Getting into SHAPE for a Dr Strangelove moment

This year’s ‘Operation Spring Storm’ brings together a record number of allied troops – infantry from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, soldiers from Latvia, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the US army and soldiers from Lithuania.

077The cheese eating, garlic smelling surrender monkeys contribution to Spring Break, sorry Operation Spring Storm, boosting the 6,000 seasoned revellers numbers will be a cyber-security team from France. No doubt we’ll all sleep sounder in that knowledge.

Of course the exercises are all about teambuilding, assessing infantry battalions’ skills, rehearsing cooperation and management methods. The only difference between these away days and the workshops I run is that my icebreakers tend not to include live fire rounds.

Before the alarm bells start ringing there are those who will reassure us that these operations have been a regular feature of the last ten years. This year’s Colonel Blimp jaunt will take NATO forces right up to the border with Putin’s Soviet Union [sic]. They are scheduled to finish on the 23rd May. God only knows if that will be the case or if a foot on the ground will turn into a jackboots yomping. Of course the exercise will consist of last minute electioneering for the Ukrainian presidential elections taking place on the 25th May.

087

The silence of our mainstream media in reporting on the fact that the three amigos, the UK, US and France has been deploying troops to the Baltic region for the last week has been deafening.  Those 150 members of the US airborne division who arrived in a military transport aircraft at Amari airbase are planning on hanging around until Christmas. There are lies, dammed lies and no smoke without fire. There’s probably funding for a PhD thesis in correlating an increase in false flag events during this period and the presence of the rebranded management consultancy sounding Academi formerly known as Xe Services nee  Blackwater. The two mistresses, the UK and France have deployed eight fighter jets to Lithuania and Poland to strengthen NATO air defence over the Baltic regions. While plucky little Poland has sent three of its Sukhoi Su-22 attack aircraft and a division of missile defence system unit SA-8, tasked with protecting an air base near Tallinn and the surrounding airspace.

NATO3

The senior service, that’s the navy not the fags (we could have fun with here but the trouble with the French is that they have no words for double entendre) have chugged round to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda to “ensure regional security.” Before alarm bells start ringing Britain hasn’t sent its aircraft carrier without planes, no the group is composed of assorted fag hags from Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia. Reminiscent of those to be found hanging around Manchester’s gay village on a Friday night taking part in intensive military drills, stopping off at various ports participating in operation “Open Sprit” deactivating underwater explosives. Surely no seamen will be wasted in the making of this production.

And as we watch this silent movie play out on the big screen, the soundtrack being played in the background is ‘Lest We Forget’ it is a centenary since Europe last indulged in a major ‘show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ dick measuring contest.

All rights reserved © 2014 Andrew Hutchinson

 

Paris – Vive la difference

I am fortunate in that I get to travel a lot and mix with people from all walks of life.  After some prompting I’ve decided to start sharing brief snapshots of some of the cities I’ve visited, so that others, as business travellers or tourists with only a limited time available may benefit.

IMG00165-20100926-1740champagne

You’re only going to get a real feel for the place on foot but different parts of Paris have a totally different feel so you’ll probably want to take full advantage of the Metro system too.  You’re best deal is to buy a ‘Carnet’, that’s ten individual Metro tickets costing around £12.  Tickets are valid for a single journey. You can buy your tickets from the kiosk or the automated machines with English instructions. Metro lines are numbered.  RER lines have letters. You can also use a normal Metro ticket on the RER trains in the central two zones, the Metro runs until between 1230am and 1am.  Like I have said before, different parts, different feels.  You’ll know where you want to go but after you’ve done the obvious Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame you’ll find yourself near one or more of the areas below:

  • Rough n Ready – Around Gare Du Nord and walking to the west to Place Pigale near the Moulin Rouge (northern edges of the 9e and 10e).
  • Village Charm – Montmartre (18e), more fun to work your way up from Place Blanche and gradually walk uphill to Sacre Couer.  You can walk down through the gardens and take your photos looking back.
  • Marais (3e), you’ll get lost but just weave through the streets. I recommend a brief visit to one of the few free museums  ‘Hotel Carnavalet’, 23 Rue de Sevigne (10am to 6pm except Monday) and then heading to  Place des Vognes, an open square a few hundred yards away.  Lots of galleries and shops but head for ‘Carette Salon de The’ at 25 Place des Vosges, sit outside and enjoy a hot chocolate served from a silver pot  into your porcelain cup.
  • Designer and Class – Get off the Metro at St. Germain des Pres on the south bank.  Opposite the church you’ll see Deux Magots, great for a coffee, the former haunt of Satre, Camus and Hemmingway (don’t worry it’s not a dodgy French dish, a Magot is a grotesque Chinese figurine).  Just around the corner on Bld St Germain de Pres at 173 you’ll find Le Flore, another classy but reasonable place.  From there you can head south to the Luxembourg Gardens, meander up to the Pantheon and Rue Descartes and call in the ‘Mayflower Pub’ for a Belgian beer.
  • Big Buildings – If you’re not fussed about traipsing around the museums but want to see the sights you could head from Bld St Germain to the 7e to the National Assembly, Hotel Des Invalides (where Napoleon is buried), take in the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe and walk down the Champs Elysees to the Concorde and the Louvre.

