Commuting Around the World

When it is cold, and the sky is clear, the trails of planes flying into, or out of, Heathrow and Gatwick zig zag across the sly above my home. I get wanderlust. I have always travelled for work. I calculated that I have worked in 26 different countries and lived and worked for more than a couple of months in nearly a dozen.

There is a thrill arriving at the airport, checking in, boarding, and not knowing what adventure is ahead of you. I remember the excitement the first time I saw the red soil of Africa and took my first deep breath of warm air. It was exhilarating.

But for all the excitement I have also had the daily commute. We have all commuted. I have commuted from South London into the City of London and I have commuted further from Canterbury into London. You can understand how much I hated it from the opening chapter of Blah Blah which, I will admit just the once here, is semi-autobiographical.

There were longer commutes sometimes leaving home on a Sunday night or Monday morning and getting back for the weekend. These commutes were often all around the world.

I had been in and out of Dublin many happy times until I found myself in clients’ office, with most of the staff, watching on TV the horror of the 9/11 attacks. The memories of the fun and natural enthusiasm of the Irish in their capital city has always been darkened by the events of that day. That night I spent forever trying to get back to London. Eventually I was successful but arrived at the ‘wrong’ London airport because my car was parked on the other side of town.

I also spent weeks flying to Rotterdam. Once, I was nearly at the airport when I remembered that my passport was in my other jacket at home. I bluffed it and managed to get to Rotterdam and back without it. Once, when the air traffic controllers were on strike, together with Larry Ellison, in the days when Oracle was no more than a few people and a fledgling company, we chartered a small private plane which could fly under ATC. I often wondered if I should have changed careers at that point, as Larry and I sat together for a couple of hours, chatting.

Turkey was another frequent destination and I enjoyed Istanbul. It was then that I had dinner with Güler Sabancı a beautiful woman and now listed by Forbes as the 60th most powerful woman in the world. There was never a chance I was going to leave Annie for anyone.

The weekly tour between London, Boston, Houston, and back to London was the most tiring leaving the weekends wasted. It was on one of these trips I heard the funniest quote ever from a cabin crew. I was flying business class on American Airlines and as always, I was offered, like all other passengers, champagne, and nibbles before take-off. The champagne arrived and as she leant forward with the food she uttered the immortal words ‘would you like your nuts heated, Sir?’ No answer. Too stunned, but I did practice for the trip the following week.

And then there was the summer in Athens. It was wonderfully warm and though I had an office overlooking the Acropolis I never went there as a visitor or tourist. I was working for Panafon, soon to become a Vodafone company. On another day I will tell you more about the people and the work because the CEO could be one of my inspirational leaders. However, instead I will tell you the tale of the spy. In an attempt to drink Athens dry of Metaxa I stumbled into a busy bar and soon joined in with three of the resident drinkers. The first could speak no English other than, ‘Mrs Thatcher, she great woman.’ The second I can’t remember but the third, the man with the rather odd moustache took to me one side and said, ‘I can’t say anything. I am a spy’. From then he didn’t say anything more and just kept looking over his shoulder.

I have been very fortunate and lived and worked all over the world. I have met interesting, inspiring, and sometimes strange people but there was always a comfort of home. Just as there was an excitement of leaving there was a similar excitement driving down familiar roads knowing the family was at home.

Never more so than at Christmas. At Christmas we all like to be with the family. We like to be cuddled up in front of a fire, watching one of the guaranteed favourite films on the TV. Generations of a family sit down for a lunch of Turkey and the Brussels sprout no one wants, funny hats and worse jokes from the crackers, and all with lots of love.

It may be what we all want but a ‘poll of 2,000 people by YouGov for the Stand Alone charity, which helps people estranged from their families, suggests only 62% of the British population will spend most of Christmas Day with their immediate family. Some 12% will spend it with their partner’s immediate family. Only 39% said they found the day “joyful” *BBC web site.

Just an idea but if you think you know someone who might be lonely this Christmas, do you have a spare place at your table?