Come back Swampy, all is forgiven

“Bristol airport is like a giant branch of Debenham’s department store – a tasteless bazaar with a runway attached”

Air travail

It generally takes me three weeks to decide how I’m going to get to France for my annual week’s treat, attending ‘boot camps’ – workshops for jazz musicians, held in agreeable chateaux .

The problem is, there’s no direct or cost-saving way of getting to the places I need to get to, which tend to be a bit out of the mainstream of holiday destinations, from where I live; which is to say, a remote backwater of the UK poorly served by transportation.

The other problem being, travel websites can’t seem to tell you which airline or train service goes to where you need to go, from where, when, at precisely what time and for how much – and if there’s a seat available – until you have correctly guessed all those things for yourself.

There’s a stopping train, two crowded coaches taking three hours just to ‘sprint’ as far as Birmingham, 90 miles away. From there, changing trains it’s still another two hours to London, and another sixty miles or so to the Channel Tunnel. I’ve used the grimy Eurostar service a few times, but it’s difficult to find a seat on the day and at the time I need to travel unless I book months in advance, long before I finally know that I’m even going to have the money to travel at all; while the fares continually whizz up and down depending on the time of day, making budgeting impossible.

Or you could drive, but once you’ve managed the seven hours to Portsmouth and the five-hour crossing and back again, assuming you could easily navigate through the backstreets of Caen (I don’t get SatNav, the sun suffices) it’s going to cost around £800 minimum, on top of the fee for the week, your food and the bar bill.

It can’t all be done in a day, whichever route you choose.

Three times, I’ve tried introducing flying as part of the mix (it’s no quicker). Twice from Bristol, a four hour drive away, to Bergerac, a tiny local airstrip served in summer by two Ryanair flights a week. Bristol airport is like a giant branch of Debenham’s department store with a runway attached, that you reach only after a mile-long walk through the perfume department. That reminds me next time to get one of those wheely case things.

Airports are increasingly like abattoirs, aren’t they. You go in and it all looks friendly and well lit with glossy stuff everywhere you think you’re going to be pleasantly rewarded with, cake shops and coffee bars; until you’re dragooned through a hidden doorway at the back and prodded onto an industrial-looking ramp that leads to almost certain doom, helpless in a pressurised cigar tube, jammed into the tiny space between a sweating fat man reading a broadsheet newspaper and a child with jam on its face playing a noisy video game on a handheld device you know you couldn’t afford if you saved for a month, being flogged prize draws and more perfume by stressed cabin crew while drunken women shout and laugh and run up and down, dangerously unbalancing the plane, fumbling with heavy stuff in the locker above your head.

It’s like a flying wine bar. And they wanted me to pay double to take my guitar.

The last time I flew, I got drunk, overslept and missed my return flight. Luckily I got a lift to Bordeaux, where I managed to get the last seat on an afternoon EasyJet back to Bristol in exchange for driving my rescuer 90 miles home in the middle of the night.

And once from Heathrow to Lyon: a saga I have previously recounted, as St Exupéry airport was where we had to call out an engineer at 2 am to release my phone from a charging dock, only to realise it wasn’t my phone, which was still in my pocket, and I spent the rest of the night hiding under a flyover while they called my name on the tannoy.

I don’t travel well, to be honest.

Which is why I’m hard pressed to understand why on earth we need more airport capacity in Britain? What we have is awful enough.

I lived for a couple of years in Hounslow, West London, not far from the airport. It was intermittently horribly noisy. Even in Central London you’re not spared the roar of Emirates’ 777s descending from their holding stacks and thundering along the Cromwell Road at 600 feet. It’s easy to imagine, isn’t it, one of those falling out of the sky onto Hammersmith, the horrific aftermath. You’ll have seen photos, I don’t doubt, of 747s approaching over Staines at rooftop height, how anyone lives there and at those prices it is impossible to comprehend.

Building an airport on marshland outside London was a wartime necessity, but as the city has expanded and overflowed it looked more and more like a terrible idea; and not just because it’s fogbound practically 363 days of the year. That’s why they built more airports, at Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, London City Docklands… while Charles de Gaulle is only 90 minutes away by TGV. And we still have the MoD airport at Northolt; Biggin Hill, Marlow, Blackbushe…. London is awash with airport capacity already!

