Friday, March 12, 2010

On the Road in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona

The wind up to tennis camp was sad but we had our next segment to enjoy which was a couple of days in San Antonio then collect a car and head off for Palm Springs -- we had 4 days to do this road trip.

We stayed in the centre of San Antonio at a Marriott Courtyard which abutted the River Walk so was really convenient.  The centre point of the city is the Alamo which coincidentally is a key point in the history of this part of the US.  Had the ultimately unsuccessful defence of the Alamo not taken place, it is quite feasible to presume that the entire SW of the USA would have not been redrawn to include Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and parts of Utah and Colorado.  Of course the simple story of the Alamo reflects the immense bravery of those 200 defenders but the sub-text goes deeper.  The Mexicans under Santa Anna won there and again at another nearby fort where the carnage was even greater.  They were then chasing the remaining "rebels" -- fewer than 1000 -- across Texas to the San Jacinto river (near present day Houston) when the Texans turned around and gave the chasing Mexicans such a hammering in 18 minutes that they totally gave up.  150+ years later, this all sounds unbelievable but the bare facts are as stated.  I cannot fathom how it came about but it did.  And with that came independence and 10 years later federation with the Union -- reluctantly apparently but forced due to huge war debts and a realistic appraisal of how indefensible Texas on its own was.  It is interesting how events cause unforeseen consequences and how that has been the case since time began.  Anyway I came away massively impressed how the volunteers keep up the Alamo and keep the history lessons vibrant and relevant even today.

We moved from San Antonio to El Paso on the I-10 and again was reminded just how large some countries are. We've just come from Australia and in particular Western Australia which is at least the size of Texas but has fewer than 2 million people in it: 1.6 million being in Perth, 250,000 south in the fertile areas with the remainder spread over land the size of Europe.  So we should have realised that maps do not tell the full story about how far and how long it takes to drive from A to B.  It took ages.  Fortunately we found Coopers Barbeque Restaurant along the way and had some amazing barbecue and I have to say here that I simply do not know how people can eat the portions served.  Vivien and I had an appetizer sampler between us and had meat headaches running into the evening.

We also learned another lesson when we hit El Paso which we thought we'd stay at.  Cities in the US are laid out differently.  In the US, it seems to me that only tourist activities, swanky hotels and ritzy restaurants are in the downtown areas with people living outside and existing on the service centres -- i.e. shopping malls, WalMart stores, restaurants, etc -- on the most convenient interstate highway.  In El Paso's case this is I-10.  I thought it odd that it seemed to be the case in San Antonio as well but now this is 2 Texan cities.

The drive to El Paso was nearly double what we needed to complete for our itinerary so we now had time which we spent in New Mexico visiting the Gila caves north of Silver City.  I liked the vibe from New Mexico and here I will give some ranking points for assisting tourists (like us) who hadn't bothered to do enough research before we arrived.

#1 -- New Mexico -- ranking 50-60% -- because near the border on the interstates they have tourist information offices that really do provide decent tourist information.

#99 -- Texas and Arizona -- ranking 0% -- these states do really little, bordering on zero, to help tourists with information.  We couldn't find information in Texas at all and in Arizona they are scattered meaninglessly in small towns miles off the interstates -- we persevered and once we found them, the folks inside tried really hard but it was tough finding them.

I don't understand why this should be as the US common to many countries has exported such a large portion of its manufacturing (and hence job creation) capability to lower cost jurisdictions that they now largely depend on service provision for economic activity.  Tourism is a BIG service industry and given the focus of downtown areas on tourism, what really is the problem in providing decent and convenient tourist information?

New Mexico is a wonderful state though.  The high plains in the south I presume are part of the 1854 purchase from Mexico but further north are simply wonderful rolling hills and mountains.  I liked the laid back vibe from the people, presumably because there's only 2 million residents.  However as I mentioned before it is a BIG state.  I had cheerfully thought we could do a short side trip up to check out the Gila caves and then rejoin I-10 and carry on and I suppose in the great scheme of things it was "short" but "short" actually meant an all day side trip through snow covered mountains.

