Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Travelling during a pandemic

Hopefully most readers are not travelling at the moment. Staying put is safer and, frankly, much less stressful. I am a frequent traveller to Europe for family reasons and have experienced most things – delayed trains and planes due to failed infrastructure, sick or unregistered passengers and luggage, unruly passengers, theft of my possessions, dodgy hotels, the lot. And then there is Brexit – my passport no longer seems to get me through eGates in Germany (we’ll see if that is a one-off or permanent) and, of course, as a non-EU citizen, I can only be a country for 90 days in every 180 and am barred from working.

Now before I get ripped to shreds on my hypocrisy flying as I do but also constantly banging on about climate change, let me state the following. Travelling is for family reasons, and whilst 15 years’ ago when I first established family connections in Germany, my ignorance – despite friends warning me about my carbon footprint – meant that flying was a viable option. Clearly things have changed, but my family has not. I need to travel to be with them. During the pandemic, I have been travelling less for three reasons. First, it is quite difficult; second, it is dangerous and inappropriate (lockdowns are lockdowns after all); third, I have the privileged of being able to work from home. With regard to flying, I am an advocate of a frequent-flier levy – the more one flies, the more you pay. And exponentially. That would hit me hard financially, and rightly so. I am also hopeful now of structural changes that will enable me to travel more often – or always – by train. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can work remotely. I am healthier and less stressed because of it. We will see how committed employers are to the permanent change in the future. I am hopeful, but not convinced. There is also talk of a new Trans-Europe Express to help people to move across Europe without planes.

What follows is an account of my experience to help others. Having travelled for many years, there are many like me who have family on the continent.

View from Hilton hotel, Hatton CrossI passed through Heathrow airport on Sunday evening (14 February). I travelled with British Airways – currently offering 2 flights per week Munich – London. Originally I was scheduled to come back the previous day with easyJet, but that plane was cancelled, with the next scheduled option being sometime in March. On 18 January, the British Government imposed a requirement of a negative Covid test on all arrivals. That was fine, but an extra task to fulfil prior to travelling. Travelling on a Sunday meant that I took the test on the previous Thursday giving enough time for the result to be notified assuming that weekend lab work is not likely. Sunday was, hence, the last day of validity for the test. If the plane did not go on Sunday, I’d have to take another test (€130). 

The plane arrived at its stand an hour before departure. The plane was fully boarded (busy but not full) at the scheduled departure time, 1745. But we were 45 minutes late pushing back from the stand due to an administrative error at the gate. Munich Airport would not allow the plane to go until everything was in order. Fair enough, I suppose. After being pushed back we waited motionless for about 10 minutes before the pilot announced that the plane had been damaged in the pushback. Engineers were called. 2 hours later, authorisation was given to fly.

I do not live anywhere near Heathrow Airport, and it being Sunday, the UK railway network enjoyed its usual scattering of engineering works, including on my routes home. If I was able to catch the last train/bus home, I expected to be back about 0300 – not a great prospect. But UK borders are never straightforward, and particularly with the need to demonstrate a negative Covid test and a valid passenger locator form (which includes payment of £210 for two Variant tests to be delivered to one’s home 2 and 5 days after arrival). Even though the arrivals are few, the border area was full and a long queue that snaked its way back and forth was created. Familiar image. Mingle, mingle, mingle.

The eGates were open as additional security staff were checking the documentation. My passport was rejected by the eGates and IHotel breakfast had to stand in another queue to be approved by a border official – there was only one on duty. In total, I was about 1 hour getting across the border. I decided to take a hotel rather than attempt the journey home. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel at Hatton Cross (close to the Tube Station). Hotel prices are half of what one would normally pay, so that was not too onerous, though still a cost. The view (above left) was a shade dystopian, however. But I recommend the hotel if readers are ever in the same position. I bought breakfast – one retrieves it from the kitchen and consume it in one’s room. It was fine (right).

On Monday (15 February 2021) I was able to travel to the South Coast of England. The Tube and overland trains were largely quiet. I am now observing an obligatory 10 days’ quarantine. I stocked up on non-perishables before I departed, so I have most of what I need for the duration. Safe travels.

Camel goes wild

Camel cigarette packetThe genius of marketers. Here we go, Camel leveraging its brand with an animal edition – not just camels anymore, but pandas, big cats, sea lions, octopus and other Tiere (animals) – perfect for a play on words Limitiert! Unbelievably clever. The product remains the same. Deadly.

