#CPSonTour part deux – Paris

After Kate supported yesterday’s CPS workshop in the UK, she’s handed the baton back to me, to pick up the French session in Paris. So I’m off again, but this time there are no planes involved. Given that I live in York, Paris could seem a long way to travel without flying? But so far, it’s been one of the easiest journeys to date.

I’m up just after 5am (if I was going to Uxbridge, I’d be on the road by now, so this feels like a lie-in) and as I leave I say a quiet farewell to Bruno…

AN: for those who don’t know, Bruno is my car, my pride and joy; who generally accompanies me on my UK travels and is pretty much now regarded as my ‘other office’.

In my usual fashion, I allow 20 minutes for the 5-minute walk to York Station, and am there with time to spare (‘spare’ being another terms for ‘people-watch’) – hang on, that’s my train pulling in, EARLY! Blimey, that doesn’t happen often does it? But another fashion with which I’m familiar, is allowing plenty of time to get somewhere, arriving early, toddling off to grab a cuppa, then finding myself with no time to spare and sliding into my destination with seconds to spare! Not this time, I have another train to catch in London, which will be an expensive connection to miss, so I get straight on board the East Coast Earlybird and settle into my seat.

Surprisingly, the train is quite empty? I thought commuter trains would be full at 6am but there are seats to spare (that said, they all have RESERVED tickets flapping about their headrests, so I expect it’ll fill up as we get closer to London. But in the meantime, the seat beside me is empty. So I ake myself comfortable, log on, and connect to the Wifi… all 15 minutes of it. I thought WiFi was free on trains? Maybe that’s just Virgin? It would seem that, after your 15-minute freebie, East Coast will start charging you. Right; I’ll work offline, draft my emails in Word, then cut & past them when I log on.

Our next stop will be…

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome aboard this 6am East Coast service to London King Cross; calling at Naburn, Acaster Malbis, Selby, Doncaster, Newark Northgate… ah ok, so this isn’t the fast train then, hence why everyone else is on the other train which doesn’t stop anywhere. We, on the other hand, are stopping everywhere between York and London.

By Newark Northgate, the seats in our carriage are still pretty empty, I’ll have a peaceful ride down to London at the rate! Ah, no. Christopher Biggins’ long-lost cousin has boarded and, apparently, I’m sitting in his seat (there are still countless empty seats and tables around us, but he wants to sit here. OK.) I actually know I’m in his seat – mine’s the window seat, but I moved to the aisle seat after accidentally playing ‘Footsire’ under the table with the chap in front. However, I don’t argue with Biggins, he’s bigger than I am, so I just wriggle across and let him sit down.

Unfortunately, I didn’t pull the centre armrest back down, which would’ve allowed me to retain my half of the seating plan. Instead, Biggins’ bottom (which takes up at least 60% of the table width) spills out unmanaged, and I suddenly discover a skill for typing with my elbows tucked under my rib cage.

Why not just buy a laptop?

Biggins then proceeds to set up his iPad. Now I was under the impresion that iPads were designed to be small, portable, lightweight devices, designed for use on-the-move? I fear, however, that Biggins has missed these points, in favour of buying a device for the sake of having an iPad. He pulls out of his briefcase, a power cable (ok, so he forgot to charge last night), a stand (ok, so he’s thinking about health & safety, by angling his screen to avoid bad posture), a keyboard (so he doesn’t like touchscreen?) and a mouse (he doesn’t like the touchpad either?) and I’m wondering why didn’t he just buy a laptop? By this point, his ‘portable’ device is taking up most of the space on the table! The chap opposite and I exchange smiles – oh Lord, I hope he’s thinking the same as me? I’ve already played accidental footsie with him, I hope he doesn’t think I’m flirting?! *Rebecca focuses on Vesper and avoids all further eye or foot contact*.

At the following few stations, the seats around us gradually fill up, and I understand why Biggins was determined to sit in his designated seat. I continue working, admiring the misty sunrise over the great British countryside flying past, and we eventually pull into Kings Cross – 3 minutes early. I’m impressed East Coast, thank you.

I leave KX and wander across the road to St Pancras. I’ve never travelled by Eurostar before, so am quite excited – I’m going to Paris by Eurostar! Despite the romantic vision this conjures up in my mind, the reality is different. I’m traveling with a work colleague, we’ll see the inside of a train, tunnel, office, hotel, office, train, tunnel and will be back in London without so much as an accordion or garlic clove. But I’m still excited, mostly by the concept. The fact that I can get on a train at home, arrive in London, cross the road, get on another train, and 2 hours later I’m in Paris… is fabulous.

