Judgement Day

Over the last few months, I have been running activities in a care home for the elderly. Like any setting there are plusses and minuses to this but one of the major advantages is that I avoid the weekly dread of the customer ratings. Instead, how successful I have been is judged on how many of our residents stay awake for the whole event. Of course, how awake people in their 90s are is dependent on many variables such as the time of day, if it is before or after lunch and what medication they are currently on.

               In most holiday settings, the guests will be sent a survey shortly after their stay to gather their feedback. Generally, it will be split into several sections such as ‘food’, ‘reception services’ and ‘cleanliness’ and along with their comments, a score will need to be given (generally between 1 and 5). These comments and scores will be forwarded to the relevant departments on the resort on a weekly basis. Many times, the first line of feedback will be ‘I know nobody will read this’ which isn’t true, the comments are read by many people (although if they are actually acted on, is another matter).

               Positive comments are often displayed on a notice board for the staff members to look through while the negative ones are examined for trends. Many comments are about things we can’t do anything about ‘too many hills’, ‘there were kids running around’ (in August), or ‘nobody told us it would be so windy’. These kinds of things come up fairly often. It is also very normal for people to write complaints about things that could have been dealt with had the customer actually said something during their stay ‘would have appreciated an extra pillow’ or ‘couldn’t work out how to turn on the heating so was forced to sit in the cold all week’.

Some of the guest survey comments that stick in my mind include:

  • ‘My sister booked this cruise as a surprise, if she had told me the itinerary, I wouldn’t have gone’.
  • ‘The person in the next room shouted at my children’.
  • ‘Part way through our stay, my husband told me he wanted a divorce and the lady at reception said I couldn’t have another room as the hotel was full’.

               If I am honest, the scores (the 1-5 ratings) are much more important to the managers than the individual comments. Every drop of 0.1% is a cause for concern and examined against every other resort in the group and against what happened in previous years. It is widely acknowledged that if there was a problem in one area, the guest will mark down every department. Also bad weather and school holidays will pull the scores down. If one resort can’t raise its falling scores, personnel changes will be made fairly quickly.

All this means that some people get more attention than others as the staff feel those are the ones most likely to fill in the surveys. In a couple, the wife is statistically more likely to fill in the survey than her husband, it is probable that young people will delete the emails and older people are more likely to not actually notice the email in the first place. This is an inexact science, but you get the idea. If you are ever in a hotel, shop or restaurant and women aged about 40-70 are getting all the attention it is possibly because people working there are worried about their scores.

               I have had colleagues go to extraordinary lengths to ‘rescue’ their scores and keep their jobs. I have seen people writing their own reviews in a variety of pens, I heard of somebody who got fired for printing off lists of customers emails and booking reference numbers and spending a night filling in surveys on their behalf and the old classic of asking people to fill in a positive survey while actually in the building in exchange for a discount or free gift.

               Compared to all this, being judged on merely keeping people awake is much more straight forward.

Working With People

There are very few people that actually believe ‘the customer is always right’ and the people that do are usually the ones who think they are entitled to whatever they like. Thankfully, there are not so many of these but working with people means I have come across a fair number of them. Most of the more difficult customers are people that simply don’t understand what is going on.

               During my time working on the cruise ships, there was a story I heard many times that involved somebody asking a crew member ‘do the crew stay on board or go home at night?’. Obviously not a well thought out question considering we are usually thousands of miles from land. Anyway, the story goes that the crew member answered that ‘we get a helicopter home every evening’. Then the next day the passenger complained that the noise of the helicopters kept them awake all night.

               I am not sure if this story is true or just cruise ship folklore (along with ‘how do I know which photo is mine’ ‘it’s the one with you in it’), but it is true that we had some extraordinary guest interactions. Deaths onboard are incredibly rare, as people need travel insurance to sail so anyone ‘uninsurable’ doesn’t travel but every single cruise there is a rumour that 12 or 15 people have died. When it is pointed out that is untrue, we are always met with ‘well, you would say that wouldn’t you?’ which then fuels the gossip of a cover up further.

               A particularly fraught time is embarkation day. People have travelled since early morning and are highly stressed and exhausted. This combination led to complaints of seasickness before the ship had sailed and somebody screaming that they booked a sea view room and all they could see was the car park. Then there was a man who couldn’t work the balcony door mechanism and got stuck outside. Rather than shouting or knocking, he phoned the coastguard leading to a 90 minute delay of departure.