Now however the Government – by which, I mean Mrs May – has finally shut its eyes and stuck a pin in the various plans to create yet more capacity in the Southeast of England; got bulb-headed Grayling and his PR baboons to spin up some crap about showing the quaking world that Brexit Britain is Bropen for Brizness, or whatever; bowed to the as-ever selfish and cretinous business lobby, and decided once-and-for-all (lolz!) after fifty years of arguing, in favour of flattening half a dozen ancient villages and their historic English Perpendicular churches for a third runway – at an airport that is already so busy it can barely cope – at a cost of (more hollow laughter) only £18 billion.

It’s insane, the worst possible decision. And so much for the vaunted ‘Northern Powerhouse’; Heathrow being (as politicians seem to imagine – one even said so on the Today show) in the Midlands. As far as Mrs May is concerned, that’s near enough the North as makes no difference.

I’m both flattered and dismayed that the Government – which is to say Mrs May, most of her immediate subordinates, and even her own Maidenhead constituents soon to be under-the-flightpath being virulently opposed to the plan – has adopted my own method of deciding how to proceed with travel arrangements:

…spend days consulting all the mutually contradictory oracles, take far too long dithering until your best opportunity is lost, heave a sigh of frustration and eventually just plump for the worst designed, most expensive, most environmentally damaging, most likely to go wrong arrangement that Tripadvisor can come up with.

She knows too, doesn’t she, that she can muzzle her sock-puppets all she likes; we are in for years of legal arguments and protests. Local elderly vicars and WI members will be chaining themselves to the porches of their beloved churches and lovely C18th Regency buildings, having to be cut loose and dragged away by G4S goons in the full glare of the media; the spirit (or maybe even the tenacious person) of Swampy* will return, along with thousands of environmental protestors marching through Whitehall; up in the trees and burying themselves in holes in the ground; and it’s all going to be one fucking huge mess.

What is the point? I mean, really?

I’m starting to think our unelected Prime Minister is a bit of an idiot, really. Or maybe not, maybe approving Heathrow is the best way of burying this madcap scheme for another 50 years.

*From The Telegraph, September 2013; Seasoned environmental protester Swampy (real name Daniel Hooper, of the Newbury Bypass campaign fame) has retired from protesting to a life of picking acorns and planting trees to support his four children. … Now the father of four spends his days living on the self sufficient Tipi Valley commune, which has no mains electricity or running water…”

Where are you when we need you, mate?

Glad EU-le tidings

At long last, I no longer need feel depressed and bereaved.

Britain’s Christmas-tree growers have hailed the Brexit vote as a boost to their home-grown produce, on account of a 15% increase in the price of a Danish tree. Hurrah! I knew there was a reason for abandoning our treaty partners and selling out to the Chinese. It almost makes you want to stand up and sing the national anthem.

If only anyone could remember the words.

Beating everyone to the counterpunch

NATO is reportedly deploying troops, ships and aircraft to the Baltic region to counter a buildup of Russian forces ‘on manoeuvres’ in the area.

“Nato does not seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t want a new cold war and we don’t want a new arms race,” the alliance’s head, Jens Stoltenberg, was quoted as saying. “What Nato does is defensive and it is proportionate.” – The Guardian, 27 October

Mr Stoltenberg’s logic seems confused. If we don’t want a new arms race, what does he imagine deploying a counter-force is?

Proportionate defence means just that: confrontation, and a matching-up of capabilities. To even think like this is to define the other as the enemy. Provided therefore no incident occurs leading to a tactical strike and counterstrike that could escalate into full-scale conflict, with the probable deployment at first of battlefield nuclear weapons, before a general obliteration of one another’s cities, we are indeed in a new Cold War.

Happily, the British contribution to the rapid reaction force is not due to arrive in Estonia until “next May”, according to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who added:

“Backed by a rising defence budget this deployment of air, land and sea forces shows that we will continue to play a leading role in Nato.”

Yes, wherever Britain goes, and indeed whenever, others follow.

By which time, we hope, the Russians will have gotten tired of their manoeuvres, leaving our heroes cold, bored and fidgety, staring out at an empty waste and eagerly anticipating their next rotation.

All 850 of them.


Je suis Legend

What a nightmare (quel cauchemar).

Because of the hordes of disease-ridden insect-scroungers swarming at Calais like fruit-flies for a mass attack on the sacred White Cliffs of Douvres, I decided at the last minute to change my travel plans.

