Andy Murray, Wimbledon Champion.








At Peace


At peace now with the knowledge that a true champion is anointed

Made whole by perseverance and dedication, and then, and then that dream

Pounding hard, night after night inside a body that said, ‘I can do this’

Proclaimed by a nation as the man who actually did

No questions asked, though all now answered, finally and hopefully for good

Laying to rest those ghosts who have haunted his relevance and meaning

Being there, if not in sprit, perhaps in person, for all to admire

Now king of a jungle he seemed to dominate in all but crowning glory

Headed towards eternity with a mantle that can never be erased

Pride, his motivation, his desire, and now, his affirmation

Showing off to all those who were doubters that ignorance rarely triumphs

Atop a perch where folklore shall remain forever the only truth

Yes, at peace, one nation, one man, and of course, that myth, made whole by one victory



© Alan Zoltie July 7, 13


How To Make Baseball (The World’s Second Most Boring Game) – Exciting!!

imagesCricket is without a doubt THE most boring sport on the planet. It’s so boring that I used to say to my friend Paul, when we attended games at Lords one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world, “It’s more exciting to watch paint dry!” He would laugh and tell me that I didn’t really understand the game and that if I took time to investigate its nuances, I might enjoy it better. That never happened, but what did is even funnier.

When, in 1986, I attended as an exhibitor, a trade show in New York, our whole exhibit got stuck in US customs. We were left high and dry and ready to go back to the UK having shelled out thousands just to be at this Promotions show in the then new and very shiny Jacob Javits Center on 34th and 11th Ave. A reporter from the NY TImes came by our ’empty’ booth and suggested the we just stand there dressed in our full Highland Regalia and look good. We did, and he put us on the front page of the following day’s business section. He also suggested we catch a NY Yankees baseball game in the hope that once the game ended our issue with US customs might be resolved. Dressed in kilts and armed with a real DIRK (a knife that slips in the right hand sock), Andrew, Tim and I went to the Bronx,to find solace, not trouble, at Yankee stadium. It was 85 degrees that day, we were still semi-jet lagged, and having purchased cheap seats and then being upgraded into better seats just because the admissions guy took a fancy to me in my kilt, we sat dumbfounded as we watched what had to be, the second most boring game on this planet. Baseball! I recall falling asleep in the middle of the 2nd inning and waking up at the top of the 5th, burnt as a cinder down the right hand side of my face where the sun had conveniently been shining and had decided to slow fry my pretty white skin. “Never again!” I vowed. 4 hours of complete and utter snooze ball. My cousin, who lived in NY, told me that baseball was actually a great game and that if I learned its intricate plays and discovered how much of a ‘chess’ match it was, I might really enjoy it! Now where had I heard that before?? Yep, Paul had said exactly the same this to me whilst watching cricket!

Fast forward some 20 odd years. Alan, no longer dressed in Scottish regalia, is living here in CA in the San Francisco bay area, and has a 5-year-old daughter who wishes to play softball, AKA baseball for ladies! The league was asking, no they were begging, for parents to volunteer as coaches and with time on my hands, a desire to be more involved in my daughter’s life and knowing absolutely nothing about softball, I accepted. About the same time, The SF Giants professional baseball team was moving into or indeed had just moved into a new ball park up in the city of SF. It was named AT&T park, and everyone who went to visit came back with glowing reports. Baring in mind that the Giants had never won anything in the history of their existence here in SF, and due to the fact I despised the game of baseball, I was reluctant to go and watch, no matter what anyone else said to me. To drive an hour up to San Francisco, pay $35 to park my car and $100 for a ticket to watch a game with the team in orange and black supplying 4 hours of sheer boredom, well that just wasn’t cricket!. Things however were about to mysteriously change, and this is what transpired.

In 2002 the SF Giants made it to the World Series. The world championship of baseball, though how they have the gall to call it world series when it’s only US teams playing I will never understand! At the same time my daughter has just started playing softball and I had begun my coaching career. Put two and two together, and suddenly my understanding of the game, even though I believed it was a slumber party for 40,000 drunken Americans, improved dramatically. Low and behold, with 2 free tickets offered to me for game 4 of what would become a 7 game series against Anaheim Angels, I decided to go and watch it live. My opinion of the game developed from it being immensely boring, to moderately interesting. I enjoyed the ball park, the atmosphere, the food, and the victory that night. SF lost the series in game 7,all due to a monkey they said,(another long story in that one!), but my appreciation of a game I had previously refused to watch, had now spiked. With my daughter enjoying softball and the Giants in a bit of a resurgence, suddenly baseball became interesting, so much so that I would attend at least 3 to 4 games a season, on top of the 20 or so softball games I had to attend as a coach.

