Whom to believe?

My mother has a wealth of sayings that are trotted out when the occasion demands. I’ve started to take note of them, as some are classics. She doesn’t for a minute lay claim to them as products of her own invention, more that they’re the kernels of wisdom on which she was reared.

One of my all-time favourites is that paper will take any print.

I’ve rattled on before about how difficult I find it to believe what’s happening these days. For every account of X doing Y, there’s another of X doing everything but. It would seem to me that the media has become the stage on which most of life is played with.

wsj-papersThere was an instance last week of the WSJ purportedly publishing two different headlines in two different regions saying two different things and thereby manipulating the American voting public. Now, it turns out that it did print two issues – but for the same region – just at different times. Like many others, I was quick to repost and decry the shame of it all… I stand corrected.

Colleen Schwartz, the Vice President of Communications at The Wall Street Journal, confirmed that these editions were printed at different times, not in different markets. The edition on the left was published after Trump met with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto early in the day (and referenced the seemingly cooperative tone of their discussion), and the edition on the right was published after Trump delivered a speech on immigration later in the day (and referenced Trump’s reasserting his stance that he would force Mexico to pay for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border).

Someone else posted a story from the Irish Independent with the headlines:

Irish Euromillions winner bans children’s football club from playing on pitch on her land

How could she? Honestly! How mean. But then in the comments, another link appeared, this time to an earlier article in the Belfast Telegraph:

Strabane’s unemployed £27m Lottery winner is giving away £26m ‘for the good of the town’

Whom to believe? What to believe? Is she the good witch or the bad witch? The comments under the Facebook post had people from the town calling her all sorts of names and saying that they’d never seen a penny in improvements. And others saying how great she is. What gives, eh?

You might wonder why I’m so lathered up about this. Well, the same week on Facebook, there was a video clip doing the rounds from a BBC interview with Bertrand Russell (the mathematician/philosopher) back in 1959, about lessons he’d like to pass on to future generations. He said he had two: intellectual, one moral (we’ll come back to the moral one later).

The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

That was 1959. I wonder what the man would say today? Would he be disgusted at us for losing sight of the facts? Of ignoring them completely? Or would he have some sympathy for us as we try to wade through the deluge of information we can access in a vain attempt to establish what they actually are?

I tell you, it’s doing my head in.

 

 

2016 Grateful 16

Friday evening. The last day of the working week. The question of who was going to go down the pub for drink would inevitably raise its head after lunch, when all anyone could think about was not having to come to work for two days. The stalwarts, those who were religious about kicking off their weekend with a couple of pints of a Friday evening, spearheaded the recruitment campaign. Those who recognised the danger of going ‘just for one’ and still had vague memories of how the previous Friday night’s excursion had carried over in to Saturday morning were a tad more reluctant to commit. Others, who had sworn ‘never again’ would leave it to the last minute to say – Ah, what the hell.

I was a great fan of the FND, when I had to escape from under the yoke of someone else’s corporate harness. Before I knew that Americans for the most part prefer to socialise at home, I remember being completely shocked when my workplaces in California didn’t engage. Now, every day is a Friday or a Monday or a Wednesday. I don’t have weekends. I work when the work is there and don’t when it’s not. The FND may as well be the WND or the TND.

This weekend though, we decided to have that FND. But not go down the pub. We walked over Rákóczi híd, the most southern of the Danube bridges in Budapest.

Photo by Tibor Polinszky

Photo by Tibor Polinszky

Previously known as Lágymányosi híd, this massive steel girdered construction which runs parallel with a railway track was opened in 1995. The views upriver were spectacular. We were heading  to Kopaszi gát, a landscaped peninsula accessible from the Buda side, a relatively unknown spot in the city, a smaller version of Margit Sziget the island which lies off Margit híd farther north.

lebistroLined with bars, restaurants, and cafés, the river runs down both sides. We saw two wedding receptions, one kids’ party, and numerous other picnics and meet-ups. The place was buzzing. We walked the length of it and decided to stop at Le Bistro for a fish dinner on the way back. It’s a little more spendy by way of drinks than other places, but it’s the one I tend to gravitate to. I got to speak Hungarian with the waitress, all evening. She was patient with me. Very patient. And didn’t once lapse into English although she speaks it. We sat with our FNDs, overlooking the river, watching the rowers make their way up and down the water. A far cry from a London or a Dublin pub on a Friday evening.

