Friday, March 18, 2016

The changing face of travel

Reading an article recently got me reminiscing about the first real trip I did.  Not the week I had in Tunisia riding camels.  Not the week in Ibiza, avoiding San Antonio.  An actual backpacking trip.  Years before flash packing was a glint in an entrepreneurs eye.  There was no "flash" in the travel we were to embark on.  Not even on the camera we had.  No, seriously, it had NO flash.  There are probably people reading this who don't understand that statement.  Does this help?

Example of 110 camera, introduced by Kodak in 1972 
My, oh my.  Taking pics on that old thing.  And wandering to the chemist on Pitt St Mall in Sydney, paying extra to get the 1 hour processing.  The height of excitement.  Then, when the pics came, nervously flicking through to see what of the night out in Kings Cross actually got captured.  I lost count of the times we either exclaimed, who IS that?  Why is that girl sitting on your knee?  Who are those lads drinking schooners with us?  Those halcyon days.

The intention is not to rehash the original article I read, but to give me chance to reflect on times past, and the changes that seem to have happened over the years without me really noticing.  I still feel like that excited 23 year old.  Knowing there is a whole world out there to explore.  I am a little older, and wiser now, but I still have that excitement about the world.

Traveling in 1994 was very different to traveling now.  No email.  Internet?  What was that?  All we had was our trusty guide book of choice.  Mine being then, and still, Lonely Planet.  But what hefty tomes they were.

Booking your next hostel over the actual telephone.  The big ones in the street, that you put coins into.  Not the one in your pocket the size of a small caramel slice.  No kids, those weren't invented at this point.  Mobile phones, not caramel slices. 

Passing on your contact details by getting out a pen, and ripping a piece of paper from your travel journal.  Knowing that you were never going to see, nor contact 99% of the people.  But it felt good to do it anyway.  With your new lifelong "friends".   That is something that never changes, whatever the technology we use as enablers.  Friendships don't need social media. 

And as for writing to let people know what you were up to.  Well.  You had to actually write.  With a real pen.
Poste Restante.  What a quaint idea.  If you wanted a letter to reach you on the road, you told people which city, or town you would be in, and added c/o Poste Restante.  And miraculously, it arrived.  You went and queued up with all the other travellers, and vagabonds, with your identification.  And collected your mail.  I still have a box full of letters from that time, collected from post offices around Australia.

A few years after that seminal trip, I found myself back down under, travelling around New Zealand, tying in a quick visit to the sister, who at this time was living it large in Bondi.  Sans children.

What was this strange phenomenon whereby fellow travellers were jumping straight off the bus upon arrival in Christchurch, and running into the nearest café?  All lined up, clearly visible through the front window of the cafe, each sat at a computer terminal.  Were they taking some kind of online exam?  Playing computer games?  No, the age of the Internet cafe had arrived.  With pay as you go access to email, and allowing you to upload (if you had the time and money for the incredibly frustrating upload and download speeds) photos.  At lot had seemingly changed since 1994.  A brave new world indeed.

I had to join this brave new world, and so, far my next major trip, a round the world (RTW in travel parlance) I found myself travelling all the way to Leeds to hunt down an elusive Internet cafe.  I say ALL the way to Leeds, and those readers from home will know this is not far at all.  But in those days, it just highlights how few and far between these mythical Internet cafes were.

Not that I knew what one of these places of magic and mystery were, but I had read that I could go there and get an email address.  Whatever that was.  A legacy of this remains to this day, the reason I have "99" appending fcormack on my hotmail account. This was the year I set it up.  A poignant, and constant reminder of a marvellous year.

Having an email address was only half the story.  Finding a place down a dusty side street in Delhi that somebody had told you had a computer so you could email...who exactly?  I think I was an early adopter in this email malarkey, which meant the options of who I could write to (electronically) were very limited.

And boy, were these internet connections slow!  You paid by the 5, or 10 mins usually.  And before you had written "wish you were here" you had spent next week's beer and bed budget.  Imagine my relief some years later when Stelios finally got into the game, creating his big orange "EasyInternet" cafes.  Game changers at the time, that I have used in places from Berlin to Barcelona. 

