I’ll not be posting for a few days as I’m going to Tarragona in Spain to meet up with a Venezuelan mate and, probably, drink rum until I fall over. I’ll be driving down, and this afternoon I hope to stop at the Pont du Gard to marvel at Roman engineering and construction. I’ll spend the night in Perpignan and continue on my way tomorrow.

Be good while I’m gone.


Armed and Dangerous

Back when I did my podcast with Mike in Switzerland he mentioned gun laws over there allow you to keep a small arsenal in your house and fire them on ranges. Turns out Mike runs a rather successful YouTube channel called Bloke on the Range featuring all sorts of firearms and he’s armed to the teeth. I’d never fired a handgun before so just after New Year I popped over to Mike’s alpine fortress and did some skiing, drinking, and shooting (not necessarily in that order). Here’s the video of my first attempt at firing pistols:

TL/DW: Nobody died and I hit the target. And it was very cold.



Back in the early 2000s when I used to frequent the off-topic message boards on a rugby league fansite, a discussion started about the new Airbus A380, the superjumbo that would become the world’s biggest passenger plane. One of the contributors thought it would fail, and explained there were two theories as to how people would travel by air in future. One theory reckoned people would fly en masse between hubs such as London, Dubai, Singapore, and New York before transferring to shorter flights which would take them to their final destination. The other theory said people would just fly direct from one destination to another. The A380 with its 500 seats was banking on the former being correct; Airbus’ rival Boeing bet the other way, and developed the 787 Dreamliner which was much smaller, but had the same range and was more fuel efficient. The contributor on the RL forum thought Boeing was making the right call.

For a while it looked as though both theories were right. Direct flights between regional cities became more common, while Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, and other cities became hubs from which the A380 operated. Not every airport could handle an A380; the double-decker passenger boarding bridges had to be installed and the runway had to be a certain length. When I was sick on an Emirates A380 I was given a bollocking by the flight crew for boarding in the first place because “we can’t just land this thing anywhere in an emergency, you know?” But for a while, it looked as though this aircraft would be a success.

However, with fuel prices rocketing in the mid-late 2000s, the A380 became expensive to operate, especially in comparison with Boeing’s smaller alternatives. Orders slowed and yesterday I read this:

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has pulled the plug on its struggling A380 superjumbo, which entered service just 12 years ago.

Airbus said last deliveries of the world’s largest passenger aircraft, which cost about $25bn (£19.4bn) to develop, would be made in 2021.

The decision comes after Emirates, the largest A380 customer, cut its order.

The A380 faced fierce competition from smaller, more efficient aircraft and has never made a profit.

It’s a shame in a way because it’s an impressive feat of engineering, but they weren’t that nice to fly in. I flew business class in an A380 with Emirates and Etihad and while it’s fun to wander to the bar at the back and order a drink, I found the seats on the Dreamliners much nicer. It was also a lot quieter. I’ll miss the A380 a little and be glad I had the chance to fly in a few of them, but what I’m really glad I experienced is the top deck in a 747. These planes don’t carry passengers any more but when they did, getting a business class seat in the exclusive top deck was as close as most of us will come to flying in a private jet.


Hens Solo

I’ve written before about women of a certain age traveling alone:

It’s something they do well into middle-age and perhaps beyond, usually going to exotic locations where they talk in lofty terms about spirituality (while scoffing at anything which even hints at formal religion). There must be a pretty big market for this: reasonably wealthy women who have nothing else to do during their annual holidays but jet off somewhere exotic for a few weeks or months of “finding themselves”.

Via Little Billy Ockham, I find this article:

Like most self-assured young women with a global take on life, Indian-born, American-educated yoga teacher, media personality and Columbia Business School MBA graduate Ira Trivedi, 30, doesn’t think twice about going away on her own.

That fast-moving ratchet sound you can hear is a number of boxes being ticked in quick succession.

The first journey I made truly alone was when I was about 23. I’d just finished business school in the US and was finally properly independent – financially, mentally, emotionally. I spent a month in Bali by myself – no friends, no family, no work reason to be there. Just me by myself doing some soul searching.

