Thursday, 20 October 2011

Airport Week - Landing Positions

And so we cap off a week of laziness with a small snifter of new material. Airport steward was definitely one of the more unusual temp jobs I had; one that was also equal parts amusing, tedious and infuriating. The repetitive nature of the shifts was unavoidable - you were there to ask people the same question over and over again and, by nature of that, to have the same arguments over and over again about what you could keep. That said, the arguments were the exception to the norm. The norm being a sort of mental resigned shrug that is oh so typically British.

It's a mindset that says a multitude of things:- resignation at the way things are; a weary acceptance that we don;t have the power to change the ways are in this sort of situation; a determination to just get through it so that the real part can begin and a mild shared irritation at the shuffling of the queue. If any job exposed me to the English at their most Englishy, it was frisking people for contraband before they joined a queue.

It also highlighted the way in our minds work with regards to authority. A bright yellow jacket combined with a walkie talkie and suddenly I went from Mouth-Breathing Temp to The Man Who Knew Things - even amongst the people who knew I was just another Mouth-Breathing like the rest of them. What was even weirder was that, the more that people deferred to me, the more I felt like maybe I did know stuff (even though I wasn't allowed to talk into the walkie talkie thus rendering it into just a walkie).

It was an interesting week of a different type of temping (paid well for temp work, too) but I'm glad it was only brief. Much longer and the sheen of novelty would have worn off and the tarnish of repetitive tedium would have set in.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Airport Week - Cruising At 30,000 Feet

Don't worry, this theme week's very nearly over...

And lo, it came to pass on the fifth day in the mighty Second Terminal of Heath Row, just west of the city of Lon-Don, that the humble boy's true inner purpose was revealed to him and he was entrusted with the holy talisman of great shamanic power.

They called it the W'Alkie T'Alkie and it was his to wield.

Truly were its powers great. The boy, humble no more and afforded the newfound deference of his peers, discovered a whole new world. He was kept informed by the mystical means of the W'Alkie T'Alkie as to the great Word of Law - the Check-In Desk Opening Times. For it is written in the worshipful Security Briefing that no "passenger" shall be allowed to "check-in" before the desk is open.

And so he roamed the halls and caverns of the Second Terminal, dispensing this wisdom to those who followed the Way of the Yellow Jerkin. And they looked upon their MayFly Sheets and saw that it was good.

That was not all the power that the lad received through the wonder of the W'Alkie T'Alkie. Also, was he able to determine the timing of the breaks and soon his arrival was muchly anticipated amongst the Yellow Jerkined Ones for he provided that elusive object known as "Break Cover". And there was much rejoicing.

However, all too soon, the lad's time as wielder of the otherwordly device drew to a close and he was forced to relinquish his magic talky box. Thus was the mantle passed to those who dwelt in the Shift of the Afternoon. But, the freshly re-humbled boy knew, that tomorrow when the Shift of the Morning came around again, his star would once again be on the ascendance.....

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Airport Week - Departure Lounge

Our week of reposts continues with this post from five years ago when I was airport stewarding single-type man...

Darkness. Outside, all is black. An alarm sounds. 4 a.m. It can mean only one thing:- it's time to get up for work. Regular ablutions are stumbled through in a sleepy stupor. Clothes are hastily assembled about the person, laces tied in a fumble-fingered fashion and, after an abortive trip to the door sans keys, finally, I emerge blinking into...more darkness.

5 a.m. Not yet light. The essential wrongness of leaving the house sober at 5 a.m. on a Sunday instead of returning with a head and bladder dented by alcohol leaves me wondering for a moment if I've somehow slipped sideways into a parallel universe. But then I realise that, in a parallel universe, I'd have long flowing locks and a nudey chin so the likelihood is slim.

The roads are quiet and the ammoniac tang of last night's urine hangs about the Actonian streets. No one about except me, the cats, a few Saturday night stragglers and the cab drivers. For a brief time, Acton is mine for the taking. I decide to give it back...

6 a.m. Work has begun. The fluttering of tickets, the squeak of airport trolley wheels, the checking of "MayFly" sheets, the squeezing of bags into security-approved sizes. This is Day Three in the Big Heathrow Terminal and none of the temp housemates have gone mad yet. It's becoming regular, routine, usual, humdrum, mundane.