Traveling now is unrecognisable from my early days.  My last real trip was at the end of 2010/start of 2011, all around South America.  Most people I met were carrying expensive bits of kit such as MacBooks, and large expensive SLR cameras.  Not to mention the mini computers, masquerading as phones, in their pockets.  Or it's the ubiquitous tablet, used to capture and share every waking moment of their trip.  Be it the food.  The amazing sunset.  The "undiscovered" beach they have just discovered.  The one first mentioned by Tony and Maureen Wheeler in the very Lonely Planet guide to South East Asia, Across Asia on the Cheap, from 1973.

I have a wry smile to myself, seeing some of the content in today's travel blogs.  From the "digital nomads" currently traveling all four corners of the earth.  They sometimes really believe they are exploring uncharted waters.  Seeing things with human eyes for the very first time.  The reality is that they probably aren't even the first person in their hostel to see it.   But you know what, that is part of the beauty of travelling.  Thinking you are Phileas Fogg.  Educating the masses to the big wide world out there. 

What is true is that the act of travel is no longer a luxury.   Or even a rite of passage as it once was.  It's just something you do.  Because you can.  Because life is short, and it sure beats working.  And because the world has shrunk to the point that any of us can be anywhere we want to be.

You just need to decide where that is, and make it happen.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Melbourne, Open

There is a certain satisfaction in finally doing something that you have wanted for many years.  All through that sultry antipodean summer in 1995, mesmerised by the bright blue courts, and the luminous furry yellow ball darting from one side to the other.  Thousands of heads first looking one way, then in miraculous synchronicity, switching to the other.  All appearing to say "no" with a shake of the head in a seemingly interminable slow motion.

Pete Sampras reigning supreme, as he would again in 1997.  When players are so omnipotent, we think they will hold their crown for ever.  But then another generation come through, and we see the likes of Agassi (4 time winner), and then Federer (4 time winner), and now the machine that is Novak Djokovic, going into the tournament holding a record of 5 Australian Open titles, and exiting it claiming his sixth, in straight sets against Andy Murray.  Djok's 11th grand slam title.

Rod Laver arena, ahead of the battles to come
Some 21 years on from that hostel in Glenelg, Adelaide, I find myself at the famed Rod Laver arena in Melbourne, first for the women's, then one of the men's semi finals.  Finally, I am here.  No more talking about what I would like to do.  No more saying "one day".  One day has a nasty habit of becoming "never", so when I saw Jetstar's "take a mate" flight deal, effectively buy one, get one free, as soon as you could say "hidden charges", I had booked return flights with the "budget" airline. 

Melbourne is a city I had been too a few times before, and greatly enjoyed.  Most of our short trip there would be consumed by the tennis, but we also planned to make the most of the free time we had.  Garnering recommendations from Melbourne "ex pats" we knew, we strategically shaped our agenda around brunch spots, top coffee shops (when we could find them hidden down alleys), and some of the best small bars Melbourne had to offer.

One of Melbourne's finest
Having not been for a few years how would it compare to home, here in Sydney?  Well, that could depend on who you ask!

For people not from this neck of the woods you may not be aware that there is a certain rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney.  Bordering on animosity.  I'm not sure where it started, or even how real the actual rivalry is.  Some they there is a rivalry between Adelaide and Melbourne, although nobody in Melbourne has ever heard of this rivalry, nor cares what anybody in small town Adelaide has to say.

Sydneysiders claim to live in the best place in Australia (maybe the world, some of them espouse), and Melburnians (from the cultural capital of Australia) beg to differ.   Esteemed journalists such as Mosman based Peter FitzSimons even waded into the debate in his weekly column in the Sydney Morning Herald.   Somewhat disparagingly I would say, to our friends in the state of Victoria. 

Sydney is seen as a place to kick back with a cold stubbie, and enjoy the beach life, in your wife beater (vest) and thongs (flip flops).  Melbourne sneer at even considering something so uncouth.  Melbourne dines out, quite literally, on it's foodie scene and sublime coffee culture.  Not forgetting that the small bar revolution currently hitting Sydney in fact started in Melbourne some years ago. 

Lock out laws are currently in the news (for NSW and now Queensland), a subject that deserves a blog all on its own, but it is yet another example quoted by bar flies in Melbourne of the superior approach to creating, and maintaining a world class, 24 hour city.  And I would agree.  Whole heartedly.  There is more than one way to create a more harmonious society, and imposing curfews, and ridiculous laws around the sale of alcohol are not the most effective way.