As the years moved on and my daughter improved at softball, my attendance at Giants games became all the more frequent. Eventually in 2010 they won the world series and again last year, a magnificent achievement and very exciting to watch. By this time my daughter had become quite proficient in her sport too, without my help I hasten to add, (I had stopped coaching after a 6 year stint because I knew I couldn’t take any team she played on to the level required to be moderately successful), and she would come with me to the Giants in a father/daughter bonding session that even today is not only enjoyable but also necessary (ah yes, those teenage years!).  She is nearly 16 and prefers to go out with her friends rather than me, quite understandable really. Another good reason for attending baseball games was this supposed ‘chess’ match and the way the pitcher battled each batter. It was actually intriguing!  Coaching softball had really given me an appetite to sit and appreciate all the skills involved in the professional game of baseball but, and there was always this BIG but, what I failed at first to comprehend was the audience who came to watch never really watched at all. They would spend 4 to 5 hours, eating, and walking around the stadium looking at memorabilia meeting old friends and then eating some more!, ALL this, while the game was in progress! At soccer games, we are up and down and shout and scream, but rarely move from our seats until half time. Yes, there was an atmosphere, but it was by no means electric. Everyone wanted to be doing something else, mainly eating and drinking, as I’ve mentioned before, but very few of the spectators sat in their seats remained there from the first pitch to the last hit! I decided I had to look into ways of improving baseball to make it more exciting, just as they did in the UK with cricket, taking it from an all day spectacle (in one day matches the game goes from 11 am until well into the evening) to an event played over a few hours that enthralled and involved crowd participation and a willingness to come back night after night as an ‘addicted’ fan. Baseball teams play 162 games in their regular season and then they go to the play offs (if they are fortunate to make it that far), and I found that there were very few people indeed if any at all, who would come to all 80 odd games played at home. Most fans shared season tickets or families would buy seats for just one or two games a year. Loyalty was there, but no undying support. This led me to question exactly why this was happening and so, with that in mind and sitting in the upper deck at AT&T park earlier this week, as the Giants played the A’s from Oakland, our neighbors from across the Bay Bridge, I came up with this new and improved version of the game. Its called ………..


With the advent of 20/20 cricket, speed golf, Futbol Rapido and most people’s desire to live life in a very fast 21st century lane indeed, there are so few hours left in the day for wasting any precious moments that we may have as we check our emails, App’s, and social media updates. Why would anyone want to sit still for 5 hours, when there are so many other things that can entertain us? This makes RACEBALL, the perfect game to be the NEW favorite American past time. Let’s review the rules one by one, and I’m sorry in advance if you don’t know the rules of baseball because RACEBALL is going to be a derivative of that game.

The entire game will last 5 innings, or 2 hours, which ever comes first. If an inning has commenced and it’s not over when the time limit expires, then time will be allotted to allow it to be completed. There will be no breaks, no interval and no community singing in between innings.(AKA 7th inning stretch)

Each inning will consist of 4 outs for the hitting team, and not the standard 3 outs as we are accustomed to in todays regular baseball game.

A pitcher cannot be changed, unless injured, until the 5th inning of any game,. If no 5th inning is achieved due to time restraints, no changes can take place.

Fielders may rotate into any position on the field  even while the game is in progress, except the pitcher and catcher, who must stay where they start the game. During the game the outfielders must change positions at least one time. There will be 4 in the outfield instead of 3.

Pitchers do not have to bat. There will be 6 hitters, 10 fielders, once a hitter is taken out the game, he can no longer field. The substitute bench can contain up to 6 additional players. No one player can re-enter the game after being substituted.

A lead off batter on deck in any inning, either left or right-handed, can hit the ball and run either from 1st to 2nd to 3rd base and then home or go in the opposite direction, but once he has made his decision, the rest of the players batting behind him in the line up must go the same direction. This will leave the fielders totally confused every time a leadoff hitter comes to the plate at the beginning of each inning not knowing in advance if he will run counterclockwise (the normal progression) or clockwise.

Scoring. When a player scores, the scoring team will be awarded 1 point. If the batter has runners on base and hits a home run, his score will double. For every strike out the pitching team will be awarded 1 point. There will be a bonus point for a strike out with no balls throw, only strikes.

No outfielder can wear a catching mit. Bear hands only.

If the fielding team manage a double play, they are awarded a bonus point.

The strike zone allowed by the officials shall be from the neck down to the top of the knee.

If during the game, and at any point in time there is a point differential that exceeds 10, the team leading must remove a player from their team until that differential is halved. Every 5 points after the initial 10 will result in the removal of one more, up to a maximum of 3. It can be a hitter or a fielder or both.

No game can end in a tie. If there is a tie then starting pitchers will be forced to bat in a ‘hit off’. The hit off will have each pitcher hit balls from a chosen pitcher who cannot be a pitcher that has played in the game. The hit off will consist of 5 throws by each pitcher to each batter, and the one with the greatest number of hits, including foul balls and bunts, wins the game.

