Wednesday, August 29, 2007

That BioLuminescence

In a previous blog I referred to the bioluminescence which was lighting up the waves at Manly. By the time I got back there a couple of nights later with a camera the show had subsided and while the electric shocks were still flashing through the water they were not as frequent. And a camcorder is not the best device for grabbing those sorts of views. But the attached few seconds give you an idea about how spectacular it was - there are some initial glimmers across the tops of the breaking waves and then throughout the wave as it breaks. The dinoflagellate which cause this are marine plankton and in this case are apparently associated with the red algae we have floating off the coast at the moment.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Double Fechr Blog Promotion

I decided a while ago that this forum is really aimed at well, me. It's useful mix of journal and writing and other creativity though there are many more hours I could spend in here! But that decision meant I have stayed away from trying to place Google ads and all of that sort of stuff. I have not really focused on getting a lot of online attention although there is now a regular round of readers and visitors - repeat visitors are flattering, let's be honest. However many of those visitors first picked up on Pickled Eel when Bobby at Bestest Blog got me some pretty broad spectrum coverage through his site. After something of a hiatus he is back with a new promotion tool which is worth having a look at. Linked here is (pronounced Feature) which gives you 24 hours of intense exposure for no cost (at the moment) - a double fechr whichever way you look at it.

A Japanese Haircut

I was only looking for a straightforward haircut, much like this young bloke is getting from his Dad. (Didn’t we all hate haircuts from our Dad?! Dad to kid with hacked hair “Hey, what’s the difference between a good and a bad haircut?” Silent pause. “Two weeks! Ha, hah. Now put the clippers away for me will you?” Would have gladly thrown them down an offal pit). (I reckon this kid is glaring at his siblings who are laughing behind Dad - who also has a grin which was never a good sign). Anyway, best get off the couch. Had a meeting in Tokyo with some senior executives of Matsushita (who own Panasonic among other things). Decided I was looking a bit woolly and needed a tidy up. So I walked into the first hairdresser I could find next to the hotel. My Japanese was limited to Toyota, Hiroshima, Sony, Suzuki – you get the idea. Their English was limited to nervous giggles. I signed with scissoring fingers that I needed a haircut. The very cute receptionist nodded and bowed vigorously then showed me into a very sharp waiting room. Glass and leather, mirrors and chrome. She then gave me a bottle of water. That should have been my cue that I was going to be there a long time. From that point on I was treated like a cross between an invalid and a rock star. I was wheeled in my chair from station to station. Shampoo here, lather there, rinse over there, more goop there, massage somewhere else, pause and read Japanese fashion magazines for fifteen minutes in the middle of the shop (with no glasses – they had been taken off me, carefully folded in a cloth and locked away in their own little safety deposit box). Giggling ride somewhere else (dark this time, with strobes), another massage and rinse. After an hour and half someone tentatively approaches me with scissors. They clip away for moment or two before their role is complete and someone else steps in with golden scissors and clips up the back. A girl in a revealing bib and brace set of overalls swans in and clips the hair off the top before someone has a go at the sides. Then a wash and rinse again. More goop. Another massage. A vigorous toweling. A long and studied examination by three or four as my hair is brushed into shape (basic short back and sides!!) before being wheeled, after two hours, to the reception where I am looked at expectantly by a small crowd of workers. It took a few moments for me to realise I was finally free. That I was allowed out of the chair. I opened my wallet dreading what this was going to cost. Twenty dollars!! I could scarce believe it. I fled up the street to the hotel laughing at the experience but after seven bottles of water I was desperate for a bathroom. I was not game to ask where theirs was – it might have invited another couple of hours of, well, washing and rinsing!!
Tokyo, Japan 2002

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Drug Arm Proposition

Our team hit the streets again last night and we patrolled the northern beaches, checking out some new sites and visiting the well known haunts of kids (and older) who find themselves at a drunk or high loose end on Saturday night. It was very quiet, even though the weather was decidedly warmer and the wind had dropped. In fact the ocean was almost a dead calm. We soon found our way down to Manly where we found a police car camped at our usual park. We pulled in beside them but the police are a sure fire deterrent to kids who might want to talk to us about drug and alcohol issues. They left after a few minutes but “traffic” was still slow. Then we were treated to two highlights.

The first had nothing to do with what we were doing but was merely a factor of being where we were – as we watched the surf we noticed that with increasing frequency waves were being lit from inside by what looked like lightening strikes of green light, Some incredibly bright and spectacular shows. Bio luminescence at work. I have never seen any thing like it.

