29 July 2016

Drunkenness

One of today's BBC news items surrounds the drinking of alcohol and air travel. It seems that around the world there at least fifty significant incidents of alcohol-fuelled air rage every day and in the last couple of years there have been  hundreds of arrests and plane diversions directly connected with drunken air travellers.

When Shirley and I flew to Kefalonia last month, our flight departed from East Midlands Airport at nine in the morning. I remember commenting on the fact that in the airside lounge where we had breakfast, there were several people drinking pints of lager or beer. I ask you - who in their right minds drinks beer at eight in the morning? And how can it be right to board a flight when you are feeling tipsy?

If I ruled the world, alcohol would not be sold in airport lounges. There's no need for it and it certainly does not sit well with safe air travel. Having said that, on board a plane during a long flight a small bottle of wine with a meal or a small can of beer should not cause any problems and may help travellers to snooze.

Today's news item reminded me of a flight I took to New York in May, 1975. Aboard the aeroplane were various young Britons like myself - all heading to American summer camps to work as counsellors. It had been a routine, uneventful flight but as we descended to JFK, a young man got up and headed for the lavatory at the front of the cabin. The cabin staff were already seated and buckled up ready for landing. One stewardess challenged the passenger but he claimed he was desperate for the toilet so he got his way and just managed to get back to his seat before touchdown.

I met this young man in the immigration queue. He was as drunk as a lord but I managed to discover that he was a university student like me and he was heading to a summer camp in the state of Maine. We were getting closer to the head of the queue and I advised him to get his passport out. "Where is it?" I asked. "Inmybag," he slurred, finding it difficult to simply stand still.

I unzipped his little canvas cabin bag and there I spotted his passport and other documents beneath a broken bottle of vodka. All the contents of his bag were soaked in vodka. It was at this point that he said he needed to visit the toilet again. I left the queue and steered him towards the lavatories. Before we could get there, he unzipped his flyhole and near a large potted palm began to urinate against a terminal wall,

I thought to myself, "I don't need this" and left the stupid fellow to find a member of the airport security staff. I got back in the immigration queue and a few minutes later I spotted the drunken idiot clutching hsi vodka-soaked bag in a wheelchair, accompanied by three security people. I have no doubt that he was about to be deported back to England and may not have even remembered his very brief stay in The States.

What was he thinking of, getting so drunk that he never experienced a glorious, life-enriching summer as a camp counsellor? And what kind of an ambassador was he for our country?

No. In my humble opinion, drunkenness and air travel do not belong together. In this matter, airports and airlines must bear a large share of the guilt as their focus is mostly upon profit and alcohol sales help that mission. However, passengers should also realise that they owe it to other travellers and cabin staff to be sober, self-controlled and sensible.

28 July 2016

Shackled

My week has been dominated by ten year old terrier Biscuit. We have been on numerous walks together - during the day and late at night. Last night we were strolling  round our neighbourhood after midnight when he spotted a cat running under a parked car. The barking that ensued was enough to wake the dead as Biscuit strained on his lead, almost dislocating my shoulder. I felt very bad about disturbing sleeping residents in houses close by.

It's worse when we encounter another dog on our walks. Then he's like The Hound of the Baskervilles, his eyes filled with bloodlust and me desperately holding his collar, pathetically pleading "Shush!" as his frantic barking threatens to burst the sound barrier.

With his stubby little tail wagging, Biscuit is quite a character but he has convinced me never to get a dog of our own. It's too much hassle. Dog hairs on our cushions and early morning disturbance and then there are the little piles of dog shit you have to clear up. Yuk! 

But to me, worst of all are the walks. As you know, I normally love walking but I do not appreciate having my rhythm interrupted every twenty yards so that Biscuit can carefully sniff the undergrowth or street furniture before cocking his leg. I want to march on. Because Biscuit has to be kept on a lead, when he stops I have to stop.

This is the first time in my life I have ever looked after a dog and it will probably be the last. One thing that has amused us is his response to doorbell sounds on the TV. He may appear sound asleep but upon hearing a TV doorbell he starts to howl and runs for our front door before realising his mistake. We also laugh when he rolls over onto his back to have his belly rubbed. It's one of his greatest pleasures. I might start imitating that behaviour myself. The look of contentment on Biscuit's face during a bellyrub makes you think he's in seventh heaven... where ever that might be. Perhaps he's looking there in the picture below...
His owner, a university academic specialising in modern Japanese culture and society, will be retrieving Biscuit on Saturday. Not long to go now. There's a good dog!

27 July 2016

Jacques

Assassinated yesterday morning at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray's Catholic church, Father Jacques Hamel was eighty five years old. The cowardly assassins made him kneel before slitting his throat. A witness said they were callously recording the event on a mobile phone as she slipped out of the church. to raise the alarm.

The contrast between his selfless life of service and the cruel ignorance and wickedness of his killers is very sharp indeed. He was an old man, peacefully serving the community in a place of worship, while  they were self-obsessed young thugs whose heads were filled with tidbits of a warped theology that has nothing to do with any proper religion. In his life he had done so much good but in their lives they had done nothing of note or value.