The welcome return of a pack of 20

It is not entirely clear why cigarette advertising in Germany has been absent for most of the year. Obviously the pandemic has been significant – fewer people out-of-doors to see the posters. The marketing of e-cigarettes, too, is part of the story. The new modes of delivery are often owned by the same companies and the campaign budgets are being redirected.

So, it was a absolute delight – and surprise to see that Gauloises, the French brand owned by Imperial Tobacco – back on the streets. And what is more, still marketing under the Vive le Moment tag. And normal packets, too.

Of course the poster is the tried-and-tested. An attractive young woman (not yet with the mouth ulcers, discoloured teeth and diseased skin) sits with her feet up in a yard to an urban apartment – in Paris obviously. She is holding a cigarette that has just been lit. The tagline is “Für Momente, die dir gehören” – roughly translated as “for the moments you own”.

Classic advertising. But I tell you, for those moments, my thoughts do not turn to products that have a concentration of toxic chemicals in them. With the virus around there is enough trying to kill me without cigarettes adding to it. Or is it that the relatively young, need a helping hand with this death thing as the virus does not seem to be enough? 

Cigarette advertising post-Covid lockdown

The last post I made on cigarette advertising in Germany was 10 February, just before Germany went into lockdown. Even then, I thought that cigarette advertising was on the wane and we were unlikely to see big cigarette campaigns by the big brands. One of the reasons for this was the growth of e-cigarettes. Campaign budgets were being transferred from authentic killing to massaged killing. The clearest indicator of that is the warning at the bottom of each advertisement. Traditional cigarette advertising (bottom right) says “smoking is deadly”. Advertising for the new delivery method of super-heated tobacco says “this way of smoking can damage your health and make you dependent”. And to demonstrate how cool we are – and is this method of killing or maiming otherwise healthy people, let’s have a picture of an attractive women who nicely illustrates the product “glo”. The important thing for the tobacco company behind it, British American Tobacco, is that it is real tobacco from real tobacco plants, with real killer chemicals.

I have been out-and-about in Munich recently. Finally, I found a couple of cigarette advertising posters. Take the first one (right), I may have got the translation wrong, but maybe the packet is big enough to act as a parasol? Ho ho ho! There is some double meaning there that defeats me with my limited translation skills. Actually, I think one could actually live in the box, let alone use it as a parasol.

The second poster (left) goes for the time theme. If I am reading it right, there are so many cigarettes in the packet that in getting through them one has the time to name some woman? Again, this may well be marketing genius, but I am happy with my failure to appreciate perceived marketing cleverness on products that are designed to kill and maim.

Posh hotels

We’ve been revisiting the television recently. We’ve done the ten episodes of The Great British Sewing Bee. I finally got round to watching the extraordinary story of the Shah of Iran’s extravagant and delusional party in the desert back in 1971. But the other night we fancied something extremely light and un-challenging. So we went for the BBC’s Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby featuring Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps. Unfortunately, this was challenging. I am writing this now because the impact is still festering.

presentersThe concept of the programme is that two presenters go to posh hotels all around the world and muck-in, as it were, whilst giving the hotel a priceless chunk of advertising. The presenters (left) are Monica Galetti – a real-life chef, and Giles Coren – a sometimes controversial columnist with, by his own admission, an opinion “on just about everything”. This mucking-in, or as the publicity for the series has it, “rolling up their sleeves” is excruciating. Coren, in this episode, trying to learn towel flapping in a sauna is a case in point.

I tried to book a room at the hotel. The off-peak prices were about 3000 Euros for a couple of nights for two. But for that you get fed twice a day, access to a spa and a series of temperate pools inside and outside, accessible all year round, libraries and a bookshop (that is a nice touch), lounges and generously-sized rooms with views. Stunning views. It is also unique in that it is a music venue. Some of the world’s most eminent classical musicians play there (and have done so since 1959) on a “stay and play” basis. So the owner, Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, when asked what is the core theme of the hotel, he took them to the music room. It is extraordinary. Oh, and the G7 met there in 2015.

Summary – culture and well-being. At a price. What is my gripe, then?

Notwithstanding the extraordinary publicity granted a private business on a public broadcaster, and the format of the programme – mucking-in – there is an elephant in the room. It is probably true of all in the series and not exclusive to Schloss Elmau. And that elephant is sustainability.

