A very polite…car?

 We once had a dog called Geoffrey, who in is his later years had a bit of a season ticket to the vet for various ailments.  Invariably we would be seen by the same one of the vets, who although nearing retirement and reducing his hours always seemed to be around at the times that we brought Geoffrey in. The vet was a softly spoken Scot called Graham, very much of the ‘James Herriot mould ’ who was kind, gentle, empathetic and most importantly ‘knew his stuff’.

Geoffrey would get prodded, measured, temperature checked and injected but there was never a whimper.  Graham the vet would invariably comment that he was sure that if Geoffrey could talk, Geoffrey would be a very polite dog!   Geoffrey is sadly no longer with us these past years,  but whenever I hear politeness being complimented, I think of Geoffrey.

 Which brings me to the subject of my car.  When I bought it some months ago I was intrigued by the 300 or so page manual provided.  I sort of expected 30 pages of instructions in English with 9 other translations, making me the ideal pub quiz team companion  as I would be able to reel off such important phrases as ‘replenishing your screen wash’  in Serbian, Catalan, Basque, Latvian and Lithuanian. Should that ever come up as a question.

I was somewhat taken aback to find that all 300 pages were in English, with the first 8 pages covering minor  and inconsequential points such as how to start the engine, lock the doors,  and turn on the lights  with the remaining 292 pages on all the other magic that existed in the vehicle to make my life easier.  I did start diligently reading but by the time I got to page 150, my eyes had glazed over with another 150 still to go.

 

Some weeks later we were on a long journey – well long by UK rural standard of about 250 miles – I appreciate that if you live in Australia or the US outside of the cities,  people travel this distance just for a  quick shopping trip and a coffee .   

About half way along the journey, the car chimed –  the car actually does a lot of chiming…it chimes  when its about to tell you the temperature is down to +3 degrees centigrade; it chimes when the washer bottle is low in water (or as we say in Lithuania ekrano plovimas) , it chimes  for more worrying reasons too like low tyre pressure….and here is the problem, I always associate chimes with impending bad news. 

So along comes a chime and the message is ‘feeling tired, maybe you should stop for some refreshments?’  Hmmm, is this the car being judgmental and analysing my driving and determining fatigue, or is it just showing off its mathematical ability and calculating a halfway point in my journey ? I will never know unless I read more in the big book……

So fast forward a few more months and another journey and another chime.  This time a very genteel and polite message advising that my oil level was a little low and at my convenience could I top up with 1 litre? Very polite, but very precise.  As the car had asked so nicely, and as I had some distance to travel, I stopped at the first roadside garage and bought oil and duly topped up.  It wasn’t the cheapest oil in the world, but this garage had a captive market and therefore the chance to sell oil at about the same price per litre as   liquid gold or computer printer ink !   

 Back on the road again, and this time on the UK’s M1 motorway, a veritable race track crammed with high-speed cars, trucks and not much calmness here.   

A few miles passes and ding, another message, but this time politeness has gone – a stark message in red that might as well have had a coffin symbol flash – ‘Your car has TOO MUCH oil, stop and do not proceed. Major engine damage could result. Seek technical assistance now’.   Fortunately, I was near an exit and got myself off the motorway.   In the UK we have so called SMART motorways where there is no ‘shoulder’ and just a detection system that theoretically causes signage to close the live lane that you are in, but of course relies on following drivers to see the signage and exit the lane.  There have tragically been serious and fatal accidents in these and I did not want to add to those statistics!

 

Anyway, once exited, I did seek assistance and I finally got me home and car got to the garage for repairs.  Naturally I asked what did they have to fix, a measuring sensor I had assumed? 

Oh, no they said giving me a pitiful look…its just a software issue, all fixed , new version downloaded and all will be good , don’t worry!

 I live in hope!

What’s in a name?

My parents generation, probably like all generations, would from time to time have a bit of a moan about things. Actually, lets be careful here as we all find ourselves turning into our parents in various ways whether it is looks, temperament, idiosyncrasies , dress senses or driving habits!