20160909_192019_resizedHeading back around 9pm, we stopped on the steps up to the bridge to peek in at the live gig going on at the old Zöld Pardon (aka ZP) which is now the Barba Negra Track. While the crowds sang to the stage inside the venue, others had brought their beers and blankets and were enjoying free music from the bridge. Kowalsky meg a vega were on stage and sounded good. Good enough to keep an eye out for them in future, when we have that blanket and that beer.

barba_negra_music_club_0We walked between Müpa and the National Theatre and marvelled, not for the first time, how beautiful both buildings look at night, all lit up. We had a choice of trams and let fate decide where we’d go next. If the 24 came, we’d head back to the VIIIth; if the 2 came, we’d go to Bálna (the Whale) and have another FND by the river there.

Nehru-part, the park between Báross tér and Bálna that is named after the first Prime Minister of India, has been undergoing a facelift for most of the summer. It reopened last week and is quite something. Fearless teens were busy trying out their bikes, scooters, and skates, hurtling through the air, falling and picking themselves up again without so much as a grimace. The multicoloured lounge chairs were full of groups of young people sorting out the world. The basketball courts waited to be discovered. Those too old to try the swings in daylight were getting in touch with their inner child.

sts2 st3 st2

st2small basketballcourtsmall[And yes, you sharp cookie, it does look too bright for that time of night… photos taken later.]

We sat for a while over a few hosszúlépés and talked about how good life is, how blessed we are, and how grateful we are to live in this city and when the yawns started to come more quickly, we knew it was time to leave. We decided to walk back through the IXth, up Ipar utca, to Bokréta, and back home. Along the way, we stopped for a nightcap at a cheerful neighbourhood bar on Ferenc tér – the only non-nationals there. The bells were chiming midnight as we unlocked the front door. A lovely Friday evening. In a lovely city. What’s not to be grateful for?

 

 

Tuesday Night Rodeo

Is it my imagination or are more and more people talking about emigrating or going home? Earlier this summer, a local web portal ran an article by a Norwegian chap who’d been living here since 2008. He was returning to Oslo and had written up his reasons for leaving. Others chimed in with theirs. Apparently, the list of reasons to leave ran longer than the list of reasons to stay.

I’m not an optimist. I could never be accused of suffering from too much positivity.  But I firmly believe that how we react to a situation is our choice. Being open to opportunity and seizing the moment when it presents itself, that’s the secret.

Out and about last week, I ran into Terry V. This is his story.

tnrSitting in the Scottish Caledonia pub one Tuesday night with some musician mates, someone suggested that they start a band – do something different, something a little off kilter for Hungary. They decided on Country Rock. It was accessible, they thought: traditional instruments with a rock and roll format and pop melody lines – a winning formula. They’d jammed together before; they’d had fun; they knew they’d work. So, unlike many great ideas borne out of a bottle of whisky and destined to come to nothing, this one survived the vapours and was christened Tuesday Night Rodeo.

You might recognise some of the faces. Joey and Sam from Paddy and the Rats and Zsolti from the Hooligans. Steven who found fame with a Budapest-based Guns and Roses tribute band. Add Terry (ex-London) to this Hungarian mix and you get the band.

Their single, Stranger (in a Strange Town), was picked up by Radio Rock (95.8 FM). And then a German station, Country 108, got in on the act. Next thing you know, the lads have a record deal with an album due to be completed in October and released before the end of the year

Stranger was picked up and given daily rotation on Radio Rock. Tilos Radio was listening in and the following day, they picked it up and added an early morning interview with Joey for good measure.

