Ash cloud starts to pall in the big smoke

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

‘Homeless – please help’

As I lean over to give the poor black woman on Madison Avenue a few Dollars, I can’t stop myself commenting: “So am I…”

She smiles at me with a confused expression.

Day five of my extended stay in New York and metropolitan fever is starting to set in. While it would be unfair to say that I can’t swing a cat in my hotel room, I have to say it would be badly bruised if I did.

From my bedroom window at the Four Points hotel on West 40th Street I have a none too joyful view of a brick building and some run-down looking offices just a few feet away. The hotel only has three elevators, and full volcano-driven occupancy over its 32 floors. Therefore it’s usually quicker to simply take the stairs. I may be fed up as hell but boy is the fitness coming along well.

I’m trying to make the most of my time here but after the breaking news of the volcano cloud I’m now being hit by an outbreak of broken legs. I was due to have dinner with Steve Corrigan of Pernod Ricard Travel Retail North Americas but his lovely wife Joanne had a fall and broke her leg on Friday night.

Last night our designer Ray Heath broke his leg during a football match in London and as we know accidents come in threes. If any reader would like to break theirs so that I don’t complete the chain, I am prepared to offer a generous incentive.

I can’t even get plastered in another sense to drown my sorrows as I’m running a high fever. Like so many travellers around the world I am frustrated, fed up and just pining to get home.

So are others in travel retail. Eamon Foley and Nick Forbes of Aer Rianta International are stuck in Moscow; Andrew Carter and the Bacardi European travel retail team were stranded in Lisbon but have secured a coach to Calais from whence they hope to be able to catch a ferry tomorrow night.

Maurice Doyle and Peter Gordon of William Grant & Sons were looking at approximately ten more days before they could escape banked-up Hong Kong and were even considering taking the Trans-Siberian Railway home. However, word reaches us that they have reached Marseilles via Dubai and that England beckons, even if they have to swim the channel.

My colleague Dermot Davitt (who had already been away for a week in the Philippines) was similarly stranded in Hong Kong. His chances of getting back to Galway any time soon were about as likely as getting an airline representative to answer a 24-hour ‘help line’, so he’s now caught a 15-hour flight to New York and has just joined me this afternoon at the Four Points where we can at least commiserate with one another.

Word reaches us from Kevin Walsh, co-owner of Premier Portfolio, about the latent ingenuity in the travel retail sector. I’ll let Kevin take up the story:

“Andrew [Webster, co-owner –Ed] and I were also stranded in Italy (in Bologna). So with all hire cars booked, trains already fully booked and the possibility of a French rail strike, no tickets with Eurostar and P&O full we put on our travel thinking caps….

“We eventually went by taxi on Friday at 12.30 noon, 165 kms an hour to the Italian border at a cost of €500. Our good friend Taxi Marc from Cannes met us at Ventimiglia an hour from Cannes at 5.30p.m. Taxi Marc took us to Cannes, where we picked up Dennis his co-pilot for the 1200 km drive to Caen in Normandy. We arrived in Caen at 5.35 am Saturday morning … cost €2400.

“Our very good friends from Britanny Ferries, on hearing our plight, kindly offered us a place on the 8.10 am ferry with a lovely cabin free of charge. We arrived Portsmouth at 13.10p.m Saturday. Collection from Portsmouth for me and Gatwick for Andrew… cost £100. All I can say is thank goodness for Mastercard…”

Indeed. My own has also proved useful. 

But with all these extra flights and hotel rooms the Moodie budget is now exploding in a manner that would do a certain Icelandic volcano proud and is headed towards £5,000. Hence I lunched in some humility today at ‘Weng’s Palace’, a Chinese cafe and takeaway two doors down from my hotel that is sandwiched between an adult movie shop and a liquor store that has seen better days – probably about 40 years ago.

Weng's Palace_Small

There I ate scalding chicken and sweetcorn soup while the lady proprietor in turn scalded her partner with a high-pitched, non-stop tirade of what, even with my poor knowledge of Chinese, sounded more like severe spousal abuse than ‘Can I have an order of shrimp and eggplant in garlic sauce’. I’m staying in a part of New York called Hell’s Kitchen and I may just have discovered how it got the name.

As I write, things have just taken a turn for the better. Much of Europe’s airspace is opening tomorrow, permitting flights into the UK (if not to southern England). I’m just praying that the improvement in conditions will last till Wednesday night when I’m due to take off from JFK to Heathrow. Even if Heathrow isn’t open, get me to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Blackpool, Teesside, anywhere.

Everywhere I go here tourists are wearing ‘I Love New York’ caps and t-shirts. I do too, but the affection is waning fast.

[Postscript: Just after I finished this Blog, I logged on to Sky News to be greeted by the headline ‘More delays: New volcano cloud heads towards the UK’. This is not funny any more. And it sure ain’t fair.]

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