In the whole of NSW, about 3 and a quarter times the size of the U.K., you can no longer buy a bottle of wine after 10pm.  It is deemed too dangerous, and reduces the risk of you going out after your 7 course degustation dinner, and bottle of Sancerre, and clobbering somebody in the street.  Apparently.  And woebetide you would like a Macallan 15yr old single malt past 12am.  Waaay too dangerous.  This contravenes the "responsible service of alcohol laws", and can only be bought by you if served with a mixer.  I shit you not.  This is the nanny state that Sydney is, no, has become.

Melbourne tried such draconian measures a few years back.  And 3 months later, against massive public revolt, they were repealed.  The result?   Melbourne, and it's nightlife, continues to go from strength to strength.

But I digress.  This blog is not the place for politics.

How did Melbourne compare to Sydney?  Very favourably in my opinion.  It feels like a "real" city compared to Sydney.  A city with logical layout, grid like, as seen in places like New York City.  I often got the eerie feeling of a flashback to previous city breaks, all over the world.  Sydney is based around so much water, the glorious Harbour, and amazing beaches, that it feels more like a holiday location than a city.  This obviously isn't a bad thing.  Just very different to most major cities.

The vibrant Degraves St
The small bar scene is booming, even if it looks as though you only now need the corner of an old car park, some wooden pallets to sit on, and some large old soup containers to hold the DJ's decks, and you have a bar that can legitimately sell $20 cocktails.  Coffee has, and I feel always will be, one of Melbourne's everlasting loves.  A love that I share.  And you don't have to look too hard for damn good coffee. 

Together with a progressive approach to city transport, with a tram system in place for years that Sydney can only hope to replicate the success of, which also includes a heavy emphasis on catering to cycling as a bone fide way of commuting, Melbourne has much to offer, and much to proud of.

Nothing beats rattling around the city on the free tram
I now have one eye on the Jetstar website, so I can once again revel in the wondrous laneway culture made famous by the capital of Victoria.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2015, end of year wrap up - New Year Evolutions

Quite pointedly, you will see that I have not referenced "resolutions" in this.  Why is that?  As we all know, resolutions only ever turn out to be a temporary state of affairs.  Very ephemeral.  They don't even sometimes last beyond the first hangover of the year.  When all you are craving is a bacon, egg, and black pudding butty.

The first time you fall off your own particular wagon, then it is a case of, "oh well, maybe I will try that again next January."  I am a firm believer in living the very best life you can.  All the time.  Not once a year.  And not as a result of a guilt fueled post December blow out.

I do like to set myself annual goals though.  Things I want to do and achieve.  With my life.  With loved ones.  It's the truest of truisms that time flies when you are having fun.  And a truth universally acknowledged that it goes even faster the older you get.

This was brought very sharply into focus recently when I happened across a blog post from a chap called Tim Urban (  A posting he wrote about "life in charts".  When you can see all your life on one chart, it is visually very powerful.  When you can cross off the time you have had, and see the remainder, it reminds us that we are not immortal, and don't in fact have all the time in the world.
Cross off what you have had, it is powerful
It went something like this, as applied to me.  If I am lucky enough to last to the ripe old age of 90, I have 46 years left.  I currently see my family maybe once a year on average.  If I do nothing to increase that average, I will only get to see them properly again for a maximum of 46 times.  I don't want to consider what this means to the times I get to see my mum, who, barring a miraculous, medical discovery, won't be around to see me reach my 90th birthday.

This isn't supposed to be depressing.  Rather, a reminder that we should make the most of the time we do have.  Use it valuably.  Don't waste time on arguments or petty grudges.  Because folks, life really is too short

Setting goals for the year motivates me to make sure I am living my life the way I want to.  Filling it with great experiences. So as I look back over the year, at times like these, in the rear view mirror, over my turkey, and pigs in blankets, I do so with satisfaction and not regret.  

Looking back over a list I made myself at the start of 2015, I haven't done too bad.  Some items will carry over to this year, but isn't that the idea?  Create an aspirational list, and see where you land.  My one perennial item, that always gets carried over is "lose weight".  Not because I want to go on some fad diet, and lose lots of weight.  But rather, to maintain the lifestyle I enjoy so much, which includes lots of eating out, and lots of cocktails, then my weight is one thing that keeps me in the gym so many times a week.

