The dense cloud cover over the Isle of Arran temporarily dispersed for the Brodick Highland Games on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug 4. The 60-something degree temperature seemed pleasantly cool for the St. Louisans in the crowd, but to the natives, it was hot.
Patrons of the games weaved through the game and food booths, the flying cabers, the pipe band and the dancers, to join the queue awaiting a cold scoop of ice cream from Isle of Arran Dairies.
“I want to provide great Scottish food and drink and make it easy to buy,” Alastair Dobson, Isle of Arran Dairies’ managing director, said.
Dobson’s father, Russell, started the company in 1978. The Dobsons raised their own dairy cows on a family farm until 2004. Dobson, who inherited the company in 1985, now runs the business with the help of his wife, Susan, and their three children, Ross, 10; Matthew, 20; and Hannah, 19.
Though not on their own farm anymore, the Dobsons source the milk for their ice cream within the 167-square-mile island. The milk—which Dobson dubbed “mountain milk”—is pasteurized differently than that of the average supermarket, giving Isle of Arran Dairies’ ice cream a distinctive taste.
“It's this special Arran milk churned in batches of 200 litres into ice cream, which makes the Italian-type ice cream refreshingly cold yet with a satisfying creaminess,” according to the company website.
In addition to the hyper-local milk, Dobson uses some local fruits in the ice cream, and carefully chooses other fruits and chocolates from Italy, for flavors including traditional flavors like Scottish tablet and raspberry ripple. He also trained in Italy to properly make ice cream.
“We know exactly where it comes from,” Dobson said of his ingredients.
When Dobson took over the company in 1985, he did so with the hope to ensure that he could continue to provide the Isle of Arran with good dairy products, because at that time, all the other small dairies were closing, he said. More than 25 years later, Isle of Arran Dairies is still providing the island with milk, cream, cheese and other dairy products. Many shops on the island carry Isle of Arran Dairies’ ice cream. Dobson said small shops on the island love to support other local businesses, and the tourists have come to expect it.
Over the past two years, though, Dobson said he has seen a decrease in sales of his products. The Isle of Arran, which is a very small island, depends upon tourists for their trade. Dobson said up to 70 percent of the island’s business comes from tourists. With a poor world economy, the island has seen fewer tourists than usual. He said business is just beginning to pick up again.
“I want our company to be sustainable, innovative, creative in creating a world market,” Dobson said.
In the future, Dobson hopes to expand Isle of Arran Dairies to reach other countries, including the United States. He is working towards getting his ice cream sold in supermarkets overseas. For now, though, the Dobsons are focusing on making high quality products that people of Great Britain have come to enjoy.
“We live in a very beautiful place,” Dobson said, “with little pollution that makes the taste of our products special.”
In 1850, William 11th Duke of Hamilton was looking for a place to kick back and hunt. His castle in Brodick on the eastern side of the Isle of Arran just wasn’t cutting it anymore. So William bought a 27,000-acre property, taking up a quarter of the island, and called it Dougarie.
Dougarie, in the northwest quarter of Arran, spans from the central western town of Machrie north to Lochranza. The estate cuts in about half of the 167 square-foot island.
Over 160 years after being originally bought as a shooting range for the Duke, Dougarie is still standing, with three cottages rented out to tourists and vacationers.
“The estate nestles in the Iorsa Glen, with craggy mountains as a backdrop and stunning seascapes to the front,” Jackie, Dougarie’s office manager, said via email. “It is the essence of Scotland.”
The Dougarie Estate was purchased by current owner Stephen Gibbs in 1972. Gibbs opened the estate to tourists, adding venues for golf and field sports. In addition, the region is rich with opportunities for hiking and a sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy coast to walk along the Firth of Clyde.
The three houses available for rentals are the High Dougarie Farmhouse, the House of Machrie and the Machrie Farm Cottage, all located near the main coastal road. Gibbs and his family, as well as other workers at the estate, live in various other properties on the estate.
Jackie, who has worked at the Dougarie Estate for just over a year, said working for Gibbs is “like being part of the family.”
The High Dougarie Farmhouse, where I stayed during my week on the Isle of Arran, sits high up on rocky crags. The front of the farmhouse overlooks the First of Clyde, and the fields in between are full of sheep. Jackie said a local farmer owns the sheep and leases the land from Gibbs.
