Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Truth is powerful.

A little over a month ago I was at the Women's March in Dublin.


There were at least five thousand people marching with me in Dublin, and I was marching with five million people around the world that day. Making our voices heard and our presence felt, making clear that we dissent and being clear that we have better alternatives. It was a good day, of quietly spoken and loudly shouted opposition to an unfair world and propositions for a better one. Those messages are as strongly felt now, they grow stronger and are made more necessary with each passing day. Let's not forget that experience and that presence, that massive, massive force. We'd do well to pay more attention to and take more sustenance from it, today and each day that feels bleaker than the last.

I think a major mistake is being made in that we - the media, the general public, commentators, writers, as well as those who have and stand for alternatives - keep playing the tune of a man we claim to despise and whose message for the world is destructive and dangerous. I won't mention his name as you already know it and it's better for everyone if it's not said. Instead of ignoring a man who will do anything for attention, we keep giving him the attention he craves for doing and saying things we claim to disapprove of. As we all know from childhood, this is not how to deal with an attention-seeking, ignorant, loud-mouthed bully. He appears deeply insecure despite being immensely powerful, and insecure people are very dangerous. We continually allow ourselves to be distracted by what he wants us to be distracted by. We ignore and fail to oppose the truly destructive things he is doing because we focus on the latest outrage he has concocted, particularly when that distraction is a nonsensical, inconsequential thing he's said or claimed is true, or indeed claimed is fake. We need to focus instead on opposing the actions that are truly causing damage and maintaining that focus unwaveringly until things change, and at the same time maintaining our efforts to create and strengthen better alternatives such as equality, fairness, solidarity, inclusiveness and sustainability.


A first stage is to oppose his policies and everything he stands for. Examples were evident at the Women's March, with signs such as these reading "Love Tr*mps Hate" and "Untr*mp the world". At least these are a step in the right direction towards subverting his message, even inverting it, rather than parroting it wholesale with neutered shrieks of outrage attached, usually honed into Twitter-length bon mots that evaporate even as they are typed. But we need to go further than that. Just visible in the background was one of the most powerful messages I saw at the Women's March:


"Truth is powerful and it prevails." I believe this. Perhaps it would be more accurate, if cynical, to say I believe the first part and fight for the second. Unfashionable as it is to say I think we need to focus on the truth. There is a truth. The truth. There are as many different perspectives on truth as there are people in the world, and all of those perspectives are part of the truth, but in my old-fashioned view, there is the truth, which includes all of those different views, different realities, different knowledges. And truth is different to falsehood, to lies, to fictions, to unrealities. I think we need to focus more on what is true. I think we need to do this particularly now when so much of what is true is under attack, and when so much of what is false is being lauded and elevated as all that matters. While simultaneously we are told that there is no difference between truth and falsehood, that what is true is actually false, that only the lies are real. We need to keep telling the truth, about the world as it is. And about how it could be. We need to voice too the truths that are not often heard. Don't let your post-modern sensibilities and the contemporary uncoolness of truth blind you to the dangers of believing habitual liars who happen to be very powerful. We need to refuse to be distracted by their fireworks, 'facts' and funny stories. Don't grant this man and his many associates the power to tell you what to think about, or what to think about it. I suggest ignoring the majority of nonsense that he wants you to be distracted and outraged by but ineffectual about. Instead focus on what matters, and remain focused on that. Focus on what is true. And then focus on doing something real about it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Action plan.

I have been trying to think about what we can do in these dark and difficult and rapidly deteriorating times. I have thought that there is a kind of template for action, that applies to any work to make the world better, and then there are the specifics of what needs to be done to counteract the actions of Trump as President of the USA, his administration and all those who support these destructive, hateful, inhumane ways of running our shared world. The template that has run through my mind has been:

1. Ready yourself

2. Educate yourself

3. Join with others

4. Show solidarity

5. Take action

6. Take direct action

7. Reflect

8. Re-energise

9. Sustain

Remember you're not alone. More are with us than with him.

Women's March in Dublin photos

More to come.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Traditions always evolve.

Traditions always evolve. I love cheese. Most years, I buy Christmas cheese, from Sheridan's cheesemongers in South Anne Street in Dublin. Whatever cheeses I want, to eat, to share, to give.