So what, you say? This sort of stuff is commonplace. No biggie. Well, I think it is. These lads ain’t in their teens or their twenties or their thirties. In the music world, they’re positively ancient.

When he was 10, Terry saw Marc Bolan from T-Rex on TV. He immediately asked his dad for a guitar – glam rock was his future.  Back in the mid-1980s, he did get a record deal in Japan and then in the UK. He was doing well. He ran a club in London’s Covent Garden for a few years. When he moved into the admin side and they downsized, he had the chance to work from anywhere. He chose Budapest. He’d first been here about 14 years ago on a boys’ weekend; he loved it so much he kept coming back. Last year he was working on a website to help musicians find their lost/stolen instruments. He still played music but thought, at 55, that he was a bit long in the tooth to get any airplay.

And therein lies the beauty of it all.

Hungary, and Budapest in particular, has an energy about it that fosters opportunity. With a musical legacy that holds its own on the world stage, there’s a lot more going on here music-wise than in London. Yes, a lot of the smaller clubs are seriously underfunded, but there’s talent and there’s space and there’s an audience hungry for something new. And there’s guys like Tuesday Night Rodeo who dream the dreams down the pub on a Tuesday night but then do something to make those dreams happen. And when the opportunity knocks, they’re ready. This is Budapest. This is Hungary. This is a reason to stay.

First published in the Budapest Times 9 September 2016

When I am an old woman

Years and years and years ago, when the whole concept of old age was a rather abstract one for me, a friend told me that my death would make the news. Not because I’d be famous, but because I’d die spectacularly. His words. Words that lodged themselves in my subconscious alongside Dylan Thomas’s poem Do not go gentle into that good night.

Some years later, I read the famous poem by Jenny Joseph, When I am old, a poem that inspired the international Red Hat Society. Back in 1997, in California, Sue Ellen Cooper gave a copy of the poem along with a bright red fedora to her friend as a present for her 55th birthday. Some months later, in spring of 1998, Sue Ellen and five friends got together for afternoon tea, dressed in purple, wearing red hats. Today, this is the garb of choice for members who have reached and passed the stellar age of 50; those approaching it dress in lavender and wear pink hats (one of the reasons I never joined – pink just ain’t my colour).

pink_red2With tens of thousands of chapters around the world, this global society of women ‘connects, supports and encourages women in their pursuit of fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment, and fitness while supporting Members in the quest to get the most out of life’.

oldage2I’ve known a few Red Hatters in my time. They’re wild women – fun-loving, exuberant, each with their own particular streak of madness, determined to make the most of life. I saw a chapter on tour in Venice once and it was quite something to watch. I know a few other women, too, who have been dressing in purple for far longer than they’ve been 50.

Anyway, to the poem:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!

I was always rather taken by this poem but recently, I came across an alternative  that got me thinking about whether I really wanted to eat myself silly and hoard things and run the danger of being locked up for running my stick along public railings. Written by Jan Etherington back in 2013 for a piece for the Express on Unstoppable Octogenarians, she titled it The Announcement. It goes like this:

When I am an old woman, I intend to be
Sought out by the young, keen to be seen with me.
Curious and aware of life beyond my door
A stranger to ennui, a lover of Dior.
Age shall not wither me, while moisturising creams
Keep tiny lines at bay and lubricate my dreams.
Frequently in Tuscany, fabulous with flowers
Erudite and witty, closeted for hours
As confidante and friend to those who make the news;
Something of an  expert on both rhythm and the blues
Marvellously funny – with an enquiring mind
Glamorous and chic – and stunning from behind.
Busy with new projects, on to the next page
It will be said about me “She’s great – for any age.”

And with all due respect to JJ and the revolution her poem inspired, I so much prefer this version.

 

Junior Bender

I laughed out loud. Junior Bender? Not a teenager on a drinking spree but a first name and a last name? Junior Bender?