In fact, the day begins to assume a rhythm and changes into... not work but a chant...

No lighters
No liquids
One bag per person

No make-up
No toiletries
Must fit that gauge

No fluids
No lipsticks
Mobiles are OK

No toothpaste
No lip balm
But iPods go through

No Coke cans
No matches
(Safety ones excepted)

No Zippos
No chapsticks
They will turn you back

I'm only saying this for your benefit, sir
You don't want to have to queue up twice

Monday, 17 October 2011

Airport Week - Check-In

A few weeks ago, I wrote about about jobs what I did have way back in the day. In a rare bout of laziness, I'm going to treat you* to a few days worth of reposts about the time I spent as an airport steward five years ago.

A bit of context:- At the time, I was between jobs and taking any temp jobs that I could find to bring in a bit of cash. Fortunately for me, the airports were drafting in as much manpower as they could due to the fact that someone had attempted to smuggle in a bomb in their shoe. It was in this time of heightened security that the following posts were written.

Let the trip back in time commence...

So yesterday** I had a new working experience. I reported to the Control Room at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport, was issued with a high visibility jerkin that was yellow of colour and proceeded to be an ill-informed guide during this time of heightened security for around 8 hours. They didn't even search me on the way in. I told them I was here to work and they let me wander around the secure offices. I could have been anyone. In fact, I am anyone.

Ever wondered why people in those yellow waistcoats at airports seem to not only be uncertain but also pretty much know less about the airport than you? Well, that'll be because the likelihood is that they're a temp worker who's been drafted in for the day, given a relatively detail-free fifteen minute briefing on what they're supposed to be telling people and then plonked down at the nearest available access point. I'll be honest, I felt somewhat on the silly side at times. I mean, if you're standing around in a highly visible fluorescent item of clothing and people tend to (quite naturally) assume you have some knowledge of your surrounding environs. Imagine their dismay when their query is greeted by the opening gambit of "Erm..." closely followed by the closing move of "I have no idea".

Still, despite my ignorance of the basic structure and functions of Heathrow Terminal 2, it was a good laugh. I meet a fair few other people in the same boat as me (struggling unemployed types signed up to loads of agencies who've only been offered this as gainful work so far) and we did get paid for mostly standing and chatting to each other. It wasn't as busy as you'd have thought and most people have been watching the news over the last week so have got a reasonable idea what to expect.

So, as no other work has been forthcoming so far, I am venturing back there to don the Waistcoat of Doom once again for eight hours a day for the next three days. The only real downside is that my start time is 6 a.m. There's a 6 o'clock in the morning now? When did that get put in?***

* And by "treat", I of couse mean "spend some time building up new material by giving you rewarmed old toot in the meantime".

**Yesterday five years ago.

*** How little did I know that my current job would make me intimately familiar with 6 a.m. starts on some days and 11 p.m. finishes on others.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Intergalactic Tomato Rustlers

Tomatoes. The revolting and potentially deadly fruit which disguises itself as a vegetable*.I have a complex relationship with this particular foodstuff; as an ingredient in bolognese, chilli, pizza, etc., I'm fine with it (as long as it's purely a base and is suitably overpowered by other flavours) and I like ketchup and tomato soup (which, let's face it, don't really taste like actual tomatoes). It's just the pure unadulterated nude versions which turn my stomach so. With that in mind, when the homegrown ones began to disappear from my great aunt's garden when I was just a wee nipper, I wasn't overly upset.

Auntie Nora (sister to Nurse Gladys) lived a couple of roads over from Nana so we usually popped over to visit quite a bit when we were staying over at Nana's. She lived in a ground floor flat and had a garden out the back which was raised. I was never entirely sure why - it may have had something to do with the fact that she lived on quite a steep hill but that may be wrong. You had to walk up a little flight of steps in order to get to it - a fact which caused Nana (a natural born worrier) to regularly fear for our lives.

