Thursday, 20 March 2014

At Prague airport...

I checked out of the hotel just before noon, the taxi driver arrived and soon I was on my way to the airport on what turned out to be a beautiful day: there were blue skies and sunshine.
Minutes after take-off from Prague and heading for Heathrow...
There's so much to say. I'm now sitting in the Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurant, which looks a lot better than it is; it's a pub offering a limited menu of microwaved panini breads – I chose ham and cheese – but the beer's good, so I'm not complaining, and there's the Czech version of MTV. As I write this, Avicci (that might not be spelt correctly) is belting out his latest hit. I've got time to kill before I fly off and there's still some power left in the laptop's battery so I thought I'd write a few more words about Prague.

What a great city! It is! Whenever I travel to Europe I realise how cultured it all is when compared to the increasingly 'Chavvy' United Kingdom. It always hits me when I leave the confines of a UK airport (Heathrow on this occasion) and start to mingle with the populus, which tends to be a lot of very shabby-dressed people with miserable-looking faces and I just know that it wouldn't take much to push them over the edge. Everybody's on a kind of knife-edge in the UK while over here in Prague (or wherever) it doesn't seem to be the case. Perhaps I'm seeing things through rose-tinted glasses, I don't know, but there's something not right about the UK at the moment and it's probably a lot to do with the Government and austerity and all the usual crap that pisses people off.

Even on a very peripheral level the UK seems to be lacking something. Take buskers, which I've mentioned before in a previous post. In the UK, buskers are normal playing an acoustic guitar. Here in Prague, I saw one busker playing a set of wine glasses filled with differing amounts of water and, wait for it, he was playing Strauss – beautifully – and he always attracted a huge crowd.

The driving standards here seem a lot better than those in the UK. My taxi driver took his time, not in an irritating 'get a move-on' sort of way, he simply drove properly.

I reached the airport with plenty of time to spare and that's why I am blogging in the airport. I checked in without any fuss. The only mildly worrying thing was the lack of security. Normally, after checking in it's time to go through the laborious procedure of taking the laptop out of it's case, putting it into a tray of its own and then being subjected to 'security'. Not here, though, and for a while I was a little concerned, until I noticed that 'security' takes place at the gate. Thank the Lord for that!

Travelling is odd and I can't help thinking of dad and what he used to say about 'travelling'. He thought it was pointless if it was being done purely for the sake of it, ie let's go travelling. Why? Travel if you need to go somewhere, but travelling for the sake of it is pointless, he would argue. It's a bit like when the TV news tells you only to travel 'if absolutely necessary' as if anybody would take a train to, say, Cockfosters – or anywhere – if they didn't need to.

The sticky word, of course, is 'holiday' as everybody needs a break. I'm guessing that dad would say if you're travelling for a reason – to take a break – then that was fine, but there are people, he would argue, who travel for the sake of it. "I'm taking a year off to go travelling." Where to? "Well, all over." But I think dad was wrong. If you're taking a year off to 'go travelling' you're not travelling around aimlessly, you're seeing the world, visiting places you haven't seen before and so on. Surely, that's fine too? In all seriousness, who WOULD travel for no reason? Although I must say that I really enjoy 'mooching' around, especially in foreign lands. Perhaps dad had something against 'moochers'.

The biggest problem for me is the 'universality' of everything. Everything is the same and by that I don't just mean the big brands I encounter everywhere. "Ooh look! They've got a Tesco!" No, it's more fundamental than that. All city centres do the same thing, they all look the same, they all have the same style of restaurant with canopies and those outdoor heaters and sail-like banners and we all get the picture when it comes to churches, cathedrals, castles, museums, towers, whatever it might be.

In the same way that all nations (or most nations) have central banks, they also have 'city centres' designed for the tourist. If there's a cathedral or a church or a museum it's the same as everywhere else and people stand there marvelling at whatever it might be: an ornate ceiling, whatever, but it's always the same. And then there's all the shops 'beyond passport control' at the airport – what's the point? All the tat you can buy anywhere: teeshirts with 'Prague' or 'London' or 'New York' or whatever written on the front; glasses, dolls, baseball caps, wherever I go it's always the same old thing – broadly speaking. In that sense you might as well not bother getting out of bed because, basically, you know what you're going to get: the bar of Toblerone, the bottle of whisky, the perfume, the ads in the back of the tourism magazine in your hotel room, bringing to your attention a forthcoming gig by the Blue Man Group.

Somewhere, somebody buys this stuff and it's displayed in their houses: plates, vases, snow domes, there's a wardrobe full of hooded sweat shirts with the name of a city on the front. Hell, every city has a Hard Rock Café – there's another one – and all the restaurants, by and large, look the same, offer the same sort of food you can get anywhere with the same poncy chefs pretending to be something they're not.

I think the problem here is standardisation. There's too much 'uniformity' and it doesn't matter where you go. Why does everything have to be the same? It's as if somewhere, somebody has decided on what they believe is a 'winning formula' and others have copied it, to their detriment. Oh for somebody, somewhere, to break the mould! Ultimately, branding is to be blame. Everybody feels they must have a logo, a brand identity, to convey 'brand reassurance'  to their customers and that creates uniformity based on the knowledge that people like the familiar and the expected. Branding drives everything: hotel brands ensure that every hotel room wherever you are in the world, looks the same. All cars look the same, we all have iPhones and iPads and people are the same too. Wherever I go people wear jeans and trainers and play with their mobile phones. In short, the world is homogenising and that, in my opinion, is a bad thing.

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