               One of our more useless tasks was manning the library. We had a barcode reader that was used to scan the books into a computer database. We then asked for names and cabin numbers. Trouble was, that vast numbers of the books were not in the database and the database was not linked to anything (it wasn’t even on the network) so there would have been no way to check if books were returned or stolen. It was a total charade. Anyway while playing along, we had a lot of time to fill so in 2008, my colleagues started a list of the odder guest interactions they had.

               There were a surprizing number of people who wanted a specific book but didn’t know what the book was. ‘I think it might have a red cover, or maybe blue’, ‘the one that woman was talking about on TV last week’ or ‘my husband thought it was about a family a bit like ours, do you know what he meant’. There were also very specific requests ‘I heard a story on the news about the foot sizes of the ancient Egyptians, where is your section about this’? I bet even Amazon doesn’t even have a whole section on this obscure topic.

               I am glad my colleagues kept the list, I would have forgotten these gems:

  • “Can I ask why the number 13 has only been called in bingo three times this cruise?”
  • “So you are from England, My sister in law went there once, is it possible you have met her?”
  • “Does a banana skin count as paper and plastic?”
  • “Why is it Sunday in Victoria?”
  • “Do you have a dictionary? I don’t want to use it, just wanted to see if you have one”
  • “Will the port side and the starboard side both go under the bridge?”
  • “Why didn’t this book mention Sarah Palin?”
  • “Did the engineers on the Titanic have purple between their stripes too? I didn’t notice that detail in the film”

Of course, the vast majority of people are lovely, funny and polite but it is the others that we remember. One day the world will reopen and I will, once again, explain 20 times an hour where the toilets are. I can’t wait. 

Themed From Hell

How do you persuade people to go back to the same hotel multiple times? Make it different. The location is fixed, renovations are too costly but a change of theme is easy. This means creating a whole set of activities based on an occasion. Many of these themes are fairly straight forward such as Christmas, Easter or Halloween. It is now fairly normal to include Valentine’s, St Patrick’s and perhaps some imported from America like Superbowl, Thanksgiving or the Oscars. These worked well, so more were added and now there are often three a week.

These are often pre-set by the marketing department in a corporate head office in another country, months in advance and the resort managers are under a lot of pressure to deliver which rolls down to us. Yet very rarely are explicit directions actually given. Every resort in the group is expected to make something up and a competition is set for who will have the best event, social media posts are created and the guests are contacted in advance to let them know all about it. However (in my experience) about 9 in 10 of these are a total disaster.

               Sometimes the themes are wrong for the local clientele. President’s day is a public holiday in USA but celebrating it elsewhere in the world is odd, “president of what?” is a usual response. Even the staff assume it is something to do with the CEO. Diwali is a lovely festival if you have lots of visitors who are Hindu or Sikh but if you don’t, it is a lot of work.

On other occasions the timings are wrong. I once had to move Halloween to the following week as October 31st clashed with the VPs birthday party. Children’s events in term time are commonplace. The Shadow Puppet Festival and Unicorn Day both stick in my mind of events that had zero attendees due to the fact it was not the school holidays and the mainly retired set of guests we had were not interested in recreating a version of the Baby Shark video.

What do I do with International Hydration Day?

The last few years have seen a rise in environmental themes. Litter picking, energy saving and recycling are all important but nobody wants to take time out of their precious holiday to ‘learn more and get a ticket for the prize draw’ when they could be at the beach with an ice cream. On the rare occasions somebody asks what the prize is, I say it is a mystery rather than the truth – a bamboo toothbrush or t-shirt flown in all the way from China.

               The hardest group of all are the ones that we don’t understand. I remember being instructed on a conference call to expect delivery of a package of supplies for an upcoming Matariki festival we were to run. Confused looks ran around the room, none of us knew what Matariki was but a conference call was no place to admit that. Perhaps we had missed an email? Expensive costumes and banners arrived but still no instructions. We phoned back.

               ‘Hi, we just have a few questions about the Matariki festival’ The boss started.

               ‘Sure’ corporate person answered.

               ‘Well, what exactly are we expected to do?’ He asked.

               ‘It is a festival that is very important to the guests in your part of the world so we ask you to use your local knowledge and creativity to create a vacation highlight’.

               ‘I wonder if there has been some confusion, we are in Singapore and from what I can work out, Matariki is from New Zealand’ I chipped in.