The caves were very interesting but baffling as to why someone had gone to the enormous trouble to build them in this very remote area had simply walked away 20 years or 1 generation in those days later. The tourist guide at the caves suggested it was the bad drought and the cold as the tribe themselves came from further south.

We only had time to drive down to Silver City for the night and here I must list another gripe.  The tourist books say that Silver City is an eclectic ex-frontier town with an authentic old town.  If this was true -- and I suppose it must be -- it would surely be in the interests of the town and tourist industry to provide detailed sign posts for tourists.  We simply missed it so can say nothing about Silver City other than it appeared to be a town on the 180.  This was a shame as it snowed overnight and would I am sure have been a really nice place to properly visit.

And now time for a further gripe.  I am an ashamed cowboy fan.  I was brought up on the silver screen's rose tinted version of how the wild west was which to me is wooden buildings, a saloon with swinging doors, a sheriff's office and lock up, a blacksmith and livery stable with a general store nearby.  That's what I know about the wild west and therefore that's what I want to see when I visit the wild west.  I would love to go into a saloon, go up the stairs and stay in one of those rooms upstairs.  Why doesn't someone do this for all us cowboy fans?  Is there a cowboy theme park?  I would pay for this -- obviously with a decent bathroom attached -- and I am sure so would others.

So today we left Silver City in the snow and drove down to I-10 where it was sunny and 20 degrees warmer.  We found a ghost town called Steins but it was -- wait for it -- closed!  How can a ghost town be closed?  But closed it was.

We found an information centre and got a couple of ideas -- too late to visit Tombstone by this time so chose between the Sonora Desert Museum and the Aeroplane Museum just outside Tucson.  The Aeroplane museum came first and so we went there.  What a great place it is.  I just love planes largely because my dad was in the RAF during the war and flew commercially after.  I was disappointed I couldn't climb over the B-52s, the Migs, the Phantoms, the WWII aircraft but I could get really close -- so I did.  Fantastic.  Highlights for me were the old Stratocruiser which pre-dated the B52 and the C47 in D-Day flash markings signifying presumably that it dropped paratroopers.

I was surprised to see one of the old Doodlebugs that terrorized London in 1944-45.  It had been captured by the Canadians and ended up at the museum.  My dad told me that later on in the war after the Luftwaffe had all but been annihilated that many of the fighter pilots in the RAF converted to ground attack.  He himself moved from Spitfires to the Tempest which was quicker, less maneuverable but carried a huge weapons payload.  He was pulled out of France at the height of the Doodlebug attacks and was targeted to either shoot them down -- difficult as they were small and fast -- or to somehow place his wing beneath the wing of the Doodlebug and flip it upwards so that its gyroscopes would go blooey and it would fly off harmlessly.  It was a crazy order but being a mad Pole, he tried and told me he was 100% unsuccessful.  One of his comrades apparently got so annoyed on one occasion he tried to ram the Doodlebug but missed.

We decided to call a place called Gila Bend home for the night and will make it on to Palm Springs tomorrow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

San Antonio, Texas and Dubai

I haven't posted much as I have kept my journal and thought I'd write the old stuff first to get the flow right but realise if I don't post contemporaneously I'll always be catching up so I'll do the contemporaneous post and a back post at the same time so that I can catch up.  So on to the first post.

Vivien and I just finished a weekend camp at John Newcombe's tennis ranch ( which he classes as a mixed fantasy weekend as it includes not only himself but also other tennis greats from the past -- Ross Case, Owen Davidson and the incomparable Roy Emerson.  The format was the people who showed up were split into 2 teams: the Wallabies (Newk & Snake) versus the Kookaburras (Emmo & Davo) and played matches in 3 sessions for bragging rights.  Newk's team have the eye at the moment over the years this weekend has been going and it did seem that the team selection night put the younger and more athletic attendees in Newk's team.  I presume it was the equivalent to home court advantage.

