Lost Property

               I hate lost property. The rule is that everything that is left behind has to be kept and logged unless it has been placed in a bin. This means that lost property is full of junk – odd socks, almost empty toothpaste tubes, soiled underwear and so many phone chargers – plus it smells terrible. Low value items are kept for a year, high value items are kept for five years. There is so much, it fills the entire attic. I hate lost property.

               Every day, I have to deal with about five enquiries regarding missing items. Very often, the details are vague. The caller can’t remember where the items were, when they were left behind or sometimes what it actually looked like. So, I go and check the log…

               “My husband stayed with you last week and left his trousers behind”. We didn’t have his trousers as upon checking the log I discovered he hadn’t stayed here. Quite where he left his trousers (and where he was last week while his wife thought he was away) remains a mystery…

               “I left some shampoo in the room, please can you post it to me”. The (half used) bottle of shampoo was worth less than the value of the postage. I had to wrap it up and take it to the post office on my way home. The next day, we got a call saying the lady has refused the postage charge and is sending back her (half used) bottle of shampoo to us.

               “I am looking for a t-shirt that got left behind on my last visit”. It turned out that was 16 months ago. I explained we don’t keep things for longer than a year, he wasn’t happy, started shouting and asked for the manager’s name. I never did find out what happened next.

               Then there are the more unusual items. The attic holds a trombone, a judge’s wig, a 6ft teddy bear and two wheelchairs.

               For high value items, we try and contact the owners, but find that they gave us the wrong contact details or they simply never return our messages. Perhaps, this is why we have a safe full of unclaimed jewellery, watches, mobile phones and car keys.

               Three weeks ago, somebody left an entire packed suitcase and flew to Dubai without it. I emailed the couple who left it and they replied with “you keep it”. Nothing else, that was the whole email. So up into the attic it went next to a pile of dusty children’s toys which are too damaged to give to charity.

               I hate lost property.

It Was An Accident

One thing I have carried on with since the lockdown last year is a daily walk, usually to nowhere exciting, just around local housing estates but getting outside does me the world of good. It was on my regular walk that I saw a banner advertising a recruitment fair which was happening the following day. I had finished my previous job the day before and fancied taking some time out to work on my diploma but thought a recruitment fair sounded like a fun activity to fill an hour.

               I trotted along the following day to the venue (a posh spa hotel on the edge of town) expecting to find stands from large companies, the police force and the council all giving away bags of free pens, sweets and maybe a notebook. I had cleared space in my satchel to carry my expected bounty home thinking I would spend about 20 mins there and then have a look at the Christmas display at the garden centre next door.

               The posh hotel was eerily quiet, a lady opened the door for me and the only other person I saw was a receptionist who was muttering to himself. It took me ages to find the fair, I failed to spot any signs and then got lost down a long corridor of expensive looking bedrooms. I tried to find the door I came in through with the aim of asking the lady stationed there but no use, the hotel was huge, and I was lost.

Immaculately clean but completely deserted

I decided to knock on a door marked ‘private’ hoping it was an office containing somebody who could help. I knocked a couple of times but there was no answer. Then a very tall man appeared behind me, dressed in overalls and asked, “why are you trying to get into the boiler room”?

               The upside of this was that he escorted me to the fair which was (annoyingly) located in a large meeting room next to the main entrance by the lady at the door and the muttering receptionist. If I am honest, I would have left at this point and gone straight to the garden centre instead but since the tall man in the overalls was still watching me, I took a deep breath and opened the door ready to collect some mugs and a mouse mat with the logo of a bank or petrochemical corporation emblazoned across.

                The scene on the other side of the door was confusing. There were none of the expected large banners, no display boards, very few obvious leaflets to read through and about eight tables each with a lone person sat behind. They all looked up at me and I realised I was the only person in the room not sat behind a table. A man on the far side of the room waved me over and I was immediately thrust into a role play situation.

               “Tell me about yourself”

               “What do you think customer service means”

               “Can you give me an example of a time you made a difference”

At least they didn’t ask what animal I would be…

               It was about now, I realised I was in a job interview. I didn’t know who this man was, what company he worked for or even what the job role was that he was interviewing me for. I obviously wasn’t dressed for a job interview and didn’t even have a CV with me.