With these rule changes, baseball, and all its long drawn out tedious innings would be revolutionized instantly. People will flock to see battles that will be unpredictable, exciting and most importantly, last only 2 hours. The attention span of most who will attend these games will ensure they keep their bums on their seats and will be less tempted to spend $10 on a beer or $5 on a bottle of water, both which actually cost less than 20 cents, for fear of missing some action. The owners will have to re think, the fans won’t have to think at all, and complete equilibrium could be achieved in the flash of a simple idea called, initiative! Try playing this in your local park, try it in the streets, but at least try it and then let me know what you think. It worked for cricket and I promise it will work for baseball. The new RACEBALL season is but only an out away!

I am taking a break for the summer.(Don’t fret, I shall return), and hopefully when I do come back, I will have some more exciting news, a change of format and at least a decent read for those of you who kindly follow me every week. Stay out the sun, stay healthy and be happy.


Pimp Your Ride

imagesThey stand at every street corner. There is no escaping them. Have you noticed that over the past 12 to 18 months there are no traffic signals without them? Who are THEY? I’m talking of course about those irritating wannabe homeless people with signs. “Will Work For Food” “Homeless Vet. Please Help” “At least I am Honest. Need Money For Beer” etc etc. Well, the truth of the matter is, they are not homeless. Indeed. they are far from needing anything, at least not from us. Now, let me clarify that last statement by confirming that I have not, nor will I ever, be able to go and interview each and every one of them. Quite impossible. But, from the research I have done, virtually all on site up close and personal, and the experience I have had, not trusting anything I was told, I have discovered that 95% of these ‘con-men’ and women are completely disingenuous with regards their financial circumstance and living accommodation. No surprise there, I here you shout. Well, what might come as a surprise is how these panhandlers are organized, how they are chosen and lastly, how they are rewarded. No, they don’t get to keep all they receive, far from it. Let me explain.

Just like prostitution, there are needs and there are desires. Everyone has them, everyone wants them, in this case, money, or lack of, is of course the main catalyst for the propulsion of such an energetic transformation of our normally mundane landscape. Over the past few years, due to the economic slow down and instability in the work place, most of us have become accustomed to seeing more and more of our friends and relatives losing their jobs and being unable to find employment. This has led to desperation, isolation and lastly, deception. All of these factors placed alongside a somewhat alternative and affluent society, especially here in the San Francisco Bay area, leads to this insane form of entrepreneurship, perhaps better described as criminal behavior, that we see at every traffic light and street corner. My father used to say, ‘it’s not the way you make a living that counts, it’s that you indeed make a living!’ Perfectly true, only in this case, organized crime is right behind what we witness through our windshields when we stop to make a perfectly legal left or right turn.

Last week, outside Safeway here in Los Gatos CA, a town where the average salary is probably 7 figures and where anyone driving anything but a Bentley, Porsche or Ferrari, is commonly ‘scoffed’ at, sat a gentleman dressed in army fatigues, aka Desert Storm vintage. He sat slumped at the front door, holding a sign which read, “Homeless Vet. Please Help” written on a piece of card, 12 x 12. Been there, seen that, and sometimes, though not always, I have given, and given willingly. There was something about this man however that made me look twice. In my experience, shoes are the great leveler. From my time being homeless in San Francisco, I learnt that shoes tell not only a great story, but also an accurate story as well. If a person asking for money has on shoes that look newish, or indeed are in reasonable condition, chances are, homelessness is far from something they are experiencing.  If their shoes are in tatters, homelessness is almost guaranteed. Homeless people cannot get shoes that easily, and they tend to wear what they can find or scavenge. Also, truly homeless men, women and children, should they be able to find a decent pair of shoes, will guard them with their lives. Try taking the shoes from someone who has no place to live and see what happens. I promise you it won’t be pleasant. And so, when I looked into his face, a tearful face, and one that looked very distressed, I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on, a sure sign from within my heart that something was amiss with this so-called homeless Vet. True to form, after a long gaze and eye contact that seemed to last minutes and not seconds, which it really was, this gentleman picked up his sign, wiped the tears from his face and made his way downstairs into the underground parking lot. Curious as ever, I followed. Sitting in a spot, right at the back of the lot, a reasonably new Ford Explorer, and guess who jumped into that vehicle and drove off at the speed?

Just like those who stand in broad daylight at every street corner, this was an organized affair. These people, who claim to have little or nothing, are not who they seem to be. Another point to consider is that they are controlled by ‘pimps’ who determine who stands where and for how long. If you have a keen eye, and fortunately I was blessed with one, alongside a good memory, and you take the time to drive around the most popular spots in my hometown, you’ll see that most of the panhandlers are rotated on a two hourly ‘shift’ basis. What this does is ‘freshen’ up the workforce and of course, because they stand at traffic signals and cars passing them by rarely, if ever, come back the same way, they can keep their cash coming in with almost absolute confidence of never being seen twice or recognized again on any particular day. And what happens to that cash? Well, that’s a very good question.