Hugo & Jenny, darling

So I board the Eurostar and am sitting at another table seat (I prefer these, as there’s generally more room – I just hope Biggins isn’t taking his iPadinium to Paris). My work colleague (Jason) is sitting a few rows in front but as we set off, and realise not all seats are taken, Jason joins me at the table.

Opposite us sit a man and woman – we’ll call them Hugo and Jenny. He is well spoken and keeps relaying the story about his chum being stuck/delayed coming back on Eurostar a few weeks ago, and having to polish off the Frois Grois he purchased for a mere €100 in Paris. Jenny has a more ‘hippy’ look about her – she’s quiet (perhaps due to the rarity of gaps in Hugo’s dialogue) but smiles a lot and seems to be hanging on his every word.

As soon as we’re into the Chunnel, Hugo disappears, returning a few minutes later with a bottle of bubbly – cheers darling. It’s not even 10am? Maybe they’re on a dirty weekend? Maybe Jenny’s Hugo’s Secretary? (Don’t hear so many stories about bosses having affairs with PAs, it always used to be affairs with their Secretaries didn’t it?)

The smell of their champers is delicate and delicious, but at this time of day, also smells somewhat like a hangover and is decidedly off-putting (I must be getting old!) Luckily it’s only a half bottle (Hugo, you cheapskate!) and is gone before we’re out of the chunnel.

Bonjour Madames et Monsieurs… A-ha we’re in France now then, excellent. The sky is bleu (intentional, not a typo) but other than that, the countryside looks largely similar to that in the UK, just with different shaped pylons.

Snuggles

Whilst I’ve been blogging, I miss the entertainment across the way. I suddenly realise Jason (who has been busily typing away on his Blackberry, as his laptop has run out of juice – and there are no power sockets on Eurostar, not unless you go first class – another tick for East Coast…) is exchanging smiles with Hugo and Jenny (if I see keys thrown down in front of me, I’ll run!) until I realise they’re giggling with the group on the table across the aisle, one of whom is snoring. And it’s getting louder. The culprit (let’s call him Snuggles) has some great facial expressions. His eyebrows are raised as if to say Really?  His eyes are closed, obviously, and his mouth is downturned, like a sad face in a cartoon. His head is slowly dropping, as he snores out, until he lets out a little grunt, jerks his head back and briefly wakes himself up in the process. His facial expression returns to normal (?), until his head slowly drops, the eyebrows raise, the corners of the mouth turn down, GRUNT…! He has no idea the chap hiding behind the Guardian opposite him is desperately trying to hold back his laughter, Hugo and Jenny are giggling over their champers, and I suspect Jason is just pretending to type an email on his Blackberry just to avoid looking over. Jason finally gives up and offers to wander to the buffet car for refreshments – ah a cup of tea, lovely!

One to do again

So my first experience of Eurostar has lived up to expectation. It’s a business trip, so there are plenty of ‘suits’ around, and the journey is quick and effortless. Ideal for quick meetings with French colleagues. It’s fun for weekend trips to Paris – bubbles available on board, and the train does still have an air of romanticism (I’ve played footsie, exchanged glances and, compared to Newport Pagnell services, St Pancras still reflects those romantic black & white posters you used to get in Athena).

Well done Eurostar – all I need now is to see a DeuxCV on arrival in Paris, and my dream will be complete! That is, until dinner, where I’m expecting a café with chequered tablecloths, red wine, a monsieur le waiter with a handlebar moustache (it is Movember?) playing an accordion, with onions draped round his neck and garlic hanging from the wall. It was 1993 last time I went to Paris – I’m living the dream!

Au revoire /R xx

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(Y)abu dhabi(doo)

So, much as I love Yorkshire Airlines *Rebecca rolls her eyes in sarcasm* this time I’m back at T5. Much as I love the UK, on my day off, I’m leaving the country. And much as last week’s efforts from Delhi bore little excitement, today I am heading for Abu Dhabi!

I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi before, so this is another first for me. I understand they’re pretty strict (even if less so than the other Emirates) about what women can wear, and there’s more wealth per square modicum than in Bernie Ecclestone’s piggy bank.

So I’m now on my plane and, as the first flight for a while where I’ve actually had time to write as opposed to work to do, I’m blogging again!

