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.

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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

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

Open Letter to Vodafone (or Where’s the Edge?)

vodafone03Dear Directors of Vodafone and those responsible for the service to us, your bill-paying customers.

I have been a customer of yours for around 20 years.  I founded a business and ran all (hundreds of) my phones through you. My Family have all been Voda customers for as long as I can remember and for this I have paid my bills faithfully but now I’ve had enough and here’s why.

I pre-ordered a new Samsung “Edge” in February.  You failed to deliver on the target launch date (9th April) so I called to discover you had no stock – despite a national advertising campaign to say the phone was available.

I rang again a week later to discover still no stock. Would you call me when stock arrives?  No Sir, we can’t call you, you have to call us.  At an average call duration of 30 minutes, (I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man, – what does that song even mean?) I called every Tuesday and Thursday (stock delivery days at Voda distribution) for four weeks to discover still no stock was available.

Finally, after a lifetime of calling twice a week to be told Samsung had let you down I got a phone – the wrong phone.  More calls – oh, sorry, the order was incorrect; so we’ve fixed that – we’ll send another handset next week.  Please accept 2 months tariff free by way of compensation; don’t leave us.

Three weeks later I did get another phone – another wrong phone – £1,450 of smartphone tech sent late and without explanation leaving me to arrange returns.

More calls to discover how such incompetence could have arisen. Gushing apologies from your customer services but please could I wait another 5 days and pay £9 for another delivery.  This amount was later refunded but no, you couldn’t offer more compensation nor could you sort this out in 24 hours – “that’s not how the company works”.  Clearly.

Four days later a text arrived to say the delivery was postponed by another day.  A courier will “uplift” (sic) the wrong phone and deliver the right one.  He did arrive – empty handed, asking for “a pickup”. I ticked the box saying “pickup not ready”, bid him a polite goodbye and called Voda.  I was disconnected after 20 minutes holding for the returns department. Rang back; 1 hr 24m later, 5 different depts. (security at each step), no stock at HQ so they rang round their stores to find…no stock in the stores either!  And so it goes on.

So far, (and its not over yet) you have cost me three days at home waiting for deliveries that have not come and around 5 hours of telephone calls and a half hour queue at the post office.  You’re marketing a phone you don’t yet have, from a manufacturer you blame for not delivering, sending out wrong phones to your customers not once but twice, offering platitudes and paltry compensation.   Access to your support is an assault on the senses, taking not just 30 minutes but the very will to live.  Your agents make the same promise – to “own” my problem yet I need to recite my problem to each one and they’ve all failed to resolve it.

Twelve weeks after my order I still do not yet have my new phone. And as your competitors encircle me for my business let me tell you this.  You do not deserve your licence nor any customer loyalty. Your customer service is inept, you have broken too many promises and I have lost trust in you.  You have failed me completely and you show little care for my plight.  You are a broken brand.