THE BENTONBAG SYNDROME
In the Comments box of the last posting, Brenda commented on my inexplicable dislike of Bishop Auckland. This is what she said…
‘I'm so glad I'm not the only person to take an unreasoning and unreasonable dislike to places. In 1987 I visited Turkey and disliked it from the moment I stepped off the aircraft - nothing had happened just a feeling of dislike that washed over me. And nothing that happened in the subsequent stay would tempt me back.
Similarly Glasgow - lovely people - some great architecture - but overall I just don't like it. Might have something to do with being in the first trimester of pregnancy the first time I visited so felt continuously sick - but I've been back unpregnant and still didn't like it.
Cardiff leaves me cold too.
Italy, Finland, Rotherham, Paris (except the Gare du Nord), Inverness, Sheffield and lots of other places I'd revisit at the drop of a hat.’
Let’s start from first principles….
You can’t like every place you visit and disliking places like Middlesbrough, Plymouth (God forbid) or Reading is perfectly understandable and thus perfectly excusable - they have no redeeming features at all.
The same applies to people, I suppose. Loathing Simon Callow, Dale Winton or Piers Morgan is not unreasonable, and for fairly obvious reasons.
Sometimes, though - as Brenda so astutely points out - we question our innate dislike of a place or a person because it’s not immediately obvious why we don’t like them. We even try to find explanations for our dislike, as Brenda does with Glasgow.
I’m calling this The Bentonbag Syndrome - an irrational and often unsettling dislike of a place or a person.
So, Brenda...let’s see now….
A genuine case of the Syndrome.
I’m with you on this one. As you say, lots of lovely architecture (Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others) but...but… I’ve visited Glasgow several times and have never, ever, felt completely ‘safe’ or happy there. I don’t know why - I just don’t.
So maybe another candidate for the Syndrome.
Good Syndrome stuff. I can’t think of any reason in particular for you to dislike it. Paris it aint - but it’s not Calcutta, either!
A country that seduces you into affection almost despite itself. Disliking Italy would be like disliking chocolate - unthinkable.
Sheffield, Rotherham, Inverness…
Personally, I would put Inverness on my Bentonbag Syndrome list. For some reason, I couldn’t quite see the point of Inverness. It’s not ugly or unfriendly, but I remember sitting by the river there and thinking how lovely it would be if Inverness was quietly washed away and whether anyone would notice.
Agreed. Disliking Paris is like disliking Italy - unimaginable. Anyone who doesn’t like Paris should seek help urgently. Ironically, this includes a lot of non-Parisian French people, who detest it to its very core and never, ever, go there.
You’re right about the Gare du Nord, too. For the uninitiated, this is the Paris terminal of Eurostar and it’s an absolute shithole. It’s like stepping off the train straight into a lake of Parisian effluent through which you have to wade with a clothes-peg on your nose until you reach the fresh air and aggressive beggars outside.
Paris hasn’t yet mastered the art of important transport hubs. Gare de Lyon and Charles de Gaulle Airport are just as bad.
You’re only the second person I’ve ever known who’s been to Finland. When did you go? What’s it like?
I am sooooo jealous!
My own Bentonbag Syndrome list would start with Bishop Auckland (naturally) but would also include…
As I said in the blog at the time, I felt uneasy and uncomfortable in Munich. It’s a very grand and prosperous city but there was just ‘something in the air‘ that I didn’t like. I’ve thought about this a lot and still can’t get to the bottom of it.
A victim of the ‘Inverness Effect’; I couldn’t stop myself wondering why it was there at all.
We took the Blue Bus to Liverpool a few years back and I hated it. Part of an old job I had in the Civil Service ages ago involved visiting nearby Runcorn quite a lot and I didn’t like that, either. Don’t ask me why, though.
LiverpoolPort Sunlight, however, is lovely.
So now - over to the truckshunters for further nominations for inexplicable dislikes. Who else out there suffers from the Bentonbag Syndrome?
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AROUND THE WORLD IN 47 DAYS: NOW READ ON…
My friend Sue recently remarked that she could remember the state I was in the very first time I flew. It was in 1985 and the flight was from Luton (another place to be added to my Bentonbag Syndrome list) to the Greek island of Paros.
I was genuinely petrified. Then, as now, I couldn’t understand the physics or aerodynamics of it all. Aeroplanes just look as if they shouldn’t be able to heave their huge bulks so gracefully and (seemingly) effortlessly off the ground and then lower them gently down again so that, most of the time at least, you don’t even know you’ve landed.
