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Abacus

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This morning I have a new-found respect for the postman.  The Hound is already quite keen on the postman.  The postman brings him a biscuit everyday, which he knows that if he sits nicely for, will be all his, along with an ear scrumble.  Although this makes the postman very popular with the canine residents of the village, it does render him very unpopular with colleagues covering his holidays.  As soon as the red van turns up, should the house have a dog, then that dog goes nuts expecting a biscuit and an ear scrumble and pursues the unfortunate colleague enthusiastically, wondering why the human is not responding in the appropriate manner with a treat.  Dog thinks that maybe the Human in the Red Van is not understanding that they are pleased to see them and becomes even more frenzied.  Human in the Red Van just wants to deliver the post and then preferably slobber-free, be on their way.

Please understand that I haven’t ever disrespected the postman; neither overtly nor muttered under my breath. But doing a little bit of something akin to someone’s job can always help to educate you in what it actually involves, which is no bad thing.  The Hound and I have been delivering leaflets around our village for our pre-school. And me and the Hound do not live in a big village. Oh my goodness.

First, finding some of the houses was interesting.  And once the house had been uncovered and checked for squirrels, locating the letterbox was even more fun.  Getting the leaflet through the letterbox proved to be a challenge on some occasions.  I believe that more than one of the leaflets may have been eaten as soon as it got through the letterbox.  Either that or the houseowner was sat behind door, poised to immediately snatch our delivery.  Gates.  They come in a wide variety of different shapes, sizes, bolts, latches and ranges of squeakiness don’t they? Steps.  Giant, tiny, mossy, slippery.  Residents.  Friendly: “hello, are you trying to deliver something, can I help you?” (“yes, please I’m a bit confused”); not so friendly “Yes, I was watching you…”  (“Were you? Yikes!”) And all with the Hound who wanted to sniff everything.

It took us over two hours.  In the rain.  And the Hound has been upside down on his bed with all four legs in the air ever since we got back.  I’ve had a cup of tea and some chocolate and I’m still done in.  I’ve heard people say that when they slow down they want to become a postie.  You’re out of your minds.

So my leaflet delivery was for my pre-school, a charity of which I am a trustee and have been for nearly six years.  I thought that if I volunteered to help out with my local pre-school that it would be a noble and worthy thing to do; make a few cakes and sell a few bacon sandwiches.  I was right.  I have made a few cakes and sold a few bacon sandwiches over the years.  I have also made some friends.  My baking repertoire has expanded greatly.  On one occasion, I had been asked to make a pudding for a fundraising event. I turned up at what I thought was the right address with my best culinary effort, but I wasn’t quite sure.  I rang the doorbell hoping to clarify that I was at the right house.  The door opened, a gentleman appeared, exclaimed with delight at my offering, thanked me warmly, took my pudding and shut the door. As I hadn’t established whether it was the right house, I tried to decide whether that was how you would react if you were expecting a pudding or if you weren’t. I decided that it was probably both.  When my dish was returned to me a few days later, I knew that the gentleman was in the first category on that day, but probably in the second as well.

In addition to catering, little did I know that I would also be helping to run a business and replace a building.  This is a building that all things being equal, the State should be replacing.  As we all know, there is no money.  There has been no money.   There will be no money and it’s getting worse.  However, what was news to me and might well be news to you is that primary aged children are the priority for local authorities; that is not a bad thing.  However, the absence of there being any kind of priority for pre-school children is the interesting point.  A building that is deemed to be unacceptable for primary aged children and would have to be replaced if they were in it is not even on the radar as far as the local authority are concerned for pre-school children.; they are under no obligation to replace it. That is not to point the finger at the local authority – that is the policy that they are required to follow.  I didn’t know that until I started talking to the Council about replacing this building.  I can’t imagine it is something that the government want to advertise.

