Simon Calder: Capital letters - a case of the shakes

Simon Calder: The man who pays his way

in the old days - 1969, to be precise - the singer-songwriter melanie brought out an album in which all the lyrics were printed in lower-case.
candles in the rain, as the lp was entitled, did not sell a fraction as many copies as elton john's "candle in the wind". one reason, i suspect, was that the listening public was irritated by the frivolous absence of capital letters.

in the old days - 1969, to be precise - the singer-songwriter melanie brought out an album in which all the lyrics were printed in lower-case. candles in the rain, as the lp was entitled, did not sell a fraction as many copies as elton john's "candle in the wind". one reason, i suspect, was that the listening public was irritated by the frivolous absence of capital letters.

now, the travelling public must get used to the irritation of yet another airline deciding to forego the use of the shift key on the highly paid logo-designer's keyboard. bmi british midland is the new identity of one of the uk's most illustrious airlines, which has now decided to go the same way as the no-frills carrier buzz and the tour operator jmc in dispensing with upper-case. "it's fresh, lively, stylish, contemporary, understated," says a bmi british midland spokeswoman.

* Ah, that's better. The original no-frills airline, easyJet, must share some responsibility for starting this nonsense, but at least a capital letter pops up halfway through, to signal to the reader that this is an affectation rather than an error. British Midland has not just been typographically diminished, it is now also secondary to the three-acronym BMI, as the airline will henceforth appear in these pages.

Until now, the world has known BMI as Broadcast Music Inc, the American performing-rights society that ensures singers and songwriters get paid every time their songs are on the radio (which in the case of Melanie, these days is, thankfully, rarely).

It would be reasonable to conclude that the first two letters of BMI stand for British Midland, and to make a reasonable stab at "International" for the "I". Not true, says Landor Associates. The design company, and the airline, remain cagey about what the "I" (or "i") stands for. "Nothing in particular," is the official response.

So as a service to prospective passengers, I have been speculating about what BMI might mean. Just as the Portuguese airline TAP has been expanded to Take Another Plane, BMI could unkindly stand, as a reflection of the annoying tunes they play on the public address system, for Banal Music Inflight. Given the airline's with-frills service, perhaps it is Breakfast Mostly Included; with the carrier's excellent safety record, it clearly doesn't mean Buy More Insurance. Or is the brand a subliminal promotion for a rival airline: Book Monarch Instead?

The airline should have reverted to one of its previous existences. Not the original 1938 name of Air Schools Ltd, which sounds a tad underqualified, but the 1949 choice Derby Aviation (or, if you prefer the fresh, lively, stylish, contemporary, understated version, derbyaviation).

At least it doesn't sound like a piece of anaesthetist's jargon, like the official abbreviation for another rival, British Mediterranean Airways: BMed.

* One hundred years ago this month, plans were unveiled in Berlin to construct a new railway between the German capital and Hamburg that would allow trains to travel between the two cities at 125mph. Two world wars and the partition of the nation put the plan on hold, and since unification, the idea has since been superseded by a magnetic levitation track allowing speeds of 200 mph - but that remains firmly on the drawing-board. A century after the acceleration was first mooted, even the fastest express plods along at an average of only 75mph.

* Such slouchy progress has not stopped the German airline, Lufthansa, from having a pop about the railways in Britain: "Most trains are virtually empty," records the inflight magazine. "People go by car or bus. But should they propose to close down an unprofitable line or cancel an unprofitable connection, the ensuing public outcry makes it impossible. Simply the knowledge that the trains are running, whether one uses them or not, is fundamental to British peace of mind." Lufthansa had a vested interest in doing down the train, because for a time it operated domestic flights between Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne. These were abandoned as unprofitable. But given the woeful state of the cross-country rail network, when a train between Newcastle and Plymouth can take 16 hours, they could make a comeback.

* Another year, another travel loophole closed. The handy thing about flights within Britain and across the Irish Sea is that no passports are required. This has led to a lively "grey market" in airline tickets - plenty of people have discovered that, as long as you're approximately the right gender, you can travel within the British Isles on someone else's ticket. (In America, airlines are even more lax about who's aboard; Delta flew me from Miami to Atlanta in the fond belief that I was named Sandra Calderon.

Inconveniently, the no-frills airline Ryanair has decided to make sure that all the people on its planes are who they say they are. It now insists that passengers show a photo ID at check-in. One family flying between Stansted and Dublin interpreted this rule literally, and turned up with the framed group portrait of parents and children straight from the mantelpiece.

Yes, they were allowed on board.

* Antananarivo, Tegucigalpa, Vladivostok - resonant cities all. Which is why, when the guidebook publisher Lonely Planet needed to come up with names for meeting rooms at its newly expanded London office, staff settled on the exotic trio. "Hang on," piped up a junior down the table. "If I'm e-mailing people to tell them where to meet, I really don't want to type any of those." So they agreed to limit the names to one-syllable cities. That still embraces a fabulous list of possibilities: Omsk and Tomsk, Nice and Cork, Bonn and Rome. So what did the guidebook funsters finally settle upon? Stoke, Leeds and Crewe.


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