This year I bought Christmas cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy, in London, a city where I have ostensibly lived for the last three or so years.


Christmas cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy, London.

The next day I moved home to Dublin, Ireland, where I intend to live for the next little while. I took the cheese with me of course. And two days later I went to Sheridan's cheesemongers in Dublin, and bought my Christmas cheese.


Christmas cheese from Sheridan's cheesemongers, Dublin.

The cheese from London informs and coexists with the cheese in Dublin, here on my kitchen table in Dublin. I take what I have, and it comes with me. I am what I am, wherever I am. I eat, I share, I give. Utopia travels with me. Moving and being. Traditions always evolve.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Hard to believe this was only last month.


Lough Leane and the Macgillycuddy Reeks, Kerry, Ireland.

Seems like another era. A different time. A changed person. Last week does too.

I've climbed the mountain, Carrantuohil, the highest mountain in Ireland, that is somewhere in this photograph, among the Macgillycuddy Reeks. I've touched the water in this lake, Lough Leane, in Killarney. I've edited this photo to cut bits I don't like out, to make it look better, to make it seem more what I am trying to represent. But it remains what it is. The photo is crooked and right now I cannot change that. The water in the lake is always on the level. It was always balanced to my touch. I will always have climbed that mountain. I will climb many more. And I will always touch the water.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Water every where.


Regent's Canal, London.

It is all about the water.


Seapoint, Dublin.

It's always


Beach under Millennium Bridge, London.



Lough Leane, Killarney.



Grand Canal, Dublin.

the water.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Twenty twenty.

Are things better or worse than they were twenty years ago? That's a question I find myself asking myself, and other people bringing up, especially recently. Sometimes it's just the questioning of what is happening in the world today, which seems particularly bad, but we find ourselves wondering, how bad is it? Is it worse than five years ago, or ten, or twenty? Or is it just that we're more aware of what is happening or things are reported more? Or perhaps it is not the case but rather it is that we are continually being primed to think that current world events are a non-stop barrage of horror, violence and unnecessary suffering. We are told that this is normal, even acceptable or to be expected, rather than say occasional aberrations from an otherwise functional, healthy society. At the same time there seem to be few alternatives being demonstrated or compelling visions on offer, or at least the alternatives that do exist are not given much airtime, nor are nascent possibilities for a better world allowed much room to develop, solidify and reach a point where they could offer real alternatives. And there appear to be even fewer voices or forms of leadership, whether individual or collective, that seem able to articulate real alternatives, or who are in fact interested in doing so. Rather such leaders as there are seem focussed on profiting off the fear, hatred and hopelessness bred by repeated horrific events, imposed wide-scale financial suffering, man-made environmental crisis and rapidly changing cultural pressures. What is going on? And is it better or worse than twenty years ago?

When I think back to the 1990s it does seem like a more positive and hopeful time. I was a teenager and in my early twenties during that decade. For me, and for many of my generation, the 1990s began with two pivotal events. There was the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. I remember watching this happen on TV, with my family, glued to the set in the living room as thousands of people broke free, climbed onto the wall or broke massive concrete sections down, singing and celebrating as they joined with their comrades and families from the other side. The oppressive form of Communism which had dominated eastern Europe for decades was essentially ended that night, and in the revolutions that followed. It felt like and was an incredible event. And it was peaceful. There had of course been violence for decades prior, both the Cold War and 'hot' conflicts, but it ended without violence, without conflict, without people killing or being killed, without shots being fired or bombs thrown. Seeing that happen, at a young age, was hugely influential for me, and was the time that I see as the beginning of my political consciousness.

Then there was the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990. The freedom that he had long been walking to. As a new generation, along with so many others of every age, we witnessed the final piece of that walk, where he was set free. Again I watched that with my family around the TV, Mandela emerging into the sunshine from his prison after 27 years. I still remember how it looked, the fences, the people gathered to see this happen, Mandela himself. And while of course it could not wipe out the killings and horrors of decades of apartheid, it was in a way the end of apartheid, or the beginning of the end and the start of a new way of being for South Africa, and perhaps the world. That was the start of the 1990s. To me and to many others those two events set the tone for global affairs at that time.

