Thursday, 21 September 2017

Ryanair flights fiasco

I feel compelled to say something about the Ryanair flights fiasco, allegedly caused by their pilots all holidaying at the same time (out of interest, I wonder with which airline they've managed to get their flights?)

I haven't actually flown with Ryanair for nearly twenty years - partly out of principle, but mainly because of a fear of flying developed after 9/11 (long story, but I was in the US at the time).

The thing is, they're not the only airline serving the UK market, so vote with your feet people!  If you're not happy with their customer service - or distinct lack of it - simply take your custom elsewhere.

Yes, it really is that simple.  No, I don't want to hear it - don't start making excuses saying 'Oh, but they're so cheap'!

What about all those people who've merrily booked flights and holidays and now don't know if they can get away as planned?

I can't speak for you, obviously, but when I was working with other humans, we had a holiday list.

That holiday list was an important document, sagely passed around from person to person, in order of seniority, and we were allowed to book just a maximum of two weeks when we first received it.

Nobody - I repeat nobody - on that document was allowed to be off at the same time as another person on it. 

This rule didn't waver, so much so, that if you had a wedding and the inevitable honeymoon, you had to negotiate with others to ensure you could have the time off.

I remember on one occasion when somebody had to delay their romantic getaway because another staff member was away and couldn't swap (due to a significant birthday and a cruise or something).

Surely Ryanair pilots must have the modern-day equivalent of a holiday list, and if not, why not?  How can an airline make huge profits and not have fundamental admin procedures in place? If you've been adversely affected, I suggest you write to Michael O'Leary and ask him!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Arts Fresco, Market Harborough

If somebody had told me that I was going to spend a Sunday morning in September standing in the street outside Fat Face and Joules in Market Harborough watching an 'Aled Jones - the difficult years'- lookalike (his description) wearing nothing but a fake tan and a tiny pair of pink frilly pants while riding a unicycle (him, not me) I'd have said 'I don't think so!'

But no, there I was, and I was laughing so hard that my face ached, as was the huge crowd of people that had also gathered to watch this rather surprising spectacle for a rural market town (performers Garaghty and Thom).

The reason we were all there was the rather fabulous Arts Fresco street theatre festival, which is totally free except for donations.  This was its 15th year, and my second visit, and it's such good fun for all ages.

From stilt walkers and face painters for the children, to an array of street food stalls and drinks tents, the atmosphere was warm and friendly despite the chilly wind that made the eight-foot high unicyclist's job even more precarious than normal.

The first act of the day we saw was Betty Brawn - not her real name I imagine - who was billed as The World's Strongest Lady.

She was amazing - talk about ripping up the gender stereotype book, one of the aspects of her act, as it happens.

She took a 500-page romance novel purchased from a charity shop up the road and ripped it clean in half; she followed this by breaking a chopstick in two using  her 'breasts of steel' (i.e. cleavage); she snapped a chain across her back and then proceeded to pick up men out of the audience.

I mean literally pick them up, and throw them over her shoulder.  Her finale was hoisting two twelve stone men using a yoke-type device and turning herself into a human carousel as she spun them around.

Funnily enough, I don't think she warned us to not try this at home, but some things go without saying!

Many thanks to all the performers, organisers and volunteers.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Ignorance is bliss

'Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise' - I sometimes think it would be better for my mental health not to watch the news, especially the ten pm one just before bedtime.

The current situation between North Korea and the United States - well, the rest of the world, in truth - is particularly scary.

I haven't felt this concerned about nuclear war since the 1980s.  My generation grew up firstly with the threat of nuclear war between the USA and the USSR - vividly depicted for us in the video to Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood - and then with the fear of AIDS.

Basically, the threat of death in one form or another, was all around us - it was just something you lived with.

But I'm guessing that there were also some kids I grew up with who didn't watch the news or read the papers - these were very much pre-internet days - so were probably blissfully unaware and just carried on through life reading The Dandy or The Beano, watching Scooby Doo and riding their Raleigh Grifters etc.  In some ways, I wish I was one of them.

Of course we did have terrorism in the 1970s and 80s - these were the days of the IRA bombing campaigns - but I don't think it felt as scary then as it does now with the ongoing terror threat we are facing.

But before I depress everybody too much, I think this is when we need to remind ourselves of the good things in our lives.  I've taken to mentally listing at least three good things that have happened each day before I go to sleep.

It doesn't have to be big things - one day for example I listed the fact that I'd bought myself some loose leaf tea and a tea strainer so I could enjoy an 'old-fashioned' cup of tea.

I find that this helps me, perhaps it will help somebody reading this too - and I can also highly recommend loose leaf tea!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Great British Bake Off humble pie

The sweet, sweet taste of humble pie - truthfully I'd prefer mine with a quenelle of ice-cream or perhaps some crème anglaise please, but let's not get all Mastercheffy!

OK, I'll admit that I was, shall we say, a bit sceptical about the move of Great British Bake Off from Auntie Beeb to the 'wild child' that is Channel Four, but I'm pleased to say my fears were unfounded, and I'm adult enough to admit it.

Yes, it's not quite the same - although Prue does a reasonably good impression of Mary Berry, and Noel and Sandi could morph into Mel and Sue with a change of wardrobe and different haircuts.  In fact, Sandi's floral bomber jacket in episode one was taken straight from the Berry school of dressing if I'm not mistaken.

