Category Archives: Non canals

Banks!

Well this isn’t boat related but it may save someone a few pounds, so let me mention my banking experience today.

First Natwest, with whom I have held a business account for 10 years who have just told me.  “Sorry we can’t send that because we do not have your address on file.”  What?  After 10 years?  Well just put it back on file and send me what I needed. “No you need to come into your branch (Brighton) to sign a form.”  “No I don’t. I am not changing anything but simply asking you to sort out a problem of your own making.” Etc. Etc.

“You can speak to your business manager”, they suggested, who’s voicemail was 4 days out of date and directed me back to the same 0845 number I had already used.  I dialed it again and got through to someone who managed to sort it all out without a fuss.  The address was on file all the time!

Fully fired up in anti banking mode I then took on Abbey, or should I say Santander, who had just delivered me a statement for my ISA account showing only 50 pounds interest for the whole of last year.  “Could you please let me know what interest rate I will earn on this account during the current tax year?” 

“Yes – that’s an ISA Issue 1 account  so it will be 0.3 per cent.”

“Is there any way to increase this?”

“Yes.  I can change it to an ISA Issue 6 account so you will be given 0.5 per cent plus a 2.0 percent bonus for 12 months. Would you like me to do that now?  OK that takes effect tomorrow.”

So for the sake of one quick phonecall my account will at least pay something approaching an acceptable rate – but this really does demonstrate that the banks are taking full advantage of anyone who doesn’t update their accounts yearly.  I’m sure Santander are not alone in this so do take a look at your current savings and ensure that you are playing along with this new invention of  “Issue numbers” and not letting them take advantage of you!  Take nothing for granted and make a call now!

A day in the snow

Friday 19th – Monday 22nd March 2010

A quick holiday report but not canal related – sorry. The only link I can think of is snow, as for the last 4 days I have been in and around the Austrian and German Alps, while the UK is recovering from the most snowy winter in memory.

From the top of the Zugspitze - Germany's highest mountain
From the top of the Zugspitze - Germany's highest mountain

I have always wanted to fly into Innsbruck as it has a mountainous approach which requires the pilot to undergo specific training before operating there.  Friday’s weather was absolutely amazing and our Easyjet flight from Gatwick touched down perfectly out of the blue sky – the approach is certainly spectacular.  Innsbruck is a lovely little airport with a regular local bus service to town, although at a pinch it could even be walked.

Zugspitze Cogwheel Railway
Zugspitze Cogwheel Railway

The highlight of the trip was a ride up the Zugspitze railway from Garmisch Partenkirchen, just over the Austrian border with Germany.  The cogwheel train is ultra modern, and powers its way up the steep gradient to within a short cable car ride from the summit of Germany’s highest mountain (2962m).  Suddenly we were amongst skiers and snow boarders and with a view across the hundreds of snow covered peaks stretching for miles and miles.  We had lunch in Austria by walking across the border on the top of the mountain, then took a different cable car straight down the mountain side to Eibsee in the steepest and longest single span I have ever ridden on.  With a third cable car down the Austrian side of the mountain to Erfurt, and the original lodge, the Munchner Haus still standing beside the weather station, this is undoubtedly one of the world’s engineering marvels – all in the aid of tourism and one I will remember for a long time – I hope.  The biggest regret was not being prepared in advance or we could have booked a night in the Iglu Ice Hotel close to the summit.  Sleeping in a room made entirely of snow, including the bed and toilet is one thing, but I can only try to imagine what it is like at night once all the tourists go home.

We also visited the incredible Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck and the resort of Kandahar near Garmisch (not the other Kandahar which makes the news too often!), which will be the venue for the 2011 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, and this weekend was very busy with skiers of all ages, but there weren’t any beginners in sight so we didn’t try to join in.

The second highlight was Munich Hofbrauhaus, which allegedly can seat 5,000 drinkers, and whilst it is 100% tourist trap the general atmosphere was brilliant, serving beer by the litre (no halves!) and piles of excellent filling food to soak it up, all at inflated prices but what the hell… with the accompaniment of the Oompah band it was great fun!

Flying back to Gatwick from Munich, again with Easyjet, completed the round trip.  Its strange to be back in the UK where a pound buys a pounds worth of goods instead of buying a Euro’s worth.   Whatever happened to the exchange rate!

Standing Room only – Oasis and Kasabian at Wembley on Sunday

Tenuous Canal Link – we are moored at Uxbridge, which has easy tube access to Wembley Park station and is one of our favourite moorings.

Blatant Non Canal bit: I think I have known the words to Wonderwall for 15 years but never imagined singing it to Oasis – along with something like 80,000 others who also seemed to be word perfect, of course.  I didn’t know what to expect from an Oasis gig, never having been to one before and certainly was not disappointed with the music and organisation at Wembley Stadium on Sunday night.