Over the course of that decade, much less noticed of course, but alternatives began to gather steam and gradually to become more mainstream. The alter-globalisation movement became stronger and stronger, brought together people from the Global North and Global South and united a lot of disparate struggles into what really seemed to form a global consciousness and a global alternative to the neoliberal economic globalisation that was being imposed, often violently, worldwide. The Zapatistas staged their revolution in Mexico to mark the coming into force of NAFTA on 1st January 1994, and were so successful that they still run the state of Chiapas today. While initially violent, which I cannot condone, the EZLN did quickly lay down their arms, permanently. During the 1990s, killings and abuses by the CIA, oil companies and dictators in Latin American and African countries were appalling and were revealed to the world as never before, while the opposition, particularly by indigenous peoples in those countries, was globally supported as never before. The Drop the Debt and Jubilee 2000 campaigns focussed attention throughout the 1990s on economic injustice on a global scale, and there was mainstream endorsement of the idea that impoverished countries should not be forced to pay crippling debts, particularly vast interest, to wealthy countries. The alter-globalisation (often known as anti-globalisation) movement that had been active in the Global South for at least two decades got the attention of the public and policymakers in the Global North on a huge scale with the 1999 Battle for Seattle, meaning the IMF and WTO could never again conduct their world changing, country-destroying political and economic business in secret. When direct action by protestors successfully shut down the IMF/WTO meetings in Seattle, preventing the next round of policies being agreed, it delayed and altered the course of the supposedly 'inevitable' neoliberal approach on a global scale.

More locally, there were significant achievements on social issues in Ireland – homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, divorce was approved by constitutional referendum in 1995 and went into effect in 1996, access to abortion information and the right to travel to another state to obtain an abortion were made legal in 1992, and even condoms belatedly became legally available to people under the age of 17, and easy to buy during the 1990s. It is of course shameful that homosexuality was not legal and indeed was still prosecuted prior to this date, that divorce was so long in coming, and that full reproductive rights are still denied to people in Ireland, but the 1990s was a marked improvement on decades before. The 1990s seemed a time of recognising the huge problems in the world and in Ireland, while working hard to challenge them and create a better world. And enjoying ourselves an enormous amount while we did so. Those alternative ideas were gaining popular support on an unprecedented scale, and it seemed for a while that together we might actually succeed in achieving 'rights for all', in 'making poverty history' and ultimately in creating 'another world'.

On a personal level, in the 1990s I was young and enjoying life, participating in everything to the fullest. I was making great friends with whom I remain close to this day. I was studying subjects I loved and doing plenty of literary and other extra-curricular activities. I loved the music and free party culture of that time and we made our own, often amazing, entertainment. I was directly involved in campaigns, protests and the hard work of creating a better world and manifesting alternatives, both on micro-local and macro-global scales. I was travelling the world as much as I could, going to amazing places and seeing incredible things and the amazing diversity of people and the planet. I was in good health – not something I thought much about at the time, as a teenager dancing and backpacking, but I later came to realise that my grandmother was right that your health is your wealth. It is the basis of everything else. I was certainly aware of global and local issues, and my life was personally good and enjoyable because it was bound up with tackling these issues and with creating fun and successful alternatives to the unhealthy, consumerist, environmentally destructive mainstream culture.