               The day after I got a phone call offering me a job working at the posh hotel. I hadn’t fully realised I had applied for it, yet out of politeness I accepted the offer.

               I only wanted a mouse mat.

A Passport Pass?

               A few weeks ago, I won £30 on the lottery, then the following week I won another £30. According to my internet calculator the odds of this happening are 1 in 9409. The odds of going to hospital with a pogo stick injury are fairly similar. Anyway, I resisted the temptation of more lottery tickets and spent my winnings on replacing my expired passport. Not because I want to go abroad but not having any ID makes life complicated. I couldn’t get my covid pass because of it so I lost my position at the care home. Also, it means I can’t get another job without it so it seems sensible that I should spend my ‘windfall’ on something useful rather than on chocolate buttons or subscriptions to magazines I will never read.

               Like many things in the modern era, people wanting passport renewal services are ‘strongly encouraged’ to do so online. It is cheaper than going to the post office and saves all the trauma with those passport photo booths (one of the most intimidating pieces of machinery ever invented) and trying to remember how to write a cheque.

One day this will be mine…

The first part is very easy, simply enter my name, address, date of birth and the number of my expired passport. So far, so good. Then comes the digital picture section. The rules on the government website for what makes a valid photo are extremely lengthy. Some of them are obvious ‘Your photo must be clear and in focus’ and ‘be in clear contrast to the background’. Others made me smile such as the instructions for the photo to be ‘in colour, unaltered by computer software’, ‘taken in the last 30 days’ and ‘must not contain other people’ thinking of the type of people who are submitting black & white CGI fashion shots. Of course, smiling itself is also forbidden. Others were a complete mystery to me like the specifications to be ‘at least 600 pixels wide and 750 pixels tall and at least 50KB and no more than 10MB’. Anyone who understands that is far smarter than me.

               The photo is uploaded and checked automatically, and of course everything I submitted was rejected due to ‘the direction of the shadow’ or the ‘size of the background’. I tried to crop out the background and then failed again ‘Do not crop your photo – it will be done for you’. On my fifth attempt, I got the note ‘it is possible your picture will be accepted’. Possible?

Even with all this equipment, it would still be a nightmare…

               So now I have to post off the expired passport and wait. I got a message to say my application was accepted on 24th August and by late-September still hadn’t heard a thing. I clicked on the ‘speed up my application’ button and found out that since it was less than ten weeks, there was nothing that could be done. Ten weeks? It would be quicker to make my own passport.

               Incidentally, while researching odds of winning the lottery multiple times, I discovered the odds of winning £30, three weeks in a row are 1 in 88,529,281. This is slightly higher than the odds of being hit by sewage dropped from an airline. A scenario significantly more pleasurable than having to submit photographs to the passport office.

Back To School

I first observed her on the bus,

Then I noticed her on the street,

Later on I spotted her going up some steps,

Finally I saw her in the house.

The zoom call was so dull, watching one of the other participants making her way home was the only thing that held my attention. This call was to meet my tutor and new classmates as I have decided to go back to school.

Just like when I was starting a new school year as a child, I got new pens and a massive new notebook to doodle in. I always insisted on new stationary every year, including set squares (which I don’t think I ever used and were always broken by half term) and a fountain pen even though they leaked on everything I owned.

Video calling fun…

Since my earnings were so poor last year, I was treated to a tax rebate by the good people at HMRC. As interest rates are currently lower than a snake’s belly I decided not to invest it (forgoing the chance to earn an extra 11p in the next three years) but instead get a qualification in something useful.

I have enrolled in an online hotel and hospitality course which (if I pass) will gain me a diploma which is, apparently, the same as the first year of an undergraduate degree but without the terror of shared housing or having to queue up for hours on a rainy pavement for hours just to get discounted drinks on a Tuesday evening.

However, one part of the student experience I still get is an NUS card (which has rebranded as Totum). This is very exciting news – discounts on a load of things I haven’t heard of and 10% off at the Co-op. One of the offers advertised is for an extra 15% off an advent calendar worth £370, I wonder how many students get that?

