Anglo-American faux pas are a two-way street

Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

The contempt of film-makers for geography raised its spotty head again yesterday when
102 Dalmatians opened in London - well, I
think it was London. Picking up where they left off in
101 Dalmatians, in which only Primrose Hill was recognisable as being part of the capital, Walt Disney Pictures has created a new, virtual version. The office of Cruella De Vil's probation officer (yes, that's probation officer - the plot stretches credibility just a tad) must be slung from a cable between the Millennium Wheel and Big Ben, judging from the view from the virtual window. When a puppy nearly tumbles out of the high-rise office, the main road below suddenly transforms to Queen Victoria Street, two miles away in the City.

The contempt of film-makers for geography raised its spotty head again yesterday when 102 Dalmatians opened in London - well, I think it was London. Picking up where they left off in 101 Dalmatians, in which only Primrose Hill was recognisable as being part of the capital, Walt Disney Pictures has created a new, virtual version. The office of Cruella De Vil's probation officer (yes, that's probation officer - the plot stretches credibility just a tad) must be slung from a cable between the Millennium Wheel and Big Ben, judging from the view from the virtual window. When a puppy nearly tumbles out of the high-rise office, the main road below suddenly transforms to Queen Victoria Street, two miles away in the City.

Talking of cities - Westminster has been downgraded by Disney. In a bid not to confuse an America audience that is familiar with Manhattan being a borough of New York City, the City of Westminster is described throughout as the "Borough". After sitting through about 102 minutes of having metropolitan assumptions mangled, I could barely find my way home.

None of which matters, as long as the audience is entertained and tourists don't arrive expecting unlovely Green Park tube station to be a quiet, above-ground rural idyll, complete with pre-Railtrack signal box, as it appears in the film.

Surely, though, Eurostar is alarmed by the impression that is created of the method of reaching Paris from London by train? In 102 Dalmatians, it is a simple matter of turning up at St Pancras station, blissfully free of barriers and security controls, and boarding the Orient Express. St Pancras may be Britain's most magnificent station, but it is more familiar to users as the Midland Mainline terminus for trains to the East Midlands (the kind that take nine hours to reach Nottingham).

In fact, the official line from the cross-Channel train company about the depiction is that "Eurostar endorses it as a foretaste of what is to come." St Pancras is due to become the main terminal for trains to the Continent in 2007.

Disney has actually done a deal with Eurostar to deck out one of its international trains with several hundred Dalmatian-style spots to publicise the new movie. But these are the only hounds likely to get aboard the Waterloo to Paris express; unlike Eurotunnel and Britain's railway companies, Eurostar bans pets from inside its trains.

IT HARDLY befits me to throw geographic stones at American film-makers when, in the past few weeks, I have not grasped US cartography as well as I might.

Cleveland is on Lake Erie, not Lake Ontario, points out John Mason of Lincoln. Forest Hansen e-mails to say that Edward H "Butch" O'Hare, after whom Chicago's main airport is named, was a pilot, not a politician. And a reader phones, anonymously but politely: "You say there are no direct flights between the UK and Kentucky, and suggest people fly to Cincinatti airport, across the state border in Ohio. In fact, Cincinatti International Airport is actually in Kentucky."

It turns out that Cincinatti - like Rome, Rio and the Sydney suburb of Seven Hills - is built on seven hills. So the city authorities chose a flat piece of land just across the state line in Boone County, Kentucky to build the airport.

* The Royal Courts of Justice is a decidedly no-frills sort of place, at least for those us without access to the legal flight deck. Indeed, the only frills in sight were woven in the wigs worn by the judge and barristers.

My judicial journey began on Tuesday in a manner familiar to any flyer. I scanned the board for the correct departure gate for British Airways vs Ryanair, and found my way to gate, sorry, Court 16. There was hardly any legroom, no complimentary catering and no smoking.

British Airways should have seen the writing on the fuselage, and headed straight for the emergency exit. Instead, the airline's legal team strapped themselves in for a turbulent fight to prove that Ryanair had committed a malicious falsehood with a newspaper advertisement headlined "Expensive Ba----ds".

In the ad, the no-frills airline compared its lowest fares from London, which had restrictions attached, with BA's highest economy fares, which carried no restrictions. In the cases where BA had, inconveniently, chosen not to fly to a certain place, Ryanair picked a city many miles away and used that fare instead.

At the time, I wrote that this did not appear to be a reasonable base for comparison. BA actually used the story in evidence, to no avail: Mr Justice Jacob concluded "The complaint amounts to this: that Ryanair exaggerate in suggesting BA is five times more expensive because BA is only three times more expensive." And buried in his closely argued, 20-page judgement, is the remarkable fact that the official tariffs of the International Air Traffic Association do not have a category for "return fare".

* A drinking fountain at Seattle airport performs a neat trick when you press the button to take a drink: it activates a loudspeaker that plays soothing sub-aqua noises while you sip. A trivial bonus for the stressed and thirsty traveller.

Sensible flyers know that drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids is essential before and during any long flight. Water fountains are handily installed in the departure lounges at Britain's two biggest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick. But on my last visits to each airport,they had run dry. And parked next to each defunct fountain was a colossal vending machine selling small bottles of water for £1.

The airport's owner, BAA, flatly refutes the suggestion that it no longer wants to give water away. The operator says drinking fountains are still widely available, and that any catering outlet will provide a glass of water upon request. But the profits on the bottled variety are prodigious; the airport sells wine almost as cheaply as it does water. Even duty-paid, a litre bottle of Piat d'Or costs just £4.33, only one-third more than a litre of water.

I am glad there is no official policy of "no hydration without remuneration", because of the adverse effect on Britain's image. It is unfortunate enough that we entice millions of foreign visitors here on the promise of weather that is "warm and semi-tropical in parts", according to the official British Tourist Authority publication I mentioned last week, UK The Guide 2001; and that the government charges visitors £20 to leave the country by air. Now, the final memory that they may have of Britain is of the place where you have to pay $1.50 or 330 yen or 1,000,000 Turkish lire for that most basic of travellers' essentials, a drink of water.

* Talking of a million Turkish lire: "I was in Sheki the day before yesterday," reports Matt Rudd from north west Azerbaijan. Mr Rudd, assistant editor of Wanderlust magazine and contributor to these pages, goes on to say that he joined the local community in the TV room.

"They were watching the Turkish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Of course it wouldn't have been as compelling for my Azeri friends if the prize had been just a million lire (the equivalent of £1). The 16th question is in fact worth 500 billion Turkish lire, more commonly known as £500,000."

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