Stiff upper lip

It’s been a while and since it’s the end of March, I thought that I’d better post again so that it doesn’t look as if I’ve forgotten.

I attended another joint Leukaemia Care and Lymphoma Association conference yesterday. They held one in Liverpool last October and yesterday it was in London. As always, these conferences are very good, but yesterday’s got me thinking – maybe a little bit too much. If you have been reading this blog from the start nearly five years ago, you will know that I have been to several similar events, but this is the first time that a particular subject has been on the agenda.

The last speaker was “Counsellor and Cognitive Behaviour Psychotherapist” at a London teaching hospital and he was talking about the psychological affects of living with a cancer such as NHL and how one needs to “adjust” to the new situation you find yourself in. That adjustment has no end point. You are constantly having to re-assess your situation, how you feel about life and how the cancer is affecting that. He claimed that it is always stressful and often distressing and the events can be described as “traumatic”. He even stated that some people display “Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms” which can take months or even years to come out.

Well, I don’t think I am anywhere near to that situation, but I confess to having a bit of a down day today. Probably because I’ve been thinking about what he said. I let my stiff upper lip drop.

Feeling down is perfectly natural but what is most important is to not let these negative thoughts get a hold. “Thinking and behaviour have the greatest impact on mood” and “This means that if you change your thoughts or behaviour you can change the way you feel”, he says (I should really just post the photos I took of his slides… it would be quicker!) The summary slide is below.

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Like a lot of this psychology stuff, this is all pretty obvious really. Stop thinking negative thoughts and you will feel happier. (I want to say “Der” here, but I am sure that it’s not that easy)

But that’s what I am going to do. Now, I wonder where that half full glass is…

 

A really good end to a really good week

As normal life returns, post-holiday, I thought that I would do an update of my thoughts about Sorrento and that part of Italy, before the memories start to fade. My memory isn’t what it used to be! I won’t dwell on the travel issues that we had on the way back, obviously, but I will post any response that I get from British Airways, who I know have now got my letter.

Sorrento is a great centre for a holiday. I wish we had more time there, but had to come back for a special event on the Friday. If we had had an extra day, I would have probably hired a car and explored the wider region a bit more, but we can save that for another time.

The city is compact and interesting, although there are a lot of steps down to the port and a decent walk between the commercial port and the older “fishing” part.

The hotel we stayed in (the Antiche Mura) was excellent and extremely good value for money at around Euro 125 per night, including breakfast for a decent room, with a balcony. The staff there were friendly and helpful and overall it was one of the better hotels we have used on our jaunts.

There is a very good selection of restaurants, although some of these were only opening now at the beginning of the season. One of them on my “hit-list” (Meating Sorrento) opened on the day that we had to leave, so that too will have to wait until another time.

I can thoroughly recommend Chantecler’s Trattoria (http://www.chanteclers.com/) which was just outstanding. And so cheap!

From the city, it is easy to use the extremely cheap public transport to get elsewhere along the coast. The train service to Naples, which serves Herculaneum and Pompeii, is a bit rough and ready, with hard plastic seats but it ran mostly to time. The return journey to Herculaneum was around Euro 11 each. My advice would be to visit there first and then go to Pompeii as the latter is far bigger and the temptation would be to say “Let’s not bother going on” if you went there first. Both sites can be done in a day easily. It’s a pity that artefacts have mostly been removed to the Naples Museum – a museum on site would have been much better, in my opinion. Both sites highly recommended though.

I have posted about Amalfi and the bus journey already. Since posting that I heard a rumour that the buses run in one direction in the summer months, so as to avoid the problem that ours incurred on our journey. I’m not sure if that’s true I’m not sure how one would get back to your starting point without doing a three hour round trip, but from a safety point of view that might be the case.

Capri? Well, I suspect that a morning wandering up and down the cliff isn’t enough to do it justice, but I think that you could have a very relaxing fortnight there if you chose a property well. Apartments there go for Euro 1m and above, so there must be something about the place.

And then there was Friday. What a great day.

I have posted before about the work we are doing in Blackpool and I am pleased to say that the Multi-storey Car Park was awarded “Best Refurbishment 2014” at an industry awards do in London on Friday. Lots of us have put a lot of hard work in over the last few years to make that happen and it’s nice to be recognised by the parking industry for what we have achieved. I have had some good people alongside me and they can all be proud of what we have achieved. Now, all I need are similar awards for the Council Office and supermarket and we will have a complete set.

No pressure!

Another post about British Airways… and how they treat their passengers / customers.

