I have landed

November 18, 2012 • 2:18 am

I am sitting in the cold at the Central Bus Terminal at Heathrow, awaiting the bus to Oggsford (viz. The Great Gatsby).

I have three observations in my jet-lagged state:

1. Of all the major airports in the world, Heathrow is the worst, and I’ve been to many.  The corridors go for miles and, when you finally reach “Arrivals,” there is an interminable line with three desultory customs folk checking your passport. It is a dispiriting and sluggish welcome to Old Blighty.

2.  Britain is EXPENSIVE, as it has been for years (I was here at the glorious moment when you could get one pound for one dollar).  My one-way ticket from Heathrow to Oggsford, about an hour’s journey, cost twenty-three pounds, which is $36.50  US.  Still, I’ll bite the bullet and prepare myself to shell out upwards of three pounds for a pint of British ale, which, when properly cellared and served, is one of the world’s glories.

3. I watched two movies on the plane, one of which I’d seen before and remains superb: Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.  Great acting and fantastic camerawork. The other, Avatar, I hadn’t seen before, and found okay but a bit predictable and schmalzy.  I should have watched From Here to Eternity or, better yet, On the Waterfront, both available.  I coulda seen a good movie instead of a sci-feature about giant blue aliens, which is what I did.

99 thoughts on “I have landed

  1. I’m afraid a pint is now closer to £4. In some fashionable pubs in Hackney half a pint (of imported lager)is £3 something.

  2. And it doesn’t get any cheaper.

    You’re right about Heathrow though – you’re usually tired after a long journey and they force you to walk through miles of anonymous corridor to join a long queue at immigration. I much prefer travelling from my local airport.

    For a cheap pint, check out your local Wetherspoons pub. People like to knock them, but they manage to sell pretty good beer at pretty good prices. Although they do tend to attract a motley clientele. (sometimes very motley!)

    1. “motley clientele” = “colourful characters”
      (Yes, Weatherspoons are consistently a good choice if you don’t know a town better. Food isn’t great, but is consistently acceptable.)

      1. I sometimes have breakfast there early on a sunday morning – call me naive, but I always think it strange to find people already drunk at 10am.

        1. Good parties don’t slow down until about (second) sunrise, so it sounds to me like you’re meeting people starting their second shift on yesterday’s sauce.
          “Work,” in the ineffable words of IIRC ‘Enry ‘Iggins, “is the curse of the drinking classes”.

      2. A dog walks into a bar and orders a bowlful of crap – it was a Wetherspoon’s bar.

        I can’t believe, as we welcome JAC to our miserable little country, that you’re seriously recommending Wetherspoon’s, Tip: find any pub with Edwardian stained glass in the bar and the beer will be good.

        1. Compred to the slop in some of “food” places, the Weatherspoons is acceptable. Having travelled to many other parts of the country, when you arrive at 20:30 and most places stop serving at 21:00 … quick and readily available and good enough beats taking a random shot at a restaurant. Too much hassle.

        2. I wouldn’t recommend the food, but they usually do 3 or 4 guest real ales along with the standard lager mush. And it’s cheap.

    1. We serve beer at all temperatures – not all of them correct. Anyway, ale warm, lager cold. Same as red wine versus white.

      1. As an Australian, all beers, ales, lagers are served cold! The last time I had a beer out it was at a cafe, A$8 for a small bottle of Hahn lite, however find out the pub price. We don’t do pints.

          1. Schooners, Ponys, Middies, Pots, etc etc. And they vary by state.

            It used to be that case that if beer (i.e. lager) was served warm in Australia there’d be a riot and that pub would be burnt down. Now there seems to be a certain tolerance for fancy warm beers/ales/etc. To stay in good with my niece’s husband I occasionally drink Coopers Pale Ale. But it’s always ice cold.

            1. Refrigeration removes flavour, and any decent pub serves it’s draught real ale at cellar temperature; cool but not freezing. Chilled lager may be fine in summer but it’s not something to imbibe during a British winter.

              1. Yeah, I’m sure that’s true. I rarely drink beer in winter, which in Australia is quite mild compared to Europe, but in summer, after mowing the lawn, a couple of Victoria Bitters don’t touch the sides.

                A friend on another board doesn’t like *anything* ice cold. Not soft drink, not beer. I just shake my head.

    2. No, the ‘warm’ is a misleading term. We serve, and drink, ‘warm’ ale and stout and also serve, and drink chilled beer (lager) and stout.

