Trip from hell works in my favour
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Martin van Beynen
Last week I promised you would be hearing more from me about my adventures in the far-flung parts of the uncivilised world, and I hate to disappoint.
So I report from London, to which I have been drawn by the necessities of work. Let's just call it a study trip, because Mrs VB does not like to hear I am having a whale of a time abroad while she mans the pumps at home.
I tend to downplay things like marvellous weather, brilliant company, fantastic hotels, spectacular sights and superb food, and try to convey the sometimes slightly false impression the trip is nothing but hardship and aggravation. I know Mrs VB won't feel sorry for me but at least I will minimise the potential resentment when I get home.
This time, however, things took a turn that means I can truthfully report the state of play without any fear I will be fuelling grievance at home.
It started with the 13-hour flight from Singapore to London. We have all had, on long haul flights, horrendous experiences with fellow passengers, but this flight was exceptional even by the usually low standards of normal coach travel.
The passengers in question were twin 1-year-olds in the next row who bawled and screamed for almost the whole 13 hours. I have never seen such stamina and persistence in those so young.
Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but a baby's cry goes to the very core of being human. It is designed to ensure instant attention and is the one key thing scientists often miss when they talk about successful evolutionary strategies.
I know the American military played heavy metal rock to inmates in their prisons in Iraq in an effort to break down resistance to interrogation, but they could just as usefully have employed tapes of crying babies.
The beautifully groomed Singapore flight attendants did their best, but what the flight crew really needed was a matronly sort who could balance the babies in both arms and get them to shut up.
While the babies were stretching nerves as taut as piano wire, I couldn't help noticing that everyone around me was suffering from illnesses of various sorts.
The aircraft was so full of sneezing, coughing, hoicking, snuffling, snotting passengers I wondered if they should quarantine the entire plane before we started the next world epidemic. I just knew I wasn't going to leave the aircraft without at least one virus that would cripple me for the rest of trip.
After the inevitable trials of going through immigration, it was on to the comforting-sounding Pacific Hotel in Paddington on the very efficient express train from Heathrow. A hot shower and a lie down and the rigours of the trip would be forgotten. Well not quite.
If the Pacific Hotel was looking to be in tip-top shape for the Olympics, then it was leaving its run pretty late.
For nearly $200 a night you get a tiny, foul-smelling room with a bed and a wardrobe-sized bathroom. Size is not so much of an issue if everything is working. But a rail holding up the shower curtain was falling down, the basin had no plug and the toilet roll holder was broken. I soon had a flood on my hands.
In these situations I like to be diplomatic and not tell the owner, "I didn't come half way around the world to stay in a shithole", but in this case it was hard to resist.
So I was moved to a slightly better room, which nonetheless had a dribble of a shower, a broken toilet seat, a heavily stained ceiling from previous leaks, a floor which would have done an earthquake-hit Christchurch house proud and several non- functioning lights. The hotel's advertised wi-fi was hopeless and the banister down its precarious stairs was broken.
Small irritations, you might think. Out on the streets in exciting London all would be forgotten. To a point. If you are following Wimbledon, you will know what I mean. And Wimbledon's bad weather seemed to be like Arizona's compared with what I was seeing out my window. At the time of writing it has rarely stopped raining.
I was seeing quite a bit of this view because the prediction about the virus getting me had proved correct and I needed a day in bed to see if I could beat it. To make matters worse, I also lost my voice and this is going to make life difficult with several interviews still ahead.
This brings me to the BBC films and documentaries I'm watching as I remain awake during the English night due to jet lag. Bizarrely at this time of the morning, a person appears in the corner of the screen to translate the dialogue into sign language. Perhaps I will be reduced to something similar if my voice does not come back.
Not that I'm complaining. At least I will be able to tell Mrs VB in all honesty that travel is not all it is cracked up to be.
- The Press