…no, that’s not the right play; it’s Huis Clos, maybe. I’m in London in a hotel with about ten Americans originally gathered for a conference that ended Friday. We don’t know when we can leave, it’s a nice enough group but the only link is that we all have some connection with biofuels policy, and have been trapped by this most bizarre natural disaster that hasn’t killed anyone or even damaged any property. We have rebooked tickets for various upcoming days, but of course there’s no assurance flights won’t be cancelled again Our hosts at Imperial College have been extremely hospitable, negotiating reasonable room rates at the hotel, setting us up with a place to work, arranging a field trip to Rothamsted tomorrow. It’s been beautiful sunny British spring weather, and there’s no risk of running out of museums and the like in London in the next, um, year, I guess. We have internet access, phone, underground and buses to get around on; except that everyone is asleep when we email them during the day, it’s a lot like being home but with no dishes to wash.
It’s a bizarre crisis, because there’s no evidence of it day to day (apparently the supermarkets are liable to run out of vegetables and fruit that come in by air freight, but no sign of that at the Waitrose down the block yet) except that we can’t quite leave. And being stuck in London in 2010 is very different from three or four decades ago; that Waitrose has a fabulous collection of food from all over Europe, there are good restaurants of every type, indeed the only reminder of traditional British food is the hotel breakfast. We’re staying in South Kensington, two blocks from three world-class museums, and it seems the entire V&A has been reinstalled since I was last here, very nicely. The worst part of it in some ways is that there’s no one to blame, though the aviation authorities are beginning to get beat up for being too cautious and constantly changing their forecasts. It’s certainly a nightmare decision scenario for the airlines and the regulators both, as the real risk of flying is not completely clear.
Thousands and thousands of Brits were caught all over the world on school holiday week, including students and teachers, and the news stories of them trying to get home, sleeping in airports, and running out of money and clean clothes, are pretty heartrending. The government is not covering itself with glory figuring out how to get them home; there are 50,000 of them in Madrid (for a few days, the only European airport operating) waiting for buses that were promised but apparently only available to people who fly in in coming days; everyone else is advised to “make your way to the channel ports” (that’s more than a day on a packed train).
For me and my colleagues, this has to be the cushiest, safest, lowest-risk adventure imaginable, but it is beginning to grate.
We were in a pub on Thursday night when the debate came on the TV. No-one there paid any attention to it, but someone must have been watching, because it apparently blew the Lib-Dems up to Labor/Conservative poll levels, like, let me see, like a volcano (do you get your completely original imagery and similes at the RBC? for sure!) underneath them. Exciting, but the way they run their national elections here is a scandal in a capitalist country; it’s all over in a couple of months, and the amount of commerce in advertising, polling, political consulting, punditry, dealmaking and corruption, and related thrashing about that’s left on the table by this haste is absolutely shocking.