Travel Travails

While I’ve never expected to be feted as an intellectual and wouldn’t have attained educational pinnacles, would never have become a brain surgeon or a marine biologist, I consider I’ve enough know-how to read a set of instructions and manage basic technological tasks. In other words, reader, I am average- a judgement that dogged me throughout my school days, stated with monotonous regularity on all of my school reports.

So, armed with my average skills and intelligence I’ve plunged into the murky melange of preparations we need to undertake before we set off on some foreign travel. The raft of covid precautions necessary before taking off anywhere is said to have become ‘easier’, which leads me to wonder who on Earth managed to go anywhere at all beyond these shores in the last two or three years.

Since the plague began we’ve limited travel to our own borders and wandered throughout the UK only, which has been lovely, of course and there are still many places we’ll be visiting or re-visiting this year and in years to come. Last Autumn, however, in a rush of misguided optimism we booked a trip, an excursion which is now imminent enough for me to have begun departure procedures and to discover just how complex the whole business is.

Simply ascertaining what must be done makes my brain hurt. I begin to read the airline advice, soon getting to the click here and click here and click here parts, until there are so many ‘click heres’ I think I won’t find my way back to the original page.

I know we must get a covid pass, obtained via the NHS app [which, by a miracle I have installed]. I begin to leap the hurdles I must cross: email address, password, [I remember it!], then photo of ID [which I failed last time], then I must send a video of myself saying some numbers or holding them up. I do all of this, only to be told I must wait for verification. By a further miracle I pass the checks. I opt for every version of my vaccination pass, figuring that I’ll cover all eventualities. I trust hard copy more than my phone and my shortcomings with it.

Next: Tests, I know that we must test before flying. I know that this must be PCR and that ‘only government approved companies’ may do it. I won’t go into the government part, or how they are able to approve anything at present [this for UK readers]. I know we must have post-return lateral flow tests and that, again they must be officially approved. We don’t live anywhere near a test site. SIGH. I get online and order said tests. £135. …

The box of tests arrives. On inspection, I can see nothing to indicate that we have PCR tests, although 2 of the boxes do say lateral flow. These are for our return, even though they say ‘fit-to-fly’ on the label [!]. I call the company, Randox and wait while I’m given a series of lectures about what Randox can’t help me with, before I get ‘options’. In fairness, the kind woman who eventually answers does help, and tells me I have the correct test kits as well as mentioning the ‘passenger locator forms’ we must also do. On reading the test instructions I also learn that we must register our tests before sending, or dropping them off.

I get online and search for the ‘drop-off’ locations, which appear to be in some highly improbable locations, our 2 nearest being a] a motorway service station or b] a disused Ryvita factory. Hmmm…

Our departure, should we even get that far, is still a week and a half away. And nothing more can be done until 72 hours before, when we must undertake tests and send [or drop off] the packs.

We’ll be away for just 4 nights, reader…and I’m wondering…is it going to be worth all this effort? I’ll let you know…

Telephony

Twenty four months have elapsed and for once I’ve been on the ball enough to know I’m up for phone and internet software renewal so during a lull in my week I make time to visit the phone shop.

The shop is brightly lit, hot…and chock full of customers. I settle down at an empty desk to wait for service, entertained by three children who are galloping around the small shop floor while their father works his way through the range of products available. The children pause their gallops only long enough for a brief prod at the buttons on a row of tablets lining one wall.

I wait and wait. Shop assistants come and go from the store room. More customers enter the shop. I shed my coat and my scarf, toy with my phone a bit, watch the children.

Some time later an assistant looks up and spots me where I sit at the vacant desk. ‘Have you been seen yet?’ he asks.

‘No’.

He tells me he’ll be ‘one minute’.

After a few minutes he settles across the desk and I explain that my contract has expired. I tell him I am not typical, that unusually I am not a heavy user of my phone, not glued to it, not a taker of selfies [I still use a camera], not a watcher of films upon it, or a downloader of things. I am, still, a laptop user. I type on a keyboard. This explains our use of the cunning, little white pebble that is our mobile wifi, worth its weight in bandwidth, which accompanies us on our travels.

The young man attempts a soft push, offering me extra capacity, extra minutes, an additional tablet device, a line for Husband [who will never be persuaded away from his pay-as-you-go]. I do actually consider the tablet for a few seconds-until I remember the nest of tablets languishing abandoned in a drawer at home. I explain we’ve never, ever exceeded our allocation, never needed to top up. If my existing phone cannot be recycled I’d like a new battery, only. This, of course is not an option-

When I leave the store with my new phone and upgraded mobile Wifi I feel unexpectedly chipper. The new phone is a Huawei. Will I be spied upon? The mobile pebble we’ve used for several years has always been Huawei so I am sanguine enough about having their phone.

At home I follow the instructions for copying everything from  old to new with perfect results. The new phone has a larger screen, is able to alert me with a proper telephone-ringing sound and is fast to respond to my requests.

A few days later the three year old microwave in our kitchen gives up the ghost. Nobody, we find,  repairs microwaves. I go to the appliance store, peruse the display, take my phone, ring Husband, send him a photo of one. He rings me with the results of reviews. I’ve surprised myself by behaving like the rest of society.