The building has needed replacing for years.  It was being talked about when I joined six years ago.  And it had been talked about long before that.  We (and I mean everyone involved locally with the pre-school) has worked for years to fundraise for what has happened this week.  Years.  Raffle tickets sold, cakes consumed, eggs hunted in gardens, ducks chased down streams.  Bunting.  There has been so much bunting.  And tea.  So many cups of tea. This week we put a deposit down on a building. It is not a posh building.  It is not an expensive building as far as buildings go.  But it is all that we have, and any amount of money is a lot of money when it is all that you have.

In three weeks we are going for it.  We have to build over the Summer holidays so we don’t disrupt the business. We’ve still so much to do. Not only do five people’s jobs rest on us getting it right, so do the jobs of the parents who rely on us for their childcare and the future of the children who come to us.  I now know how Frodo felt carrying that damned ring when Galadriel said to him: “This task was appointed to you, if you don’t find a way, no one will.” If we don’t find a way, we will lose our pre-school; that much is certain.  No one will step in to save us if we get it wrong.  There is no more money, so we have to get it on time and on budget.  That utterly desolate possibility, and what it would mean for the people we employ, the families who come to us and signify for the future of our children, makes me feel so sad I don’t want to think about it, even though we have to when making every single decision from whether we can afford coat pegs or a sink.  Like the song says, on a worldwide scale, we are just another Winter’s Tale.  But it is our Winter’s Tale, and it means a lot to all of us. As we stare at the blank, final page, anything other than a happy ending is not something that I, or my co-trustees can bare to contemplate.  However, it remains, as yet, unwritten.

I’ll let you know how it ends.

http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Abacus

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Carpe Diem

Caroline Aherne

 

There is nothing the British like better than talking about the weather.  It doesn’t matter what sort of weather it is; rain,wind, snow, or wall to wall sunshine, we like to talk about it and we enjoy a good whinge.  When it rains we wish it would stop, when it’s windy, we complain that we can’t use an umbrella because it is too blustery or it makes our hair go pouffy.  We don’t mind snow because much to the amusement of some of our European and American friends, the entire country grinds to a halt if we have snow.  Really.  I have no idea why but we seem to be entirely unequipped to deal with a bit of snow.  Probably because we only ever have a little bit of snow. However, in spite of being unequipped to deal with it, we do have specific criteria for how we like to receive our snow; heavy snow for twenty four hours only so we can all have a day off work, kids a day off school, a bit of a sledge, snowball fight and make a snowman, and then it can all go away please and be of no further inconvenience, thank you.

At the moment in England at least (and I say that because that is where my bottom is sat), we have the wall to wall sunshine option.  And it is roasting hot.  Very warm indeed for England.  As I look out of one window, I see sunshine. The other window, sunshine. And a large paddling pool that my children will no doubt launch themselves into the moment that they get home from school that I bought yesterday.  Even the dog had a dip yesterday –  Man of the House turned his back and he was in, having a whale of a time.

Now when we get this sort of weather in England, strange things do happen. For some men who insist on dressing for the body they want rather than the body they have, it is the time to disrobe and walk the streets half naked and usually sun burnt. For mothers it is to plaster your child in suncream and insist on a sun hat.  If your child is really small you can play that hilarious game when you put the hat on your child and they immediately take it off.  And you can do it all afternoon.  That is when they are not demanding a cuddle, which is what you want in oppressive heat.  Old people will insist on wearing a cardigan and whilst you open a window in desperation, they will reprimand you for creating an Arctic-like draft. However, even if we keep our tops and hats on, but our cardys off , the one thing that most of us will become involved with in some capacity is a barbecue.

Immediately the weather gets warmer, everyone, or perhaps more specifically, men, have an uncontrollable urge to cook outside. And it is often men who don’t really cook that this happens to.  Men who have shown no interest whatsoever in the happenings in the kitchen suddenly decide that they want to cook.  In a manly and primal way.  Meat.  Outside.  On an open fire.  Possibly in an amusing pinny. Clutching a beer.  At the hottest time of the day.  On the hottest day of the year.