      Ale should be served at around 12-14C (54-57F). Some ales taste fine a little warmer, some not, just as some are actually pretty good chilled, but some definitely not.

      “Real Ale”, as some call it, is not served from pressurised barrels, but physically pumped up from the cellar, and thus, the barrel must have a small hole in the top to allow the pressure to equalise, which means the ale is effectively exposed to the air. This means that it must be kept in good, clean, cool conditions, otherwise it goes off. And when I say off, I mean off. Somewhere between slightly tart and, in a really bad case, like hoppy vinegar. In 40-odd years of quaffing the stuff, I’ve only ever had one of the latter (and if I hadn’t been so thirsty at the time, my nose would have warned me before I actually sipped the stuff).

      So, ale has to kept and, to an extent, prepared, properly. for this reason, in older pubs, the cellars tend to be underground. More modern ale-houses tend to have air-conditioned ground-level storage.

      Do not be put off by the notion of ale being served “warm”, it is a relative term and a good pint or four is a delight. And such variety! from light and fruity, sometimes slightly flowery, summer and ‘session’ ales, dark ‘mild’ ales (although these are rare these days), through to hoppy and / or malty strong ales, some of which will blow your socks of before you realise it. From experience, the point of ‘realising it’ is walking from the bar into the open air after 6 pints, or so, of something like Tanglefooot (a.k.a. Tanglemouth, Tanglebrain), Adnams Broadside, Brains S.A. (a.k.a. Skull Attack) or Fullers ESB (a.k.a. Electric Soup), to name but a few.

      Jerry is lucky enough to be in Oxford, where there are many fine pubs and, if he knows where to go, he has easy access to upwards of 50 or so different ales, including some excellent local ones, such as Old Hooky. A pub crawl with good friends, sampling a few of them in convivial surroundings, is one of the finest ways to spend an evening.

    3. It’s not warm it is (when properly cellared) the PERFECT TEMPERATURE for a pint! It’s the American who can’t serve beer: they make a good microbrew and then serve it to you at refrigerator temperature, chilled so cold you can’t taste it! All the brewmaster’s efforts go to waste!

      1. I don’t know what beer to drink in the US. Most of the big domestic brands are said to be terrible, some micro brews quite good, but I don’t know what they are. I just get an imported European beer when in the US. Grolesch (sp?) is my favourite.

        1. It depends on where in the US you are. The whole idea of microbrews is that they’re small local or regional breweries serving maybe two or three states. If it ships nationwide, it’s not micro anymore.

          When in doubt, ask the locals what’s good.

    4. I’ve long puzzled over this accusation that we serve our beers warm. It’s always seemed ridiculous to me. Who would drink warm beer? That would be revolting. I’ve never been poured a warm pint in my life and would hand it straight back if I was. But from these comments I’m led to believe the confusion arises from people mistakenly thinking that ales should be served at the same temperature as lagers, which they shouldn’t. Is that really what it’s all about? If so, well, I’ve learnt something new today, and finally understand something that’s confused me for years!

  3. Yes, your absolutely correct in your observation that Britain has the worst possible airport arrivals processing and very high prices.
    On the other hand:
    1) nowhere else can you find organised discussions on science and philosophy by eminent lecturers being held in pubs …where you can partake of great ideas as well as quaffing down a few pints of the best
    2) if you possibly need any medical treatment whatsoever during your stay it will be done FREE of charge
    3) the quality of British dining, once quite terrible, is now a match for any “high cuisine” countries – even including finding fantatistic burgers and Mexican food here in Blighty

    1. Yes, just avoid “traditional” meat + 2 veg, cholesterol-packed English breakfasts. The Brits have largely learned this for themselves. Although we eat Chinese and Indian food that wouldn’t be recognisable in those countries (such as my standard lamb tikka Madras), the British variants have their own charm.

      1. Meat + 2 veg is the evening meal, the heart-attack breakfast is the “full English”: sausage, bacon, black pudding, fried eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes and fried bread, and a huge mug of tea with three sugars.

        I’m just off to the kitchen…

    2. nowhere else can you find organised discussions on science and philosophy by eminent lecturers being held in pubs

      Not true. Our PBS station here in Seattle regularly hosts meetups with notable speakers at local pubs.

  4. I sympathise with anybody who has to venture through British customs – and although my experience of JFK is similar, all the other North American airports I’ve been to have been much easier.

    As I get older I appreciate English ales less and less. In part this is due to an attitude among brewers that anything with a stupid name, like Sheepshaggers Ale, is acceptable – in other words, real ales have become victims of marketing errors, which is ironic when you think that CAMRA was set up in opposition to the antics of the big brewers at the time.

