Review Of 2019 Goals

I used to write full lists of goals for every year, forget about them and then review them at the end of the year.

Though over the last few years, I’ve put much less effort into writing goals, and much more effort into achieving.

So much so, that I never got around to writing goals for 2019 – but I did have a few in my head.

1. Get a significant pay rise or a new job

I failed to get any form of pay-rise – only a “we’ll look at it at the end of the year”, and yes, Brexit was partly to blame. So I started to look for a new job and ended up in the perfect job at M&S. At my level, I probably couldn’t have got a better job – in every way so far it has been perfect to me.

Can I give myself 200%?

2. Go to 4 new countries

Close. I went to Spain and Portugal, but I’d already been to those.

New countries were Serbia, Albania and Greece – yeah I’d never been to Greece. It was only the second (and third) time that I’d left the EU.

Butrint National Park

3. Replace all my socks

I replaced a few – but I still have old socks with holes in, or that are just very tired-looking. This wasn’t helped by Happy Socks putting their prices up to £11.99 a pair.

4. Three month Detox

Smashed it – though I did have a 0.5% alcohol beer near the end. And promptly went back onto apple juice for the rest of the evening – yuck.

5. Lose weight

I put on 1kg over the year. Which is the best I have done for years – though clearly still a failure. Yes, I will be having the same target in 2020.

I’m hoping to write more specific goals for 2020 – there was a reason why I wrote them in the first place, and I have actually achieved some of the more important ones.

I have proven the benefit of setting goals, and hopefully I will do so this next year.

M&S Complaint – Sausage Drought

A complaint from 2018 – I think my final unposted one! And last ever complaint to M&S.

******

Dear M&S

I went to M&S for breakfast this morning, in Moorgate, for the first time in around a month.

It reminded me that I was due to complain to you – it has been on my to-do list for a few weeks. The reason it reminded me, was that I had gone in for a bacon and sausage sandwich. Alas, there was no bacon. But a sausage sandwich was sufficient.

My real problem is an earlier sausage drought. A few weeks ago I was desperate for a sausage and bacon sandwich, like I really needed one to be able to justify my existence. I turned up at the Moorgate store just before 9pm, waited over 10 minutes in the queue at the hot desk, before getting close enough to realise that there were no sausages.

Artists impression of what a sausage sandwich looks like

However, I was invested now. I was already late for work and had no other options. So I bought a bacon sandwich, which was utterly underwhelming – two miserable slices of fairly dry bacon, in two overwhelmingly large slices of bread. It was just like eating plain bread for breakfast.

I also bought a packet of sausage rolls, to comfort myself with my disappointment. Which were nice, but I shouldn’t have had to.

Thankfully I at least managed to break my sausage drought this morning with my return appearance.

Regards

James

******

Dear James,

Thank you for taking the time to get in touch with us. I’m so sorry to hear of the issues you’ve been having ta breakfast in Moorgate. You wouldn’t expect a sausage shortage from us – or to have a poor quality bacon sandwich either! These are normally my go to option in the café as there’s normally a few rashers on there – but clearly we didn’t get this right on your visit.

The information you’ve given us about what was wrong has been very useful. I’ve let my colleagues in our store know, as well as the supplier, and they’ll be keeping a close eye on our Bacon sandwiches, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I’ve also let the food availability team know of the recent sausage drought too, and they’ll check if there’s anything we can do to improve this going forward.

As an extra apology from us, I’ve also arranged for a £4 gift card to be sent to your home address to enjoy a breakfast on us for next time! Or you can spend it however you wish.

This will arrive in the next 3-5 working days on your doorstep.

Thanks again for letting us know about this and we look forward to welcoming you back into store soon.

Have a lovely weekend ahead, James.

Best Wishes

Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

******

Clearly they were just looking after the health of their future employee.

James Went To Ksamil, Albania

Why Albania? Good question.

I wanted some sunshine and I wanted to be near the coast. It had to be a country that I had never visited before and also had to be fairly affordable – I had not long since started at M&S so though it didn’t need to be mega-cheap, there certainly were some constraints – Caribbean destinations definitely weren’t on the cards.

Also I was going by myself. Which makes hotels and stuff much less affordable, given that I couldn’t share the cost. And I wanted something nice.

I considered Malta and Montenegro, before almost accidentally discovering that Albania had a coastline – and it was called the Albanian Riviera. My assumption was that I’d fly into Tirana, have a couple of nights there then head to the coast.

Durres was one place I looked at, but Ksamil in the far south of Albania stood out the most. Alas, my idea of flying into Tirana then getting the train south was scuppered when I discovered that there were no train lines within 100km of Ksamil. So there was a choice of a 6 hour bus journey from Tirana – or catch the ferry from Corfu.

I caught the ferry from Corfu.

I had a bit of a rude awakening when I arrived in the port of Saranda – several increasingly desperate people trying to sell me a taxi journey to my end destination, one of them looked especially wired on drugs.

They wouldn’t leave me alone as I walked along – I insisted that I was going to a bar for a beer and started looking for one to escape. What kind of fucking country was I visiting?

