Thursday, 3 September 2015

Ramblings from Düsseldorf...

View from room 407, Friends Hotel...
Wherever I go in the world everything, bar virtually nothing, is the same. Now, don't for one minute think that I'm talking about 'globalisation'. Globalisation is all to do with branding and big business and the fact that, wherever you go, you might encounter a Tesco or a Claire's Accessories or a Zara and so on. There's nothing worse than flying thousands of miles to the other side of the globe only to discover that the first thing you see is a McDonald's or a Tesco Express. I flew to Calgary once and saw a Claire's Accessories.

Earlier this evening I was sitting in Da Bruno, an Italian restaurant a short walk from my hotel here in Dusseldorf, Germany, where there was a leaving party of sorts going on. It was just the same as any other leaving party the world over; I could have been anywhere on the planet and possibly even in the middle of the Sahara desert, who knows? But I was in Düsseldorf, it was getting dark outside as we are now into September and the days are closing in, but the scene was just the same in London, Madrid, Paris, Warsaw, Montreal, New York, Mexico City, Brasilia, you name it. People were making self-conscious speeches or accepting gifts from their work colleagues, the usual stuff. And really that's it, there's not much else to say other than everybody's the same the world over – we're all so samey and predictable and we all experience the same phobias, the same desires, the same ambitions and the same failures. As my dad used to tell me, "You're not unique."

When you equate such thinking with the atrocities going on around the world, in places like Syria, you realise that most of those atrocities are caused by religion and governments and that most of the people caught up in conflicts would, I'm guessing, rather be sitting in a restaurant wishing good luck to their work colleagues who might be moving on to pastures new. Syria's refugees want safety and normality and so they're heading to Europe to live in what the Clash once called a 'safe European home'.

Room 407's telephone, Friends Hotel
I find myself thinking about those refugees and wondering when they last found themselves in a restaurant celebrating the fact that somebody had just turned 21 or was getting married or leaving one job to start another. If they have any memories at all I'm guessing that they're distant or long forgotten.

It seems to me that if you look at the root causes of a lot of the upheavals affecting the world today, it's always got something to do with religion. Frankly, I find it all a little crazy when you consider that 'religion' is just a belief system, nothing more, nothing less – in the same way that some people think Elvis is still alive – and why should anybody be forced to believe in something they don't want to believe in? I know. It all sounds like a very simplistic argument, but when you consider that belief systems  – in their various forms – are just that, 'beliefs', then surely we all need to get a grip and cast magic aside for the sake of reality.

I'm not sure where I stand on the big pillars of religious thinking, the main one being the afterlife, but I'm pretty sure that if we can't get a man to Mars or find a cure for cancer, Alzheimer's and the like, then there can't really be an afterlife. If there is such a thing, then I'd like to know why my dad hasn't been in touch (surely the dead are allowed ONE phone call). And how are they existing? In houses? Apartments? Hotels? And what age are they? The age they were when they died? Imagine finding yourself in the afterlife with all those virgins waiting to offer you a good time and having to admit that you're 84 and would have trouble raising a smile, not to mention anything else. The frustration of the real world would be carried forward to the afterlife and you'd be standing around wondering if there was another afterlife after the afterlife in which you had a choice of what age you'd want to be. Perhaps in the afterlife there are religious groups some of which put forward the argument that there is no afterlife after the afterlife; and conflicting groups arguing the opposite point of view. Perhaps there's a certain animosity between the two opposing camps and they're trying to blow each other up. Who knows?

Where conflict in Syria and Iraq are concerned, Tony Blair and George Bush have a lot to answer for and, in the eyes of many, are the real villains of the piece. Together they have destabilised the Middle East and enabled organisations like ISIS to exist and expand and it all falls back on the highly suspicious invasion of Iraq some 12 years ago – remember the spurious claim, made by Tony Blair, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that could hit the UK within 45 minutes? It was all a lie. Remember the suspicious and still unexplained death of David Kelly? Well, there were no weapons of mass destruction, but not because of faulty intelligence as the government would like us all to believe. The intelligence was fine it was just that, faced with outrage from the public at large, 'faulty intelligence' was the best excuse on offer at the time – and what an easy excuse! "If you can't trust the intelligence services, who CAN you trust?" Nobody if the truth be known, but then again, the truth will never be revealed, not with Lord Chilcott in charge. Let's not forget that Lord C is a very close friend of Tony Blair and a member of the establishment (LORD Chilcott) – so don't expect any kind of prosecution; it's not going to happen.
Friends Hotel, Düsseldorf after dark...

Today we are suffering for what Bush and Blair inflicted on the world and to what end? Back in the early noughties it was all about winning contracts for companies like Halliburton, but now it's more about how the West caused the problem and then sat back and did nothing, bowing to pressure to 'bring our boys home' and allowing disparate groups, like ISIS, to form unfettered. In short, it's a real 'can of worms' but in many ways that phrase 'you reap what you sow' springs to mind. Today we're having to deal with the consequences – lone wolf terrorist atrocities like Tunisia, the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris and so on. 