Items on my list for last year included:
  • Go and actually see something at the Opera House (rather than just using the toilets) - ticked this off in December, when we went to see the amazing "Sleeping Beauty" ballet.
  • Eat fish and chips in England - ticked off courtesy of the wonderful friend, with whom I had a splendid, boozy, lunch of fabulous fish and chips at the new Catch restaurant in West Vale, Halifax.
  • Visit somewhere new - ticked off with a first visit to Jervis Bay, Huskisson, and Hyam's beach on the south coast of New South Wales.  What was going to be a quiet night in the famous "Husky" pub turned into a big night after being told we had to "push on".  So we spent the night listening to a live rendition of such Aussie classics such as Khe San by Cold Chisel. Harper and Tarimo, go and google them.  Obviously not as popular as The Proclaimers in the hot spots of Halifax and Huddersfield.
  • Learn a bit more Spanish, and speak it in Spain - ticked off with a weekend in Marbella, with some of my oldest (and they are quite old) mates.
  • Continue writing - something I have strived to do with regular-ish blog updates.  If I am honest, I would like to write more, but not sure you would all agree that's such a good idea :-)
  • Continue finding new places to eat in Sydney - not much of a hardship this one.  And with an exploding, world class dining scene, it is not very hard to achieve either.
And then the year had lots of highlights, and lots of firsts
I attended the world's largest BBQ with my new friends Pam and Roy.  I'm convinced that they will still be eating the leftovers.  To this very day.  I also attended the world's slowest BBQ (in fact I must point out that Mr Kent did an admirable job on his first occasion of using a behemoth of a gas BBQ. He wasn't in fact quite as slow as Miss Harper has painted him out to be).  If only wee Tom could have been there to see him.

At the age of 43 I went ice skating for the very first Bondi Beach.  Yes folks, you read that correctly.  Once a year an ice rink gets put up on the promenade overlooking the world famous beach.  It was great fun, even if I did resemble a drunk Bambi, trying to keep from falling over, as 5 year olds zoomed past me like Torvill and Dean.

Whale watching made the list of firsts, even though it was the second time I had been out on a trip. This was the first time I had actually seen any whales.

Stand Up Paddle boarding was a first that will definitely be repeated.  Despite needing even better balance than when I went ice skating, I surprised myself by being able to stay upright for long periods at a time.  I was even upright for a whole 10 minutes at one point.

Despite living in Sydney now for over 3 years, 2015 was the first time I had been to the "Vivid" light show in Sydney.  An annual lights extravaganza that has to be seen to be believed.

January saw us welcome our first visitors of the year from the UK.  And the first time I had seen a person visibly melt in the sun in front of my eyes, like an ice cream left outside for too long.  A day at cricket at Sydney Cricket Ground saw us battling with the heat in ways not usually experienced in Greetland.

Thailand - and a return to Koh Samui after about 15 years.  Needless to say the place had changed, and in a good way.  We had an excellent time, fueled by cheap beers, pad thai and me discovering piña coladas.  How damn good are those bad boys?!

August saw me bring in my 3 year anniversary, and we finally got to have cocktails (about $1m worth!!!) in the Shanghai bar.  Known to you and me, and the rest of the world, as the Shangri La hotel.  And what a view from the room.  The ultimate staycation.  Matched by a stay later in the year at the wonderful Ovolo hotel down on finger wharf at Woolloomooloo.  Free mini bar, AND free drinks in the bar between 5pm to 7pm.  Beat that.

A trip home to the motherland in September, with Ma Cormack returning with us, for her second visit, bringing Helen in tow.  This was covered in my last posting.  And a holiday back to the wonderful Palm Cove in Far North Queensland over xmas rounded the year off perfectly, before spending NYE down at Sydney Harbour, for a fireworks display that always leaves me breathless.

And so, onto 2016, and all that brings.  Hopefully a good one for you, your family, and all your friends.

p.s. another first - the first blog post I have done on my new toy, the gargantuan iPad Pro.  I also have the "pencil", and have started sketching, so I may follow Winston Churchill into painting out the later years of my life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Xmas in Palm Cove, FNQ - 2015

This had been a long time coming.  The long awaited Xmas holiday.  Back to a place we first discovered almost a year ago to the day, thanks to a family recommendation (nod to Pam 😊) whilst exploring the East coast in a camper van.

And as if we hadn't waited long enough, the holiday gods were transpiring to make us wait even longer.  The 15.00 Jetstar departure to Cairns, Airbus A320, was being inspected in minute detail by not one, not two, but three engineers.  I didn't have a good feeling about this.  Having extensive experience of budget airlines, I was expecting to have to disembark, and decamp back to the departure lounge. In the event, despite leaving Sydney a full one and a half hours late, I was glad to be leaving at all.

