Dispatches From a Displaced World Traveler

My travel plans were disrupted by an unspellable volcano and all I wrote was a series of lists

Me learning that my flight was cancelled

Me learning that my flight was cancelled

Special Contribution

By Chris Simpson

I’m living in a hotel, working in someone else’s office and getting a receipt for everything. I could only be… WAITING FOR MY VOLCANO-DELAYED FLIGHT HOME (WFMVDFH).

I came to Australia on a business trip. That was a while ago. Some eruption disruption later, and I’m in limbo. I’m working but I’m not at work; I’m getting tanned (very slightly) but I’m not on holiday. I should be back in the UK. The upside is that it’ll almost be summer by the time I return.

My flight is in a few days (a week earlier than the initial replacement). I’m just getting settled, and I’m about to have a leaving party (I’m fully aware that it doesn’t meet ISO96400011, international framework for farewell festivities).

Once I knew I was affected, I started calling the airline multiple times a day. I now know their theme music (yes, an airline with its own theme music). I went through an unspeakable amount of mobile credit (even though I bought an Australian sim card). They prioritised customers who were delayed the longest, which is good, but I wish they could have given me more (any!) information on when they expected to re-open flights. I know they maybe didn’t know or couldn’t say, but it could have made a difference. I booked onto the earliest flight I could straight away, but heard that there may be earlier flights coming up. I kept calling. They kept asking me to call back. Eventually, they put me on a list, and called me when they found an earlier flight for me, which was nice.

I’m covered by insurance, so I’m staying in a hotel, and have to obtain proof of purchase for everything I eat. I’m trying to eat on the cheap (difficult here), but that means going to smaller, independenter places where the staff look at me with bemusement when I ask for a receipt.

This guy's flight wasn't suspended

This guy's flight wasn't suspended

View from original hotel room

View from original hotel room

So, what is it like? Why am I writing this? Why so many questions?

  • It’s pretty weird.
  • Dora asked and I said yes. And there’s not a lot to do in the evenings.
  • It’s a stylistic device, which will hopefully give the post a personal touch. Just like the excessive use of lists, which I will explain in the next, non-list (listless?) section.

I just finished reading ‘Naïve. Super’ by Erlend Loe. It was great. So having no real writing ability, I’m going to bastardise the style of the book and write a series of lists. And then a list at the end, explaining some of the lists and list items.

List number one comes straight from my notepad (a paper one – in which I resorted to writing when I couldn’t find WiFi). I wrote this soon after I learned of my delay.

Things to buy now I am stuck here:

  • Cereal[i]
  • Milk
  • · A bowl
  • · Plastic cutlery – spoon, fork, chopsticks[ii]
  • · Fruit
  • · Beer?[iii]
  • · Sando nanika[iv]
  • VIA?[v]
  • Biscuits (cheap Tim-Tam?)[vi]
  • Cheap speaker?[vii]
  • · Nail scissors![viii]
  • Good coffee (home)[ix]
  • · Another water bottle[x]
  • · Razors[xi]
  • Suncream +[xii]
  • Stickers[xiii]
This is how I feel. Like waking up from a bizarre dream

This is how I feel. Like waking up from a bizarre dream

I also wrote a ‘TODO’, and a ‘WORK’ list. I’ll spare you these. Here are some more lists, written specifically for this post.

List of ways in which my life is made more difficult by my current situation (not exhaustive):