Okay, there’s a pic of her in a bikini on the beach, and she’s pretty cute. If she wanted company, I’m sure she could find it if she took a taxi into Kuta and walked up to a bunch of Queenslanders in NRL singlets and flip-flops. Let’s be honest, a half-decent looking 23 year old woman is going to enjoy herself no matter where she goes, provided she doesn’t run into jihadists in the Atlas Mountains. But she’s now 30:

I’ve come back to Bali regularly since then for self-contemplation, when I need time to be on my own.

If she’s taking the same holidays at 30 that she did at 23 fresh out of college, it doesn’t sound as though she’s developed much as a person. Are there any relationships to speak of?

A spot of solo soul-searching a la Trivedi’s near annual ritual is now one of the most popular travel trends for 2019, particularly among women over 55 looking to travel either alone or in small groups of like-minded people.

The title of the article is “Why more women are choosing to travel alone?” I think that may be begging the question somewhat.

So popular in fact that the Australian high-end tour operator Captain’s Choice has, for the first time in its near three-decade history, put a “women only” trip on its 2019 itinerary – to be led by Trivedi.

Titled Harmony in the Himalayas, the 10-day journey in September includes five days at luxurious tented Chamba Camp Thiksey in Ladakh, northern India, during which time the group of no more than 20 women will spend “five days at altitude, nourishing mind, body and soul”, according to the marketing spiel.

Women only, eh? Was that on purpose, or was it just that no men signed up?

“Our solo travellers are really important to us…” says Lou Tandy, a director at Captain’s Choice.”


Priced from $16,850 per person…


Roughly one in four Americans said they would travel solo in 2018, according to a survey of 2300 people conducted in late 2017 by US marketing firm MMGY Global, which specialises in the travel and hospitality industries. And while that attitude was as prevalent among Millennials as it was among Baby Boomers, women were the clear trend drivers across all age groups.

Well, yes. What we’re seeing is the result of social engineering which has produced millions of middle-aged women who have impressive job titles and lots of money but are bereft of spiritual happiness, the sort which is more traditionally supplied by a partner, family, or going to church. How many of these women shelling out almost seventeen grand on “nourishing mind, body and soul” with a bunch of other women in Ladakh would prefer to be on a beach holiday with a man with whom they have a stable, loving relationship?

Google Trends also shows interest in solo travel has grown steadily over the past 10 years, but reports increased searches for “female solo travel” have only gained traction since 2013. The average monthly search volume for the term “solo female travel” grew by 52 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

As I said in my original post:

I’ve noticed you don’t see many middle-aged men going “travelling”, it’s nearly always women, and always alone. One possible answer for the latter is all their friends are tied-down with family and can’t take the time away, but most middle-aged single women have a whole rugby team who are in the same situation, so why don’t they go in a group? I suspect the reason they go on holiday alone and the reason they are single are one and the same: they’re either nuts or simply not much fun to be around.

What would be fun is seeing how many women on these group tours actually form lasting friendships with those they meet. I expect it’s very few.

And this amused (emphasis mine):

As for Trivedi, she’s looking forward to channelling plenty of lady power. “Women usually have the experience of little girl groups when we’re young; girls love to congregate,” she says. “As we get older, we lose that. Often we lose it to men, our partners – and then to children.

“So reconnecting to women you don’t know when you’re older is very powerful. Sharing stories is powerful and there’s no judgment. It’s about connectivity.”

This sounds for all the world like a holiday where divorced women come to bitch about their ex-husbands. Little wonder no men signed up.


True Colours

From the Daily Mail:

This is the international lawyer filmed ranting at Air India staff on a Mumbai to London flight after she was refused alcohol – leaving other business class passengers holding hands in terror.

Simone O’Broin, 50, was arrested after she was caught on camera shouting abuse at male and female cabin crew and demanding another glass of wine.

At one point in the footage, she is seen yelling: ‘I work for all you f***ing people… The f***ing Rohingyas, the f***ing people of all Asia, for you, I’m an international criminal lawyer.

‘Don’t get any money for it by the way. But you won’t give me a f***ing glass of wine, is that correct?’.

The shocking incident took place on an Air India flight from Mumbai to London Heathrow last Saturday.

The full video is here. So who is she?

Belfast-born Ms O’Broin, who trained as a lawyer in the UK, studied international law and worked for years in Palestine…


…was understood to be on her way home from a two month break in Goa when she was caught on film.

