Sorry about the lack of posting: I’ve been busy.

Last week I was on a short business trip to Pori in the west of Finland to visit a testing facility and kick off a project I’m managing. Three of us went, flying into Helsinki and then boarding a 30-seater twin prop between Helsinki and Pori operated by Budapest Air Service. Yeah, I couldn’t work that one out. Apparently the flight is subsidised by the Pori municipality, who might worry nobody would come and visit otherwise. When we went to the desk to check in twenty minutes before our flight we found it deserted. We asked someone from the Luftwaffe Lufthansa desk next door and she said it was a bit early. Sure enough, 10 mins before departure a lady showed up, asked us our names, and ticked us off a list. There were only about 6 or 7 people on the flight including us. We were aboard and airborne on time. When we landed they dropped the stairs and we just sort of got off and wandered across the apron towards what we guessed must be the terminal building. This is how flying should be done.

We got a taxi from Pori airport to our destination, about a 10 minute drive. The driver grunted at me once when I gave him the address, again when I paid him, and once more when I thanked him. I initially thought he didn’t like me for some reason, but then I remembered in Finland this is what passes for a warm welcome. Our hosts were rather more chatty, and we spent a day wandering through laboratories and industrial units, stopping for lunch to eat salmon, lamb, and a dessert made with sea buckthorn. Last time I was in Finland I found the food so bad I started missing even German food. This time was a lot better. It’s amazing what effect not being a tourist has. That evening we went for a short walk along the river. Some early snow had fallen leaving a dusting over everything, and there were an awful lot of birch trees. It brought back a lot of memories of Russia, a country I’ve not been to since 2012, and made me miss the cold and snow. It beat the miserable wet of Cambridge hands down. Afterwards our hosts took us to a very nice restaurant and we drank lingonberry vodka and ate reindeer steak, which I ordered rare so it was red as Rudolph’s nose. It was excellent.

We were dropped off at Pori airport at 8pm and we were the only ones in the entire building except one other passenger. About 20 minutes before takeoff a bloke showed up who checked us in without even giving us boarding passes, a couple of pilots who looked as though they ought to be tucked up in bed somewhere, and two security personnel who didn’t yell at us. I rather enjoyed my trip to Finland – they’re nice, competent people – and I’ll be going back on monthly visits either to Helsinki or Pori between now and March or April. So if anyone is around up there, let me know.

When I got back from Finland I quit my serviced apartment in Cambridge and moved to London, lodging with my Dad for a few days while I look for a temporary apartment. I found myself rather isolated up there: I didn’t know anyone, the traffic on the drive to work was awful in one direction and abominable in the other, and the weather was miserable. One of the things which has changed since I left the UK in 2003 is the introduction of flexible working in offices. I arrived in my new job to find I didn’t have a desk assigned to me. Instead I had to hot desk, and carry all my stuff home at the end of each day like a sherpa. It seems nobody is provided with desk phones any more, instead you get given a Skype number which routes straight to your laptop. Most people work 3-4 days in the office and the rest either from home or somewhere else. Attending meetings over Skype is the norm, and I realised that the oil industry is still operating somewhere in the early 1990s. The expense system, travel booking system and HR benefits and admin system are all third-party and online. In my last place of work they were, respectively: 1) paper-based requiring multiple signatures, 2) a confusing chain of emails to umpteen managers and departmental secretaries who often appeared to have brain damage, and 3) non-existent. In short, I don’t really need to be physically in the office as much as I thought. I then discovered I can get a the Brighton to Cambridge train from London Bridge pretty easily, what with it being empty going north once it’s passed St. Pancras and most empty coming south until you reach Farringdon. So I can get a good 40 minutes work done on the train each way.

My intention was to find an AirBnB in London for a month while I sorted myself out. So I found one near London Bridge and booked it, and my credit card was charged accordingly. Next thing I know I get this message:

However looking again at the price it seems to be incorrect I can’t accommodate next to tower bridge in effect a 4 star hotel 2ned suite with lots of storage at £100 a night . Hotels next door are £200 a night tiny double room or £1500 plus for a 2bed suit .

The price should be £175 a night I can do for a compromised £149 a night .

Still very reasonable for that price .

If I can send you a price amendment pls can you accept failing that can u please ask you politely to cancel the reservation.

This was rather odd: I thought we’d agreed the price and I’d paid, and now he wanted more – 50% more, to be precise. So I told him to sod off. Then I got this:

Hi Tim

I hope your okay . I’m new to airbb (my property is on One Fine Stay at £250 a night).
I’ve called airbb to rectify the pricing if it was just a couple of nights stay I wouldn’t mind . But for a months stay I simply can’t make commercial sense flats in the area rent out on normal market at £3000 plus a month .

So if you can’t pay the extra can I pls ask you to cancel I hope your decide to stay as I can’t imagine your find better in this locality .

