Flying with Emirates – a lighter way to travel

by Penny M

It is April 2016. I have completed another long haul from the spreads of tourist magnet, Durban city, South Africa, to the peace of a quaint village in Somerset, United Kingdom where my parents live.

I made a pre-travel exploration of the Emirates website and was delighted. I noted down the channel numbers for four movies I wanted to watch, chose my main courses for both flights and determined the maximum weight and dimensions for hand luggage.

I flew via Dubai from King Shaka Airport. Note to author – take Plan A when you can. Notices that facilities are available at the boarding gate don’t include small-print warnings that patrons are desperate and cleaners, if they exist at all, are suspected of taking tea breaks or holidays during queue times. There is nothing like a smelly, wet toilet seat to force restraint until you’re in the air.

My Emirates experience commenced with humour when a young lady at the check in counter asked me to confirm that my name was correctly recorded on my boarding pass. It was reflected as MITCHELL PENNYMS. Being a stickler for this sort of thing and suffering from my usual pre-flight panic, I responded with, “Uh no. It’s Penny without the MS. What’s the MS?” Alerted by a spark in her eyes, I forced myself to concentrate.

“Yes,” she said with control worthy of an Oscar, “MS stands for Mizzz.” We met again at the boarding gate, “Welcome on board, Mizzz Mitchell.”

If Emirates airlines were responsible for the condition of airport rest rooms, I am certain such areas would have been delightful havens for the bare necessities. Their service is customer-centric; staff are charming and efficient from check in to check out.

Emirates 2

Flying with this airline is a pleasure, even for an Economy class passenger like me. There seems to be extra knee and shin space. Overhead lockers are spacious and are easily accessible during transit without the risk of injury to unsuspecting passengers below.

Meals are part of the on board entertainment. Arranging the food covers on my meal tray was not child’s play; far more amusing though. Each piece of foil, plastic or cardboard was a different size or shape and ranged from flat to tunnel-like with domes. Stainless cutlery (oh how I love it) came in a long envelope with a napkin, all encased in a tight paper ring. The packaging designer must have been an engineer or a stand-up comedian (not sit-down) with a wicked sense of humour, or perhaps had never been an Economy class customer. There’s a big difference in size between a lunch table and a kiddy-sized tray. The food was delicious when I finally got to it minus my fork which disappeared beneath my neighbour’s seat.

For the Durban – Dubai stretch, I fixed my hair in a loose, high bun to avoid crooking my neck on the back rest and settled to watch movies. Mitchell’s law, I had carefully recorded my selection on my mobile phone. This was switched off and in my bag above me; so much for preparation. It took a while for me to realise that a screen change was still going to happen. In addition to the usual demonstration on safety, perhaps a lesson on cabin technology would be useful, especially as this often differs with the aircraft.

I was distracted momentarily by a fellow passenger a couple of rows in front who leapt up to one of the personal reading lights above and proceeded to try and screw it off. ‘Whatever is he trying to do?’ I thought with considerable amusement as I watched the pallor of his face change in the beam. I suppose I should have told him that the button for that was on somebody’s control panel, but I didn’t want him to feel silly. On his third jack-in-a-box attempt, a lady in front of me leaned forward gesticulating. At the same time, his partner must have found the solution as he flashed out of sight like a magician’s rabbit.

No free socks or toothpaste on this flight – do some airlines still offer this? There was a page of coloured stickers in the bag with my headphones. Each bore a request – wake me for meals; do not disturb; wake me for duty free. How useful, I thought, and stuck the one for ‘wake me for meals’ where indicated on the top of my head rest. I didn’t realise until after I was by-passed for breakfast that mine had stuck to my bun. It seems I wasn’t the only one. A passenger with longer, thicker hair than mine stationed herself outside one of the toilets. She too was wearing a courtesy adornment. Perhaps not such a good idea after all.

After landing gently at Dubai, a bus collected us for a scenic tour of the vast airport. This caused several passengers some consternation when they thought we were heading for the motorway and the city beyond. It took ten to fifteen minutes to reach our destination. We went through security checks into the main hub for some much needed exercise. Warning – the airport is vast and can cost many blisters in boots.

I had been given a voucher for a free meal and drink from one of several food outlets. Assuming erroneously that my selection would be on a value basis, I was looking forward to a MacDonald’s milkshake. Take a tip from one who knows – if this happens to you at Dubai airport, walk to the nearest ‘You are here’ map under glass at waist level and figure out which is your nearest preference. “Five minutes’ walk, madam,” becomes fifteen minutes in real time. My milkshake became cardboard chicken nuggets, eight out of forty fries, a cup of apple juice and a packaged, unripe banana. Oh well, it was free. Next time I’ll try one of the restaurants closer to the Boarding Gate and take my chances.


I assessed how many episodes of Downton Abbey, series 6, I could get through on the second leg of my journey to Heathrow, finished in good time and nodded off in front of another movie.

By the time I landed, got through Customs and created several more blisters in Baggage Arrivals, London rush hour was imminent and I was extremely grateful to find my board-less Chauffeur (Mom’s treat) amongst the sign touting men at the exit. Twenty eight hours after leaving home, I was woofing down a cheese omelette and looking forward to a soothing bath.

Emirates had made my night and day, but how I wished I hadn’t missed the British Airways special offer in November. Sorry Emirates but, when you travel as far as I do, it’s all in the timing. I could have arrived in Wiveliscombe in time for lunch instead of dinner.

Fencing with Forgiveness


By Irene Emanuel

Should I forgive
flippancy and lunacy?

Should I forgive
poverty and cruelty?

Should I forgive
jealousy and discourtesy?

Why should I forgive
all deadly sins,
ignore gross malfunction
and condone the rape
of civilization?





