Many years ago, for two different employers, I spent a lot of time offshore (I’ve blogged about the second major stint in India a fair amount and they’re on here somewhere) .
Wherever I went – Europe, the Far East, Australia, I was always proud that I came from England. The country that gave the languages and social structures to many of these places.
I was even gladder to come home as they were never quite ‘right’ by the standards that we lived to.
Apologies for what will now be two longish recollections of India, but I’m reminded very much of them today.
India 2007, I was running an offshore finance centre and had to visit at least once a quarter. It may sound good but it isn’t. Club flights and nice hotels don’t make up for the crashing boredom and the fact that ALL the bars including hotel bars shut at 10pm in Bangalore. – and if they didn’t. Well, the cops would come in with nightsticks.
There had been a run of well reported rapes of local females working for outsourcers – in a number of incidents, they were pulled from their work-supplied bus late at night.
I visited the team to be asked what WE were going to do as a female was the last person to leave the bus that we supplied. (Yes, I know, there’s an obvious answer, but…)
So, I went to see our head of security, the gloriously named Captain Shamsheer. He was a good guy and very professional. We chatted for a while and I asked if we could supply security guards on the buses.
He stared at me for a few minutes, had a brainwave and called somebody through the door.
One of our security guards. 8 stone soaking wet. Shamsheer asked him a few questions and I watched the guard as he struggled to find answers. After a few minutes, he was dismissed.
Shamsheer looked at me again.
‘The thing is, that security guards are mostly like that. illiterate, badly trained and not fit for much else than guarding a door’.
He paused for dramatic effect.
‘If we put guards on the buses, I GUARANTEE that somebody will be raped. By a guard. I suggest that we talk to your team and tell one of them to grow up and be the last person off.’
We did this – nothing ever happened but the team were happy that we’d taken it seriously
The worst trip I ever did. I went out there to sack somebody who was on the equivalent of £250,000 a year – IN 2007. This meant that I had to stay for an extended period and cover part of his job while we recruited. (He left of his own accord when I presented evidence if his massive stupidity and gross misconduct on my PC screen to him)
It’s fair to say that it wasn’t a great trip and I had to fly back via Mumbai. So an internal flight then all the drama at the airport that came with flying out of India. It went like this, not a word is a lie.
Airport – outside the doors. Security Guard.
This was a new one on me and I scrabbled around for my ticket, accidentally giving him the outbound one. He scrutinised it carefully, looking at it from all angles, including upside down. Then he smiled and gave it back to me. Happy with my valid (outbound from the UK ticket).
Once inside, it was time to put the luggage through an x-ray and have it sealed. Only a few questions and the complete emptying of one bag. Not bad at all.
Then to passport control, just me and my backpack.
Passport control was fine, professional and with the requisite tech to validate your passport. Lovely
Two steps beyond that, an apparent teenager in a leather jacket on a chair, demanding to see my passport and ticket again. Hey ho.
Ten yards later. The gates to check for metal etc. They didn’t work, so you had to stand on a box and have a wand waved around at you. Ho Hum.
Ten yards later, a ticket and baggage check. Sigh
Thirty yards later, stand on a box and have a wand waved. Ticket check.
Ten yards later. Ticket AND Passport check. Thank Fuck the bar is next.
BA Club Lounge. Too full for entry – delayed flights. Fine
BA First Lounge – the same, people had the same idea as me.
Never mind. I knew of a third lounge open to all airlines. A casual saunter down to keep the rage at bay, wander in, show my ticket and sit down – you can’t get your own beer obviously,
‘Sorry sir, you have to go to the BA lounge.’
‘But you have a BA Ticket’
‘Yes. The lounges are too full, they’re not allowing anybody in’
‘You can’t come in here’
‘Er this isn’t for BA Passengers.’
At this point, I should probably mention that a lounge that could take sixty people was empty.
‘Who IS it for then? It says ALL airlines on the door?’
At this point I walked to the fridge and got a beer and just ignored him.
Ten minutes later, a splendid Indian Moustache.
‘Sir I am the manager, you aren’t allowed in here’
‘Right, here’s my club BA ticket, I suggest that you call them and make space for me or I’m not leaving. I also refuse to talk to you or any of your team any further, if you’re that bothered, call the General Manager and HE can call security’
‘OK sir, you can stay on this occasion’
The time came to leave the lounge and I gave the lad a large tip, it wasn’t his fault that his whole structure was ridiculous.
To the Gate. YAY
Passport check, ticket check, baggage check, all is right with teh world.
Time to board
Walk through the door.
Luggage check again. They’re taking the piss now/
Wand Check again. On the ramp to the plane.
Another luggage and ticket check. Never mind there’s the plane and booze. I can see the stewardess.
A soldier appears, couple of stripes on his arm, sidearm, baton.
He holds his hand out.
I have my foot inside the plane.
I smile sweetly, lean in and say. ‘FUCK OFF’ and then very quickly to the smiling stewardess ‘ I am in international airspace now right?’
‘Yes sir, champagne or juice?’
It was booze obviously and I ended a very grim trip by getting drunk for thirteen hours.
That’s it. Anecdotes over.
What has this got to do with today?
Sadly, it’s a lot. One of the things that I was always proudest of when abroad was our openness and freedom. We could go where we liked, pretty much say and do what we liked and our pubs and bars were open when we wanted with no curfews or dubious ‘rules’ applied.
I went shopping this morning at 7am, the (huge) supermarket was empty, it has wide aisles and loads of space. And yet, a jumped up man-baby in a mask and hi-viz took delight in telling an octogenarian couple that one of them had to go back to the car. ‘It’s the RULES’.
He actually enjoyed it. I could see it from where I was, that tiny bit of power to a man who may not have had it before had turned him into a third-world box-ticker.
It’s the rules, it’s the job, we’re keeping people safe by sending them to a dark, wet and cold car park.
I was ashamed of what I saw and made sure that he heard me call him a pathetic cunt as I walked past, knowing that he somehow would ignore THAT breach of rules and etiquette, possibly because I’m not over 80 yet and I was wearing my most friendly mask.
We need to start looking carefully at ourselves and how we let the rules be enforced around us. I’ve never been a tinfoil hat wearer or an alarmist. But another year of this and we may as well be India, because we won’t be England anymore.