Thursday, 20 September 2012

'Lots Happened' - the summer of 2012

Yet another of those 'catching up' entries. I'm hoping very soon to get this blog up to date so it can be a little more constructive and reflective rather than just a diary with the odd recommendation here and there.

The plan was, as ever, to ease back on the work a bit and breathe a little bit more. But there's always a problem with that strategy. I love my jobs. I love my day job, and I love my caravanning 'job'. I can never seriously call the touring thing a 'job' for two reasons. First off, it's a lifestyle choice not a career move. Nobody will ever get rich in the pecuniary sense of the word being a caravan journalist. But my goodness me, it's a very rich life indeed in so many other ways. The Camping & Caravanning Club have really hit the nail on the head with their 'Real Richness' campaign. So true. And it's this enjoyment, this richness, that is the second reason that I cannot call writing and making videos a 'job'. As I often say, it's not a holiday as there is always the element of obligation. But goodness me, it does beat working for a living. I'd rather be tapping away at my laptop in the Airstream until the wee hours than doing the 9 to 5 commute.

A lot of time, and I mean A LOT of time and energy, was expended on a second series of videos for the accessory manufacturer Milenco. Despite the hard work involved, I'm always happy to work with Milenco because their products are, simply, jolly good! And it's great to be able to try them all out and see just how good they are.

Hopefully… when I get some time (yeah, right) I'll put a comedy compilation together of all the out-takes. And there are plenty of those. But for now there are plenty of new product videos to check out. Visit my channel on YouTube and have a gander:

Link to my YouTube channel 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hebrides 2012 - Take One (March)

Hebrides 2012 - Take One

Last year, while visiting the Outer Hebrides with the Airstream in the autumn, I went three nights without sleep during a particularly rough spell of weather. By the fourth day I was practically crying, desperate and delusional thanks to a severe lack of sleep.

It was at that point that I decided that any trip to the islands outwith May to September would involve bricks and mortar.

Therefore, for my winter trip in March, hotels and cottages were the order of the day. The dog-friendly Accor Hotel Group once again proved a good choice for night stops on the way up, both at the Ibis in Rotherham and the Etap in Glasgow. Mind you, it took well over one long frustrating hour in Glasgow's notoriously awful road system to get from the motorway to the hotel car park - a distance of about 50 yards as the crow flies.

In Glasgow, I met up with friends Carys and Craig, and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening.

The plan was to sail from Oban the next day. But as we left Glasgow, Carys and I received a text from CalMac to tell us that bad weather had caused cancellation of our ferry. The next one 'might' sail a couple of days later. But Carys only had four days. So we decided that it would be best to take a long drive to Uig in the Isle of Skye and take the substantially shorter and more sheltered crossing to Lochmaddy instead.

It was a long drive that involved a night stop on the Isle of Skye. But as a result we discovered Lochbay B&B. Our host, Johnny, was a lovely guy. Carys, myself, and Dougal spent a wonderful, quite, relaxed evening sprawled out on the carpet reading in front of the open fire. Well, Dougal wasn't reading. He is a dog after all.

The crossing to Lochmaddy passed without event, and the cottage on South Uist was lovely. We enjoyed a wonderful four days walking in the wild weather during the day, and chilling out in front of a roaring fire during the evenings. Absolutely wonderful. And Dougal met his new Best Friend Paddy, the dog that belonged to the groundsman at Askernish Golf Course. They loved playing together.

All too soon Carys had to fly home to get back to work, leaving just me and Dougal to cross over to the Island of Harris and spend a week in the most wonderful, wonderful little cottage you could ever imagine:

The whole week was spent doing more of same… deserted, white, sandy beaches during the day, and roaring fires during the evening. More details about Harris in a later blog entry.

It was bliss. Absolute Bliss.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Tesco v the UK Caravanner

Before getting you up to date on the happier events of the summer, let's clear up this horrid, messy business with the hard-faced emporium that is Tesco. The debacle in the store was bad enough. What has followed is alost as bad. It's a text book example of how multinational conglomerates loose the plot. And how the hard-nosed profit-driven upper echalons of the corporate hierarchy hides behind an impenetrable veneer of poorly-paid, mechanical agents who are unable and unwilling to deviate from standard procedure.

I'm sure you don't want to read the email tennis that I played with their customer services department.

In every email I asked the question 'Does Tesco embrace the business of the UK's caravanners, or are caravanners and motor caravanners not welcome in their stores?' In every email, this question was ignored.

I received an apology from the agent with whom I was playing ping-pong, along with the offer of a £20 voucher. Let's just reiterate that I had spent £70 and lost at least £250 worth of productivity.

£20? And no official response to the UK's bona fide touring community? And that's supposed to make it all better?

This is where one silver lining appeared around the cloud. As tempted as I was to tell Tesco to keep their gesture (or words to that effect), I wanted to make sure that someone else would benefit from it. Researching food charities I discovered Foodcycle, a UK charity that ticks all the right boxes. Basically, they take food that would otherwise go to waste, cook it up into nutritious meals, and offer said meals to those who really need them. Preventing waste and feeding those in need. And training/employing those who need a skill. What's not to like? So happily the £20 went directly to Foodcycle. And I feel that this is by no means the end of my dealings with them. 

In my penultimate, exasperated email to Tesco, I asked why I was not getting an answer from the management about the needs of the UK's caravanners.

The answer I received just about sums it all up. It sums up why Tesco is sliding down the supermarket ratings. It also sums up the desperately broken culture of Tesco management that was clear from the very beginning when the store manager was 'too busy' on a conference call with head office to face me there and then and nip the whole thing in the bud.

'Our head office is not customer-facing' explained the hapless agent.

Think about that for a minute.

'…Not customer-facing'

I think, Tesco, as I happily contribute to your slow demise by withholding all future custom, that that is abundantly clear.