Predisposed to liking anything Timothy Hallinan might put on paper by virtue of his creativity in coming up with a name for his protagonist, I am in the throes of a love affair that will last five books (as that’s as far as the series has gone to date).

I read by author. I find someone I like and read everything they’ve written – or at least everything I can get my hands on. Usually I stumble over them. Occasionally I test Amazon to see if they really know what they’re talking about when they suggest titles they’re sure I’ll like… usually their algorithm is a tad skewed. I’m a member of a public library that has something similar and they’re far more accurate. They recommended Hallinan and chose well for me.

Junior Bender is a Los Angeles burglar deluxe—a thief’s thief. But he also has a sideline: he works as a private eye. For crooks. When someone commits a crime against a crook, odds are good that the crook isn’t going to the cops. He or she is going to Junior Bender.

Not the most enticing blurb I’d ever read but I was hung up on the name.

TH1The first novel – Crashed – introduces Junior and his ex-wife, his daughter, his mates, and his lifestyle. He lives in motels – a different one each month. He’s intelligent. He’s articulate. And he’s funny. A modern-day take on Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, he’s just as lovable. And you know how much I rate Raymond Chandler. Any time I sit and read a book and find myself repeatedly thinking – I wish I’d written that – I know it’s going to be a good one.

She gave me the slow nod women use to indicate that they understand our pain, they admire the courage with which we handle it, and they’re absolutely certain that it’s all our fault.

TH2Junior educated himself by reading one book – The Recognitions, by William Gaddis – and then reading books on every subject Gaddis mentions.  The book, he says, ‘is about forgery and faith and between those things you can crowd most of life’. I read Crashed from cover to cover in one sitting. Hooked. I waited a few days to let it digest, to let me acclimatise. And then checked out Book 2 – Little Elvises – about all those hopeful, lookalike wannabes that ‘churned to the surface in the wake of Elvis Presley’.

Women fall in love with a man thinking they’re getting a ship that will take them somewhere, she’d said, but most of the time what they get is an anchor, and it drags them down.

He describes the ‘perfect picture of a guilty conscience at 3 am’. He tells how he ‘turned his ankle on a rock that nature had abandoned to sulk all by itself in the middle of nowhere.’ And his mate Louie can hold his own in the running commentary…

And you know women, they’re both back there turning it into the crime of the century. Planting it in a little garden in the center of their hearts and watering it with feelings. Talking about it, sharing it. You’re a cheat, you’re a heartbreaker, you’re like a museum exhibit, Everything That’s Wrong with Guys.

Junior likes his introspection. And within his insights are things we could all do with paying more attention to. Like when his 13-year-old daughter seemed to have found herself a boyfriend ‘who was so black it was as though he’d been set intentionally in front of me, a ring of fire through which I had to pass unburned in order to continue being the person I’d always thought I was instead of the boring middle-class bigot I seemed to have become.’ Beautiful.

TH3And, of course, the mystery is there. Superbly plotted and potted with characters who have a life of their own, each one unique, colourful, and someone I’d like to see for real. I’ve already borrowed Book 3 – The Fame Thief – but want to have one uninterrupted evening to enjoy it. I’m curious to see if Ronnie is still around and if Rina and Tyrone are still on track.

And although I know the words are from the mind and pen of Timothy Hallinan, he’s done an excellent job of losing the writer, and creating a character who speaks for himself. He himself splits his time between Santa Monica, CA, and Southeast Asia. He’s got two other series under his belt, both of which have skipped to the top of my must-read list – Poke Rafferty and Simeon Grist. September is shaping up to be a lovely month.

PS. I read somewhere that Eddie Izzard is supposed to be bringing Junior to life on the TV screen but so far that’s just a rumour. I live in hope.

The fickleness of perception

Coming through Duty Free in Dublin airport last week, I had time to kill. So I went into Dixons. Not my usual port of call but as my laptop has been making noises about retiring (and, some would say, after six years of trusty service, not before time) I was on the lookout for a replacement.