On the morning of such a day, particularly if it falls over a weekend, the supermarkets are seething with people stacking their trollies up with food. Burgers, sausages, steak….you name it.  I was in there yesterday, beating my way through the masses, (my excuse being that my fridge had chosen the hottest day of the year so far to break and I had had to throw everything away) and I can attest to the empty shelves.  I always wondered why on earth supermarkets limit some special offers to “twenty promotional items per customer.” Now I know. So in spite of being a serial over-caterer, I was a small fish in a big pond.  My mother is also a serial over-caterer and her mother, my grandmother, was before her.  If you invite someone round for food and they don’t have to have a lie down on the floor after lunch, then you haven’t done your job properly as far as my family is concerned.  But we ain’t got nothing on pretty much everyone frequenting the supemarket yesterday.

Most people were purchasing an amount of food which suggested that not only friends and family were coming round for a bite.  They were also expecting friends and family to bring everyone they know as well, and in addition, at some point, the host was fully expecting their house, garden and everyone in it to be under siege from some hitherto unknown army, for at least a week and utterly incapable of rescue. Which also explains the mass purchase of the Nerf guns.

Once food is purchased, it is customary for people all over the country to pile up charcoal briquettes over an enormous number of firelighters, and mutter under their breath that they can’t get the damned thing to light.   It will take so long to light that by the time it does everyone will be so ravenously hungry, there will only be one deeply unappetising sausage ready and that will have fallen through the grill onto the briquettes.  It is usually the sausage that you give to the dog.  However, someone will have burnt their fingers retrieving that sausage and in desperation will eat it anyway.  As people are getting really rather hungry now, some of the women present will rashly suggest using the oven inside the house that is perfectly acceptable, or even superior, on any other day of the year. Naturally, their suggestions will be spurned whilst the water guns are brought out in readiness for the siege by the army of unknowns.  By the time that everyone has eaten and everything has been cooked, the barbecue is going really well.  Now, the day after, all that will remain is for us to spend an hour cleaning the grill, eat a strange combination of cold food for three days and also spend quite a lot of time finishing off random bits of pudding.

And when the sun comes out again, we’ll do it all again because we’re British, and when it comes down to it, we’re nothing if not hopelessly optimistic and a bit odd.

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Fly Maybe

The Rescuers

I expect that Flybe are hoping that today might be a good day to bury bad news.  If you can negotiate your way through all of General Election gubbins, you may stumble across an article that says that Flybe is promising an overhaul after posting a twenty million pound loss. That’s a big number isn’t it?  It is reported that they are going to turn the business around by reducing the size of their fleet due to a slowing growth in consumer demand. That sounds measured and sensible.  I might be able to help them with some suggestions because I had the misfortune of flying with Flybe for the first time last week.

It was a week last Saturday, which was also on a day that was a good day to bury bad news because whilst me and a hundred or so other people were sat twiddling our thumbs at Birmingham Airport, thousands of people were ensnared in the BA balls up.  Our delay had nothing to do with the BA thing.  Nothing.  Our delay, both outbound and inbound was due to complete and utter incompetence. Not that the BA thing wasn’t.  It is just that this incompetence was not related to that.  So before you book your holiday avoiding BA but plumping for Flybe, just read to the end.  Please.

Our flight was due to take off at 11.15am.  The plane was on the tarmac.  Later than expected, but nothing too awful, we boarded a bus to be taken to the plane.  The doors were closed.  And we were kept on the bus for half an hour.  The doors then opened and we were deposited back at the gate.  For five hours. For about four hours, we were told nothing.  The screens were not updated (although they kept taunting us with promises to update) and not one member of staff appeared.  In desperation I took to Twitter, and was told a load of rubbish by whoever picks up their messages. My travel agent was trying to obtain information and was also told a load of piffle.  I asked via Twitter for everyone to be updated.  Nothing.  When it all became too taxing for them, I mean, we were only customers; radio silence.

