Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Strangers in the underground...

I have recently written a draft script for a movie called “changing lines” the story is of a young woman who moves to London from a very sheltered life in the country side and she has to face her greatest fear… the use the underground metro system in London to get to college! This experience in itself plays a hug part in the plot of the film, and having to share your private space with others. But the main story line of the film is how she, through avoiding travelling with her very weird and creepy neighbour who takes the same train and line as her at the same time every day, decides to change lines and meets someone who, amongst the collection of strangers in the underground, seems to be the most normal, polite human being!
The inspiration for the film script comes from having been a “Londoner” myself for many years, and after leaving London and now coming back occasionally when I have to travel to my office, I realised how fascinating it is to see the millions of people who on a day to day basis share their personal space with others in the battle to get somewhere. I moved away from London some 10 years ago and I never thought I would be able to live outside this great city, but it took only a few months to realise how great it was not to have to share my personal travelling space with thousands of strangers and their various odours and flavours!
And now that I don’t have to do this on a day-to-day basis, boy am I glad I’m not a “Londoner” any more! I went back to travelling on the underground on a regular basis at the beginning of 2011 and I became an “Oyster” holder (season underground ticket), which was different to the old “Travel Card” system which existed in my days, where you had your picture on an ID card attached to your ticket. For those unaware of what the “Oyster” is (and I guess that includes millions of you!) it is an electronic ticket, which you place on a round plate on the gate, and it lets you in deducting your fare at the other end where you also place this on another round plate to go out. Genius system as it is fast, effective and impersonal! Yes and the corporate word here is “impersonal” You see, in my days as a regular underground traveller, you where someone, you had to identify yourself; you could not share your travel card with anyone. Now, anyone can use your Oyster card as far as I can tell, anyone can travel as you! You are just a number in the system, another passenger in a sea of strangers. And it is fascinating the choice of the name for this, “Oyster”. I am sure there is a right story for this, but for me an Oyster reminds me of something that is closed, hidden, secret. Something that usually if open is only partially and has something hidden, a secret or a treasure, or it may just simply be empty, we are all oysters in the sea of the underground system! And this is how I have always seen travellers in the underground, closed, hiding with secrets you may never not know, treasures they don’t show or they are simply empty. But at least in my day you had a face with your name!
Every day, millions of people share this very confined space with total strangers; people who have their own lives and you may never know what they are. People whom you may see once only or several times. Look around and you see people from all corners of the world, from different backgrounds, creeds, social status and political views! There is a famous say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and never was a truer statement than this in here. As you step onto the wagon of the underground train, on a busy rush hour, you will be within close proximity to at least 15 to 20 people, all within a hand’s reach. Some will be too closed for comfort and often you are able to smell their perfume, read their newspaper or emails in their BB or hear their music. But the thing that has always intrigued me is who they really are?
And I mean that in the sense of “don’t judge a book by its cover” Think about it, the business man, dress in his pink stripy suit, reading the Financial Time, who is he? What does he do when he finally gets home and takes of his costume, he masquerade? The young girl, with her rucksack, mismatching cloth, headphones and iPod, staring at the distance to avoid eye contact with a stranger, what does she do when she gets home and locks herself in her room? The weird looking man, wearing old dirty charity shop cloths, with the free newspaper he has just picked up from the previous passenger and greasy hair which leaves a mark as he leans on the glass panel, where does he live, what does he do and where is he going or coming looking like that? And many others, whom by their appearance you could make assumptions as to who they are. But remember, don’t judge a book by its cover, the businessman may not be who he seems, or the young girl or weirdo, or anyone else for that matter. You could be standing next to a murderer for all you know.
In my script “changing lines” our young heroine meets someone whom by his appearance seems “normal” and soon she learns that judging a book by its cover can change your life (for the worse) and meeting strangers in the underground may not be the best idea considering the vast collection of human beings placed together in one place. We are all strangers, we all have our secrets and we all like to put on a mask which we show when we go out.
Next time you are in an underground system anywhere in the world, look around at your fellow passengers and remember, you just never know who you may be standing next too!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Armenia has got Talent!