 

 

Pass!

One of the phenomena I’ve noticed in the process of getting older is the process of things passing me by. Some of them pass by from my not having noticed them, some from my not liking them and some from my not knowing about them in the first place.

Is this a natural part of ageing? In his dotage my father took impressive steps into the world of new technology when he not only mastered some elements of word processing but also managed email [albeit in a somewhat antiquated manner, beginning all mails with ‘Dear’-letter fashion, unable to quite take in the informality]. He never got to grips with surfing the net, fearing the exposure of his personal details, perhaps his previous role as secretary to the parish council or membership of the village history society.

The phenomenon of ‘Things passing me by’ has crept upon me despite efforts to keep up. I feel it is the tip of a large iceberg, the top of which is visible, the underparts carrying a mass of culture, technology and who-knows-what-else I cannot even dream of. But here are some of the items on the top-the visible-part of the obstacle:

  1. I know what a smartphone is. I own one. But aside from texts it is rarely used, or even switched on, except for an occasional look at internet, as long as it is not too onerous to access. Most of my smartphone is a mystery. I don’t use the camera. It took me over a year to be able to swipe to answer a call [my call-answering is still not reliable]. I haven’t been able to memorise the number. It has passed me by.
  2. I understand that apps are applications. I just don’t use them. It seems that as soon as I have made the effort to acquire one something else has superseded it. ‘WHAT?’ friends and relations cry, ‘You don’t use ‘Picsnap’ or ‘Instabomb’? How do you manage to live? Surely everyone does ‘Smype’? No, they don’t.
  3. Hit TV programmes. I like thrillers. I like corny, old-fashioned cop detective shows, [like soon-to-be-axed ‘New Tricks’]. I can’t get to grips with ‘Game of Thrones’-nor do I want to.
  4. Talent shows. X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent et al. Contrived, hyped and wearisome. The only exception I make is for ‘Strictly’. I recognise few of the ‘celebs’ but I like the dancing, although the programme, with its padding, pretend humour and feeble, contrived banter is nowhere near as good as it was in the beginning. I do not, however feel enslaved to watch every episode.
  5. Contemporary music. By which I mean Rapping [I know it is all social comment/poetry and all that, but I can’t conceive of the likes of Tiny Someone, Master Monotony or Kanter East as actual music], Plastic pop [of the ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ band kind] and that monotonous, thrumming, repetitive techno you are so often assaulted by in European bars. Give me a blast of Eric Burden delivering his stark rendition of ‘Bring it on Home to me’ any day of the week.
  6. Piri-Piri chicken, Nando’s etc. Where and when did Piri-Piri spring from? I went into a Nando’s for a coffee once.
  7. Dresses worn with leggings. No. Pass by. Please.

If all this sounds curmudgeonly it is probably because I am becoming a curmudgeon. Kay Sera.

The Jones and their Phones

                Years ago, in my childhood [ie many years ago] a popular phrase was: ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. Who were the Joneses? And what did ‘keeping up’ with them mean? Well in those days it meant the acquisition of new-fangled gadgets and appliances and labour-saving devices.

                My mother would scoff. “What would I do with one of those?” she would jeer, at the idea of a twin-tub washing machine. “I can get the washing much cleaner by hand”. And there she would be, sweating over an old ‘copper’ which she stirred with an ancient, bleached and tapered pole, boiling up the sheets, wringing them out in an aged mangle before taking them up the garden to the clothes line.

                Presumably some previous generation must have derided coppers and mangles as new-fangled fripperies, since these machines were not strictly doing it all by ‘hand’, but other than taking everything down to the river and dashing it on a stone, this was ‘hand washing’ to my Ma.

                It was the same story for all contraptions; vacuum cleaner, TV, electric cooker and later, video recorder and microwave oven. Once these items were installed they were deemed life savers and no mention was ever made of life before their arrival.

                Whilst the phrase, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ has fallen out of use, the concept remains and is alive and kicking in these times of rampant technological development. I am proud of the way my mother responded to her neighbours’ purchases, although once she’d belatedly installed her own versions she became evangelistic about them, wondering what she ever did without them and spending hours watching the revolving tub of the automatic front loader or raving at length about the attributes of the video recorder.

                When someone recently described to me a gathering of friends who ridiculed her for her modest [non-apple] smartphone I was shocked. Indeed, of all those gathered, only one, apparently was appropriately equipped phone-wise-with an ‘iphone 5’. What does this say about the rest of us, those of us who have opted for a budget model with a supermarket contract? We are to be pitied. We have not ‘kept up’. Some of us [me] are even still using a plain, bog standard laptop with a keyboard. Imagine that!

                This is not a competition to see who is first to get a new, labour saving device; this is a shameless bid for admiration via one-up-man-ship. On my humble smartish phone that no one has ever heard of I am able to text, call, use Facebook [a debatable advantage], Google, take snaps and send them, email people, catch up with the news and find out where I am. There are also innumerable facilities which I have no interest in [such as games] and many more I know nothing about and am unlikely ever to avail myself of. I like my old fashioned laptop despite the fact that a visiting friend was unable to swipe on to the next photo I was showing her. So there!