Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve been struggling with my web connection, first because of some kind of breakdown in the line, and then having to juggle the settings on my Mac and other devices to get everything back up and running again. I love the way you pay for a service and end up doing most of the maintaining yourself.
I will some day soon have to replace my computer, along with a few other pieces of very old kit. Anyone who has spent years maintaining a growing collection of hardware and software, constantly tinkering to keep it all working together, will know the terror involved in taking it apart and setting it up again. Can’t wait for that little ordeal.
On Friday, I went with my mother, brother and his wife to see the wicked Mr Derren Brown live in the fantastic new Grand Canal Theatre. We saw his show a few years ago, and loved it. This new show, Enigma, didn’t disappoint either. He has a unique ability to wreck your head and leave you completely intrigued as to how he did it. The fact that he explains how he did some of it just makes things worse, as anyone who has watched his shows for any length of time will know you can’t trust a word he says. I don’t want to say too much about the show, in case I spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it included planting various subconscious suggestions in our collective brains, cold reading (how psychics read your body language to con you into thinking they can read your mind), ‘contacting the spirits of the dead’, putting much of the audience into a trance and giving us a bloody good laugh the whole way through. A brilliant performance. And it’s funny to see how worked up he gets himself by the end.
While I’m on the subject of smoke and mirrors – well . . . mainly smoke – I had a meeting cancelled, for the first time ever, because of a volcano. I was supposed to meet the managing editor of Random, my UK publisher, on Friday. But her flight was cancelled because of the much-publicized eruption. I think it was a pretty acceptable excuse. Eyjafjallajökull volcano (I have no idea how to pronounce that) in Iceland has, as everyone in the world should know by now, caused massive disruption for air travel. I heard one person on the radio say that they were stuck in an airport abroad and the earliest flight they could get on was on the 14th of May. I really think airlines should be giving priority to those who have to get home, rather than trying to keep to their schedules for the benefit of those whose flights have yet to be affected. Better that someone have their holiday cancelled and have to drive home again, then someone having to be stranded in a foreign country without a place to stay, eating airport food and blowing the limit on their credit card.
I once had to stay just one night sleeping in an airport, and it was a pretty miserable experience. And I was young with no family to look after. The benches were so uncomfortable to sleep on I just lay on the floor with no cover except my jacket. They don’t turn off the lights all night, the cleaners work at night, so it’s not that quiet even then, and I couldn’t help worrying about somebody nicking my stuff while I was asleep – and this was in a London airport with hardly anybody else in the Departure lounge. I can only imagine what it’s like day after day in a crowded airport. Given that the last time this volcano erupted, it lasted for fourteen months, airlines should be taking better care of the people who find themselves stranded. Those companies are going to need a lot of good will – and as few lawsuits as possible – to stay in business as things get even tougher for their industry.
For anyone who’s interested, I found this description of what volcanic ash (which is basically particles of vaporized stone) can do to an airplane, on Wikipedia:
Ash can “blind” pilots by sandblasting the windscreen requiring an instrument landing, damage the fuselage, and coat the plane so much as to add significant weight and change balance. In addition, the sandblasting effect can damage the landing lights, making their beams diffuse and unable to be projected in the forward direction. Propellor aircraft are also endangered.
Clogging of the plane’s sensors
Electromagnetic wave insulation
Combustion power failure
Volcanic ash damages machinery. The effect on jet aircraft engines is particularly severe as large amounts of air are sucked in during combustion operation, posing a great danger to aircraft flying near ash clouds. Very fine volcanic ash particles (particularly glass-rich if from an eruption under ice) sucked into a jet engine melt at about 1,100 °C, fusing onto the blades and other parts of the turbine (which operates at about 1,400 °C). They can erode and destroy parts, drive it out-of-balance, and cause jams in rotating machinery.
The effect on the operation of a jet engine is often to cause it to cut out — failure of all a plane’s engines is common (compressor stall and flameout, fooling of the engine temperature sensors). The standard emergency procedure when jet engines begin to fail had been to increase power, which makes the problem worse. The best procedure is to throttle back the engines, and to lose height so as to drop below the ash cloud as quickly as possible. The inrush of cold, clean air is usually enough to cool, solidify, and shatter the glass, unclogging the engines.
So, I’m happy for the airlines to play it safe and keep those birds on the ground until the air has cleared. Whenever that happens.
Apparently, Eyjafjallajökull is right next to a much bigger volcano named Katla. It could erupt with a force nearly ten times greater than its smaller neighbour. Every time Eyjafjallajökull has erupted in recorded history, Katla has gone up not long after. Not a pleasant thought for anybody wishing to fly over Europe in the next year or so . . . I might well be taking the ferry next time I have to do any events in the UK.
One additional casualty last weekend was the Philip Pullman event in Trinity on Saturday, for which I had tickets. I was looking forward to a good row between himself and the fundamentalists over his new book ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’. But it seems Catholic Ireland, at least, has been spared his wicked, blaspheming presence.
So, this volcano thingie. . . Act of God, d’you think?