Perhaps I could hire someone to do this for me?

               The course itself consists of ten modules and it is completely online, there are no exams (only assignments) and I can do it whenever I like. If I paid more attention in my tutorial I would have realised that I could do the modules in any order, rather than the order listed, which would have resulted in me not starting with accounting.

               While I appreciate that accounting is important and understand why it is in the course, I will never find it interesting. Trying to work up an interest in overhead recovery rates or activity based costing has been a considerable challenge. My google algorithms also seem to have altered as a result of ‘what is a debenture?’ and ‘in bookkeeping what does GAAP stand for?’ rather than my previous lines of enquiry such as ‘what four colours are on the twister mat?’ or ‘is a llama just a bigger alpaca?’.

               Fortunately, I have five years to complete this and I have already established that resits are free which is good news. Now all I need to find out is where my nearest Co-op is.

It’s Not Fayre

I have written before that anything with the word ‘fun’ in the title, is generally not fun. For example, a fun sized Mars Bar is tiny, a regular sized Mars Bar is much more fun. There is also nothing enjoyable about a fun run. I typed ‘fun’ into Google and the top match was funeral (certainly not fun) and then fun yoga poses (no idea). So I was dismayed to be given the job of organising the annual summer ‘fun day’.

Apparently last year’s was a disaster as nobody turned up. The reason for this, I discovered, was there was a very large country fayre a couple of miles away at the same time, which was much bigger, more famous and so everyone went there instead. The day after I was given this task, I saw an advert had been placed in the local paper for my fun day, which was due to be held (once again) at the same time as the country fayre. I showed the advert to my manager.

“It says in the paper that our fun day is on the same day as the country fayre”

“Yes, that is right” She replies.

“But you said it didn’t work last year”

“No, but we always do it on that date so we will keep it the same”

Great.

I started sending emails to local groups asking for people who might want to run stalls selling products or advertising their services. Nothing came back. I put adverts on social media. Still nothing came back. So off to the manager’s office I went.

Adverts in newspapers… Maybe a little outdated.

“I am having trouble generating interest for the fun day, I was wondering if there was a budget, we could hire some entertainment”

“No, the fun day only uses volunteers” She unhelpfully informed me.

“But what if nobody is interested?”

The day before I went to the supermarket to get some cakes and sweets (the chef wasn’t in as he was working at the country fayre), we set up all the tables in the car park and crossed our fingers

The big day arrived. A family from down the road came to drop off some unwanted second-hand stuff we could sell which included a Russian language thesaurus and a teddy bear with a missing leg. Also, a ten-year-old girl came to sing two songs. Seeing there was not much else happening, the girls mother asked me if I wanted her to sing the two songs again.

£100 for 20 minutes?

After around an hour of people looking at their watches and telling me what a shame it was, I heard the chimes of an ice cream van down the road. I rushed out. I explained my predicament to the driver who phoned ‘the office’. I was informed that he could stop in for 20 mins for £100.

I had (wrongly) assumed that ice cream vans just keep the money they make from sales but obviously not. No matter how many foreign language thesauruses or supermarket cupcakes I sold, there was no way I had £100 to give him so we parted company, I am sure he sped up as he went by the fun day.

When I got back from pleading with an ice cream driver, the manager came to find me. I had missed the photographer from the local paper…

I don’t think I have ever been more relieved to flick through the local press and find our article had not been published (there was, however, a four page spread on the country fayre). Just in case you were wondering, the teddy bear with the missing leg remained unsold.

Getting A Letter

               The instruction was straightforward “We are now required BY LAW to be able to evidence your COVID vaccine status. You now all have access to COVID passports which is a document from the NHS stipulating your vaccination status. All I ask is that you bring a copy of the letter to put on file as part of your evidence to be vaccinated.”

               The government has put a deadline of 11th of November for all care home workers (such as myself) to provide evidence of double vaccination otherwise they will no longer be allowed to work. Putting aside the ethical arguments, I have two months to get this sorted.

               I started with the NHS website and spent a frustrating 20 mins going round in circles. It seemed like every page contradicted every other one and was impossibly hard to navigate. The only pass I could actually get was a QR code that expired after 48 hours which was not particularly useful.