Anyway my father would from time to time comment about how the world was becoming very depersonalised – small shops being swamped by large supermarkets, characterless motorways with no landmarks and so on. He did have a point here…I recall finding myself driving along a motorway on a work business trip that was one of many trips over a short period of time and gazing out of the car window (I hasten to add I was not the driver!) and having a mind-blanking moment about where on earth in the country are we? For those not so familiar with our UK motorways , they often have high grass banks and you see nothing of where you are passing for miles at a time – exit signs are the only clue!

Things have moved on (although obviously not on the motorways) in that the clever marketing people now want us to feel warm and fuzzy and upfront and personal about everything. I have a parcel delivery due later today and the courier company reassured me with a message that John Higgins would be with me between 17.32pm and 18.32pm. I am assuming he will be delivering the parcel and they are not just sending one of their employees round for a welfare visit?

I have recently been having a rant with my credit card provider and all the conversations, at least from their side(!) are very first name and friendly – sincere Steven from Customer Care has called twice, Michael from ‘escalations’ team and level headed Laura whose job it seemed was to call me about my complaints about the lack of service from sincere Steven and escalation Mike and re-assure me that she was on my case.

She told me more or less on our last call that her life has no higher or more important priorities than me and my banking needs at the moment. This concerns me slightly as her household may be expecting some contribution from her in terms of Christmas shopping, tree decoration or mince pie making or whatever her role normally is in such festivities and to me I think these are of greater need for focus in her life rather than an erroneous charge on my account.

And then of course there is Starbucks…it is impossible to order a coffee or hot chocolate with anonymity…I am not a huge customer of them normally and it is usually more when I am in the US for work related travel that I frequent them. When asked my name I always say , my best House of Windsor accent ….’Prince Charles’..there is never really any reaction from the order taker…other than mutters how , how will all this fit on the side of the cup? But when it gets shouted out to a crowded coffee shop, that is when the fun starts!

Enjoying this blog? …you know its just written for you ‘insert name here’

…oh and finally an update on the parcel, John hasn’t made it yet but I have been told of his exact co-ordinates. I have noted these in case things deteriorate and I need to give the info to the local mountain rescue team.

Please come and visit us!

Visitors to the UK from North America are often bemused by the complexity of choice in our ‘next generation’ coffee shops.

A university degree in coffee is really most helpful when bombarded with questions and choices. Flat white?, Americano?, Latte?, Machiatto?, Espresso?, Latte?, to name just a few; then choose your milk – full, semi or skimmed?

Yes but from a cow? or an almond? or a soya bean?

Then there is size..and of course confusing terms here..is ‘large’ bigger than ‘grande’?, do you want to eat in?, do you want to take away? do you want to use your own cup?, would you like to contribute to clogging the oceans by having a plastic straw? And so on. Even the tiniest of coffee shops doesn’t feel satisfied if they can’t answer every answer you give….with another question..

But that is just the world of coffee….

Despite the UK being smaller than California, we helpfully have a bewildering range of regional accents that are challenging enough for those of us that live here to always tune in to correctly. And these really do vary dramatically by such small distances…for example Liverpool and Leeds are only 70 miles apart..but you could be in two entirely different countries comparing Leeds Yorkshire dialect to Scouse (Liverpudlian). Head 70 or so miles south from Liverpool to Birmingham and it’s totally different again. North from Leeds up to Newcastle on the train for an hour..and it’s Geordie you will hear.

As if that’s not confusing enough for the visitor try asking for a bread roll….

And when I say bread roll, I mean a plain bread roll…not Artisan, Granary, seeded, wheat germ, fancy pants bread.

For these we just use the correct and proper name of ‘Artisan, Granary, seeded, wheat germ, fancy pants bread’ everywhere.

No, I mean for simple white rolls to make a simple sandwich.

..a bread roll is a Stottie Cake in Newcastle , in Manchester it’s a tea cake, further south and it’s a Bap and so on. And there a numerous other regional variations.