Getting there was an endless 36 hour trek door to door from Auckland via Sydney, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and only umpteen hours later San Antonio.  Vivien and I were pretty worn out by this time but still had time to pop into a nearby restaurant called Texas Land & Cattle ( for a Texas rib-eye and some very nice barbecued ribs before bed (plus of course the obligatory Tom Collins).  This was lucky as we were able to sleep before rolling straight into some by now very unfamiliar tennis.

The camp itself is just outside San Antonio and interestingly enough some people from nearby were attendees as well as the rest of us from elsewhere.  Format early on was typical enough -- evaluation and some practice with the ranch pros and after a bit of shaking the various player "levels" were assessed.  Emmo in the past had told me it took him about 3 hits and 20 seconds to work this out but I guess he's that good it would do.  I did like the free beer at the end touch though as it was thirsty work and this carried on through happy hour until the group straggled in to dinner and wine at the table.  Food was great but it has to be said that the best bits for me were when the Legends sat down on stools at one end of the dining room and told stories.

Davo had just found out that he'd been inducted into the tennis hall of fame for his 13 mixed doubles grand slam doubles titles (including a grand slam of titles) so was feeling pretty good and so it proved great fare for micky taking by the other 3 guys.  I do wish they'd spend more time on stuff like that.  We're all tennis players so its an audience who wants to hear these stories and the time seems to fly by at times like that.

The actual matches were from my perspective less than startling as my partner Dave from San Francisco and I got well and truly thumped although Viv did win her match which turned out to be unusual as the team went down 7-4 in the opening round.  Emmo and Davo at the time were sympathetic and encouraging although a day or so later did say we were all pitiful, in the best possible way of course.

I did say earlier that the food was good -- first night steak & lobster, second night great fish, last night Texas barbecue.  And always salads.  I'd felt that I'd not eaten enough greens in the previous 2 months on the road but I sure put that right!  And also there is a very healthy party atmosphere surrounding the place too which we enjoyed very much.  And why shouldn't there be as we're all there on holiday?

The 2nd and 3rd round of matches were better both from my perspective as I won both matches due to my partners it has to be said (Margo from Cincinnati in mixed and Alan from Galveston in men's) -- as Davo said doubles is all about picking the right partner -- as well as the team as we went down "only" 7-5 in the 2nd round and drew the 3rd round.  Viv won one and lost the other in a 3rd set tie break.

All in all a great time as we also met some great people too.  We always do so this is nothing new.   Great weekend and thoroughly recommended.

San Antonio is an interesting town and on our way out to camp and back in today I was wondering what the reason was for San Antonio existing.  I asked the locals at the camp and the best answer they could come up with was tourism but that makes no sense as there really is nothing here at all.  Having driven across vast tracts of nothingness in Western Australia I feel I am an expert in knowing what nothing is and there's sure nothing here to bring people in.  But that obviously isn't entirely right as the place exists and I did read on a plaque on the Riverwalk that the Spanish arrived in 1691 on the San Antonio river and built a settlement there.  In time it became a crossroads town meaning it had little real reason for existence other than being on the way from here to there, wherever here to there is.  The brief history note in the hotel's welcome package says the Spanish built the walled Alamo mission here as a safe compound presumably from the local Indians and it was the capture of that by the rebellious Texans that pushed it into prominence.  The Mexicans who won that battle actually viewed it as a relatively unimportant incident but the Texans clearly didn't as they prevailed in the end (full history lesson coming tomorrow).  It seems to me that San Antonio exists today in the way it does as it is an army town and whatever else is here came from that.

The Riverwalk is a really neat place though.  In the 1920's a town planner with vision (sadly a rare commodity) recommended its layout and it was actually done so is a real downtown feature that is worth visiting.  Vivien and I walked around the inner circle and found a Tex-Mex (I think) restaurant for dinner.  I do wish I knew the difference between Tex-Mex and "real" Mexican whatever that is.  Anyway we have 2 weeks or so in this part of the US to go so will doubtless get some education.