               The crux of the problem is as follows:

  • A letter can only be sent to the address registered by your GP, however I am not at that address.
  • Temporarily registering with a new GP just to receive a letter seems a waste of everyone’s time and a lot of admin.
  • In order to register with a GP, I need to fill in forms, present myself for a check up and bring a valid passport.
  • My passport has expired and costs £77.50 to renew which I can not afford.

Luckily the government have been kind enough to set up a ‘helpline’ where I can speak to an actual human by ringing 119. Straight away I was plunged into the hell of automated menus and guess what, none of the options applied. It took more than seven mins to get out of this robotic hell and speak to a human being (a lovely Scottish lady named Lucy). I wonder how much aggravation people like Lucy have to put up with by people apoplectic with rage caused by pressing 1 to get something unhelpful, 2 to get cut off or 3 to hear this message again.

               Anyway, Lucy happily told me that the easiest way round all this was through the NHS app where I can get a letter sent without all this fuss. I was suspicious but gave it a try. Since I still can’t work my new phone (which I have had since January) I am back to downloading on to my antique ipod touch, a device so old they no longer provide updates. However against all the odds it worked. The app downloaded and opened without a hitch, well that was until I realised that the app was identical to the website and I was no further along with something that was supposed to be easy.

               So back to 119 I went. I vaguely remember somebody on the radio saying the best way to speak to a human quickly is always press ‘0’ no matter what the options. I gave this a go and heard a whole different set of things from last time but it still took 7 mins before I spoke to a person.

               This time it was a very well-spoken man who listened patiently while I ranted on about the stupidity of registering with a new GP just to get a letter in the post. However, it seems like there really is no alternative to this, letters can only be sent to the address held on a GP’s file. Trying to be constructive he suggested that perhaps I could set up a Royal Mail forwarding service so the letter can get to me (costing £33.99), meaning yet more admin though a lower cost than a new passport.

Then in an unexpected twist, he recognised me as we had crossed paths years ago on a cruise ship. I remembered the name but have no recollection of ever meeting him, then while we were still on the phone, I got a notification from a very old facebook account I no longer have access to (I forgot the password and don’t care enough to sort it out). He had sent me a message.

‘Have you just sent me a message?’ I asked, knowing the answer already. Then straight away another notification arrived saying the message had been unsent. Presumably he realised that sending unauthorised messages to users of the NHS helpline is against GDPR law.

By now I was totally overwhelmed so I did the only thing I could think of make this problem go away. I handed in my notice at work.

To be continued….

Show Time

               “Please could you help me, I am looking for gate two” I asked a lady in a high vis jacket

               “No” she replied “there is only gate one and gate seven”.

               “My colleague has just called to say he is by gate two” I tried.

               “Your colleague is wrong, it is only gate one or gate seven”. The lady in the high vis jacket was not in a good mood.

               “Only one or seven? That doesn’t make sense” I said, to nobody in particular, as she walked off.

               This was the start of my day at the agricultural show. I had been sent by work, armed with a load of leaflets to try and spread the word about the care home I have been working for. My boss gave me specific instructions not to bother with anyone under 50 or who ‘look like riff-raff’.

               After finally finding my colleague (who actually was at gate two), I was taken to our stall which was in the trade section between somebody who made miniature ceramic animals and a company who specialised in hydration products for dogs. Apparently, water bowls are very last season…

£12.50 for half a pizza – I’d better start saving.

               Considering admission to the agricultural show was £25 per person (not including parking) and there was a long line for people to get a vegan burger for £9.50, it was fair to say that there wasn’t a lot of ‘riff-raff’ present. Rather designer wellington boots and sports cars were the order of the day.

               As time went on, I realised that for somebody in the process of choosing a care home, an agricultural show may not be the first place they go for information. I noticed that one of our competitors had a stand too, so I went along to see how they were getting on. I feigned interest and took one of their gift bags. Alongside all the glossy brochures I got a small box containing a piggy bank. Considering they charge £1200 per week, a free piggy bank seems a little unsubtle.