At no point was there any discussion about the carbon footprint of this place. I cannot begin to imagine just how much carbon it generates from heating, the spa, the kitchens and, of course, getting people there. Whilst there is a train 7km away, I doubt it is the primary mode for visitors, especially in the winter. We had a look at the menus for the five restaurants. It all looked rather meaty. Just adding, of course, to the carbon footprint. Now bearing in mind the hotel had a devastating fire in 2005 and was largely rebuilt to meet the vision of Mueller-Elmau, one might have thought that there was a potential sustainability story to be told. Maybe there was, and the BBC just edited it out. I sense the producers and editors just loved Muller-Elmau’s declaration of delight when the hotel burned down and the opportunity it presented. I have no idea to what standard of sustainability the hotel was rebuilt.

That leads to the BBC and any other broad or narrow caster. Sustainability needs to be central to the theme of these programmes. OK, I can be a voyeuristic as the next person on how the “other half” lives, but at least put a carbon price on it. Or maybe the next series is about hotels that are sustainable, have been built or rebuilt to be sustainable – carbon neutral. Maybe it is time to promote them. Or if Schloss Elmau is sustainable, tell that story. Amazing hotels, I fear, come at a price much higher than what comes out of my bank account to visit.

Photo: BBC

Pillar boxes and buses

On 21 March I uploaded my first pictures from my new project, Pillar Boxes and Buses. So, the challenge is, photograph UK pillar boxes with the added challenge of getting a bus, preferably one that is moving, inpillarbox the frame, too. My latest reel of film came back today with mixed results. First is a curious box – it is actually embedded into a gatepost of one of the large houses on Marina, in St Leonard’s on Sea, Sussex. Currently there is one bus per hour in each direction on the 99 route. The shot has the added complication of lots of parked cars and scaffolding. The results are not great (right) but I’ll be back with a faster film that should help with the depth of view (50mm lens, 200asa film and shutter speed of 250th sec f11; 2 April 2020 at 1830). The bus is a ADL Enviro200. The Stagecoach Hastings fleet can be found here.

pillar boxMoving on to Rock-a-nore in Hastings. This one (left) is a free standing GR VI box taken on 21 March in the early evening. There was just not enough light to get the shutter speed fast enough to catch the bus, but actually the motion is quite good. The bus in question was a ADL Enviro200 (Hastings Arrows livery).

 

 

Then on to a box that has been intriguing me for a few days. It is located on Hastings Road in Bexhill close to the Ravensdale trading estate. What is so wonderful about this box is that at a certain time in the day, the sun illuminates it like a spotlight on a performer in a theatre. So, to do it justice I needed a sunny evening and no one really in the way (it is popular with joggers, though I am not sure why. This effort (top right) dates from 24 April at 1845, again with a shutter speed of 250th second, f11, film speed 200 asa. The two additional shots are taken at the same time on the two subsequent evenings. pillar boxpillarpillar
pillar box Next is me revisiting the relatively small free-standing box outside the now dis-used post office on Cambridge Road in Hastings As noted in my earlier entry in November, it serves as a reminder of how post offices are being assimilated into more traditional retail outlets – for better or worse. Anyway, here it is with a bus in the background which I take to be a Scania N230UD ADL Enviro400!
Still in Hastings, this is Queen’s Road, a central loading area opposite Priory Meadow Mall. The box is classic ER Type B. The buses, Scania N230UD ADL Enviro400 (double decker) and ADL Enviro200 (Hastings Arrows livery). pillar
pillar I work in Brighton, and the bus-pillar box opportunities there are substantial. This is the Avenue off Lewes Road in the North East of the town. The box is a classic GR example. The bus is a Volvo Wright Gemini B9TL DP43/28F Built 2013.  Anyone interested in the B&H fleet should go here.

I have a bit of research to do on my pillar boxes now. Some have design names, others seem not to. If I am going to do this right, I need to be adequately informed.

Climate Watch: update on airlines

As predicted, the airline industry is now trying to wriggle out of its commitments on carbon emissions and climate change. Only last month, the industry agreed a protocol whereby airlines would pay to increase carbon emissions (through offsetting) based on some sort of average for 2019 and 2020. As we now know, 2020 will be a record low carbon year, and the airlines, many of which have all planes grounded because of Covid-19, are now saying that committing to this new level would make them bankrupt, notwithstanding that many of them are already.

