Journey of Life

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Snow travel

As much of Europe seems faced with disruption due to adverse weather condition, I am beginning to realise just how lucky I am to have escaped all of this.

I left the UK for Denmark Friday afternoon and following a few delays, I arrived here safe and sound Friday evening.

Saturday morning I received a phone-call from a friend in Oxford who rang to tell me that he’d woken up to a good 30cm of snow Saturday morning resulting in chaos, at least from a travelling perspective.

Had I decided to travel Saturday instead of Friday I am pretty sure I would have joined the thousands of people who have been stranded at Heathrow, (and various other airports around Europe) unsure of whether or not I would make it back for Christmas. I also know how frustrating and hopeless they may feel at the moment as I would not have dealt with this uncertainty too well as evidenced by my journey back last year.

I am extremely grateful for having made it here and for the ability to write this in cosy surroundings and to the sound of a crackling fire. At the same time, however, I am not forgetting how easily I could have been stuck at Heathrow airport at this precise moment.

The above picture is taken just outside the cottage in which I am staying and I lit it again this morning in the hope that everyone stranded will make it home in time for Christmas.

People Watching

One of my favourite hobbies of all times is people watching. Ok! I have a minor full on addiction to people watching. There’s just something incredibly fascinating about it. In fact, if someone came to me and offered me a regular income (I am not asking for much!!) for doing nothing other than watching people and creating little stories about them, I think I would have just landed my dream job!

The best part of this particular hobby is that it doesn’t cost anything, unless of course you decide to travel to a specific location to do your people watching. I guess that is what train spotters do!! Or do they just gather at the same station every time??

One of my favourite places to watch people are places like airports, train stations (I am NOT a train spotter!!) or anywhere associated with travel as it brings big crowds together in one place. People from all walks of life and from all kinds of different cultures.

Also, travelling often seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. Some are excited at the prospect of going off to some exotic location or to be with a friend or relative while some are stressed and apprehensive or perhaps even frightened to a certain extent, but everyone has their own story to tell and the interesting thing is that most of the time they wouldn’t even have to say a word to tell their story. Simply observing their body language and their facial expressions is enough to build or create a story in my mind. If I was a writer I would spend the majority of my writing time in places like these because the inspiration seems endless.

It also makes me wonder how I would be perceived by someone performing the art of people watching. What kind of story do I inspire by my behaviour and body language? Am I the excited one or am I the stressed out fearful traveler? I am pretty confident that I have portrayed both types of behaviour as well as some in between. If it is a journey I am familiar with I am usually very relaxed about the whole affair despite often traveling by myself. If, however, it is unknown territory then I will often display rather selfish behaviour especially if I am in a rush to be in a certain place at a certain time.

When I headed back to Denmark for Christmas last december it became one of those journeys where things didn’t quite go to plan!

It was the 18th December and I had an early flight to catch. I left my house at 5 in the morning, headed in to town to catch the coach to Heathrow. It had started to snow at this point, which is never a good sign if you live in the UK. It usually takes no more than a few snow flakes to put the country into a state of chaos! However, the coach arrived only a few minutes late and we set off. I remember feeling pleased with my ingenious decision to get the early coach. This only lasted until about 15 minutes later when I had a text message from the airline informing me that my flight had been cancelled due to severe weather conditions at Heathrow! At this point I had no option but to continue so I decided that once I got there, I’d go to the check in desk for further information and to establish if I’d be able to get on a later flight. I was in good spirit and it had never crossed my mind that other people would be traveling that day too! That is until I got to the airport!!

As I arrived at the terminal and found the check in desk for my airline, I was greeted by a queue of people the length of which (at least in my mind) was at least three miles (I have a tendency to exaggerate things like this). The queue could help explain the difficulty I had in locating the check in desk! I also experienced some difficulty in finding the end of the queue as it was all over the place! For the next 90 minutes I was stuck in this queue, but the really frustrating part was the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure if I was in fact in the right queue and yet I felt reluctant to give up my place in it to investigate further in fear of having to go further back in the queue, so I stayed put (call me a sheep if you like).

During my time in the queue I was next to a girl but I was convinced that I was at least in front of her but I got the feeling she thought she was in front of me which then led to the weirdest battle in history! We both kept trying to maintain our space in the queue while at the same time trying to get one step ahead of one another. This bizarre battle went on for a while until she asked a couple behind us in the queue if they’d look after her luggage for a few minutes. I guess she didn’t ask me because she feared I might just leave her luggage behind just to increase my lead in the race to the check in!! A few minutes later she came back, collected her luggage and off she went. I was too busy gloating in my glory of firmly being one step ahead to wonder where she’d gone despite the fact that we’d been scheduled on the same flight!