And I had never seen anything like the large woman who, with a complete skinful, in her late forties or so – hard to tell sometimes – turned up with her battered scallops clasped in one hand and in a drunken rasping voice asked for a cup of hot chocolate. As I was whisking that up for her she decided a hot drink was not enough and asked for a cuddle. My colleagues were appalled. I had to decline this advance, which was followed by a few more requests, on the basis that cuddles were only issued on week days, not weekends. As she processed that we quickly packed up and did a bolt up the road to where earlier we had seen a group of kids. Drunk teenagers, one of whom then tried to steal our light, were a far safer proposition than her insistent overtures. And we were able to share with them our wonder of the sparkling, glowing surf.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

1788 Connection with Kensington

(Notes from a Kensington Coffee Shop - across from the St Mary Abbots Church)

Moss leaks down the stone in green shadows, crowning the heads of stone characters in a very hip luminescence which would earn high praise in the night club across the High Street. From outside, the stained windows are slate black and their colour is lost to us. The sun pokes through occasionally and with the help of the stirring maple trees dapples the stone and windows in blotches of moving light, drawing soft oranges and blues from the windows and lightening the stone, giving it life.

Kensington rushes past Francis Hepburn , buried here in February 1788, the year the First Fleet arrived in Australia. As I rub the dirt and leaves from the engraved letters of her name there is a surreal moment of compressed time and a strange connection made with this place, based on those dates. While Kensington bustled about its ordinary business and Francis was but a month from her grave Sydney cove watched in silence and wonder at the apparition of the fleet - soon proven to be real enough. What was happening in this parish while the fleet was settling into Sydney Cove? The connection seems all the more real for the current existence of this church building, linking time, place and visitor in a surreal way, with the help of Francis' passing. I wonder what she would make of my musing on her helping make a connection with this place.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Australian War Memorial Me109

And chasing G for George (see previous post) is this Me109. Still working on those Canberra highlights!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lancaster Bomber G for George

Canberra, pronounced "Canbra" by locals and properly by everyone outside the country, is a large country town which we otherwise defer to as our capital city. It is home to an outstanding war memorial - the Australian War Memorial no less. It does an excellent job of being a memorial to our fallen and to visit is a moving experience. When I first went to live in Canbra in 1981 every spare day (I was a shiftworker in those days) was spent wandering the halls and absorbing the history. And burning off numerous rolls of 35mm film in bad light. In pride of place was G for George, an iconic aircraft which flew 88 missions from 1942 as part of 460 SQN RAAF. More than 200 crew flew in her and her survival made her famous - as did her return to Australia as part of a war bond drive. Now she is "airborne" in the War memorial in a new, spectacular, world class hall dedicated to some amazing aircraft and all set up in a very "live" environment. The hall alone is worth the visit. It is one excellent reason to visit Canberra. There are a few others but I need a few days to remember what they are. I'll get back to you on that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

View from a Doha Rooftop

The boys are setting up the wide screen. A dodgy connector is slowing us down. So I take my lime and cold water up onto the roof and step around the water containers and sat dishes and make my way to the edge. The sun has just gone down and a heavy haze of dust and fumes hangs on the horizon, speckled orange by the faded sun. It is just a little over 48 degrees and nothing moves. There is no sound, for we are deep in the burbs and there is no traffic that I can discern. The flip flop scuff of someones sandals alerts me to someone heading to the mosque. Its the only movement and sound. No birds. No dogs barking. Its too hot for any of that. As the night comes on and the sky softens the lads come upstairs and join me. Our glasses rain a small shower over our hands and onto the roof. We are stupefied by the heat and dominated by the silence. And captivated by the serenity of it all. Then the pizza arrives on a clattering push bike which dispels the magic and I am told the big screen is up and running after all. So we carefully make our way down the ladder and settle in to watch something so memorable I can't recall it the next day!!
April 2005

Hong Kong Waterfront

I am not sure what to make of Hong Kong. There is something about all that glass and steel which is very appealing. But the Kowloon markets, alleys, narrow streets, dodgy goods, poor lighting, gazillion product types, and general hawker atmosphere that tugs even more firmly at my sensibilities than the western elements of this town. Perhaps in the end it is an amalgam of all these things that make Hong Kong unique.

