30 April, 2012

Holidays with kids

OK, so I’m in festive booking spirit at the moment. This time it’s booking a holiday.

I’ve been looking at where we might go for our family break this summer and I suddenly realised how restricted we’ve become in our choices since having kids.
When my husband and I used to go on holiday before kids we really had no restrictions at all—though we didn’t realise it back then, of course. We were happy to fly at any time of the day or night and from any airport. All we needed was a hotel room to flop in at the end of the day. And we didn’t really care if the main attractions were an hour or so away from our accommodation because, Hell, we could always travel. So, the idea of backpacking round Greece with no fixed itinerary and not knowing where we would sleep from night to night was a positive attraction.

But now it’s a totally different story. For a start, we’re limited to school holidays when the prices sky rocket. We never pay less than £1,000 for flights and accommodation these days, which is scandalous, when you think about it. And we’re restricted to daytime flights from Heathrow in order to avoid overtired, grumpy kids, which inflates the price even more.

Then there’s the issue of space. With kids we tend to spend more time in our accommodation and we need to be able to cook on site (in order to avoid the cost of dinner out for four every night). So, we’re looking at a two-bedroom apartment—with swimming pool, of course, so that the kids can cool down in the heat.

And location has become all important. If we travel too far in a hire car in the heat, the kids throw up. So, our apartment needs to be (a) not too far from the airport (b) not too far from the local attractions (c) with swimming pool (d) clean (e) affordable...

And I’m left scratching my head in despair because it’s nigh impossible to satisfy all these requirements and go to somewhere that you actually want to visit.

Oh for the days of carefree Greek backpacking...

23 April, 2012

Olympic road signs

In an earlier post, I talked about the weird messages that you sometimes see displayed on overhead road signs.

We encountered another such sign yesterday, when travelling along the A34. It said: 'For Olympic events: Plan your journey. Arrive on time.'

Good message. Aiming to minimise traffic congestion, accidents and all that. But isn't it a wee bit early to start thinking about planning your journey for the Olympics? They don't start until July, after all...

18 April, 2012

Globe Theatre tickets

I recently attempted to book tickets for the Globe Theatre’s 2012 summer season and it was a nightmare.

Booking opened on 13 February and a few of days later I duly tried to book two adult and two child tickets for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. I thought it best to avoid the opening rush of booking, hence the few days’ delay.
I encountered two irritating problems. First, it transpires that you can’t book child tickets (or any concessions, for that matter) on line. You have to do it by phone instead. Don’t ask me why—it’s not as if you have to prove age when you ring the box office.

So, I had to resort to ringing up to book tickets—and here I encountered the second problem. I tried to call I don’t know how many times over two days and the phone was never answered. It simply rang off the hook. Meanwhile, on line, I could see the seats being booked and, literally, disappearing before my very eyes.

In the end I was forced to book four full price tickets on line, even though two of those tickets will be taken by children who should eligible for the concessionary rate.
Something’s not right here. The Globe must know how busy their phone lines are likely to get. Why don’t they put mechanisms in place to deal with the volume of calls? It’s surely reasonable to expect that your call will be answered at some point over a two-day period. And why on earth can’t child tickets be purchased on line?

Grump, grump, grump.

11 April, 2012

How it all Began

I recently finished reading a novel by Penelope Lively—How it all Began. It was an excellent read and I would thoroughly recommend it.

The book opens with an elderly lady being knocked down by a mugger, resulting in her breaking her hip and having to stay temporarily with her daughter until she is recovered. This one apparently small incident triggers all manner of other, much more major events that would not otherwise have happened. Things like a wife discovering that her husband is having an affair, a woman moving from London to the provinces and re-marrying, an Eastern European immigrant learning English sufficiently well that he is able to start a career in accountancy (his true profession) in the UK.

Lively loosely links this cascade effect to chaos theory via a quotation right at the beginning of the book. But, as always with Lively, it is the story that is paramount, and she really is a master storyteller. To read her prose is, I think, like listening to someone speak, with the plot unfolding apparently effortlessly through dialogue and sharp, witty observation.

If you are looking for a good holiday read, this book would be ideal. Alternatively you could read it (as I did) in snatched moments between work and childcare duties.

And, if you enjoy How it all Began, I would recommend another Penelope Lively novel—Making it Up—in which Lively takes significant decision points in her own life and considers what might have been had she made different decisions from the ones she actually did. This book is not so much about how it all began, but more about how it all continues—and ends.

05 April, 2012

The return of Gertrude

A few posts back, I introduced Gertrude, who works with me. And today we had another Gertrude-typical incident at work.

It went like this.

Gertrude needed to book a hotel room for a conference that she is attending. The rooms had been block-reserved by the conference organisers and she had been given a reference number to quote so that she would be charged the conference rate for her room booking. All she had to do was ring the hotel and make the reservation. Shouldn't be hard, should it?

Think again.

Gertrude took the portable phone out of the office to make the call. When she returned a few minutes later, I had a conversation with her that ran like this:

Gertrude: 'I couldn't get through.'

Me: 'What do you mean? Were they engaged?'

Gertrude: 'I don't know. There didn't seem to be an engaged tone. What should I do?'

Me: 'Did you dial 9 for an outside line first?'

Gertrude: 'No, no one told me that I had to do that.'*

(*Gertrude has made plenty of outside calls from this phone before.)

Slight pause.

Gertrude: 'Would you make the call for me?'

This woman is 40 years old. She has worked for several large organisations in the past, as well as ours. Yet she is apparently incapable using a work phone to make a hotel booking.

My eyes water.

01 April, 2012

Motorway speed limits

Some months ago there was talk of ministers raising the speed limit on UK motorways from 70 mph to 80 mph.

The main arguments in favour seemed to be (1) it is economically beneficial for drivers to get to their destinations sooner; (2) cars have more in-built safety features than they used to so an increased speed limit won't lead to more deaths on the motorways; (3) 50 per cent of drivers flout the limit anyway, which means that the law should be changed.

(3) is so clearly a spurious argument that it makes my head spin. How about: 50 per cent of men perpetrate domestic violence anyway, so we should revisit the laws that make domestic violence a crime. Or: 50 per cent of teenagers have shoplifted from a store anyway, so we should make the laws against theft more lenient.

Just because people flout a law -- even if it's 50 per cent of people -- doesn't diminish the severity of the crime.

The case made by (2) seems to me equally crazy. Note that the point being made is that deaths won't increase as a result of raising the speed limit. But what about injuries? No one seems to dispute that injuries are likely to increase as a result.

And this surely can't be a good thing. More injuries will result in more hospital visits and more medical care, thereby stretching NHS services further and so negating any economic benefit gained via argument (1) above.

Not to mention the damage done to people psychologically by being in a high-speed car accident...

I vote that we stick to the 70 mph limit. Given the traffic on the motorways where I live, you're lucky to make a steady 50 anyway!