Ah. She’s one of those. I guess she wasn’t at a Zen retreat for inner calm.

My only surprise is she doesn’t have turquoise hair.


Thoughts on Perth, WA

I’m now back in France, having arrived yesterday from Perth. As such, I’m trying to shake off the jet lag. Despite having lived in Melbourne I forgot how damned far away Australia is from anywhere. The flight from Perth to Abu Dhabi was over 11 hours; if I’d been asked to guess before booking it I’d have said it was around 6 or 7.

I went to Perth for one reason, and that was to visit people. I’d spent my three months of gardening leave travelling and catching up with pretty much everyone I knew, and with a spare month before my MBA starts I decided I’d take the plunge and go see all the people I know in Perth who I’d not seen in years. If I didn’t do it then, I probably never would. I stayed with a family I knew in Sakhalin, two adults and two girls aged around 6 and 8. They live in Cottesloe not far from the beach, and I had an opportunity to wander around the neighbourhood.

From what I could tell from the very large and expensive houses that dominate that area, Australians are to architecture what Germans are to fine dining. Some houses seemed a combination of several styles, as if the architect couldn’t decide what to go for so just used all his favourite features in a single design. One I saw looked like a British council estate bungalow which had been scaled up three or four times with a porch held up by a row of Greek columns. A lot of them are the ultra-modern box-style, which don’t look too bad in themselves but appear odd beside the old colonial-style houses. Obviously there’s no requirement in Perth for new houses to blend in with the surrounding ones. Some are described as Tuscan-style, and while I can see what they are trying to do they sort of look as though an Australian architect designed it while on the phone to his mate who was looking at a postcard his aunt sent him from Italy. And as I saw in Melbourne and Hobart, over half the houses had tin-roofs. In the UK, corrugated iron is usually reserved for farm buildings and warehouses, but in Perth they’ll build a $3m stone house with a swimming pool and landscaped lawns and finish off the roof, and even sometimes the walls, with the same stuff. Uninsulated. My guess is it was a cheap solution 50 years ago and Australians have simply got used to it.

The beach was nice if a little short of topographical features: no rocky coves here, it was straight beach and sand dunes for a couple of thousand miles in both directions, broken only by the harbour at Fremantle. They’d built a cycle and running path alongside and when I went there on a Saturday morning it was filled with beautiful people in lycra; I’d found the same thing at Melbourne’s tan track. There were also plenty of people surfing and kite-surfing, the water turning turquoise halfway through my trip when summer suddenly arrived making it look very inviting. Up until then it was a brownish colour and choppy. The wind in Perth, coming straight off the ocean, is strong.

I went into the city centre several times to meet people, and I think I’d seen most of it by the first afternoon. The two tallest towers belonged to Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton respectively, letting everyone know why the city is there and who’s in charge. The oil company Woodside moved into a brand new tower when I was there; I suppose it seemed like a good idea back when the oil price was over a hundred. Perth is a town of boom and bust – or rather, one big boom and then a bust – and everyone I spoke to referred to the boom era at least once. The place didn’t look as though it was in a slump though, and it seems to be slowly recovering. I wandered through the shopping district thinking it was a lot like Melbourne (particularly the covered pavements with the perpendicular shop signs hanging perpendicular), and then along Langley Park by the Swan river. It was nice, but perhaps not for the whole afternoon.

Possibly the biggest culture shock I received was when my host family sat down to eat at 6pm. Coming from France, I wondered whether this was a late lunch but it turned out to be dinner. Then at 8:30pm everyone took off to bed, leaving me wandering around in the dark. I awoke the next morning at about 7am and thought I’d get up to say hello to find the parents gone to work and the kids with the au pair getting ready for school. Their father had got up at 5:30am to go surfing, too. Later I was out with a blog reader for a drink and we finished up around 8pm. I walked through deserted streets to the railway station, where I joined about 5 other passengers going in the direction of Fremantle. I think much of this is explained by the fact it gets light at 6am, dark at 6pm, and there is no daylight savings time in Western Australia.

Perth wasn’t as expensive as I was expecting, and much cheaper than Paris for food and booze. One evening I went to a birthday party held at a French restaurant, and found it staffed by French people and the food excellent. Otherwise I was mainly eating decent burgers and the sort of meat-cheese-chips-sauce melanges you only find in Australia. I also ordered a rack of lamb ribs in Fremantle which had been brilliantly marinaded before overcooked.