bridgeflo

There is much to do but remember that museums are closed on Monday, not a bad thing when every museum will cost you around £10-£15 each.  I hate organised stuff but sometimes you can find out so much by tagging along and you can be spotting places that you want to return to.  If the Paris Catacombs take your fancy the entrance is at Denfert Rouchereau Metro station.  Though it’s too much for a short visit the medieval village of Senlis, 45 minutes north east of Paris near Chantilly, is the birthplace of the French monarchy with gothic cathedrals, half timbered houses and cobbled streets  (recommended to me but I haven’t made it yet).

Generally you’re talking about £7 for a pint and £4 for a coffee. The cheap places are crap and nearly as expensive, while the classy places aren’t always a lot more expensive.  Beware of the tourist rip-off places though, €22 for a coke is the record I’ve found, don’t worry I didn’t pay it!

The French – generally they are far from ignorant. They really don’t understand you unless your pronunciation is spot on and I usually get in trouble. English and German use concept words whereas with French it is the whole sentence and its context which brings meaning. I’m told that I pronounce Monsieur, like Mon Chien (my dog); Excusez moi, like excuse mes nois (excuse my nuts).  Biere a la Peche, is beer with peach syrup but when I pronounce it I ask for goldfish in a glass, Biere avec Pesce.  It’s hardly fun living in an attic but I thought that I was being sophisticated describing how I lived in a Pommes de Terre.  Pied e Terre, is a small flat used by folk who only need a small base midweek which translates as a foot on the ground.  I on the otherhand was telling everyone that I lived in a potato. Now you can see why it’s never boring when I’m away.

And the French, well they have an unusual take on me too.  One client told his colleagues, “We like the way he speaks his mind. He can express himself in a way that is shall we say… virile. That’s rare these days, and it’s good to see.”  Well flattery is always welcome so thank you to a certain member of France Télévisions too who said, “Who cares if he’s English! You’re our oldest enemies but we like the way he talks!  In many ways Andrew fulfils the expectations in France of what an Englishman ought to be like. He’s seen as stylish, slightly eccentric, gentlemanly, outspoken, and humorous.” Oooh la la – Vive la difference!

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

Midsummer, Cricket and Ceaușescu

Midsummer or Midsommar parties as they like to call them in Sweden, have been done to death by me over there. So this year I thought that I’d try something different: driving from Sweden to Romania with a bunch of Swedes to celebrate Midsummer. Well 37 degrees Celsius is something that you don’t normally get in Sweden and neither is homemade tuica served from an old vinegar bottle 52%abv. Another thing that you won’t often see is cricket! You hear them, by the thousand, and it is not too much of a linguistic leap to find yourself one minute discussing insects and the next the nuances of the noble game.

The cricket, like the drinking was to be an all-male affair, so no chance to bowl a maiden over here. Tending to our every need they were. Rather than whites it was skins versus the Romanian football strip. Every chance to bat on a sticky wicket, considering the weather but the grass was absent (more on that another time). But first it fell to yours truly to describe the rules of the game. Hidden somewhere in the depths of my unconscious lay the capacity to recall words greater than mine:

Rules of Cricket
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.

Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out.

When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.

Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.

There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.

When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

Confused? Well I was and they certainly were. We managed four overs, though my feeble effort which ended up being delivered underarm after five consecutive wides surely doesn’t qualify to be called an over. The mother of thunderstorms interrupted play and hearing the tales of our host who as a military conscript at the age twenty found himself part of Ceaușescu’s guard facing a baying mob with his rifle in hand was a far more interesting snare. He made the brave decision to lay down his weapon. Armchair anarchists such as I can sing the merits of that brave choice and say that it was an obvious choice but God willing will never have the right call to make.

Easy Jet Hard Time

I remember Virgin trains regularly breaking down outside Preston back in those heady days when Wednesday’s saw me making a regular Leicester to Carlisle commute. It dawned on me that they were so named because they didn’t go all the way! Neither it appears do Easy Jet. A play on words isn’t readily available, no joke there really, apart from the obvious one: customer service, an oxymoron to rival happily married and military intelligence.