Here is most of the content of a letter that I have sent to British Airways this afternoon. They used to call themselves “The World’s Favourite Airline”

BA Flight BA2613 NAP to LGW – Thursday 6th March 2014

I am writing to complain about the service that my wife and I received on our recent flight from Naples to Gatwick. Two of my complaints are trivial, when compared to the third, and I wouldn’t normally have raised them with you, I would just put them down to the normal “BA Experience”. However, since I need to bring a serious safety issue to your attention, I will raise these other issues with you too.

I will start with the two trivial matters and then move on to the important one.

Matter 1

On arrival at Naples Airport, we had to check-in at the desk in the hall. Your staff member advised us that the flight was completely full and asked whether we would mind putting our carry-on luggage into the hold. My carry-on bag contained photographic film that would have been ruined if placed below, so my wife allowed her bag to be taken. In exchange, we were offered “Priority Boarding”.

We were allocated seats 19A and 19B by this same member of staff (more of this later).

Once we arrived at the departure gate, it was clear that boarding of the plane would necessitate a bus ride from the terminal, rendering “Priority Boarding” useless, as that just gains access to the bus earlier, not the plane.

We were therefore inconvenienced on our arrival at Gatwick, having to wait for the hand luggage to be delivered along with all the normal check baggage. When going away for just a few days, we deliberately only take hand luggage to avoid this issue – never again will I be tempted to assist BA by having a bag put into the hold un-necessarily.

If you have a problem with people bringing too many or too large bags on the plane, that is easily manageable by your ground staff or by changing your policies to allow only one piece of hand luggage onto the plane.

Matter 2

It is common knowledge that the food offer in economy on BA flights is poor. In the last couple of years we have flown with you twice to the US, and on the second flight, I didn’t eat any of the food offered, as it really was inedible. We also regularly fly with you for breaks in Europe and I am now beginning to question whether we should actually bring our own food onto the plane, if we are likely to need to eat.

On BA2613 last week, the “snack” offered was a bacon, tomato and spinach wrap, made on your behalf by Adelie Foods Group.

This small wrap contains approximately 40% of an adult’s daily intake of fat and salt and the packaging helpfully indicates the healthiness of the contents by highlighting the fat and salt content in red. I am sure it is not beyond your buying department’s skills to have healthy snacks served you your customers.

This was in addition to the cheese-filled croissant experience served on the breakfast time flight out to Naples from Gatwick the previous Sunday morning. Any baked food product that has a shelf life of something like 9 months really shouldn’t make it past your buyers.

I would rather pay a little more for my ticket to allow you to buy decent, edible food to serve to your economy passengers – or alternatively, pay a little less, so that you don’t have to bother offering food at all.

Do your Business Class passengers get served the same meals? Do they find the food acceptable?

(An interesting point to note is that when flying with Turkish Airlines, passengers are offered a choice of food when booking – even in Economy)

Matter 3

This is the real purpose of my letter and is a serious health and safety issue for which I would appreciate a response.

As I have said, my wife and I were allocated seats 19A and 19B, which as you know, are window and centre section seats on the 737 aeroplane used on this service. Once we had taken our seats, a severely disabled lady, whom we had seen earlier in her electric wheelchair at the departure gate, was brought in by your colleagues and required physical assistance from two staff to gain access into seat 19C, on the aisle. She did not have the capacity to transfer herself from the wheelchair you were then using, into the seat. She was a large lady, probably in her late 70s and required the use of the extension seat belt.

Her husband, also a wheelchair user, was sitting in seat 19D and her daughter and granddaughter were, not unreasonably, allocated 18C and 18D so that they could be available to assist their family members. Other, non-related passengers were in 19E and 19F.

It was immediately apparent that this lady would never have been able to get out of her seat in the event of an emergency and that my wife and I were effectively trapped in our seats. Despite what your check-in clerk had told us previously, there were spare seats available in the plane.

As you will also know, the flight from Naples to Gatwick is around 2 hours 15 minutes. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect passengers to need to use the bathrooms on the plane during the flight. Unfortunately for the lady in seat 19C, this is what my wife and I needed to do about an hour and three quarters into the flight. I had to ask the lady in 19C whether it would be possible for me to pass her to get access to the aisle. She was distressed about having to move, as she was too large to allow us to pass her without leaving the seat. Her daughter and another passenger had to assist her to stand and move just sufficiently into the aisle to allow us to pass – your on-board crew were nowhere to be seen at this time. She had great difficulty standing and it was most undignified for her to do so under those circumstances.

My wife and I both left our seats in row 19, taking our belongings with us and after using the bathrooms, sat in the rear row of seats for the rest of the flight.