That's my perception now, twenty years later. I've worn glasses for around 30 years, but have they recently become rose-tinted? It's hard to say. Is it possible to objectively quantify what was happening globally and in Ireland then and now and compare them? Perhaps that's something I can research for another blog post. But perhaps it's impossible to say. How much of my feeling that things were better then and are worse now is a function of how I personally felt in the 1990s, as a young person, compared to how I feel today? I have a long term health problem now – a serious back problem and associated chronic pain condition, which have had major impacts on both what I'm able to do and my enjoyment of what I do. I'm twenty years older and I want and need different things – greater security, even stronger relationships, a decent place to live, probably more than a backpack's worth of stuff. I have more responsibilities. I have in some ways less financial security and would like more. I need decent healthcare and so do the people close to me. This would have always been the case but various health and non-health-related needs for me, and for others I care about, are much more pressing in the 2010s than in the 1990s. At the same time, my perception is that in many ways humanity and global society are not moving towards the kind of approaches and outcomes that I value or think are good ways to provide a decent life for everyone on our finite planet. There are some great advances being made, such as in gender justice issues, global communication, and awareness of and willingness to tackle climate change. But it is still far too little and the advances often appear fragile and are very limited in geographical and social scope. On the one hand we're bombarded with horror on a daily basis, and events and disasters that are traumatic due to their violence, unpredictability, scale and frequency. On the other hand we still don't hear enough about the catastrophes that unfold more slowly, such as climate change, ocean pollution, and the immense food crisis in Africa. These slow emergencies threaten us on a much deeper, more serious and more existential level and they are the intersecting crises that we need to be devoting ourselves to solving.

Whether or not things are objectively or just personally worse or better now than twenty years ago seems to miss the point. What is a greater contrast is between how we are doing now with how we could be doing. Our capacity to create not just a decent life, but an amazing life, sustainably for everyone on the planet, has arguably never been greater. Our awareness of the problems we face, and our access to alternatives, have never been greater. Our capacity to communicate on a truly global level and to collaborate on massive scales has never been greater. Our comparison should be to what we have the capacity to achieve now, not to previous times when things were possibly even worse or perhaps relatively better to today. In 2016 it is definitely within our capacity to create a great world, to meet the rights of all, people and non-humans alike, to maintain our planet as habitable, to live in abundance with enough food and clean water for all, to make peace and minimise violence, to have excellent healthcare and education for all, to enjoy diverse and vibrant cultures, in a social and environmentally sustainable way that can maintain humanity on Earth for centuries to come. In twenty years' time I hope we'll be looking back to reflect on how we achieved that world, together.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Dublin to London and back again.

Travelling between Dublin and London can be fairly cheap and fairly easy. This is my guide to how to do it. I live in London and I'm from Dublin, and at the moment I travel between the two far more than any climate conscious person really ought to, but I'm definitely a frequent flyer when it comes to love miles. My commitments to family and friends in both locations are strong, and occasionally there is even some pesky work that has to be attended to in person in one jurisdiction or the other. Lately I've been back to Ireland from the UK around once a month, and I've done it at different times by plane, boat and train, in and out of every airport in London, to and from Dublin and several other airports around the island. I've learned many tips and tricks on these trips, which can make it cheaper and easier (and sometimes even both at the same time) to make the journey, so I'm sharing them here. I also want to subtly encourage more folks from there to come and visit me here in London - it's quite the city. I've written some version of this guide many times over for friends planning a trip to Londinium, so I'm finally putting it all together here for easy access. I've framed it in terms of travel from Dublin to London, rather than the other way around, but it should not be beyond you to apply it in reverse. Hope it shall prove useful, and please add comments below.

Ferry and train from Dublin to London

One good option to travel between Dublin and London is by ferry and train. This has the major advantages of being fairly cheap, about €90-100 return, even if booked the day before you travel, and always being the same price, so no need to worry about price changes. You can even show up at Dublin Port on the day and buy your ticket, which has a slight surcharge for same day travel, and you'll be in London later that day. There are two ferry companies, Irish Ferries and Stena Link, running the route from Dublin Port to Holyhead in Wales, and connecting to trains to London Euston station, in central London. They connect up with a variety of train companies as the rail system in the UK is fragmented, but this doesn't much matter, your ticket will take you on the relevant train by whichever company or companies are running it. The trains meet the ferries. There are fast ferries which take about 90 minutes and slow ferries which take about 3 hours. However because of the way the trains are scheduled the fastest you can do the whole journey is about 7 hours from Dublin Port to London Euston, and more usually about 8-9 hours depending which ferry or train you get. Obviously this is a long journey, and there can be delays on the ferry or train but there usually aren't. It has other advantages such as being able to show up at Dublin Port say 30 minutes before your ferry, and for the train in London 10 or 15 minutes before it is due to leave. When you factor in travel to and from the airports for flights, and the time in advance of your flight you need to be there, travel between Dublin and London by air can easily take around 5 hours door to door. Also the train brings you directly into Euston station which is central London, so you do not have to travel in from outside the city or from a distant airport after you arrive, and there are no additional travel costs. There is essentially unlimited luggage allowed on the ferry, you can check usually two bags while carrying another one with you onto the ship, for free. The ferry-boat combo is called SailRail from Dublin to London, and sometimes called RailSail in the other direction. Travelling by boat and train is also more ecologically friendly than travelling by air, with far lower carbon emissions, depending on the capacity and occupancy of the ferry, mainly. I have travelled many times on the boat and train to and from London to Dublin and found it quite relaxing, entertaining, and good value, despite the fairly long hours. Worth considering, especially if it's close to your travel date and prices are climbing.