But happily I can report that the main concept remains unchanged, the tent is the same, and they still have the fancy Neff ovens with no perceptible controls and hideaway doors which make most of our ovens at home look clumpy and old-fashioned - and people still fail to switch them on correctly.

Paul remains that mixture of twinkly blue-eyes and badger grey, dispensing the Hollywood handshake with the similar rarity of unicorn manure, so I can just about get over the other cast changes and the adverts which annoyingly pop up at around 15 minute intervals, usually at key-critical moments.

Because, ultimately, it's all about baking.  It's about 12 ordinary people, not professional cooks, creating culinary alchemy with flour, eggs, butter and sugar - plus a few other ingredients, and a lot of time, effort, hugging and tears of frustration and/or relief.

We sometimes need to be transported and cocooned in a world where cakes and baking are a form of escapism, and we can forget about the various horrors on the news, even if it is just for an hour.  Well, better make that an hour and a quarter now, because of those pesky aforementioned adverts.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The end of an era...

I've sometimes mused on the workings of the honours system in this country, not that it's ever going to personally bother me much, I'm sure.

But when David Beckham had his little tantrum about not getting a knighthood, it did make me wonder why on earth would anyone think they actually deserved such an honour?

In my mind, the people that really should get such an award are the ones who would be the least likely to seek it out and would be genuinely humbled if they did.

Can I ask a question here - can you actually nominate somebody to be considered for the honours' list, or how does it all work?

I can think of countless people who will probably never get the recognition they deserve, but who genuinely make a difference to the lives of others each and every day.

It's often the little things, that some people take for granted and perhaps don't even notice, that help and can make a huge difference.

People who take the time to chat to a lonely person, take shopping to the housebound, find time in their busy lives to take an interest in their local community and just pitch in and help out wherever needed.

Julie, Mike and Sam who have run my local shop and Post Office for the past twenty years are at the heart of our community.  They go over and above the role of shopkeepers - if I listed out all their good deeds I could take over this whole paper. 

They have always been there for us, and have worked tirelessly seven days a week, always cheerful and there to lend a helping hand and a sympathetic ear - genuinely good and kind people.

The time has come for them to retire, and I can honestly say that our community will be totally bereft without them. 

So thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and if I could nominate people for an honour, they would be at the top of my list.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

A handbag...

Now that bag searches are becoming a regular feature of everyday life, I really need to think about tidying mine out on a more regular basis.

I guess I'm not alone though in toting a bag that's more like a portable life support system, the contents of which could deal with most minor emergencies.

I'm pretty sure that pre-dog and child it was much lighter.  Once dogs arrived into my life, my bags, pockets etc became receptacles for poo bags and gravy bones.

Then after arrival of daughter, the bags got bigger and the contents far greater.  She's much older now, but I'm still carrying baby wipes - as a parent I have discovered that these have a myriad of uses, including removal of seagull poo at the seaside from hair and clothes, and creature guano from an invertebrate at Bugtopia who kindly deposited on husband's pale blue jeans.

Unsurprisingly, they never put that on the packaging do they?  Further evidence that they perhaps aren't the best thing for babies' sensitive skin.

When we're away on holiday my bag gets even bigger and heavier, as I seem to be the one left carrying camera, sunblock, water, snacks, plasters, etc.

In fact, the last time my bag was searched, it was packed to the gunnels with holiday stuff.

I apologized to the man who was searching each and every pocket and compartment as thoroughly and sensitively as he could, given the circumstances.

He told me not to worry as he'd seen far worse.  He then dropped his voice to a confidential tone and told me that one handbag he'd searched had an item that the lady in question should really have left at home in her bedside cabinet - and I don't think he meant Lavender pillow spritz, painkillers or Vicks VapoRub, which is what's in mine!

Thus reassured, I collected my bag and made a note to self that no matter how embarrassed you are about the tidiness and/or contents of your bag, there will always be somebody, somewhere with something far worse.

Working from home

I'm not going to lie to you, working from home has its advantages.

There's the fact I can work in my slippers.  No more cramming my feet into high-heeled shoes or boots just because they look good.  The downside of this is that my feet appear to have grown because they are no longer restricted, but that's a small price to pay. 

Then there's the fact that I can make a cup of tea or go to the loo whenever I like.  No more raising my hand in the air to be relieved - as in somebody take over my desk or permit me a leave of absence rather than anything more unpleasant or complicated than that, in case you were wondering.

I suspect the day will come though when some workers will be given commodes and expected to carry on whilst in situ, but hopefully not in my lifetime.  Although as my pension age keeps on moving further away, I fear that I may never actually retire and this may become my reality!

I can also plan my work around daughter's school day/holidays - this is probably the best feature, and truthfully should feature higher in the list but for the fact that I like the freedom of slippers and 'comfort breaks'.

The long school summer holidays does make you appreciate Teachers more though doesn't it?  They look after our little darlings for nearly eight hours a day, every weekday, during term time.  No wonder they need a six week break.

The major downside of working from home is the regular visitation of delivery drivers.  Admittedly, sometimes the only human contact I have during the day other than family members, but our conversations are very one sided and usually consist of variations on the theme of 'Parcel... neighbour... sign... thanks.'

And the most bizarre delivery of which I've taken charge?  Ten sacks of washing powder.  I kid you not - I'm guessing an e-Bay bulk-purchase bargain, which literally filled my porch until retrieved much later that day.  Still, it made the house smell 'cotton fresh'!