After talking to one or two of those would be ‘pretenders’, I discovered that this many making racket is being controlled by gangs, and in particular, gangs who remain local and reside within 15 minutes of each catchment area. The ‘faces’ paraded on every street corner are also controlled. They ‘donate’ willingly to their ‘pimps’ on the understanding that if they don’t, well, we all know what happens in gangland when a pimp is disobeyed! By the sheer precision of this regimented system, you and I, the general public, are continually fooled into believing that these poor souls we see at the stop signs are genuinely in need of help. It’s just not the case. In fact, giving to these people really detracts from the real homeless issue that lies out there, unabated. We are giving to those who don’t really need, and those who do are going without. Hence my admiration for all those volunteers who are out on the streets trying to locate and to confirm and then register those who are really homeless and those who are not. My only hope is that they succeed in their task, a task that is often hazardous and difficult. In the meantime, my suggestion to all of you when you stop at a light and are approached by a man or woman with a sign looking for help, is to politely decline. This is a racket, and a racket that needs to be stopped. Instead it seems to be spreading far and wide across not only our state, but the whole country. The people behind these schemes are taking our money, tax-free, and indeed some of them are living quite comfortable lives from the proceeds of our ‘donations’. When I was living alone for that one week I went homeless up in San Francisco, I met a gentleman, who shall remain forever in my thoughts, who came into town every day in his Lexus, parked at Safeway in Daly City, got on BART (the local subway train) to the Embarcadero and after taking in $300 to $500 cash on a daily basis, would return back to Daly City and drive home in his Lexus to his nice house in the suburbs. All his money was tax-free and he had no qualms about what he was doing and how he was doing it. He was very good at his ‘job’ as seen by the amounts he collected, but he, like all the others who are con-men, were taking money away, easy money, from those who genuinely needed it. He had no regrets, and I’m sure the rest of them don’t have many either. The issue could be stopped through education. Education of us, the masses, teaching each and every one of us how to spot a fraudster, although, that is probably an impossible task, but a task that could start by a simple look at a pair of shoes.

As I’ve mentioned before. When is doubt, politely decline, and if you still feel the need to give, which we almost always do, do so without feeling like you’ve been bullied. Go to your local homeless shelter and donate directly to them. They need and cherish every single penny you can afford to give and they appreciate it too! You will do so knowing that your cash is going straight into a system that can feed and help those who are genuinely down on their luck and it will assist in supporting their rehabilitation and not the empire building of any pimp.

Homeless Though Not Hapless!

imagesToday was a special day. I got to tour a homeless shelter very close to my home here in CA. The reason for the tour was two fold, but before I go into detail, let me relate to you the scene that greeted me as I drove up in my brand spanking new sports car, a car that I wished I’d left at home, and was met by a scene of such depravity, it made me ashamed that I actually belonged to a race called humanity, but incredibly proud to meet people who actually care and are trying hard to right this terrible wrong called homelessness.

I’ve had various dealings with the homeless throughout my life, from working closely with those who carry a real desire to get back on their own two feet, to assisting many charitable organizations who would like to raise money in the hope of ending homelessness, to simply being deliberately homeless myself, for a week. My biggest grievance with the human race, is that we allow homelessness in the first place. I look around, especially hard, in this area in which I live, Silicon Valley, and I wonder, often out loud, HOW CAN THIS BE??? There are so many clever people here, so many in fact, we are swamped by a ‘billionaire’ glut, spoilt for choice when naming someone who has redefined our modern planet with technology to die for, and yet, just in our small county alone, we have 7000+ people who are continually homeless and who have very little chance in their lifetime of ever being anything else. If you take a pen and draw a circle outside of this county, that number is multiplied by ten for every 20-40 miles it’s expanded. So pathetic, so ridiculous and so very frustrating.

When I arrived this morning, surrounded by a scene commonplace on many of today’s street corners, the thing that immediately struck me was how surreal the shelter seemed. There it stood, slap bang in the center of a prosperous neighborhood, (prosperous being perhaps the wrong word) where restaurants and large chain-stores occupy a huge mall and where droves of people line up daily to spend liberally on goods they really don’t require and feast on food they really don’t need, as they do, all over America, right in front of those who can’t and never will. The have’s and have nots, all together, although very separate, co-mingling in sprit alone, or perhaps never at all. My instant reaction when I got out my car in the parking lot, was to double check that the car was indeed locked and that no one was looking at me as I walked the 20 yards or so towards their reception area dressed in my Levi’s and my Nike shirt, standing out like a beacon amongst those would be watchers, all with lives that are supported generously by others and all dressed in clothes that were once worn by others, all living an existence we (as non homeless) hope is only ever lived by others. There was no malice in their stares, no jealousy, at least not that I could see, and a general acceptance that I was just another rich, lucky, comfortable fucker who was here to do something that might just help them all out one day. Although no one intimated that fact and no one even spoke to me, I felt I was being regarded as a somewhat of an interesting morning addition to another somewhat very uninteresting mundane day.

