus meant lounge access (no Business Class this trip I'm afraid, despite the distance contravening my doctor's guidance for the hip problem) but the powers that be Over There insisted I took a combination that was slightly less circuitous, means no lounge access (because it's using Air France and I'm not in their Skyteam alliance) but, most important, is EUR140 cheaper!  So to save that princely sum, I flew out from Warsaw at 7 a.m on Easter Sunday, changed planes at Paris (horrible airport, in my experience matched only by JFK in terms of surly and unpleasant staff who take the phrase "customer assistance" to be the most foul and abusive language imaginable) with a near 5 hour layover, but direct to Orlando.  Going home next Saturday I have a morning flight to Minneapolis, another extensive layover, followed by a night flight to Paris, an hour's wait there before my connection home to Warsaw, by this time on Sunday morning.  Deep joy....  Remind me to arrange a bloody wheelchair at Okecie for my arrival, my hips will be shot to hell by the time I get there!).

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Anyway - the journey.

Well, I've had more pleasant experiences......root canal fillings spring to mind,.

The first part was ok, Warsaw to Paris, despite the breakfast comprising a choice of stale croissant or a stale chocolate muffin, with tea, coffee or water.  At least the flight was on time.  Then in Paris, where it was sunny but cold, things went a bit pear shaped.

I had to change terminals, from 2F to 2D.  Not a big problem you would think, since the two are wings of the same building.  Ah, but zis is ze belle France, where ze word "organized" does not exist, no?  Once you come through the jetway, you're confronted with a big, crowded corridor (since all the gates feed into the same concourse).  Now that's ok, same as Heathrow or any airport really.  So you follow the sign that says "Terminal 2D"  It takes you to an exit, but the exit leads to more gates, a satellite of 2F, where a very pleasant ground hostess tells you you're going the wrong way, and directs you back the way you have come.  So back you go, and sure enough, just beyond the sign you foolishly followed is another that says "Terminal 2D" and points in the opposite direction.

So off you go, and walk perhaps 250m until you reach the TGV railway station, where you turn right, cross the concourse roof, then another left, 50m and up an escalator to Terminal 2D Departures.  You then basically walk around a bit until you find a sign that points to the gates, follow it through a corridor between two blocks of check-in desks (of course, since you had the foresight to get a boarding pass in Warsaw you don't need to worry about them) and then join a long line (scrum more like) of several thousand people all trying to get through the same area to the gates.  Helpfully, there are several groundstaff pointing you to either the Green, the Orange or the Yellow line, although what criteria they use to decide this is anyone's guess.  This line takes you to passport control, because you are now leaving the Schengen area.  Beyond passport control, you then join further and equally long lines for security screening - but at least the departure gates (or at least their duty free shopping area) are now in sight. 

You load the trays with your stuff - as usual, one for the laptop, and another for everything else, the watch, the phones and of course the belt - and clutching your trousers so they don't fall down go through the scanner.  No bells and whistles go off, and you wait patiently for the your trays to come through, which they do eventually, a couple of minutes after you.  You go to pick up the one with your belongings and the security guy says: "Wait! I 'ave to check zis!"  The machine is supposed to do that, surely.....but anyway - he picks up your watch and studies it for a couple of minutes, then puts it back.  "Sank you, m'sieur." 

Now what the hell was that all about?  Maybe I was just unlucky, but it happened exactly like that.  But I was there, in 2D, by the departure gates - and it only took an hour.

Which, if that is normal, is a bit of a worry, given my connection time next Sunday, going in the opposite direction, is 55 minutes.....

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Time passed slowly.  I wanted some breakfast, but the only place I found was a little stall selling water and soft drinks, a variety of salads and sandwiches, and slabs of average and cold quiche in various flavours, all of it at extortionate prices.  I waited nearly 10 minutes for a cafe latte that came in a paper cup not much bigger than one from a vending machine.  Total cost, EUR19-50, for the coffee, a bottle of water and a chicken curry roll without the curry sauce.  Starbuck's would make an absolute fortune there - but of course it will never happen because the French government would never grant them the franchise.....way too protective of French jobs and culture.