Flying from Dublin to London

Four airlines currently fly between Dublin and London: British Airways (BA), Aer Lingus, Cityjet and Ryanair. There are five major airports in London, all with flights from Dublin: London City (airport code is LCY), Heathrow Airport (LHR), Gatwick Airport (LGW), Stansted (STN) and Luton (LTN).

Tips and tricks:

Not all airlines fly to all airports. You will need to search on each airline's website for their flight routes. It is worth checking the individual routes for each airport with the airlines, as prices to one London airport can vary radically compared to another airport, even on the same day and almost the same time of flight. At the moment (August 2016) BA flies between Dublin and Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Aer Lingus flies between Dublin and Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Cityjet flies only to London City. Ryanair flies to Stansted, Gatwick and Luton.

Definitely consider buying one way with one airline and return with another airline, if it is cheaper. All airlines sell one way flights on these routes, usually at little or no difference in price compared to one leg of a return. And one airline and airport in one direction may be radically cheaper while its return is much more expensive, and vice versa. You can also fly with the same airline into one London airport and out of another. It may be cheaper and may suit you better or make no difference to you to travel in to one place and out of another. So consider buying two singles with two different airlines and/or two different airports, and you can potentially save a lot.

Return flights are sometimes cheaper than two single flights made with the same airline. But for some airlines the prices are identical. Other airlines, buying a one way flight is €5 or €10 more expensive than the price listed for that leg as part of a return. But sometimes, with the same airline, buying a single is much cheaper than the leg as part of a return. I do not know why this is (any ideas, airline employees?), but I've had it happen enough times to know it is worth checking one ways as well as returns. It may be because when you buy a return, if one leg of it only has seats available at a higher price, then both flights get bumped up to the higher price bracket, costing you more overall. There is not necessarily any advantage in buying a return. Again, it is definitely worth checking two one way flights.

On some of the websites, you can enter London (code LON) or something like London England Area instead of an individual airport and it will bring up all flights by that airline to all the airports in London, saving you having to check each route individually. This is because London has its own “all airports” code for the whole city, like other hubs with multiple airports such as New York (NYC), Berlin (BER) and Paris (PAR). Annoyingly this is not possible on every website, and strangely, does not work reliably on some – for example, entering LON on the Aer Lingus website will bring up flights to Heathrow and Gatwick but not London City, for which you have to search separately.

Most of these airlines and routes are either not listed or not listed correctly on aggregator websites, like Skyscanner or Kayak, though these can give an indication of who flies where. Occasionally a cheaper flight may come up on one of these websites but I have never found it to be the case. It is a bit time consuming and annoying having to check the four airline websites and their routes into the five London airports, and of course each website loves to do things in its own idiosyncratic and highly irritating way, but with a bit of patience and multiple tabs in your browser, you can sometimes save some serious cash.

Every so often another airline starts flying between Dublin and London. Up until recently, FlyBe flew this route, which was great because its propellor planes are much more environmentally sound, it was cheap, they have lovely staff and service, and they also flew to unusual regional airports around the UK – handy if you were going outside London. Occasionally an airline flies the route only at a certain time of year, or flies more often during certain seasons. I have the feeling that Easyjet and Aer Arann once flew this route, but I could well have imagined that.

Some of these four and other airlines also fly from London to Knock and Shannon airports in Ireland and to Belfast's two airports in Northern Ireland. I've flown some of these routes and sometimes they are cheap and fast, but there are usually one or maximum two flights a day. There are also flights from Kerry and Cork direct to London though I haven't taken any. Depending where you are coming from, flying out of a regional airport can work out well.

