17 April 2010

The End of civilization might actually be quite “civilized”

If you had asked me a week ago where was the "most unlikely place I would be on Friday" then itting on a cross channel ferry would have been fairly high on the list. But here I am.

I flew out of New Orleans on Wednesday. By the time we took off we were already aware that most of the airports in Norway were going to be closed due to the Icelandic counter attack on Europe in the form of plume of volcanic dust. “You bust our banks and bankrupt our economy, have 100 millions tones of ash, you bastards!” Well you have to go some way to top the devastation and carnage caused by Bjørk!

So by the time we landed in Amsterdam on Thursday lunch time all flights into Norway and the UK were cancelled and the dust cloud was moving south and Schipol was next. A quick look at maps of the plume on the internet could tell you that it was going to get worse and would certainly not be sorted by next morning as the “experts” were optimistically predicting.

Jens and the other guys from Statoil got busy and tracked down on of the last rental cars in Holland with a view of driving back to Norway. Good job moving so quick, within half an hour all the hire cars in Holland were gone.

I had an alternative plan, I was going to get to Aberdeen. I tried to get onto the Euroshuttle but tickets disappeared while I was trying to book it. Then I tried the ferry from Hook to Harwich, I missed the Thursday night one because of problems with my Norwegian bank cards but I managed to secure a place on the Friday one using Katharine’s card. I then booked an over night train from Harwich to Aberdeen, although by then all the sleepers had gone. I wasn’t sure if I was over reacting but hindsight has indicated that was exactly the correct thing to do, in fact I should have moved faster.

Now the planes are locked down for the next few days, my guess is it could be mid week, but the experts are still predicting tomorrow. No way! All tickets on ferries from Holland are now sold out until Monday, the Eurostar is booked up until mid week.

In days gone by, there would have been long queues outside the ticket offices, people would have got fractious, fights would have been kicking off etc. That is strangely absent here. All of that has played out in a virtual world. Everything is booked up because people got on line fast and made bookings. All of the scrambling to get over one another happened in the silence of cyber space. By the time anyone got to the ferry terminal it was all done and dusted. A few people had turned up optimistically at the port, but nothing like it would have been in the past.

This is good because there is a superficial civility to it. In the anonymity of the web no one was punching anyone else and you didn’t have to watch stressed parents with over-tired children squabbling with each other. At the same time there is a clear IT apartheid, where those with smart phones and laptops gobble up the available resource while those without are left stranded at the airport for a week. Maybe when the apocalypse comes it will all be fairly civilized, at least until the internet goes down.

Although having said that, the ferry is packed and there is nothing civilized about the Dutch Rugby team at the bar…

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