Kasabian and Oasis at Wembley Stadium
Kasabian and Oasis at Wembley Stadium

Kasabian turned out to be an excellent support band and judging by the audience around us, just as many had come to see them as the main band.  Vast amounts of lager had the crowd in great voice and that which wasnt being drunk was being liberally spread over the crowd in a torrent of plastic glasses.  As with all good mosh pits a fair amount of the liquid raining on the crowd would be second hand lager and I dread to think what state the front few thousand were in when reality finally returned at the end.

The whole crowd was completely immersed in the music.  Back in the stands, not one single person remained seated as Oasis proved conclusively that their classics really can stand the course of time, mixing in a fair few tracks from the newest album and the occasional acoustic track to help calm the partying.  

“Anyone from Darlington” – boo.  “Anyone from Manchester?”  – small cheer then big boo.  Anyone from “Liverpool?” ditto.  Any lesbians out there?  Huge cheer.  Any Cockney bastards?  Stadium erupted. Lager everywhere.  The band seemed to be loving every minute of it too.  They were however just too polite for megastars – must be their age!

Two hours of an epic performance – the last night of yet another sell out stadium tour – and I would certainly come again.

Oasis Setlist Wembley Stadium, London, England 2009, Dig Out Your Soul (Summer tour)

 

A final word about Wembley stadium.  We were able to walk in and take our seats within minutes of arriving.  There are something like 160 catering outlets, where it was possible to get served without more than a few minutes waiting, even if the floors were awash with lager!  At the end of the night, there are so many exits that leaving the stadium takes only minutes and you simply join the brisk march converging on Wembley Park tube station, through police horse cordons designed to stop a surge, and literally you can join a train just like any other trip on the tube.  We were back on the boat 45 minutes after “I am a Walrus”, the band’s classic final track.  Well done all at Wembley for making this a memorable night out.

20p piece sold for £31 on ebay

The Royal Mint has made 200,000 20p coins without a date and a coin dealer has set up a very generous offer whereby the first 25,000 people to register online will be able to sell these coins for a profitable £50.00 . Their special website, www.undated20p.com, today says the first 10,000 places have gone with a further 15,000 places being made available now.  I have registered even though I haven’t got one of the coins as there’s still a chance I may find one and apparrently I will get a discount voucher and have the opportunity to be contacted by “carefully selected partners” if I forget to uncheck the box on the application form.  This seems very strange – almost like a stunt, but I can’t see the catch yet.

20p coin sold for £31 on ebay today
20p coin sold for £31 on ebay today

Some people are paying enormous sums for these coins on ebay where they are currently fetching several hundred pounds each.  But this one really takes the prize – someone has just (within the last 10 minutes of writing) paid £31 plus 50p postage for a perfectly ordinary 20p piece – complete with date.  Check it out on ebay here… http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270417730152.   The vendor has been very lucky with this and has confirmed at every question that this is not one of the undated coins, but still 11 bidders have been battling it out to become its new owner.

I guess eBay will be blamed with something in all of this, but lets face it – is this not just plain greed?

Update: Thanks to Adam below for pointing out that it is indeed a coin dealer trading as The London Mint who has set up the website and seems to be offering £50 for these coins, not the Royal Mint.  I suspect I am not the only one who has failed to see through this.

Herb garden

My new rooftop herb garden
My new rooftop herb garden

On impulse I have just spent £9.99 at Homebase on a ready to use herb garden.  Six well established varieties planted in a rustic box – at a price which compares favourably with buying a few packets at the supermarket.  Well done Homebase – if you are lucky they may have a few left.

Wishbone Ash – Kidlington

Oh no – not another non canal post!

Wishbone Ash, Kidlington Football Club
Wishbone Ash, Kidlington Football Club

I’ll keep it quick then. By total coincidence I decided yesterday to check the spring tour dates for Wishbone Ash – a few years ago I used to go to up to ten gigs per year, including following them to Europe, so I guess I could have been considered something of a fan.  That is until guitarist Ben Granfelt left in October 2004.   Ben’s guitar playing was simply brilliant and I would stand in awe watching every move he made.   I haven’t seen them since his replacement Muddy Manninen joined the band, who brought a new bluesy guitar style which I simply did not like at the time.

What coincidence?  Well the band were playing that very night (Tuesday) at Kidlington Football Club, so I couldn’t resist the chance to see them again in such a local venue.  How out of touchI felt though – I didn’t even know the first couple of tracks but as they settled in and played some of the old classics I still felt that the magic has gone.  Andy Powell is still guitarist supreme – there is absolutely no doubting his ability, nor Bob Skeat on bass – who still punches out superb rhythm with powerful new drummer Joe.  But sorry, I feel that Muddy just doesn’t gel with the band’s style and – only in my opinion – his interpretation of classics such as King Will Come and Phoenix is just not what the twin lead guitar style of Wishbone Ash is all about, and to bring in a tabletop slide guitar was simply wrong.  In fact I was just as disappointed with him as I feared I may be.