The flights themselves take about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes. There isn't much difference between flight times from Dublin to individual London airports. Your plane will probably only be in the air for between 45 and 60 minutes. Not lots of time to work or relax between the seatbelt signs going on, when you'll have to put your laptop away. Bear in mind that if your flight is delayed, early, or cancelled, being at a major airport (like Heathrow) can be an advantage in terms of getting another flight out, but a disadvantage in terms of missing your scheduled landing time and having to circle for ages.

Don't be misled by airlines that seem to fly this route but in reality are merely codeshares with one of the four airlines above, i.e. one airline runs the flight but another airline can share the code to also claim it as one of its flights. Air France is sometimes listed but is just a codeshare with Cityjet. Aer Lingus flights to London City are in reality BA flights in codeshare. Almost always buying the flight with the codeshare partner is more expensive than buying it directly from the airline that is actually flying the plane.

There are many other airlines that fly indirectly between the cities. If desperate, you could probably take a flight that stops somewhere else in the UK first, but that would definitely be time-consuming and probably be expensive. Alternatively if you want to pay hundreds of euro, spend five or more hours flying for a supposedly hour long flight, and 'stop off ' in Copenhagen or Paris airports 'en route' between London and Dublin, go ahead. Personally, I'd say that's unwise.

Obviously flights tend to go up in price the closer you get to your planned departure date, but very occasionally the reverse is true and a few flights at a cheaper price are released closer to the date. I have also noticed that sometimes Ryanair in particular reduce the price of their flights by a few euro during the night – literally the price will go down at say 10pm at night, if you buy it then, but then in the morning it goes back up to what it was before. Bizarre but I have made use of this. However in general I would say buy as soon as you can, as prices usually just keep climbing closer to the time you're flying.

For the best views, I recommend sitting on the right of the plane when flying into London. Especially into London City, which really is in the middle of the city, and where you sometimes fly basically along the Thames over the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, before landing on the runway which is built out into the water and makes you feel like you are about to clip the buildings on either side as you come in for your approach. On a clear day even a jaded jetsetter will find it hard to stop themselves glancing out the window.

My views on the airlines:

BA is generally an extremely pleasant airline to fly with and can be very good value, cheaper than some others. They have tonnes of flights per day between Dublin and London. It is usually relaxing, efficient and stressfree, and you even get free food. It is like flying used to be. I have realised part of the reason it is relaxing flying with BA is because the cabin staff are there to save your life and serve you coffee, not to try and sell you stuff like on the budget airlines. Essentially nothing is for sale on a BA flight so the staff are not stressing trying to flog you an overpriced panini and scratchcards. They are based out of Heathrow which has advantages. Also they have astonishing baggage allowances – see below. Aer Lingus is alright, usually pleasant enough and on time, and sometimes cheap, with lots of flights per day between the cities. No free food and lately a good bit of upselling to put up with as it competes to the bottom. Cityjet is quite remarkable as an airline in terms of price and service. They fly only via London City which is very handy – see below. Cityjet used to market themselves as a business class only airline. Despite this I have gotten extremely cheap flights with them at times. It seems to follow no pattern, as sometimes their flights are astronomically expensive (but then so are everyone else's) but don't be put off by their pretensions, it is worth checking them out, even if, like me, you are clearly not anything like the businesspeople they try to woo. Also pay by Paypal or they will slap on a hefty payment charge on credit cards, about €5. I have no idea why either. Ryanair can be fairly cheap, relatively on time, and have lots of flights from Dublin to their three London airports. It is important to factor in the cost of getting to and from these airports into the overall cost of your travel – see below. Even without this, despite the automatic assumption that Ryanair=cheap, I have found other airlines often beat them on price. You will need to be prepared to tolerate them not having enough space on the plane for everyone's (packed to within a gram of the limit) hand luggage, and being forced to check yours (for free) and thus wait for it on the other end. There is also their constant selling of everything including bus tickets and three cheese pizza (because they are too cheap to do the usual four cheese pizza – no 'quattro formaggio' here). But at least they now allocate seats rather than the mad free for all endless queue and melee 'system' of yore.