Pulling away from the terminal to the (in ear) strains of Del Amitri.  Yes, that Scottish band from time ago.  As I had to explain to my travel companion who had never heard of them.  The youth of today.  The very song I was listening to (The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere) was recorded from a concert I was at, in Leeds, 1997, at the Town & Country club for those that remember it.

Now cruising at altitude, sipping a cold Peroni, looking forward to the relaxing week ahead.  Sun, sand, and good books.  Or so I thought.

We arrived in the midst of a cyclone warning, and to torrential rain.  The 30 minute transfer from Cairns airport, north up Captain Cook highway, past Yorkeys Knob (which always fills me with juvenile giggles, but is actually just one of the beach suburbs on the way north), had me very worried.  Were we going to have this for the whole week, and be stuck indoors, under house arrest by the weather?

The eternal optimist within me found a silver lining to that worst case of scenarios.  Our hotel was in a great location, with our 3rd floor room overlooking the pool, and BBQ area, ringed by trees, looking like the rain forests of the hinterland.  There could be worse places to be holed up, with wine, crisps, and an unlimited supply of books (one of the benefits of travelling with an ereader).

Being English, and from the greatest place on earth, Yorkshire, I had learned at a very young age that a bit (read torrential) of rain wasn't going to hurt me, so out for dinner we ventured.  Although it is true we didn't venture far.  Then again, nothing is very far in (usually) picture postcard perfect Palm Cove.  After about a 29 yard hike we arrived at the welcoming doors of Il Forno pizzeria.

A very cute, little authentic pizzeria, upstairs, with views out across the road, to the ocean.  So relaxing, with a bottle of Tin Cottage sauv blanc, listening to the early evening waves crashing against the beach.  The pizza was good, but I was just a little bit jealous of the child at the next table devouring a Nutella calzone!   But, full, and tired after a long day, it was time to retire for the evening.

After a good nights sleep, benefiting from very rare air conditioning, I tentatively opened my eyes, and my ears, carefully listening.  Yeah, I had woken to the strains of rain again.  That cyclone remained a risk.  That said, we ventured outside, determined not to have the inclement weather govern our holiday.

Over a very good breakfast, with the best coffee I ended up having in Palm Cove, at Jack and Shanan's, I was surprised with an early birthday present.  An afternoon massage, and a rain therapy treatment (ironic really, considering the amount of rain we were putting up with outside the spa), at Peppers Beach Club day spa.  Relaxing, (as best I could when naked but for a modesty towel), getting gently pummelled and exfoliated whilst listening to dolphins having sex.

A great way to spend the first full day of the holiday, setting the tone for the rest.  Lunch, accompanied with Margaritas.  Not quite Jimmy Buffet standard, but it was 5 o'clock somewhere, so we didn't need an excuse.  The rain was relentless but we were kept company with our good friend Stella from Belgium.

The following day, Xmas Eve, dawned dry, and at 7am we were picked up and on our way to Cairns port, for our 8.30am snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  Replicating how we spent Xmas Eve last year, albeit that was further south, in the Whitsunday Islands.  The 1 hour and 20 minutes on the boat to the reef was very choppy, and I was thankful that I had earlier taken a sea sickness tablet.  Judging by the amount of green faces surrounding me, and the rate that the little white bags were getting filled up by retching ship mates, it turned out to be an inspired decision.

And as expected, the day turned out to be awesome.  A ripper, in local parlance.  Visiting 3 snorkelling/dive sites, we got to see some amazing coral, and sea life, which included a couple of white tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, and the ever elusive Nemo.  Yes, this was my first time actually seeing the little fella, despite having snorkelled these waters on multiple occasions.  The clownfish, Nemo's "official" title, is a very small fish, and can only be found swimming amongst the anemones that he calls home.  We were fortunate to have been directed there by one of the crew, a marine biologist, who knew exactly where the little chap hung out.

Definitely a Xmas Eve to remember.  We were back in Cairns for 4.30pm, and soon on our way back to Palm Cove, for the last dinner and drinks of my 43rd year.  And what a year.

Another day, another year older.  Some people shy away from birthdays.  Not even celebrating them.  I'm not sure why.  For me, it's time to rejoice that I am lucky enough to have my full health, and people in my life that make me happy.  We can't take anything for granted, and shouldn't.  In keeping with tradition in recent years, it was down the beach with a beer for the obligatory birthday shot.  I hope to still be doing this many years from now.  The birthday gods had called rank over the weather gods, and I was blessed with a beautiful, sunny day.  Another reason to be happy.

