Starbucks and skiing

Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, was interviewed in the Guardian today. I learnt of how he was inspired to build a chain after his first visit to Italy in 1983. Seriously? How can a visit to the home of beautiful coffee have spawned such a monster? How much better the world would be if he’d restricted himself to building daisy chains.

I read of how he’s planning to refit 100 UK stores this year, making their interiors more individual and in tune with their local area. Oh, the irony. Starbucks, the destroyers and growth-stunters of bona fide independent local coffee shops the world over, are to copy their approach. Stick to bland, bitter homogeneity Mr Schultz, it’s what you’re good at.

I also read how Peter Mandelson, responding to some derogatory comments from Schultz regarding the UK economy, launched a foul-mouthed tirade in his direction back in February. I found myself developing a soft spot for Mandelson all of a sudden. Perhaps I should stop reading the Guardian, it’s becoming unhealthy.
Still feeling the post-holiday blues after skiing, and wondering if I’ve maybe overlooked several hundred pounds in my current account somewhere that would allow me another trip this winter. I fear not. I have eulogised enough about the delights of skiing before now, but something new struck me on this trip – the uniqueness of each run down the mountain.

On Friday, we were making our way down the valley via a series of runs and lifts. Mel, one of the more talkative hobbits in the party, had fond memories of a particular run called Jerusalem, and en route to it, we found ourselves on a chairlift, ascending directly over a blue piste which was (a) groomed, (b) sunny, (c) virtually empty and (d) looking like a lot of fun. “Looking like a lot of fun” means it had a lot of bends which looked like they might like to be taken at high speed. So we postponed our pilgrimage to Jerusalem, temporarily, and bombed down this run instead. Twice, both times without stopping. Strictly speaking, I did come to something of a stop first time round, having misjudged the racing line somewhat through a bend, and slid horizontally off the piste, over a ridge and out of sight of MacRae and Kirsty, who claimed to be hard on my heels. Now, it being a fast run, and there being boys involved, it had developed into something of a race, without anything being expressly mentioned to that effect. When MacRae saw me crash and slide off the piste out of sight, potentially surrendering my hard-earned lead, he was (a) delighted, and then (b) momentarily concerned for my welfare. So he stopped, as did Kirsty, or so they tell me, and called out to see if I was alright. I did actually hear them call out, but considered the fact that I was back up on my feet and skiing on to be an adequate answer to their enquiry, so didn’t visibly acknowledge it. I didn’t realise they had stopped, and so as I got up, dusted myself off and skied back on to the piste, still in the lead, I quietly congratulated myself on being so far in front that I’d had time to fall over, laugh for a bit, and still be in front when I returned to the ‘race’. I didn’t hear MacRae loudly calling me a fascist at this point, but took all his abuse on the chin once we’d got to the bottom, and got our breath back.

It should be noted at this stage that Mel would have destroyed all of us in a race, real or imagined, had he been strapped on to his customary snowboard. However, he had chosen that day to temporarily reject the dark side, and use skis instead. I believe he had a grand old time, burning quads notwithstanding.

So the point of all that was to explain that the next day we went back to this piste and it wasn’t nearly so much fun. There were more people on it, which meant we had to ski more circumspectly, it wasn’t as sunny, and the piste wasn’t in quite such good nick. Every day is different, and the same run is different on different days. Which means that each time you do a run it’s a unique event, and adds to the joy of the experience such as we had on Friday, as you know that it’s not always possible to recreate those conditions again.