The thing was, I had only 40 minutes to get across Paris to make my connecting train. It seemed not impossible in the heat of the moment – and let’s remember, 1st August sees the regular outbreak of mass holidaying in France known as la fermeture annuelle – that there might be some delay getting through the Chunnel. Even a half-hour holdup would mean becoming stranded in Paris for a week, wandering around an empty and closed city on the lookout for zombies: Je suis Legend

So, with an eye on the newscasts, I nervously cancelled my train tickets, writing-off the two hundred pounds, and (after some internet nonsense in which it appears I had also booked a second ticket for use in December, when I was not intending to fly to France) just managed to secure the last seat on the 06.25 Ryanair flight out of Bristol, to where I uncertainly drove, arriving shortly before one a.m on the Friday night – I always believe in allowing plenty of time to check-in; while the Park and Ride turned out to be about ten miles away through the backstreets.

Hordes of tourists swarmed all night through the Departure lounge, with its many acres of shopping, each loudly trundling a suitcase with rumbling, squeaky wheels. Sleep was impossible. I could see no-one else with any luggage resembling my own, unfashionably strappy and behandled, expensive overnight bag in Burgundy-coloured Italian leather, that I had purchased for the occasion via Bagsonlinedotcom.

I don’t know, it’s like you go to an airport nowadays only to shop, and out the back where the changing rooms used to be you’re goaded onto a seemingly endless walkway and down a ramp into a cigar-tube with wings, where exhausted but still-smiling salesladies plastered in layers of makeup ply you with more opp0rtunities to shop, only to land two hours later at another department store somewhere warmer and muggier, but essentially identical.

A process not unakin to an abattoir, as I remarked to a fellow traveller, a total stranger, who didn’t seem to find it funny. He’s probably never kept a pig.

A week of similarly sleep-deprived nights followed, as we partied until dawn. Which explains why, on the last morning, I woke up on the bed fully clothed, and disbelievingly checked my watch, and gradually realised that, having merely gone to my room to collect my stuff, I had keeled over and missed the transport that must have left an hour earlier to take some of us to the airport, forty kilometres away.

There was still, however, an hour-and-a-half to spare to get to the airport before the boarding gate closed.

I could still make it!

The only human being I could find to explain my plight to was one of the hotel waiters, whose grasp of English was tenuous at the best of times. He too was crapulous with wine and lack of sleep after our last-night party. The French have an annoying habit, one no doubt among many, of considerately striving to muster their few words of English while you are conversing as fluently as you know how in your best French, thus ensuring there is no possible meeting of minds on the matter at hand. If only we could agree to stick to one language or the other, communication might be restored and a thousand years of history reversed.

Anyway, my urgent request that he telephone for a taxi met with the explanation that it would be very expensive, I would need to be a millionaire; and so, no, he or another would be honoured to drive me. Excusing himself, he disappeared off upstairs. Twenty minutes later he returned, to explain sheepishly that he could not find any car keys, or anyone at all, and anyway, he was still well over the legal limit to drive. Again, I pleaded with him to just call a taxi. ‘Per’aps feefty Euro!’ he expostulated, with a Gallic lift of both eyebrows. Increasingly agitated, I explained carefully that I did not give a fig how much it cost, I just needed to be there before nine o’clock.

He disappeared again. Another twenty minutes passed, before he returned with the news that the nearest taxi was in Marmande, 15 km away, and the lady owner did not think there was now time to drive to where I was to collect me and bear me thence to the airport by nine o’clock. My mind was racing: what possible alternatives could be plucked from the increasingly humid atmosphere?

By now, helpful English people were trickling in to breakfast, thus starting a fresh train of time-consuming red herrings and wild goose-chases. Ancient Mariner-like, I pathetically described my plight to all and sundry. Clever phones were produced and prodded, to no avail. We traipsed hither and yon, searching vainly for a reliable signal bearing possible news of timetables and suchlike; while in my brain, irreparably clogged with proteinaceous gunge, Time itself seemed both to contract and expand simultaneously. Internet connection at the place was, the proprietor shrugged, a trifle patchy, owing to it’s being ‘la campagne‘ – the countryside, a place of profound tedium and despair in the French mind, especially for those condemned to live there.

At last, the time for the aircraft’s scheduled departure came and went; all hope evaporated. With no means of contacting the airline, since their absurd website is designed specifically to prevent such a thing, I pictured the flight crew anxiously hovering by the aircraft door, checking their watches and the manifest for any sign of the missing passenger; my name being broadcast with increasing urgency over the airport tannoy; frustration and impatience written on the faces of my fellow low-cost passengers as the minutes tick by, anxious to depart; the eventual abandonment of expectation as the pilot finally makes an executive decision and revs-up the motor for takeoff.