On one particular visit, Auntie Nora mentioned that some of her tomatoes, which were just ripening, had gone missing in the night. Now, the more down to earth and level headed among you would naturally suggest that some form of wildlife had engaged in some nocturnal pilfering.** However, being a youth of not very advanced age and possessing a mind of a science fictional nature, to me there could only be one plausible explanation:- aliens. It made perfect sense. Who would else would arrive undetected at night, commit fruit-based theft and leave no trace behind? It was the only explanation that fit the facts.

OK, so I never really got as far as to establish motive - I'm still a bit vague as to why anyone would travel the vast interstellar reaches of space just to half-inch a couple of tomatoes - but that was but a minor detail. Auntie Nora and Nana, keen to encourage youthful imagination, gamely played along, throwing in a few more details about odd lights in the sky and strange noises in the night (we'd exposed Nana to enough old sci fi films and episodes of Doctor Who by now; she knew the drill). Also, they probably also had an eye on the fact that this would provide them with "Remember the time that you thought aliens stole my tomatoes" style anecdotes. Which it did.

As much as I was excited at the prospect of aliens, the most important thing to me was that the tomatoes were gone. This meant I avoided having to turn down the chance to try the homegrown toms and causing any offence. Bullet dodged. Or should that be ray gun dodged?

In Other News:- This is my 400th post on this here blog. I toyed with the idea of of doing something needlessly celebratory and desperately attention seeking but couldn't be bothered so settled instead for a slight wisp of a post about some fruit. That probably sums up the blog quite succinctly right there.

* Statement based purely on personal opinion and may not be actual scientific fact.

** Hmm, maybe it was the squirrels again. At the moment, I wouldn't put anything past the little buggers.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


I thought I was done with the whole squirrel thing but it seems that I've opened a can of nuts (ah ha ha) and the little blighters won't quit. Not content with cropping up in a short story I was reading about a town in which phantoms are a fact of daily life* as a a background, scene-setting detail, they then proceeded to turn up in a podcast in the form of an allegorical story about the incompatibility of a squirrel dating a chipmunk (what can I say? I like an odd mix of reading and listening material). The final step was to be provided later that day...

My Grandad (he of the formerly truck-driving variety) turned 88** at the weekend so I'd bought him a present and was popping round to visit. He's notoriously difficult to buy presents for - he pretty much doesn't want anything anymore and responds with a standard "What did you bother getting me that for?" to any gift he's presented with. Feigning gratitude is not his strong point. All this has altered in the last few years, however, with the introduction of a present that he actually uses - Ma and Pa bought him a DVD player. Once he'd worked out how to get past the menu, he was away. Having strong and fond memories of watching many old comedies with him as a nipper, I've known precisely what to get for him and the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd DVDs have all been watched.

So armed with a selection of Tommy Cooper DVDs in hand, I approached Grandad's maisonette. Only to find, bold as brass on the path in front of me.... yep, a squirrel. Which stands there. And doesn't move. And fixes me with a beady squirrely eye. I stand, surprised at the sudden arrival of a bushy-tailed nut-botherer after having spent a couple of days writing about them. To the casual observer, this may well have appeared to be an odd sort of Mexican stand-off.

Eventually, I twitched and he bolted, the moment broken. The grandfather was presented with his prezzie and seemed pleased with it (well, he said that Tommy Cooper was one of the all time greats which is as close to "That's great, thanks" as you're gonna get) and, upon departing, I was presented with the reason for my rodenty confrontation. You see, Grandad has a bird table upon which he likes to leave out treats for the local avian types. The treats he currently had out on offer? Yep, it was the old traditional monkey nuts and the tree-bound furry fellas were unable to resist like the nut junkies that they are. As we stood outside discussing this, the squirrel beadily eyeballed us from the safety of a branch in a nearby tree.

So, hopefully, this brings to an end my week of squirrel-based association. Although you never can tell when the furry little thieves are lurking nearby, watching and twitching and twitching and watching...

* Phantoms by Steven Millhauser

** As he points out, that's Two Fat Ladies in old bingo calling terms...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Clack Clack Clack Ding

It had its own hardshell case, the base of which it was permanently attached to, and a handle so that you could carry it around like a misshapen briefcase. It was a child-friendly size but still had serious heft and weight to it (which meant that you weren't going to carry it around very far). It sat in the bedroom and, despite being loved, it was infrequently used. It was my junior typewriter and the sound it made was music to my ears.