Xmas lunch was done more in the Aussie style, than English.  No turkey, but bucket loads (literally) of king prawns.  With free flowing fizz, and enough chocolate mousse at the end to drown in, we walked away (well, waddled), very full, and very content.  As night closed in, I drew the curtains on another great year.

The remaining days of the holiday were blessed with the kind of weather we had packed for, and expected.  Beach, and cold drinks weather.  Reminding us what is so special about Palm Cove, and what drew us back here in the first place.  Far North Queensland really is a beautiful part of Australia, and the world.  My only regret was that we weren't staying longer.  But we were soon heading back to Sydney, and to finally celebrate "Xmas day" at home.  opening presents, and watching Home Alone.  Some traditions are too good to die off.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mum comes to Sydney...marvellous

Not going back to the UK much, you may think that 2 weeks with the family would be enough.  Not for me.  Oh no.  I am what you would call in the common vernacular, "a glutton for punishment".  After an amazing couple of weeks in the UK seeing family and friends, old and new, I then brought my mum and one of my sisters BACK with me!  Albeit, the quietest sister.  I swear, at times you wouldn't even know she was there.  Apart from sporadic "marvellouses" every now and then she is an introvert's dream.  Marvellous.

Cast your mind back 18 months and you will recall mum came back to Sydney with me for her first Australian trip.  And, some might say surprisingly,  she also found her way back home at the end of her 3 weeks.  Yes, she did 4 loops of Sydney international terminal, and almost got on a plane to Qatar from Singapore.  But, she made it home safely.  And that is the important bit.  OK, i made the bit about the plane to Qatar bit up, but you get the picture.

So, with mum now being a seasoned traveller, and knowing a bit of Sydney, a few weeks back here, with my sister would be a breeze.  Wouldn't it?  The only danger, as I could see, would be that mum would leave my sister sat in a cafe somewhere in Mosman, forgetting she was there.  It's easily done.  She is so quiet and reserved that you think you are sat in glorious isolation.  It's like forgetting your umbrella on the train.  Kind of.  Up you get, and you are halfway home before you realise she is missing.

It turns out mum has her own inimitable way of navigating Mosman.  "Look for the man's head", she said.  Man's head?  What the devil is she talking about?  "I walk up the road, to Vinnies (local charity shop), and on the way back, walk past Bird Bath Table (actually Bed, Bath, and Table!), past the kid's toy shop (to see if there are ANY kids she hasn't yet bought a gift for), and when I see the man's head, I turn right down your street."

Let's get one thing clear.  Mosman is no war torn village, in a country ravaged by civil war.  So you don't go around expecting to see the heads of men casually on street corners.  But on my next visit to work, the penny dropped.  She was looking for Dom.  A brass bust of a late, former local Mayor of Mosman.  Strategically located, for mum's navigational purpose, at the top of my street.  Now, like all good family histories, mum was passing this knowledge on to my sister, so future generations don't get lost wandering around Mosman.  Let's hope Dom doesn't fall foul of the local council, and get removed.  Where would we be then?  Or, more specifically, where would mum be?

Thankfully, as it turns out, mum, or my sister didn't get lost.  At least not in a literal sense.  Although, if she described her day to you, you could be forgiven she had been on a different planet completely.

She wanted to meet me in"Darwin Harbour", til I explained to her that Darwin was many, many miles away, in the north, and it would take us a long time to get there.  We established she meant Darling Harbour.  A similar thing happened when she wanted to meet for lunch in Canary Wharf.  Now, I am sure there are some cracking food options in Canary Wharf, the thing is, it is in London, and we were in Sydney.

When I suggested somewhere closer would be more convenient, she piped up, "how about Neutron Bay or Split Junction?'.  Yes mum, would that be Neutral Bay or Spit Junction?  As long as she made sure she didn't get on the "hopalong bus".  Worked that one out?  The "hop on, hop off" tourist bus.

And the fun just continued.  She wondered if Milo was a wine?  Tried to order "spankyoli" in the Greek restaurant, in place of spanakopita, and then got home and asked if i would "get the Skype box out" so she could call home.  You couldn't make this stuff up.   Well, you could, it jut wouldn't be as funny.