Bottom line is that all four airlines are fine, are safe, can all be cheap, and will most likely get you from Dublin to London without any hitches or delays, and with varying degrees of pleasantness and sustenance during the flight, which all take about the same duration.

Two other key factors in choosing your airlines and route are the issue of getting to and from the airports in London, and baggage allowances. So important are these that I've given them their own sub-sections. Because sub-sections are cool.

Getting to and from the airports in London:

London is a large and spread out city of about 9 million people and its five airports are in very different locations, mainly way outside the city proper. It isn't that large by mega-city standards, it's not that sprawling and its transport systems are very good, but getting to and from the airport is a major factor in terms of both cost and time in your overall journey. The city is divided into nine zones (really six of importance) for public transport, which go in rings from Zone 1 in the centre of London outwards to Zone 6 and ultimately Zone 9. Zone 1 and 2 are very central and it's rare to go beyond Zone 3. Public transport is made up of the Underground, commonly known as the Tube, and its integrated other forms including the Overground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and commuter rail. The public transport system uses Oyster cards which can be purchased for £5 at any Tube station – definitely do this as tickets are about half price with such cards, it is otherwise difficult to buy tickets for each journey, and you can give the Oyster card back and have the £5 refunded at most stations when you leave London. Alternatively you can use cash. There are also London Buses which are public transport and only take Oyster cards – as of at least 2015 they do not take cash. There are also private coaches, private/express trains and taxis (the famous London Black Cabs, as well as private hire and account services such as Addison Lee). London City and Heathrow airports are within the zones and accessible by public transport, making them cheap and quite fast to reach, while the other three airports are all outside the city, meaning it requires time and private trains, buses or taxis to reach them.

London City is the only airport that is really in London itself. It advertises itself as such, and it's not lying. It is pretty much in the central docklands of east London. It is in Zone 2 i.e. very close to the centre and there is a DLR stop at the airport. It is possible to get off the DLR train and be at your gate, including having cleared security, less than 10 minutes later – I have done this more than once. It's a small airport with the pluses that brings – easy to get to and around, fast, accessible – and the minuses – not that many flights, bit run down. London City also advertises itself as having the easiest check in/boarding time cut off of any airport – you can be at the gate 15 minutes before your flight. It's quite reasonable to reach the airport say 30-45 minutes before your flight if you've no luggage. The best/worst I've ever done was that I once got off the DLR at London City at 14.22 for a 14.25 regional flight to Scotland and still made the flight, though I had to bang on the locked boarding gate to convince them to let me on – I don't recommend cutting it quite this fine. The airport is convenient for anywhere in or outside London, particularly to the north or east. Because it's in Zone 2 and has a public transport station actually at the airport it is very cheap to get to and from it by Tube/DLR - a journey to Zone 1, 2 or 3 is about £2.50. It is also fast – there are trains every few minutes and it takes maybe 20-30 minutes to reach most places in central London by DLR/Tube from London City.

Heathrow is in Zone 6, a bit far off to the west, and also has a Tube station at it. This makes it very handy. It is a massive airport and takes quite a long time to navigate through or to move between terminals, ensure you leave plenty of time to get to and from it and to clear security. It is on the Piccadilly line on the Tube, and there are three stops for it, depending on your terminal – Terminals 1, 2 & 3, Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. It takes about 50-60 minutes to get to most places in central London on the Tube from Heathrow, direct on the Piccadilly line, with trains running every few minutes. This costs about £5 using your Oyster card. Alternatively you can get the Heathrow Express private train, which is fast – it takes about 15-17 minutes to Paddington Station and runs every 15 minutes – but expensive – about £20. There is also the less well-known Heathrow Connect private train which takes about 30 minutes and runs about every 30 minutes, and is, guess what, £10. I imagine there are buses from Heathrow too which may be cheap but hard to imagine they are cheaper or faster than the Tube, have never tried them. If you ordered a taxi or Addison Lee car between a few people it could work out ok. Heathrow is convenient for anywhere in or outside London due to its transport connections. If you are headed outside London to Reading or Windsor in the west it would make most sense.

