23 July 2013

The Isle of Dogs and a Royal Baby

I am in London. I flew overnight on British Airways. The elderly and somewhat washed out stewardesses were very helpful - unless you wanted anything. When I asked one of the ladies if I could plug my Mac Computer into the power socket to charge it she informed me that I could. When I pointed out that the power socket had strange two point pins in it she looked sullen. I informed her that my charger was Singaporean but it was the same as a British plug and she nodded an affirmation. When I asked if this was a British plane she confirmed that it was. I then enquired why did a British plane not have British power sockets? She replied that a two pin socket was international. 

I told her that it was not. 

Then I asked her if there was an adaptor that I could use but she again looked morose and said they did not have any.

She spilled coffee on me this morning when serving me breakfast. I think it was intentional.

I landed at 5.00am this morning. Somewhere in the thirteen hour flight I have lost seven hours. More lost time. I will not get these seven hours back until I return to Singapore on the weekend. It is a whirlwind trip and I am already exhausted.

When I shuffled my way to the immigration desk a very unhappy looking official in a turban asked me, "For what is being the purpose of your visit to the United Kingdom?"

"I am here for the birth of the Royal baby" I rather recklessly replied.

Kate Middleton - the Duchess of Cambridge and the wife of Prince William is pregnant. Her baby is one week overdue and all of England is on edge. The latest news is that she has gone into labour. She will be birthing at the St Mary's hospital in Paddington. Press from all around the world are camped out there.

The be-turbanned Immigration officer made some furious notes on my card and then he picked up his phone and he had a hushed conversation with someone. I became a little alarmed.

"I am actually here for work" I said.

More notes were made and another bloke with a turban came over to the desk. They both looked at me strangely. There was another call made and I was asked for whom I worked. I told them that I worked for the English and I showed them my business card. They then enquired when I would be returning to Singapore and I informed them that I would be going back on the weekend. I was eventually allowed entry but I suspect that I am being shadowed by MI5 agents.

I can feel their presence.

As I trudged through the Arrival Hall I looked for a man holding a sign with my name on it and there was of course none. The last two times that I have been to London there has always been a debacle with the car service that my company uses. Earlier this year when I arrived there were three guys waiting and holding signs with my name on it. They were all standing next to each other. The time before that there was none. Like this morning.

I was prepared for something like this so I had the number of the car service in my phone. I rang the office number and got a voicemail message informing me that the office was not open until 8.30am and it was only 6.00am. After a half an hour wait a very disheveled man arrived carrying a sign with my name on it. He asked me if I was me and I confirmed that I was. He then said, "Yoright?"

"Yoright" is an English greeting. It sort of means 'Hello" but it's literal translation is "Are you alright?"

I have been "yorighted" all day.

My reply to the "Yoright" given to me by the Driver-who-was-half-an-hour-late in picking me up was, "No I am not fucking alright. I have been waiting here for you for half an hour".

I told him that I was battered and was tired and grumpy. He apologized and told me that he had only been given the job an hour earlier and he had to come to Heathrow from West London.

I apologized back and I told him that I was weary after a long flight. I also asked him to keep an eye out in his rear vision mirror to see if we were being followed. He assured me that he would and then he asked me if I wanted him to shake off a tail if there was one. I told him not to bother and that I just wanted to get to my hotel and get some rest.

I am staying at Canary Wharf at the Marriott Hotel. I have stayed here a couple of times before. It is convenient as it is only a few minutes walk to my office.

Marriott hotels are everywhere and they are an American company. The full name is actually JW Marriott Hotels. JW is John Willard. He was an entrepreneur who started his business life selling root beer. This is a drink otherwise known as sarsaparilla. It is a carbonated soft drink originally made from a blend of birch oil and sassafras. It is called root beer because of the sassafras connection. It is made from the root of the sassafras plant. 

I don't like it.

John Willard's Root Beer shop in Washington was very popular. He opened his first one in in 1927 and later called it the "Hot Shoppe". He started serving Mexican food in his shop and then he progressively opened more and more of them across the United States. His business really took off in 1939 when he was awarded some very big contracts to feed the tens of thousands of government workers employed in the Department of Defense at the start of World War Two.

Marriott opened his first hotel in Arlington Virginia in 1957 and he didn't stop building and opening them until he died in 1985. He died a very wealthy man and his hotel empire lives on.

The Marriott hotel in Islamabad in Pakistan was bombed by Islamic extremists in September 2008 and heaps of people were killed. All were innocents. The Marriott was targeted simply because it was American. You bomb and you get bombed back. That was the message being sent.

The history of Canary wharf where I am staying is interesting. It is located in an area known as the West India Docks which is on the Isle of Dogs in the borough of Towers Hamlets. This is in East London. The West India docks used to be one of the busiest docks in the world. They closed in the 1980's and the British government offered stimulus packages for businesses to move there and now it is the main Banking district of London.

The Isle of Dogs - I like that. The name was first recorded in 1568 but why it is named thus is a bit of a mystery. Some believe that it is actually a corruption of the name "Isle of ducks" because a lot of wild fowl used to inhabit the area. There is another theory that it's name was derived as a term of some contempt because it was a 'dog's life' for those people who lived there. A further theory is that the because the original docks of the sixteenth century were used mainly to import firewood – and the phrase is linked to the term 'fire dogs'. These were the cross beams that were laid beneath a hearth fire used to make charcoal. 

It is all quite abstruse.

At the time I am writing this there is still no Royal baby. Bookmakers here in England are in a frenzy and all sorts of bets are being taken on whether it will be a boy or a girl. There are also odds being offered on what the child will be named. Victoria is currently the favorite and you can get good odds of six to one on this. Charlotte is a close second favorite at eight to one. Strangely a boy is more favored to be born than a girl so naming him Victoria or Charlotte will be irregular. The baby will apparently be third in line for the throne of England. 

It is all very exciting.

I am getting a bit delirious now as jet lag is kicking in.

I will say 'yoright' now and go to bed.

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