Sunday, 23 December 2007

Back in the USSR? I wish.

Not long ago in a county far far away I could sometimes be heard saying that I thought the UK was the best country in the world and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I was newly arrived in a foreign and exotic land and was due to live there for the following twelve months. I had, some 6 or 7 weeks previous made a decision to go and live in Korea as an English teacher with my girlfriend.

For the first time since university I felt I had a future and had an overwhelming feeling of optimism in this future. This new found feeling of contentment grew steadily as my time in Korea progressed. As the departure date moved ever closer I began to feel a little bit uneasy at the prospect of getting back to the UK and beginning a fresh new life. The hope that some time away would of re-invigorated me seemed to be fading and I soon realised that the optimism building inside me wasn't optimism at all but contentment at living in wonderful Korea. I would arrive back in the UK in time for my birthday in mid November and then spend the Christmas period lulling around, enjoying life in the UK under a new government and living of what I had earned but not spent on my travels.

I have been back home now for around 7 weeks and I can assure you I will never again repeat the naive and ill conceived statements that would lead anyone to believe I was actually proud to be British and longed to return to my homeland because I didn’t and don’t.
I am from South Wales and we Welsh usually have a particular gripe when it come to being lumped in with the English and have been known to take offence at such ignorant jibes but when I refer to my disdain for the UK I mean all of it, especially South Wales.

I met lots of new people in Korea during my stay and some of them have become friends who I will remain in contact with and visit when time and distance permit. One particular friend was from Newcastle, New South Wales, a lively girl who could easily drink most of my male friends under the table and out of the door and I’m sure she would fit right in with The Geordies of the original Newcastle, who have been known to like a drink or two (She is actually living in Scotland at the moment so may well have found a group of drinkers to equal her thirst for the amber nectar, or any other nectar come to think of it). I have always found it a bit amusing to think that Australians (and Americans) have so many places named after places in the UK, especially New South Wales but after being home in the original South Wales for seven weeks I can categorically state that it is surely the Australians who are laughing. The reason they have a "New" South Wales? Because the old one is shite!

A long standing complaint that has recently been returned to the forefront of my mind and been exaggerated by my time in Korea is the state of public transport, particularly the rail services in the UK and the astronomical costs associated with getting from A to B. I want to reduce my carbon footprint, I like to recycle and I truly believe we should ‘feed the world’ but that is made increasingly difficult by the utter incompetence and miserly tariffs imposed on us by the rail operators. I can understand why people want to drive their cars, it’s usually quicker and cheaper than getting a train or bus, especially if you decide on a spur of the moment trip to see your granny in the Lake District. I don’t drive (yet) and the rail and bus companies have me over the proverbial barrel. My girlfriend lives in Liverpool you see and my options are severely restricted when it comes to going to see her, plan well in advance ( four, five or six months was the answer when I asked how far in advance the cheaper tickets for my journey are released!) or pay ridiculous rates on the day. Over a barrel.

The other thing I didn’t miss one iota about this country is the people, the heaving masses, the general public, what a group of people. The great British are no longer, and in my opinion have never really been that great. But when you combine the two, irritating and potentially phenomena you get the main reason for me wanting to leave. The public are the second worst thing about public transport (after the cost) , most are perfectly nice (like me) but there is always someone ready to cause a scene or make the expensive journey you begrudgingly paid for, even worse.

Train people are different from bus people, they think that because they don’t, most of the time buy a specific seat for their journey they are entitled to take as many seats as they think they need to accommodate all their bags and they think that they have the right to not sit next to anyone else, which is why they pile their bags onto the chair next to themselves, usually the inside chair so as to block off the pair of seats. This is bad enough when there are luggage racks but is made even worse when there are people stood up, people who won’t tell these selfish bastards to move their ‘effing bags (I'm certain if you did say that you would be slapped with an ASBO before you could say "How much for a single to Runcorn?"). If these people want to buy two tickets then by all means take out a second mortgage and buy your obviously important bag a seat all of its own, otherwise move them.

My most recent train journey was from Coventry and had, at no extra charge changes at Birmingham and Shrewsbury. On the platform at Shrewsbury we clambered onto the train and there were quite a lot of empty seats and so, fancying a bit of luxury for my money I decided to sit on a seat in a bank of four, two pairs facing each other with no table, so I could stretch my legs out if nobody sat opposite me.
Shock of shocks, nobody did sit opposite me but someone did sit next to me. A rather portly gentleman from Cardiff thought it would fun to pen me between his ample frame and the window, my misery, apparently not completed by my empty wallet and the delightful stays at Birmingham New Street and Shrewsbury stations. He squeezed and squashed his larger than life carcass into the seat next to me and proceeded to spill over his seat and into, or should I say onto mine, or rather me. This flowing of blubber rendered me immobile all the way from Shrewsbury until I had to ask him if he would be kind as to shoehorn himself out of his chair and peel me from his side so I could finally disembark.

Now, I don’t discriminate against people, I am in fact a supporter of equal rights for all sectors of society but I don’t really see overweight people as a separate sector of society and I feel it would be wrong to treat people who essentially eat too much and don’t exercise enough as the same as disabled people and immigrants. I'm not saying overweight people have an easy life but it is something that could be avoided. People don’t become grossly overweight by accident or by force of nature; it is entirely in the hands of the individual. I'm not fattist (I think you’ll find YOUR fattist – A Jimmy Carr original, not a Jim Davidson!) but when it encroaches on my life, or my seat then I’m not overjoyed about it. Would I be expected to not be so ‘mean’ if it was encroachment of another type, a loud ipod perhaps or some particularly bad smelling food?

Anyway, my plan is to return to Korea as soon as 2008 begins, but due to some new laws in there I will have to go through a month of bureaucratic bullshit until I can leave, but leave I will and I might not ever return.

Season of good will to all men? Bah humbug.

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