Skytrains, planes and automobiles (sorta) – 48 hrs of climate criminality, a confession

Look at me, I’m on the other side of the world, ma! (1). Here’s the view from my quarantine window.

Yep, sunny (2) Adelaide. Two days ago I was in actually sunny Manchester. Thanks to the wonders of the internal combustion engine and a global infrastructure that supports/encourages hyper-mobility, even in a pandemic, here I am. This long blog post (you’ve been warned: skim by all means) is takes you (well, me) through what happened and foregrounds what infrastructures made it possible. It barely scratches the surface, obviously, but if I do all the research I would need to do to answer the questions I have, I’d never write the damn thing – the moment would pass, as it always does. So, consider a) yourself warned b) this a first pass, a series of stakes in the ground/reminders to myself.

Before it all

There’s stories to tell about

a) Singapore Airlines changing my connecting flight from Singapore to Adelaide so that it took off before my flight from London arrived, and not really being at all bothered by that

b) The industry around PCR tests (no, I’m not a COVIDiot, but £130? Really?)

but if I try to tell them now I will lose the thread and you will lose the will to read/live, so let’s move on

Tuesday 22nd June


This journey to Manchester Coach Station MUCH less stressful than last year’s (taxi company lied and lied… let it go, Marc). Stagecoach have a functional (but not de jure) monopoly on buses in the south of the city. They’re in the middle of a court case with Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, because he wants (under pressure from brilliant campaigners) to bring the bus network back under public control. [Funny how London’s buses were never flogged off, innit. Full market forces for the provinces, where nobody important lives].

How “zero carbon” is an electric bus, anyway? Who builds these things, where? How long do they last? Is the technology improving?

Journey smooth, but £2.50 for 10 to 15 minutes? Really?

1000 to 1045 Manchester Coach Station.

Mental notes to self

  • when was this built? Who owns it? Runs it? What profits?
  • don’t be the asshole who was rude to the trying-to-be-helpful staff guy (as you have been in the past)
  • thank our next door neighbour for printing the coach ticket
  • fair play to National Express – it was super-easy, and free, to bring my coach booking forward 36 hours.

Here’s the coach – a “Caetano” – at Milton Keynes services (which is a sentence I don’t want to type too often),

On the journey I read the latest Viz (ta to Dr Wifey for the subscription) and Private Eye (an occasional purchase these days – to “get” it you have to immerse yourself in the froth and detritus of the scandals du jour, and life is too short. And it’s too enraging and disempowering to look into that particular abyss too often/too long.)

Thanks to the wonders of mobile phone technology I found out some very good news of Dr Wifey (not sure it’s public yet, so will stfu)

1550 to 1700 Victoria Coach Station

Saw a pigeon with a knackered leg – minister of funny walks stuff.

Read an academic article about the “governance” of socio-technical transitions – underwhelming, as so many are

London to Heathrow 1700 to 1800

On a coach bound for Bath

Same model, as best I can tell. How big is National Express’s fleet? How carbon intensive is it? Is there any realistic prospect of decarbonising it this side of the apocalypse? Is that Divine Comedy song their unofficial anthem?

Heathrow – Databases and walkways

Change shirt and wet wipe self. Check in absurdly quick, but that’s partly to having actually done the Australian government “please let me in” thing the night before (my printed off QR code turns up to be unnecessary – Ozzie computer says “yeah mate, no wucking furries” ). Bag has to be delivered to a specific bay because it’s soft and would get mangled. Straight through without my passport getting checked – barcodes on boarding passes. Webs of databases saying yes or no, clarifying and classifying.

Through customs – my peanut butter jar is confiscated- the prospect of hunger games in Changi looms.
I buy a London Review of Books and a Philosophy Now to remind myself I am an intellectual. I sit in the concourse and my computer remembers the wifi from last year. Webs of databases saying yes or no.

And of course, I am lucky not to have to sprint to my flight – it’s already boarding when I pootle over, striding out on those horizontal walkways, watching an older sister understand what her mother is too stressed/domineering to understand – that the younger sister is scared). I say “well done” quietly to the older sister, who has skilfully resolved the crisis…

Btw – The “we need to talk about the elephant” climate propaganda is still up, the stuff I took photos of last year. Everyone needs to believe they are doing their bit, that someone else should do more/fix it. To miss use a slogan, “me too.”

Tuesday to Wednesday

London to Singapore – Airbus 350-900

The flight is ridiculously empty, even for pandemic times. I am going to be able to properly stretch out. The constraints are presumably the onward flights, and the capacity for quarantine when you arrive.

My vegetarian options are sorted (I got the computer to say yes). The cabin crew are excellent of course.