French computers are not as English ones are. They are not called computers, but ordinateurs. The Qwerty keyboard layout is not just subtly different. The ubiquitous @ character required for the at-least four compulsory entries of your email address on all travel documents is one of three on its key, leaving you to work out that you need to press Ctrl. Alt. first, in order to separate it from the others. The full-stop, or point symbol, is hidden among the numeric keys, as far as possible from the other punctuation. The navigation is all in French, which by and large I comprehend but obviously not all the technical stuff.

Then, of course, although it is a situation by no means unique to my hosts (it happens every day to me at home), the printer has run out of paper, toner; and, since you printed out the wrong page first and then left it to time-out for five minutes, the driver has defaulted to a different (non-existent) printer, and you have left your passport in your suitcase in the other building, just when you come to the bit about printing-out your own boarding pass or face having to pay an extra 45 Euro to have one issued at the check-in desk; while EasyJet has already forgotten you said you were a ‘Mr’, necessitating a re-entry of all your other data.

But with the help of a kind Dutch guest and some interventions from the proprietor, whose ordinateur it was, I did eventually manage to make the booking, securing once again the last seat on the plane; and set off for Bordeaux, driven in a cute menthol-green hire car by a bluff and sailorly Englishman; a horn-player who, luckily for me, happened also to be booked on the 16.30 to Bristol, and happened to require a lift at the other end as, by chance, his own Byzantine travel arrangements had meant having to leave his own car at home; and who happened to live only an hour away from where I am sitting now, recounting my adventures.

Of such happenstances is life made, fortunately. I finally got in around midnight, to find my young dog-sitter packed and waiting anxiously, surrounded by mess and muddle after a week of holidaying in my little house, and my lovely Hunzi alive and well; which is all, frankly, that really matters.

It was certainly worth writing-off a third tranche of two hundred pounds just to see his little sweet furry face again, his reproachful eyes and his sweeping great plume of a tail threatening to send everything flying in his excitement. Hopefully we shan’t have to go through this torture again for another year, if then. I may just move permanently to France, it would be easier and cheaper.

Oh, sure, it was a great week, as always, but the travelling takes its toll every time on my sanity and my fragile bank balance. I am, I freely admit, administratively challenged. No, I will say: incompetent. A total booby, in dire need of a good PA – or a third wife, whichever comes first. I have read a review of a book by the estimable Alain de Botton, a public philosopher, in which he argues the case for accepting travel as an integral part of life. (I think at the time he was on a year-long grant from the British Airports Authority as the official sage of Heathrow.) I am not of his mind: travel is Purgatory, pure and simple – an uncertain and menacing space between worlds.

This is the fourth time I have made this pilgrimage to one of the great Continental temples of jazz, and the fourth time my journeying there and back, a distance totalling only 1800 miles, has turned to farcical disaster, bungled experiments, needless delay and expense (see Posts passim); all as a result of my inchoate attempts to find the quickest, the safest, the most reliable, the most direct – and the cheapest – way to travel, without losing my tickets on the way.

As for the possible ‘delay’ causing me to miss my train in Paris, there is an epilogue to my story.

It seems a fellow guest had chosen to travel by the same original route I had abandoned at the last minute, involving many trains. He told me, they experienced no delay in the tunnel and he safely made the transition to catch his onward connection in Paris – the one I had most feared missing. Luckily, he had decided to travel with his bicycle, to do a bit of sightseeing; because, when they arrived at the town where he was to make the final connection with the cross-country local service towards our destination, from where it was still a forty-minute car journey to the place, he found that the French railway workers were staging one of their perennial wildcat strikes and there was no train.

He was thus faced with a 65-kilometre bike ride through the night, and arrived at dawn the next day. Happily, his instrument was small enough to carry in his pocket: he is a harmonica-player, who, since the legendary Toots Thielemans retired last year at the age of 93, may be one of the few jazz harmonica-players currently practising, which is a shame but there you are. They say it is better to travel in hope, than to arrive.

I say, bollocks to that.

And now, blessed sleep…


04.00 hours: Oh, hello Cat, pleased to see me back, are we?

Up, up and away

camphone 3 033Interviewed on the wireless today, one of Branson’s test pilots for his ludicrous ‘space tourism’ venture remarked that if Otto Lilienthal had crashed his glider and people said that would be the end of Man’s attempts to fly, where would we be now?

And I thought, yes. Yes! (punches the computer for emphasis).