You could possibly think the coup de grace would be the time she locked herself into the toilet, getting her leg up on the frame to try and force the door, only to realise she was pushing, and not pulling.  But no.  For me, the best was saved til the last days of a very enjoyable, and very memorable holiday, when she looked aghast when i informed her that dinosaurs are real.  "You mean they were not made up for Jurassic Park?" she genuinely enquired?
Mum, I salute you.  Once again I loved having you here in Australia with me and giving me the opportunity to spend quality time with you.  It makes me realise how much I miss you, and having you around.  I look forward to our next adventure.

Oh, you see, I almost forgot.  My quiet sister.  It was great having you here too, and so glad that you managed to get to do the things you wished for.  Although, you come all the way to amazing Sydney, with it's iconic sights, and your highlight?  Alf's bait shop in Summer Bay (Palm Beach)!  Rubber dinghy rapids bruv.  Marvellous.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Whale of a time - but no Ryan Giggs

My first reaction upon being asked if I wanted to go and see Wales was, "I'm sure Giggsy retired a long time ago, so, no thanks".  Yes, they are doing a mighty fine job in the Euro qualifiers, thanks to that fella playing at Real Madrid, but still, no thanks.  Once it was pointed out to me that there is life outside football (really?!?), I realised it was in fact whales that were on offer.  Specifically humpback whales. The uber whales.  

Of course, I am using “uber” in the sense it was meant, before Uber meant tech start up taxi company! Just whilst I am on that, have you used it yet?  Uber.  My introduction was via a friend, and thus a free (actually $25 credit) ride.  Once he had shown me the app, and how to use it, I was off.  Literally.  Not even the effects of several large beers was enough to discombobulate me as I navigated through the options.  Within minutes, I was watching my uberX (the uber cheap option) slowly move towards me on my iPhone screen, like a little video game.  

After a short wait, my driver, Zain, in his little Honda Civic, turned up.  He was a very pleasant chap, if somewhat over chatty.  I avoided all Peter Kay impersonations, purposely not asking him if "he had been on long", had been busy.  Once Zain realised I had no taste for talking, we got along mighty fine.  Riding from the CBD, over the hulking Harbour Bridge, to the Lower North Shore, minus my promotional credit, I was left with a tab of just over $4, which is debited from the payment method you indicate when you set up your account.  Easy peasy.  And the (next) best thing?  As a new user, I get another $25 credit if I get a friend to use the service.  Cue me tweeting and emailing the link out to as many people as possible.

For me, the service is a winner.  Opening up the somewhat monopolistic taxi market.  I read that around the world, "real" taxi drivers are up in arms about the whole thing.  Even burning donkeys in Paris.  Or was it car tyres?  I'm never sure with the impassioned Parisians.  Isn't healthy competition what drives an economic market?  The "invisible hand" of economic theory described by Adam Smith in 1776?

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, whales...

Specifically humpback whales.  Which Wikipedia reliably(?) inform me are called (Megaptera novaeangliae).  I see that this entry was recently edited so could be any name.  It is all latin to me.  It could actually be the name for a brontosaurus.  Or should that be the old name for brontosaurus?  I recently discovered that they never really existed.  It turns out that some museum curator put the wrong skull on the wrong skeleton, and lo and behold brontosaurus was born.  Only when the mistake was discovered did the brontosaurus become extinct for the second time.  You learn something new every day.

Well, humpback whales.  With the adults reaching up to 52ft in length, and possible of weighing unto 36,000 kilograms they are surprisingly majestic in the water.  With their distinctive body shape, and very large tail, they are acrobatic animals known for breaching and slapping the water with its tail, which is believed to be one of the ways they communicate.  Just try and catch the tail flip in a photo.  I did see a few tail flips, even if I am unable to show evidence.  Promise.  I have witnesses.

We are very lucky in Sydney in that each year we can witness their migration north from Antarctic.  With the whales swimming inland just outside the heads of Sydney Harbour, our afternoon cruise from the city, once we got on the right bloody boat!, took us out through the Harbour, into the open sea.  From here we sailed alongside the whales up past Manly, and north to Palm Beach as they frolicked their way north, up to the Great Barrier Reef, where they mate and eat.  Hoping to gain more than 10kgs each day from birth, this allows them to survive in the sub zero water temperatures they encounter once they migrate back down south with their calves to feed on the crill under the ice in the Antarctic.

