Bruges in 60 seconds

Bruges in 60 seconds

How come Belgians aren’t fat?

Bruges, Belgium’s medieval jewel, “Venice of the North”, is home to a thousand chocolate shops, too many famous artists to mention and Wally de Backer, better known as the pop star, er, Gotye.  (no, nor have I). Here, when you are tired of chocolate, you eat chips, mayo, waffles, cream, egg nog (Advocaat),  drink copious amounts of Trappist Beer (around 6-14% alcohol) or a bewildering variety of locally made Gins, Vodkas and weirder spirits.

We stayed in The Dukes’ Palace, super-central, flawless 5* Gaff.  Actually, most of the multiple hotels and BnBs are super-central; you can walk from one side of town to the other in about half an hour.

Bruges is small, pretty, ancient, friendly, free of crime, with confusingly planned cobbled streets connecting the many churches and squares all of which are delicately lit at night.bruges shops night.jpg

Art: we stood in awe before Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgement, a kind of Dali-esque depiction of both Heaven and Hell and we admired one of the finest collections of Bruge’s own welshman Frank Brangwyn. God: We genuflected before the Blood of Christ himself in the Basilica.  Food: we ate at Patrick Devos (fabulous and expensive) and Poules Moules (fun and cheap) and drank Brugse Zot beer (6%) with three brothers from Leeds whilst watching Scotland beat Wales at rugby in Delaney’s Irish Bar.

It’s hard to find fault with this lovely little town only 3 hours away by Eurostar (via Brussels).  But like the taxi driver said, watch out for cyclists and above all the horse-drawn carriages who could all use an visit to driving school.

See also Rome in 60 seconds, Barcelona in 60 secondsCyprus in 60 seconds and Mallorca in 60 seconds

Does good tech make you better?

Does good tech make you better?
This is a really interesting topic actually, so good it’s goaded me into writing another blog – after far too long.
Does enhanced tech make for better or more users?
I’m thinking mainly about videographers, editors and the photographic community but actually it relates to most areas of skill, service and business.
Frinstance: I’m in the market for a new car. I call a car retailer and he sends me a video of a new car he has on the forecourt right now, shot on a smartphone. He’s not a good presenter and he’s certainly not a videographer but I get the film just the same. It’s the sort of stuff I’d expect from a 6 year old who thinks (s)he’ll get squillions from a youtube channel he has yet to create. It’s rubbish, but I do like the car, and I like it more for having seen it. But does that make it a good video? No, it makes it a useful one.
Some time later, I’m browsing a post from a colour-grading software company on Facebook and I got a post from a snapper who says “everyone’s a photographer these days – they use lots of tech but if you’re rubbish you’re always rubbish”
Not exactly.
We humans (photographers and others) and our skills do steadily improve over time but as new tech becomes available the market gets wider, more competitive.
When Michelangelo put down his pencil and picked up a brush, he adopted a tech that took him from a jotter who liked  to draw over-muscled Romans and fancy flying machines to the originator of the Sistine Chapel.
Rubbish photographers and videographers will always remain just that. Really good photographers and videographers and one or two really good techies however are getting smarter at making standout films and images but you bet they all use the software – perhaps they have just become good technicians?  Maybe so, but they are still good at spotting, capturing and processing great stuff.
I measure the quality of this stuff by the output.  I hope the work I do is useful but I also hope it’s good.  With film and photography, when I judge something I think looks great, I don’t usually ask what college they went to or what software they used, I look at the quality.   When I’m done, I ask myself if I could do as well as that.
Usually the answer is no, but I’ll keep on trying.

Why politics should never be a reality show.

Well knock me down and call me Susan; I’ve just heard a sensible thing from a politician.

radio-4

Yesterday, Radio 4’s Nick Robinson couldn’t resist probing Ed Balls on his efforts to conflate being both a credible politician and a Strictly Come Dancing contestant at the same time. And his reaction shed an excellent light on Mr Trump’s appointment to the world’s most powerful role in politics.

Trump came from Reality TV to Politics and Politician Ed Balls will descend on a rope to dance the Jive on Strictly this Saturday – Nick called this a “reverse Trump”.

