Posts Tagged ‘security’

How’s your Christmas shopping going?

I know people (I work with them) who have bought, wrapped and labelled everything already but quite frankly that’s just not fun. What can more invoke the spirit of Christmas than panic buying, overspending, lugging heavy parcels home on a rush hour train without losing or breaking anything; feeling exhausted, flaking out at home with a cup of tea, sore feet and a crashing headache? These efficient types have no idea what they’re missing.

So I started mine this week. Having Mondays off is very useful at this time of year when weekend high streets and shopping malls resemble the frantic activity of a termite mound. We decided to make for the quieter – dare I say more select – side of town and headed off to the Kings Road in Chelsea.

However, on alighting at Sloane Square underground station I was transported back three decades to when I worked in the West End, during the conflict in Northern Ireland and a time of sustained danger from bombing or security threats which perpetually hung over our capital. As we queued to take the escalator, a piercing blast from a public address system assaulted our ears followed by an innocuous sounding message – ‘This is a staff announcement. Would Inspector Sands please go to the ticket office immediately.’ This was followed by another ear-shattering siren and the message again, repeated several times. I was up that escalator like a rat up a drainpipe.

Call me paranoid – it’s not as if Sloane Square is a big or complicated station – only two platforms with one train line passing through – where the hell could Inspector Sands have got to, to warrant such an insistent command for his presence?   This may well have been a genuine call for him to attend his ticket office – but as I shot past it on my way through the exit, said ticket office was well and truly shut. Perhaps Inspector Sands has the only key, who knows, but for me, this sounded like a coded warning to station staff that all was not well in Sloane Square and they should start checking their given areas for anything suspicious.

Back in the day, with hoax bomb calls designed to cause maximum disruption up and down Oxford and Regent Street and elsewhere, coded warnings to retail personnel were commonplace. Not wanting to cause mass panic or an exodus of shoppers unless absolutely necessary, it was the sensible way of communicating to responsible staff to check their areas, report back to a central number within a store and then for a follow up message to be broadcast alerting the workforce of the all clear. Without wanting to divulge any particular message, it doesn’t take long to work out that while one store seemed to be forever looking for a lost child answering to the same description another would be having frequent meetings with a General Manager on a nonexistent eighth floor. My lunch hours trailing round various competitors were often swiftly truncated if a tannoyed announcement interrupted my browsing.

So I hope that Sloane Square really does have an Inspector Sands. I hope my suspicions were unfounded but old habits clearly die hard. With heightened security quite rightly sweeping our cities after the appalling events in Paris it’s best to be vigilant and stay safe: but carry on.

Here’s wishing you all a peaceful run up to your festive seasons.

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I know people who love flying. They even get to the airport extra early to soak up the air-conditioned atmosphere.  How anyone can enjoy partially undressing in public and stuffing all 51DnwMhVBqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_[1]their possessions into a plastic tray to be filtered through an x-ray machine while being frisked by surly ground crew is beyond me.  Once through this ritual humiliation it’s time to mill around a glitzy designer shopping mall looking at merchandise you are never going to buy, avoiding hundreds of other displaced persons with wheeled cabin baggage, the size of which is a contentious issue when you get to the boarding gate. Once there, you’re fixed with an icy stare from mission control who tells you smugly that your miniscule handbag, worn slung across your body, counts as a piece of hand luggage and  must be put  inside your case. A mental note is made to ensure that on the return journey, however hot the temperature at the foreign airport, you will wear your Pac-a-Mac with pockets jammed full of handbag essentials.

Once on board and the scramble for seats established, it’s entertainment time in the form of the safety procedure run through. The phrases, “In the unlikely event of the plane landing on water” and “do not inflate your life-jacket until outside the aircraft” never fail to amuse. The first, assuming the plane makes it across the channel and is not travelling further than the south coast of mainland Europe, displays either blind optimism or complete ignorance of the geographical features below. The second presents the comedic image of a plane load of passengers wearing inflated life-jackets bobbing into each other like crazed particles at a Michelin Man convention.

The only advantage to being claustrophobically encased in the body of a jet aircraft is that it allows you to read solidly for a couple of hours during the day without feeling the least bit guilty. It also forces you to read the book you’ve decided to take on your travels, which, after the first few chapters you realise that were you at home you would have chucked in the recycling and opted for something else.

While struggling to keep focussed on the less than enthralling “thriller of the year” William, aged around two, sitting behind with his two siblings, continually kicks your seat, or, when not doing that, he’s standing on his fold-down table, wiping sticky fingers on your paper headrest while his oblivious parents are sitting on the opposite side of the aisle knocking back their duty free gin and tonics.

The two protagonists in the book you are reading, who alternate chapters and are both despicable, unreliable narrators, are beginning to make you lose the will to live when that numbing blocking-of-the-ears sensation lets you know that the descent has begun and there will soon be an end to this misery. This is when the seats you have chosen for their proximity to the front exit, thereby ensuring first in line at the car hire queue, prove futile as the doors refuse to operate and you are forced to leave the plane by the rear exit.

Eventually beyond passport control, the words “bienvenue, monsieur, madame; we’d like to upgrade your car today, free of charge,” are music to your still throbbing ears.

Having a wonderful time – wish you were here…

Picture: Usborne Books

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