The particular points raised by this incident are:-

  1. This lady should never have been allocated a seat in the middle of the plane. Her need for assisted embarkation and disembarkation were such that provision should have been made either at the very back of the plane or at the very front.
  2. She was put through a most undignified and distressing experience, just because two other passengers needed to use the toilet on the flight.
  3. By placing her in 19C, British Airways effectively put the safety of two other passengers at risk, because we would never have been able to leave the plane in the event of an emergency.
  4. On a similar note, had we remained in our seats, we would have had to wait for the whole plane to disembark before you would have been able to assist this lady leave the plane via a wheelchair. We would have been the last passengers to leave the plane.
  5. Your check-in staff member at Naples must have known that seat 19C was occupied by a severely disabled passenger who needed special assistance. She should never have allocated 19A and 19B to my wife and me in the first place. Indeed no-one should have been allocated those seats, not even the other members of the family.
  6. None of us should have been put into this situation by your staff.

British Airways’ complete lack of thought for the needs of all your passengers needlessly put this lady into a distressing situation and my wife and I at a hugely increased risk in the event of an emergency and I find it incredible that this can be deemed acceptable.

We have a flight booked with you to Bordeaux at the end of September and I am sincerely hoping that this kind of experience is not repeated. If I had not already booked and paid for the tickets, I would most certainly be considering alternative carriers, which is a shame, as I prefer to support British companies wherever possible.

I look forward to hearing from you with a suitable explanation of this completely unacceptable situation.

Yours sincerely

Capri

The sun was out first thing so we decided that we would brave the ferry to Capri. They seem to run a random service – one puff of a breeze 300 miles away and the hydrofoil stays in port – but the hotel reception checked and confirmed that they were sailing today.

We got there with 5 minutes to spare and got on board quite a decent catamaran for the 20 minute crossing.

25 minutes, and the catamaran would have had my breakfast on its carpet. The last time I was on a ferry that made me feel so ill was actually the hovercraft Princess Anne in 1979. That was a serious white-knuckle, gripping the armrest journey and this morning I was very close to letting the side down. Still, I just about managed to get there intact, but it took me a couple of hours to feel better.

We walked up to the town of Capri, on the cliffs above the port. There is usually a funicular railway to transport people up the (alleged) 750m, but it wasn’t working today. Instead they had a bus replacement that seriously didn’t appeal, especially when we saw the driving skills on offer… So we walked…

That took about 20 minutes and you knew you’d walked up a mountain by the time you got to the top. I can feel myself getting fitter by the minute this week. Capri town is a nice enough place. Not very big, we managed to walk just about every street. Full of shops that were closed, from Prada to Ferrari, and more fancy sunglasses shops than seems really necessary. In fact, every Italian town down here seems to be obsessed with sunglasses. Have they never heard of mobile phone shops?

Had a decent enough cappuccino in the square in very warm sunshine and then eventually walked back down to the port where we had a light lunch in one of the quayside pavement cafés. For good or ill, I had decided by this time that a beer and a panini might be a good idea prior to the journey back to the mainland. We now have a friend for life in the waitress and are welcome to use her toilet anytime we like, apparently, which is worth bearing in mind. Drop my name if ever you are passing…

We caught the normal ferry back instead of the hydrofoil. Half an hour late, it was amazing to see them load and unload lorries on a quay no bigger than that at Lyme Regis, and once on board the thing was absolutely filthy. For a place that has apartments at €1m+, Capri has some serious transport problems.

Now, it’s the last night of the holiday. Looking forward to Friday and picking up an award, with a bit of luck, and then some serious removal tasks on Sunday when back at home.

If you have ever wondered what Capri looks like, wonder no more.

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Sorrento carnivale

I think I’ve worked out what’s going on now.

It’s Mardi Gras. The town has a half day holiday. The kids get dressed up as Superman, Zorro, the devil or a princess, as do some of the adults. They have actors on stilts.

They close off the town square and throw confetti at each other. They blow up huge balloons and chase each other about the street in a massive inflatable translucent cube. There’s a green snake involved somewhere too, but that might be a caterpillar.

At the end, they inflate more huge, long, thin balloons from which more confetti spews forth.

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OK. So I haven’t worked out what’s going on, but I’m sure that Freud would have something to say.

Lent begins tomorrow.

Amalfi coast

The weather looked a bit iffy, so decided to take the bus down to Amalfi and stop off at Positano on the way back. An hour and a half each way with a return fare of under a fiver and some of the most spectacular views anywhere, on the way. We had thought about hiring a car to do the trip, but having taken advice before hand, in think that the bus was definitely the better option.