Ed’s reply (which I paraphrase) was brilliant: Look, Reality TV is about entertainment, risk and shock.  Granted, Government can sometimes be risky and some may find it entertaining at times but there is no room for shock in politics.  If you allow shock to become your default political style then you become a reality TV president  – a very dangerous thing for America and the world.

(Hear the whole interview at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082j0n9 go to 1h 56m in.)

Open letter to Vodafone (part 2)

It doesn’t surprise me a bit to hear about Vodafone’s £4.6m fine for breaking Ofcom rules for handling customer complaints.  My Open Letter to Vodafone last year set out my own painful experiences.

As if prescient of the kicking they have received from Ofcom this week, I have another story for you from only last week…

The S6 Edge that took me three months to obtain last year broke down recently – overheating, freezing, spontaneous re-booting, it was a very broken thing. Samsung in Oxford St quickly diagnosed a hardware fault.  They offered to take it in as it was in warranty but advised me to review what Voda offered by way of a compensation or replacement.

So I called Voda and a cheerful chappy said I should drop by my local store and it would be replaced pronto. “It’s all on your file so they will help you – I’m 95% sure they will replace it” he quipped unconfidently.  My local store is actually 6 miles away but I headed off, parked up and dropped in as advised.  Adrian, the manager at Watford was less cheerful. “We can’t replace your phone and we have no courtesy handsets. We are only allocated ten and four of those have been stolen and the rest are out.”

Disappointed, I pressed for more: “We never just replace phones, Head Office makes promises we can’t fulfill.  I agree with you, the customer service is dreadful!”  That’s a Vodafone store manager slagging off his own company’s customer service, in case you missed the irony.  I should’ve banked on being the 5% who DON’T get a replacement phone.

So I jump on the phone to Voda (music, music, wait, hold etc) and in a fleeting 12 minutes I get through to someone.  There are no notes on my file about a replacement (so that was a lie).  I ask for an escalation to the “Resolutions Team” (Jeez, they must be busy!).  Music, music, holding, holding, I finally get through to the Resolutions Team.  I’m offered an early upgrade as a resolution and put through to the upgrades team. (music, hold etc) who tell me I must pay £170 for early release from my contract.  I’m so unhappy about this it’s back to resolutions (oh, yes, music, hold)…

While I hold, I ask another customer in the store if they feel the Customer Service at Voda is poor and they agree strongly.  Adrian, the store manager, hears this dialogue and tries to throw me out of the shop for upsetting other customers.  I calm him and stay for the duration of the call – 1 hour and 17 minutes.

In fairness to Voda, things improved from here. I’m now 70 minutes into this call and the resolutions team then make make an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Waive the early contract renewal, £20 for my troubles and next day delivery of a new S7 upgrade.

Conclusion: My problem is resolved with no help at all from the retailer and after a massive battle with HQ directly over the phone while sitting in the store that should be solving my problem.  Voda loses out on their reputation, gives me a score, they fail to gather their contract renewal penalty, they send me a new phone and I sell my old (in-warranty) S6 for a couple of hundred quid and they still look like losers.

Multiply this by 444 million customers and you get a feel for why they are fined a few quid by Ofcom.  Frankly, it’s not enough.

More comebacks than Simply Red?

More comebacks than Simply Red?

Last week I visited La Colombe D’or, a beautiful little Hotel in the hilltop fortress town of St Paul de Vence, half an hour north of Nice on the Cote D’Azur.  Lucky old me.

Colombe dor figtree windowIt’s a unique place; quaint, gorgeous and special with history in every nook and cranny. Outside, fat-boughed fig-trees shade the worn stone floors and tall, clipped Cyprus stand guard by the pool.  Inside hang paintings by an army of famous French artists and sculptors: Picasso (he paid for his stay with two pictures) Leger, Chagall, Matisse and many others.  It’s artisan chic.

It’s also a paradox; poor furniture, small, basic rooms (although comfortable) and a menu that has remained unchanged since the year dot would send most Hotels to the bottom of the league.  But Colombe D’or (that’s Golden Dove not Golden Column, stupid) is a haunt for celebs (Kate Moss and Roger Moor are regulars) and the adman community who have built its reputation over many, many decades and probably will for many decades to come.