So Sue was right - that first flight was a deeply unsettling experience. My then-partner, who was a very perceptive GP and who should therefore have known better, seated me next to a window so that I could get the full, stomach-churning effect of watching Luton recede rapidly beneath us. Each jolt and shudder of the aircraft spelled impending catastrophe and my fists remained firmly clenched until the novelty of my first-ever view of the Greek islands scattered across the Aegean below us took over.
(Incidentally...why do aeroplanes shudder and shake like that?)
Sue made her remark because, in truth, I’ve become something of a seasoned flyer now. There’s a certain amount of fatalism involved in the approach I take. After all, once you’re up there, there’s not much you can do if something should go wrong. Your fate rests in the hands of others so you may as well sit back and try to enjoy the experience; treat it as an adventure.
Custom and usage have a lot to do with it, too. Since I retired, I’ve flown to and from France 25 times (lucky me!) as well as to New York and back. So, when the time came to board the first flight of my round-the-world journey, there was no unease at all. Only exuberance and excitement and anticipation of the 46 days ahead of me.
The only factor which essentially differentiates one flight from another (apart from the length of the flight, of course) is the airline that’s carrying you. My frequent flights to France have been courtesy of easyJet (whom God preserve, and whom I honour by typing their name in that silly way they have). This means that I’ve grown accustomed not only to their matter-of-fact friendliness but also to their garish orange cabin-crew uniforms, which should be abandoned forthwith and replaced with something less offensive - like bin bags and paper sacks. As long as they are not orange as well.
My journey round the world involved flights with 5 different airlines. And I guess it’s worthwhile bearing in mind how big a part airlines played during my journey and just how long I was in the air - over 54 hours.
So, just for the hell of it, I’ve ranked them here in order of ‘customer (me) satisfaction’.
At number 5…
My first and last flights - to Hong Kong and from Boston - were with Virgin Atlantic and are chiefly memorable for being so forgettable. The cabin crew looked bored both times, the food - never particularly good on an aeroplane - was indifferently tasteless and the cabin crew uniforms made them look as if blood had been spilt.
At number 4…
United Airlines - with whom I travelled from Victoria to San Francisco, and from there to New York City. During the second of these flights, I was chatting to my neighbour about the apparent lack of interest the crew were showing toward their charges and was told I was applying European standards to an American institution, which surprised me.
UA food was better but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. I disembarked and dashed straight to an airport café.
The only reason UA are not at number 5 is that their uniforms are nicer to look at.
At number 3…
Virgin Australia, with whom I flew between Perth and Sydney. Their only sin was that of being stultifyingly formal and dull - and they wore the same, blood-soaked uniforms as their Virgin Atlantic colleagues.
At number 2…
Air New Zealand.
I flew with them from Sydney to Queenstown and between Auckland and Vancouver. I know I shouldn’t judge an airline by something as superficial as the design of its livery or the cut of its cabin-crews’ jib but - as I said earlier - these are often the only things that differentiate one airline from another. And Air NZ scored heavily here.
The Maori-inspired design of its logo, the handsome and elegant uniforms its staff wear, the quality of the food ( - the best airline food of the whole trip - ) and the jaunty, kiwi friendliness of everyone involved, lifts it almost to number 1. Almost, but not quite…
And the winner is….
Singapore Airlines, whose reputation for elegant efficiency, personal attention and smiling assistance goes before it - and is thoroughly deserved. I travelled with them from Hong Kong to Singapore, and from there to Perth, and actually enjoyed the experience in a positive, non-passive, way.
For a start, the cabin crew looked lovely. The women wore dark, long, patterned dresses with a kind of ‘Singapore slit’. The men were a perfect match - simple, dark suits and ties. And they seemed to have the knack of being wherever they were needed - all the time. They were by your side with whatever you wanted before you knew you wanted it.
And the seductive, typically Far East, deference they brought to their dealings with customers, was very nice indeed!
And finally….there’s a curious postscript to this assessment of air travel.
Those of you who’ve used an aircraft’s toilet will know that it’s a completely different animal to the contraption we’re used to at home. Instead of being flushed out by the simple force of gravity, whatever’s in the bowl is sucked out worryingly quickly and in a matter of a few milliseconds - with a satisfyingly final-sounding gulping noise.
Well, I was surprised to find that toilets like these are now being installed in private houses and hotels - at least, in the places I visited. And a good thing, too. They’re more efficient, more hygienic and more ‘planet friendly’ in their use of water.
And I want one.
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