Late last night I wandered the fish markets, comprised mainly of hawkers trying to offload eels from their wicker baskets. Maybe at the end of the day it is only eels that are left. It still has a flavour of the old Hong Kong about it, and that illusion can be maintained as long as you don't let your gaze lift too far from the baskets and shrivelled old ladies trying to sell you something live and jumpy - else you find yourself looking into the windows of five star hotels. A few short blocks away I met and chatted with a young man who was standing at a deserted wharf, not far from a cruise ship, with a small roll of line and attempting to snare the smallest of harbour fish. He was not doing it for a meal but for the recreation. (I thought, unkindly, he needed a trip to far north Queensland to get some trevally on his line). But we enjoyed a conversation usually shared by fishermen - bait., lines, hooks, family who don't understand. A universal language. I left him with nothing in his bucket but a hopeful look was on his face.

This afternoon I wandered in blistering heat along the waterfront and mixed with the nouveau rich, of which there were thousands, all walking with the disbelieving air of having made it from the mainland to Hong Kong. And were wondering what all the fuss was about. In the heat of the day the waterfront was a baking oven with the occasional jarring icon out on display. This evening it came alive with crowds, ice cream, coke and a carnival atmosphere. But only the Chinese seem to be able to create a carnival atmosphere while they all mill around and look at each other.
September 2004

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hard and Buff Kitbag

This travel advice, intended to make your vacation (sorry, evection) all the smoother by removing the aggravation associated with creased clothes, and other issues to do with packing garments is a little gem that has been floating around in my PC for years. I have always wondered what the doohickey is and what dictionary provided such a translation. And I can only imagine that your adversary is the person you just spent 14 hours sitting next to in cattle class. Hit them with your hard and buff kitbag - but only if the airline has not lost it. Enjoy.(p.s. click on the image to yield a readable version)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Moslem Culture in Qatar

The community mosques, as distinct from the large buildings in the middle of the cities, are just that, focused on their communities. They are places of worship but are open centres of community life as well. OK, at least for the men. I remember talking with some men exiting a mosque in the markets of Dubai. They had been there for prayers but had stayed on to drink coffee and to chat, and to take some business lessons. Business lessons?! Someone in the congregation was touting his business acumen for free and attempting to help the less fortunate with whom he rubbed shoulders.

There are some wonderful mosques in Qatar but as with other places in the Middle East it seems that the smaller ones are the more interesting ones. The ones with most community interaction. That located in the middle of Doha had all sorts of activities happening in the evening, helped I suspect by being located just across the road from the markets. But by the time I walked past it on the last night of my visit it was quiet and the doors closed. Like most mosques they take on another air at night and many are lit to show off their lines and colour. With a full moon out, the mosque and its towers were nicely showcased. In the heat of the night I stopped for quite a while and watched the moon shift its way around the towers. To go back to the hotel room seemed sacrilegious and I was in no hurry to go back there.

April 2005

Qatar: Dig a Little and Unearth the Local

Qatar is another one of those booming places in the Middle East that are a strange mix of old, ancient, modern, Arab and American. All popping up out of the desert. I walked this evening from the hotel, parked on the waters edge, out through the dark to a shopping mall. It was like walking through a new housing estate, with new roads laid out and services installed, street lights installed, palms planted and gently clicking in the slight breeze, but with houses yet to be built. In the middle distance I could see a large, unlit, multistory block house that I was told was the shopping centre. I wandered across a vacant lot, sinking into talc like dust and sand, plopping along creating my own mini sandstorm. The sun had sunk into a saffron sky a few hours earlier but the stifling heat meant I was carefully pacing myself. Stepping inside the mall was like stepping into another world - from the velvet quiet of the night to the blurring speed of a hectic mall, with thousands shopping or making the most of the airconditioning.

But I did not come here to get lost in Western style malls. I had the good fortune today to be taken, during our lunch break, out to the fish markets. These are well and truly away from the regular tourist beat and they even took our local contact a while to unearth. That they were so far from the water was not a good sign. But here was local colour and smell, characters who eyed us warily and others who hammed it up for us. Naturally they were disappointed we were not buying. But in this heat, with no, or very little ice, you had to be quick to get in front of the locals who were snapping them up as quickly as they were cleaned and whisking them away. I hope they were taking them away to be chilled. Cleaned by an expert if not surly looking team of cleaners who gutted and scaled in a blur of movement that was a little disconcerting.