Of course, the digital age is a wonderful thing with its ability to instantly provide those wordy sentence type of things to an at least mildly curious audience. There was something, satisfying, however, about the force of effort needed to push the little letters towards the ink-filled ribbon and spear that little inky character down on to the unsuspecting paper. The machine had its little quirks too that were equal parts endearing and frustrating. When you pressed the "j" key, it would usually bring up the "k" as well and the two would then engage in a race to see who made it to the inky ribbon first. The "s" key was ever so slightly misaligned so always appeared on the page just a tiny fraction lower than the other letters. This was more than made up for by the noise of the thing.

The clack of the keys as the letters whizzed up and down, the ding of the bell as you reached the end of the line, the whir of the roller as you pulled a sheet of paper out. All these things made you feel like an old-fashioned reporter in an old-fashioned film who's just about to yell out "Stop the presses!"

As with many a childhood gift which is the result of much pestering on the child's part, it wasn't used anywhere as much as it should have been (which I'm sure drove the parents mad after they'd shelled out for the thing). In my slight defence, I suffered then from something which still affects me now - fear of a blank page. The will to write is strong but, when faced with the prospect of actually committing ink to page / screen, sometimes the blank page comes out on top.

Underused it may have been but my typewriter was still cherished. As much as my trusty and much-used pen and notebooks are these days.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

...Ain't Payin' Any Rent

There was a time when The Brother was living back at Chez Ma and Pa (this has happened from time to time over the years for both of us for varying reasons). Having gone out and lived in his own place under his own rules, he was finding it difficult to readjust to life back in the familial seat. At the time he was the bass player in a band called Motel Hero and this provided him with the ideal outlet to express how he felt about the family home.

If you go to this link* and press play, you will be rewarded with 49 seconds of musicy goodness with a squirrelly feel.

And so the squirrel in the loft lived on immortalised in song. Oddly enough, having decided to write about squirrels over the last day or so, I seem to have been followed by them everywhere...

Whilst listening to a podcast, I was surprised at the synchronicity of the host mentioning one of the contributor's books, "Squirrel Meets Chipmunk". The synchronicity wave continued to crest on the train as I got up to leave and overheard a man on the phone saying, "No, you have to open and close the door really quickly otherwise the squirrel will get in." Finally, the wave of squirrelly synchronicity crashed upon the beach when I was later shown this link.

Squirrels. They're everywhere. Mind your nuts.

*Hey, anyone remember that site? It used to be all the rage, back in the day.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Squirrel In The Loft...

Night. All is dark and quiet.* I am lying in bed and sleep is beckoning as I drift in that strange crossover country between memory and dream (did I really have a conversation about cannibalisitic penguins?). Suddenly, a noise. A skittering, scritching noise. Where? Above me. Scratching and rustling. Sleep has fled and in its place is a miraculous feeling towards the squirrel in the loft.

I don't remember exactly when he moved in. There was no formal invitation and there was certainly no contract. All I knew was that he was exactly the sort of housemate that nobody desired. "But how could you resent the cuddly, fluffy squirrel when you so desperately wanted a pet one as a youth," I hear you ask. All I can say is that I am a fickle creature and that if you take up residence above my bedroom with what appears to be the sole purpose of making scratching noises, don;t expect me to be your biggest fan.

This wasn't enough for our sciuridaen interloper, oh no. For, you see, the loft of the house that is ma and Pa's is a veritable treasure trove of stuff and things, toys and games, photos and mementos, books and magazines, nick nacks and gewgaws. There is somewhat of a tendency towards hoarding in the house (not in a crazy piles of newspapers or jars of urine way, mind you) and the loft is stocked to the rafters. All of which was the icing on the lofty cake for Mr Squirrel.

It was upon a routine "clear out the loft but actually keep pretty much all of it just move it around a bit" mission the we discovered the nibbled remains of many possessions. This necessitated the implementation of the Big Blue Plastic Boxes for storage and the squirrels epicurean vandalism was partly thwarted.