As in Melbourne, I found the Australians extremely friendly and pleasant to be around, but the place itself rather dull. As my holiday wore on I reached the same conclusion of Perth that I did of Melbourne: if you have a good job, it’s a great place to raise kids. From what I could tell everything worked, it was safe, the weather was great, the schools good, there was plenty of space, and you had everything a family could want or need. But if you were a single bloke I think you’d go a bit nuts after a month; it’s not like you could drink all night if the bars empty at 8pm. Interestingly, I met two foreign wives – one French, the other Russian – and both said they find Perth to be a cultural desert and they’d like their children to spend at least some time back in the motherland before they reach adulthood. Like anywhere, I guess it comes down to what stage your life’s at and what you’re doing with it. So with that, I’ll say I had a great time in Perth and it was absolutely wonderful to see people I’d not seen in years, as well as meet some new people who read this blog. But Perth isn’t a place I’ll be hoping to live in any time soon; I would definitely go back for another visit, though.


A Middle-Aged Sex Cult

Via commentator David Moore, this:

Koh Phangan is a small tropical island famous for its laid-back hippie vibe, healing workshops and full-moon parties. Cafés serve magic mushroom shakes and detox clinics offer colonics with organic coffee enemas.

The latest toxin that’s being flushed out is not a psychedelic drug, but a so-called “sex cult”.

Agama, one of the world’s largest yoga training centres that was a business magnet on the island for 15 years, is closed as it addresses sexual abuse allegations.

Its guru Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, a Romanian native born as Narcis Tarcau, is understood to have left Koh Pangan.

In July, 31 women publicly alleged sexual abuse at Agama. Fourteen women told the Guardian last week they were sexually assaulted by Tarcau, three of them said they were raped.

Hundreds of Kiwis have passed through the school.

One, a 36-year-old woman, did about 12 months total of yoga teacher training at Agama over five years.

She tells the Herald on Sunday of going to Tarcau’s house for a “healing meditation”.

“Afterwards, he kissed me and started taking off my clothes without asking,” she says.

“There was a lot of pressure for sex, even though I said no.”

She managed to leave before anything happened but what really disturbed her was a senior teacher’s reaction.

“[He said] ‘Like wow, how did you manage to leave without making love.’ I felt really naïve.

“Swami is very aggressive and manipulative. There was all this subtle pressure to sleep with him and other teachers the higher you go in the school. Men are told that women want to be ‘taken’.”

Women were also encouraged to have sex with other women in threesomes “because yin and yin together are good” but gay male sex was not encouraged.

“The brainwashing is subtle but relentless. If unwanted sexual advances or worse happened, and the woman wanted to bring it up, she was told either that she needs to be more open and work on her heart chakra, or that she is attracting this kind of experience. It’s her karma to work through this, especially if it happens more than once.”

A weirdo running a cult and persuading daft women to have sex with him is nothing new, and I imagine such men have existed since the dawn of time. But what differentiates this from, say, the Manson Family is the age of the women: one is 36, another mentioned in the article is 42, another in her 30s. These are not naive teenagers but women approaching middle age, yet some stayed in this place for years. I can’t help but think this Saraswati chap was exploiting the deep insecurity I wrote about here:

For most people, “travelling” – as opposed to simply going on holiday – is something you do in your twenties before settling down into a proper job and/or family life. But for single women, it’s something they do well into middle-age and perhaps beyond, usually going to exotic locations where they talk in lofty terms about spirituality (while scoffing at anything which even hints at formal religion). There must be a pretty big market for this: reasonably wealthy women who have nothing else to do during their annual holidays but jet off somewhere exotic for a few weeks or months of “finding themselves”. I don’t think they’re going abroad to get laid, but they do seem a bit lost, as if going to a nice location will help fill the gigantic hole in their lives back home.

In short, there is very little in this story – not the location, the retreat’s claimed purpose, the cult leader, the profile of the women who attended, nor what took place – which I find very surprising. I’m half-minded to think the reputation of the centre was well known and that served as an attraction, to some women at least.


