Yes, I am still alive, and back from WTM (World Travel Market.) Never one of my favourite events, I’m puzzled why some exhibitors continue to attend, while others who should, and might benefit, are inexplicably absent.
EXCEL’s static-inducing carpet is as ever rolled out for a mosaic of stands, some rammed by gawpers transfixed upon contrived cultural spectacles, and others almost empty, save for whispering tables of moustached men whose body language bristles uninterest.
Elsewhere, PRs host events costing thousands in free booze, billed to foreign clients whose message is, well… lost in translation. Unaccountable entitlement to spend someone else’s money is unmatched. A tuneless sing-song of going through the motions is deafening. Those just being there, for no other reason than to walk on the water of ‘presenteeism’ are legion.
In part a sexed-up, expenses paid shopping trip for shiny suits and high heels, WTM is an unknowingly missed opportunity for those who will never be invited, those whose livelihoods depend most keenly upon trickle down tourism revenue.
There are of course exceptions to the corporate nonsense, inertia, lack of engagement and PR fluff. Some people work hard, work smart and benefit their cause greatly. I salute them all, and at least these days WTM is smoke-free.
To be clear from the outset, I don’t like Christmas. Even if a vestigial spiritual aspect remained I’d be unmoved. In common with Norwich I have no religion, not even Jedi. However, I’ll agree that when mornings are dark and days short we all need to be cheered up and if rituals involving eating and drinking, socialising, singing, quaffing pretend blood and melting wax effigies do the trick that’s just dandy – it’s a mostly a free country.
That said, the proliferation of Christmas presents should be banned, or at least controlled in the same way as nuclear weapons. It’s true there are some inherent flaws in this policy. Americans and Russians would still have shed-loads of presents, the Chinese too – even though they don’t believe in Santa. Indians would claim they invented presents, Pakistanis would sell some of theirs to the North Koreans, Israelis would just get angry and say nothing, and the Brits and French would go off in a huff, each with one small present from last year, wondering why nobody loved them anymore.
Anyhow, to this end I suggested to my wife that we simplify our lives, and those of others, by limiting Christmas giving to a pot of marmalade and a fake tattoo – I’m still working on the marmalade. As ever, the guilt-driven ritual of tat for tat exchange that fuels Britain’s annual festival of shopping obscures the origins of this ages-old midwinter rite. The significance of Santa’s crucifixion is lost for many in an atmosphere heavy with forced conviviality preceding the consumerist storm.
In fluorescent-decked halls across the land superstore muzak is cranked up to 11 in readiness for the December trolley dash… And they’re off… credit cards at the ready, easy payment facilities available (subject to status, terms and conditions apply) and Wanka.com for the rest. To the victors… the feral sweetness of ‘celebrity’ perfume, shiny smartphone conduits for incontinent electronic dribbles, and for those fashionably smug, flat Chinese computers made from ground up babies’ bones…
I was invited to dinner the other day by some folks not long moved up from Buckinghamshire. It’s happened before. A neatly turned out Sasha or Duncan meets my wife alone, presumably decides she sounds quite jodhpurs, ponies and private schools and is charmed by a false sense of shared values. Sight unseen they extend a bony finger of social largesse to include me, which is where things start to unravel.
Even as we crossed their threshold, bottle of Sainsbury’s Cava and Costco mints in hand, I detected disappointment that my vowels fell into the NQWWW category – Not Quite What We Want. I’m hardened to this. My own speech has never fitted in, from Secondary Modern in the North West which I endured whilst being ‘rite posh’, to nine years in London as a token ‘northern git’.
Hanging up coats, we took seats in the lounge. It transpired the Sashcans still had their house in High Wycombe, hinting to me at expatriate impermanence, as though they’d be ready on the tarmac with bags packed ready to board the last flight out when the inevitable UN evacuation was ordered.
Over an array of nibbles we discussed public transport in Northumberland, or rather the lack of it. I cited recent homework asking my daughter to describe a journey to St James’ Park by bus and train. Being ‘in travel’ I’d decided to assist, discovering that the twenty mile odyssey took 15 and a half hours, comprising a three and a half mile walk to the bus stop and in a cruel twist an occasional obligatory overnight next to the Metro at Callerton Parkway’s Premier Inn. I mentioned little old ladies, isolated and lonely, too doddery to drive even if they could afford to, marooned in villages where they’d lived for decades. Perhaps rashly I made the case for public transport providing a service rather than earning a profit, a suggestion obviously akin to wearing a flat cap, eating a chip butty and lighting up a ‘tab’ whilst clog dancing The Internationale. ‘Why should we pay for your transport?’, came the astonished response from Duncan’s visiting sister. The pros and cons could have been argued but the subtext was plain – Why should we who are comfortably enclosed in the fat of the Home Counties care a jot for anyone else, particularly those for whom bath, path and laugh are a bridge too far?
I felt suddenly tired. My glass was refilled but even meltingly-ripe Camembert and five types of cream cracker couldn’t resuscitate the evening. Time to head home, after all, the whippet would need a walk before bed.
A stooped old woman leans on her zimmer, eyes unfocused, mouth flapping like a clockwork tortoise – I doubt she knows where she’s going or why. From an adjacent ‘activity’ room a painfully earnest piano hammers out All Things Bright and Beautiful, the chords mixing with an odour of stale urine that manages to overpower even repeated applications of shake ‘n vac. I wheel my mother along the carpeted corridor past an inaudible flickering television playing to an audience of unoccupied high-backed winged armchairs. ‘Thirlmere’, room 24 – we’ve arrived.
An efficient dark-haired woman with tombstone teeth ‘assesses’ my mother. ‘So, you’re 86 Marjorie, how many grandchildren have you got?’, ‘Where were you born?’, ‘Did you have any pets, you know, before?’, ‘Do you want to be resuscitated?’ I can see my mother is bamboozled, and not a little irritated by these enquiries. Perhaps she is railing against the superficial interest in her well being.
Two weeks respite care is what’s planned. My sister is with me. It is she who found my mother after the stroke, she who moved in to look after her, she who has borne the brunt of disrupted sleep and is now on the edge of reason. To her the care home is a lifeline, to my mother it’s death row.
We leave together passing a marooned quartet of geriatrics. Thinning hair, thickening ankles, slumped to their sides or heads down asleep. They’re all women, presumably men for once have done the decent thing and died a decade or so earlier.
The next day my sister calls. She’s distraught, exasperated, angry even. My mother wants out. I speak to Mum. ‘It’s full of sick folk who’ve lost their marbles. It’s depressing. They say it’s all very nice but it’s all top show, they cut corners. They wanted to serve us tea in plastic beakers last night. I said no thank you, there are some nice china cups in that cupboard I’ll have one of those. It’s depressing. I’ll just have to manage at home.’
I drive over to Cumbria to pick her up. ‘Sorry she didn’t like it.’ Says the receptionist as she hands over the bill. They’ve charged for the full week despite Mum’s stay being six nights, ‘It’s all done automatically, by computer’ I’m advised – so ‘effing what I’m thinking. ‘Thank you.’ Mother is just pleased to be leaving. ‘See you… er later.’ Suggests the receptionist. ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ Replies mother.
My sister is moving out. It’s the right thing to do. A full care package has been instituted; visits at 5.30am, 8.30am, 11.00am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 6.00pm, 8.30pm, 12.30am.