Despite the internet, movement of people, international tv and movies in English the accents, dialects and localised terms have against all odds survived a blending that although simplifying things in a way would have been a sad loss.

For how long , I am not sure, but meantime enjoy and be bemused if you come to visit us.

Lightbulb moment

The expression ‘lightbulb moment’ and the usual accompanying picture of a friendly bulb and a sometimes a ‘question mark’ is generally used to describe a moment of revelation.Perhaps such as the moment when that nice Mr Dyson invented that airblade hot air dryer that really worked, didn’t give us 3rd degree burns requiring hospitalisation and didn’t consume the electricity normally required for a entire street of houses or destroy another hectare of forest for paper towels, just for drying one’s hands.

My lightbulb moments more recently have been, well quite simply put, when buying light bulbs. Buying light bulbs used to be a really simple process….you went to your local hardware store and said ‘please can I have a lightbulb.’ …..their response was yes …40w, 60w or 100w ? If you were some trendy arty type with a light fitting bought holidaying in Paris you might proudly request ‘my latest addition is a lamp I just found in an antique shop on the rive-gauche, so it has to be screw fitting , not bayonet. Its continental you know!’There it is, simple process. But not now…you now need to know a bulb shape number..so you confidently ask for an e27.

Like a verbal tennis match your volley will get sent back over the net to you with questions …LED? or Halogen?No matter how swift your answer…more questions fired back to you….what brightness…1800 lumens or 2000 lumens? …answer this question and immediately a demand of what tone…warm white? or cool? …and so on until you give up or just produce the old bulb from your pocket and say , another of these please .But it’s not just light bulb buying that requires a post graduate diploma or doctorate in the given subject. Until a few years ago when buying a coffee in a cafe ( we now of course give them a promoted title of coffee shop or bistro) the most complicated question you would get is ‘ do you want milk with that?’

Now it’s a different story. If you don’t know your latte, from americano, cappuccino, machiatto, espresso, flat white or macho it can be an anxious moment in the queue. Questions on size are also asked …now most of us understand big or small, but start using terms such as Grande, tall or medium and confusion reigns on the hierarchy of sizing. Milk…hot? or cold? sort of make sense, but there will be an expectation on you to state the fat content you want (skimmed, semi-skinned, full) and then of course do you want your milk from a cow, coconut, soy beans or almonds.And finally they want to know your name to write on the cup!

I just give mine as ‘confused’ ..seems to certainly clear me a space and get me a seat when my name is called out!

Guess what…I think next time I will just have a coke.

Yes, I know…diet or zero or regular? Cherry coke, twist of lemon coke or lime coke?And finally the statement ..sorry actually it’s not coke, it’s Pepsi…is that ok for you?

Why this blog? Click to find out more

Frothing for the planet

I am not the world’s biggest coffee drinker, in fact for me as a Brit, it really has to be tea and coffee is only for when outside UK territorial waters. For us Brits ‘foreign’ places either don’t have the right quality tea or fresh milk that has been anywhere near a cow this year. But of late and in tune with my European leanings, I would enjoy a mid morning Latte Machiatto or Campucino..depending on which I can pronounce that day at my coffee vendor of choice! So what about at home? Some years back I was given an electric frother which at best makes some noise, a few bubbles and consigns some more nickel cadmium batteries to an early end to useful life and a whole new life as pollutants. But Fathers Day presented a new alternative from Barista & Co. No batteries but lots of bubbles said my daughter…saviour of the planet. What can I say other than, even this was underpromising and overdelivering. For some reason it just works! A clever device finally to be embraced in our home. Must sign off now, time for coffee.

..where has it been hiding these past years?

One of Dad’s Life Hacks ‘What to do with your free priorities/rewards coffee from your mobile provider’

I credit this entirely to my daughter – someone with the social conscience that would put many of our politicians and celebrities in the shade!

Quite simply whenever those nice people at O2 or Vodaphone message her to say there is a free coffee to be collected at Costa, Cafe Nero etc. she will always claim it and give to a homeless person on the street. Now if we could all just do that..that would be nice. Simples!

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