I read my book (Churchill, an excellent biography by Roy Jenkins).  I listened to my music.  I watched the clouds roll in and the planes fly away.  I watched and photographed our plane's arrival at the gate, an grizzled old 747.  The crowds rolled up for boarding, and the groundstaff arrived, all eight of them.  They spent half an hour adjusting the lines that were erected to filter business and economy class passengers through separately, even though they had worked perfectly for the previous flight to Chicago (I watched it board).  They announced boarding would be delayed 15 minutes, but everyone lined up anyway.  Then we started boarding, and the groundstaff were giving out conflicting directions so things got very fraught.  I pointed out, politely, to one lady who turned me away that her colleague had told me to go through her entrance and could they please make their minds up.  More passengers joined in. Voices were raised, mostly American so naturally loud anyway.   She let me through.  Her colleague checked my boarding pass and passport, and then pulled me our of line so the security people could search my hand baggage thoroughly - which meant taking everything out and repacking it when no firearms or narcotics were found.  I love the French airport staff - they are almost as unpleasant as at JFK - arrogant shits the lot of them, and probably trained by ex-KGB staffers.

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So we were an hour late taking off.   My seat, chosen by myself I hasten to add, was very average, even for Economy class.  It was on the top deck, and a window, so that was ok.  There was a little bit of extra legroom too (essential because of my dodgy hips) and extra low level storage space that was useful.  But the main luggage bin, when opened, hung so low you almost had to crawl to your seat on hands and knees, unless you had the aisle.  When the entertainment started there was a good selection of films, but my headphones didn't work so no soundtrack.  I couldn't be bothered to ask for a new headset, so I just set the moving map and read my book and listened to my music.

Dinner was ok - some kind of salad that was drowned in vinegar, a reasonable if small portion of chicken tikka with rice, two fresh rolls with camembert cheese (the best part of the meal actually) and a very small chocolate eclair.  Plus vinegary red wine and an odd yellow brandy liquer that I took with me and drank as a night cap at the hotel.  And a beer.  Ho hum.

It was a long and dull 9 hour flight.  Next to me was a young girl who I think suffered from mild Tourette's, she was twitching and jumping and yelping all the way, poor kid.  But it made sleep impossible - I'd just be drifting off when - bang! - a sharp juvenile elbow to the ribs or something would wake me up.  I didn't say anything to her - not her fault.  Her dad was with her, and was holding her hand and soothing her constantly.  I admired him, and was glad my little Princess doesn't have similar problems - a hell of a temper, yes, but that's all.

Orlando was hot and sunny when eventually we arrived.  And I had a pleasant surprise there - I had been expecting another JFK exeperience (that is to say, unpleasant) but actually it was a breeze - perhaps 15 minutes to get through Border Control, and the officer was friendly and smiled and wished me a nice stay.  Perhaps he was on drugs or something.

Once I was though with my bags (again only a short wait) there were more minor issues.  The ATM didn't like my credit card and refused me cash.   I found another, across the hall, same bank - and it worked perfectly.  I had been told there was a free shuttle bus to my hotel, but no-one at the airport had heard of it - odd, as I'm staying at a Marriott - so I got a cab.  I made the guy's night - the drive is 40 miles, the fare $90 or turns out our office is not in Orlando at all, and Lake Mary isn't really a suburb of the city but a totally different township.  But it was a pleasant drive in the sunshine, and as we passed downtown Orlando the guy pointed out the Magic's new basketball stadium (very nice it is too).  Then at Lake Mary the bloke got lost.  God know's where he went wrong, but clearly he did, because after we left the interstate we started going round in circles looking for the right road.  I showed him my Google map (nothing if not prepared, me....) but he insisted he knew what he was doing - which clearly he didn't.  He was constantly banging on about a "big Marriott" and insisted my little Residence was nowhere near it.  In the end I told him in no uncertain terms to go the big Marriott and I'd ask for directions there.....reluctantly he did so, and lo and behold, my little Residence is right next door.  Twat.  But he gave me a discount on my fare.......just as well, the mood I was in by that time.

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So here I am.  A twenty hour journey.  A decent night's sleep - that made a change - and it's Monday.  Let's see what the day brings.

I still have no clue about Orlando or this area at there will be further news later this week.

I bet you can hardly wait.