  • I’m running out of money, so trying to self-cater as much as possible. But I’m staying in a hotel. Here’s the economics (unqualified): hotels don’t want you to self-cater. A sausage roll is $18 (really). Breakfast is $25 (they offered me $20 after my reaction; I re-declined). Everything is priced at the highest amount an average customer would be willing to pay, plus $15. By making the alternatives as inconvenient as possible, they raise this price. E.g., put essence of nasty in the tap water; turn the in-room fridges to 11 out of cold (good for beer; bad for lettuce); and so on.
  • To avoid losing my holiday, I have been doing my back-at-home job here. It’s quite exciting, in a way. But it makes me realise that, despite working in IT, there’s no substitute to my desk. I’m using VPN and Remote Desktop, but it’s not the same as being there. It’s great for emergencies, but doing a weeks’ work is slow and frustrating. If you want to be bored, read my blog post on it.
  • My new hotel room is massive. But, unlike my previous room, it doesn’t have free internet or a Nespresso machine. I had got used to these. I would much rather have a tiny room with something to do, and something to allow me to do it indefinitely, against my body clock’s advice. Every morning, as I walk to work, I pass a bus stop with a Nespresso advert. It has a taunting picture of what I can only reasonably assume is George Clooney’s genuine passport. This raises a sub-list of questions:
    • Why are our passport photos rejected for smiles, while George is allowed not only to smile in his, but also to partly obscure his chin with an espresso cup?
    • Why is the website for Nespresso, ‘nespresso-whatelse.com’? Had someone already taken ‘nespresso.com’? Did they want to create some sort of exclusive club? Is it a clever marketing tool? Or just a marketing tool? Without internet, I am unable to research this further.
    • Why does it not say ‘SAMPLE’ in big red letters, diagonally across what I can only reasonably assume is George Clooney’s genuine passport?

List of lists detailing the outcomes of an egg-based challenge on Masterchef Australia, in which I participated from my hotel room[xiv]:

  • Chicken, Chicken, Chicken, Chicken
  • Quail, Quail, Quail, Quail
  • Emu, Ostrich, Emu, [and, after a very tense commercial break:] Emu

The scores: Contestant #1 (he’s called Jonathan): 3/3; Contestant #2 (not sure of his name, but he cried upon losing to Jonathan and me): 2/3; Me: 3/3. They then had to whisk egg whites to firm peaks. In the absence of egg whites or a whisk (look at the hotel restaurant’s pavlova prices), I stopped participating. If you can’t beat them, don’t join them. I quit at my peak. Etc.

List of streets in Sydney with interesting names:

List of things I have done this evening since I got home from work:

  • Eaten all available snack food.
  • Not actually eaten any proper dinner.
  • Drunk two beers. I’m down to my last.
  • Made a silly song about being stuck in Sydney. It’s not finished, and probably never will be.
  • Written this. In MS Word. Because I don’t have any internet.
  • Watched a lot of TV, including Glee. It’s still on. I’m not paying that much attention to it. I don’t need to. There’s still a lot of tension between the ginger woman who likes cleanliness and doesn’t really look like a person; and the man who is called ‘shoe’ for short and is having a mid-life crisis and is not yet properly divorced from his wife who pretended to be pregnant. Sorry if I spoiled it for anyone. That’s pretty much the plot to date.
  • Tried to occupy myself for the entire evening (still in progress) without leaving the hotel or spending any money. It’s only 8:41pm. I may have to use the sauna to succeed. If it’s still open.
A lizard of some sort

A lizard of some sort

List of reasons why I should stop writing lists:

  • I have written enough lists already.
  • I have committed to writing one more list after this one. That makes a total of one list too many.
  • This post is essentially just a series of series, some of which are themselves series of series. This, compounded by the fact that series is its own plural, makes me uncomfortable.

Explanation of selected list items, to preserve brevity of lists:


[i] In the end, I bought Nutella to go with my bread, and instant miso soup. So I managed without milk. Although I think Nutella contains a healthy amount of milk. It says so on the advert, if I remember correctly. Feed it to your kids. Impose no limits. They will only get stronger.

[ii] Why did I list examples of cutlery? I don’t know. I bought: plastic forks (10), knives (10), dessert spoons (10), and non-plastic chopsticks (40). Those were the minimum quantities available. I’ll probably bring some home with me.

[iii] I won’t be claiming this on insurance. For reference, it was $14.99 for 6 bottles. That’s pretty expensive in my book. Plus that’s actually $15 in the absence of $0.01 coins. The costs just keep on mounting.

[iv] I don’t know why I wrote this in Japanese. It means ‘Sandwich something’. It seemed more succinct than ‘Something with which to make sandwiches’. It’s probably wrong. I’m not fluent. I could have written ‘S’wch ingr’, I suppose, but it was a spur-of-the-moment thing and I don’t regret it.