This chap makes Theresa May look like a master of negotiation. Anyway, I told him to sod off again. Which resulted in this:

Hi Tim

I hope your well.

I’ve just been on the phone to airbb customer service they have advised me to increase the to a commercial viable amount I do hope we can compromise and meet half way. Once you see the apartment it’s great home and you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for your empathy and storage is no problem .

Assuring you of my personal attention at ALL Times .

The next thing I know I have someone who sounded Filipina calling me from AirBnB trying to persuade me to pay the extra money, adopting the role of negotiator with his interests at heart. I explained to her as far as I was concerned the deal was done and I’d paid an she said “Yes, you make a good point, I’ll go back and tell him that.” Whether she did or not I don’t know, but within 5 minutes my booking had been cancelled and I received this message from my would-be host:

Best of luck best price £135 a night very responsible to be opposite Tower Bridge in Luxury apartment same as a five star hotel suite .

I fired off a complaint to AirBnB and they said “they were sorry I had to cancel my booking” but I’ve been refunded, although the money could take up to 15 days to reappear in my account. I told them I didn’t cancel it and they went quiet until I started having some fun telling the story on Twitter while tagging in @Airbnb. Eventually someone emailed me and said they’d investigated but due to privacy reasons they couldn’t tell me what the outcome was. The email, like all their correspondence on this case, was littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. I’m wondering how long AirBnB are going to be in business before someone is killed in an unsafe property and they respond by sending the grieving relatives a list of alternative properties and wishing them a pleasant stay. In the end I got 10% off my next booking, but I’d have preferred my would-be host’s head mounted on a spike at the Tower of London.

Anyway, the good news is I’ve met someone in London who is neither Russian nor a lunatic and therefore is unlikely to be providing much blogging fodder as others have done. I’ve checked and she’s not into polyamory, which must be a disappointment to my readers. In fact, she’s rather wonderful. And that’s the main reason behind my move to London and, if I’m being honest, my lack of blogging.


The Sunshine State

I’m now back in Annecy, my return flights from the US via Heathrow having passed without so much as a minute’s delay. I finally managed to get to sleep around 3:30am last night, having spent the previous afternoon desperate to go to bed.

Other than New York in 2016 I’d not been to the US in years, and had forgotten how big it was. When my brother said he lived in Miami I assumed he actually lived in Miami, not a town called Weston 40 minutes away by car. The Russian I was meeting was staying in Pembroke Pines, which when I looked on Google maps appeared to be just next door to Weston, possibly within walking distance. It turned out it was a 20 minute drive down a 5-lane highway. When you visit the US you need to seriously recalibrate distances in your mind, especially if you live in a medieval town in the French Alps.

Miami wasn’t what I expected. For a start, we didn’t really go there. We spent some time on Hollywood beach, which was really nice, but that isn’t Miami. Miami itself seems to be a collection of high-rise office blocks and the Miami you see on TV is on a huge sandbar called Miami Beach. That consists of a rather ordinary grid of concrete streets filled with cafes, restaurants, and shops which I am told turns pretty wild at night, alongside a beach which is much like any other in Florida. We spent a few hours there overheating and getting lost before visiting the Vizcaya museum and gardens. Built around the time of WWI, this is what passes for an ancient monument in Miami. The other thing about American cities is there is often no city centre, or at least one you can wander around in. Outside of the North East they seem to be a collection of buildings and if you want a particular one – be it a restaurant, office, or shop – you drive to it, park outside, and go in. The only place you can park the car and wander around is inside a strip mall. This is convenient, but doesn’t make it easy when you’re tasked with entertaining a Russian for an evening, especially if she’s the one driving.

As planned, I rented a car and started driving north on my way to Pensacola. American hire cars don’t come with satnavs so I had to use Google Maps on my phone. I’d never used this before and it worked perfectly, but because I’d first used the phone in Nigeria the default voice was Nigerian English and it turned out to be harder to change than you’d expect. So for 20 hours worth of driving all my directions were delivered in a heavy Lagos accent. Once again the sheer size of America became apparent with instructions such as “Merge onto I95 and continue straight for the next 272 miles”. I drove from Fort Lauderdale airport north on I95 and stopped the night somewhere near Cape Canaveral after 3 hours of driving. The next morning I drove due north to Jacksonville then turned 90 degrees left and drove due west on I10 for 5 hours. The 700 mile drive from Fort Lauderdale to Pensacola involves a single, solitary left hand turn. Little wonder Americans think autonomous cars are feasible. The Florida panhandle is dull in the extreme – mile after mile of forests of tall, thin trees – on a dead straight road. Fortunately the experience of driving on American roads (in an underpowered Nissan) was new enough to keep things interesting. I am amazed by what Americans are willing to tow along the highways at speed. I passed pickup trucks doing 70mph in the middle lane towing giant boats behind them. I passed at least three accidents where more than 4 cars had piled into the back of one another like a concertina. I don’t think I’ve seen more than one of them the whole time I’ve been in France. Either American brakes are rubbish, they don’t understand stopping distances, or they spend a lot of time not paying attention.