To be fair, the industry body, ICAO, has not yet shifted, but it is being lobbied hard – understandably – by airlines to re-evaluate the threshold. Seemingly, it was already going to cost the industry between £4bn and £18bn (not much of a difference there, is there?) – which just goes to show how much more carbon they intended to put into the environment on growth projections (now, of course, unlikely).

And then there is easyJet. Readers may already have been following the story of how founder and major shareholder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, wants the firm to cancel its order for 107 Airbus A320 Neos, planes that are necessary if easyJet is to meet its targets for carbon reduction. However, for Haji-Ioannou, that is no longer viable. By which he means under the current easyJet and industry business model and not under an ICAO – or other – environmental commitment. At what point does he smell the coffee?

Pic: Adrian Pingstone

Shareholders against the planet – knowingly or unknowingly

Stelios Haji-Ioannou (right) is founder and major shareholder (about 34 per cent) in easyJet, the budget airline. When he established the airline that challenged incumbent “full-service” airlines back in 1995, climate change was not well understood in business circles (though as we know, the science was maturing and the Earth summit had taken place 3 years’ earlier in Rio). Easyjet is now a very large airline with over 300 aircraft and a market capitalisation of £4bn.

In recent times airlines have become environmental villains responsible for almost 3 per cent of all carbon emissions (and about 12 per cent of all emissions from transport). The low-cost model of easyJet and others has encouraged travel and made it possible to commute over long distances. This has been regarded as a good thing economically. A global pandemic, however, sees airlines at the forefront of a new battle against another invisible enemy, Covid-19. That market capitalisation has collapsed, and the 300 aircraft grounded indefinitely. Easyjet – along with other airlines – may well seek state aid to support the business through the crisis.

The question of state aid for airlines – major contributors to climate emissions and hence climate change – puts the Government in a difficult position. Neo-Liberal Governments like that in the UK are generally opposed to state support. Indeed they do not even protect strategic industries and businesses from foreign buyers. So any support eventually given to scheduled airlines serving a free market (I accept that some airlines serve niche, fragile and social markets such as Logan Air) will challenge neo-liberal ideology and raise questions about ministers’ proximity to business leaders in the industry. Cash transfers to easyJet would lead to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic receiving similar. That would be difficult to countenance.

The management at easyJet now has an added problem. Knowing full well that their industry is a problem in the carbon economy, there are two – what one calls – mitigating policies. One is more effective that the other, but neither are a solution. The first is offsetting; in the easyJet case, that involves committing to planting trees, though there are many offset schemes that involve investing in developing countries’ own mitigation policies. The second is buying a fleet of more efficient aeroplanes. Easyjet has opted for a fleet of Airbus A320 Neos and they are arriving in batches.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou is not, seemingly, very happy with this. He is now calling for the whole order to be cancelled. He believes, with some justification, seemingly, that the order threatens the solvency of the company. Moreover, as Nils Pratley in the Guardian writes, the company may need to be recapitalised: “Haji-Ioannou says he would support a rights issue – as he should given that his family has collected £620m in dividends since 2011, including £60m this month – but he is vowing to make his backing dependent on an Airbus cancellation. Given the size of his shareholding, he has some clout.”

So here is the conflict of capitalism laid bare. Without the new planes the company will see carbon emissions increase and probably be subject to some regulation or tax (or both). The company will also lose considerable customer credibility on anything it says in the future about caring for the environment. But with the planes, at best shareholders will have to recapitalise, at worst, the company goes under. Plus, very rich man determines the future of the planet. Which side are you on?

Picture: Audiopedia

Just when I thought there would be no more cigarette advertising

Then Lucky Strike emerges with an old campaign.  The “show the packet and then write something nonsensical” campaign is back. Eine für Länger. Als Eine Nacht seems to defy translation. One for longer. As a night? Even native speakers make no sense of it. This is no fun. Where are the beautiful people with cigarettes? Where are the people in bathtubs? The zest for life and inevitable death? The attitude? Come on, if cigarette advertising is back, make it interesting.

Left Luggage Facilities, Köln Hauptbahnhof

There was a time when the left luggage facilities at Köln Hauptbahnhof were the coolest anywhere in Europe with their wacky underground storage mechanism. No more. A brief update, they have been replaced by more conventional storage lockers, though compensated by making them multi-coloured (left).

A sad passing.