Needless to say, I hadn’t done my homework. Zero research. Zip. All I knew is that I wanted something light. Something fast. And something from HP.

I don’t place much store in brand loyalty. Brand disloyalty yes. I will never own an Apple product. Nothing at all to do with the billions they owe Ireland in back taxes; I have it fixed in my head that a CSR audit of Apple’s supply chain would be found wanting. Remember the Foxconn suicide threat? Now, the same might be said for HP, but I’ve not read anything about them that leaves me cold so, for the meantime, they’re okay.

IBMMy first laptop was an IBM Thinkpad. I bought it because the computer guy in the office recommended it. This was back in 2003/2004. But it weighed a ton. In 2007, I bought my first HP. A tiny thing that I could have gotten for £50 cheaper had I had the stomach to buy it in pink. I didn’t do my homework then either, but I did get a colleague who was quite techy to suss things out and come with me when I went to buy. I was happy with it for ages, until I wore out my second keyboard and the battery life went to nothing. And my eyesight deteriorated and I fancied a bigger screen.

HPpavSo I bought another HP, a Pavilion. This time I had a very techy mate  do the research and while he desperately wanted me to buy a MacBook, HP was the best PC he could find to fit my budget. And we were happy together for years. We went though three batteries and numerous replacement keys and two keyboards.

And then the hot flushes came when the laptop got way too hot and its thought-process slowed to match my usual morning rate. I recognised the signs. My laptop was on the verge of screaming: I’ve had enough!

HPenvySo, with this in the back of my mind, and not wanting to be caught short, I ambled into Dixons where I spotted another HP – an HP Envy. A lovely, light little thing with a decent screen, plenty of USP ports, a backlit keyboard, and a long battery life. What more could a body want? I even liked the colour.

It came with McAfee (which I dislike) and a lifelong subscription to MS Office (which I don’t need), and a year’s free cloud storage (which I can always use). Apart from one day of tearing my hair out when I discovered that my bookmarks hadn’t transferred and my saved passwords were no longer saved, all has been well. It’s fast, cool under fire, and a delight to touch.

I was happy.

And then, today, when I forgot my power cord and wondered how long my battery would really last, I thought I’d google best practices for protecting battery life. I came across a review of slimline notebooks that included mine. And while it came out okay, a cheaper ASUS Model ranked way above it on points for stuff I don’t even pretend to understand.

I’m now fighting the urge to judge. Until I read how great it wasn’t, I thought it was the best thing ever. It still does everything that impressed me. It still looks great and barely makes a dent in my bag when I carry it around. It’s still fast and cool and quick to fire up. But because some bloody expert somewhere said something to the contrary that I don’t understand, I can feel the stirrings of doubt, recrimination, self-beratement. Can the wudda, shudda, cudda be far off?

2016 Grateful 17

Last week, I gathered some of my miscellaneous currency – you know the bits you have left over after a trip and are too lazy to do anything with? I had notes from Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Switzerland, and Turkey. About €10-20 worth of each so not an unreasonable haul. Me and my man in the Northline booth, a young lad of about 30, were getting on just fine until I went to give him 30 Turkish Lira. He waved it away, dismissively, with an attitude. When I asked why, he roared at me.

NO!

I asked why again, thoroughly confused, and got an even louder: I SAID NO!!

Up till this point, language hadn’t been an issue. And I had no reason to expect it to start now. I counted to six and asked again, quietly, Why? Sure after four consecutive transactions, I at least deserved an explanation.

And I got another maniacal: I SAID NO!!!!

Still in control (barely), my heart thumping and my teeth clenched I told him that there was no need to shout at me. I could hear him perfectly well. [Man, I sounded so like my mother.]

He screamed: I SAID NO!!!!!

I didn’t know where to go with that so I told him that I really hoped his day would get better.

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH MY DAY. I SAID NO. NO.

I didn’t stay to argue. And I won’t be going back there any time soon.