In fact, terrorism aside, have you noticed how nobody within the establishment ever gets prosecuted? If there's a problem, say, with the police and it goes to the IPCC, the police always get off. And now, with historical child abuse allegations hitting the political establishment, isn't it amazing how it's all been left until they're dead or suffering from dementia and for those still in the firing line there's plenty of delaying tactics in place to stop or hinder any investigations going forward – possibly in the hope that those being accused will die off before an inquiry gets underway. All very, very suspicious if you ask me.

This morning there was a particularly disturbing image on the front page of the Independent of a very young boy washed up on a Turkish beach in Bodrum. The image brought into focus the problem facing Europe over its policy towards migrants coming from war-torn regions of the Middle East and Africa. The UK, apparently, has only taken in 216 refugees from Turkey, which is piss poor when you consider that we could operate more like a multi-storey car park: when it is discovered that a family from Britain has mysteriously left the country en route to a better life in Syria with ISIS, the spaces vacated could be filled by those wanting to enter the UK. We could put up one of those signs at Dover saying "Full" or "Spaces". However, with something like 330,000 people arriving on these shores from all over Europe – people living in Europe and moving to England to claim benefits – then perhaps it's not that good an idea.

I wandered back along Karlstrasse towards my hotel in the dark, but it's easy to spot as there's a green light illuminating a white building, which is the Friends Hotel. Avid readers will know that I've stayed here before. It's a pleasant and unassuming place on the outside and this time I was staying in room 407 on the fourth floor where there is a framed image of Kylie Minogue on the wall over the bed. When I was last here I stayed in room 207 and had a framed photograph of Twiggy on the bathroom wall. Room 407's phone is a bling skull made to resemble Damien Hirst's 'Diamond Geezer', although it took me a while to work out that it was a phone.

After a reasonable night's sleep – I was awoken around 0330hrs by noises from the street – I went in search of a Netto supermarket in order to buy some toothpaste and stumbled upon a decent-looking bike shop selling Koga bicycles. I would love to buy a Koga bicycle. The shop was closed so I couldn't go in, but I wandered back to the hotel and prepared to check out. I ordered a cab and then spent the morning in a meeting. After a very pleasant lunch in a Chinese restaurant I walked across town – it took me one hour to reach the hotel using the iphone's GPS. While it threatened to rain, the weather was fine – there have been temperatures as high as 39 degrees C here in Düsseldorf.

Back on the tarmac at Gatwick airport...
I ordered a cab to the airport, but arrived miles too early, so I ordered a beer and some peanuts plus a cake and some tea. The flight was delayed, but eventually it arrived and off we went. I love it when the pilot says "excellent flying conditions" and they were, although en route I discovered that it was against aviation rules – apparently – to bring your own wine aboard a plane. "So if you'll finish that glass and then drink our wine instead, I'd be grateful," said a rather terse member of the cabin crew. To be totally honest, their wine was better than mine so I conformed with their wishes and enjoyed the short flight back to London Gatwick. On both the outward and inward flights I had virtually the same meal: a croque monsieur with red wine, a packet of peanuts and a bottle of mineral water.

What I find really odd about easyJet is the speedy boarding system. While it worked fine back in the day when there was basically a scrum for the seats, now that they've initiated allocated seating like proper airlines, there doesn't seem to be much point. Standing at the gate, those with speedy boarding were called to jump on the bus that would take them to the plane ahead of everybody else by about five minutes – and then we all piled on. When we reached the plane, therefore, we, those who hadn't paid for 'speedy boarding', were the first off the bus and the first on the plane. But even if those with speedy boarding had their own bus, which ferried them to the plane before the proletariat, they would end up having to stand in the aisle waiting for whoever had the window and middle seat, so what's the point?

The flight time from Düsseldorf to London was 60 minutes, probably less. Normally I have enough time to eat a snack and one of those small bottles of wine before we land. Once back on terra firma I made my way towards passport control and decided to use the automated exit using my new passport. I was chatting to a friend on the phone about David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries when a man in front of me, from Holland, agreed that it was an excellent book. He had been eavesdropping on my conversation. Once through baggage reclaim and then customs – where I always feel guilty for some reason as I waltz through the 'nothing to declare' section – I made my way to the train station and the familiar but gloomy surroundings of the cold platform, which was full of holiday makers back from sunnier climates (like Düsseldorf) and clearly not happy about being back in the UK.

The train was delayed and then it was delayed some more so I had to get a 'stopping train' to East Croydon, via Horley, Salfords, Earlswood, Redhill, Merstham, Coulsdon South and Purley. I drew some cash from the 'hole in the wall' at East Croydon station and took a black cab home, arriving around 2100hrs.

That wine I wasn't allowed to drink on the plane? I drank it at home and then, after a bit of television, I went to bed.

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