Calves stay with mum for about 10 months, then they are on their own in big wide world, or the ocean.  Males stay even less time, their main aim in life being to mate with as many females as possible, and just keep moving on.  If there is a reason to believe in Buddhism, this has to be it.  With reincarnation being one of the tenets of Buddhism, I’m coming back as a whale.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Winter Coat That Wasn't - A Tale of Customer Service Woe

If a coat gets delivered, but there is nobody there to witness it (in fact there was, but more of that later), was there even a coat in the first place?

Back in the day, when you wanted something new, you saved up your pocket money, waited until the weekend, and went shopping.  In real shops.  with over bearing shop assistants. 

The arrival of the internet saved my soul, and my sanity.  Online shopping had arrived.  No longer did I have to fend off the unwanted attentions of under worked shop staff.  Making such asinine comments as “can I help you with sizes?”.  No thank you.  Surprising as it may seem to you, I am also able to read the labels in the back of clothes, and select the ones that I think I would like to try on.

Now, with just a few clicks, I could shop to my heart’s content, and in peace.  So simple.

Until it was time for my bounty to be delivered.

Are couriers, and delivery companies in general yet to catch on to the idea of customer service?  The idea that you create your business model around the needs of the customers you are meant to be serving.
Arriving home to find one of those little cards in your post box that explains they tried to make a delivery today.  With a handy little number to ring to re-arrange delivery.  But here is the snag.

When you call and ask for the delivery to be made on the two days you do not work, you find out that they only deliver Monday to Friday.  Hmm.  OK, you haven’t yet caught on to the idea that most people work through the week, so give me a time through the week that you will deliver it, and I will arrange to be in for that time slot.  Hmm again.  The response is usually that they are only able to give you a day, and you have to be off work the whole day waiting for them to turn up.  No puedo hacerlo.  No can do.

It appears that DHL, and their ilk, are not planning to change their draconian ways, so enter my saviour.  The humble parcel locker.

With services currently offered by Australia Post, and Officeworks, this is a cracking idea.  And free.  You sign up, get an address which you use for your delivery, and your parcel gets delivered into a secure locker, that can be accessed 24/7 via a unique code.

And until recently, my experience has been excellent.

Until…Spit Junction post office get involved.  Or specifically “Rosa” from the post office.  As I was away on holiday when the eponymous winter coat got delivered, the time it was allowed in the secure locker expired.  As is the process, it was then removed from the locker, and taken into the post office for me to collect over the counter.  And the communications I got through this process reassured me all was in hand, as “Rosa” had signed for the coat.

And subsequently lost it.  Somewhere.  In a post office the size of a large shipping container.  When I went in to collect my coat, I was told that I should call back again when they had chance to have a full search of the post office.  Which I did.  On 3 occasions.  And still no coat.  And no apology.  And no taking ownership of the issue.  I was told that I would have to chase up all parties involved, from the online store I bought the coat from, to the courier service that had delivered the coat.

All this despite having evidence that the online store HAD despatched the coat.  The courier HAD collected and delivered the coat.  And “Rosa” HAD signed for the coat at Spit Junction post office.

Still, Julian, the manager at the post office, told me it wasn’t his problem, and that I had to do my own chasing around.

Not happy with this appalling lack of customer service, I had Julian raise an official complaint.  Meanwhile I tried contacting Witchery customer service.  Which was equally appalling.  Don’t these people want customers?  All the accountability was on me, the customer.  There was total apathy, a total lack of concern for my loss.

In steps my saviour.  PayPal.  To the rescue again.  Like my cloud hosted knight in shining armour.

A company that truly seems to be on the side of the customer, and the service we deserve when we are spending our hard earned cash.  Having previously rescued me from the wretched clutches of, the Aussie outpost of the popular UK site from an unbelievably bad customer service / delivery experience, I again had to revert to their "resolution centre" to reclaim my funds.

It looks as though PayPal had the same problem getting any joy from Witchery, and when they hadn’t responded to PayPal with the requisite 14 days, PayPal refunded me the total amount. An amount they will now claim back direct from Witchery.

It has now been over 5 weeks since this whole saga began.  I am older, and slightly greyer for the experience.  At the time of writing I still have not heard from either the Post Office, the Postal Ombudsman (to whom I escalated my complaint), nor Witchery.  Lord knows into which black hole my query / complaint / rants have gone.  

Probably the same place as where my coat is.

In the meantime, Rosa may have a new coat, but I now have some money to spend.  Where's that laptop?