    Personally, I now find most English beer to be too heavy for my taste and would prefer a bottle of Budvar any time. Still, there is quite a lot of good stuff still around, and staying in Oxford you should be able to get a pint of England’s finest – Hook Norton bitter – quite easily. £3 a pint is optimistic, though.

    1. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is the prefect “session pint,” delicious but not heavy. I used to favor Burton Ale (both of these have been CAMRA’s “beer of the year”), but it isn’t made any more.

        1. Williams Brothers from Alloa are producing superb pints, as well. Fairly new brewery and well worth checking out.
          Standard “session” beer in Edinburgh (never had a very good pint of it in Glasgow, which is a lager city) is Deuchars IPA. Prices on the Royal Mile are eye-watering, though!

    2. “Personally, I now find most English beer to be too heavy for my taste…”

      There’s a line in a Tim O’Brien song, “It’s like drinking bread.” L

  5. “I coulda seen a good movie…”

    I’m surely not the only one to notice that! Too obvious?

    I’ve only been to England twice in my life. I was amazed at the third degree the Immigration clerks give you.

    Yes, Heathrow is a grotty, scruffy excuse for a airport in a major country. I’m sad to hear it hasn’t improved.

  6. Sympathies for enjoying the “delights” of the Bus Terminal. I’ve not been back since trying to recover my luggage during the winter shut-down of a couple of years ago – when getting out of there by bus was a better option than going into the scrum trying to get away on the Tube – which had shut down too.
    The whole place is a living argument for thermonuclear revocation of planning consent. And I spend far more of my life at “HellRow” than I’d like to spend.

  7. Of all the major airports in the world, Heathrow is the worst, and I’ve been to many.

    You’ve never been through Charles de Gaulle?

    The UK may be expensive, but railtravel is extraordinarily so, so I don’t think that’s a fair way to judge the whole of the economy.

  8. When I flew over to the States from Heathrow earlier this year, I had never witnessed such a bunch of rude, mean and unhelpful staff in a public service environment in my life. Awful place. I hope my next journey through there next month is a little better – by the sounds of it, likely not!

  9. I’ve flown in from the US to Manchester a couple of times. Much nicer airport experience than Heathrow.

    Tip a pint for me!

  10. Avatar is not a movie intended for airplane viewing. You really have to see it in 1080p, or even 3-D as the director intended, otherwise it spoils. Are these requirements the mark of a weak movie? Probably 😉 but I still liked it a lot, and I’m sure it’d have been more enjoyable for you on a nice screen.

    1. Absolutely, saw it in 3d and big screen at home. Still get goose bumps when I imagine life only 4 or so light years away.

    2. Agreed. I saw it in 3D and enjoyed it. But I would never watch it again- i.e. on my tv. The story is boring and old, and the characters are flat. The graphics in 3D or IMAX are the only reason to see this film, imho.

        1. The reviewer could do a much better job if he compared Avatar not to Dances With Wolves, but to At Play In The Fields Of The Lord.

  11. When you’re in Scotland, assuming you make it to Edinburgh Castle, there’s a little stone temple just outside the castle that’s been there since the Romans, and there’s a stone bench overlooking the land just in front of it. I suspect that bench is much older, still.

    If you would do me a flavor…sit a moment on that bench and ponder the immensity of the years surrounding you.



    1. It’s a beautiful city – the Fringe is a recent discovery for me – loads of intelligent, articulate people, crammed into a beautiful city for an entire month. I don’t think there’s anything else like it.

  12. The good thing about Avatar is the special effects. The director is a big SCUBA diver and a lot of the alien creatures in the forest are based on real underwater wildlife. Watching it on a big screen in 3D is almost like going diving at times. I imagine an airplane TV is probably about the worst place possible to watch that movie.

    1. I saw Cameron’s (the director? I’m not a great film buff.) recent cave-diving movie. Utterly atrocious plot and script ; wonderful underwater footage.
      I didn’t know about the “basing” of some of the monsters in Avatar on real u/w life. I’m still not tempted to watch it again, but next time I see it coming on in the Smoking Rec Room, I’ll not trouble myself to get up and leave. I didn’t particularly notice it when we watched the film, but I was pretty bored by then.

  13. Good thing you didn’t watch Goodfellas and From Here to Eternity on the plane, Jerry. You might have wakened from a nap to find the horse head from The Godfather on the seat next to you.

