Seedy boarding: why priority status means back of the queue.

Short break. South of France. At Nice airport, heading home to Heathrow. It’s hot.
The airport is busy and as we tango past stray travelers with heads tilted towards distant departure boards we see what no traveler wants to see – a mammoth queue at Gate D. Armed with our Priority boarding passes we stride confidently to the front of the queue to exercise our privilege where the grim realisation sets in: this queue IS the priority boarding queue. We cross-check with another traveler already queueing and in a broad Scots accent the worst is confirmed.
angry-crowd-700x432So with a comfortable two hours until take-off we resign ourselves and stand in line behind Scotty who is now muttering about disgraceful service and the diminishing minutes he has until his flight is due to leave to anyone who can listen or understand.
We watch as fresh arrivals make our mistake. They slow to scan the queue, raised eyebrows, dropped jaws, head to the front, are appraised of the situation then shuffle despondently to the ever-receding back of the growing snake. Their assumed superiority deflating visibly as they do.
More fresh arrivals gather at the head of our queue and start to form their own queue. Priority-priority status is catching on. The new branch grows and the arguments start. Scotty is having none of it. He strides over to the super-privileged, his Crocs squeaking on the marble floor and his baggy cargo shorts swinging generously around his pale legs and he lets them have it.  He explodes, pointing to the back of the queue, waving his gold card and the new queue mostly dissolves.
But the fight is not over for one Well-Heeled Couple and we watch as they enter negotiations with the front of the queue. This couple are not giving in without a fight and against all odds we see them merge and finally disappear into the top of the line.
Scotty is now on the phone to British Airways, his glasses balanced impossibly on his sweating snout which he wrinkles to keep them there, baring a cargo of yellowing teeth. BA, who are a thousand miles away promise unconvincingly to look into the matter.
So, finally, we are ten check-ins from the front and Scotty is looking happier. But the cruelest cut is yet to come. The desk attendant raises an arm and asks the queue for Gatwick passengers who break out from behind us like lottery winners and charge past to the check-in desk pushing us from 10th to 30th in a flash.
When we get through (an hour later) we see Scotty and well-heeled couple standing eagerly among others at the boarding gate. The flight is announced, their tickets torn and they head towards the bus.  Now, arriving first on a bus puts you at a disadvantage. You get a seat, yes but when it comes to disembarking, it’s first on, last off.
Scotty and Well-Heeled Couple only realise this when the bus is full and lurches towards the plane. After what appears to be an eternity, the closed doors hiss open releasing many passengers who checked in way later than them.  They burst from their seats, necks craning towards the now fully-stacked boarding steps as if unwilling to accept their very public relegation.
On board, we all settle in, bags are loaded and we are embalmed with a cocktail of humid air and perfume.  Karma is served in the form of a 90-minute delay on the scorching tarmac. Some read, some chat, some drink and kids scream.  Scotty, meanwhile, is back on the phone to BA.
But we do leave, albeit late, and the waiting becomes history.  Priority boarding queue issues blur into the pleasure of returning home. Tired but on terra firma, we collect our bags from the carousel.
As I leave the baggage collection area I smile at Scotty and Well-Heeled Couple, who, hot, cross and expectant, are still waiting for their bags.
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Nostalgia; an investment paid off.

Two things happened to me recently that prompted me to reflect on Nostalgia.

  1. I went to see former Pink Floyd man Dave Gilmour’s Live in Pompeii gig streamed from a Roman Amphitheatre to the Watford Vue cinema
  2. I went back to my old school; after 40 years

Image result for dave gilmour pompeiiGilmour’s guitar playing just gets better and better. He played tracks from Dark Side of the Moon (which I bought in 1973) alongside Comfortably Numb (which I loved as a student in 1979) and newer, fresher pieces like Rattle That Lock (2006) Base notes scoured depths I thought impossible for a guitar and the highest notes found perfect pitch right off the top of the fret-board. His lyrics provoked and his astral solos reared and soared like a big bird on the wing.

smokeAnd School: Your education and your teachers shape you much more than you realise.  I don’t think I was a perfect pupil but I was well taught and well cared for by a fine community of monks.

Forty years on, they greeted us like heroes; the living product of their efforts.  And after a tour and a very good lunch they listened to stories of careers and family details, glowing with pleasure in what they had helped us to achieve.

Both events were, in their own way, nostalgia trips.  Both experiences were more pleasurable today than I remember them being all those years before.  Nostalgia is a powerful aphrodisiac, it teases out emotions that have lain dormant for a long time.  It is the opposite of a bad memory.

The lesson I learned from the emotions these events triggered was that it is what we do today that will or can become nostalgic tomorrow.  Do a thing wrong or badly and we’ll only want to forget it.  Do a thing right and do it well and we’ll reap the reward of a little nostalgia in days to come.

Mykonos in 60 seconds

Lighthouse skyMrs G. and I are just back from Mykonos, part of the Cyclades group of islands that pepper the Southern Aegean Sea about 100 miles south east of Athens.  But enough geography.

Like so  many Mediterranean Greek islands it was invaded by Romans, Venetians and Ottomans all of whom left numerous cultural and archaeological graffiti before heading off to plunder somewhere else. Fully restored to Greek ownership, the streets are now thankfully back to Cerulean blue and white.

More recently, it’s become a tourist honeypot with cruise liners paying £50k for a one-night mooring.  Each day, their numerous overloaded tenders plough over to the quayside looking like Albanian refugee boats bristling with selfie-sticks. They disgorge flocks of currency-laden day-trippers who quickly become prey to the patient yet adept local restaurant hustlers.

Mykonos town is a maze of tiny cobbled streetlets barely two selfie-sticks wide.  Maps exist but are unhelpful due to the irregularity and similarity of every corner.  Invaders, I was told, found the town impossible to attack for this very reason.  Today, between a cacophony of jewelry shops there’s big-brand shopping and super-fine dining at sky-high prices – think Bond Street, shrunk in a hot wash.  With selfie sticks…

But it’s a pretty island; offering more photo-opportunities than a royal wedding. The sunsets are heroic, the beaches are clean and the locals are genuinely very welcoming. Food-wise we found and loved Kounelas a courtyard fish restaurant in central Mykonos town (choose your own fish from the kitchen) and Kiki’s Taverna in the more remote North of the island, no power, no light or broadband, just a fire pit with sizzling chicken and unfeasibly big pork chops plus a salad bar all overseen the big man and owner Vasilis who gives you free booze until a table becomes available.

If you’re on a budget go to Paragas, the fishnchips end of the island with 25 euro sunbeds and a few nervous nudists. Pale and probably from Sheffield, they glower at you until you take your kit off.  If you’re loaded then go to Panormos and after hiring your bed for the day at 90 euros, shop in Principote where I was offered a pair of sunglasses for 600 euros. No thanks.

Visit in May (sea cold) or September (sea warm) to avoid the crowds and enjoy Mikonos for three days max then catch a ferry to nearby Ikaria, Paros or Naxos to become an island hopper and broaden your Cyclades knowledge.

See also Bruges in 60 secondsRome in 60 seconds, Barcelona in 60 secondsCyprus in 60 seconds and Mallorca in 60 seconds

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.

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.

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