I saw a bus, then someone asked me where it went to. There was a board on the front saying Ksamil so myself and my very temporary American friend got on board – I didn’t have much other option, I had no taxi company numbers and was loathe to use my phone or data at international rates. I possibly could have planned this better. Oh and I had no Albanian currency yet was sat on a bus without a ticket.

Thankfully the world’s most attractive bus conductor appeared and let me pay in Euros. After I guess 30 minutes I arrived in Ksamil – to see a cow casually crossing the road into an abandoned building. There didn’t seem to be any official bus stops, so I took a guess at where to get off (I think it was the last stop in Ksamil as far as I worked out afterwards – would have ended up at Butrint had I stayed on…I think).

A 20 minute walk – and it was still around 28’C, I had a hangover too so it was a bit of a sweaty walk towards my hotel – going off a saved map from Google Maps and hoping that I was in the right direction – not helped by various hills or my small suitcase which has one wheel which seems to be square.

I arrived. At a hill which was a calf-tearing 45′ angle (maybe even 60′) to my hotel – Hotel Mira Mare. I arrived to the reception desk profusely sweaty – the receptionist asked if I wanted a bottle of water and gave me a minute to catch my breath. “You’ll get used to it”, she advised. I pointed at my belly.

Apart from the hill, the hotel was perfect. A gorgeous, simple apartment, cleaned every day – the kind of place I wish I could live in London, and only around £120 for 4 nights – though I was at the end of the season.

I think I booked it because of the swinging chair on the balcony – but I dared not sit on it fully, being rather obese.

I de-sweated and headed to the nearest beach bar for a £2 Albanian beer and to listen to the sea. And then decided that I should get some provisions – bottled water as advised, chocolate, fruit (which never ripened enough to eat) and beer. Then discovered that shops don’t take cards. I still had no Albanian money, and no idea where the ATM was.

Eventually I found one, got some provisions, walked back then up that insane hill. That hill would be illegal in the UK – you’d have to do like a winding slope, left then right, then left. Less rules in Albania.

During the evening I realised the pitfalls of coming at the beginning of October. I was supposed to go the week before, but there was a British Airways strike for my way home. I managed to change my hotel booking, my holiday time at work and then eventually my flights – before the strike was then called off. Grrr. Fucking socialists.

Anyway, before I step into politics, Ksamil was really quiet by the first week of October. Apparently in the middle of the summer the beaches can be really crowded – I was starting to see how everywhere was now closing for the winter, with my first choice of restaurant closed on my first night. And every day it got even quieter.

I ate at a place next to the sea called Guvat Bar Restaurant. I tried the Dorada as per the waiter’s recommendation – it was fresh and tasted nice, though not especially my kind of thing. I enjoyed the garlic butter which came with the slightly stale bread more.

That was enough for the day.

The next day I decided to do a tour of the beaches. I started off at a fairly desolate and unkempt beach just south of my hotel – out into the sticks.

There wasn’t much happening.

I then headed north to where there were buildings and stuff, to the next beach – by which point I realised that each cove or section of beach was run by the adjacent bar/restaurant. The next beach had a great view, cheap beer and run by someone who insisted that he was Scottish (he was Albanian) – though I didn’t fancy it enough to eat there.

I was too hungry to get to the next beach so I settled for Bar Luna – and had the octopus salad. The octopus itself was gorgeous – alas it was totally drowned in vinegar. The salad barely existed, and yes, was drowned in vinegar. The 5 slices of slightly stale bread with no dip was odd. I wasn’t exactly feeling Ksamil as a foodie destination at this point.

I spent a good hour in Restaurant Panorama in the afternoon, having a chilled out pint of Paulaner – the only place I remember selling a beer more interesting than the common Albanian beer.

Then I wandered around and eventually settled in Restaurant Apollonia for a view of the sunset – and a stunning view it was too.

Alas, I left then it got even better.

Just how gorgeous is that?

I was charmed enough to head back to Restorant Apollonia for dinner – where I again took the advice of the waiter and ordered the seafood stew kind of thing. Gorgeous prawns, nice fish – wasn’t keen on the squid or whatever it was. Bread too. There is a theme there – oh and weird apple juice. I went back to red wine after, which was much nicer.

Wednesday was my second-last day there, and I decided to catch up with some e-mails and stuff in the morning. Alas, the electricity went out around 11am and there was no sign of it returning, so I hastened my plan of going to Butrint National Park.

As a Unesco World Heritage site, this place is flooded with history – and not many tourists – at least not in early October. It is a microcosm of European history, from Romans through Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. I’m not going to shame myself with my poor history knowledge here – this was just a glorious way to spend time admiring ancient ruins with a spectacular view. There is a thing called the internet if you want to find out about the history of Butrint.

I thought I’d left myself enough time for a beer at the summit, alas I seemed to have time-travelled inside and had arranged to meet my Albanian taxi driver at a certain time, so I left.

I waited in the hot sunshine with minimal water before eventually relenting and calling my ever-helpful hotel reception at almost a higher rate for a two minute call than a return taxi. “Oh you want to come home early?”.

Somehow my phone had gone forward in time around 45 minutes. I regret not having longer there, or confidence in my Albanian taxi driver to pick me up on time.

In the evening I set off for the place that I was most looking forward to eating in. It was closed. As were two of the restaurants that I had been to previously.

I settled for Rilindja Beach and Restaurant – I was only the second customer in there, and the only place where I saw people in traditional Muslim dress – for Albania is a Muslim country – the first majority Muslim country that I’ve visited…I think. Though Albania is also a fiercely pro-Western country.

I even found some vegetables, though I wasn’t massively keen on them, and had a sizeable steak – though I forgot that eastern Europe tend to cook meat one way, and that is medium-well – there is no such thing as rare meat. My waiter was superb and the steak was fine – but I’d had many better.

Yes there was bread too.

Then the thunderstorm. If you know me, you’ll know that I love thunderstorms. However, some of the weather models that I use were suggesting up to 500mm of rain was possible, including the Met Office who had the most extreme projections.

That’s half a metre of rain. In Albania. And I had a ferry home to catch the day after. I was slightly concerned about the idea of getting stuck in Albania.

Then again, other weather models had the rain at around 50mm – plenty but kind of normal for a thunderstorm – and this was closer to the case.

The thunder, however, was immense. I did briefly manage to get to sleep before the bright white emergency lights came on after an almighty bang – it sounded like a bomb had gone off nearby. I wondered what I should do – did I need to get out?

After a few minutes, the light went out – and I went back to sleep against the backdrop of thunder and lightning, which faded for a while before coming back – with a bang. And with the hotel’s emergency lights back on – bright white light that was impossible to close your eyes to.

I looked outside and saw that the whole town’s power was off. I wondered whether I was the only person still staying in the hotel, on a hill, on the outside of this increasingly-desolated town in Albania – thunder booming, lightning flashing, rain pouring down, wind howling. At 3am. I was tired. Oh and no electricity meant that there was no wi-fi. Aaaarrgggh!

After an hour or so, the electric came back on in the town. The thunderstorm continued on and off all night. I got some sleep on and off – not that it mattered, I was on holiday and becoming well-rested.

The thundery rain unexpectedly kind of cleared by midday so I ventured out for a beer. I even found another holiday-maker – the town was rather deserted by this point.

More thundery showers seemed on the cards, so I made it back to my hotel just in time (no I didn’t get used to the steep hill). Pondering my options, I took a risk in the evening and headed to an Italian restaurant which had been full the last few nights – and was empty by time I arrived.

The guy didn’t speak much English and he didn’t understand my very limited Italian either, though he claimed to be from Italy.

I ordered what appeared “meat with green pepper sauce”, which I hoped would be steak with peppercorn sauce.

First came a starter of bruschetta.

The the main, which was, I think, veal. With a salad leaf and bread. Yes – no vegetables, no potatoes, no proper salad – but bread.

With a side of bread.

I cannot remember the name of the restaurant and Google Maps doesn’t seem to have spied on me either that evening – the peppercorn sauce was fantastic though.

Overall

Ksamil certainly wasn’t a foodie destination – or if it was, then it wasn’t in the first week of October. I was under the impression that Albanian cuisine was impressive, so maybe I need to go to Tirana instead.

I was craving vegetables by the end of my holiday. And what was this obsession with bread?

Good fish throughout, as you’d expect, and everywhere seemed to offer pizza – yet when you were seated tell you that there was no pizza.

Ksamil itself was quite quaint and basic, some of the roads were just potholed tarmac, it was rustic in places and had a fair scattering of broken dreams – the building next to my hotel was started without planning permission, and destroyed by the council, so I was advised.

The people were lovely and welcoming throughout. You know when you go to popular tourist places like Barcelona and you get that occasional push-back, like “get out my city” – Albanian people all actively wanted more tourists, at least from what I met.

Not everyone spoke good English, but many did, and those that didn’t spoke enough to get by. By the end of my holiday I even managed to work out how to say thank you – “falemenderit”. I praise all those who can speak foreign languages!

Albania was cheap – perhaps not quite as ridiculously cheap as I’d hoped, but it was way cheaper than western Europe. Maybe I paid around £2 for a beer, or between £8 and £15 for a meal with wine. I cannot say that I was really counting.

Downsides? Too many wasps – but where doesn’t at that time of year. A few mosquito bites but again, same for any European place in the summer. Some places selling craft beer, even if it was expensively imported would have been nice – only so much local lager I can handle, and that wasn’t much.

I left Albania fully charmed. I hope I make it back to the country one day – but I have so many other places to see. Maybe you might consider it next time?

Metropolitan Line Complaint: Autumn 2018

You know how you can tell it is autumn? When the Metropolitan line starts going into regular meltdown, and what an autumnal week it has been.

I suspect that this is going to be a bit of a long rant, so lets start on a positive note, or what should be a positive note – donuts.

On Saturday 8th September, I had quite a hangover, but had to head into central London to pick up a suit. During my short spell on Oxford Street, a bird poo’d on me for the first time in my life, I found out the world was going to end and then my suit wasn’t ready after all.

So I got the tube home, and decided to pop out at Baker Street station to buy a Krispy Kreme donut. Strawberries and cream. My favourite. Do you have a favourite?

However I have noticed that I have been charged for two journeys, one to buy the donut, and one to take the donut home. Am I not allowed to do this? I am sure that I’ve done this many times in the past without being charged…maybe I need to go through my statement in full…though I’m not sure I can be bothered.

This donut cost me £4.30 in the end, including the extra £2.40 journey. Which is too much to pay for the donut, even if the world is going to end. Not sure there is an Overpriced Donut Experience refund option I can select.

I guess we should now get onto the Metropolitan line’s performance. I accept events happen – we all know that your signalling equipment is ancient and finding spare parts for something made in the 1880’s (ish) isn’t easy. You really should spend some more time explaining to frustrated customers that you are actually in the process of replacing the signals (albeit over a long period of time, but hey).

I don’t know what has annoyed me more this week. Tuesday was pretty frustrating – missed a tube at Harrow by 10 seconds and then had to wait 10 minutes for the next fast one to Aldgate, when they should be every 4 minutes (roughly). Which of course was overcrowded and slow when it finally arrived.

Part 1 of 2…sorry

…Part 2 of probably 2.

What bothers me more, is that even though events happen, your disaster recovery plan seems absolutely shambolic. I managed to avoid the worst of the catastrophes this week – but I read on Twitter various accounts of a complete lack of information for passengers, people being stuck outside stations for 30+ minutes, line controllers not being available, no staff to run trains, etc.

You have lots of practice to deal with this. I cannot remember which evening it was, but there was a signal failure at Farringdon, I was delayed but not by too much. Yet 2 hours after it was resolved, the delays were far, far worse. Again last night – it seemed that the disaster just got worse.

You owe it to your customers to explain your disaster recovery process and what you are doing to improve it. I’m sure I’ll get a bland response, and maybe if I’m lucky a £2.40 refund for my overpriced donut journey, but I what I really really want is a full written explanation of what you are doing to improve disaster recovery (pretty sure the Spice Girls sung about that). I don’t care about an apology – we all get things wrong, thing happen – but you seriously need to improve this.

Please sort it out.

Kind regards
James

ps Some of your drivers and staff are bang on the money – some great people work for TFL and do make us smile.

Oh and your website is getting much slower.

******

Dear Mr Winfield

Thank you for your feedback forms of 22 September 2018 about the Metropolitan line and Krispy Kreme donuts.

I’m sorry for the issues you’ve been experiencing with our Metropolitan line service and I understand the signal failures have been far too frequent.

With regards to your charging issue at Baker Street, we will always charge a new fare if you exit station premises and have not reached the daily cap for the zones you’re travelling in. At ‘out of station interchange’ stations such as Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, we allow 20 minutes to touch in at the station before you will be charged again. This may explain why you have been charged differently on previous donut excursions.

When signal failures and other issues occur on the line, our Emergency Response Unit will immediately attend the affected area. The Response Unit will then need to locate the exact point of failure, establish what has caused the failure and implement the quickest possible fix. This is why delays can sometimes last for several hours at a time. In terms of a lack of communication about these issues, we expect our Service Controllers to communicate as much information as possible to station staff, who will then relay this information to you. If you could let me know of any specific dates and times where you feel the communication has been below par, I will pass this over to Service Control.

If you wanted to obtain a full and detailed account of our response procedure to these events, it may be best to make a Freedom of Information request. I can assure you that every signal failure and our response is analysed the day after the event by those in charge of operations and any possible improvements before the implementation of our 4 Lines Modernisation project (which will significantly reduce these issues) will be made.

Thanks again for contacting us. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email. Alternatively, you can call us on 0343 222 1234 and we’ll be happy to help you.

Kind regards

Customer Service Adviser
Transport for London Customer Services

******

So, no refund and the Metropolitan line has got far, far worse this autumn, thanks to the 4 Lines Modernisation project.

More complaints on this topic to come soon. I’m sure you cannot wait.

Oh and the world never ended. Dumb sign.

Not Enough Friends? Or Too Many Friends?

I started writing this back in summer, when I’d had a few too many roast dinners by myself and was also struggling to find someone to go on holiday with me.

Like the majority of my blog posts nowadays, by time I get around to publishing my thoughts, my thoughts have changed…or perhaps more realistically my reality has changed.

It isn’t so much that I don’t have enough friends, but that they are all dispersed around the world doing their own thing. Which is exactly what I have done by moving to London.

The dream is to travel back 10-12 years when there was a huge group of us going out every single weekend. That is what my heart wants – but I couldn’t go back to that lifestyle anyway. I have great friends, plenty, but they are scattered all over the place and through the nature of life – the lack of time to travel, mostly, I don’t get to see them often as my heart would desire.

So I do need some more friends in London.

I am working on this. My sister living in London has been absolutely invaluable – I would have been pretty lonely at times without her over the last 3 years.

I do have two tentative small groups of new friends. Believe it or not, people that I have met through writing the linguistic vomit of Roast Dinners In London.

This is kind of negating the need for my plan to use City Socializer to find some new friends – I do just about have enough people in my life now. Maybe I won’t have anyone for my short break plans next year, maybe I’ll have to go to weird random countries by myself again – maybe not.

I do also have to make further lifestyle changes away from going out drinking so often next year, and I do find it much easier to find people to go out for a drink with – than people to go for a walk or to a gallery with. Plus I do hermit myself a bit whilst on detox…I do want to use that time next year to upskill my JavaScript further.

Maybe I will find myself having to target making specific types of friends next year, but for now, I’m in a good place.

Of course, I’d love all my favourites to be close to hand but that isn’t reality – I’ve done the same and moved away to London – if Corbyn gets in then I’m fucking off to Spain. You what? Communists are in government in Spain? OK, I’m going to Albania then.

Yes, my new friends are actually mannequins.

One Night In Corfu, One Night In Corfu

I’ve always lumped Corfu in with the likes of Magaluf and Faliraki.

It is an island that I would likely never have visited were it not for the requirement to get the ferry to my end destination, Ksamil in Albania, from Corfu. Whilst I could have arrived early and gone straight to the ferry to go to Albania, I decided to be a bit more leisurely and have an evening in Corfu Town itself.

My Airbnb was top notch, in terms of affordability, location and charm. I could quite happily have stayed there longer, and even more important, it was just a few minutes walk to the nearest M&S. Who knew my employer had a store in Corfu? Apparently we have stores in Kuwait too.

One of my main desires for this holiday was to see the sea, so I headed straight for the nearest coastline – there wasn’t much in the way of bars but I found one just in time for sunset, and had a pretty crap beer – Mythos. Alas, my sunset photo seems to have disappeared from my phone memory – or maybe my memory has a hole instead. Another hole. Yet another hole.

After another crap beer – Mythos again, I assume, I took to Google to search for “craft beer”. I didn’t expect much, but I found a place called Firi Firi, nestled on the side of a stepped hill. They had a fair selection of interesting beers, IPAs, craft lagers – I cannot remember what I had, but it was a very tasty IPA. At pretty much London prices, but you get what you pay for.

Then after some deliberation I decided upon where to eat, a highly-recommended restaurant called Abakas Mezedopoleio. I fell in love with the charm of the Greek waitresses, the food, the wine and the stray cats – apparently they don’t go near people unless they trust them. I guess my lack of scruffy blonde hair helps.

Apart from the odd cat foot landing on my willy, they were rather charming. Though possibly only after one thing.

The food and wine – especially the wine, was top notch too. I think I over-ordered, it was a struggle to finish it all, and perhaps I could have had something more imaginative than pork skewers, but from memory it was either the waitress’ recommendation or someone else’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Somehow I was there 3 hours. Despite being by myself.

The next morning I didn’t have that much time, but enough for a wander and some brunch. I had a fairly early morning beer – super-tasty though rather expensive – apparently it won some competition for the best beer in the world. Who am I to disagree, it was good.

Enough time to have brunch too, a rather gorgeous Eggs Benedict at a modern European bistro, My Habit.

The ferry to Saranda (Albania) said last check-in was an hour before, so I headed to the port well in advance of that. And with no signs and limited staff, I sat around for 1.5 hours wondering why the hell I turn up so early to these kind of things. Until suddenly – ferry here, lets go.

Time for a beer, in the sun, wind in my hair, watching the sea go by. Bliss.

Ahhh bliss

Of course, my one night there doesn’t prove whether I was unfair to consider Corfu in the same bracket as Magaluf, but some quality craft beer, a gorgeous meal and views of a castle gave a much better impression.

Only downside was that the queue for security at the airport on the way home was an hour long – I am so thankful on my insistence on getting to these kind of things so early.

Otherwise, reasonably charmed.

Complaint – Hull Trains (2018)

Hell Trains

Dear Hell Trains

I had the misfortune of experiencing your air conditioning lottery with full force a few weeks back.

I was travelling from Hull to London on Sunday 1st July, circa 14:30. I arrived at Paragon Station to be informed that there was no air conditioning in coach C, and that there was nowhere else for me to sit either. You could say I was fuming. Literally. And I hate the word ‘literally’.

Originally I hoped to do some work on the train, although I know how patchy your wi-fi is (patchy being kind but this was the least of my worries). Instead I just had to sit there with sweat dribbling down me, desperately blowing regurgitated air into my face. I really was fuming.

Just before Doncaster, after an hour of being inside hell, the guard found me a seat in the next carriage. I quickly moved. Ahh air conditioning. Beautiful. I calmed down, though I was emotionally and mentally frazzled, and angry. Oh yeah I had had just purchased a new domain name in my anger, www.helltrains.co.uk

Alas, my new carriage’s air conditioning soon failed, and gradually it became hotter and hotter, stuffier and stuffier. I became angrier. It was a hellish experience.

By time we arrived in London, it was 31’C outside. Yet felt so much fresher than on either of the Hell Trains carriages that I had the misfortune to experience. My religious teacher once told me that I would go to hell for throwing a dice at her head. It seemed that she was right, after all. I estimate that it must have been 35’C on board. Maybe it was more but I don’t want to overestimate things.

Separately my mother travelled to London from Hull last week, and both times she received a shower from the air conditioning unit. This is quite outrageous. I have told her to complain to you separately, but I doubt that she will.

I am not going to use Hull Trains again, at least until you have new rolling stock. And I will eventually get round to starting my website www.helltrains.co.uk to display how bad the service has become.

Regards

James Winfield

******

6 weeks later…

******

Dear James, 

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apologies for the delayed reply due to a back-log we are currently experiencing.

We are very sorry to hear that you had such an unpleasant and uncomfortable journey with us, this is something we wish to avoid if at all possible. Our Fleet team are aware of the issues and are doing their best to keep a consistent temperature on our services. With the recent excessive temperatures, we have seen in the UK it has taken the Air Conditioning systems on our units beyond the parameters which they were designed to operate under.

We have a team of Riding Technicians, who are on our services whenever possible, ensuring that we offer the best possible travel experience to our customers, but the work they can undertake on a moving train is limited, and it is only overnight when we get full access to affect any repairs necessary. In order to gain access to the air con units on the train our train has to go into the depot, have the roof lifted off by crane and then the air con units removed and repaired, this process does require a full day and has to be booked into the depot in advance so we cannot always guarantee the problem can be fixed during service. Regrettably, this can take some time as we only have so many trains and have to work out carefully when they can be out of service in order to minimise disruption.

We understand everybody’s frustration with the heat. In regards to running services under these circumstances, there is currently no legal maximum temperature for workplaces, public areas, modes of transport etc. What the law does say is that businesses must control risks as far as is reasonably practicable. We have in place, many measures to proactively and reactively manage risks such as handing out bottled water and fans where possible. We absolutely believe conditions on our services are as safe as they can be which is helped by the continued support of our on-board staff. They have been doing their best to ensure that customers are having the most enjoyable journey possible by moving customers to seats in more comfortable coaches if requested and when available. If our staff are busy elsewhere on the train, customers are, of course, at liberty to move to other available seating should they wish to do so. We do listen, and appreciate all feedback as it helps us to continually inform and improve our services.

Finally, in line with our passenger charter we compensate customers if the train service is cancelled or delayed for over 30 minutes. Therefore, unfortunately on this occasion we cannot offer any compensation. We are very sorry if this is not the outcome you were hoping for.

On behalf of all at Hull Trains, I would like to thank you for your assistance and understanding in this case. I do hope that this has gone some way to explain the situation and can only apologise again and hope that you will continue to travel happily in the future with us.

Kind Regards,

Hull Trains Customer Services

******

Amused and possibly disturbed that Hull Trains only thought that the trains were “as safe as they can be” – they have twice caught fire in recent years. The service became so bad that most days more services were cancelled than actually ran for a while. It made the Metropolitan line look competent.

I have since taken down the Hell Trains website – too much work to make anything of it. Hull Trains are finally getting new trains at the end of this year, and there is another train company running there now…a handy 17:18 train too, with brand-new trains that have no working toilets.

Complaint – M&S Birthday Pie (2018)

I guess as part of the HR checks, M&S didn’t think to look through their customer complaints to see if potential employees had ever written to them.

Phew.

Here’s one that I can publish, now I’ve passed my probation. From 2018. Yeah I have a backlog of these things.

******

Dear M&S

A few weeks ago, I had a birthday. Actually, it was a few months ago, but hey, the point still stands. I’ve already lost track of what I was going to say.

Yeah I’m one of those complaint writers that always writes some long-winded nonsense that you really don’t want to read – all you want is “the pie was crap”. But you are not going to get that from me. Soz.

So it was my birthday. Once upon a time. It was a cold, miserable, dark January Monday. I was still in the beginning stretches of a 3 month detox, and even worse than that I had given up red meat too.

You may understand that I wanted to treat myself for my birthday, yet I couldn’t have any booze, I couldn’t have a steak – I couldn’t even have a bloody sausage roll. Or bacon sandwich.

I really wasn’t feeling my birthday so I tried to rescue it.

For breakfast, I had an avocado and halloumi muffin from LEON. It was quite nice – but it wasn’t an M&S sausage and bacon sandwich (I am a semi-regular for your hot breakfasts).

For lunch, I thought I’d treat myself to a donut from the new donut shop near work. Do you know how much they cost? £4. Seriously. £4 for a freaking donut.

I walked around trying to find a pie for dinner, but alas, there were no pie shops in the vicinity.

Then I had a moment of genius – M&S!

So after work, I went to your Moorgate store. I could only have the chicken pie due to my avoidance of red meat, and came across a real conundrum – the small pie was way too small for a manly man like myself, and the large pie was far too large for someone trying to lose weight.

What to do?

Well, it was my birthday so I bought the large pie.

Alas, it didn’t meet expectations. There was far too much pastry (shortcrust) and far too little filling. I was really quite surprised at the lack of filling – I’d expect that at Tesco (yeah, I know…if only I could afford not to). It tasted fine, especially with 5 litres of cement-like gravy on top.

But, yeah. I’ve come to the end of my pointless story and another 10 minutes of my life wasted along with a couple of minutes of your life wasted.

The pie was crap.

Soz.

I do still love you guys, and realised that the only reason I still live in the UK is M&S. Also, if you could make the Jazzie Eggs a permanent feature of your chocolate aisle that would be amazing – they were sublime.

Bye.

James

******

Good morning James,

I’m sorry to hear the chicken pie you bought recently wasn’t up to our usual standards.

Like yourself, my birthday is in January and I’m yet to have a birthday where the day isn’t cold and dark. It must have been tough doing your 3 month detox, there’s nothing better than a nice steak or even a sausage roll and you couldn’t have these on your birthday!

We put a lot of time and effort into making sure our products are perfect, so it’s disappointing to hear something has gone wrong. Although it makes us determined to make it right again.

I want to make sure we can get this passed onto the relevant departments so we are able to keep an eye on what’s happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. So we can do this we will need the product code for the product and this can be found either on the left side of your receipt or underneath the barcode on the packaging.

Once we have this information we’re able to feed everything back to the right people and we will be happy to issue you with you refund in the form of a gift card.

Thanks for taking the time to contact us, James and I hope you have a nice day.
Kind regards
Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

******

Jazzie Eggs didn’t even come back for Easter 2019.

Also – the M&S Gastropub chicken, bacon and leek pie is the bomb. Seriously amazing. I’m not just saying it because I work there.

Enough Is Enough! Or Was Enough…

I was starting to crack a little.

The last couple of months have seen multiple amounts of frustration and my anger levels rising – lets leave out the clusterfuck of Brexit for a moment (though worth mentioning), but things more directly in my control.

I moved banks. Supposed to be easy but I had so many issues once moved, from randomly cancelled direct debits, to much more limited information supplied by First Direct on their online banking, and then having 3 separate passwords for their system and not being able to remember which was which, hence getting locked out constantly as I tried and failed to remember them. Everything worked fine at Natwest. I regret moving – but I got my £100 switching fee.

Another issue was Three randomly cutting off my phone because the direct debit hadn’t been taken. Three blamed my bank – my bank blamed Three. I tried to use the online chat, but it was constantly too busy. No phone. Joy. After an hour of being pissed off, I just filled in the cancellation form.

Eventually I got through to the chat, and they restored my service – two months later they still haven’t taken any payment. Huh? But I was raging – and then a few weeks later had to deal with the fact that I’d cancelled my contract…oops.

Worst of all, I changed web hosting companies. My old host was giving slow server responses and there were some minor technical issues. So I looked for a new one – and was sold (mis-sold) a shared server solution for the same price I paid at my old host.

Migration was a nightmare – their technical people kept giving instructions as if I had done 1,000 migrations before, though eventually all was fine. I guess it took about 6-7 hours of work to do this. All so people could load my roast dinner reviews quicker.

But ever since then, there has been problem after problem – I’ve had to contact them 3 times just today to fix issues. I’ve spent hour, after hour with frustrating issues. Everything on my side is so slow – to the user website visitor it is normally much quicker, though even that is getting worse. That is, when my websites haven’t gone down.

And some of their technical staff are rude – not helped by me being rude to them, “hello my websites are all down AGAIN” – one even took them all down and told me that I needed to upgrade to a more expensive service. Outright blackmail. I was furious. When he said, “shall I put you through to the sales department”, I told him where to stick it and get my sites working again. Two minutes later they were back up. For a while.

Possibly the worst decision I have made all year – even worse than going to Croydon for a roast dinner. Which was a bad decision. I’m now looking for a new web host, yet I know it will probably be a nightmare to migrate away. Sigh. I have to do it but I really don’t want to.

Changing bank, changing web host and changing job. I did them all in a week – yet changing job was by far the easiest – that was easily the best decision I’ve made, and deserves a blog post on its own. It will get one very soon!

And then the Metropolitan line.

My frustrations with the Metropolitan line are well-known – most of the issues are due to signal failures, and the signals are starting to be replaced with a programme that will be finished (allegedly) by 2023.

At the beginning of September, they decided to launch new signalling between Finchley Road and Euston Square – just 4 stations – this is the first part of the Metropolitan line to have their signals converted – the first part was the Hammersmith & City line from Hammersmith…so this is the intersection at Baker Street and a couple of stations either side.

After several weekends during the summer of closing most of the line (I can barely remember a weekend without some part of it closed since June), they decided that it was fully tested and working.

Alas, they didn’t train the drivers how to use the new signalling.

So come Monday 2nd September, the Monday when people are going back to work after summer, they were running about 25% of trains – if that, whilst driver instructors had to accompany them through the new signals to train them. Why this couldn’t have been done on a weekend, is a mystery. Needless to say, commuting was a disaster – I’m lucky that I can go on the Piccadilly line towards my new job, which only takes 20 minutes longer…not the end of the world.

Though now, with the drivers trained, the trains keep failing through the signals as they sometimes cannot communicate with the new signals. Almost every day there is a loss of service during rush hour.

Yes. I rage – though I kept myself amused with all the other complaints from people using the Met line. One person has taken to replying with “cock” to most of the severe delay tweets. There is far worse.

I’ve even submitted a Freedom Of Information request to find out why this new signalling was launched…my hunch is that management get bonuses dependent on on-time delivery. Answer is due this week. There is absolutely no way that should have been launched.

I kept thinking to myself that all these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme, yet they were all getting to me too much – more than usual. I found myself becoming more curt – quite ranty and rude towards those fixing the problems (albeit fixing things that shouldn’t have broken). I wasn’t myself.

And then I was eating and drinking too much – I was tired. I was getting out of control.

It isn’t even as if I have to be at work by 9am. If I’m there at 9:30am that’s fine…I just have to work later. I don’t need to be places on time. It doesn’t really matter if nobody can read my roast dinner reviews for a few hours. BUT IT DOES. RAGE RAGE RAGE.

Why was I getting so annoyed about relatively minor shit? Especially when most of the life fundamentals are actually good or better for me?

I could feel all this 5-6 weeks ago, which is why I booked my holiday to Albania. A few days of sunshine, some beers and relaxing, listening to the waves lapping the shore was my solution. A place where maybe the bus turns up – maybe it doesn’t.

Cured

I’m now like, “yeah whatever, Met line”. Will I still be like that on Monday? Hmmm. Maybe I will be. I feel like my holiday might have cured me. For a while.

James Went To Budapest…Last Year

So this is the last of the blog posts that have been long-outstanding on my to-do list to write. Well, except for a review of 2018 and my goals for 2019…I think I might just skip them now!

Budapest had been on my radar for a little while, and it seemed that rarely a month went by without my Facebook feed having photographs from a friend or some random that I met once, visiting the capital of Hungary.

After enlisting two of my closest advisors, we set upon finding some gloriously cheap flights with Wizzair that weren’t really that cheap (if I recall correctly it was the first weekend of “no cabin bags without paying more”) and then a cheap apartment in Budapest itself.

Whilst the plane sufficed for our needs, the apartment was more than we expected. Right on the main “posh” road in Budapest, this was a grand old apartment with ceilings over twice my height. Who doesn’t love a high ceiling?

The parts of the city that we saw were mainly the nice touristy parts then the ‘dive bars’ (think Last Days of Shoreditch 10 years ago) – which were basically large run-down buildings converted into bars, or even not buildings at all, with various added quirky touches. Some of these were super-charming, though one in particular was a bit, erm, Magaluffy. Which was the one on a list of recommendations that we had. Hmmm.

The city was split into two by the Danube, and across the other side from where we were staying was much of the historical part – and some cracking views. Not to mention a funicular – and who doesn’t like a funicular? Interestingly you could queue up forever to go up the funicular, or just buy these queue-jump tickets from people in the queue for the same price. Which seemed dodgy, but was apparently fine.

Not a bad view up there either, huh?

Despite the cloudy skies, it was very pleasant up there – sitting and watching the world go by. Though full of tourists – and hell, nearly £3 a pint, if I remember correctly.

What wasn’t so pleasant, was the House Of Terror. This was a sobering and dark look at a section of Hungary’s history, from the Nazi era and through the communist era – it was quite scary that this really wasn’t that long ago, and what went on there. An experience worth going to, and a reminder of the evils of both fascism and communism.

At first I didn’t really take to Budapest – I was only really judging this on one night out, some cheap beers and a wrong culinary decision at a rather good Israeli restaurant. But I didn’t get the feel.

Once I’d had had a couple of days there (and many cheap beers), I was much more taken by the place – it does have an interesting and conflicted history, yet is still quite a poor place and a way from modernising in some respects. Though I do love a good old communist-era tower block. To look at.

The food was a particular delight – especially the Hungarian sausages. I think I had sausages every day…oh and the goulash that we had on the last night…soooooo good. I resisted the testicles that were on offer though.

I do remember being particularly amused by the fact that the ketchup in this rather upmarket place near the parliament came from Dorset.

Alas, it being nearly a year ago, I cannot remember enough to make a decent blog post out of it. I really enjoyed my visit to Budapest, and once I’d come to appreciate it, I really wish I had had more time than just a couple of days there. Would I go back? Perhaps for the sausages. But I’d definitely recommend it.

They also had an interesting collection of Russian dolls.

If only I had a girlfriend to bring a gift home for