Portugal, Jobs, and Banks

I’m back from Portugal, where I spent almost the entire time in dingy bars watching the world cup and drinking heavily with an American mate, joined briefly by a Venezuelan ex-colleague who happened to be transiting in Lisbon airport on his way back to Angola. I saw a tiny bit of Porto and nothing at all of Lisbon, which made me rather glad I’d been there before. That said, I had a great time: catching up with friends and getting drunk in foreign countries is as good a holiday as any, even if it could just as well take place in your basement. The first thing I’ll do today is eat a vegetable: I don’t think I saw one the whole time I was there. I consumed copious amounts of pork, bacon, sausage, potato, and grease though. I was also offered, quite brazenly, all manner of illegal drugs in the street of Lisbon, something which didn’t happen last time.

Anyway, this morning I found this on my Twitter feed:

It’s the second story I find interesting. Leaving aside the high probability that not a single person working at The Times knows the first thing about fruit picking and they’re likely just repeating whatever they’ve been told, since when was a job being fun a requirement to taking one? It’s little wonder we rely on foreigners to pick fruit if the local youth are permitted to refuse jobs and collect welfare because the work being offered isn’t fun enough for them. Perhaps The Times, rather than engaging in Brexiit scaremongering, could have gone into the reasons behind this extraordinary sense of entitlement in today’s unemployed and reflected on their role in supporting the various governments under whose watch it developed.

Incidentally, the chap I was drinking with in Portugal works in banking and, according to him, the giant American banks are shifting thousands of jobs from London to Paris. I asked how they’d cope with the unions and labour laws, and he said they’ve done their homework and they’re simply not going to deal with the unions. If they run into any labour disputes, they’ll simply up and leave. I have every reason to believe what my friend says is accurate, but I suspect these banks have been lured in with promises of special dispensation and once they’re installed the reality is going to hit them right between the eyes. I wonder how long it will be before the CEO of an American bank realises by law he must form a work council:

Any company with at least 50 employees must set up a works council (CE). This committee is composed of representatives of the staff and trade unions, with a mandate of 4 years maximum. It is chaired by the employer. It has economic, social and cultural attributes. To carry out its missions, it has hours of delegation.

We’re not in London any more, Toto.


A Grisly End

Another reader alerts me to this story, presumably so I continue this week’s theme of middle-aged women travelling to exotic shores:

A woman who travelled to India to treat her depression was drugged, raped and beheaded before her body was found hung upside down in a forest.

Liga Skromane, 33, who is Latvian but was living in Dublin, Ireland, for the past five years with her partner, arrived in Kerala with her sister in February.

She was hoping to be treated at one of the ayurvedic centres the area is famous for, according to NDTV.

So she went with her sister.

But she went missing a few weeks after arriving in the country after leaving the centre to visit a beach.

Her decomposing body was found near a mangrove forest in Thiruvallam on April 21.

Which has me wondering where the sister was. Unless the beach was very close by, you’d have thought the two of them would have gone together.

Two suspects are in custody. They are drug peddlers and one is a repeat offender with a history of sexually abusing men and women in the area where Ms Skromane’s body was found, sources told NDTV.

Police said the victim’s post-mortem examination didn’t reveal much because of how decomposed her body was.

However, they were able to determine that she was given drugs and assaulted before being strangled to death.

I don’t know what to make of this, other than two women went to a dangerous foreign place, and one went off on her own to find a beach and wound up being killed. Common sense seems to have been in short supply, especially considering the presence of drugs in the story and that the victim was suffering depression. There’s probably a bit more to this story, but I doubt we’ll ever know it.


Ignorance and racism working in both directions

A reader alerts me to another BBC story on race which reveals more than it’s supposed to:

Ashley Butterfield, 31, has been around the world – but a visit to India brought home the particular challenges of being a lone black female tourist.

“Are blacks better in bed because of genetics or diet?” the middle-aged Indian restaurant owner asked me earnestly as I finished the dinner he had prepared.

Once I fell asleep on a bus in north India and woke up to a man, inches away from me, videoing me on his phone.

“What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed.

He simply replied: “Instagram.”

In Udaipur, a man approached me in a restaurant and kept telling me how much he loved black people. Then he started making comments that were sexual.