[v] Starbucks’ new microground instant (but it tastes better than that would imply) coffee. I bought a large quantity with me for emergencies. I didn’t need it at first, but my current lack of Nespresso machine has lead to at least one such emergency per day. I have one left, and I’m drinking Lipton tea so I can save it. I didn’t find any VIA over here. It’d probably be $14.99 anyway.

[vi] Thanks to a tip-off from my friend Lisa, I learned that Tim-Tams were on offer in Woolworths. I’m not sure if they still are. My new friend Kimberley, whom I met in the lift, gave me some Viennese fingers which she didn’t need (it would also seem logical that Austria had a large surplus at some stage: presumably more than the average per capita of just under ten), so I have yet to find out. But I have been commissioned to bring Tim-Tams back, so it’s still on the list.

[vii] I didn’t bring my iPod speaker. But now, in the absence of many beach parties, I’m managing with headphones.

[viii] My nails were really long. Really long. Now they’re short, if slightly messy. I didn’t buy a nail file (I’d never get it on the plane home).

[ix] I’m going to bring some decent coffee home with me. If customs will allow it.

[x] I now have a sophisticated swilling—refilling—chilling cycle involving my hotel room fridge, two water bottles, and a tap. It’s great. I’m like Bear Grylls, I am.

[xi] My stubble was getting pretty long too. And I didn’t want to be mistaken for someone trendy.

[xii] I ran out of suncream. Twice. I’ve gone from squeeze-on to roll on and back to squeeze-on. I have no preference. I just like the variety. If I run out again, it’ll be spray-on for sure.

[xiii] I found some free postcards for a comedy second round of greetings. One of them is (present tense; I haven’t sent them yet) great: it reads, “THE WORLD’S BiGGEST MOST Awesome WASTE OF TiME”, and has a picture of a guy on a rooftop throwing a giant paper aeroplane. I thought this somehow very fitting. But the back of the postcard (and thus, it is only technically a postcard on one side – or half a postcard on both sides) is NOT BLANK. So I thought I’d buy some stickers to turn it into a fully-qualified postcard. Still on the list.

[xiv] Two contestants were asked to identify a series of eggs. Each list item is a list of the following: Contestant #1’s guess; Contestant #2’s guess; My guess; The correct answer.

[xv] I assume this is where you’re meant to end up after a heavy night out.

[xvi] The interesting thing is that someone has removed the second ‘i’ from both sides of the sign, which originally read, I assume, ‘Carillion Av’. I call it ‘carillon’ too. They call it ‘carillion’ over here. Or, at least, someone did, before the vigilantes came along.

Eel trap sculpture in Paramatta City. I am a trapped eel. But not in the sky

Eel trap sculpture in Paramatta City. I am a trapped eel. But not in the sky

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5 Responses

  1. This was hilarious! I particularly like the last list explaining the other lists. And for the record, series being its own plural makes me uncomfortable too!

  2. What do you do? Will you make me a list? The nespresso site is odd!

  3. @Kate – Thanks. Is there a word for words which are their own plural? There should be. And for the sub-group of such words which also end with ‘s’ – I think that’s the creepy part. Let’s make a list (series?!).

    @BeccaH – I recently started a blog about what I do – http://employthis.co.uk – sadly I’m not a professional listmaker (as you could tell). I was skeptical about Nespresso from their marketing, but the machines do make nice coffee!

  4. Chris, thanks for sharing the other site. The means of
    improving communication post was pretty neat but
    I’m still confused–what do you do exactly??

  5. Becca, I work at a University to help students develop their enterprise/business skills and start businesses.

    My job is to promote and facilitate development of these skills (so things like creativity, project management, marketing, IT, leadership…), so one of the things I do (subject of the blog I linked to) is to explore/develop technologies to aid this.

    E.g. the first post on the blog – Transatlantic Teamwork – I came up with the set-up so that we could run that exercise and so that students could gain some experience in a new situation.

    An example of a technology I’m exploring at the moment is screencasting – so I’m looking at how we might use that, e.g., to create how-to guides or give personal feedback on something.

    As well as using existing technologies, I do quite a bit of development, mostly web, to achieve the same aims but in more custom or internal systems.

    Hope that helps! Feel free to add me on LinkedIn if you wanna talk further about anything – http://thisischris.co.uk

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