And now Dubai.  This was over 2 months ago now that we spent 6 days there, 5 with friends late of Bermuda and one a day and night of extreme extravagance in the Burj al Arab.  This is the essay I did for my company, BIAS (  It is meant as an overview for those who've never been to Dubai and want it short and sweet.  It was a fascinating place but totally beyond my comprehension which is probably what comes through in the essay.  The people bits that should form part of a travelogue I will leave till later as I will talk of the absolutely unbelievable (and I use that over used word for a very real reason, it is unbelievable from start to finish).  If you don't believe me take a look at

If you haven't visited Dubai and have your own views and observations on the very interesting place, fear not.  These are mine.  It is in a nutshell an Alice in Wonderland kind of place.  The scale of the developments and the monies needed to put them together in the timeframe planned go beyond belief.  The neighbours in Abu Dhabi have both oil and a staggered development plan on their side and will probably succeed whilst I believe Dubai will not succeed in completing their plans.

When oil was discovered in Dubai in the 1970's there were 57,000 residents, 10 years later there were 300,000 and now 1.5 million.  Oil contributes less than 7% to GDP so to all extents and purpose the developments were all funded by hope and the expectation that foreign syndicated bank loans would help them build everything quickly.  As we all know the easy cash disappeared (and Deutsche Bank and a couple of big French banks plus HSBC are trying to work out how to get their money back as I type) and it was only Abu Dhabi's $10 billion (the main part of the UAE of which Dubai is but a part) that kept the wolves from the door.  The immediate price to Dubai was the renaming of the tallest building in the world from Burj (meaning "tower") al Dubai to Burj al Sharifa after the ruler of Abu Dhabi.  This must have been pretty galling.

However the $10 billion is but a drop in the ocean to the $80+ billion involved in the default by Dubai World whose status is akin to the US government's agencies Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, an agency and with an "implied" backing from the government -- this "implied" backing was not forthcoming from Dubai's $400 billion sovereign wealth fund.  So the lenders are all in discussions and all building has ground to a halt and in the words of one person I spoke to in the construction industry there "100,000 Bangladeshi construction workers have been sent home".  Certainly all building work when I was there had ceased with only a few people evident on a few sites mainly connected with road and bridge building kind of infrastructure development.  That means that of the many hundreds of towers under construction -- and I do mean many hundreds -- probably more than half are in varying stages of completion with one or more of those very tall construction cranes stuck on the top of the building.

I think it was the sheer scale of the development that amazed me most.  The Hong Kong skyline is full of towers, but they are mostly in the 30-40 floor category.  It seems that whoever planned Dubai's development looked at Hong Long and said that's what I want here but also said "forget 30, lets start at 70" and planned for 15 million people by 2015.  I drove away from the shore into the desert and was amazed to see that the development called for 6 or 7 parallel roads 15-20 miles apart into the desert where all new cities would be located -- including Dubai World, a 3 billion square metre development that would dwarf Disney World by a factor of I think 10 -- with names such as Internet City -- for tech companies with numbers of high rises -- Motor City, Sports City and I think a dozen other themed Cities.  The friends we stayed with had bought a condo in Sports City 3-4 years ago which boasts a cricket stadium (finished), golf courses, football stadia, tennis stadia, etc (all incomplete) but whose overall state of development was about 50% complete.  Their expectation is that completion will be around the middle of the century and interestingly the financing they obtained started to require service at the time of the original completion date, not the actual completion date.  So they are servicing debt on an obligation for which the collateral won't be available for another umpteen years -- little wonder there are quite a few people walking away from their incomplete luxury condo purchases.

The master plan calls for 10+ years more hectic development at least.  The problem is of course financing.  This has evaporated and with the prospect large in lenders' minds of a default, I suspect that funding will be very sticky for years to come.