April 2005

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Starbucks Religious Police

I am often confronted by people who are surprised I want to travel to Saudi, or other places in the Middle East. There is an assumption that it is not safe. Saudi is as safe as most other places and I was able to walk the streets late at night without any concern for my safety, other than that too often there are no sidewalks.

The religious police are another matter. I was warned to be careful around them but was not sure what that really meant. What the warning really meant was that they are an unpredictable lot with no set guide about what they are supposed to police. Any enthusiast can be a member of the religious police and you need nothing by way of training except the passion of a zealot. In any community that is a dangerous thing.

I was sitting outside a Starbucks enjoying a slice of cake and an iced coffee. It was 48degrees C (118 Fahrenheit) and the still dry air was being offset slightly by a fine mist blowing across the tables. I had tried sitting inside but the air conditioning was turned to the other extreme, to 15 degrees C. The heat was a better option. As I sat down with my drink I was vaguely aware of all the mosques in the area starting their calls to prayer. A couple of people got up and moved off. The store was supposed to shut operations for the time of prayer but did not and the crowd I was with continued to drink and socialise. Two very large Hummers had just turned up and disgorged small crowds of young men who milled around talking and joking and ordering coffee.

Suddenly, without any warning at all a Landcruiser crashed up over the sidewalk and stopped among the tables. Out piled a team of religious police waving their canes (one had a length of pipe). The Hummers evacuated in a heartbeat (though I saw them cruise past a few minutes later checking things out) and the crowd scattered for their cars. I heard the doors behind me snap shut and locks clattered home. The misters stopped misting. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights in Starbucks flick off and the last of the staff vanish out the back. Suddenly I was on my own, with a coffee and journal and all these religious police.

For a moment of foolishness I fancied I would finish the coffee, continue the journal and ignore these guys. After all, business would be humming again in twenty minutes and the circling Hummers would reappear and start over (the theory is that the police chase you off to prayers but they are like dogs disturbing seagulls - everything mills around while they bark but once gone everything settles into the original routine).

In my case my theory evaporated very quickly. I was their only target and they were not impressed with my insouciance. Never mind that I was a visitor. Or that I was a non Muslim. Even my line about not knowing there whereabouts of a local mosque was lost on them. In the end they trailed me the thirty minute walk back to my hotel. The only pedestrian and the only vehicle on the road for about ten minutes of the walk. It was not the most comfortable of ambles - and amble I did, just to keep them crawling. Only a visitor, but without a Hummer with which to circle, I needed some other way to fight back.

By the time I got back to the hotel prayers were over and everyone was out and about again. After a quick lap of the foyer I walked back to Starbucks and finished my refreshments. From this point on of course I moved when all the other sardines moved and made sure I stayed lost in the crowd. Being alone with those zealots was not something I wanted to invite on myself again.

Girls of Riyadh

The book was making some noise last month, even though it was published more than a year ago. I confess to not reading it but the attention this book gets reminds me of the cultural differences that exist in a place like Saudi. For all its Western ways, and veneer, there are some things that happen under the surface that should not surprise anyone - but they do when they are revealed.

Some of those differences are intriguing. If you think of our own culture and then remove women from every facet of life, other than seeing them in the shopping malls, you start to get an idea of the main and obvious difference. No women in any of the businesses you deal with. Absolutely no women behind counters. Not even the perfumery or lingerie sections. That was something I never really got used to seeing. In some malls specialising in fabrics I saw material that was so luxurious and lush I was amazed that it was completely outside my ken - even outside any of my New York 5th Avenue experiences. Colours and sensations that I have never seen anywhere else. In bolts of cloth but especially turned into gorgeous garments. And not a single woman around to measure, fit or entice. Weird really. Almost as weird as having to stand in a "men only" line to pick up my burgers and fries in a food court. Women and children in another line, although some outlets are now allowing families to line up together - radical stuff. And if you want some idea about the challenges young men have in shopping malls this article from Arab News captures the weirdness nicely.

After a few visits to the Kingdom a Saudi colleague, who I had gotten to know well, confided the more well to do women in this place, though apparently repressed (can't drive, work, move about on their own, have to take care when out shopping that their intentions are not misunderstood, even under all that black cloth) can live a very colourful, even hedonistic lifestyle. There are all sorts of undercurrents if you know where to look, which I guess is part of the point of the book by Rajaa Alsanea.