               ‘Yes, absolutely. Everyone in your area will expect a celebration and we can’t wait to see the photos’ Corporate person answered back, clearly having no idea that we were more than 5000 miles away and so it meant nothing to the people here. Matariki just like Harmony Day, Syrup Day, Migratory Bird Day and Towel Day was a predictable failure.

Oh good, Armouries Day.

However, this is where it gets complicated. Nobody wants to hear that these days don’t work because the money has already been spent, the decorations have been ordered and the guests are informed long before we are. Although 80s weekend is a winner, I have never yet met anyone who had booked a holiday especially for Goose and Gosling Day or Marianne Twanette Day. If it goes wrong, it must have been because we didn’t try hard enough. So instead we fake photographs, bribe people with offers of free drinks to stand with a prop and then we write on social media what a great success it was. Everyone else in the group does the same and it is good fun to spot the same helpful friends in multiple shots over the year.

               I have not yet had the events calendar for 2021. Whenever it arrives, you can be sure there will be something obscure I will need to organise for later that week and that whatever it is will be a disaster (unless you are from head office, then it was great).

Is It Over Yet?

A few weeks ago I blogged that I was looking forward to Christmas. However now the festive season has gone on for so long that for me a tipping point has been reached and now I struggle to remember life before Christmas. Over the last few days and weeks, a number of things have become clear:

  • I can happily live the rest of my life without hearing Wham, Slade or Mariah Carey ever again.
  • Glitter is one of the worst things ever invented and along with cockroaches will survive a nuclear apocalypse.
  • I don’t care if Die Hard counts as a Christmas film or not.
  • Turkey isn’t a good meat and most people are too scared to admit they would prefer something else.
  • A large number of cracker jokes don’t really make sense.
  • Christmas TV is generally a celebrity version of every other show in the schedule (featuring people I feel the need to Google) plus a load of repeats.

My neighbours have got very competitive with their outside lights (presumably because they have nothing else to do). They have inflatable Santas in the garden, sleighs projected on the sides of the house and so many lights, I need sunglasses to walk down the street. In fact, there was no chance of seeing Jupiter last week as the lights from my road made the skies brighter than the sun. I think even the weather has had enough as Storm Bella tore everything down overnight, although as I write this, the man opposite is up a ladder putting his lights back up again ready for round two. If there is one thing that I hope that we have all learned from 2020 it is this. Just because the supermarkets start Christmas in September, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

Obviously, the reason for this massively extended festive season is because we all have so much time with the Government issued stay-at-home instructions. It makes me wonder, what would happen to our competitive nature if it was some other time of year?

  • If this carries on until February, will we all be commissioning light aircraft to write love messages in the skies?
  • If this carries on until May, will we all be repurposing brooms and drain pipes for may pole dancing blocking off most residential streets in the process?
  • If this carries on until August, will we all be wearing large sombreros and competitively making larger and ever more extravagant cocktails until we all collapse?

I really hope we don’t get to find out.

Christmas Day, 1996

In the morning: Good Christmas presents. I got a new globe, slippers, headphones, tape stand, CD Rom program, chocolate, organiser and other things.

In the afternoon: Dinner, it was very nice. Dad has a new keyboard. Went on the new CD Rom, put up the tape stand.

In the evening: Watched Xmas TV. Recorded 2 videos. I am owed a summer holiday tape that is coming later on.

Dates: 11 days until school.

Tomorrow: Relatives.

Weather: Cold and sunny, temp: 3

Summary: Really good day today, enjoyed xmas.

Replaced by the CD ROM

I have always had maps around. The world and where places are still fascinate me. I constantly look up locations mentioned on the news out of curiosity and I would say geography is a specialist subject for me. The globe was a light up one but it didn’t work well, it was very stiff to move and the bulb broke. Despite this, I kept the globe on my shelf next to a red ceramic horse (origins forgotten) where they both gathered dust for years.

               Although I am now a confirmed technophobe, this has not always been the case. I was very early in getting a Kindle, which at that point had to be ordered from USA and didn’t include a UK plug adaptor. I also was very excited by the world of the CD-Rom. This very short lived item of technology was essentially a reference book put onto a computer disk which I spent hours scrolling through. I had an encyclopedia disk and an atlas disk and this present was almost certainly an updated version. Within a few years everyone was online and the poor CDROM was consigned (along with tape stands) to museums of forgotten 90s technology.