Today I arrived back from a week in Yerevan, Armenia. This is my 7th visit and most of the time I am there for business. I have also made some great friends and 2 years ago I was “godfather” to my dearest friends at their wedding. This friendship has allowed me to get to know Armenia in a different light. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to visit many countries and get to know many cultures, and to see some of these countries from not a tourist perspective but the real deal.
I have now built a good knowledge of the Yerevan scene and I have visited a Karaoke bar! (Sad but true, I am a Karaoke die hard fan) But it was in this visit that my friends opened my eyes to a side of Yerevan and Armenia I had not seen and was not expecting it.
During my visits my friends Minas and Lilit, always build some time to do something typical, something that gives me a flavor of what this country is all about. And on this occasion Minas Hambardzumyan (a very talented Professional Public Relations, Communications, and Media specialist, see his website called me the day before we met and said “how would you like to go to the theatre tomorrow?” I mean, what a question right? Anyone who knows me can tell you that I would jump to the opportunity to either go to a karaoke bar (which we did in my last visit) or the theater or some performing arts show! So I said, “Minas, you don’t need to ask! Yes please!” Now although I look Armenian, (actually I look like Egyptian, Russian, Georgian… etc) I don’t speak the language but not for once I thought about this as a barrier for going to the theatre. This comes from my paradigm that art is art, wherever you are. However, people I was with at work through “really? How will you understand what they are saying?” and I said, “who cares, it’s theatre!”
So next day I met my dearest friends and my new born godson, and had a great afternoon with them, enjoying some traditional Armenian BBQ followed by some Armenian Brandy “ARARAT” at my friend’s parent’s house as we dropped the young member of the family who was not coming to the theater!. And then we moved to the venue where the show would take place. (it is a hard life)
Now, if you don’t know anything about Armenia you would not know what to expect going to the theatre. But even I who has been there a few times, what I was about to discover is a real treasure in a city unknown to many.
We landed at the venue called Yerevan Chamber Theatre (website ) where the Theatre Company of the same name is resident and present cabaret shows every night of the week. We walked through a hug wooden door, which led to an area where you can drop you coats and hats, (Yerevan is quite cold at this time of the year) and then we walked into an amazing and magical venue. Decorated with artistic wall murals and musical statues of people playing various instruments, the small but yet incredibly stimulating entrance led to an art exhibition and a café. The exhibition hall presented works from local Armenian Artist and paints which allowed you to embody yourself in the arts before walking into the 50-seat studio where the show would take place.
At this point, I am in my element, and I could be anywhere! London, Paris, Moscow… it was so amazing to find so much talent (through the paints and sculptures), and a real sense for the flavor of the performing arts in this simple yet clever use of space, studio. I could not wait to see what was going to be presented to me.
The lights went down, the music started and we got a snippet of “Cabaret” as the artist started their show and their main actor/singer/dancer Rafik Yeranosyan grabbed the audience with his charismatic and energetic opening lines. I did not understand literally a word of what he was saying, but I didn’t matter, I was completely mesmerized by his enigmatic persona
Then the rest of the cast came on, 3 girls and 3 boys (a total of 7 on stage) and took us through a journey of music, dance, comedy and pure showbiz entertainment. From start to finish, all 7 cast members where on the ball, feeding of each other and spreading electrical energy to the audience who laugh and clapped non-stop till the end. These people had talent, and no mater where they were, what language they spoke or how big their venue was, they were committed to the task at hand, to entertain their audience. They were what I call true artist giving themselves to their audience and working hard for their final reward, the upstanding ovation of the 50 or so people in the studio. A true artist works hard for his money, true, but also for the claps of his audience and these guys knew how to earn it.
And as I watched two hours of true cabaret, I could not help but thinking “I wish more people could see this, I wish this sort of talent was more exposed” and then I got mad, and what I am about to say may be controversial but true! I thought of the recent talent event that took part in England and I am glad to say I stayed well away from it, The X Factor! And it made me mad to think that we have now run this show for more than 5 years and ever time it get worse! We pick completely, untalented but very commercial people who sell, sell a show. And it made me sad that we, in Britain, have some much talent, just like in Armenia, and rather than exposing them to express themselves and perform in front of eager audience, we pick those who do not have the true desire to earn a clap but a hunger to earn a few bob in their 15 minutes of fame!
In Armenia, the Yerevan Chamber Theatre Company is a true example of real artist working to satisfy their audiences who keep coming back again and again. Isn’t it time in Britain we stop wasting our money on untalented commercial rubbish and invest on artist who need the platform to earn some well-deserved claps (and pounds)?
If in Armenia, please visit the Yerevan Chamber Theatre company, I guarantee you will see some amazing talent that Yerevan has!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Check out the Article Niche for other postings

The Article Niche

My life or my seat!

I am always fascinated by the way humans behave in public places. I guess if I had the chance, I would go back and study human behavior. But I suppose you don’t need a degree to see that we are a very strange bunch. I have been traveling now for over 4 years with my job and I have many tales to tell and I am thinking about putting them together in a book. However, one of the things that still cease to amaze me is they way people board a plane. And by the way, out of principle I do not fly low cost airlines, that is a separate article! And one of the reasons for it is the fact that they will not assign seats.