To help make his point he took me down to one of the shopping malls and suggested we wait at the parcel pick up drive-through. In a short period of time he pointed out to me a well tinted car drive past with a cell number in the window. He reappeared about five minutes later and helped a woman with her shopping and they drove off. No big deal except this was one way young men and women can meet each other (euphemism for "can have sex") without the religious police, or their families knowing about it. If, when he drove past, she liked the look of him (or his car) she simply called his cell phone and he drove around the block to pick her and her shopping up. Then its off out into the desert for some dessert.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that this will happen in a society that so assiduously represses sections of its community. You can't be appalled by it. Indeed, there was a part of me that applauded their inventiveness and nerve - it was happening under the noses of the religious police, who all behave as if anything pleasurable is a sin. Even a cup of coffee. My bet is that as teenagers they never got a call on their cell phones when they drove past in their hot yellow, black tinted Supras.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Network Heaven`

Remember these two? Maybe not. Visit them here. Two girlfriends, orphaned in the streets of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. They come to mind again as I help Anne with her work at Network Heaven. A few years ago she stumbled over an opportunity to donate corporate goods, otherwise headed for the rubbish dump for minor quality infractions, to the poor and needy in places like Sri Lanka. Hence the emphasis placed on "network" - and for many of the recipients of her work it has indeed been a little taste of heaven. There are some quite amazing stories of how even simple things like unwanted golf umbrellas helped street vendors stay out of the sun after their stalls were washed away after the Asian Tsunami. Its all very inspiring stuff and aimed squarely at the likes of these two kids in the markets of Sanaa. Anne now has a blog that is telling a bit of the story. Its worth a little bit of "travel" to get across and have a look at what she is doing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sydney or Melbourne?

Getting more attention in the Sydney Morning Herald today than the collapse in the share market is the news that Robert de Niro has snubbed Sydney and elected Melbourne as the site of his Tribeca restaurant, Nobu. de Niro may well settle his refined nosh shop in Melbourne for all the right reasons and I am not one to argue with him. But having lived in both places, and being a son of neither, it seemed like an opportune time to list those things that make this town (Sydney) a whole lot more appealing than our southern sister. OK, so it's a perennial debate that everyone gets sick of hearing and we all like to think we are mature enough to ignore. But there is a secret part of Sydney-siders that truly believes the best view of Melbourne is in the rearview mirror (I do have a photo of same!) and we just can't help ourselves.

That harbour - you just can't go past Sydney Harbour for sheer beauty. Its a crown jewel to be sure and we all bask in its glory.

Its a working harbour. Not as much as it was but cargo vessels still push in and out and warships, including visiting US aircraft carriers, are regular sights. That hustle and bustle on the water is a pulse that is part of the city.

The pulse. Period. This is one place that lets you know it has a heart. An intangible thing but the zest of this town is part of its appeal. If you want quiet (and that is OK by me) then Melbourne is a better choice.

The icons. Walking into town across the coathanger (Sydney Harbour Bridge) is a perpetual delight. That working harbour beneath your feet is some of the appeal of that walk. And drinks last Wednesday evening in the Opera House as the sun set into the far reaches of the harbour has nothing comparable. Anywhere.

Real beaches. With real waves. Right on our doorstep. None of this driving three or four hours to find the surf. The smell of the salt air and the roaring southerlies that whip us around in late winter, early spring all add to the zest.

We have our seasons when we are supposed to have them. The "four seasons in one day" cliche about Melbourne is, sadly, true. Regardless of the time of the year. Not their fault I guess but I do enjoy the temperate climes and humid summers we have in this town.

Have I mentioned the Harbour? A ferry ride up to Manly. The occasional whale or two in it. Drinks at Manly. Or Bondi. Thai octopus salad by the water. Visiting the zoo which sits on the water line. The bush fringe that circles a large portion of the harbour and gives a garden feel to the place.