On a typical summer night at the High Dougarie Farmhouse, the peaceful sound of waves and cry of sheep can be heard throughout the night. Archaic stone walls, about three feet high, border each property, with occasional barbed wire knotted with dirty-white clumps of wool. It is not uncommon to see a shepherd, complete with quintessential overalls, walking through his sheep pastures, a peppy border collie close at his heels.
Arran, an island located off the southwest coast of Scotland, is located in the Gulf Stream. This causes year-round mild temperatures. The island even features palm trees in the more heavily populated towns.
“The Isle of Arran is a magical place and I feel very privileged to live here, especially as I only moved here 18 months ago,” Jackie said via email.
The Duke of Hamilton was married to Princess Marie of Baden. Their daughter married Prince Albert of Monaco, then later married Count Tassilo Festetics of Hungary.
Forty years after being built, John Burnet Son and Campbell had the opportunity to renovate the estate. However, they did not follow through with building plans, so the estate still retains original design, according to an information sheet provided by Jackie. Dougarie still continues to be a sporting estate, as William the Duke had intended.
The Scottish tradition of marching pipe bands joined with the grace of dance, the drama of theater and the global unity of an international event at the 2012 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Visitors from countries around the world including Taiwan, Australia, South Africa and Canada filed in to the amphitheater built around the Edinburgh Castle for nightly performances of the Tattoo held throughout the month of August.
“The forecast tonight will be…dry!” the commentator announced over the speakers on Wednesday, Aug. 8. A round of cheers from the crowd welcomed his forecast, following by a burst of laughter from his next comment: “Just like it always is in the summer in Scotland.”
As the commentator shouted out the names of various countries asking spectators to show their nationalism by cheering, it seemed as though the event was attended entirely by tourists instead of native Scotsmen.
The first official Tattoo took place in 1950 and has since been a vital aspect of the annual Edinburgh Festival in the city, bringing in an estimated 70,000 visitors from outside the United Kingdom. The Tattoo has sold out in advance for the past 10 years. This year’s Tattoo was dedicated to celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen.
Peter Brew, of the Isle of Man (a small independent island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland), attended the Tattoo for the first time this year. Brew and his wife, Rene, were doing a tour of Scotland and had always heard about the event. They brought with them their son, Neil, and their friends, Audrey Bell and Gerard Trehy. Though it was the first time any of the group had attended the event, they said they have watched it on television for years.
“The Tattoo represents tradition,” Brew said. “It’s very unique, as far as I know.”
Military bands from both the United Kingdom and around the world compose Tattoo performances. Performances at the Tattoo this year included a tribute to the Disney/Pixar film “Brave,” which is based in Scotland, a summary of history’s most famous comic book superheroes, dazzling light shows and even electric guitar solos. Performances featured both theatrical props and projected images.
The Top Secret Drum Corps, a band based out of Switzerland, performed at the Tattoo for the fourth year, after making its debut at the 2003 Tattoo. The Top Secret Drum Corps is made up of musicians who only drum as a hobby, and the band is one of the first non-military acts to perform at the event. The band created a memorable performance, with flashing lights on the body of the drums.
Light shows such as the one created by the Top Secret Drum Corps were even more impressive because of the setting of the Tattoo. The event was held each night at dusk. As the sun set behind the Edinburgh Castle, the sky went alight with shades of pink, orange and purple. When the bands were finished with their performances, fireworks ignited the sky behind the castle.
“It’s done at dusk to make it more spectacular,” Brew said. “The whole place will be lit up.”
The word “Tattoo” is derived from the Dutch word for “last orders.” Originally, tattoo was a signal in taverns, played by a regiment’s drum corps to instruct the bar to close their ale taps. This would cause soldiers to return to their beds at a decent hour. A large bronze ale keg was also rolled around the amphitheater at this year’s Tattoo, signifying the rich history the event has in Great Britain.
Kate Smurthwaite in the World of Funny
Every year the summer brings the funny filled event called PBH’s Free Fringe to Edinburgh, Scottland. Comedians from various parts of the globe with different levels of experience, stand center stage with the challenge to enforce at least one laugh from audience members. Kate Smurthwaite, one of the many comedians participating in the event, accepts this challenge every time she makes her away across the stage to cast out her wits about current events that involve her principle interests of feminism, secularism as well as human rights. This comedienne and political activist female is known very well for her outspoken personality as well as her fierceness of a real woman.
Growing up Kate learned the importance of making a living for yourself. As a result of her father having a money focused mindset, she felt growing up that “you owed him something” because he stressed his importance of being a finically supporter of the family in paying bills and various things. Her mother on the other hand played a huge role in taking on various forms of communication. As a result of being her mother being partially deaf, Kate took up British Sign Language in which she has a fluency in. Later on in life it lead this British English speaker to take on Japanese and French. The money focus aspect as well as the various forms of communication formulated the fundamentals of her decision making process in creating a career in the funny business.
Currently living in London, United Kingdom this 36, now single, woman stumbled on top of her current career in stand up comedian after undergoing many experiences. From involving herself in extreme sports that included both white water rafting to dangerous wing walking on airplanes in the air to counting money at a job at a bank, Smurthwaite has worked in some interesting fields. In hitting both the human service industry, where a monkey could have done the job, and entertainment industry, this independent woman has a full time career in comedy, where throwing tomatoes does not normally happen. A comic professional for over eight years, when questioned what type of persona she strives to have she mentions how “I’m trying not to be Robin Williams but trying to be John Stuert”. Her eagerness in the desire to address various controversial news produced by the media, reveals itself many times during her stand up shows in which her famous one liner in saying “Don’t Move I haven’t finish” finds its place nearing the end of many of her shows. Since money does not grow on tress, her comedy performances have become the main source of her income. Smurthwaite not only performs stand up but also teaches it as well as write it. The source of her “bread and butter to pay bills”, however, is located at SOHO Comedy Club in a casino where she host there as well as performing at the MC Central London. Other sources to her fame as a comedian include Adrenaline, Apes like me, and The News at Kate.
The comedian career lead Smurthwaite to independently support herself, relaying on no man for his green, and concept a new form of communication to her list in expressing her ideals and beliefs through entertainment. She also discovered a new social group of people whom she associates herself with on both a personal level and a professional comedian level. Smurthwaite mentions how these individual “comedians are friendly and help each other out” and that when you least expect it “comedians having a beer will lead to material for your stand-ups”.
A Sports lover’s Fun
Monday September 10, 20012
On August 4, 2012, Located on the Isle of Arran in the town of Brodick, the 125th Highland Games took place. In interviewing locals as well as those in charge of the event, there was an estimation of over 2,000 people partaking in the various Highland events. A local described the history about the highland games as a Scottish tradition in how it “originates from the Scottish Clan system, which dates back hundreds and hundreds years ago. The event would be the main attraction of the area in which men would compete in various games to test his skill, strength and endurance in order to prove his ability to be the most skilled and prepared fro battle”.
Events in the Brodick Highland 2012 Games include various competitions from track events held on the 300 meter grass course as well as highland dancing, tossing of the caber and a very intense pillow fight. Various competitors came from the United States as well as the main homeland of Scotland and even some from the island itself. Many local bag pipe bands performed for the crowd to initiate the start of the games as well as to signify the ending of the games. The track events consisted of various age groups that included the categories for both males and females of ages 11-13, ages 13-15, and Senior level (age 15 and above). One particular competitor had a very interesting response when questioned about her participations in the Highland Games, “My parents brought me to the Brodick Highland Games during the summer and I ran that 50meter dash as a child and have been doing a race event almost every year since”. Natalie MacDonald placed 2nd in the 400 meter dash as well as placed 2nd in the 800meter dash for that day taking home two cash prizes as well as a pride in knowing she ran both barefooted and still came out strong.
Other competitors included many individuals from various running cubs. One particular group was a group of female individuals that ranged from the ages of 11-15 who were excited about running their track events. Many ran the track distance’s of 400 meters or less but one competitor in particular went outside the box of not only just competing in the running events but the ultimate pillow fight. The main objective to this challenging competition is to knock out the other individual with a pillow before he/she knocks you out. Both participates are placed on a log at least 3 feet off the ground, straddling it, with very little balance and with no hand contact to hold themselves up. Standing at over 5 feet and 10 inches, this particular 11 year old was wanting to win, “Its clearly the best and most favored of all the events. Its hard but intense and to win will not only get you the cash prize but also because its so much fun.” She ended up fighting in the pillow fight championship and manage to take out a male of similar age and height in the final round thus claiming the winnings and the pride.
The discovery of the history among many individuals at the event raises a very commonality among Scottish individuals as well as their ancestors in how it is related to the Highland Games. This commonality is spread and as a result raises a high moral among individuals across the board who come in contact with the event promoting a positive atmosphere.
Whiskey Whiskey: A Little Drinky Drink
Monday: 8 October 2012
Jane S. M. McKibben
Isle of Arran also famously known as “Scotland in Miniature” is home to many sheep and a small population over 5,000 locals. This island is also home to a significant distillery that is famous for its award winning Arran Single Malt whisky. Isle of Arran Distillery, established in 1995, has many visitors during the summer that pay for the tour around the establishment to learn its history and test their taste buds with a serving of the famous whiskey. The tour guide openly greets and welcomes all. She mentions how this particular distillery is “one of the few independent distilleries left in Scotland that has not been globally ran by outside countries”. Located in Lochranza on the Isle of Arran that is West Coast between Ayrshire and Kintyre, the distillery has a cozy and comfortable atmosphere to it as the building sits between rolling mountains surrounded by a grassy landscape. The tour guide, during her tour in the distillery, mentioned the top three reasons for the creation and explanation of the whiskey establishment to be located on the Isle of Arran: “When the founder of our distillery was trying to determined where to place this distillery he choose the Isle of Arran for three main reasons. That being that the island has the purest water supply in all of Scottland, the gulf stream feeds the warm waters of Arran creating the microclimate that is ideal conditions for speedy maturation of single malt whiskies and Isle of Arran having a reputation for producing top quality whisky”. The water source that the distillery uses comes from Easan Bioarch River while the type of barley used to produce the whiskey is that of a variety called Optic and the casts used for maturation are Ex-Bourbon Barrels (200L), Ex-Sherry Hogshead (250L), and Butts (500L). During the tour guide, tourist are given the opportunity to test their test buds with the famous whiskey. Many tourist and visitors describe the whiskey as having a “watery clear appearance which you either are going to enjoy or dislike”. Those who dislike the whiskey describe the smell and taste of that compared to rubbing alcohol. The distillery is not only famous for its single malts but also its blends and cream liqueur. Its most famous cream liqueur, Arran Gold, has a smooth and creamy taste and texture to it that leave a heavenly refreshing taste to it. To outsiders, it has been know to be compared to Bailey’s Irish Cream but to those who have tried both and know the creation process it goes through, see this outsider’s perspective as an insult. When asked about the difference between the Bailey’s Irish Cream and Arran Gold, the tour guide mentioned how there is a much higher quality of the Arran Gold and almost all its ingredients come from the Island. However, she did shyly admitted, after questioned, that the cream itself comes from “Ireland because the quality of the creame is a lot better over there but we usually shy away from mentioning this fact and only address it when asked but you will get what you paid for”. The distillery still continues to host tours of its establishment during various weeks during the summer when it is not active while also sells its products yearly in its gift shop.￼
Scotland is known for its Highland Games and on the Isle of Arran; the Brodick Highland Games are similar to a big family reunion. The weather on the Island was cold and rainy during the week, but on the day of the festival the sun shone as brightly as the smiles saying “hiya.” The smell of grilled onions coming from the hamburger stand at the festival smelled like a childhood visit to Maxwell Street in Chicago. The taste of beef mixed with oats must be acquired.
While on the Isle, don’t bother with the beef. Go for the cheese. The Isle of Arran Cheese shop sells cheese all over the Island, including the festival. The crushed stem ginger and the caramelized onion cheeses are fantastic. Any hamburger disappointment will quickly vanish when the log toss begins.
The most famous of the Highland games, men and women are challenged to stand 20 ft. long, 200 pound logs upright and toss them so that they land in a perfect 12’o clock position. Scores of men accepted the challenge as did one woman but only one man succeeded in meeting the challenge as he had for the last five years in a row.
Men and women dressed in full costume for the pipe band competitions at the games also partook of the pale ale that flowed freely while they laughed and joked with their family and friends and posed for the many pictures taken that day. The pipe bands marched around the sport field, parading their skills to the audience, while a lone piper played a separate tune for the Highland dancers whose performance on a nearby stage appeared very similar to a ballet.
Edinburgh is known for its Festivals. In August of each year the city holds two festivals; the Military Tattoo and the Fringe Festival. Edinburgh was filled to capacity with people from all over the world for these two festivals. Older people braved the long lines winding around Edinburgh castle to attend the Tattoo where Military bands from all over the world, including the United States performed. Young people filled the streets of Edinburgh to attend the Fringe events.
The Military Tattoo is a show of music and lights complete with fireworks and two tornado fighter jets. The Australian band included singers and Norway’s drill team marched with the accompaniment of an electric guitarist. The United States band played superhero themes from television cartoon shows and displayed a colored light show of comic book characters using the castle front as its screen.
Without a doubt, the Top Secret Drum Corp was the highlight of the 2012 Tattoo. A non-military drum corps based in Switzerland; the Top Secret drummers play in a fashion similar to military drum corps but much faster. Their antics on the field included spinning flags, sword play with their drum sticks, and drums that light up when struck. A group of part-time drummers, they played with a professionalism spun from genuine passion for the drums. The drummers really appeared to be have a good time showing off their skills to the screaming spectators.
The Fringe is a month long series of music, theatre, comedy and art. Most of the performances take place in public buildings and night clubs for a moderate entry fee. During the early afternoon hours, performers take their acts on the street to entice city visitors to the paid performances. Throughout the day, tourists witness the strange: a man walking down the street with a TV on his head, a group of young people dressed in towels carrying a bathtub, or young men dressed in sheets arguing and stabbing each other with paper swords.
The best food in Edinburgh: Saigon, Saigon; a Chinese Buffet on Princes’ Street and Mother India on Infirmary street, the absolute best Indian food on the planet. The lemon and cashew rice at Mother India should go on everyone’s bucket list. The flavor was both incredible and intense and one bite only made you want another. If you are fortunate enough to have leftovers, morning will not come soon enough to relieve the unbelievable experience again. There are good and horrible lattes everywhere. Café Misu serves a Tiramisu Latte that words cannot describe. Magic tricks for the mouth.
Edinburgh streets around the University area are closed to traffic and performers crowd the street telling dirty jokes, juggling saws, riding unicycles; playing guitars and keyboards and horns; singing and laughing and acting. Street vendors sell all types of ethnic cuisine along with jewelry and other trinkets. It is possible to have a fantastic time in Edinburgh during the Fringe without purchasing a single Fringe ticket. You just need to follow the crowds and the laughter.
Photo by Linda Williams
The caves are now filled with sheep, but not too long ago on the Isle of Arran, women called these caves home and it was where they raised their families. Robert the Bruce took refuge in a cave, resulting in the now famous “King’s Cave”. Famous or not, the road to King’s Cave or any other cave on the Isle is paved with mud and sheep poo and the adventure is not for the olfactory sensitive. The Isle of Arran Heritage Museum provides a display of cave life for those who want the education but who choose to forgo the cave dwelling experience.
The Machrie Moor stone circle requires some navigation through miles of sheep pastures. The first stones are about a mile into the pasture. The sight of the first stones are a little discouraging and might make some reconsider whether the trip in direct sunlight, with no walkway, through smelly sheep, an overabundance of sheep poo and mud is rewarding.
Further down the muddy path lie the remains of a crumpling and long abandoned farmhouse. It is clear the fireplace was both a place where meals were cooked and where the family derived its only source of heat. It is a tiny room, scarcely large enough for a table and a bed. But it is the farmhouse that places the journey in perspective and alerts the visitor that this is not a Disneyland tour. It is a trip back into history, into another way of living, thinking and surviving.
The farmhouse is a reminder of how people once lived without television and cell phones and internet and electricity and running water and toilets and carpeting and window screens and heat and washing machines and cars and stoves. The people who lived in the farmhouse did not drive an hour to a building where they sat for eight hours in a climate controlled environment. They lived with the sunshine and the rain on their faces every day. On this land people performed manual labor instead of pushing pencils for a living. They killed to eat and pulled their vegetables out of their front yard.
The woman who lived in this farmhouse did not walk three miles on an elliptical; ending in the same place she began her walk. She walked two miles to the road to begin her walk through sheep poo; but she also walked through fields filled with flowers, up grassy hills and down moss covered rocks right next to the seaside. Her walk ended at a friend’s house, or school or church.
The family who resided in the farmhouse did not travel 3000 miles to see the Machrie Moor stones because they had a view that was quite intimate. Did they know these stones were 4000 years old? No doubt they did know the stones were associated with legends of giants and powerful men. Perhaps they considered the fact that they lived in a house and not a cave an indication that they were blessed by the stones.
The last set of stones are about a quarter mile from the farmhouse but these stones are by far the best and most overwhelming set of stones at Machrie Moor. While one might wonder what the occupants of the farmhouse actually knew about the ancient stones, it takes only a glimpse of the 18 foot high stone to make one realize that they are in the presence of something just a little bit special. To be certain, anyone who lived on that land felt exactly the same way.
When I told a childhood friend of mine that I was traveling to Scotland, he immediately asked, “Why are you going to a place where they hate us?” I confess that I did not know if the “us” he referred to was “American” or “African American.” I was unable to find much information about the average European’s attitude toward African Americans on the internet and I left for Scotland not sure what might lie ahead. I found myself very pleasantly surprised by the Scots’ response toward me.
My first contact on Scotland’s soil was admittedly a little chilly. I needed some help finding the other members of my traveling party and the gentleman behind the information desk suggested I return to KLM for assistance. Three women sat behind the KLM check-in counter, chit chatting with each other and completely ignoring my presence. I waited a while before I excused myself and asked if they would page my party. Very unconcerned, they told me that they did not “do that” and they went back to chit chatting as if I was not there. An hour later, I asked for assistance at the check-in counter next to KLM and the customer service staff member accommodated me and paged my party.
My group rented a car, ate at a not-so-tasty Indian restaurant, rode the ferry from Glasgow to the Isle of Arran, found our way to our 100 year old farmhouse and although I was extremely exhausted, I could not help but notice how kind everyone was.
I had some great moments on the Isle of Arran, like the time a large Scot, who’d stayed a little too long with the ale, grabbed and hugged me, kissing me on the neck. I had a chuckle with a woman in my favorite bakery when I asked where she was from because I could barely understand her and she told me that she didn’t “have an accent.”
I took a brief and exhausting trip to London on the last days of the Olympics. The city was so packed with tourist that I purchased a 48 hour tour bus pass and stayed on the bus. One would think the residents of London would have grown weary of the tourist circus but again, I experienced extraordinary kindness.
Minutes after I arrived at my hotel room in London, I rushed out again, eager to see the city. I forgot to bring with me the name and address of the hotel and I spent three hours wandering around Buckingham Palace with no clue where I belonged. I met a gentleman who offered to provide me with a sim card so I could use my phone. I also spent some time with two cops who attempted to plug the vague recollections I had of the hotel’s location into a navigation system and help me find my way home. They were helpful in getting me back to the train station where I retraced my steps and found my hotel. The following day, I shared my experience with a tour bus driver and he drove off his route to drop me within one block of my hotel. I told another bus driver I’d never seen the eye of London and when we arrived, he came upstairs to point it out and make sure I took a picture of it.
The hostel in Glasgow allowed me to leave my luggage in the room at no charge while I traveled to London. As is typical of me, when I returned from London I had no idea the name or address of the hostel. I met a wonderful taxi driver who helped me find my way from the only landmark I remembered, Mother India restaurant. He was such a great guy, I asked him to pick me up at the ungodly hour of 4am and take me to the airport for my 6am flight. At 3:45am he carried my bags from the hostel porch and I was on my way to another adventure.
The internet in the UK is not the same internet we know and take for granted in America. There are few websites that allow you to pay on line and you cannot check in and obtain your boarding pass on line, at least not if you are traveling on KLM airlines. KLM is a very special airline and I don’t mean special in a good way. It is my belief that they only have three employees in Glasgow and these were the same three women I encountered my first day in Scotland.
I stood in the line for 30 minutes waiting for my turn to check my bags only to be told that while I brought two bags into the country, I could only take one bag out. That is, unless I wanted to pay $50. When airlines began to charge extra for luggage, I decided not to patronize those particular airlines. I checked the baggage allowance for Delta’s international travel before I purchased my ticket, I printed the information and I complied with their requirements. I brought with me one large bag under 50 pounds, and another carry-on sized luggage filled with books. On my way home, the rules changed and KLM, a partner of Delta wanted $50 for my second bag. To make matters worse, I could not find my print-out of the rules. I asked the employee at the ticket counter to check the internet for the policy but she told me that they did not have internet in the airport. Convenient.
I am a financial statement auditor. I measure others on their adherence to the rules. I was dismayed that the rules changed at the end of the game, but I’m flexible. I told the KLM employee that I would carry one bag on the plane with me. Any reasonable person would have expected that to be the end of the matter but the situation did not end there. The employee told me to place all my carry-on items on scale and if my items weighed more than 20 pounds I was still required to pay. My luggage, my purse and my blanket totaled 25 pounds. This employee still wanted $50 from me.
As a matter of principle, I refused to pay to take the same items home I’d brought into the country for free and I asked what my options were. The KLM employee told me to go through my belongings, decide what was important to me and throw everything else away. I was stunned to say the least. What this employee did not know is that I am a road warrior and I never travel with anything that is important to me. I followed her instructions and threw away all my books, all the travel brochures I’d accumulated during my stay as well as all my personal hygiene products over four ounces. I reduced my carry-on weight to her satisfaction or dissatisfaction and proceeded to the gate.
Once at the gate, I asked for a customer evaluation card because I wanted to have my say about my bizarre experience. I was told I had to wait until the boarding personnel arrived. Of course, since KLM only has three employees in Glasgow, the same three women came upstairs to assist with boarding. Needless to say, I did not receive a customer evaluation card. In fact, the “customer service” employee had a few new experiences for me.
I was told that some of the “passengers” in the line behind me said that I took my discarded items out of the trash before I left for the gate. I could not believe my ears. The rule follower in me was incensed. In an effort to defend my character, I asked her to check the trash and/or to re-weigh my carry-on items. She called me “ridiculous.” In her final play, she flashed her satanic grin and said “you don’t appear to be in any condition to fly. I don’t think you should get on the plane.” I looked around me and saw four armed guards at the boarding gate. I got her point.
I believe that even at 5am, in my exhausted state I was very well behaved. I saw no need for her power play. Before I crawled on my belly to my seat, I asked her for her name and title. She said, “my name is Carol and I am the only Carol her at this airport.” She refused to provide her title and when I spotted it on her name tag I understood why the past hour had been so unpleasant for me. Carol was not a manager or a supervisor but a “hand bag handler.” She was someone with no stake in the success of KLM. She viewed customers as the inconvenient part of her job and if only all the customers would just go away, she could actually enjoy coming to work. “Carol the hand bag handler” could not care less if I ever flew on KLM again and at that moment I felt I would never fly Delta either.
For 50 minutes I sat exhausted on the plane to Amsterdam, afraid to look around me because I imagined the “passengers” on the plane believed me to be some type of criminal. I wanted to buy tulip bulbs for a friend who’d recently purchased a house in Chicago, but I was afraid security was following me around the airport in Amsterdam so I proceeded straight to the boarding gate. When a Delta employee asked for my luggage ticket, I realized “Carol the hand bag handler” had not given it to me and I began to cry. I told the Delta employee about my experience with “Carol the hand bag handler.” She confirmed that I was indeed entitled to check two pieces of luggage. She told me that Carol’s comments to me were “unacceptable.” She left me and returned with her boss who was a manager, and he had in his hand a boarding pass that put the smile back on my face. He’d moved me to FIRST CLASS.
It is a different world in first class. “We” enjoyed champagne while we sat on the tar mat waiting for plane to take off. We enjoyed our mixed nuts in a glass bowl, not a pouch. I didn’t need my blanket in first class because we received quilts and a full sized pillow and my chair reclined to a… BED and I could sleep if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to sleep. Why would I want to sleep through this first class experience? I didn’t want to miss a thing. I pulled my quilt up to my chest and I wished the “passengers” who lied on me and the “passengers” who paid the extortion fee because they did not have the courage of their convictions, could see me now. Thank you “Carol the hand bag handler!”
In first class, they served me a shrimp appetizer on a real plate with a cloth napkin, a real salad in a glass bowl, delicious hot soup with a real spoon, hot rolls and soft butter, mashed potatoes that actually came from potatoes, chicken that looked and tasted better than chicken and crisp, not limp asparagus. I should have said no to desert but I did not. I had the fresh baked cookie for a snack too. After my second glass of wine, I forgot all about “Carol the handbag handler.”
In the travel kit all the first class passengers received, I found socks to keep my feet warm. I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth with the toothbrush they provided me. I hoped those “passengers” caught a glimpse of me. I forgot all about the books I threw away, I watching movies on my private screen TV with headphones, not ear buds. The eight hour flight went by much too fast. When I arrived in Detroit, Delta airlines checked the bag “Carol the hand bag handler” would not check... and for free.