I’m on a big bird; the kind with a bar upstairs, estates at the front and cheap seats at the back. I’m in row 47 and have a window seat – yay! Beside me are two chaps who are also travelling alone, and who will undoubtedly provide some entertainment over the next 6 hours…

Turbulence

That’s something to do with solar energy heating the earth’s crust, causing warm air to rise and have an argument with the cold air going the other way, isn’t it? I’m sure Jack Ryan explained it at the beginning of The Hunt for Red October but his flight probably wasn’t as turbulent as this! During take-off, we’re already shaking from side-to-side, and as we leave the ground and climb up through a storm cloud, I look out of the window to see a flash, hear a short sharp bang, and wonder if well make it to Reading, let along Dubai?! As we continue to climb, the bird continues to move left and right pretty frequently and as the cabin crew leave their seats to start preparing service, the captain comes over the tannoy to ask them to return to their seats, just until we’ve cleared the storm cloud *gulp*. A couple of minutes later, we’re welcomed from the flight deck by the captain, telling us that, in case we had noticed it, we’d been struck by lightning during take-off, but the plane is fine, nothing to worry about, and service can now commence as usual. STRUCK BY LIGHTENING?! Wouldn’t that make the plane explode or something? I’m sure it did in a Bruce Willis movie once? Or maybe twice? Or maybe in the return of the sequel, strikes again? It matters not; in my usual fashion (and thanks to a heavy session with my cousins on the South Bank last night) I’m asleep in minutes and by the time I wake up, the turbulence has settled and my attention turns to the chaps in the row beside me.

Paddy & Minty

In the aisle seat is Paddy. If the Made in Chelsea crew upstairs weren’t sure if Paddy was on board, they’ll know by now. Not one to keep quiet, Paddy hasn’t flown for about ten years, you know. And this is quite a big jumbo jet isn’t it? (Let’s hope Minty didn’t want any sleep…) Minty is beside me, in the middle seat. I was going to call him Sunshine (as he hasn’t managed to break a smile for the first half of the flight, despite Paddy’s efforts to make conversation). Minty wears Polo spectacles, tan coloured slacks and a blue stripy YSL shirt. I’m not sure he’s able to move his neck, as his head has been facing forward all the way so far. Woe betide he actually makes eye contact with either Paddy or myself, he’d potentially have to talk to us!

Paddy, meanwhile, is now friends with the group across the aisle (think he’s given up on Minty) and is already attracting quite an audience with his accent. At least two people have asked whereabouts he’s from (although one was an American, who thought his accent was Polish – bless – so that doesn’t really count).

Wot no playstation?

Given that I fell asleep almost immediately on take-off, I’ve only just clocked the entertainment panel in front of me. Joy – I can follow our route again, like I did on the way to Honkers! But hang on; by the time I figure out how to work the Playstation device, we were somewhere over the South China sea I think? This time there’s no Playstation, meaning I have to learn all over again. Oh rats. I’m not good with these sorts of devices – I can’t even use my digital TV at home (this is true – what little TV I watch, I navigate through Sky because I don’t know how to use my hyper-clever Sony guide thing.) One could argue this is down to laziness, but I figure that I watch it so infrequently, why bother learning how to work it directly, when the Sky guide does the job perfectly well?!

Anyway, I digress – no really – back to the entertainment thing. There’s a menu button, that should be a good start… ah, hang on, there’s an on/off button first (doh), then press Menu …eeek, I’ve got something to do with the brightness, contrast… I’ll end up steering the plane from here if I’m not careful… right, get rid of that lot (press Menu again? Yep, cool. He-hey I’m driving this thing already!) OK, so we have Movies, TV, Audio, Skyflyers Kids (shouldn’t that have an apostrophe somewhere?) Your Journey and High Life Preview. Naturally, I want to see where we are… oh great, Your Journey shows a map in Arabic. But the numbers are in English (does the Arabic written language not have its own numbers?) either way, it means I can make a guess on the details…

It’s 10:00, where are we?