               The Summer Holiday reference is not about a lovely week in Cornwall, actually the soundtrack to the movie classic. I had a cassette of the Cliff Richard version but since I didn’t really like Cliff’s voice I used to skip forward to the bits that didn’t feature him (there weren’t many). Foot Tapper by the Shadows was a favourite number. Darren Day then released a version and it was this that I was waiting for. Listening back to it now, it strikes me that Darren Day sounds very similar to Cliff Richard, I am not sure I realised that at the time.

Where is that pencil?

I am also amused by ‘Tomorrow: relatives.’ It is the full stop that entertains me, no further description was put forward. Looking over the entry for the following day, I had gone to visit my cousins. ‘It was good. I got a new tape, Now 35. I now have Now 30, Now 31, Now 32, Now 33, Now 34 and Now 35’. At this point, I was still recording music from the radio so having the actual recordings would have been a treat. I used to rewind and fast forward the tapes so much that I would have a dedicated pencil by the cassette player for when the tape became loose.

               The 90s really were a different time.

A Positively Testing Experience

On my first day in the new job I was ‘lucky’ enough to get a coronavirus test. I had not had one before, but it was straight forward enough. I was instructed to sit still while a nurse jabbed a small stick up my nose and down my throat. For most people a first day at work would involve being sent for a long stand or to fetch the bubble for a spirit level so this was a nice change. Going back to work gave me a sense of purpose. It is nice to be useful and be able to contribute towards something.

               Work itself was a shock to the system. I had been offered the job nearly a month before, but it took an age to get the paperwork through and then when it did, I was instructed to be onsite tomorrow morning. By now, I was used to doing nothing. I had developed a pleasant routine of getting up late, scrolling through the internet and watching the world go by. Going to work made me use muscles that had previously gone to sleep and I left after my first day feeling like the tin man from Wizard of Oz.

               I was woken up by a text message early on Sunday morning (6th Dec). ‘NHS COVID-19 Notification: Test Date 02 December. Your coronavirus test result is positive. It means you had the virus when the test was done. Try not to worry.’

The message of doom

This was a complete surprize, I felt fine. Try not to worry is easy to say but since the test results had spectacularly missed the government imposed 24-hour deadline, I was unaware I was a carrier and went back into work on a further three occasions potentially spreading the disease to many other people.

               The rest of Sunday was a day of irritation. I got three further text messages telling me to fill in my contacts on a form they emailed to an address that I don’t recognise. Eventually they phoned and I discovered that not only was my email wrong but so was both my name and address, the conversation began like this:

               ‘Do you have any questions I can help you with?’ The NHS test and trace call operator asked.

               ‘Yes, I replied. The results took four days to come back, my name, email and address were all wrong and I feel fine. Are you sure this is meant for me?’

               ‘Unfortunately, yes, the results are correct’

               ‘How do you know?’ I countered.

               ‘It says so on my system’

               Well, if it says so on the system, it must be correct. No cause for doubt there. Anyway, I dutifully gave my contacts while the lady read through some generic information.

The next day, I checked in with work. After all, I was now having an unexpected week off (after working there for only three days) and had potentially exposed them all to a deadly disease. I was surprized to discover that despite me giving the details the previous day, nobody from Test & Trace had got around to telling them I was positive. I read with interest that UK Government have so far spent over £22 billion on this system, seems like money well spent.

               The rest of the week passed off without incident. As the results took so long, I only needed to isolate for six days and since there was only about 15 mins where it wasn’t raining, I didn’t really mind staying at home, in fact the week flew by. I also missed a ‘meet and greet’ from head office (so there are some definite silver linings to all this). In an odd way, I am pleased to have finally caught the virus (assuming I actually did!), it is one less thing to worry about, I feel I can relax a little now and my anti-bodies will give me more of my life back. Perhaps I will do something really reckless like go on a bus.

               Tomorrow, I am free to skip down the road like a caged bird released back into the wild. Except it will be raining so I will probably just stay in. It also means there is just one day left for NHS Test & Trace to actually call the contacts they were so keen I provided… Will they manage it? I know what my bets are on.

To Tree or Not To Tree?

This year, it feels like there has been less arguing about when is the right time to do festive things. Perhaps it is because we all need cheering up or because we have run out of anything else to do but the decorations are everywhere. I was surprised to learn that a Christmas tree farm near me had sold more than 50% of its stock by mid-November meaning that a lot of people will have dead trees by the time their bubbles come to visit.