My tour guides, two wonderful ladies called Liz and Cindy, greeted me at the door and proceeded to escort me all over the shelter showing me everything from the kitchens to the sleeping accommodations, to the courtyard, where, on any given day, most of the residents or those who are just passing through, are able to rest, contemplate and chat amongst themselves, trading stories, experiences and perhaps a cigarette or two, in an effort to make the acquaintance of a new friend. Their safety, nutrition and and perhaps even their sanity, guaranteed, if not for ever, then certainly just for today. Veterans made up a large part of this complex, some watching a movie, some assisting the permanent work force, and some just taking council from those who are their to give. This was not paradise and indeed this was no party, but what it was, what it always will be, hope!

With my tour complete, I bombarded my hosts with a multitude of questions, each one carefully chosen in order that I might find a way to help, to assist, to raise money and awareness for a cause I deeply relate to and sincerely believe in. By the time we finished we had a plan, if not cast in stone, good enough to make me go straight to my doctor and take a TB test ( a requirement for anyone who wants to work there)  in order that next week or the week after I can be passed fit to undertake volunteer service in the center’s kitchen. They serve 250 to 500 men and women a day in that kitchen, depending on occupancy, and this folks, is where my new challenge shall begin. My aim, my ambition, my desire, is to help this shelter and perhaps some others, to attain the proper funding they require to once and for all rid this city, and then all other cities, of the homelessness and despair that has blighted our landscape for too long.

Look out for more articles on this matter, coming soon and in the meantime, if you see someone who is genuinely homeless, please try and help them out. A small gesture can often go a very long way.


Irresponsible Rouges for Sure – I.R.S.

imagesSo these bastards at the IRS have squandered over $50 million of OUR money on parties, dance video’s conferences, and more, for what? They have been found out, BIG TIME, and the full truth has yet to emerge showing the extent of their shenanigans. I am so pissed, as you all should be, that a government agency, and not just any agency, but the government agency we all love to hate, has the gall to spend my tax dollars for events that are so farcical, so needless and so beyond belief, that outrage and disgust would never be words strong enough to explain the disdain I now feel towards them. I am not and never have been a fan of any tax system, but the one in this country is so backwards and useless that it’s disappearing up its own arsehole! And if you take a look at who actually pays their taxes, you, me and only about 30% of the rest of all 150 million people who should be paying, then this folly, this irresponsible behavior that these pricks have managed to slip through our supposedly rigid and secure system, beggars belief and warrants complete internal change and reorganization.

Singling out groups and companies because of their names and beliefs? Well why don’t Homeland Security just arrest every Muslim or Jew,Buddhist, or right-wing Christian because they think they might be troublemakers? Why not? It seems the order of the day that these huge governmental juger-naughts can just do what the heck they want. It’s pathetic. I am paying thousands of dollars a month in tax so some people who chose to work for the IRS can go out and make a dance video at my expense? Don’t they have a conscience? It would be interesting to know if anyone in that video actually pays tax! Are they exempt because they can line dance? Do they attend these conventions just to avoid paying as much as the rest of us? If that’s the case, then I am there baby! I can learn to dance and to drink and party just as easily as they can!

So someone at the IRS will probably read this and I will get audited. Let’s see, what do I have to hide? Oh yes, I remember, the thousands of tears I’ve shed with every dollar I’ve had to pay! Why don’t they stop wasting our money on unnecessary past times and spend our money chasing those who simply refuse to pay tax, or those who are hiding their money in so-called legal off-shore entities to avoid the 50% base rate that would wipe them clean? Where’s the common sense here people? Where is our USA Springtime? Why is it the arab world has all the fun when we, the greatest country on the planet, sit back and just accept everything as it is? We are stupid! We are complacent! We are a bunch of sissy’s, just sitting around being ‘yes’men and women. Shouldn’t we all be annoyed right now? Shouldn’t we begin an uprising to rid this country of all government, all lobbyists and all those who take advantage of our mighty system? A system, by the way, that is absolutely, 100% broken?

Time to go and count the money I don’t have because that dancing squad I’ve watched on TV for the past week have practiced their routine and are off, at my expense, to the world line dancing championships under the banner name of IRS ( Income tax Really Sucks) and so do we!


Taking Off – Airplane Stories To Make Your Toes Curl

imagesI made my first journey from London to Hong Kong in 1980. In those days I only flew economy, because that’s all I could afford. Business class was a pipe dream and first class, well, first was for celebrities or billionaires only. It took 8 hours to fly to Bahrain or Mumbai, formerly Bombay, and then another 8 hours from whichever stop you’d made, onwards to HK, and when you landed, you knew you’d been cooped up for more than a day, just by the length of time it took to get your legs back in working order. It was brutal, and coming back to the UK took even longer, due to the winds and direction of flight. East to west is always longer, as any seasoned traveler knows. My first time in HK was followed by a sweet diversion to Singapore on the way back, and then another 11 hour flight to Brussels, and after a refueling stop, an hour back to the UK. The 747’s of that era, just could make the journey without stopping. And so, for many years, probably until the mid 1980’s, it was ‘suffer in silence’ in a back row seat, cramped up and surrounded by smelly human beings. Case in point.