I have never really understood why, as you would think it is easier to give everyone a place as this will helps the boarding process. So whenever you are flying “el cheapo”, people will kill to get on the plan first! And this in itself aggravates me more than the actual attitude of the staff (I am sure they employ people for their rudeness). I remember once making the fatal error of flying with Ryan Air and writing on my Facebook profile “I now know how cows feel just before they are taken to the slaughter house” and I got a massive response from my facebook friends, all in agreement! (I wonder how we all know how cows feel just before the slaughterhouse???)

But what is fascinating about this sort of behaviour is that you may justify it in a low cost flight, as you do not have your seat number and people panic (not sure why anyway because the flight will not leave without you if you have a ticket, so there will be a seat for you) but I guess we are territorial animals and this is the basis of our behaviour, we all want the best seat! So what happens then on a regular British Airway or Lufthansa flight where you have a seat number? Where you have been able to choose that seat before you even get to the airport? That is where it gets very interesting! I will attempt to describe this as a nature program would, as we discover the extraordinary behaviour of animals in their habitat

So we have 120 passengers traveling together from London to Munich. All have been given a seat number, and some may not be happy be seating between two people on the dreaded B or E seat! But nonetheless, everyone has a seat. I would say that 80% of those would have a bulky hand luggage. What I mean is they will have a small suitcase with their essentials for a short trip, which they wheel around with them. Of those, 50% would also have a handbag or briefcase with their laptops. A lot of hand luggage to store in the overhead compartments. 20 minutes before the flight boarding is announced, you begin to see this pack of animals gathering outside the door. It’s like they have to be the first to get on, must beat everyone in the race for a seat! BUT WHY? You have a seat number; no one will take your seat! But only when you travel as much as I do, beginning to understand these fascinating creatures. It takes time and good observation skills to understand them and see them in action in their natural habitat! They are not fighting for a seat; that is too primitive; they are fighting for the space above their seat for their hand luggage!

This is a different type of animal to the one we encounter in the cheap airlines! This animal is more sophisticated and has evolved through their silver rewards cards from the airlines, this animal knows that having a seat is not good enough, but having your hand luggage above your head is the ultimate reward of this battle when boarding the plane! And what is even more fascinating is that they will do whatever it takes to have their hand luggage above their head
. We are boarding the Munich flight from London and the head lockers are getting pretty full by now. And a few have now arrived at their seat and there is no room above their head! You can see the expression of anguish on their faces as the look around at the full lockers.
  Some, less bothered by this, take their hand luggage and move it down the plane to the next available space; after all, it will get there with at the same time. But there is one creature, a female of the frequent flyer species; she has to have her hand luggage above her head. She pushes and shoves other’s belongings in the hope that she will be able to squeeze her wheelie just above her. The flight attendant comes over and tries to assist, between them they move some items to the side, but their efforts are a waste and the wheelie still does not fit. She will not give up that easily, oh no, she is a silver member, you can see it on her luggage tag, this type knows all the tricks of the trade, knows how to manipulate a space to get the necessary room to put her bag, just above her head.
   The flight attendant knowing this is a lost cause, walks away to look for a space in which store what seems to be a very precious piece of luggage (or at least to the frequent traveler) and then it happens, she moves the wrong piece and it all kicks off! She has pushed hard enough but has not work so she begins to remove other pieces to try and fit hers in and then put what she has taken out back (or at least we all think she will, but who knows in this game!)

A male, seating by the window, who fought his way through the crowds, who was standing by the door 20 minutes before they announce boarding just so he could have his hand luggage just above his head, see his precious item being removed from the locker and shouts “please” (I thought it was so British to say please as he was about to attack this woman) “please, do not touch my luggage!” and the already exhausted and exasperated woman said “I am just trying to fit mine in” and in a very firm voice he said “you should have been here earlier if you wanted your luggage to be above your seat” and at that moment I knew that he was the king, that he was not only just a regular Al fa male frequent traveler, one more of the pack, but the one who has ultimately earned his place on the frequent flyer “I have my luggage above my head” place
. And with one last firm remark he said, “Please put it back”

And so she did, no one would dare to challenge him, the one who knows his place and is the king of the air
. And guess what? She had to put her wheelie a few places behind her and guess what, it arrived at the same time as all the rest! Oh and worst of all, she had to seat near him, yes she not only had her luggage sent to the back, nowhere near her head, but she had to share the confined space of an airplane with him! I sat there for the rest of the trip thinking “if there is one thing I have never been bothered about has been to have my luggage above my head” it is bizarre how instead of worrying if your flight will make it across it’s route, we, humans, sit there for an entire trip thinking “I hope my luggage is OK at the back” and “how will I get it when the plane stops before everyone stands up” I know she was thinking that as I saw her ever so often glance backwards to see if she could see her bag. And so prevails the fight for survival, the fight for the space above your seat!