It might come as a surprise to those who think contemporary Britain or Trump’s America is just one more vote away from bringing back slavery, but most of the world is pretty un-woke. If you want to visit the least racist society on earth, go to Britain; if you want to find the world’s least racist city, go to London. However bad it is, everywhere else is worse.

Following a gruelling screening process, I was selected for a two-year position in Africa with the Peace Corps – a competitive international volunteer programme run by the US government.

A black American goes to Africa for the first time. This’ll be good.

Prior to Swaziland, my impressions of Africa, and indeed Africans, had been shaped by movies, National Geographic magazines and the Discovery Channel. At that time, the people displayed through those media outlets were often depicted wearing bright tribal clothes that left them partially nude, they hunted animals with spears and waged tribal wars often, and they sat on dusty floors in mud huts while cooking things in clay pots. Their lives seemed so exotic, so other worldly.

Kinda just as well it’s not a white guy saying this, isn’t it?

However, in Swaziland, I found the people and their activities to be quite familiar- so much so that I often grew bored. Yes, there are cultural differences, including cultural events that are unique to the region, but the day to day life of a Swazi closely mirrors that of those in the Western world.

Swazis are normal people with normal worries – people who think about school, getting to work on time, music, relationships and popular culture like everyone else.

Africans are normal and not running around naked chucking spears at one another? Who knew? Had she visited Lagos she’d have found the most popular choice of attire for young males is outdated premier league shirts, not leopardskins.

More importantly, through it all everyone manages to stay fully clothed and the spears stay tucked away. I wondered why this side of Africa was never shown.

Did you try watching the news? Or did you think The Lion King was a documentary?

But the biggest surprise was how I was treated. It wasn’t a warm embrace.

They were shocked. Just like I had images of what a typical African should be, they too had an image of a typical American. And that was not a 22-year-old black woman.

To them, I was a fake American. Some even suggested that I was a spy from an English-speaking African country.

Ahahahah! Africans are not by virtue of their skin colour immune from racially stereotyping people, you know?

In addition to black volunteers, Asian, Latino, and Native American volunteers are sometimes greeted by disappointed community members who assumed that they would look different – that they would be white.

Time to develop race awareness programs aimed at making Africans more receptive to black people.

Seven weeks ago I landed in Delhi. The first thing I noticed were a lot of dogs, trash everywhere, a lot of noise, and a lot of people. This was truly a whole new world.

She’d obviously not been to New York.

By the second day I started to find the experience unsettling. I noticed as I walked through the streets, people began pointing, laughing and running away from me.

I’ve heard this happening to black people in China, although that was some time ago. This is unpleasant, but it’s born of ignorance through unfamiliarity rather than malice. When I was in Vietnam some toddlers thought I – being over six-feet tall, white, and hairy – was some sort of walking tree, much to the mortification of their parents. A blonde lady I know told me people were always trying to touch her hair in rural China, absolutely fascinated. And I’ve seen a wonderful video of a Malaysian toddler in Angola surrounded by little black kids who’ve never seen anything quite like him in their lives.

I had been travelling around Asia since August 2017. Like many tourists venturing into communities lacking diversity, I’ve been used to being stared at, but the attention I received in India felt different.

The looks didn’t seem like expressions of curiosity. They seemed sinister and unwelcoming. When people (young and old) see someone with black skin they stare, point, laugh, make jokes, clear paths, run as if you are chasing them, and fix their face to display an overall look of disgust. Too many people were rude, incredibly childish and treated me poorly. When not being ostracised, I was fetishised.

It’s almost as if western cultures are better at accommodating black people, isn’t it? Which is presumably why outfits like BLM want to destroy it.

One of the most pivotal experiences came when a middle-aged man asked me, innocently, about the sexual prowess of black people.

Where are you getting that information from?” I asked the man calmly.

He said he had seen black women on TV walking around without many clothes on. They were jumping around and seemed to have a lot of stamina, he told me.

He’s been watching Beyonce videos.

He specifically cited the Discovery Channel and porn as his sources.


My dream is that in the not-too-distant future people all over the world get so used to seeing black people, especially lone black women travellers, that by the time the Generation Z black women start exploring the world, we won’t be so sensational.

A laudable aim, but I expect Africans dream that one day Americans, who have no excuse for such ignorance, don’t think they run around naked chucking spears at each other. Maybe work on that first, eh?