But let us also not forget those who were killed in north eastern Syria just a few hours later. in the Kurdish town of Qamishli. A truck bomb exploded killing at least forty people and injuring countless others in a  terrible act that was down to the so-called Islamic State - just like the murder of poor Jacques Hamel in the suburbs of Rouen.

Where is all this horror leading us and how will it end? I am sick to the stomach of hearing news item upon news item about fatal atrocities. You wonder what's next. Both of my grown up children live and work in London and it is surely just a question of time before our capital city is hit once more by these mad nobodies. I hope my kids are not nearby when it happens.
Qamishli this morning

26 July 2016

Michelle

Michelle Obama in  Philadelphia last night
Lord knows what is going on in America. Republican and Democrat conventions used to appear like stage-managed jamborees of   self-congratulation and flag waving but suddenly things have got serious. Eerie Republicans chant "Lock her up!" when Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned while Bernie Sanders supporting Democrats boo her. Trump arrives on the stage like a character from "Star Wars", ready to unleash spiteful and infantile remarks, still maintaining that he's going to build a massive wall right across the country's southern border while supporters cheer him - as if the idea was actually sane.

Last night in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama endorsed Hillary Clinton with a heartfelt speech woven with core Democrat principles . These were her own words, perhaps checked over by advisers, but essentially her own words - as in the Democratic National Convention of 2008 when she eloquently endorsed her husband's  candidacy for president. You may remember that particular speech as it was plagiarised by Melania Trump just last week.

What a contrast! Intelligent, articulate and naturally beautiful Michelle Obama writes and delivers her own speeches but Melania Trump just reads out whatever she is told to say like an automaton. Why couldn't she write her own endorsement of "The Donald"? There's no substitute for authenticity.

The next bit of this blogpost is almost  unbelievable but I swear I am not making it up. Amongst conspiracy theorists and vindictive Republican numbskulls, the notion has arisen that Michelle Obama is in fact a man! The story goes that the Obama daughters were  adopted and there are photographs that attempt to demonstrate the crazy idea that Mrs Obama is male, including highlighted shots of her crotch. The claimants even focus upon the length of her fingers and the possible presence of an Adam's apple. The whole thing is absurd, astounding and horribly cruel. For example, go here.

How low can these people sink? The claims contain unpleasant whiffs of racism and sexism. Michelle Obama has been a breath of fresh air, supporting righteous causes, backing up her husband and frequently displaying a happy,  fun-loving approach to life. How different she has been from other more stuffy first ladies like Laura and Barbara Bush or Nancy Reagan. 

As I have said before in this blog, I am an Americophile and so of course I hate to see the political establishment of such a fabulous country tearing itself apart with lies, bitterness and misunderstanding. The prospect of giving Trump the keys to The White House makes me shudder with concern.  As Michelle Obama said last night, it just has to be Hillary in November.

25 July 2016

Herd

Henry the Constructor
Yesterday I photographed three members of "The Herd of Sheffield" in The Botanical Gardens. The Herd consists of fifty eight fibreglass elephants, all individually decorated by artists. The elephants have been placed in various locations around the city and their ultimate purpose is to raise extra funds for The Sheffield Children's Hospital through sponsorship and other money raising ideas. I think it is a brilliant if slightly crazy project that brings some extra colour and fun into the urban landscape. No doubt I will be snapping more elephants in the weeks ahead. 
In It Together
Small Beginnings

24 July 2016

Biscuit

Who is that lying next to me on our sofa? Why it's Biscuit, the wire-haired Jack Russell. He's staying with us for a week while his owner is on holiday.

I have already taken him on several walks. Though he is small, he likes a good long walk and his little feet patter along as if in a film that has been speeded up. These walks have been characterised by an enormous amount of sniffing - not by me but by Biscuit. His world seems to be dominated by his sense of smell and often a careful halt for sniffing is followed by a squirt of urine. I guess he is marking territory covered. It pleases me enormously that as a male human being, I don't have to do this when walking city streets or country paths.

I don't know much about dogs because we have never owned one and growing up in my East Yorkshire village we only ever had Oscar, a tortoiseshell pussy cat who, in spite of the name, bore several litters of kittens. She died at the age of twenty, long after I had left home.

No I don't know much about dogs but I am learning. When out and about with Biscuit you have to be alert to the presence of other dogs. When Biscuit spots another member of the canine family he goes berserk, barking and straining on his lead with murderous intent. It doesn't matter how big the other creature is, Biscuit will have a go at it and if he wasn't on the lead, blood would certainly be spilt.

The rest of the time he is mild-mannered and lovable. He looks up at you with his soulful brown eyes and you have to guess what he is trying to say. Mostly it's "Get off your fat ass and let's go for another walk. I need to do some sniffing and leg cocking! Let's go buddy!" Soon I shall take him to The Botanical Gardens where three elephants are located from The Herd of Sheffield. He'll enjoy sniffing those big mothers.
Later on Sunday - Biscuit in The Botanical Gardens

23 July 2016

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