I like the run up to Christmas. I will happily listen to festive songs all year round (although there are only about ten good ones), the lights cut through the long dark days and I also have a thing for the seasonal sandwiches they sell in supermarkets. However, by about 18th December as normal routines are getting more disrupted, I have usually had enough and am ready for things to go back to normal. This year with the various restrictions, we are getting all the nice seasonal elements (music, films, food) but with far less of the stuff I hate (parties, family visits, the expectations of others).  Shame it took a pandemic to achieve it.

In recent years, I have had to battle to get out of going to parties and large events, which is odd as I organise them for a living. I find when I am running them, everything is under my terms so easy to control but other people’s occasions don’t interest me at all. I recently heard an interview with the autistic TV presenter Chris Packham on this subject. One of the things he mentioned is that he told his partner ‘No I don’t want to go to that wedding because I don’t care about any of those people and never will, so don’t drag me there, you go’. That really sums it up for me too.

This looks awful…

Being diagnosed late, I feel I lack a lot of autism education that others have. I wonder what of my character traits can be put down to being autistic and what is just me behaving badly. What can I change and what do I need to live with?

Earlier in the interview Chris Packham also said ‘one of the problems is, that when a lot of people talk, it’s obvious what they are going to say before they say it and therefore I can’t be bothered to wait for them to say it so I will just interrupt them’. This rang true for me too, I realised that I do that too and this is something that I will start to work on.

By learning more about autism and about me, perhaps I could make Christmas become more bearable for myself and for other people in future years. Will it ever be ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’? That seems unlikely.

Henry the Hamster

My niece recently turned three years old. It was the first birthday where she was old enough to choose her own present. Since the shops are currently shut, my brother got a toy catalogue that she could look through to help her choose but she already knew what she wanted. My niece wanted a puppy.

               One curious effect the coronavirus has had is double the price of puppies. BBC News reported in September that the average price of a puppy in the UK has doubled to £1883. This is one of many reasons, this gift request was denied. Instead a rabbit was chosen (average cost £40 plus no walks in the rain are required). The birthday girl was less than impressed with this substitution and has taken to woofing at the rabbit hoping it she can train it to bark. No success yet.

As far as I can remember, my first pets were three goldfish I got as a runners-up prize from the fairground (rather than the toy I was hoping for). I named them Boris, Doris & Morris after the characters from a short-lived kids TV show called ‘Through The Dragon’s Eye’ which only ran for ten weeks in 1989, sadly longer than the goldfish lasted.

               Then for my tenth birthday I got a hamster which I called Henry. Henry spent most of his time crawling through toilet roll tubes before destroying them. He also managed to escape on several occasions, I was convinced it was because he learned how to open the clip on the door (rather than the much more likely explanation, that ten year old me kept forgetting to close it properly).

               On his various escape missions Henry destroyed:

  • A packet of envelopes
  • An entire bottle garden
  • The Christmas edition of the Radio Times
  • A box of Milk Tray (except the coffee ones, even hamsters don’t like those).

One year while we were on holiday, Henry performed one of his infamous escapology routines at my Grandparent’s house. He ended up chewing a hole in the skirting board which we think he disappeared behind. He was never to be seen again.

While writing this, it occurs to me that my brother’s guinea pig also perished under the watch of my grandparents. I believe they stopped volunteering for pet duties after that.

The Scottish Saga

‘What is the minimum amount of money you would be willing to work for in this position?’ That was a question I was unprepared for. I had no idea.

               I was unemployed in the spring of 2018 and this was the first ‘in person’ interview I had been to in years. It was to be the activities manager at a beautiful resort beside a loch in rural Scotland and was one of those processes where the candidates spend the day together doing activities. I had imagined these would be problem-solving exercises or some kind of role play where there would be a awkward customer to deal with. Instead it was archery.

Robin Hood has nothing to worry about

The only other time I have done archery, I missed so spectacularly that my arrow went over the fence and narrowly missed an innocent cow. That must have been twenty years earlier and still gives me nightmares. On this occasion, the court was completely netted so at least the nearby wildlife would be safe. Instead my problem was my appalling upper body strength, it took everything I had to pull the string back far enough and then when the arrow flew off accidentally, I squealed. The day was not going well.

               Due to a series of rail disruptions, it took most of the prior day to get there (including by foot, changing train stations in Glasgow). Eventually I arrived at a rural location in the dark where it was raining. I was the only person who got off the train and the conductor asked me ‘are you sure this is where you want to get off?’ To be honest, I wasn’t.