I called my bank today. I wanted to transfer money from my euro account into my Hungarian forint account, both of which are in the same branch. I was curious to know what it would cost me and what sort of rate I’d get. I also needed to clarify the difference between foreign currency and foreign exchange.

Because I’m an individual not a corporation, they could offer me 301 ft for my euro. If I was a business I could get 305.

But I have a business, I said. I can transfer it to that account. It’s with your bank, too.

No. As I would be the one transferring the money, it would be classified as an individual transaction.

So I thought, if I withdraw the money, walk outside, change it at a different Northline office, I can get 308 ft. Then I can come back and deposit the cash in forint.

Yes. But withdrawing the euro will attract a 1.09% charge, he said. Of course, we wouldn’t charge you anything to accept the forint.

How do banks get away with this crap?

Last week, Louis CK commented on how we’re all using the Christian calendar to date our cheques. I, for one, would love it if we could all use the same currency, too. Think of how much it would improve my life: no mad men with a pathological dislike for handling Turkish lira screaming at me, no unseemly profits for my bank for its discrimination against individuals and its penury currency exchange rates.No blood pressure issues for me.

On the grateful side: I didn’t shout back. I’m learning that I need to pick my battles and that sometimes, I simply can’t win so best not to even attempt the try.

Getting it done

I’m a little more conscious of my mortality than usual these days. Life is way too short to keep putting off till tomorrow what could be done today. I might not have another nine years in the city to dither about doing all the things I said I’d do but have never got around to actually doing. So I decided to take things in hand this summer and address the Top 2 on my list.

The Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum (Sziklakórház Atombunker Múzeum) at Lovas út 4/c in District I opened over in Buda in 2008. Every year since, I’ve promised myself that I’d go see it. It scores a 4.5 on TripAdvisor (2421 reviews) and a 4.7 on Google Reviews (173 reviews). On the Murphy scale it gets a 4.8 for interest but loses points for value in that it’s overpriced and herd-like. It’s 4000 ft for adults for the one-hour tour (about €13/$15). No wandering around on your own. No taking photos. No dithering.

The complex is part of a 10-km stretch of caves in the bowels of Buda Castle Hill. First used as an air raid shelter during WWII, it was then fashioned into a state-of-the-art surgical hospital for 60 patients. For three years after the war it was a vaccine-producing institution. Brought back into service in 1956 during the Revolution, it packed in the wounded to the point that body heat alone raised the average temperature from 15°C to 33°C. During the Cold War it was reconstructed to make a top secret nuclear bunker and from 1962 to 2007 variously served as a stand-by hospital, a nuclear bunker and civil defence forces store. Up until 2004, one family maintained it in secrecy.  Mr Mohácsi was responsible for airing the place on daily basis and looking after the electrical and mechanical systems. Every other week, Mrs Mohácsi would clean, sterilize, and change the bed linen. Today, over 200 wax models tell its story.  And they’re so lifelike that when I opened a door to find one sitting on the loo, I apologised and blushed, before blushing again when I realised my mistake. A fascinating place.

Next on my list was the Natural History Museum (Magyar Természettudományi Múzeum) at Ludovika tér 2-6 in District VIII. It scores 4 on TripAdvisor (45 reviews) and 4.5 on Google Reviews (75 reviews). On the Murphy scale it gets a 5 for interest and loses no points for anything. Admission is a lot more reasonable at about half the price of the Hospital in the Rock if you go to everything and you can stay till they ask you to leave. Photos are possible with a photo ticket. It’s free on the first Sunday of each month for visitors under 26, and for two adults accompanying a family member under 18. And it’s free to everyone on national holidays (note for your diary: next one is 23 October).

di1di3You can visit the dinosaur garden, with its life-sized models of those magnificent beasts. There’s a temporary exhibition on anthropological forensics, explaining how much our bones can tell us about where we come from. I had a great time trying to match my nose and lips with an ancestry. I also got to watch a video on cranial reconstruction. Mind boggling. And there’s not a nerdy scientific bone in my body. Upstairs, there’s a magnificent collection of crystals that would take a couple of hours to do justice to. And everywhere else, there’s stuff – animals, birds, insects – interspersed with interactive puzzles, games, and quizzes. You could spend all day there, quite happily. But careful, unlike most other museums in the city, it’s open on Mondays and closed on Tuesdays. Well worth visiting.