I finally got to the point where the check in desk was in sight and within reach but much to my despair I discovered that another queue had formed for the ticket desk! I managed to catch the attention of someone who looked like he worked there hoping that he could shed some light on which queue I was meant to be in. He seemed to think I ought to be in the ticket queue but he didn’t exactly fill me with confidence and at the same time I felt even more reluctant to switch queues, as this would mean that I would now have to admit to  myself that, due to my sheepish behaviour, I had wasted 90 minutes in the wrong queue.

In the end I was told that I had to join the ticket queue, which luckily seemed a lot shorter but the problem was the fact that it didn’t seem to move at all. To add insult to injury, I was now stuck two places behind the exact same girl I had battled with in the first queue. In truth, I was feeling rather embarrassed at the selfish behaviour I had displayed earlier. Luckily she didn’t seem to hold a grudge and I soon got talking to her as well as another couple.

Another 90 minutes went by, during which time I had only moved a few feet and was beginning to lose all hope of getting back to Denmark before Christmas.

I went into observation mode again and began noticing how little groups of people were forming in the queue just like the four of us. I have always been intrigued by how easily strangers seem to bond in situations like these, I am including myself in this bonding affair! I find it fascinating that complete strangers can so easily find common ground to the extent that during the time in the queue the four of us got to know each other pretty well and also managed to help keep each other calm. We had known each other for only a short amount of time at this point and yet, as I am writing this, I can picture their faces clearly!
They finally announced that the plane had been reinstated and that we’d be taking off within the hour, which meant not having time to do anything other than racing through security and straight to the gate and with that, the bonding session was now firmly over! It was now back to every man and woman for themselves, with one exception; the swedish girl, who was now a bit ahead of me in the security queue (how did she get there so fast?) did very kindly ask if I wanted to join her in the queue. I declined on the basis that everyone had been through their fair share of queueing. I was also slightly concerned that had I accepted, I might have been lynched!!

When we finally got airborne the captain informed us that the reason for the cancellation and the chaos wasn’t the alleged severe weather, but the fact that I had foolishly chosen to fly to Copenhagen on the same day as Barack Obama was joining the climate conference in Copenhagen!!!

Free travel tip from J: Never travel on the same day as a government official, especially if it is the President of the United States!

I made it back though and it was such a wonderful break. I was also treated to a good look at Air Force One as we taxied to the gate…

Snow Chaos in the UK

During last week and some of this week snow hit the UK and caused the usual degree of chaos and disruption to every day life. A few snow flakes and the country is in meltdown!! People have been unable to get to work, unfortunately I was not one of them as I live very close to my place of work. (Hmm, maybe it’s time to think about moving!!)

The one thing that really baffles me is how a country is so incapable of dealing with these conditions when the rest of the world seems to cope with far greater quantities of snow than the UK. The only conclusion I can draw is the fact that the UK is generally unprepared for it, due to the fact that snow is a rare occurrence here. However, I think it may be worth learning from other countries as weather conditions are far more unpredictable than they used to be. I also suspect this could become more of a regular occurrence due to climate change and if this is the case, the UK could be in for a very steep and costly leaning curve.

From a positive point of view I find it rather amusing to watch the chaos unfold and even more interesting to watch how everybody seems to be a lot nicer to each other. Isn’t it odd how we seem to be more tolerant of each other whenever something beyond our control occurs. Is it because we are now all in the same boat, so to speak, that we find it easier to accept another person and find common ground.

Before Christmas when I was due to fly back to Denmark for the holiday, my flight got cancelled due to what they referred to as “severe” weather conditions, which in reality was nothing more than a light dusting of snow! I later discovered that there were other factors resulting in the cancellation. When I got to the airport the queue for the check in desks were extremely long and people were looking less than pleased, but again, no one tried to jump the queue or anything like that. Everyone seemed to bond with people they would have totally disregarded under normal circumstances. Just for the record; I am including myself in that!

The flight was eventually reinstated and I got to where I needed to be. After I’d cleared security and got to the gate I saw some of the people I’d been queuing with and who greeted me as a friend they hadn’t seen in a long time and I am sure they’d greeted each other in the same way before I got there.

Do we really need events like this (or worse) in order for us to be more civil to each other and if so; bring on some more snow please.

And finally; for the people who kept referring to a few inches of snow as Heavy Snow and Severe Weather, please see below for some perspective!

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