  14. Jerry, I recommend a cold can of Budweiser. That should thoroughly terrify those British sensibilities (if you can even find Budweiser in England?).
    When I was in college, my fellow classmates were horrified by my preference for Budweiser. They were convinced I was a complete redneck, which of course I am. I also used to chew Red Man tobacco which completed the image.
    Anyway, have fun at Oggsford! (F. Scott was my favorite alcoholic).

    1. I recommend a cold can of Budweiser.

      Isn’t that one of the beer-free beers that is recommended for dead grannies and people driving the bus home tonight?
      Jerry ; try “Old Peculiar”. It does what it says on the barrel/ bottle (I don’t think it gets tinned) and makes you feel quite old and very peculiar.
      (“Peculiar” is, of course, an ecclesiastic title. Feel free to get as much yardage out of that as you want.)

    2. A few yrs ago I was on a site visit in Dublin. I had a cider with dinner at a restaurant, and they rang it up as Budweiser. I noted that on my expense report, since, if anyone noticed, I didn’t want them to think I’d come all that way to display such parochial tastes.

    1. Don’t real lovers of science fiction disdain the term “sci-fi” and user “SF” instead. That’s what some nerdy sci-fi geek told me, anyway.

      1. Fans of SF literature call it SF. But what Hollywood produces is generally lame enough in terms of scientific plausibility to deserve the pejorative “sci-fi”.

  15. Welcome to one of the hottest political potatoes in the UK at the moment… What to do about Heathrow! Boris wants a new airport east of London; the g’ment want a third runway ….

    1. Can I light the blue touch-paper to make sure that they do SOMETHING to replace the pile of rubble that used to be Hellrow? Pretty please!

    2. It’s amazing how long this has been going on. When we moved to Southend from London when I was 10, in 1972, the big local issue was the plans for the new airport at Foulness, on the Maplin Sands, I believe. Being an avid aircraft spotter at the time, I was dead excited by the prospect of a major airport just a down the road, but of course nothing ever came of it. It’s interesting to speculate how the whole economy in that area would have changed if the airport had been built.

  16. Enough with the beer. When you’re in Edinburgh visit the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society. As an American (I’m assuming as I have no other qualifications) I was invited to contribute to one of their closed door blind tastings, which included a poet who wrote the descriptions for each new whiskey that would make the cut. It’s members and friends of members only. Edinburgh is a friendly city so this shouldn’t be a deterrent.

  17. The king to Oxford sent a troop of horse,
    For tories own no argument but force;
    With equal care to Cambridge books he sent,
    For whigs allow no force but argument.

  18. Welcome to the UK Jerry!

    I won’t disagree with you regarding Heathrow but I have to say my experience haven’t been that bad. From a foreigner perspective, JFK and LAX are probably the worst of the USA airports, I’ve never been to Chicago airport so can’t say. Sydney and Brisbane in Australia aren’t that great either for ques at the border. There have been some recent issues with the UKBA so not surprised there’s difficulty there.

    As for the pricey bit of the UK. I have to say from someone who’s lived in three other countries that the UK isn’t that bad. I can understand from an American point of view it’s expensive. When I lived in Australia and went to the London the first time we stayed at a B&B that cost £90 or $180 AUS per night. Couldn’t really see the value paying that much. However living here I’ve come to realize that it’s not that bad at all on the whole. There’s still some ‘realism’ to prices depending on where you live, unlike Australia, which has gotten ridiculous.

    As for Avatar, have to agree with you there. I consider it pretty with an OK story and not much else.

    Hope you enjoy your stay! Would really like to see a talk of yours one day.

  19. Not particularly on topic, but provided to make you homesick:

    When I returned to the States after two weeks in Shanghai and Beijing, I waited in line at Oakland customs for 20 minutes or so. I no longer remember all the doings at the window when I got there: it was my 27th hour on the road. What I do remember is that the customs officer smiled at me and said “Welcome home, Marta” and I nearly started crying.

  20. Only been through Heathrow twice in the last few years, both on full-ish flights from Singapore through Terminal 4 and each time after passport control we walked straight past the couple of bored Customs guys leaning against non-operating scanners to the taxi ranks. Going out through Terminal 5 was surely hell though.

  21. Terminal 4 at Heathrow is appalling.

    Dubai has the best airport I’ve seen and Emirates is the best airline I’ve flown on.

  22. Hehehe – better stay away from Australia then. England and Scotland are dirt cheap compared to Australia, Norway, and various other places.