After about four and a half hours, a Member of Staff appeared at a desk and was deluged.  A lot of people had drifted away from the gate, so were not a party to what was being said, and no one appeared to have thought that updating all passengers was important, so only those within earshot got the information.  Member of Staff then walked down the gate and Man of the House stopped her asked her what was going on. She advised that thirty four people were not able to get on the plane.  She had asked people to queue up (those in the siege who had heard this had indeed already done so) and the last thirty four people to do so would not be leaving Birmingham on that flight.  Man of the House queried this and asked if she was seriously suggesting that people fight their way to the front, children fighting adults for their place.  Her response?  Without pausing for breath she confirmed that was the case and that was why she had asked the police to attend.  She then gestured to two police officers.  And we all know that police officers have absolutely nothing better to do at the moment, so I imagine that they were particularly pleased to be there. It is difficult to describe the expression of Man of the House at this point, but I suspect that it is the same as yours right now.

When it came to boarding (bearing in mind that only those people who had already formed the queue and Man of the House because he had made a direct enquiry had a clue what was going on), Member of Staff announced to those within earshot that those with ferry connections and (possibly after having had the opportunity to reflect) those with children, were permitted onto the plane first.  I am not able to comment on the scene after that as I was fortunate enough to be on the plane, trying to calm my now near-hysterical daughter.  I did, however, speak to the last person to get on the plane.  She said that seeing that the plane was boarding, people had started to queue up.  The Member of Staff had then put her hand behind her back and told the people behind her to stop.  The last lady on the plane had no idea why that had happened until she got on the plane, the people behind her had no idea why either.

When we got on the plane we were told the truth. The crew had been told that twenty or so people would be getting on the plane that morning.  All the weight/fuel calculations were done on that basis. The crew were then told it was over one hundred people and at that point the plane would be too heavy to have everyone on, even just to be on the tarmac.  Apparently the people who could remove the necessary amount of fuel from the plane at Birmingham Airport don’t work weekends, and it would seem that Flybe were fresh out of ideas, not that they had any in the first place.

So, we took off five and a half hours late.  But we were the lucky ones.  Thirty four people were left in the terminal.  I understand that they left Birmingham Airport at ten o’clock at night.  Thirteen hours after they were supposed to.  They were twenty minutes from their destination when the destination airport advised that they closed at midnight and the plane could not land.  They were diverted to Athens.  Seven hours away from their destination by road.  Checking even the most basic of information and procedures does not seem to be a priority for Flybe.

Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, we were also delayed on the inbound flight.  Three and a half hours this time.  I knew when we checked in because a fellow passenger had ascertained that the flight coming from Birmingham hadn’t even taken off.  Back I went to Twitter.  Apparently staff sickness was the issue.  Is Flybe so thin on the ground for staff that if someone calls in sick they have no plan to deal with it?  We were given no other information in the airport, except from holiday reps desperately trying to find things out, just as we were, and none of the information they were given was accurate.  Feeling every so slightly tetchy, my sarcasm was now getting the better of me and I suggested to Flybe on Twitter that perhaps we should just have a passenger sweepstake on guessing a time for take off, given that they had no idea when their own plane would be arriving.

Eventually we did leave.  Turns out that that staff sickness crap, was just that, crap.  The plane had gone in for its service and came out late to the crew, hence it being late taking off from Birmingham and that being the knock-on effect.

Flybe, I would suggest that the decrease in your customer demand is because the dreadful way you treat your customers is causing them to shop elsewhere.  Your routes are loss-making because of the vast amount of compensation that you have to pay out to people due to your inability to organise your own schedule, a steadfast refusal to communicate with your customers and the way in which you insult their intelligence with “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses on the occasions when you do.  If you have profit-making routes, I suspect it is because they are sufficiently short distances for the compensation to be in the lower band provided for by the EU legislation for you to financially get away with paying the compensation and still make a profit.  However, if you don’t put your house in order, and sharpish, you won’t survive because all of your routes will be loss-making.  People work hard for their money; their time and their holidays are precious to them and they will choose not to spend it with your company.  If you continue to treat your customers with such contempt when they are simply expecting the service that they have paid for, and which you have promised, your business will not, and does not deserve, to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture: The Rescuers – Walt Disney Animated Classics