                During another lull in proceedings, I went to have a look at the pig show. The creatures were being paraded around and I later found out that ‘best pig in show’ was the award being competed for. The announcer, however, was not happy. Over the PA system to the whole showground, we heard “Ladies and gentlemen, you will notice, the trainers are all well-groomed, except for Kevin. I would advise Kevin to spend more time with his wife and not spend all night with Michelle if he is serious about winning”.

I know how it feels…

               On my way back I noticed a company specializing in ‘freshwater extraction’, a health food stand being staffed by two people eating chips and a van charging £12.50 for half a pizza. It made me think I am in the wrong business.

When I got back to work, the boss asked ‘did you manage to get rid of all the materials’?

               “Yes” we replied truthfully (omitting the fact that much of it went in a skip).

               “Great, I’ll sign you up for the next one in a few weeks”.

               “Oh good” I sighed.

At least I will be able to find out the latest on the Kevin/Michelle/Wife/Pig scenario. Perhaps I could pitch it to ITV, it could be a nice Sunday night drama. I could play the announcer or (more likely) the pig.

Feeling Hot Hot Hot

The heatwave has come and gone. Every year in the UK, we get one week of heat and this week was it. Hotter than Tenerife/Jamaica/Sahara/the sun, the weather forecasters inform us. On holiday abroad that is lovely, here not so much.

               Popular UK hot weather traditions include:

  • People on beaches complaining there are too many people on beaches
  • Ice cream vans running out of chocolate flakes
  • Endless discussions regarding air conditioning units (that will never be installed)
  • Zoo animals with large ice cubes
  • Houses being full of insects within 5 minutes of opening a window
The Glasgow Science Centre melting…

Another warm weather favourite is things that are not supposed to melt yet somehow do go on to melt. Tarmac, railway lines, paint on railings, the list goes on. In 2018, I noticed a news story about Scotland’s hottest June day in history which led to the (allegedly) weatherproof roof of the Glasgow Science Centre turning to liquid and dripping down the side of the building. That night I met a couple from Glasgow who hadn’t heard about this event and told them all about it. They were intrigued and both got their phones out to start researching the story. I went back to see them later on.

“Did you find out any more about that roof that melted?” I inquired.

“It is a bit awkward really” the lady answered, “my husband designed it”.

“Oh” I left a pause before asking him “will you be involved in the repairs?”

“I doubt it” he replied before walking off.

One day I will try this

Something that has always fascinated me is the phenomenon of frying eggs on outdoor surfaces during a heatwave. The most obvious is on a car but sadly, Google informs me that frying an egg on a car bonnet affects the paintwork which is a shame. Perhaps egg proof paint could be an innovation for the future so my new ambition will have to be somebody frying an egg on a pavement. I would try it myself but I am not that keen on eggs.

Working on the cruise ships, where it was summer wherever we were, I got used to the heat and I have become one of those annoying people who are not too bothered by the warm weather. The hottest temperature I remember being in was when we were sailing through the Panama Canal. One of my colleagues was outside for 9 minutes and got so sunburned he needed time off work, the rest of us were clever enough to shelter under the ceiling fans indoors.

Looking back on this, perhaps I missed an opportunity. Should we have tried to fry an egg on him?

Where Am I?

               Recently I spent a long weekend in Bristol for my niece’s third birthday. It was the first time I left my town this year and it was wonderful to do things I had forgotten about. Meeting family, going out for lunch, to the cinema and even on a bus! After coming back from my weekend away, I took my covid test and it was negative. This came as such as surprise, I took another one to be sure. The test also proved to me that I can start to do things again.

               Using my new-found courage, I went into the city centre of Manchester on the train. I hadn’t been on a train for ages and it was all very exciting. One thing that hadn’t changed is my inability to show my ticket to the inspector within a reasonable time. I can never remember what pocket I put the ticket in and it takes me several attempts to find the right one. I was particularly annoyed with the fact this was the only train I had been on in over a year and yet the first three tickets I produced were all for previous journeys. I must sort my bag out.

Now, where is my ticket?