One night, (all flights to London left HK around midnight in these days), I was booked back to the UK on BA, leaving from HK after a two-week stint going in and out of factories, none of which were anything other than salubrious. I arrived at my gate, exhausted and ready for bed, but knowing the change of grabbing any sleep was near on impossible, only because I rarely ever sleep on flights, let alone doze off when cramped in a back row with my legs touching my chest. The flight was called and I boarded, and having been ushered to my aisle seat, I was pleasantly surprised to find the plane empty, other than another 40 or so fellow travelers who’d boarded with me. We were supposed to fly HK to Bombay, spend 4 hours there and then fly on to London. “This won’t be so bad” says I, whilst navigating my tired body towards an empty row of four seats in the center of the plane. I was delighted to find there were several empty rows and so I spread my belongings out across all 4 seats as if  to ‘claim’ my territory, and then went for a quick pee. Arriving back, and then spreading out to relax and hopefully lie down and sleep, the cabin director made the following announcement, “We are expecting one or two more passengers so please be patient and keep your original seats until we close the door.” One or two? No problem! There were 250 empty seats! How wrong can one be.

235 turban clad Indian gentleman, all carrying 6 plastic bags each, filled with all sorts of exotic goodies, dressed in traditional garb and all wearing open toed sandals without socks, smelling like they’d all been at some curry feast, proceeded to sit in every available empty seat, put their plastic bags above, beyond and under every available space, take off their already smelly sandals, spread out and stunk up that flight for the next 8 hours. There was no escape, other than to the toilette  which eventually took on its own personality, and one that reminded me of a street gutter in Delhi! It got to be so bad that all the flight crew immigrated into business class and hid, deciding not to serve us anything, unless they had to. Arriving in Bombay, when the doors opened, there was a mass exodus and those of us traveling on to London made a run for it. Having settled down, some three hours later, with my stomach back in tact, we boarded the same plane, which had thankfully now been fumigated, only for the same experience to happen one more time. All 235 of them re-boarded for London! We were distraught, those of us with sensitive noses that is, and we hunkered down for another 8 hours of doom and gloom accompanied by the worst odors I have ever had the pleasure of inhaling, other than this one time, again, from HK to UK some years later, when a guy from Yorkshire sat next to me, in business class, smelling like he’d just come out of a sewer pipe and forgotten to wash. 12 more hours of vile disgusting odors, enough to make you puke more than just once.

Then there was this old lady, sitting quite nonchalantly in front of me on TWA from London to New York. Suddenly, and without warning, placing her coffee cup up towards the air nosel above her seat and continuously pushing the flight attendant call button. DING DING DING DING, but to no avail. It went on and on and on. I decided enough was enough so I rose, tapped her on her shoulder and asked her very nicely, “Can I help you, is something wrong?”  She looked up at me with such an innocent grin and said, “the flight attendant said if I wanted more coffee I should push this button!” She believed that coffee would flow from the air vent and had no idea that she was pushing the flight attendant button.

On a trip to Dublin, again from Heathrow, we were hurtling down the runway, wheels ready to lift off, when BOOM! Actually it was more like a POP, one of the engines gives out, and before we knew it, the air brakes, the hand brake and any other brake they had, came on full speed, shutting both engines down immediately  and stopping us about 100 feet from the end of Heathrow runway 28 right. The doors were thrown open and whoosh, before anyone could say, “mine’s a Guinness”, we were shoved out onto the slides that appear when an in flight emergency happens. Leaving all belongings on the plane, it took 4 hours to get us back into the terminal, claim out baggage and get on another flight to Dublin. Only positive thing being, we were all safe!

Guangzhou, China, April 1983. Time to fly from China back to Hong Kong, a 30 minute flight. Remember, this was before China had come alive to modern technology. There were no roads, no boats, no trains and no other way of getting in and out. The aircraft was an ancient Russian something or other, and when checking in, the first in line got seat 1A, the second 1B etc.. You had NO choice. This was in the days when you received a sticker from a map of the plane and attached it to your flight ticket. We boarded, I was in 3A, (I will never forget), and was hemmed in by 2 disabled French tourists. It was only 30 minutes, so who cares? Right? The plane was full, the doors closed, they pushed up back, and the captain started the engines. One exploded! Kaboom! The cabin filled with smoke, and every westerner got up to run out, except me, hemmed in by the disabled Frenchmen. I was in panic mode, they were crying. Two Iranians behind me were praying to Allah and the Chinese, including the flight crew just sat, arms crossed, patient and calm, as if nothing had happened. I was suffocating and they were all smiling. As I looked back towards the rear of the aircraft, there was no panic and the flight crew, 2 very petite Chinese ladies, began opening all the aircraft doors. No one, other than us westerners, was in any hurry to do anything other than sit. As the smoke cleared, and the passengers settled down from panic mode to just plain acceptance, and with the pilot uttering something in either Mandarin or Cantonese,  out of the corner of my eye, through a very smokey window, I watched with some curiosity and amazement, as a Chinese man peddled towards us, with a step-ladder over one shoulder and a cigarette in hand. After 5 minutes he arrived at the base of our aircraft, making his way towards the rear, where both engines were situated. He put his bike on the ground, erected the ladders, stepped up to the right hand engine, took the casing off that engine, gave it a couple of whacks with a hammer he’d produced from beneath his coat, put the casing back on, took the step-ladder down, got back on his bike, cycled up to the front, gave the pilot a ‘thumbs up’ signal, and we took off!! For the 30 minute duration of that flight, the 2 Iranians were kneeling on the floor with their worry beads, the two Frenchmen were shaking like leaves and I was shitting my pants waiting for the plane to explode in mid-air. Needless to say, it didn’t!