This leaves Dubai in the position of having magnificent designs that are underway but at best half completed all over the place.  Everything that has been considered and built, has been of top quality and to an incredible scale but the harsh reality is that:

1) they have run out of cash and the ability to borrow the amounts needed to complete the plan
2) the designer name brand stores have nobody in them buying
3) the completed buildings have few tenants
4) the complete condos have some new owners but there remains huge inventory
5) more than half of the development is incomplete with little real hope of completion anytime soon

Dubai is looking to create a tourism and business magnet for the region.  The plans focus on this.  The country has few if any other natural resources left to fall back upon.  Some tourists (like myself and my wife) of course visit.  Some high profile names (including Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal) own property there.  Richard Branson is rumoured to have bought the UK in the grandiose "World" project.  All fine and good but the numbers are simply not there to make it all work.

I expect to see incomplete building sites for many years to come.

Actually it reminded me in a certain way of when I worked in London before coming to Bermuda in 1985.  I worked for a merchant bank (aka investment bank in current terminology) who had 15 years worth of Latin American debt from the 1970's and again (incredibly) from the 1980's -- its true those guys NEVER learn -- and the Dubai debt position reminds me incredibly of that time.  Primarily bank debt.  Primarily vague and waffly ideas behind the lending.  Multiple year work outs -- in passing the Latin American debt my bank had in the 1970's is still in process of being worked out today.  Yes, they've reserved against it and No the borrowers haven't repaid a dime.  My expectations are similar this time around too.

By all means visit the country.  It is incredibly fascinating and boasts -- according to them -- the only Mosque that allows non-Muslims to visit and actually go inside.  The tour guides incidentally when I visited were both women, one with a South London accent and the other an Aussie.  Stay in one of the many extraordinarily plush hotels and enjoy the wonderful Asian service.  But do tread warily if you're thinking of making an investment in anything other than the gold jewellery to be found in the gold souk in Dubai City.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Booking Round the World Tickets

I just thought I'd share some practical issues covering this with you.  First, it's way more difficult to do this than you think.  That's not because it's difficult to book tickets because the websites that exist now to do this are nothing short of spectacular.  We used the One World itinerary planner ( because we have loads of American Airlines ( and British Airways ( frequent flyer miles, points or whatever they purport to be.  I did take a look at the Star Alliance itinerary planner as well ( but a friend said if you want to do Australasia, use One World but if you want to do Asia/South America, use Star Alliance.  Anyway it just suited us to use One World.

The reason its way more difficult to do this is because you have to follow the rules (and who wants to do that?) and probably more importantly faced with a blank canvas it's actually way more difficult than you think to decide just what it is you really want to do.  This is the man thing when faced with the task of buying anything from the supermarket and you're faced with 12 alternatives.  Which one do you choose?  Obviously we men choose the first, nearest or easiest alternative but its not that simple with deciding how you want to fly around the world.

We therefore decided about setting a few must-do's into the itinerary and then work out how we can do them.  In elapsed time, this took about 3 weeks for my wife, Vivien, and I to do before we decided that we needed a different approach.  Practical issues kept cropping up.  For example, we had to be at a wedding in Hong Kong in January and wanted to go to the Australian Open (tennis) in Melbourne coincidentally starting just after so those became our anchor points.  Then we realised Christmas was approaching and Vivien had to organise time off from her workplace to do what we wanted.  Then we realised we had child obligations and wider family obligations too over Christmas.  Our 2 sons, Alex the elder and Alistair, always wanted to Christmas in Bermuda but as we'd just bought a condo in Toronto I thought it would be nice to spend Christmas there.  So time constraints from children and wider family had to be factored in too.  This made itinerary planning WAY more complex than if it had just been Vivien and myself to consider -- but it was all part of the fun.

A little further on and I think 5 or so iterations of the route later, we realised that we had better decide to stay in either one hemisphere or another as otherwise we'd have to carry 10 bags of stuff each.  We decided that the key things were HK and Australia which were supposedly "warm" countries so we'd focus on the southern hemisphere and only pack for 30 degree plus weather (that's Celsius by the way).  Friends were contacted in various stops and we finally, finally decided on Bermuda-Toronto-Dubai-HK-Australia-New Zealand-US-Bermuda.