Maybe powered flight is the absolute worst idea in history…

Let’s just take a minute to imagine a world without aeroplanes (US trans: airplanes). For a start, we wouldn’t go around dropping bombs on one another just to make a political point. All those people, mostly non-combatant civilians, women and children, needn’t have died before their time. It’s been going on for exactly a hundred years. Has anyone kept score? What are we talking? Millions of dead?

And rockets, and now unmanned drones controlled by teenage substance-abusers in a bunker somewhere in Virginia; swarms of tiny powered insect drones programmed to overfly a crowd and surgically take out all the people called Roger, using tiny missiles…

Then, without powered flight  the world might be a little quieter.

I bogld yesterday my despair at the racket my neighbours make, their builders and decorators, the ceaseless whine and grind of power tools. I’ve complained before at the constant susurrus of distant traffic at night, punctuated by the snarl and rumble of speeding Subaru Imprezas and huge lorries in the street outside, the damned racket the seagulls make at dawn. Sirens; distant car alarms. Sometimes, as now, a train clatters past on the line behind the flats they built across the road.

But nothing compares to the mighty rush and roar of jets landing and taking off every two minutes, screaming over your home near the airport, starting up at five a.m. I used to live near Heathrow, very many years ago. I know. And I have lived on a Welsh hillside, where at any moment two RAF Tornado jets might suddenly appear from behind a hill and scream at rooftop height over your peaceful valley, transformed for a moment or two into a green parody of some flyblown mountain fastness, sheep and horses running about in panic.

And then there’s the pollution, engines injecting water vapour and particulates into the upper atmosphere. It’s estimated the world would be twenty per cent brighter without it, as was demonstrated when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (test me!) erupted and put a stop to commercial flights in the northern hemisphere for four sparkling days.

Probably the worst effect of commercial flights however is the ceaseless churning of citizens around the globe, the homogenisation of formerly disparate cultures, the increasing sameness of everywhere; starting with the bustling impersonality of countless airports. The onward transmission of mediocrity, amid a climate of perfervid boredom and intense, irrational paranoia.

This has contributed in no small measure to the dangerous idea, and to the American Project for the 21st Century, that everywhere should be a consumer capitalist liberal democracy, buying our stuff – or we’ll bomb the shit out of you from on high.

And without the dream of space flight, maybe overgrown kids like Branson – a true product of the consumer capitalist liberal democracy, if ever there was one – would spend a little more time and energy and (our) money fixing things down here, where they matter.

The endless game

A contributor to a well-known news comment thread appends a long list of civilian airliners that have been shot-down by military action, both deliberately and (possibly) accidentally, in all parts of the world since 1974.

(I have rePosted it under Pages – 1,000 words or less).

It is a depressing toll. And, if you were to add all the lethal attacks on civil aircraft by quasi-military groups and State-licensed agents and, possibly, even corporate interests, either in the air or on the ground; plus any whose loss remains unexplained, yet – owing to details of the passenger manifest or the political state of the region in which they were lost, or from which they came – can most easily be ascribed to hostile acts, I am sure it would mount into the hundreds.

We can conclude then that flying is dangerous.

Not all such flights may be entirely innocent. Some appear to be the result of civil aircraft flying over contested airspace. A Korean Airlines Boeing 747, the ominously listed Flight 007, was shot down by Russian fighter planes in September 1983 after apparently diverting far beyond its normal course and overflying several highly secret military installations. This diversion was put down to pilot error, but normal curiosity would suggest the hand of the CIA.

The list did not go back as far as the 1963 assassination of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold, whose light plane was destroyed by a South African bomb*; or the suspicious death in a mid-air explosion of the Polish commander, Wladek Sikorsky, after a summit meeting in 1943, off the coast of Gibraltar. Conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the buck might stop with Winston Churchill.

Nor did it include Pan Am Flight 101, brought down over the village of Lockerbie, in Scotland – where a further eleven people were killed on the ground. Never fully explained, the incident was wrapped-up with the gaoling of Abdul al-Megrahi, a medium-level Libyan intelligence agent, on flimsy evidence connecting him possibly with an item of clothing found in a suitcase thought to have contained the bomb. The increasingly deranged Libyan leader, Gadaffi later agreed to pay compensation but admitted no liability.