First published in the Budapest Times 2 September 2016

 

Outsourcing responsibility

Mars vs Venus. Men vs Women. Stereotypers would tell you that men hate to talk and women love to. Me? It all depends on my mood. There are days I could talk for Ireland and days where getting a word out of me is like getting blood out of a particularly insipid turnip. But no matter what sort of mood I’m in, I hate listening to disembodied voices that give me an array of options that don’t include the one thing I need to talk  about. When pressing one selection in each menu doesn’t get me a real person, I despair. And that music … that damned music. It does my head in.

edreamsI’ve been a fan of eDreams for years. It’s my portal of choice when it comes to making travel arrangements. It scans for best deals and offers a reasonably priced insurance package, if a Visa requires it. It’s great for multi-city trips and better still for finding weird connections. But when something needs changing, the dream becomes a nightmare.

Earlier this year, TAP Airlines pulled out of Hungary. The flight I’d booked to Portugal changed. Not just a schedule change, but a departure change. Instead of leaving from Budapest, Hungary, in the early hours of the morning, it would now depart from Vienna, Austria, in the early hours of the morning. Another airport, another city, another country. It took six phone calls and as many hours spent listening to what passes for music before I got my refund sorted. In the end, I created enough flap to be put through to Head Office in Barcelona. And once there, my problem was solved in minutes. Bloody outsourcing.

Each person I spoke with as I was passed from Ashvin to Baveesh to Chakor to whomever was lovely – all very pleasant. But none of them had the level of responsibility needed to do what needed to be done. And each of them was reluctant to elevate my issue, preferring instead to transfer me to someone they thought could help. Until I ran out of patience. Still, all that angst was forgotten as Maria in Barcelona sorted me out in no time flat.

Not one to hold grudges, I used eDreams to book my next trip.

All was good until I went to cancel the flight only to find that the service package I’d purchased did mean that eDreams wouldn’t charge me any cancellation fee, but Air France deemed the flight non-refundable so cancelling meant losing it all but the taxes. The insurance package I’d purchased thinking it would insure me against cancellation had a 20% excess that came to more than the change fee, were I to change my flight.

Another six calls ensued. I was passed from Adesh to Bharat to Chandrajit*  to whomever and given all sorts of conflicting information.

If I cancelled, I would get taxes back – about €180. But no refund on a service package or insurance.
I could get taxes back and a refund on the insurance but nothing on the service package.
I could reschedule my dates, but I needed to call back with dates as they couldn’t check availability or prices without specifics.
No they couldn’t explain why changing directly with Air France was coming up cheaper. But if I did that my insurance package would be invalidated.
I should call London and have the insurance people confirm that my insurance was still valid and they (London) could then make the changes.
London wondered why I was calling them as they had no access to reservations and I should check with eDreams to see if the insurance package would transfer.
I asked to be transferred to Head Office but the call couldn’t be elevated, just transferred.
I asked to be transferred to the Change department only to find that overnight the price of my change had gone from €373 to €1164 or thereabouts.
I asked to be transferred to Head Office and finally got to speak to Maria. The lovely Maria.

I explained my issue.
Let me check your dates – yes – it’s expensive. Are you flexible – yes? Great. We can get you there and back for an additional 16c per passenger plus the Air France change free.
Let me check your insurance – yes – it’s still valid.
Credit card details? Thanks. Confirmation will be with you shortly
Anything else I can help you with? No? Have a nice day.

Ten minutes. €240.32c later. And we have new flights booked to Cuba with insurance still intact.

Tell me again, why is outsourcing touted as the answer to everything?