The planner allowed us to plot our route without contravening any rules and then once that's fixed we then were asked to choose dates and flights.  Re dates, the website says you should just pick approximate dates/flights and if you want to change a date later, no problem and no cost.  But if you wanted to change an itinerary leg, say, there would be a cost.  Having taken so long to resolve an itinerary this sounded OK to us as the last thing we wanted to do was to change an itinerary leg now.  So we picked dates and then flights and then asked for the entire thing to be priced.  All went well until the pricing bit which is when we met (by phone) the wonderful Meredith at the One World help desk.

Apparently one of the legs we'd chosen was not a leg that was allowed by this deal.  It seems that not all flights of participating One World airlines are includable into the round the world planning thing -- don't ask me why -- even though those flights exist and even though the planning tool allowed them initially to be included in the itinerary.  This was what Meredith told us.  In addition, as we were starting the ticket from Toronto, all costs were in Canadian dollars.  This wasn't a bad thing as the fares were priced US$ for CD$ pretty much so even though the CD$ was strong there was still a slight discount versus US$.  However as we had included Meredith in our discussions by now, the charge would change from the internet CD$ price to an agent booked US$ price -- and that was some 40% higher which came as a huge shock to us.  However the wonderful Meredith over a series of conversations really helped us out in fixing the right itinerary and then fought for us to be given the original price on the basis that the planning software had a glitch in it which we should not be penalised for.  And she was successful too which was just great.  What we saved there was enough to pay for a day of indulgence later on!

Meredith is just what call centres should be like.  Her title was customer service representative and she did just that and did it spectacularly.  Meredith was kind, courteous, concerned and fought our corner.  If AA are dumb enough ever to let her go, I would heartily recommend Meredith to any customer service role.  She was brilliant and one of the reasons why I am thoroughly pleased to have chosen One World for I know that if I get in a jam, I can always call Meredith and she'll help us out.  A small digression here, I don't know about anyone else but I'm sick of calling most large organisations to be told that a particular department's customer service centre is in Liverpool (say) but the other department we need to talk to is sited in Bristol.  How on earth can anything be co-ordinated?  I know electronic is great but it sure doesn't beat speaking to one human voice and one human voice only who will resolve whatever issue it is you have.  It also is galling when one of these supersize firms announce quarterly earnings up 5% at $4.5 billion or something as you know that the reason they make that kind of money is because they're scrimping on the service which means employee numbers. Bigger is certainly not better but irritatingly however it seems to be all we have to work with in some industries these days.

So finally once all the airline bits were sorted, we had to fix in the other stuff.  Fortunately these days the internet is a wondrous tool and stuff started to fall in line really well although it has to be said I still do like the old style brochure to thumb through and did quite a bit of writing off for brochures and leaflets on the various segments and in particular the interesting stuff to do.

It was also the time we discovered if we really thought about it that we had a load of friends in various interesting places around the world.  Bermuda is an interesting place in that respect.  There's a huge amount of comings and goings of people from all around the world and meeting and becoming friendly with people is quite a quick process as well.  Once those people leave, quite often they don't go back to their countries of origin -- largely because they left there in the first place to come to Bermuda so why on earth would they want to go back later? -- and move on to other interesting destinations.  This was how Dubai was factored into the equation.  It also helped as it was considered to be Europe for airline ticketing purposes (!) so didn't break any rules.

However we were starting from Toronto not Bermuda so this meant a couple of practical things.  Firstly, Toronto over Christmas is REALLY cold.  This meant my blithe lets not take any cold clothes with us plan immediately went straight out of the window.  It may have reached 0 celsius one day but it is unlikely.  The depths were in the minus 20's and facing that in shorts, flip flops and T-shirt is not a happy prospect.  Packing therefore became immediately more of an issue.