Xian is situated in the north-west of China, and after the discovery of a Terra-cotta army, everyone on the planet wanted to visit there, well, I did, perhaps not everyone. Again, this was in the early 80’s and so, from the south of China where I’d been working, I boarded a flight for Xian, ready and willing to die! In those days, any Chinese aircraft you boarded, you had to be prepared to stick your hand out the window and flap like a bird to assist in its take off and landing. Dangerous times indeed and I recall that the UK government of the time put out a warning for its citizens only to travel on recognized airlines and not to use any internal Chinese companies to fly on. I had no choice and without any real drama, I arrived and enjoyed Xian and all its wonders. Arriving back at the airport for my flight to Guangzhou, things were just a wee bit different. The flight was full, 100% full, and there were people wandering all over the terminal with chickens and crabs and other animals, all in boxes and ready to be taken aboard as hand luggage! I checked in, went to the gate and stood in line, military style, ready to board. I had managed to wangle an aisle seat, no mean feat in those days, and was ready for yet another 3 hour Chinese air extravaganza. We boarded, I sat, they plane was ready, and then, an announcement. No idea what they said, but within 2 minutes another 25 people boarded the plane. There were no seats, and they stood, hands grasping the top of either aisle seat, ready and waiting for take off. “NO FUCKING WAY!” I thought, as the doors closed, we taxied out and began to scream down the runway at Xian international airport! These ‘clowns’ were holding on for dear life and we climbed, quite rapidly, out of harms way and up into smooth air and cruising altitude, whereupon they went into that now, well-known, Chinese squatting position, and remained there for three hours, smoking, laughing and doing anything they could to have a good time while we hurried back to Guangzhou. On out descent  they balanced their bodies the opposite way to the position they’s been in on our climb out of Xian, and as I looked at them all, standing there, in the aisle, I began to believe they’d all done this several times in the past. They turned out to be experts and probably friends of the pilot! That was really the ‘wild-west’ and to be perfectly honest, although things have improved greatly in China over the past 25 years, I often miss the innocence that these people used  to have as they began to accept and then navigate, OUR ‘real’ world.

Philadelphia, city of brotherly love, unless you’re a flight attendant trying to pack everything up ready for landing while being buffeted around in severe turbulence. No love there! The lady I’m talking about was standing up next to me as we made our approach into that particular city when suddenly she was sent three feet up into the air, her head hitting the aircraft ceiling and then her body crashing back down into the seat right in front of me where her collar-bone struck the top of the chair and penetrated her skin! Broken in two places, she was unconscious and needed to be carried off in a stretcher when we eventually landed.

But that was nothing in comparison to the time we were over Moscow heading for HK, when the man sitting next to me, although he was one seat removed, the middle one being empty, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, put his head on my shoulder. Surprised to say the least, my first reaction was to look at him and try to push him gently back to where he’d come from, believing he’d fallen asleep while the movie was playing. Unfortunately my suspicions that he might be dead were proven correctly after his refusal to move, the heaviness that seemed quite unusual to me in his head and the obvious sign, and one I should have recognized immediately, he had no pulse! Shitting my pants, this being the second dead body I’d ever seen, the first close up, I pushed the call button repeatedly for the flight attendant to come. When she arrived, she was as shocked as I was and she called the captain. Did you know that if there is a death on board the pilot is supposed to land straight away, no matter where he is? Conversation between the pilots of this plane became heated and so I inadvertently decided to join in by asking ‘what the fuck their problem was?’ It was related to me that we were over Moscow, and if they radioed in this death, they’d be forced to land, the plane would be quarantined for two days and we’d all be stuck! “Would you mind saying he died 30 minutes outside of HK?” Was he talking to me?? I had to hear this request twice more before I agreed to comply. The pilots told me that police would come on, simply asking when the man died, and me, being the only real witness, would lie through his teeth in order to save us from a fate worse that death, 2 days in Moscow airport! “Ok I’ll do it” I proclaimed, as the dead body was placed inside a body-bag retrieved from the lower deck, dragged into business class and then placed inside the onboard elevator and taken to lie with all the baggage. For my trouble, they upgraded me into first class for the remaining 9 hours and served me like a king, although I wasn’t in the mood to be treated in any way other than with sympathy! None of the other passengers on the plane would hound me in first class and those who were curious as to what had happened were kept at bay by the flight crew. When landed, the police came on board, the questions were asked, I was released and free to go and the poor widow was left to claim her husband’s body. They were both HK residents. I’ve never fallen asleep on any flight since and although no one else ever died on me, I still remember that evening as if it happened yesterday.