The best explanation is that it was a contract killing carried out by Libya on behalf of the government of Iran, in revenge for the accidental downing of an Iranian civil airbus over the Gulf by a trigger-happy missile operative on board the carrier, USS Vincennes. It was also reported that several US embassy ‘officials’ due to fly on 101 had withdrawn at the last minute, leaving their seats to be taken by a number of young students. This suggests the appalling possibility that the US government at some level may have assented to the attack. But the trail is now cold.

Whatever the reasons, or non-reasons, for these atrocities – and the perpetrators must realise that their actions make travel less safe for them as well as us – they bring home the truth that we live in two parallel universes, that occasionally collide with disastrous effect.

Literally over the heads of most of us, there is a game going on. Anyone is entitled to opt-in, or opt-out, but at their own risk. It’s called warfare, and Humanity has been playing this same game for tens of thousands of years. The weaponry may have grown more sophisticated, but the participants haven’t. Nor do the rules ever change: might is right. What’s yours is mine. My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

Periodicity in History studies is a category error. You cannot simply parcel-up wars into convenient blocs: The Wars of the Roses. The Franco-Prussian Wars. The First World War. The Cold War. All wars are connected, indivisibly. While the campaigns themselves may start and finish on the hour, and you can trace the first shot, and the last; the precedents and causes, the arming and the disarming, the statistics of the dead and the social outcomes, the treaties and defensive pacts and documents of surrender, the technological developments, History offers us no clear beginnings or ends.

There is only one, endless war.

Like a grand palace, room after room interconnects, with few passages between. Its location may shift, this way and that; its causes may be more or less distinct, its participants change and have their allegiances, their reasons for joining in; whole civilisations may wax and wane on the basis of their success at conquest and oppression, their defences against the barbarians and the efficiency or brutality of their armies and generals (it is equally a category error to imagine civilisations as being distinct entities in History, nevertheless we soldier on…), but war itself never ends; only morphing into new wars, different brutalities.

This war is for many a parallel universe of adventure and excitement, of dynastic rivalries and intrigues, of the exercise of power and the testing of sinews, the trial of nerve and resolve. But for those who choose not to participate in the game, it is an eternal misery, that in too many parts of the world becomes indistinguishable from any other way of life.

When the two universes intersect, as they did for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last July 18, as they have done for the children of Gaza, who are even now being inducted into the war without end, we are all reduced to one shameful creature. Man.

* Maybe a white separatist Rhodesian bomb. It’s complicated.


So what has happened to Flight MH370? And why are you asking me?

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Study in Scarlet.

So, what has happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, missing now for nine days? The Comment threads are buzzing with the usual uninformed speculation. Among the many plausible and not-so plausible theories people have posted are:

1 It blew up in mid-air. A bomb. A fuel explosion following an engine fire. Cabin fire. A missile. North Korea. Single engine transponder continued to ping for 6 hours, picked up by Inmarsat. Why did it take them a week to report it? Was it pinging from the air? From under the sea? From on land? Why has it stopped? If terrorism, why no claim of responsibility? Why no wreckage? Why was it three days before we were told the plane had altered course unexpectedly?

2 Massive electrical failure. Solar flare? It came down in the sea, intact, then sank. On land. Stranded. Why no emergency message received? What happened to the passengers?

3 The onboard navigation systems failed. The pilot thought he was on-course. Ran out of fuel over the Indian Ocean. Tried to put it down somewhere. Crashed. But pilot had 18,000 hours’ experience. And why no emergency signal?

4 The pilot hijacked his own plane to flee abroad or commit suicide. Why? He’s a pilot! Malaysia’s is not a closed border. Where did he go, where is it now? Did he go mad? Why did the rest of the crew not intervene? Why did the co-pilot bid Malaysian air traffic control a cheery ‘goodnight’, if the pilot was busy committing suicide? Why did he build his own flight simulator at home  – was it to rehearse taking a plane? To train terrorists? If landed somewhere, why not reported by the local airport authorities? What happened to the passengers?

5 The pilot and/or co-pilot was part of a conspiracy to hijack the plane and made sure all comms were disabled. What was the purpose? Why has no-one claimed responsibility? Did someone want to get hold of 777’s secret technology? Did they decide to seize a plane of their own to mount a 9/11 attack because it’s too difficult to hijack a plane? Somewhat illogical reason! If plane recrossed Malaysian airspace en route to Andaman Islands, why not noticed on civil/military radar? Why airforce jets on standby not scrambled? (Port Blair runway too short to land a 777 but up to a dozen – or 600 – others in range.)