Next, Air Canada is not a One World airline, it is Star so we had to route via AA through Chicago and London to get to Dubai.  As we discovered, Chicago is set up for cold weather conditions but London is definitely not.  Both Chicago and Toronto have a history of dreadful winter weather so are well equipped with de-icers, snow ploughs and lots of those things you use to scratch ice off car windscreens.  London Heathrow (and I presume the whole of England) has in order 3, 1 and zero of the above for we sat for 7 hours in the plane on the tarmac at Heathrow waiting patiently for first the de-icers to arrive.  Ha!  They only did when other flights had to cancel when their crews were out of hours and fortunately ours had some in reserve.  Ironically once de-iced, they discovered that the snow plough crews who had ploughed everywhere dutifully during the day when no flights were taking off or landing had all gone home by the time the plane was de-iced and ready to depart so I don't know what behind the scenes stuff took place to have someone plough the runways but it must have for ultimately it all happened and we were able to leave.

I'm not usually a whinger but it has to be said that a big one of the reasons I left England for Bermuda in 1985 was commuting.  There were others like tax, the weather and the fact that I was never home when it was light or anyone in my family were awake as well but the commute was right up there.  2 hours door to door on a good day from Herne Bay (awful place in Kent, don't go) could be turned into anything due to a wide range of "unforeseen" events ranging from rain (it always rains in England), snow (any quantities), ice on tracks or points (even in summer), cows on tracks (really), flash flooding, sudden fires on the embankments, you name it there was a reason why the trains or indeed any form of public transport didn't work properly.  It really didn't matter too much going IN to work but for some reason most disruptions happened the other way.  It was therefore not uncommon for the usual 2 hour trip to turn into a 4+ hour nightmare ended by a 45 minute taxi ride from some small country town costing a small fortune.  This was/is a miserable existence.  I was really glad to leave Herne Bay and England and find that on a bad day it would take me 9 minutes to get from my office to one of the world's top 3 beaches (this is Elbow Beach and yes I have tried it on a bet with someone from New York and won).  Commuting is such a waste of time and energy although I know people from Herne Bay who did this trip every day of their working lives between 18 and 65.  I do not know how they coped.  I managed for the brief time I endured it by reading probably 3 books a week and studying for various exams.

Anyway the point of what I was trying to say was that England is always caught out by the weather, any weather.  This of course is remarkable as the weather is always so bad and has always been so.  You would therefore have thought that planners would actually be able to plan -- but then again when you consider the idiocy of Heathrow Terminal 5, I suppose that is asking a bit too much.

Terminal 5 is the newest of Heathrow's terminals and is the place BA's flights depart from.  It is therefore very important.  Yet the very exercise in getting from another terminal into Terminal 5 is so tortuous and un-user friendly that you have to wonder what "brain" thought it up.  From many years in business, I know that to be successful you have to study success and then keep it simple (KISS in fact).  Surely that is the same with planning.  The new Hong Kong airport in Lantau is a British built masterpiece which in my mind should be copied everywhere in the world.  It just works and works brilliantly.  So why not do what they did in London where the people who designed it came from?  I was reading an article today in a New Zealand newspaper (as that is where I am currently) commenting on Sarah Palin, the lady who ran as the last US Republican candidate's running mate -- the one who lost to Barrack Obama -- and in it they described how her reputation had been tarnished by various things but also gave credit for a brief comment she made on the election of the Republican candidate in supposedly safe Massachusetts recently.  She called it a "common sense" victory.  The paper article then opined about whether the electorate would start to search for other candidates with common sense and I certainly hope so and that that becomes a global thing as I don't believe there's a whole lot of it being used in a variety of places.  One of them of course being in the planning of the ridiculous Heathrow Terminal 5.

Be that as it may, we did finally make it to Dubai and what a place Dubai is.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Already spotted an error in my blog!

Well that didn't take long did it?  The error is of course the title of the blog which I have explained nowhere at all and begs the question "so what on earth is a Grey Nomad"?

I'd never heard the expression until 2 days ago either so won't blame anyone else for not knowing what it means.  It is I believe an Aussie expression.  Or certainly the lady who told me of it was Australian and said it was becoming a well-known phenomenon in Australia.

