Monday, 22 April 2013

Field notes from an 18 hour journey

I've had a long day today. A very long day.  In order to make sure I was across town before roads starting closing for the London Marathon (and in expectation that they may close earlier than planned, thanks to the events in Boston earlier in the week) I was in a car driving away from home at 6.30am this morning.

I've found myself mostly flying out of Terminal 5 from Heathrow recently, and so being dropped off by the car at Terminal 3 was quite a blast from the past.  A blast from the days when I used to take the pre-7am SAS flight over to Stockholm.  Terminal 3 hasn't changed much.  In fact, besides a few of the restaurants changing names, everything seems in pretty much the same place.

Terminal 3 is a weird building.  A million miles away from the huge windows of Terminal 5; there aren't really any windows at all. You need to be at one of the gates or in one of the Business Class lounges to actually see real daylight in there.  It's also not a patch on Terminal 5 for the shopping either.  It's full of those expensive shops which are painted white and seem to have no merchandise in them at all.  And they make up for what little stock they have by charging the earth for it.  The daylight-starved weary travellers flinging their Amex cards around to try to pass the time.  I nearly bought a pair of shoes thanks to the sheer boredom of it; but then I realised I'd have to carry the shoes to Vancouver, Seattle, Vancouver and London and thought better of it.

And I ask you - what exactly is the point of a Ted Baker shop which doesn't sell underwear?

This was my first time flying in Air Canada.  The logistics of this trip to Seattle meant that the best option was to fly via Vancouver.  All in all, Air Canada was rather nice.  Colour-changing LEDs lighting the ceiling of the cabin.  A first officer with a comedy Canadian accent and a lady pilot.  All novel. All cool.

They all had episodes of Bewitched on the entertainment system.  I'd forgotten how brilliantly awful it was.  Though in the two episodes I watched, Elizabeth Montgommery didn't wiggle her nose once; I was rather disappointed by that.  I also watched some episodes of "Man Behaving Badly".  Not a patch on Bewitched, obviously, but it passed the time.

I killed most of the time on the plane reading. I bought myself "Creed" by James Herbert. I thought that by going back twenty years, his books would be better.  And it was certainly better than "Ash" (see the last entry for my thoughts on that).  But much as the story had a climax and build-up much better than Ash, it ended with a fire in a huge building which had creepy things in a cellar.  Exactly the same as Ash.  Honestly, I know James Herbert tries to get references to rats into all his books, but I didn't think every one of his books had to end with a big building burning down. 

Air Canada also threw a lot of food at us during the drip.  Anyone who's spoken to me recently will know that I'm on a pretty strict nutrition and exercise routine at the moment. (8kg lighter, massive reduction in bodyfat, and counting!)  The rules are relaxed slightly whilst I'm away; as staying in a hotel it's not really possible to control your food intake as easily - but I'm still sticking to it as much as I can.  When I turned down the tub of ice cream on the flight the look I got from the cabin crew was one of utter disbelief.  Surely I can't be the only one who doesn't fancy a tub of ice cream whlist flying over Greenland?

To make things easier, you can clear US immigration in Vancouver, meaning that when you arrive in the US you simply stroll off the plane and grab you bags and go.  My checked bagged was checked right through to Seattle and as I was going through security into the "US departures" bit of Vancouver airport, one of the stages involves a man pointing at a picture of your luggage on the screen.   I thought it was quite cool, but was rather disappointed to see that my Battenburg pattern luggage strap had disappeared.  I think the guy asking me if it was my bag could see the disappointment in my eyes.

I know people have horror stories about the things US immigration say and do, but I've never had any problems at all. Although I did get questioned about the fact that all my trips to Seattle seem to come just as the grace period from the previous entry is ending.  It's purely coincidence as the entry period for UK visitors is three months, and I come here once a quarter, but I guess to the trained eye it could look as though I was popping out of the country every three months to reset my grace period.  Must leave it longer than three months next time!

The rain started to pour when I was in Vancouver.  So imagine my disappointment when we are ushered out of the building and across the tarmac and into a tiny prop plane for the flight down to Seattle.  We were warned before take off of likely turbulence and told there wouldn't be a drinks service, just in case.  In the end it wasn't so bad. A few bumps as we went through the clouds, but all in all a rather amazing view of the San Juan islands and Puget Sound as we flew down the coast.

A quick taxi ride from the airport, and here I am. Sitting in my hotel room. In Seattle.  The sun streaming in through the window.  But everyone at home is in bed.  It's nearly two o'clock in the morning there.  It's tomorrow in the UK.  Whereas here in Seattle it's still today. And still sunny.  And with that, I'm off out for a walk to wake myself up again.  Enjoy the future.  I'll see you there soon.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Turned to Ash

I've written about my disappointment with a James Herbert book before and so maybe I should've learned my lesson and not read another of his books.  But this time I thought it'd be difference.

I've said before that "Haunted" is one of my favourite horror books.  It's short, simple and has a rather good ghost story with very little padding.  It's subtle and interesting.  It was followed by "The Ghosts of Sleath" which wasn't dire, but certainly wasn't as good as "Haunted".  And then the third in the trilogy - "Ash".

I had high hopes.  I thought "this could be another Haunted" and so I sat down to read it.  It's a fairly large book - seven hundred or so pages.  And it was awful.  Truly awful.  Oh - just a warning - there will be spoilers in what I'm going to say below - but if that puts you off reading the book, then thank me for saving you from wasting those hours of your life...

So, the premise starts off pretty well.  A secretive organisation has a Scottish castle, miles from anywhere, and people who want to "disappear" can pay a fortune to live out their final days there.  It's a great premise, and I'm sure something really interesting could've been done with it.  But the story quickly runs away from the interesting premise by including lots of references to real life people who have disappeared or died young.  Princess Di, Hitler, Robert Maxwell, Gadaffi, Lord Lucan, ... it all got a little bit silly, to be honest.

There are three fundamental problems with the book.  The first is that it all got a bit "Dan Brown".  Of course, the prose was nowhere near as amateurish as that in a Dan Brown book (although, and I hate myself for saying this, it did come close at times...) but the whole "secret society" and "trying to explain mysteries in the real world" thing grew tiresome really pretty quickly.  About halfway through the book, the premise was almost forgotten as it became swamped in cameo appearances from real-life characters, all of whom aren't around anymore to defend themselves or sue.  It soon moved from a exploration of an interesting "what if" scenario into trying FAR too hard to make the whole thing seem plausible.  Intelligent readers are capable of willing the suspension of disbelief and going with the premise without the need to keep throwing in reference to real-life events.  If anything it made the whole thing seem less realistic...

The second issue I took with the book was that it was written more like a screenplay than a novel.  Rather than slowly unravelling a story, it jumped from set piece to set piece.  It felt as though the emphasis was on how good those scenes would look on film. Explosions.  Falling lifts.  Weapons flying through the air.  It would make a great blockbuster movie - but the dialogue would be terrible.

The final issue is maybe the most fundamental.  And maybe it is a consequence of the other two.  But the ending was terrible.  The story built and built and then about halfway through the book, it became silly.  Silly and obvious.  There was no tying up of loose ends.  There was no clever twist.  There wasn't even really a proper explanation of why the place was haunted in the first place.  It all just ended with a few explosions, the ghost of Princess Di, some spiders and a ridiculous scene with the Queen and Prince Philip.

I guess my greatest disappointment is that I know James Herbert was capable of more.  Some of his books have been fantastic, and I'm sure there was more left.  It's a tragedy that he died earlier this year.  He was one of the great horror writers and some of his books are brilliant examples of the genre.  It's just a crying shame that his final book was quite so bad.