Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Friday, 21 August 2009
Noun; 1. the action or process of serving. 2 an act of assistance. 3. employment as a servant.
The word meaning "to perform some sort of work" was first recorded in 1926 in that context, though in others, such as worship, or to serve ones country, dates back, approximately, to the 1100's, maybe even further.
Then of course there is the "news service", with Reuters probably being the most famous organisation of such. Founded in London in 1851 by Baron Paul Julius von Reuter, who had previously set up a telegraph office in Aachen in 1849.
Nowadays the word is attached to our everyday use of computers online, and our "service provider".
Some liken the term of someone being in service to others as a redefining of slavery, especially when we talk about the sweat shops of Asia producing our goods that we can't do without. Slavery was certainly done away with in an act of Parliament in 1807, though it took until 1833 to roll it out across the whole British "Empire" at the time.
But I digress, and then some.
My opinion on the word today is connected with the service one receives in a retail environment, be that public transport, a shop or restaurant. Wherever I am likely to be spending my hard earned mullah at the time.
I'll start with an excellent example; Browns restaurant in George Street, Edinburgh. An establishment I enjoy frequenting often. Situated at the west end of George Street, and surrounded by several other eateries, I cannot truthfully say that Browns offers the greatest menu. It hardly ever changes. However, the quality of the food they do serve is first class. Simple in it's presentation. Nor are the prices such that it is the least expensive of choice. It comes down to one simple thing. I say simple, but increasingly hard to find. An art form to an extent, that requires careful training. And that simple thing, as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at times?
Good service. A smile, a warm welcome. Advance notice that here you are going to be adding 20% for a tip as opposed to a measly 10%.
On just one occasion at Browns over the years have I complained, politely, about a dish that had been served to me. There was no further explanation needed. It was whisked away and a replacement brought in it's place, followed a few minutes later by a further apology from the manager, and that my views would be carried on to the next staff training. Having run a retail deli and coffee shop myself I know the value of good staff training, as did my customers. And complaining also requires the same politeness from yourself that you would expect in return. Ranting and raving like Victor Meldrew I have found seldom gets the best result.
And having a menu that seldom changes is not such a bad thing is it? How we pour scorn on those who dare to relocate our staple items in the supermarket because of some science they have convinced themselves of, that means this is a good idea, and in no way would irritate anyone. Or the decor inside, or layout of, your favourite pub, and how it used to be so much better the way it was. Why fix something that's not broken?
And that's Browns. They've got it right. They know when to let a good thing be. In film making they say that a film is never finished, it is simply abandoned. Many a film can suffer from too much tinkering in the edit, as I have seen. Brown's don't tinker. It's reliable. Seldom disappointing.
And then there's the other end of the spectrum. The polar opposite of all that Browns represents for me. Let me give you an example; rail travel in Scotland. A large organsiation, partly public funded, and with virtually no competition. This latter element I believe goes a long way to answering the question of why the service on Scotrail is at times so abysmal. This is of course, as the title of my blog warns, only my opinion.
On occasion I travel by train in pursuit of my outdoor activities of mountain biking or hillwalking. One of the regular jumping off points is Aviemore in the Highlands, a veritable playground of forests, lochs and mountains. On the three and a half hour journey home I often look forward to ordering a hot cup of tea from the trolley that plows it's trade up and down the aisle of the coaches. However, increasingly the train is made up of two trains joined together, and no way through between the two. So if said trolley is in one section, and you're in another, tough! I often ask, knowing the answer before I even utter a syllable, why can't the trolley transfer through at a station stop down the line? "Against company regulations". I picture in my mind the executives laughing round a table somewhere as they condemn us to dehydration. I must be fair here though, as I did have one journey on this route a number of months ago where I could not fault the service. But that was one very attentive gentleman and not indicative of the service as a whole, sadly.
I have written to Scotrail many a time, but I always get the same excuse of "we're looking into it" and "your points have been noted". It feels like they've been "looking into it" since Stephenson's Rocket first took to the rails in 1829!
I could well be waiting as long again for my cup of char!
Saturday, 15 August 2009
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Monday, 10 August 2009
We had traveled the night before to stay in Aviemore YHA to get an early start on the following morning.
From the Lairig Ghru the path starts its relentless climb to the summit of Braeriach, but we had the weather on our side, and settled in to a steady pace. Once you are onto the summit of Braeriach, you then stay high and follow a ridge around glacial bowls created 10,000 years ago, taking in Angels Peak, Cairntoul and Devils Point, and for good reason it is my favourite route in this area, which I last walked some 25-plus years ago.
We had made good progress up Braeriach and within a couple of hours we were stood on the summit. Snow has only completely melted five times in the last century on this mountain, and some of the patches that linger are the longest lying patches in Scotland. We had no sooner arrived than we were treated to some great wildlife. First, a rare treat, as not just one, but five Dotterel, an arctic bird by origin, which spends all year in our Scottish highlands. As it ran in short bursts it ducked its head down and it's spindly legs moved quickly. But it ran so smoothly as if it were on tiny rails. A comical sight. On the adjacent hill were a herd of wild reindeer, and Andrew, known for writing his own material, cracked what could be categorised as a joke; The weather had clouded over a bit and rain had just started to fall. At that moment I asked Andrew "where's the reindeer", to which he replied, 'falling on your head darling"!
Our trip was to treat us to many sites of Scottish fauna, such as the reindeer and dotterel already mentioned, plus frogs of every size, Ptarmigan birds, Meadow Pippets, and not forgetting . . . midgies! Millions of them! The fauna was equally enthralling, with the heather in vivid pruple, bright blue Harebells, the rich orange/red trunks of the Scots Pine, and the lush rich greens of the ferns.
Our walk following the edge of the ridge was excellent, and very relaxing. We enjoyed the views down to the glistening rock faces that looked almost prehistoric in their reptilian scale-like textures, and the rivers snaking through the glens into the distance, like lines of mercury as they reflected the sunlight. Our conversation put the worlds to rights, with healthy disagreements at moments, the details of which I'll keep to myself.
Our campsite on the two nights were in idylic settings, the first at a small lochan called Loch nan Stuirbeag below Cairntoul, and the second at the Pools of Dee in the Lairig Ghru, and each night the landscape was floodlit by the almost-full bright moon. Unfortunately, both nights, though we were camping high, were infested with billions of midges. So many in fact, that in combination with a midgie head-net the available light was somewhat diminished, and my bright blue top turned grey, so vast were they in number!
Our second day was short and took us to the summit of Devils Point, where Andrew just had to see if his new acquisition of a mobile phone, his first since the day they were invented, would get mobile reception. It did, and depsite only having had the phone for 3 days had already joined the rest of society in the addiction sweeping the world, that of texting! It was at this point that I had a moment of getting my phrases a little mixed up. I wanted to ask Andrew if his phone was set up to do predictive text, but instead it came out as protective sex! The wonders of modern technology!
What our leader and organiser Pauline, aka Mountain Ninja, thought of the two of us, I dread to think.
Our route took us steeply down into the Lairig Ghru once more and past the Corrour bothy, where we met an American ex-military man on a three-month tour of Scotland, then on to the Pools of Dee.
On the way Pauline extolled once again her knowledge of the great Scotish outdoors, and related a story to us as we stood beside three enormous wind-carved stones next to the path;
Clach nan Taillear, litereally "Stone of the Tailors";
On arrival at the Pools of Dee, the highest point of the Lairig Ghru, the heavens opened and for fifteen minutes, the time it took for me to get my tent up and kit inside, there was a deluge. This then brought out Victor Meldrew in me for a moment, as I had a rant about the rain, as one does. Pauline and Andrew just let me get on with it, having witnessed this many times on a variety of subjects that constantly touch a nerve with me.
Named after certain tailors who for a wager attempted to dance, during the hours of a winter day, at the “three Dells” - the Dell of Abernethy, the Dell of Rothiemurchus and Dalmore in Mar. They danced at Abernethy and at Rothiemurchus and had crossed the most exposed miles of the Lairig when a blizzard overtook them in Glen Dee, and they succumbed as they vainly sought shelter behind the stone that is their memorial.
On the last day our team only had a five-hour pleasant trek from the Pools of Dee back to Aviemore. The sun shone all day, which increased the intense pleasure of meandering down through the ancient Caledonian forest of Rothiemurcus, with intense smells of the sweetness of the Scots pines and the sharpness of the Juniper bushes, an enslaught to the senses.
As a species it is our meaningful connection with other people that can change our view of life, transform our opinions. Every time I share these wilderness experiences I connect with something greater than myself. I understand that need for love and why we make alliances, and why we grieve so much when they go. And we worry about things that the majority of time are not worth worrying about, distracting us from our true path. To use a lesson that I learned in my motorcycle training as an analogy here, and which was also mentioned in a great book, The Uneasy Rider by Mike Carter; when negotiating a corner if you keep your eye on the huge potentially problematic tree on that corner, you will hit it, with disastrous results. Better to acknowledge it is there, ignore it, and keep your eye on the road ahead and all will be well. Mike Carter also says in his book, which I find personally quite poignant; we all have bad memories, regrets, but slowly we create fresh memories, like splashing a new coat of paint on: what lies beneath will always be there, but that's no longer the first thing you see now.
Before our train home we indulged in some culinary delights of cullen skink soup, french toast with crispy bacon drizzled in maple syrup, followed by scone and cappuccino, at the Ord Ban restaurant at the Rothiemurcus Centre. The restaurant was busy, but I think Andrew's brain hadn't quite twigged that we had renentered civilisation, and he let rip an impressive loud burp!
I think Pauline is planning a solo trip next.
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Monday, 3 August 2009
It's been a week since I last blogged but it's been hectic catching up on everything. That said I'm not doing a good job of that. Just had one of those days where I had more than enough to be getting on with, but did none of it. The longer the day went on the less I did. Bizarre. I think we all have those days when trivial things get done rather than the important things. There's a saying that writers have the best decorated homes because they'd rather do that than write.
Anyway, enough of the preamble, I'm here to have a rant today!
Is it just me or have broadcasters discovered that we have all lost our ability to remember anything? I am aware that dementia is a growing issue, but I'm convinced that it does not affect all the television watching population!
What am I going on about, I can hear you shouting? OK, well, I'll tell you.
Almost every programme now, before a commercial break, will tell us what is coming up next, then when we return a few minutes later, because we all have the memory capability of a goldfish, we're told about what happened before we went to the commercial break!
But to make matters worse, the BBC are now doing it! And they don't have commercial breaks! During breakfast today I had Heir Hunters playing in the background on BBC1. If I'd have timed it right I could have watched just 4 minutes of it and known the whole programme! These were the four slots that told us what had gone before and what was about to happen. Why then should we bother watching?!
There was a great series on recently with Ben Fogle and James Cracknel called Race To The Pole. Great series, except they adopted annoying thing number 2; the first 5 minutes was all about what the programme was all about! And they did it every feckin week!!
WE KNOW!! WE'VE BEEN WATCHING!!
I also wonder if I'm not the only person at the end of The Apprentice to keep my finger hovering above the off button at the point when the narrator says; "Sir Allan's search for his apprentice, continues". You just know that after that they're going to spoil the whole of next week's programme by telling you all about it! Annoying thing number 3!
However, as I work on the fringes of the industry I can enlighten you for one reason why this is happening; it's all to do with available budgets. The more they repeat and put fillers into the programmes, the less content they need to fill, and thus less budget.
Well, in a break with this annoying habit and dumbing down, I'm not going to tell you what's going to be in my next blog, or for that matter what's going to be in it.
Sorry, did I just repeat myself there!?
And if you can't remember that then watch TV; it's designed for you!