6 The aircraft has 8,000km range, fully fuelled. So landed at a secret destination, possibly a former Soviet ‘Stan’ republic, and is being kept hidden/being repainted. (Or in Australia, according to US ‘intelligence’,17th March). Either as a future weapon for a 9/11 attack (Petronas Tower?) or because Malaysian Airlines is in financial difficulty*. Again, what then happened to the passengers? Hostage? Murdered? Was any individual on the passenger manifest a potential target for kidnap or assassination?

7 Why did no-one on board apparently use their mobile phone to broadcast a message? Has anyone checked? Could terrorists really have taken phones off 230 people before anyone could call or secretly text? Did plane blow up suddenly? (So why not seen? Wreckage not found?) Or did no-one realise they were in danger? Already asleep because after 1 a.m.? Knockout gas in ventilation system? Temporary depressurisation of cabin? Suggests pilot/crew involvement. But no suggestion pilot was political. Except he was, sort-of. Politics? Blackmail? Family threatened? Huge bribe? Or just out of cellphone signal range?

8 Attention focussed for several days on two young Iranian men travelling on stolen passports. It is believed there are a million stolen passports in circulation. Background checks showed one of the men was hoping to find asylum in Germany. Also Sweden. Could both have been hijackers? And foiled the plane’s comms systems? And taken it over, and taken the passengers’ phones? Where would they have gone? Would we not know by now?

9 No attention seems to have been focussed on two Ukrainian and one Russian citizen on the flight. Ukraine is currently an international flashpoint, with Russian troops massing to invade. Again, could just two men take over a 777 with locked cockpit door and 239 passengers? Was there a fight, with shots fired, that caused sudden cabin depressurisation, hence no phones used? Shoe bomb used to blow open cabin door. Was Moscow a target for a 9/11 attack?

10 Separatists, possibly with China involvement, ie Uighur moslems; or one of many Indonesian separatist movements, e.g. Bandah Aceh; or al-Quaeda cells from Bali, Indonesia, Philippines, etc. Maoist Indian Naxalites. Or Tamil Tigers. So why no demand or claim of responsibility? Why none of these on pasenger manifest? Plane blown up unintentionally en route to target? Switched in mid-air with another commercial flight? Shot down by military fighter jets to prevent an attack? Or by accident – automatic defence systems triggered by plane off course and not responding??

11 A high-tech explanation. Possibly a trial run for a 9/11-type operation? Testing 3D-printed weaponry (undetectable plastic)? Cyberjacking – using mobile phones or satellite technology to see if a plane can be taken over from the ground, comms disabled, and flown by remote control? Then ditched in the Indian Ocean (2km deep water!)? The real operation comes later?

12 Fire in the cockpit. Pilots shut down comms transponder to put out fire (WTF?? Ed.) Set course for emergency airfield, passengers, pilots and crew all overcome by smoke. (Why didn’t pilots put on emergency oxygen, then?) Autopilot flies plane on and on, out into the Indian Ocean, until it runs out of fuel. (Fails to explain why plane alters course three times… also would you not make a Mayday call BEFORE you disabled your comms?)

13 Alien abduction by traction beam. Mid-air collision with alien craft. Slipped through a wormhole into another dimension or parallel universe. Portal opened up into the future. Plane found on moon…

Actually, I’ve made up the last bit. It seemed the most probable explanation.

* Blogger ‘Gary’ (Yahoo!, 17 March) quotes an interesting report of a proposed CIA operation in the 1960s to switch a regular flight with an identical radio-controlled airliner and deliberately crash it to falsely implicate Cuba. (If that is the plan, it’s not going to work, because everyone now knows the real plane is missing! – Ed.)

Strangely, an Australian aviation expert on BBC radio this morning (17th March) claimed that the hunt for MH370 has switched to the southern ocean as the result of information supplied by US intelligence. Yet this information is only being generally reported on newswires today (20th March) as aircraft search for two ‘objects’ ‘spotted four days ago’ 1,500 miles from Perth in the Southern Ocean by an ‘Australian’ (sic) satellite…


I have just vaguely recalled that I dreamed something like this scenario about a year ago.

