Saturday, January 02, 2010

Snow Joke

"Welcome to London Heathrow, the local time is 6.10am and the temperature outside is minus 5°C". If you're used to wringing the sweat out of your shirt every evening then awakenings rarely come ruder. I briefly considered nipping into the Airbus toilet to attempt a decapitation suicide by suction flushing my head off my shoulders but in the end, I steeled myself and trudged off the plane.

After a bleary eyed baggage retrieval in Heathrow's god-awful, dog-eared Terminal Four, I donned the ski jacket that last saw action on top of Bogor's Gunung Gede and headed out into freezing fog to meet my sister. The psychological and physiological effects of cold weather are no laughing matter of course. Those living at high latitudes often fall prey to what is now known as seasonal affective disorder (which, of course, is often referred to by the fantastic acronym SAD). It's basically taken thousands of years since the age of Hippocrates for medical science to get its head around the fact that people feel a bit down when temperatures plummet to penguin huddling levels.

Global warming all seemed a very long way away. They certainly scored an own goal by choosing Copenhagen as a venue in which to thrash out a putative carbon cap agreement. If the world's leaders had been ensconced in the Jakarta Convention Centre, urban heat island effect and a tropical climate conspiring to dampen their undergarments with perspiration as negotiations got underway, then we'd be looking at a 50% global reduction by next July.

Family back garden, North London, December 2009

God it was cold though. Bone crushing cold. The kind of cold that will wrench the spirit out of a man or forge it into steel. Returning from Southeast Asia's balmy climate to Britain's Arctic tundra certainly gave me pause for thought at any rate. Either you’re an evolutionist, in which case we came out of Africa, or you're a believer, in which case we were created wandering around some Middle Eastern Eden. In either case, the risks of hypothermia were minimal, on this point Darwin and Herr Ratzinger are surely as one.

At least the big freeze was lightened by Christmas however and I was soon eating non-stop and building up a good layer of whale blubber, the better for to combat the frost. A few days celebrating the birth of the Santa, or the time when Jesus comes down the chimney, or whatever it is, was just what the doctor ordered. In the news, the clash of civilizations may have been continuing apace, as people tried to either give firework displays on transatlantic jets or rugby tackle the Pope (were these too pranksters related perchance?). At home however, sprouts, wine and central heating made edicts on yoga, gender reassignment surgery and the tightness of ladies' trousers seem an awfully long way away.

After a few days of gastronomic abuse, it was time to don some thermal underwear and hit the streets. After heading into the centre of town, the first thing that I noticed upon disembarking from Tottenham Court Road tube station was how much London's ERP (electronic road pricing) scheme has reduced the amount of traffic in the centre of the capital.

Alas, the continuing social status conferred upon Jakarta's car owners will happily see them sitting in jams for hours, pumping their Blackberries like 11-year-old GameBoy addicts, rather than try any public transportation option. I reckon though that a Jakarta ERP scheme set at around Rp.50,000 per day would improve traffic flows and force people onto the busway system, where they can get groped by total strangers and fall arse over tip on the shoddily constructed aluminium walkways.

At least though, Indonesia remains uncursed by the CCTV, health and safety Nazi mentality that has emasculated the UK over the last decade. In Jakarta, one is free to down a bottle of whisky whilst driving around town, ride one's motorcycle along the pavement at full speed, bathe in faecal rivers, jump around on refuse tips and trash houses of worship, should one so desire. The developed world's ever expanding list of social pathologies is a different matter however.

Take smoking, for example. Head down to an English pub these days with a few friends and suddenly half of them are going on a little jolly trip outside in order to spark up and shiver in the snow, leaving their less interesting, non-smoking companions, such as myself, to look after their coats and bloody iPods. It's drink or smoke folks, but not both simultaneously, very dangerous that is.

Moreover, under new European Union regulations, cigarettes are no longer allowed to be called either, 'Light' or 'Mild' lest people think that they are somehow better for you. 'Smooth' or 'Refined' now the legally required nomenclature that must be employed to avoid Orwellian thought crime. If Dji Sam Soe were available over here they'd probably have to be sold under the name, Emphysema.

I guess I should make the most of my trip over here however and drink as much cider as I can before heading back to the Big Durian to thaw out. Happy New Decade readers and may you be blessed with many strong sons.