Carpe diem…

No delays when you need them

After a consecutive series of delayed flights over the last week, the least I might have expected was for tonight’s flight back to Edinburgh to be shunted back, at least a little. Which would have been useful, as a points malfunction at Stratford had left me scrambling onto an overcrowded bus in order to complete my ‘rail’ journey to the epicentre of the 2012 Olympics, from where I still had to take a tube and the DLR to get to the City Airport. I hadn’t managed to get on the first bus, due to the panic instilled in my fellow travellers by being denied their timely arrival into Stratford, and the scrum that ensued.
Finally made it to check-in, with the screen showing my flight as boarding, and on to security, which had the longest queues I’ve seen there. Naturally, I joined the slowest-moving one, which is a natural gift of mine, and then forgot to take a pen out of my trouser pocket, which triggered the scanner. At which point I had to remove my shoes, belt, and all pocket contents before undergoing what amounted to a full-body grope. And an electronic sweep-down which seemed convinced that I had something metallic somewhere very personal. I know privacy campaigners are exercised by the prospect of the new X-ray scanners which display an image of you in disturbing detail through your clothing, but personally I think that’s preferable to the physical invasion of your dignity as it currently stands.
By the time I had been certified a non-terrorist, the screen was displaying ‘Gate closed’ beside my flight. Undeterred, knowing my hold baggage had gone ahead of me, I pressed on, almost breaking into a run at times despite flapping shoelaces, and less-than-secure trousers, having had no time to reinstate my belt to its rightful place.
Escorted individually to the steps of the plane by a very kind and patient member of the BA ground crew, I finally made it on to the flight ten minutes before it was due to take off.
I had eschewed the opportunity to change my seat during online check-in earlier, since having done this on the way down and yet still failed in my attempt to secure a seat with no-one beside me. Miserably. I was sat beside an absolute bear of a man. I took my seat and tried to make myself comfortable. The Bear was working his way through a puzzle book, and I could feel the pressure as I reached the crossword in the Guardian, and folded it over, in a way which suggested I had every confidence of being able to solve one or two of the clues. And what do you know, I solved 1 Across instantly. Instantly, I say. And then had a lucky run with four more in a row (in a row, I say) later on. Quite satisfied with myself, I put the paper away and re-opened Mr Trescothick’s autobiography.
The City Airport being principally used by, um, City types and pink-sweater-clad students at the London School of Economics, I was, by some distance, the scruffiest person on the flight. I love the City Airport, for its proximity to my sister’s house (points failures at Stratford notwithstanding), and its spectacular flight path in and out over the centre of London. But I can’t help but feel it wasn’t made with the likes of me in mind. Visiting the cash machine in the terminal on Monday I noticed that on selecting ‘cash withdrawal’ the amounts assigned to the screen-side buttons started at £100 and increased in multiples thereof. I selected ‘Other Amount’. On plugging into the free LCY wi-fi I was presented with a welcome screen which requested the usual user info – name, email, postcode etc. And two drop-down boxes in which I was to state my industry and occupation. The default suggested for industry was ‘Accounting’, and for occupation was ‘Board of Directors’. I didn’t even satisfy the default age range (18-24).
Sigh. At least the John Mayer gig was brilliant, and worth the travelling and hassle. My ears were ringing for some time after getting home, not so much from the music as the audience. I had commented on how many teenage girls were present to my gig companion, affectionately known as The Maestro. He pointed out that girls which looked like teenagers to me were probably 25. I thanked him for his observation. The 25-yr-old girls made a heck of a racket when JM’s band arrived on stage, but managed to ratchet it up even further when the man himself appeared. And they kept it up for most of the gig. In fairness, he played a great set, despite him not playing my favourite songs (why do artists do that… is it just me?), memorably throwing a bit of the Jackson 5 into the mix at one point. The Maestro was playing in his own gig the following night, and I went along to watch him. Was greatly pleased to see that I wasn’t the sole target of his youthful insolence, as he publicly heckled the singer/guitarist he was playing for.
I say ‘youthful’, but actually he’s getting on a bit himself. As is Maggie, 3 years old today, and terribly excited about it. I deferred my present until later in the year, as she has quite a few to be getting on with, and anyway, junior cricket sets cannot be practically demonstrated in January. Those delights will have to wait.
Now back in Edinburgh for the foreseeable, I find myself experiencing a slight return to the post-holiday blues which hit me hard on Sunday night. A reappearance on the slopes before the ski and cricket seasons crossfade, while financially daunting, seems like a great idea right now…

Airport déja vu

Another flight from Edinburgh airport, another lengthy delay. I find myself sitting beneath the same speaker that I sat beneath eight days ago, the interminable wait on that occasion punctuated with conversation and laughs with 11 friends all en route to Val Thorens. And DC, directing a baleful upwards look towards the speaker, as another cheesy Christmas song interrupted his concentration on the Sunday Telegraph.
This time there are no friends, sadly. More mercifully, there is no Christmas music. Airport delays, who needs them? Luncheon vouchers are only a small consolation, although BA win points for possessing a decency lacking in Jet2 last week by advertising their existence over the tannoy.
At least I have a good book or two for company. My Christmas presents this year were, let’s say, tinged with a cricketing theme. Two books – Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography and Harold Larwood’s biography, and one DVD box set of the 2009 Ashes. Have been looking forward to watching the series highlights since it finished – the TV coverage being exclusively on Sky meant that I missed quite a lot of the matches as they happened. So Stuart Broad’s destructive spell at the Oval is, as yet, a pleasure still to be enjoyed.
Trescothick’s book provides a harrowing account of his breakdown when on tour with England in India, and subsequent struggles with depression. However, in the early chapters which chart his ascent through the echelons of county and international cricket, he recounts how he frequently found himself declaring “Isn’t this great?” as he experienced the joy of scoring runs at higher and higher levels.
Last week, I found myself, not for the first time, thinking, and sometimes saying aloud to anyone who would listen: “Isn’t this great?!” as I carved up another sun-kissed piste. Or watched the sun sinking over snowy mountains, with a hot chocolate warming my insides, and the prospect of a rapid exhilarating descent to the chalet ahead.
If anything, my speed on skis this year was even faster, having borrowed Kenny K’s helmet, and experiencing its sense of security for the first time. Thankfully it was never needed, except when Mandy took it upon herself to test drive it with a forearm smash to my forehead. With friends like these…
My trip to London is to see John Mayer play live, he having the temerity to schedule his only Scottish date on Saturday night while I was still in France. At least he had the good sense to arrange a London gig within two days of Maggie’s 3rd birthday, so I can combine two showbiz extravaganzas in one visit.
Having been slightly disappointed with JM’s most recent studio offering, I am hoping his live show fulfils its reputation, and is worth the airport delay…