That bush pushes its way into many parts of the city - and I live in an area that is blessed by plenty of bush and all its attendant critters - parrots, possums, bandicoots, - and spiders and snakes. Best of all, I don't have to drive out of town to enjoy any of that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Japanese Kill Sailors - Then Shake Hands

I understand those of my grandfathers generation who never wanted to speak about the Japanese (or Germans) or only spoke about them with hatred. But I am always moved by those who experienced those times and who have been able to get past the wrongs, and if unable to forgive, are at least able to make up. There are numerous stories about former adversaries who have not only made up but who have been active in social programs in each others countries building something positive and of use to the citizens. A story of a group of Australian soldiers going to Japan after the war and building an orphanage comes to mind - at a time when everyone else was screaming for revenge.

in 1942 the Japanese took a couple of torpedo shots at USS Chicago moored in Sydney Harbour, missed and killed 21 sailors quartered in a ferry. The only living survivor, Neil Roberts, is seen here yesterday shaking the hands of the younger brother of the commander of that submarine, which had recently been located sunk off the Australian coast. Who can't be moved by that image and understand there is more power in forgiveness than there is in revenge?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Camel Headshot Marks the 200th Post

I arrived back in Australia today and opened an email from younger brother who previously featured with his latest toy at this post. This photo, down from the Northern Territory, shows him with another toy - a Ruger 30-06 in stainless steel. And the end result of messing with that toy - if you are a camel that is. Now a feral pest in Australia these things are also exported to the Middle East, live and in sauce. Did you know Australia has the largest camel population in the world? More Australian camel data than you can eat just here. A photo that is about as far away from London, New York and San Francisco as you can get. A part of me is glad of that. All I have to do is stop talking about going up there and do it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire

I woke this morning to find a copy of the NYT at the door - unusual in San Francisco where you normally get a wheelbarrow load of state and local papers. Mainly full of advertising. Anyway, the NYT carried an article about how the Chinese, impatient for the release of the final volume of Harry Potter, have been writing their own endings and circulating and publishing them. And of course they have been up to their usual tricks - scanning and copying and printing their own copies of the originals.

But what caught my eye were the titles of complete books they have been working up on their own. Their titles are so perfectly Chinese and make me laugh (its funny whilever they are illegally reproducing someone elses material I guess). Some of the basis of that humour lies in the fact that this is no attempt on the part of the Chinese to create humour - these are titles produced in earnest good faith. They include:

  • Harry Potter and the Half Blooded Relative Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon
  • Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire
  • Harry Potter and the Young Heroes
  • Harry Potter and the Showdown
  • Harry Potter and the Big Funnel
  • Harry Potter and the Chinese Porcelain Doll
  • Harry Potter and the Leopard-Walk-Up-To-Dragon (my favourite)

Chinese titles can be the source of humour in themselves (this blog is an example) but these Potter titles only underscore how different China can be! That of course is a large part of its appeal. The online version of that NYT article by the way can be found here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Heathrow Security - A Joke?

I see the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have grumped about the apparent security mess at Heathrow. Glad they have said what the rest of us were thinking. Especially when they seem so out of step with everyone else. Especially the ridiculousness of the one bag rule. Never mind that the screeching middle aged women (whose families are no doubt glad they are at work) telling you that only one bag is allowed have no idea why. In fact yesterday a BA cabin manager, when asked, had no idea why the rule was imposed either. Most folk, myself included, are happy to buy into an amended rule or process if we know why. We aren't all dullards from Brixton going to Spain for our annual Vitamin D dose. In the last six weeks I have transited Heathrow twice. Each was a horror experience.

In the first case I was transferring to BA to travel to Europe. With a small bag and laptop, both security cleared through Sydney AND Singapore. Sadly Mrs Bucket thought that was not enough and one or the other had to be consigned to the hold. OK for me in that case but very tough for parents and other travellers with extra bags who suddenly had get everything into a single bag. No warning. It is something you discover after you depart your aircraft and are attempting to reconnect to another flight. And you find yourself in along queue for 30 minutes before the rule is barked at you. Leave the queue to check in one of the pieces at a separate counter and then rejoin the queue. I was sweating making my connection.

In the second instance (yesterday) I was departing Heathrow for the US - this time with laptop and samples. No go. Repack. Again no warning for the first time traveller but I was partially prepared given the previous experience going to Europe. Strangely British Airways reckons it is a government imposition. I thought it was an airline rule and could understand it being in place as a result of some sort of cabin management effort. Any security experts out there with any idea why this rule is helpful?

Heathrow is a second class shambles at the best of times. But this new imposition only creates staggering queues (legendary enough to make it onto YouTube) and convinces the cynic in me that these devices are employment ploys - designed to employ middle aged harpies who feel the need to boss a bunch of tired travelers around. Trouble is, these days you can't give them a piece of your mind. If you do there is every chance you will be in breach of some sort of anti terror legislation. Off to Guantanamo Bay, you with the two (small) bags and smart lip!!