    As for worst international airport, I vote for Perth (Western Australia). The infrastructure is like late 70’s early 80’s San Francisco but with 10 times the volume of passengers – on the good side folks are usually much friendlier than the customs folks at Heathrow (but there have been great customs agents there too).

  23. “…the bus to Oggsford (viz. The Great Gatsby).”

    viz? short for videlicet = it is permissible to see.

    Usu. introducing an amplification or explanation of a previous statement or word: that is to say, namely, in other words. (SOE)

    Did you mean “see”? Or perhaps “as in”?

      1. Well, if we’re being pedantic, then it did parse them, and discarded them as invalid HTML. If it had not parsed them, they’d still be there.

        To prevent angle brackets from being parsed, enter them as < and >.

          1. Only wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “It is … and … that are parsed as angle brackets.” By the way, that’s not what you entered, or they would have been parsed as angle brackets. So what did you enter?

            1. Well, I wouldn’t have used all those ellipses, but yeah.

              I escaped the ampersands as & to get them past the parser. (And I just did it again.)

              For anything more complicated than that, I suggest Googling for a good HTML tutorial.

        1. Though, pedantically speaking, only &lt; for < is necessary, because > has no special meaning absent an opening <.

          (The probability of my having escaped all the special characters in this comment correctly is close to zero, I think…)

  24. Don’t know any other reason to visit it, but one pub at least is named after a great evolutionary biologist: The Sir Julian Huxley in Selsdon, South Croydon, Surrey.

    (I looked it up on line and it gets very bad reviews).

    There is also The Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury, Shropshire (Darwin was from Shrewsbury). Reviews few, but average rating mediocre.

    I can’t locate any pubs named after Ronald Fisher, JBS Haldane, or Bill Hamilton. Although there isn’t one named after John Maynard Smith, there really ought to be — he was at his best when sitting around pubs telling funny stories, and explaining in extremely clear terms how evolutionary biology worked. And he missed few opportunities to do that.

    However, in the John Maynard Smith Building at the University of Sussex, there is a cafe (canteen) named after him. And they were named after him while he was still alive, and while he had an office in the building. And he did eat in that cafe when it bore his name. I assume you can get a beer there, Britain being a civilized country. I suspect Jerry has eaten there with John.

    1. Have you ever been to Croydon? More to the point, have you ever been to a pub in Croydon? Most there are… not for the faint-hearted.

      If anywhere needs to be bombed from space it’s that place (with apologies to the folks that I know who live there).

  25. It is expensive to live here because everyone who can profits from us! Google, Amazon, Starbucks – pay your way!

  26. I’m not sure Heathrow is even the worst major airport in London: you’re lucky you didn’t fly through Gatwick!

    Enjoy the beers.

  27. Welcome!

    Yes, Heathrow is pretty dire. Don’t know whether it beats LAX though.

    And yes, it’s pretty expensive here, especially non-discounted rail travel.

    Enjoy your stay!

  28. When I flew from Australia to the US in 2003 we were warned by the cabin crew to get our entry form (whatever it was called) *exactly* right, or we’d be sent to the back of the line to fix it. Of course, I made a number of mistakes, but the guy on passport control just fixed them and let me through.

    I had the misfortune to fly American Airlines from LAX to DC, and they screwed up my onward ticket. So I had to leave the secure area, get my ticket (which took forever) and re-enter the secure area, which was annoying to say the least. Fortunately I had six hours in LAX before my onward flight so there was no stress except for waiting in line interminably. Other people had onward flights on a much tighter schedule and they were getting absolutely frantic. AA staff who could have been checking people in were having to go through the queues promoting people whose flights were close to boarding, as I think there was no compensation if you missed your flight. During my long wait at LAX I became convinced that AA was run by people sacked from Aeroflot for incompetence.

    I’m mostly okay with Heathrow, having flown through it a couple of dozen times since 1990. I can think of a really bad airport. I also don’t mind airline food, but some of my friends would rather starve than eat it.

  29. The UK is like Sydney – a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t like to live there. I’ve been there four times: 1990, 1993, 1995 and 2003 and I love the place, but I don’t think I could afford anywhere in London that I’d want to live in. And the commutes… I stayed with friends at Aylesbury, about an hour and a bit NW of London. I was impatient with the commute in in the morning but loved it coming back in the evening. The train was rarely crowded and I could just look out the window and watch the countryside pass and relax, knowing that dinner would be ready when I got to my hosts’ place.

    Yes, I’m envious of you. I’m starting to think of a trip over in the next year or two.

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