I had a good time in Pensacola with my friend “Leisure Suit” Larry, who is quite a character. We met in Kuwait in 2004 and got on like a house on fire, despite him being 25 years my senior. As a teenager in the sixties, he’d joined the US army as a paratrooper “in order to raise hell”, serving in Vietnam, Okinawa, and the Dominican Republic. Now retired, Larry was an old-school maintenance man, and had worked in almost all the US states, and visited them all. In addition, he was working in Iran when the Revolution happened, Syria when Reagan slapped sanctions on the country, Basra when the Iranians bombarded it and Algeria when the US bombed Libya back in 1986. Diplomats soon learned that if Larry turned up to work in their country, the regime’s days were numbered. He’d turned up in Venezuela to be a plant manager only to later discover the chap who was supposed to be doing the job had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom in the jungle. His boast was he’d never been around at the start of any project: he only got called in when it was in the shit and all the money had gone. In Pensacola I stayed with he and his wife, to whom he’d been married for 53 years. That’s some effort.

We spent a morning at the nearby museum of naval aviation, Pensacola being the home of the US Navy’s air arm and the Blue Angels display team. This was impressive, filled with just about every aircraft that’s ever been used by the USN and models of each class of aircraft carrier. Here’s a pic of an 8 year old boy in the cockpit of a Phantom, which was surprisingly comfortable.

I was also surprised by how big the F14 Tomcat is: it’s not a small plane.

That afternoon we met up with one of Larry’s sons, a former US Army Ranger, on Pensacola beach and had a swim. Entering the Mexican Gulf is like taking a warm bath. The weather up there is a lot better than in south Florida: less humid and without the interminable thunderstorms which wreck the plans of tourists every afternoon in the summer months. In the evening we went to a extraordinarily popular Irish bar which was about as Irish as I am. The steak was good, though. Before I left Pensacola for the long drive back down south, Larry and I got a picture together.

Fifteen years is a long time, but in many ways not much had changed. I always meant to go and see old Larry again and finally I did. It was well worth the trip.



Well I’m still alive, for those of you who were concerned. The trip is proceeding with mixed results. I had a great time in Pensacola with my buddy Larry, visiting the naval aviation museum and polishing off a few bottles of wine. Although driving there from Miami was a drag: the panhandle is almost as long as the peninsula and just as boring. Driving back was even worse. I stopped in Orlando for the bluegrass jam and found it rained off, and despite a promising start the Russian didn’t work out as I’d hoped. Tomorrow we have my brother’s 50th birthday party which I hope will be good. And I had a job interview by Skype this morning which has the potential to see me change country again. I’ll be sure to let you know where if it comes off.


Friends, Romans, Countrymen

I’m back from Spain after a 10 hour drive yesterday in the middle of that heatwave everyone’s talking about. Fortunately my car has air conditioning.

Tarragona was nice, although strictly speaking I was in a small town called Altafulla a little down the coast towards Barcelona. I spent two days on the beach and two nights drinking until 4am so it wasn’t the most productive of holidays, but I did get to hang out with my friend, his family, and a whole load of his friends who all live in Altafulla and have known each other since they were kids. From what I could tell, Altafulla is a place where Spanish families live or go on holiday: I didn’t see any foreigners or even hear English spoken the whole weekend I was there. Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but that didn’t seem to matter very much. And I was reliably told the conversations would routinely switch to Catalan in any case. The food I ate alternated between Spanish, Venezuelan, and Catalan so I got the full culinary experience. I drank whatever was close to hand, which was often rum. I’d never spent much time in the company of Spaniards before, and I have to say they were very friendly and welcoming, and they like to have fun. The place is also extraordinarily cheap when compared to France. Perhaps I should go back.

As planned, I stopped at the Pont du Gard on the drive down. It’s worth seeing.

I made the mistake of thinking the bridge is all that’s there, so thought I’d just visit for an hour then leave. It turns out there’s a sort of beach there where you can swim, go kayaking, etc. as well as an excellent museum meaning you could easily spend a whole day at the place. I had a good look at the aqueduct from both sides but couldn’t devote more than half an hour to the museum which explained how it was built and why. It’s a shame because I’d like to have spent more time there, but was enough to get an idea of the incredible vision, ambition, and skill of the Romans. It left me wondering if a municipal government could execute a comparable project today, two thousand years later. I bet the Romans didn’t worry about how diverse the engineering team was, at any rate. As I was reading about its construction I learned there was another Roman aqueduct in, funnily enough, Tarragona. If I’d spent less time drinking I might have turned the trip into a Roman aqueduct tour. As it was, I only glimpsed it from the motorway. The Pont du Gard is well worth a visit though, and I can recommend it. While I was there I did see a few British tourists; I mention them just so I could get the post title working.


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.