My headspace is not there for Judas and the Black Messiah (I want to watch this, but Fred Hampton’s betrayal, state-sanctioned execution is not where I am at). Ditto for Promising Young Woman, which I start but abandon. I manage 40 -ish minutes of Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Fab cinematography (all the shadows etc, people in cool hats)

Give up, read, watch the Simpsons (30th season – how did that happen?). Doze/sleep.

At one point watch out window. We are high above a puffy blanket of clouds. It’s a threadbare blanket, because there are the lights of various settlements below. The air outside is far below freezing. I am flying in a machine that is the apotheosis of human ingenuity. That ingenuity is leading us – and all other species, and future generations – to catastrophe, probably within my lifetime if I stick around as long as my parents have. The red lights on the curved wing blink at me. The moon (full?) above. It’s eerie, and my words are no use, nor is my camera.

Wednesday to Thursday

Changi Airport, Terminal 2

Fed again, we land, are decanted, and thirteen of us brought through in a crocodile to one of the main points of Terminal 2 (familiar territory, to my shame) and onto a “Sky train” to be deposited in a large holding pen at the end of the A section.

15 bloody hours.

I could have possibly got my fat arse on the next flight from London, but what if it had been delayed or I missed it or something? I knew it was possible to get through. Even sans peanut butter, my oranges, bags of cashew nuts, biscuits etc are going to be enough.

I spend the time reading some Philosophy Now (the usual mix of stuff I remember from a long long time ago – the piece on Gramsci not bad) and LRB, and doing a thorough decluttering/refoldering/dumping of files on the laptop. (Terrible info management habits, slowly improving).

Marc Auge’s work on “Non-places” comes to mind…

Emails, obviously, including on projects I am very excited about.

A wet wipe shower and a change of clothes .

15 bloody hours come to an end, they always do. 70ish of us in a crocodile to get onto the next leg. Once I am sat, and the engines have started, I will begin to believe it is actually happening…

Thursday 24th June

Changi to Adelaide on another Airbus 350-900. Here’s an unintentionally beautiful photo.

And a prosaic one.

The only discernible difference is that this one has more modern in-flight entertainment – just touch screen controls, no fiddly hand thing on a lanyard.

I manage to watch bits of Tenet. Sleep deprived is probably the best way, because I have no expectation of myself of untangling the mobius strip-tease of it all. In the end (spoilers) it’s just timey-wimey, and Stephen Moffatt could have written the plot. It’s Bourne meets Marty McFly, via bits of Mission Impossible. But my is Elizabeth Debicki a fine actress, and someone I would see eye-to-eye with. I listen to a bunch of music – Abba, Bruce, Stevie Wonder, whatever.

Arrive at Adelaide by 1600 Lima time. A gestural health screening (but how can they NOT do it), passport and customs. Straight onto a coach (not like last year, where we were herded and left waiting for yonks. Someone has learnt something in the intervening 9 months).

Chatty driver telling folks about Adelaide on the quicker-than-promised trip (sensible to massage expectations downwards).

A short wait at the quarantine hotel as the previous coach unloads. Then the hotel director comes on board. Is at pains to tell everyone

a) yes, wifi. Instructions in the white envelope you will get inside

b) other standard rules (try to leave your room? There’s a grand fine right there) etc etc

Off I get, Collect my white envelope (with the wifi details etc). The police check my passport and room number and tell me the rules again. A very pleasant staff member escorts me to my room. I am in the door… 48 hours after getting on the 111 bus. One bus, three coaches, two planes, one “skytrain”. And at least five tonnes of carbon. Webs of databases, incremental invention, standardisations, info tech, regulation, state capitalist support (we haven’t even talked about Airbus as the product of European industrial policy here). If you trace the lineages back (and often not far) you come back to military imperatives. We are good at killing. Now we are killing everything.

And here I am. In my room, for two weeks of writing (I hope) with a side order of watching and thinking.


(1) It’s a Jimmy Cagney reference, from before everyone’s time. And anyway, it should be “the same side of the world as you, ma”

(2) Not sunny. Also, this.

One thought on “Skytrains, planes and automobiles (sorta) – 48 hrs of climate criminality, a confession

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  1. Yes, I was charged £2 (before 9:30 am) for a bus trip from Oxford Road Station to the Eye Hospital. I can remember when one could travel from Sale to Altrincham for 3 pence (old money) or Sale to Manchester of 6 pence (sorry for sounding like an old git!). I don’t think I could endure a journey to Australia; I have only been on 4 leisure flights in my life and a few business trips to Dublin; I preferred to go by train and ferry, gave me more time to think and plan. I find flying so boring, and annoying; it was one of the things which prompted me to join FlightFree! Pleased you have arrived safely and hope you can endure the quarantine.

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