The road is narrow at the best of times and less than single lane at the worst. Our bus met another in a small village and it was touch and go for a while – literally.

Amalfi is a pretty small city, with a beautiful duomo and a fabulous coffee/pastry shop next door. Frequented by bus loads of Chinese tourists who just seem to want to use the loo, rather than eat pastries, the coffee, canolli and lemon cake were the best we have had this trip. Mind you, at €20, they should be.

With the mixed weather today, we headed back via Positano, a nice seaside resort town. It’s out of season at the moment, so half of it is closed, but it’s easy to see how busy it might get in the summer. It’s a bit like Portmerion, but with real buildings and people.

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The bus journey got me thinking about “living every day is if it’s your last”. Again. I was thinking that the use of the bus could be seen as a dry run for hiring a car and driving the road myself, but realised that I would probably never come back this way again. Life is not a rehearsal, so they say, and a little bit of me wishes that I’d been braver, found that Arbarth 500 for hire, and just driven down there myself. Yes, I’d have to have been careful on the corners in the villages. Yes, I will have seen much more of the scenery from the bus window as opposed to behind the wheel. But… Oh well, I will just have to drive it in that parallel universe, or that other life.

Back in Sorrento and the sun is out. It’s Mardi Gras today and part of the town is closed to traffic and there is some kind of kids’ festival today where they all dress up as devils, or cartoon and fairy tale characters in readiness for not being able to do so during Lent, presumably.

Rather than surmise, let’s go and find out…

Oh, and most of this fountain works…

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Pompeii and Herculaneum

Takes a bit of effort, but can be done in a day, if you do them in reverse order.

We used the train to get from Sorrento and went to Herculaneum first, arriving at about 9:30. We were amongst the first there, and more or less had the town to ourselves. What a fascinating place – amazingly well preserved, it really is like the people just left yesterday. It’s only a relatively small area and we stayed about 90 minutes, but it really does give a great impression of what life in a a Roman town in AD79 was like.

Returning to Pompeii, past which the train went in the morning, we then had the much more “commercial” experience. Loads of visitors, lots to see, but…

Highlights were the theatre and the House of Mysteries, but in both towns, it wasn’t hard to find the brothels, both of which were interestingly decorated… (Will share a photo when I get back home)

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Upset the guy at the cafe when he found that I didn’t have €1 to make the bill of €11 – he had to give me €9 change from a €20 note. He gave me a €5 note and a sealed roll of 40x 10c coins, which I will keep as a souvenir of him being a complete and utter git. Now, are they on TripAdvisor…?

If we had stopped at Pompeii first, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have bothered with Herculaneum, which would have been a great shame. Buying a multi-location ticket at H, also avoids the queues at P. Top Tip there…

Returned to Sorrento and eventually found a meal at the place we were at yesterday lunchtime. Not as good food as last night. Will return to first place tomorrow.

Sorrento

I am very fortunate to be able to update this blog from Sorrento.

I am sitting on a balcony in my shirt sleeves, with the sun on my face, wondering whether the red wine in the mini-bar constitutes good value for money. Probably not.

Sorrento is, like many Italian cities, both very attractive and ugly at the same time. Most of them have a ring of hideous modern development on the periferary, but an attractive core in the middle. Being on the sea, Sorrento has an arc of modernity around the old town centre. Here in the middle, especially in the old city, it’s very pleasant. Access to the harbour and fishing harbour (two independent harbours separated by a promontory, which needs to be walked over to get from one to the other – unless you have a boat, I suppose) is via long, winding roads down the cliff face or steep steps cut into the rock.

The fishing side is very attractive in an unspoiled, rusting, faded sort of way, while the main port, with the ferries to Capri or Naples, is overlooked by big hotels on the top, and sides, of the cliff.

Managed to find the bus at the airport, after a false start and woeful signage, and found that it takes an hour and a half on a Sunday lunchtime to get here. This avoids having to go into Naples itself, which is good.

The bus wanders through some odd little towns on the way, all of which were rammed with traffic. It also passes between Vesuvius and the sea, and here is a good view to be had of both from the bus windows

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The hotel only opened for the year yesterday, but strangely, the room wasn’t ready on arrival, which is a bit odd. Many of the restaurants, including one that looked good that I found before leaving home, are still closed as the season hasn’t really started yet. I have to confess that this was not something I thought about, but I’m sure we won’t starve…

The sun has just gone down below the hill now, so I will post this and return inside.

Plans for the rest of the week will depend upon the weather. Could be pretty miserable if it rains all the time…

(It won’t)