Colombe dor poolService is brusque and waiters perform impossible pirouettes through narrow corridors and between tables.  The food is good without being amazing (go to Les Terraillers in nearby Biot for that) but still the people return. I spoke to one guest who was on his 45th visit.  Cannes Festival-goers flock there for respite and multiple bottles of the Provençale rose wine Minuty.

As we kick back by the jade-green pool after a long, lazy lunch in the shaded dining yard, all at once it’s 1931 and I glimpse the ghost of founder Paul Roux and his wife Baptistine negotiating a bar bill with Pablo Picasso…

Rome in sixty seconds (or ruined in Rome)

I can’t believe it’s taken me 58 years to discover Rome.  Bursting with history, fashion and restaurants, it’s a magnet for geeks, trend-setters and foodies alike.  Most towns can offer history but nowhere is it so evident as in Rome.  It’s all around you.  I saw chunks of Roman masonry stacked away in an old stone arch (itself probably as old) counting the centuries while patiently awaiting a place in the catalogs of the next generation of tired archaeologists.Rome pano.jpg

The town is big enough to offer huge variety (the backstreets of Trastevere vs. opulence of The Vatican) yet small enough to be largely navigable by foot.  We walked from The Bee Fountain in Piazza Barberini (1625) to the Colosseum (AD 72) via the relatively modern (1925) but no less impressive Altare Della Patria – two millennia in less than an hour.  Warpspeed.

Holy Seagull
A holy seagull at The Vatican

The top-line attractions however are victims of their own popularity and can be mobbed by selfie-stick wielding turisti and a swarm of multi-lingual, self-appointed VIP guides whose ecclesiastical knowledge could be written on a bible marker.  Premium “skip the line” tickets are available which are a good idea, but like Easyjet early-boarding they attract the wrong type of tourists and earn scorn from the 3-hour queue-ers.  No doubt soon there will be skip the skip-the-line tickets and skiptheskiptheskiptheskiptheline tickets too – I could go on.

Italy’s economic position is shaky and it’s future is uncertain but Rome seems healthy enough with plenty of premium retail going on.  We sampled a little of it with a cocktail on the roof terrace of The Sofitel Hotel whose sunset views over The Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese are pretty much unsurpassed.  Then we ate Truffles and lobster at Ad Hoc in Via di Ripetti. I can only hope that the exorbitant cost of these luxuries staves off the Italians’ fiscal collapse for a little longer.

See also Cyprus in sixty seconds and Barcelona in sixty seconds

Top Gear. A programme in search of a reason for change

For months (years?) I’ve been trying to think of an excuse to renew my blog. The longer I left it the harder a reason to restart and the weaker an excuse for stopping became.

(say this in a Jeremy Clarkson voice) Until now.

I’ve just watched Top Gear and suddenly it all makes sense. The analogy is all too clear. Months off, a change of direction, new content – my blog and the new Top Gear are (almost) one and the same.

Repackaging a media product and relaunching it when it was already a success was going to be a challenge. What do you keep? What do you change? Why did you stop? Why are you bothering to restart?  Who even cares?

Top Gear 2.0 has met with mixed reviews. Chris “I want to punch that ginger ferret” Evans* and Matt “Good looking but a little dull” LeBlanc** are pawns in a much bigger game. Squillions of pounds in distribution rights across 214 territories worldwide and an estimated global audience of 350 million makes TG the most widely watched factual television program in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Who wouldn’t want to try to anchor this programme for all that fun in so many countries not to mention all that dosh.

But you can’t make magic from a recipe. Magic is first the recipe and then a little something extra and although TG2.0’s audience stats are OK for a launch issue as Evans petulantly asserts, it is missing the little something extra. The magic in TG1.0 was that each week Clarkson dished it out and Hammond and May took it.  In TG 2.0 Evans dishes it out and LeBlanc dishes it out too and I can only see a head-to-head sooner or later. Clarkson in a Robin Rialto was funny. Evans and LeBlanc in a Robin Rialtos is, at best, tacky mimicry.  Homage to TG1.0 is fine but adding a short off-road bit (the “dirt section” says Evans – fnar fnar!) to the test lap is going nowhere, programmatically.

TG2.0 is a timid half-change; safe-keeping and re-framing programme assets and not boldly-going anywhere very much at all. Not so much a relaunch as a smudgy transit from A to B.  I have to make my new blogs better than that, so no pressure there then.

*twitter said that

**I said that