Perhaps that’s when this septic isle really started to ooze puss, when it became trendy to call us all customers. I’m old enough to remember when the sex offenders register was called the Radio Times, so I’m certainly old enough to remember when I wasn’t a customer but a pupil; a patient; a patron and God forbid a bloody passenger. The problem with each of those terms is that they imply certain expectations, certain levels of service. Passenger for instance suggests that you are somehow involved in an endeavour to transport you from A to B. Customer on the other hand, well you are exiled to the never, never land of the static buffet bar, ticking boxes, being asked for feedback and constantly being told how important you are. I know how important I am, I don’t need you to tell me!

Since my departure from Manchester to Copenhagen was delayed by four and half hours Easy Jet should be up for a smorgasbord of complaints. I however am not complaining but fondly recalling the thirty minute chat over coffee with a porn-star, Copenhagen bound to promote her new movie (fears of penile dysfunction unfounded); the cigarette break spent taking to Anna, a former Czech Olympian who now runs a tattoo parlour in Liverpool; and the Bootles, a Beatles tribute band flying out for a sell-out gig in Denmark. Two ‘coffee vouchers’ later we were finally onward bound. At the time of writing we are midair and the refreshments trolley may yet be subject to a hostage situation so this adventure may just be beginning. My issue isn’t with the cabin crew, who do their best come what may, or the captain, locked in his padded cell at the front (memories of my last Easy Jet flight when the ‘L’ plate fell off on landing still bring me out in night sweats), or with the ground staff. No my complaint is with a perverse system which dis-inherits my fellow-travellers, the elderly Swedish couple sat beside me, of their complimentary coffee. A system so screwed-up that the ‘machine’ can’t permit them to be issued with a coffee on board to replace the ‘free’ one they missed airside because they didn’t understand the announcement. Cabin crew would have a discrepancy on their hands if they raged against the machine. Well so be it! They’d have a riot on their hands if I got my way, but less of that chain of thought, the captain has already been alerted to my presence on board. That’s what happens when you cease to be passengers and become customers, something gets lost. I just hope that the little man behind the curtain gets to pull the right levers in time before Easy Jet joins the other once proud British companies who have gone to hell in a handcart.

Landing over three hours late and a missed rail connection, making me over six hours late with a missed audition thrown in to boot didn’t make me a happy bunny. Be thankful for small inconveniences though. While guiding an American Jewish couple through the the workings of the automated ticketing system I thought that they were traveling light until I discovered that British Airways had managed to lose their luggage. Our commentary on the state of modern travel was overheard, and more particularly my readiness to lay the blame for most things at the feet of our politicians, enter Peter Lindsay, former leader of the Liberal Party in Australia. On discovering that I could be of no assistance to Americans with Chipless credit cards my altruistic tendencies reached out to an Australian and a politician at that, albeit an ex one.

I’ve suddenly remembered what anchovies and Easy Jet have in common. You seem to forget your last experience when it’s time to re-order. Well not me and no next time I’m afraid. No more anchovies for me!

‘The Blog’

Featured

‘The Blog’ is a collection of takes on management, politics and life in general, with regular posts to feed the soul.  Some posts will have a point – the point of some posts is to make you think.

After spending many years as a management consultant, stealing people’s watches to tell them the time, my intention is to have fun, cause mischief, entertain and above all inform. Consultant and writer by day, raconteur and stand-up by night, there is something for everyone. Click on the tabs to find out about me and the services offered. If you are offended easily, don’t complain, don’t come back – unless you have shedloads of money, in which case I’ll do my best to accomodate you – even I have to eat!

Andrew

CARD

Portrait of A Weird Society

For a real taste of alternative culture you will do no better than Portrait of a Weird SocietyPortrait of a Weird Society has the inspiration of Elisa Radelet to thank, as she organises parties and extravagant shows in Paris to create a network of artists, models and performers from different environments to promote art and culture for everyone.  Well we may put on a good show when it comes to the Olympics but for that true Bohemian feel, well only the French do it … and presumably the Bohemians.  Absinthe spoons at the ready. To support the project through crowd funding click on this link to the KissBank.

DD Portrait of a Wierd Societygarden france

All was beautiful in the garden that day (le Jardin des plantes). I’m flanked by Portrait of a Weird Society’s organiser Elisa Radelet and its web designer Elise Melet.

The next events Solstice I and II are due to take place on the 7th and 11th June

SOLSTICE I @ l’Ogresse // Poses Ogresse théâtre associatif in Paris, France

SOLSTICE II @ Le Batofar // Performances Batofar in Paris, France

Press enquiries should be directed to Urielle Dutartre, email: urielle_dutartre@hotmail.fr

To follow my journey showcasing talent in fashion, music art and design, encountered on my travels click on the Showcasing F******MAD tab at the top of the page or follow the link.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson