Flying to DC and Congestion Charges
MY apologies for being quiet for so long, but I flew to the United States on March 16 for five days to visit an old friend and do some much needed shopping for shoes. Yes, you heard it right, shoes!
You see I have size 13 feet, size 47 European, so I find it hard to locate shoes my size in Saudi Arabia. They always seem to only have shoes up to size 45 and nothing larger. So, my gracious Washington, D.C. host, Barbara, took me to a wonderful designer discount shoe outlet where I was able to buy three pairs of shoes, including a black pair of Kenneth Cole ones that had been slashed from a recommended retail price of $150 to $95, which was then further reduced to $87! Only in America.
The day we went shopping was St. Patrick’s Day, and since Barbara is of Irish origin she wore green from head to toe the whole day. She was quiet disappointed when no one commented on her outfit, to which I pointed out: “Well, we haven’t run into anyone of Irish descent the whole day. All the people in the shops serving us have been either Hispanic or black.”
I flew on United Airlines to the US from London and didn’t regret it. Both ways I paid to upgrade myself to Economy Plus, which gives you a wider seat and much more leg room. It cost only £55 from London, and $79 from Washington, even though the check-in guy wanted to sell me a $550 upgrade to business class, which I naturally declined.
By a fluke of luck, my seat had extra, extra legroom on the flight to the US, so that I could actually stretch my very long legs out completely. It was heaven being able to fly without feeling like a sardine jam-packed into the ever-shrinking room given to Economy passengers on most airlines.
THE other thing that has been keeping me busy was the end of my three-month human rights course at the University of Nottingham. Last Saturday, I and the other 11 Chevening Fellows on the course left Nottingham for our two-week internships with NGOs in London.
What was supposed to be a journey that would take a maximum of three hours turned into a seven-hour drama after our hired mini-bus turned up without a baggage trailer that we had been promised by the university would be there.
Seriously, after staying somewhere for three months, it was only logical to assume that we had accumulated a fair amount of stuff. Stuff that would never fit in the back of the mini-bus.
Our driver Stewart was shocked at seeing the mountains of luggage that we had waiting for him when he finally showed up. Frantic calls were made to locate to an available trailer and one was found 45 minutes later. Bogged down by our two tons of luggage, the poor mini-bus struggled to go up inclines on the highway to London, finally depositing us to our hotel nearly four hours late.
HAVING a television in each our hotel rooms has been a relief for all of the Fellows, who were totally deprived of the boob tube while in Nottingham.
Even though we are limited to the five terrestrial channels and the BBC 24 news channel, we aren’t complaining, finding that being able to watch TV again, even if the program is boring, is so exciting that we’re grinning from ear to ear!
That’s what deprivation does to you.
FINALLY, according to the Evening Standard, the slightly loony mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has been at it again, this time attacking the US Ambassador to the UK Robert Tuttle for refusing to pay the infamous congestion charge that all cars entering central London are required to pay.
Livingstone instituted the £8 a day charge to lessen congestion, and although it has been effective in reducing congestion, around 50 embassies, including the Saudi one, are refusing to pay up, claiming the charge is a tax and not a levy, and thus claim exemption under the 1961 Vienna Convention.
Livingstone called Tuttle “a chiselling little crook”, even though the US Embassy was already refusing to pay the congestion charge long before Tuttle arrived in the UK.
I have to side with the Americans on this one. The congestion charge is a form of taxation and as such foreign missions are exempt from paying it.