Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Travelling Kisses and Kicks

Our local paper has a weekly feature called Kisses and Kicks. The Kisses usually include names, such as: thanks to Jane Davidson who arranged for Richard Van Camp to read at our school. The Kicks rarely include names, but I am going to break with that bit of protocol.

KICK #1: O2. Unbeknownst to me, as well as a fleet of other victims I have since heard from, O2 in London and O2 in Dublin are not twins, let alone brothers, not even kissing cousins. They simply do not talk to each other. I had bought my phone, SIM card, and time in London and then paid extra to cover for roaming charges when in Ireland. Because there are two Irelands, and since one of them is part of the UK and the other is most definitely not, roaming charges kick in between them – even though in the border region it is hard to tell which one you are in.

The first phone call I received in Dublin cost me so much that it was clear that I was paying the pickpocket fees that the industry neatly labels: roaming charges. As I waltzed into O2 Dublin, I naively thought that this was a simple problem to solve. After all, I had paid for this feature. I will spare you the details, but the sub-text of our brief conversation was that I may as well throw my phone under the next passing bus, no need to wait for a double decker. Any bus would do.

Fine, I thought. I will try the UK based O2 web site. Nope. To do this, I needed to have a British postal code, which I don’t have since I live in Canada. I could have lied, but that’s not my style. The site indicated that for the modest fee of 25p, I could phone help. Help. After more than 5 minutes of chat with Sally or whoever, and then being put on hold for a minute or so, I was no further ahead. In fact, I was more than £5 poorer, thanks to the aforementioned pickpocket fees called roaming charges. I have it all documented and won’t bore you with specifics, but it finally took a two hour drive up to Newry to sort it all out.

KISS #1: Thank you, Peter, for that bit of rescue.

KICK #2: Train check-in at Derby. I had dutifully printed off my chit of paper including everything that I would need to know to access my electronic ticket for the train leaving Derby and going to London. I had a lunch meeting scheduled there with the chief archivist of HSBC. So far so good. My cousin Rosie and I left extra early, even though it only takes a half hour to get there. Thanks to traffic delays, it took almost three times as long, and we arrived at the station with nanoseconds to spare.

Now, you might think that the first place on the printout where the word Code appears, followed by a string of numbers, would actually be the code you need to get the ticket. No such luck. No, the code you need is half way down the page. With the nanoseconds ticking by and finally with the help of a human being, which is as scarce as hen’s teeth in such circumstances, I got my ticket, and hauled my upholstered, 64 year old bod up several flights of stairs with my 23kg suitcase and 10kg pack, along an overpass & down again. At least my cardio system is still good to go.

KISS #2: Thank you Rosie! I made the train.

KICK #3: KLM Boarding Pass. Again, I had printed off the requisite piece of paper for my homeward flight and was in good cheer when I descended in the elevator to Platform 6 at the Earls Court Underground Station to catch the Piccadilly Line train to Heathrow. It was then that I realized that there were two Heathrow trains: one for terminals 1,2,3 &4 and another for 1,2,3,&5.Naturally, I hauled out my boarding pass. Uh, oh. No mention of which terminal.

A sign behind me showed me the number I could call to find out which terminal I might need, which is all very well, but there is no phone service at Platform 6, Earls Court. This means that you have to get on a train – whether it is the right one or not – and wait till you are out of the tunnel, which means you are halfway there, before you can figure out if you are in fact on the right train.

Finally, when the train surfaced with 23 minutes ride ahead of me, I dialed the number, and a voice told me that I had dialed the wrong number. You see, this was not the number for mobile phones to use. I hung up before the recording was finished, and stewed for a few stops, called the number again and then heard the message in its entirety. Aha. What I needed to do was to dial the same number, except drop the first 0. Now, you would think that the message that was on the sign telling me how to phone would have told me this, yes? No. Hence the Kick.

PERSPECTIVE: I had left Tommy’s house near High Street Kensington before dawn that same day on a perfect London morning, and walked at a comfortable pace down to Earls Court. I had allowed myself a half hour, but it only took about 15 minutes. The night before, I had told Tommy not to worry about breakfast, that I would grab a bit to eat from one of the wee pastry take-outs by the station. Well, he said, whatever you do, don’t do McDonald's.

Normally, this is good advice, but as it turned out, McDonald's was the only place open before 7:00 AM, and since I had time on my side, I decided to order an Egg McMuffin and juice and enjoy some relative comfort for 15 minutes. It was a good call. Otherwise, I would not have known that a London McMuffin has way better bacon than the Canadian version. I think even the cheese is better, although maybe it was because I was so hungry. Since this was my last meal in London, even though it was what it was, it had something of a sacramental feel to it. I approached it with reverence.

Sitting in the booth across from me was a woman, who looked to be about my age, but who also looked as if she had lived hard, very hard, and hence she was probably a decade or more younger than me. She was dressed in skin tight jeans, a black leather motorcycle jacket and sandals with thick socks. Her hair, a mass of lank gray curls, fell forward and obstructed much of her face. She was sleeping, sitting up, and her coffee cup was empty before her.

I don’t know how long she had been there, but in her sleep, she often leaned to the left until she risked landing on the floor, and then she would slowly straighten up to a more stable position. I thought of photographing her, but didn’t. It felt as if that would be a violation. Part of the reason for considering a photograph was that behind her there was a large blue sign with the icon of a wheelchair on it, and the upper case words embedded in white: ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE.

Not for her, I thought. It is not so easy for people like her. By comparison, my own little kicks and grumbles are absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Lest we forget.

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