A few years back, the loft was redecorated and a new lining installed. After that, the lofty shenanigans pretty much ceased and the local squirrels took to perching on the edge of the roof and shouting angrily instead (oh well, you can't have everything). The legend of the squirrels would always live on in song, however...

* Some poetic licence is being used her as Ma and Pa's house is one street away from a train station so floodlights and night freight trains do not strictly speaking make dark and quiet.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Squirrel In The Park

They are small. They are furry. And they'll go for your nuts (warning - there's always a strong possibility that this could turn out to be the first in a series of genitalia-based "jokes"). I'm talking, of course, about squirrels. Twitchy of nose, fleet of foot and bushy of tail. As a child, I desperately wanted to own one as a pet. Fortunately, I had sensible parents who explained to me that squirrels were best left where they were. Equally fortunately, I had a member of the family on side who liked to get up close and personal with nature.

Grandad (Pop's Pop) has always been a nature lover. Handily lying about the kitchen could be spotted the odd old crust of bread ready to feed any local birds who stopped off in the front garden for a quick snack. Nowadays, he has the full bird table with special bird feed and everything so that he can observe the comings and goings of the neighbourhood feathered folks. I was never that much of a twitcher* myself. No, the important thing to me was the bag of monkey nuts that were kept on standby in the glove compartment of Grandad's car.

You see, we lived but a short ride away from Greenwich Park and, in amongst the section of the park where the deer could be found to roam, lived a large selection of squirrels. Yeah, not so unusual. I know. Park, trees, green spaces, squirrels. And there wasn't anything particularly exceptional about them. Except maybe for their superhuman levels of cheekiness.

Due to the regular stream of people style visitors, the furry little menaces had become so immune to the presence of people that the human form had become just another obstacle to hurdle in the acquisition of food. This was what The Brother and I loved. The game went like this:- retrieve monkey nut from Grandad. Stand next to tree. Hold said monkey nut betwixt thumb and forefinger. Wait for squirrel to climb you like a tree in order to acquire the nut. Try not to giggle or scream depending on level of squirrel claw tickling or accidental claw gouging. Repeat until either we or the squirrels got bored first (it was normally the squirrels).

To this day, the sight of a bag of monkey nuts causes a wave of squirrel-based nostalgia. At Chez Ma and Pa, however, relations with the squirrels were to take a decidedly frosty turn in later years...

*Bird watcher to you non-ornithological types.

Monday, 3 October 2011

(Not) Bigger On The Inside

The early Eighties. Star Wars was an acceptable form of worship, the acquisition of sweets was a prime motivator and attending primary school was all the rage amongst my friends and I. Being a small child person type of thing, I had straightforward ambitions. I wanted medical science to advance to the point that I could be safely transformed into a tyrannosaurus rex*, I wanted to write books** and I wanted the ability to travel throughout all of time and space***. Through the power of an extremely splendid playset and a healthy dollop of imagination, I came pretty close on the last one.

I must admit that I can't specifically remember when I got it - whether it was a birthday or a Christmas present - but what I do remember is that I loved it. It was blue, it was about four and a half feet tall, it was box-like and it had had a control panel painted underneath a scanner (plastic window) on the inside (which, unfortunately due to the way that the laws of physics currently work, was not bigger than the outside). It was a TARDIS playhouse and it was all mine.

It was a thing of elegant simplicity. You snapped together the plastic frame, inflated the mock light on the top of the cover, pulled said cover over the newly constructed frame and, once inside through the police box's tent-style doors, the whole of space and time was yours to explore.

It kept me amused for hours, did my TARDIS tent (well, what else would a young Doctor Who obsessive need?). It didn't even have to "go" anywhere; sometimes I'd be perfectly happy just sitting in it. Sadly, unlike the "real" thing, it was not immune pot the ravages of time and two factors ended its run. Firstly, I grew too big for it and secondly the outer cover ripped and some of the pieces of the frame went missing.

So, like may things at Ma and Pa's that were once cherished, it was consigned to the loft where it probably remains to this day. I wonder if I could fix the old girl up and take her out for a spin?

* Actually, that would still be pretty cool.

** This one still stands, obviously.

*** Maybe my wants aren't so radically different these days after all..