Post, postscriptum

Okay, I thought I could keep it going but it’s now three minutes past six pm on 31st March and we’re still no nearer finding this plane. Vast areas of ocean have been combed, intelligence satellites and planes have spotted literally tonnes of floating garbage, some of it the size of  an aircraft, none of which appears to have anything to do with Flight MH370 (so you wonder what the hell it is, then? Why are we just chucking this stuff away?Alll the recorded faint ‘pings’ have been analysed, but Malaysia is still not releasing the information they are getting from the investigating team. China is practically at war over the incompetence with which the episode is being handled by the State airline, mass protests have taken place demanding the authorities either come clean or stop putting out misinformation, especially by text messages. Numerous relatives have been interviewed saying they believe their loved ones are still alive; although we know of course that there is no air on the moon. It is all very difficult, as if you don’t know anything, it’s hard to say what it is you don’t know, without sounding as though you do know really, when all you know is that nothing is known.

Meanwhile, the days roll by.


The train now departing

The government seems determined to push through the HS2 high-speed rail line, no matter what.

This bizarre obsession with a grandiose scheme costing £50 billion, that will cause untold misery and inconvenience to thousands of people for the next fifteen years, is defended with extraordinary illogicality.

For instance, it is argued that it will solve problems of capacity on the existing network. How, exactly, will a new railway line built between London and Birmingham increase capacity on the lines to Swansea, Penzance or Norwich? Let alone on the lines where the worst capacity problems are experienced, the cattle-truck commuter services in the Southeast?

Will it not simply deliver more passengers onto trains departing from Birmingham to onward destinations, thus worsening capacity problems in the Midlands?

And how, exactly, will a line that stops at Birmingham create economic growth in the North of England – forgetting that the Southwest and Wales are also among the worst-performing, most underinvested parts of the country? Birmingham is not in the North, although I suspect few London-based politicians know that. But it is already the second wealthiest city, after London.

The aim is to extend the line to Manchester and Leeds sometime in the 2030s, but a lot can change by then. My bet is that the line won’t get beyond Birmingham, the northerly legs will be cancelled owing to rising costs. Would it not make more sense, if Northern regeneration is the aim, to start the new line at Leeds and work southwards?

And is there not in any case an argument that says the line is just as, or even more more likely to deliver additional prosperity to the South as to the North? The money following the money, as it were? Unless, that is, the service is only one-way. But it is hard to see exactly what prosperity is being talked about, and how it will be delivered. The evidence of the worldwide development of railways in the Victorian period is that prosperity may blossom around the railhead, but it is bled from communities not served by the line.

Then there is a simple point to be made about priorities. There are already adequate rail services between the various destinations proposed for HS2. To disparage them as ‘Victorian’ is disingenuous: the routes may have been laid down in the C19th, but the lines, the rolling stock and the stations — the ticket prices — are modern and could, given a fraction of the cost of HS2, be made more so.

Thanks in part to the Beeching cuts, other parts of the country are not connected to the rail network at all. Should these not be served first, and the network upgraded, before the national profit for the next fifteen years is expended on this one project, massively greedy for money and land? Should we not be focussing on high-speed broadband as a deliverer of future prosperity, rather than on wasteful physical travel?

HS2 will doubtless end up as the ‘first-class’ business service and have little to do with transporting ordinary people. It’s easy to envisage a ticket costing £200, great for MPs and business executives, local authority bigwigs and NHS managers rushing between conferences on taxpayer-funded expenses. The ordinary traveller living at either end, hoping to visit relatives or attend job interviews or go Christmas shopping or get to far-flung airports will be shunted onto the existing ‘slow line’, a third-class service for a third-class citizen; a line so starved of funds that non-paying passengers will be carried, clinging to the carriage roofs.

Has anyone supporting this incomprehensibly expensive project tried to imagine actually using the service? Apart, that is, from fantasising about the thrill of hurtling uncontrollably through a blurred green landscape at 250 miles an hour, to a place where you would probably rather not be going, hoping against hope that bored children will not have dumped a concrete block on the line during the night?

Have they, for instance, ever travelled on Eurostar’s dismayingly grotty ‘low-speed’ Channel Tunnel service, HS1, for which you have to book months in advance?

The pricing is unpredictable, fluctuating wildly according to demand, and there is seldom a seat available when you need to travel. Booking on-line is a matter of guesswork: you tell the computer when you need to travel and where from, and to; it tells you to guess again. The return journey is equally an uncertain process, with a completely different price being charged and no guarantee of seat availability at the time of your choosing.

Will this then be the model for HS2? You can’t just turn up and get on a Eurostar TGV train, you have to ‘check-in’ half-an-hour ahead of departure and be searched for contraband. It’s the train that thinks it’s an airline, only with the shabbiest decor and most uncomfortable seating imaginable. Like an airline, in fact.

Only, one that never gets off the ground.