Big Things of Australia – A Selection

By Susan Roberts

I have no idea how it started – this quest to see some of Australia’s “Big Things” on our recent road trip – but once we’d started we couldn’t stop. Australia is a vast land and it is not short on big natural phenomena, but this blog-post is about the man made ones. Usually made for fun, or to advertise a product or activity, they provide a laugh as they stick up above a sometimes (but not always) flattish landscape.

We had a ridiculous list of them before we started the journey, and each person we interacted with along the way had suggestions we had never even heard of. Some weeks before the trip I had mentioned Tamworth’s Big Guitar in an email to my road trip friend Jackie, and within days she came back with a list of other big things. My sister drove past a few on various journeys around Victoria and friends that she told suggested even more.

In fact, if you Google Australia’s big things you come up with a list that’s so comprehensive it would be impossible to see all in a lifetime, let alone a two week road trip, but we used that wonderfully appropriate Australian expression and decided to “give it a go” and see as many as we could in NSW and Victoria.

On our very first day we drove through Ballina and saw the Big Prawn. This was the biggest and most impressive of all the big things we saw. In a way it was unfortunate that we saw it first, because after that many of the others didn’t really match up. The Big Prawn was taken over by hardware giant Bunnings (another big thing in Australia!) and refurbished at vast cost. It now adorns the entrance to their car park.


In Coffs Harbour the next day we saw the Big Banana. This wasn’t as big as we’d hoped, but apparently it was the first big thing in Australia, so if you believe that originality takes precedence over size then it was a landmark innovation in its time. Size isn’t everything. The Big Banana was unique in that it formed the entrance to the gift shop as well as the banana plantation, and it also contained a sort of potted history on the inside walls when you walked through it.


The following day, in Lake Cathie, we saw the Big Bowl. Not a mixing bowl but a bowling ball outside the local bowling club.


Somewhere along the way we missed a big sheep, a big trout and a few other big things, but nobody’s perfect…

Once we reached Victoria, we saw the Big Rolling Pin in Wodonga. This sits above a local bakery and spins slowly. We were a bit pushed for time so we didn’t sample the delights of the bakery itself but judging by the steady stream of people going in and out, it looked like a good one.


South of Melbourne we visited Phillip Island, and just outside Cowes we saw a Big Koala. I know there’s a Giant Koala somewhere else but this one was outside a motel and rather cute.


We didn’t just look for big jokey manmade things on our trip, but other aspects of the journey will be showcased in greater detail in future blog-posts.



Lucky Lobster

By Jac Dowling

Have you ever backed a lobster, king crab or butterfly? I have, and with very mixed results.

Here’s how it happened.


Mauritius was a distant tropical dream. An island about which no-one knew much other than it was slowly raising its profile as a holiday destination. A farmer friend engaged in advising the Mauritian government on pig farming, heard that we might be going there on an explore so, as a quid pro quo, he offered us intro to high office if we took a bundle of pig – lit over for him. Sounded a good idea, so we did.

The hotel was a group of bungalows close to Grand Bay and ours, accessed via a palm lined coral path, opened right onto the beach. Bliss. Next up came water transport and that meant an old salt by the name of Soon. He owned a pirogue with sails operated by toe while hand was busy on tiller, and we had a week of great excitement skimming over the reef into the open sea, fishing a bit and exploring the coral reef for giant clams and other exotic local shells. These we left in situ after photographing them from all angles and in all lights.

An appointment was made with the Foreign Minister’s office to offload the pig-lit and shake hands. Expecting an Indian elder statesman to meet us, I was almost bowled over when a young, extremely handsome, suave young Creole with a mop of gloriously glossy black curls on top addressed us with the traditional French welcome, invited us into his office and accepted the bundle of papers with alacrity. He was, he said, back for a month from his home on Cap d’Antibes and would like to take us out for the evening. Things were looking up.

A Peugeot 404, followed by another, collected us at 6pm and transported us rapidly and hairily to a wedding feast where FM was waiting. It was quite a formal affair, very colourful and smiley but we didn’t stay long because next stop was the Russian Embassy for a drink-up.

FM, flanked by the two 404 drivers, greeted the ambassador and his wife, introduced us as his SA guests at which juncture we turned a little pale because it was in the days when we had ‘kommuniste’ around every corner out here. And definitely a bad smell. But all was well. Comrade A, canting somewhat to the west due to the load of medals on that side, gave us a pudgy handshake and a smile which crinkled his eyes into tiny slits. He wore a uniform of pristine white – with a fair amount of gold here and there. Madame A had cottage-loafed herself into a shimmering and shattering bright purple lame gown; hair, raven black, scraped back into a tight bun. She attempted a slight inclination of the upper body in welcome; no buttons popped off.

And then the fun began. In the form of trays of Caspian caviar, loaded almost to the ceiling, biscuits to act as shovels, and a platoon Chinese vassals in grey Mao uniform (yes, even then) pressed on us chilled shots of vodka, over and over and over. The toasts began – and eventually ended with the Internationale sung rousingly before further replenishing of glasses. We eventually left and were taken to a Chinese restaurant and casino in Port Louis. FM had a private room and we were each given a fistful of rupees to spend at the tables. Croupiers in peaks and thick glasses sat behind large light boxes on which were squares containing images of various creatures. FM suggested I stick with him and he’d show me the way around the track. An hour later I had a pile of rupee notes which would have paid for six holidays! And all from backing a lobster.

Pumped up with success I set off for the same table, but solo and had another few bets. Returned to our friends with what I’d started out with – a small bundle of rupee notes. Oh well, it wasn’t ours in the first place so I returned it to 404 driver #1.

All the same. . . hmmm. Never back a lobster.lob