               I was met in the carpark by a grumpy man in a van. He had a sign with my name on it. He didn’t want to be there and he didn’t want to talk to me. At first I wasn’t sure he spoke English but if that was true, LBC would be a odd radio choice. I found out later the road had been closed due to a landslide and because of this, we went through a 60 mile diversion in silence. It wasn’t until I saw the entrance to the resort that I relaxed in the knowledge I was not going to be killed and would live to see another day.

A rural racetrack

I hardly slept that night but a large cooked breakfast was looming large. This was a delightful thought and I wolfed it down. What I hadn’t planned for was that the interview wasn’t being held on the resort and the 60 mile diversion was coming my way again. How anyone confidently drives so quickly in the rain, round blind corners and swerving pot holes I will never understand but none of this helped my nerves.

               My fellow interviewees were a fairly typical lot. I have found people applying to work in resort entertainment generally fall into one of three groups.

  • People who think they on their way up who are doing this as a step up to something more exciting.
  • People who talk about their ‘friends in the business’ (usually TV stars from the 1980s/90s) whose wildly extravagant stories rarely ring true.
  • People who are hopelessly unqualified and are only here because they are related to somebody on the committee.

The audition stage wasn’t ideal for me either. Everyone else had brought a song. I hadn’t got that email. Instead (for reasons that escape me), I announced I was going to do some comedy. I would be third meaning I had about ten minutes to think of some jokes to perform to the other candidates. Against all the odds, I remembered enough of somebody else’s cruise ship act that I could parrot it off while the others laughed along. This is an odd thing, there is a great pressure to be ‘a good audience’ at auditions. Even though they are the competition, the pressure to laugh/clap is immense, and the forced jollity is unbearable. At this point, I had excused myself and a mix of the nerves & travel meant I was reacquainted with the large breakfast.

What was the punchline?

I was utterly ready for the day to end but there was still the interview. I lied and said my train was two hours earlier just so I could go first and get out of there. The expected questions arrived on cue ‘tell me about an achievement you are proud of’, ‘what do you know about the resort’, ‘how are you working in a team’ and then ‘what is the minimum amount of money you would be willing to work for in this position?’

I had no idea and would have taken whatever I was offered. Perhaps that should have been my answer. Instead I said ‘two, three’. I was not sure what I meant by that and since the panel just stared in silence at my answer, I guess they were all baffled too.

About two weeks later, I got a message telling me I was unsuccessful. The only surprizing this about this, was that they made the effort to email at all.

Happy Birthday To Me

Something weird happened with my email account this week. No idea how but I managed to delete everything in my account, ten years of emails just vanished. They did not move to trash, they just disappeared. I had never seen the symbol for empty inbox before and I found it quite liberating.

The morning after, I logged in again and a message had arrived overnight.

This was from somebody I went to school with and he is the only person I am still in touch with from back then. I say in touch, this means I get round to sending him an email about every six months. It is always lovely to get these emails but rather than my usual reaction of ‘how is it somebody who teaches English makes so many typos’, it was ‘oh yes, I did have a birthday this week’. It was the first time I have completely missed a birthday. I think it is fair to say, there is a lot going on in the world at the moment so I can’t be too annoyed that nobody remembered when I didn’t either.

I am not particularly fond of ‘fuss’ and so birthdays are something I am happy to avoid. Perhaps they will take on more significance again as I grow older but as a child, my birthday was a big deal.

Looking back over my childhood diaries at past celebrations, I was taken by my entry from 1994. I had an incredibly unusual set of presents that year including a tray, a cactus, and a pair of maracas. I presumably requested these items although why I would have done that is a total mystery. According to Google, the most popular toys that year were Power Rangers figures (not quite the same as desert plants or percussion instruments) and is a fairly obvious reflection of the fact, I was uninterested in fitting in. I didn’t deliberately go against the crowd, it just never occurred to me to try.

The centre piece of my birthday weekend was that I was also treated to a ski trip. Of course we were not the kind of family who went to Innsbruck or Val-D’isere instead we went to the dry slope in Llandudno. The only thing I wrote in my diary about this was that ‘it rained’. Hardly a great surprise for North Wales in November. One thing I am sure about, I never went skiing again.

As for what happened to the tray, cactus and maracas, I suspect their final destination was a landfill site.