Stansted Airport is far outside London to the northeast. You have to get a private train or coach there, there's no Underground. The Stansted Express train takes 36 minutes to Tottenham Hale Tube station or 47 minutes into central London to Liverpool Street Station (these are usually the only two stops). Tickets are usually £19 one way, but can be £8 if you get an advance, or about £16 for a WebDuo or group slightly reduced price for two or more people travelling together. Quite often the trains are replaced by buses, especially at weekends, so check their website for scheduled Service Alterations before you buy. There are a variety of private bus companies between Stansted and London, such as National Express. Buses cost from £5 to £12 to get into central London, depending where you are going, and take 60-100 minutes. It is not unusual to be on the bus for 90 minutes or to get further delayed. The coaches stop in a few places such as Stratford en route to Victoria or Paddington stations. I have taken these buses a few times. Have never taken a taxi but it is conceivably possible, potentially very expensive as it is a long distance. Stansted is particularly handy if you are going to the north east of London such as Hackney or Finsbury Park, because Tottenham Hale station where the trains and sometimes buses stop is in that vicinity.

Gatwick airport is outside London in the south. So it is handier if you are going to south London. You have to get a train or coach there, there's no Underground. You can take the Gatwick Express train which takes 30 minutes non-stop to Victoria station and runs every 15 minutes. It costs £20, sorry, £19.90. Slightly less if you get your ticket online or with two people travelling together. There are also standard commuter trains run by Thameslink which take about 50 minutes into central London stations and cost about £10. The Thameslink trains are not advertised so visibly as the Gatwick Express but they run about every 20 minutes and go to a variety of stations. There are also coaches, which I haven't yet tried.

Luton airport is way outside London in the north west. You have to get a train or coach there, there's no Underground, and it does not have an 'Express' service, making it a bit trickier to get to. You can get a Thameslink train to Luton Airport which actually stops at Luton Parkway and a shuttle bus takes you to the airport itself. Trains run to various stations in central London every about 15 or 20 minutes, take about 50-60 minutes including the shuttle (though this depends on traffic) and cost about £15 one way. If you don't specify Luton Airport on your train ticket, rather than Luton Parkway which costs the same, you will be charged another £3 for the shuttle bus. There is often traffic which can delay the shuttle bus quite a lot. While ostensibly as close as say Stansted, Luton just takes more time to get to, quite a long time to get through as an airport and is more prone to delays. There are also coach services direct to Luton airport, such as Easybus and National Express, which in theory take around 50 minutes to central London, but I have never tried them.

Baggage allowances:

The four airlines have quite different hand luggage and checked baggage allowances and costs. So if you are looking to take more than a few kg with you, factor this in. BA allows you to take 23kg for free as hand luggage. Yes, you heard correctly, twenty three kilograms. That is on either a hand-luggage-only fare or a fare with hand luggage and a checked bag. The checked bag allowance is also 23kg, which is included in any fare with a checked bag. So you could take 23kg hand luggage and a 23kg checked bag, no problem. I think you can also take a 'small' personal bag in hand luggage on BA, such as a handbag, manbag, laptop bag, or small shopping bag, in addition to the 23kg, but haven't checked this recently. Cityjet also give you a generous 12kg hand luggage allowance and 23kg free checked bag on all their flights, even the cheapest fares. They will not look twice at you also bringing a personal bag. Ryanair and Aer Lingus on the other hand have the standard 10kg allowance for hand luggage. On Ryanair nowadays you can also take a small personal bag in addition, and usually also on Aer Lingus but they didn't used to specify that, they may have updated their terms recently. Be warned that Aer Lingus flights to London from other airports than Dublin can be termed 'regional' flights and thus the hand luggage allowance is only 7kg. On Ryanair or Aer Lingus you must pay extra to check a bag, which can be anything from €15 to €30 per bag. If you don't need much stuff with you, none of this will matter, but if like me, you have emigrated and de-emigrated multiple times, or are splitting your life between two cities, then it pays to think all this through.

No doubt there is more to say on all of this, and updates and corrections to be made constantly, but hopefully it's pretty much correct as of this moment, and that's enough to be getting on with. Happy travels!