With more than 4 million miles flown and having taken more than 4000 flights, I have had many more good and bad experiences on board planes, some which I can honestly say scared the shit out of me and some which left me speechless. All in all, I am happy to still be here and when people say to me ‘did you have a nice flight?’ I always answer them with one line and in the same way I have done for more than 20 years, “I arrived with both legs in tact, so yes, it was good!”

John Noonan

imagesWhere do all the guts and innards from sheep and cows and horses end up? Ever wonder that? No, not Safeway, although recently that would have been my first guess. John Noonan,  a company that was situated in the east end of Glasgow, was famous for one thing and one thing only, it’s stench! A stench that came from said innards!

Brian Freeman, a large, often lovable crook, sat behind his desk, windows open with the stench of animal innards wafting casually into his office, unabated. Brian was English and spoke with a kind of slur in his voice, even when sober. A chemist by profession, or so he said, he was the buyer at Noonan with whom my father had been dealing with for many years. Supplying plastic sheeting, bags and packing tape, the account was worth many thousands in profit and whenever asked to quote for something, there was always a bidding war between my dad’s company and one of his competitors, who slugged it out with Brian until the bitter end, carving each other up into little pieces, always to the detriment of each other and the sole benefit of Noonan and Brian’s bonus.

I was 11 the first time I was taken there. I had to wait in the car while my dad delivered something. He told me it would take 5 minutes, and 45 minutes later, with this horrible stench now seeping through our car windows and my stomach about to puke its contents onto the front seat, my dad returned, just in time to save the day. As I grew older, I became wary of anything he said that resembled even thinking about returning to that horrible place, so, you can imagine my shock, when, as a van boy, and now 14 years of age, John, the driver told me we were making a delivery to John Noonan that morning and collecting some faulty bags in return. My immediate thought was to run, my reaction obviously confirmed by the look of shock and dread written across my face.

“Dinnae worry, it’ll onnae tak a wee munit” said John, in his broad Glaswegian accent. John had been my boss all summer long. Wherever he went, I went. He loved Glasgow Rangers, as did I, so we got along just fine. He used to reminisce about all our victories and triumphs, as we drove round Glasgow every day. Collecting me from home at 7 am and then dropping me off at 6 pm, we put hundreds of miles on that van each week and lifted thousands of boxes. John was my introduction not only to flat sausage sandwiches from McGuire’s bakery where we’d make a scheduled stop every day around 11 am, a time which we called our elevenses, but also to heavy beer, a dark flat concoction, loved by most Scotsman. Only when he asked me to try my first pint, I was reluctant as any 14-year-old might have been and yet curious too. One sip of that crap however, put me off for life. I was lucky! Yes, he would drink and drive. A couple of pints around 1 pm with fish and chips accompanying the ‘heavy’ and we would be off once again, running round Glasgow and it’s suburbs making deliveries.

This particular day, on the way to Noonans with a huge consignment of cartons loaded neatly on the back of the truck, he asked me if I wanted to go into the factory and look around.

“It’s no as bad as it seems, ah promus” he offered, as he put pedal to the metal and we shot off, fully laden and headed for anything but paradise!

As we approached the gates, two tall green monstrosities, I could already smell that disgusting odor as it belched out into the grey Glasgow sky and breached my sensitive nostril passages. My stomach started to churn, my mind went into lock down and my face must have turned pure white.

“Dinnae puke up in ma van” said John, without one iota of compassion. The gates opened, and in we went. Brian Freeman was in the courtyard awaiting our arrival. This delivery was urgent, and so it was all hands on deck to offload it asap. Brian looked at me and then at John and said,

“You brought the wee fella with you then?”

“Aye, but he’s no gonnae last long”

Just as John said that, I puked all over Brian’s shoes, and half way up his trouser leg. All my elevenses came pouring out, and bit by bit, left a permanent stain on Brian’s suit. No one uttered a single word, and as if nothing had happened, Brian turned round to me and shouted,

“OK you got that out, now offload the fucking van!’

And I did. It took us half an hour, and while Brian was away changing his clothes or getting cleaned up, all the workers from Noonans we out there with John and I pissing themselves laughing at what I’d done. Some of them seemed quite pleased in fact, but none of them gave me peace and each one asked me, in turn, if I’d like to tour the inside of the plant, mask free! I told them no thanks, and with my stomach running on empty, we left, back to the warehouse to collect our next load, which, thankfully was not for Noonan!

Years after that experience, I used to call on Brian regularly, and each time I did, he told me I still owed him a new pair of shoes and new suit. He eventually got his revenge when he asked me and my father for a loan, some 15 years later, when he’d invented and patented this new idea which required financial backing. We agreed to give him the money, but we never saw a single penny repaid. Don’t know where he is now, don’t really care, but I can still smell that place and still turns my stomach every time I think back!