We’re flying at 35,000ft, at 586pmh (with a 20mph tailwind), we’re somewhere over northern Iraq (hope they don’t have surface-to-air missiles down there), it’s -53 degrees outside and we’re about 1,246 miles from Dubai, scheduled to land in about 2 hours’ time. It’s currently 17:21 in London and 21:21 in Dubai, although my watch still says 10:00…

I wore my watch yesterday for an interview, with the intention of getting a new battery at lunchtime. Although it wasn’t working, I set it to 10:00 – the time of the interview – so the guys I was with wouldn’t notice that my watch had actually stopped. Needless to say, work was busy, and I didn’t get to the shop at lunchtime. So it still says 10:00. This caused much amusement last night, as Tom, Charlie and Wendy kept asking me the time, knowing I’d actually look at my watch before remembering it had stopped…) Do they have Mister Mint in Abu Dhabi? Or a decent cobbler who also does watch repairs? They wear sandals don’t they? Maybe it’ll be 10:00 all weekend? I digress again…

Minty is now asleep – like my Grandfather at Christmas after a few too many whiskeys, he has his arms folded and his headphones on, only he isn’t listening to anything? Whilst they’re BA’s best, they’re not Bose noise cancelling headphones, I’m afraid. Maybe he just doesn’t like Paddy and I, and this is subtle (blatant?) body language to tell us he doesn’t want to make small talk? Shame. He looks like he could’ve had a lot to moan about?

Paddy, meanwhile, has clearly tired his audience, the majority of whom are, strangely, also wearing their headphones? So he’s got his laptop out and is playing. I say playing, rather than working, because it appears he’s just moving the mouse around clicking on random icons, opening windows and folders, but not actually doing anything? Hang on, he’s wearing his headphones too? Perhaps it’s me they’re avoiding? I must stop being so chatty, and do something far less sociable, like write a blog…

Right, poor Vesper is about to run out of juice, so I’m going to try and find a movie on the Playstation.

ttfn /Rxx

#CPSonTour

I’m back. Feels like I haven’t written anything for my blog in ages. Perhaps because I’ve been a bit busy? My neighbours think I’m a hologram, my friend has popped in to check on my flat more often than I’ve been there myself, and I’ve fastened my British Airways seatbelt more times than my Audi one. If I thought my year to date has been busy, the past few weeks have been chocker!

Let’s go back to early October and a colleague at work asks me a rhetorical question… you like travelling, don’t you? Of course I do (the world’s a big place and, whilst I love York, I’m sure there are other amazing places to see and exciting things to do!) When I took this job three years ago, I expected there’d be a bit of travel involved, as it’s a European role. So when a work project needs someone to visit five countries in three weeks, to deliver workshops to the European Sales, Implementation and Delivery teams, I’m all packed and ready to go quicker than a McLaren 5-wheel pitstop.

Week one: Italy and Spain.
After work on Monday night, I fly out of T5 to Linate airport in Milan, deliver a workshop on Tuesday, run into half the Xerox Europe team in the hotel bar Tuesday night (logical justification for ordering a bottle rather than a glass), before flying out of Malpensa to Madrid on Wednesday, delivering the workshop to the Spanish team on Thursday, before flying back into Heathrow late on Thursday night. Unbelievably tiring, but crazy, exciting, fast-paced, rewarding and great fun!

Week two: Germany.
Having arrived home around lunchtime on Friday, I have just Saturday as my weekend, to unpack, do my washing, pack again, clean the bathroom (not quite sure why, given that I’ve hardly used it for the past two weeks, but it feels like it needed doing), and watch Skyfall (this is a necessity: I suspect M will revoke my 00 status if I leave the country again without first seeing the new Bond movie). So all of the above ticked-off, I head back to the airport, this time Leeds Bradford – ah my beloved Yorkshire Airlines – and head off to Dusseldorf.

On my return on Tuesday night, I pretty much collapse into bed. Wednesday morning, I make a rare visit to the Leeds office (where I actually have a desk). I’m welcomed by the usual Yorkshire sarcasm …who are you again?… pay my share into the tea kitty (I’m hardly out of the lift and Helen’s there with her spreadsheet, no surprise to guess she works in Finance), sign a birthday card (there’s always at least one doing the rounds) and receive a text / photo from Fleur to say she’s finally given birth (I’m sure she was only a few months gone when I was last here?) I manage to clear my email backlog and get myself home for about 8pm, just in time to unpack, do my washing, reassure my neighbours it’s really me, clean the bathroom, pack again and get to bed about 11pm, alarm set for 4:15 *ouch*.

And I wake up bang on time – at 2.30. You know when you’re so wide awake, that you just know if you go back to sleep, you’ll be rubbish when the alarm eventually goes off… So I decide to get up, I rattle off another quick hour of email and hop in the car down to London. Come 3pm, I’m exhausted, of course, so Karen sends me out on an errand to get some fresh air. I come back bearing M&S finest biscuits and a new lease of energy, due in the greater part, I’m sure, to the realisation that tomorrow I have a day off! Hurrah! So what am I doing on said day’s leave? Yes, I’m getting on a plane…

ttfn #Rxx