I do intend to make an extended comment on lifestyle choices being made in a later post so will simply say at this juncture that a Grey Nomad is someone like me.  Sadly grey but rather more happily able to step back a little from the day to day corporate (or whatever business he/she had been involved in during his/her earlier career) grind and follow what they would rather be doing rather than what they have to be doing.

For me, I admit to being grey haired.  The picture on my blog home page gives something of a hint of this (I'm the one in the striped shirt by the way).  But I have been fortunate enough to be able to make that step back from the in my case corporate grind and hope to become the second part of the title in future.

First blog of my life

With a deep breath I am writing the first words of my first blog.  Its already tougher than I thought.  On one of the many plane journeys I have taken in the past couple of months of my long trip with my wife I watched the Julia and Julie movie and was impressed by how fast, and how clearly and articulately the heroine was able to type really interesting prose.  I don't think that was that true to life.  Anyway on with my first words.

I retired from a small Bermuda investment firm called Bermuda Investment Advisory Services Limited (BIAS for short -- back in September and my ex-partner, Robert Pires, said that as I like to write and travel I should write short essays about the places I visit, the topics I find interesting (of any sort) and in general stuff that I think that both my ex-colleagues would find interesting and enlightening and also BIAS' clients many of whom I have built up incredibly strong bonds with over the years.  I don't much like the idea of restrictions (such as deadlines!!!) on my post-retirement time and also thought the idea a bit pretentious.  Who would want to read the stuff I want to write about?  Maybe I'm right at least on the second part but in my travels which thus far on this trip have taken me from Bermuda to Canada to London to Dubai to Hong Kong to Australia and currently in New Zealand before getting going again to the USA before finally making it home to Bermuda in a month's time, I have seen a lot of new things, met a bunch of really interesting (some weird too) people, read a lot of local newspapers and generally had my eyes re-opened (which it should always do when you travel, I guess as a corporate guy I was a bit too business focused and therefore jaded about what was going on around me).

There's a lot of really interesting stuff out there and I hope to be able to write about some of it in an interesting and educated manner.  OK I have my own personal beliefs and am thoroughly opinionated and of course tolerate no view other than my own.  But I have been retired now since the end of September so hope that those extreme bits of me have been tempered a little by now!

For Christmas, my eldest son Alex gave me a journal to record the events that are happening during my travels.  I haven't kept a hand written anything for years so it has been in itself an eye opening experience.  First of all, I hadn't realised my hand writing was so bad.  The first few lines are OK but then the scrawl and chicken scratches appear and just get worse.  That's using the computer for years of course and it has to be said that it won't get any better and that the young of today who just use electronic stuff will be virtually illiterate in a generation earlier's terms.

Second, is that once you get into it, your mind races ahead of what you are physically able to write so you have to either speed up your hand writing (suffering hideous writing, spelling errors and grammatical heresy along the way) or force yourself to slow down a little and actually formulate what you are trying to write in a proper clear and coherent manner.  There's no spell check or back spacing in hand writing so those errors you make end up as massive blotches across the page.  Fear not though, through repeated use you do get better at writing so give it a go some time!

Third, you don't just write about the stuff you're thinking will be an interesting point of view.  You always leave that for later when you have time for reflection.  If you don't you forget about the point you were trying to write about.  So you use a lot of bullet points, abbreviations, key words, etc.  And of course you hope that you remember for example just what those words "Aussie beer sea" mean a few weeks later.  I'm still wondering so any ideas, please send them my way.

Fourth, you also write about the stuff you feel.  That really surprised me.  I don't think I've written about that for at least 20 years.  I certainly never talk about it.  And if I was being honest probably don't think about it much either.  And its true, most time it makes no sense at all.  So does that mean men have no feelings or does it mean that we are rubbish at articulating them?  Or is it just that I am?  Not sure but I am keeping my journal still and hope to see some improvement.  I don't agree with much of what I've written about regarding my feelings later on when I re-read it, by the way.  It sounds self indulgent and a bit cry baby, I think.  But like I said, I'll keep on giving it a go.

I have a few days available to me so will try to start creating some interesting posts from my journal to date.  No personal stuff though.