Azerbaijan Roll Out Part One: Fast Train To Ganja

By the end of 1993 I was 27, flat broke, jobless, and had no idea what to do next. I’d spent the year in Zurich, mainly because of a girl – most things back then were due to girls – but I came back to London sadder, wiser, and possibly harder-hearted than before I’d left.

I don’t really recall what led me to apply for a job at the airport. But I was living just a few miles from Heathrow, so it made good sense. I remember having this clunky old manual typewriter,* and I started to crank out application letters to all the airlines.

*A manual typewriter was bit like a computer, except you couldn’t access the Internet, install apps, swipe right, or delete anything you’d written.

After many rejections, I was eventually asked in for an interview, and on January 17th 1994 I turned up in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 for my first day.

Over the next six or seven years I had numerous operational jobs including Check-in Agent, Pushback Driver, Load Controller, Aircraft Dispatcher and Traffic Coordinator. But in 2000 things took another significant turn and I got a job in the DCS department.

Departure Control Systems are the IT applications that airlines use for check-in and aircraft weight and balance, and feed all the other airport and airline systems. It was a good move for me.

In 2005 I moved away from the airline to one of the key suppliers of these systems. These days, when an airline wants to move from their old (inferior) system to our new (vastly improved) system, I’m the guy who project manages the implementation.

A typical project takes anywhere from nine months to three or four years. I’ve been working on this one for 12 months so far, and now it’s time to go live.

We normally go live with a very small airport initially. That way we can catch all the problems and keep any impact to a minimum. The wonderfully named Ganja in the west of Azerbaijan seemed like a good choice for the pilot airport.

I left London with my colleague Monika late at night, and arrived in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku early the next morning. There’s not even a daily flight to Ganja, so we ending up tearing through Baku in a perilously traumatic cab ride to the station. From there it was four hours on the train to Ganja.

The days of taking film on work trips are over for me. I don’t want to subject it to multiple x-ray scans, and you can’t rely on everywhere allowing a hand search. These were all JPEGS shot on my Fujifilm X100F using its fantastic built-in Acros film simulation. No post-processing required!

All photos Fujifilm X100F

Baku Train Station

I could have taken loads of pictures as we sped across the country, but they all would have looked like these next three photos. There’s not a lot out there, but I do get a closer view of those mountains on the way back.

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

I don’t blame Monika for flaking out. We’d been awake for over 24 hours at this point.

Ganja Azerbaijan

And we arrive in Ganja. The official language of Azerbaijan is – unsurprisingly – Azerbaijani, a form of Turkish. But as a former Soviet state many of the older guys speak Russian. Which means I can say hello, goodbye, thank you and yes. Not entirely useful when getting a cab. Everyone does seem to understand the word vodka though.

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

The view from my hotel room

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

I’m not convinced they have a word for diet in Azerbaijan. Or vegetarian. The food blends regional influences from Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Dishes tend to be meat-based, especially lamb and chicken. This is all washed down with lashings of vodka, which these guys can put away as if it’s water. I don’t have the same superpower, which I found out the hard way on my previous trip. The second half of the evening was a blank and I woke up next morning on the floor of my hotel room. Top Tip: Don’t go out drinking with an Azerbaijani. It won’t turn out well. And even if you do have a good time, you won’t remember it.

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

Ganja Azerbaijan

And here we are; Ganja International Airport, with the first flight on the new system being to Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.

We just had just 30 minutes to take a look round the city, so I can’t tell you much about it. But like Baku, it has a very laid back atmosphere.

Ganja Azerbaijan

And flying back to Baku, over those wonderful snow-capped mountains. Now it’s time for things to get serious…

Ganja Azerbaijan

Christmas 2019

When my father died in 1985, the remnants of my family fractured and three years later I left home. I found myself living in the northern county of West Yorkshire, a place very different from my hometown of Cambridge. It was there that I spent one of the loneliest years of my life. I lived in a small terraced house in the Sandal district of Wakefield, and slept in a small room that backed on to the railway line. Thirty years later, I can still remember the feeling of lying in the dark, listening to the trains speeding down to London and wishing I was on one of them. Eventually I was.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Whilst I went north, unbeknown to me my mother went west. Hereford is a small cathedral city that lies about 16 miles east of the border with Wales. To me, it feels remote and isolated, but that’s only because I’ve spent so many years living in and around London. For my mother, she’s managed to create a happy life there over the last three decades. It was, however, many years before I was able to visit her there.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

My blood family now only really comprises my mother, my niece, and myself. Over the last five or six years we’ve spent Christmas together in Hereford. For the three of us, it’s sort of become traditional.

A tradition doesn’t necessarily have to be something that’s been going on for generations. I think you can make your own traditions. What’s more important is how long you want it to continue, rather than how long it’s been going on. My mother is 86 now, but I’m hoping for many more Christmases together.

That’s what I wanted to talk about.

Christmas 2019 / Nunnington, Hereford / Fujifilm X100F