               While wandering through the city I stumbled across the Blue Peter garden. It came as a surprise to me that the garden has been moved out of London and (if I am honest) I had assumed Blue Peter had finished years ago. Intrigued to revisit my past, I poked my head into the garden to discover it is about the size of my tiny childhood bedroom. It was also overgrown, muddy and mainly filled by a shed and a whole lot of fairy lights. On this evidence, I could have been correct about Blue Peter finishing years ago…

               One thing that has genuinely baffled me during the pandemic is the requirement for shops to put in the window how many people can go in at a time. What do we do with this information? Are we supposed to stand outside and count people through the window to see if we are allowed to enter? That is fine with a small corner shop but in the city, there is a large department store which (a sign said) took 252 people. How do I count them all? Do I bring a calculator with me? Perhaps the idea is that an employee counts the shoppers in and out. If that is the case, what is the need for the sign telling everyone? It is all very confusing.

It looked better on TV…

               While waiting for my train home, I noticed on a screen that the government had (in the last hour) put out a travel advisory telling people not to go into Manchester for non-essential reasons as yet again covid cases are rising in the city. After a lot of soul searching, I decided that reminiscing about children’s TV and counting the shoppers in John Lewis doesn’t count as essential so my adventures will be paused for a while.

               Doesn’t mean I will get round to sorting my bag out though…

Texan Trouble

It isn’t unusual for a cruise ship not to complete its advertised itinerary. The reasons for this are wide and varied:

  • Port closures (strikes/disasters/civil unrest)
  • Onboard medical emergencies
  • Mechanical failures
  • Late supplies or people
  • And occasionally things like pirates or volcanic eruptions,

But the most common is the weather. Strong winds or large waves can happen anywhere (often with little warning) meaning the ships can’t travel as fast or physically can’t get near enough to the dock. Sometimes the company will find an alternative port or change the order but more often than not, we simply have an extra sailing day.

Whenever this happens, a conspiracy theory goes round that the company doesn’t want to dock as they make more money when people are onboard spending their money in the shops. Actually, this is untrue. The huge mark up they make from selling tours vastly outweighs the takings on souvenir t-shirts. One extra sea day isn’t such a problem. Most passengers are supportive. Loosing more than one port day is a disaster. However this is nothing compared to the catastrophe of missing a turnaround day.

O

Turnaround day is when the cruise ends and the passengers leave. It is also the same day when the next cruise starts. Many people think there are days in between but the reality is often less than an hour. In that time the entire ship needs cleaning, all the food and supplies need loading plus sorting out ten thousand suitcases lined up on the pier. Any delay on turnaround day means not only an avalanche of complaints but also throws the next port out too. Which brings me to the Port of Houston.

For those unfamiliar with the gigantic state of Texas, it is almost triple the size of the UK with just over half the UK population. It is enormous. So a port near its biggest city is a major draw. Not having to take a plane is a major plus for all of us. However, the Port of Houston is not actually by the open sea, it is more than 50 miles away.

To solve this obvious geographic problem, a narrow channel has to be navigated to allow the ships to reach their final destination. Well, unless it is foggy. In the event of fog, the coastguard closed the channel and we have to sit and wait. The problem with fog is, it is unpredictable and notoriously hard to forecast. Sometimes we would be waiting for a few hours, other times it was days. How long would it last? Nobody knows. We couldn’t go anywhere else as our supplies (and next set of passengers) were on the dock waiting for us.

Our passengers had booked a seven day break and because of the fog, it would turn into 8, 9 or maybe ten days. Lucky them, except the ones who had to get back to work, or needed to rebook flights multiple times. The really unlucky people were the ones waiting in the car park not knowing when their holiday would begin. Their seven day break might only be four or five days (plus most of the ports would be missed in order to make up time). We were entirely at the mercy of the fog. It was the only topic of conversation for months. There were other problems too, including the chefs having no idea how long the food needed to last (the menus on day nine of the seven-day cruise were a little limited).

This went on week after week for months. Every day multiple people would ask why we don’t go to Galveston instead (a beautiful port town actually on the Texan coastline). The scripted answer was that people liked the convenience of being near the city. The real answer is that the Port of Houston was cheaper to dock at.

In 2016, it was announced that the cruise lines were stopping their visits to the Port of Houston. Can’t say it will be missed…