Muddy Manninen (left) and Andy Powell, Wishbone Ash
Muddy Manninen (left) and Andy Powell, Wishbone Ash

So on the plus side it was still a great gig in a lovely little venue – and Andy joked that due to the overwhelming success of this 40th Anniversary tour they may even play in some bigger places in the future.  But for me, this lineup of the band is not my favourite and I think I may wait until Muddy moves on before going out of my way to see them again.  The crowd seemed to be enjoying it though – all is not lost – in his 40th year of touring with Wishbone Ash, Andy Powell still knows how to entertain.

Holiday report – no canals this time!

Riga
Riga

What an anticlimax coming home to lashing rain and colder temperatures this morning than we had in a week of travelling through Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

Looking outside at the rain I can’t get inspired to write anything about canals today so here’s a few jottings about our holiday instead.  Personally I can’t see the attraction of sitting on the same beach for a week, so we tend to do the opposite and sit on buses and trains instead, which I can understand will not appeal to many especially those who prefer to relax on hols!

However we had the most marvellous time, starting in Riga, thanks to Ryanair.  I find Ryaniar’s use of technology to be superb and rather than complain about being charged extra for using their automatic check-in terminals at Stansted (as opposed to free online check-in)  I will actually praise them for thinking out a radical new solution to preventing check-in queues.  It took no more than 2 minutes to find a free terminal, collect our boarding passes and hand a bag in to the baggage drop desk.

Riga was wonderful but surprisingly desserted.  There was no traffic, no noise, no pedestrians in many streets – altogether a little bit eerie.   The old town centre is very attractive with a mixture of quaint and very grand buildings.  Every corner has a coffee shop – no queues – and free wifi is the norm.  The cheaper restaurants offer self service menus till late  into the night and we especially liked the Pelmeni – self service bowls of different flavoured ravioli style dumplings – a great feed for a couple of quid.  You are charged by weight, which is a very common feature in Latvia – pile it onto the plate and pay only for what you take, weighed at the till.

The day’s highlight for total relaxation turned out to be a tea shop with hundreds of teas to choose from and a first floor piled with cushions to lie on with a view of the park, all within a couple of minutes of the town centre.

The river Daugava was perhaps 400 yards wide through Riga and with at least a three foot swell I was pleased to be visiting by land and not arriving by boat on a river with breaking waves.  A narrowboat here would have no chance of staying upright but boat trips do exist, although like so much aimed at tourists here, the operating season will only be May to September.  Continue reading Holiday report – no canals this time!

Wifi in Finland and Estonia

Helsinki trams - wifi enabled
Helsinki trams - wifi enabled

Changing the subject from life on board slightly, this week I have been on holiday.  Not quite as exciting as our last trip to Moldova and Ukraine, but still off the beaten tourist track.  We flew last week to Riga, capital of Latvia, travelled overland to Tallin in Estonia and flew back yesterday from Helsinki, Finland.

When WiFi was in its infancy in 1994, Estonia was reported by the BBC as being the most advanced nation in the provision of wireless hotspots for everyone. WiFi.ee still maintains a huge wireless network for public access, and absolutely everywhere we travelled almost every bar, restaurant and even shops also provided completely free wifi access to the public. 

WiFi.ee currenly runs 1164 hotspots covering 45,000 square kilometers and almost all of them are free.   Using my iPhone I was able to connect within a few yards of first trying without any problems at all.

So it was actually even more refreshing to discover that, after taking the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki (free WiFi on board of course) , virtually the whole city is WiFi enabled.  Hotels try to make their money by charging but over most of the city is a combination of official free WiFi hotspots, an even bigger network of shops and bars providing access and best of all, the number 4 tram from the ferry port to the city centre also provides free WiFi.  Other tram and bus routes may also be covered, under a trial scheme. 

How cool to be able to log on for an email check on the way to town on the tram, but it doesn’t stop there.  Trams are fitted with GPS devices which as well as updating the “next tram” signs at the tram stops, even show their location on Google Maps.

Snow Patrol concert, Manchester MEN Arena

Saturday night, 7th March 2009 – Manchester Evening News Arena – Snow Patrol

Seeing Snow Patrol was actually the reason for this trip to Manchester.  I would hazard a guess that I was the only member of the audience who had made a 7 day round trip – and it was certainly worth the effort.

Every time I see a band these days I am just as amazed by the quality of the production – both sound and visual, and tonight was no exception.  The sound was simply fantastic and the moving projection screens which formed the back of the stage were amazing too.

The band of course was absolutely brilliant too – one of the best concerts I have been to in a long time – when the entire stadium knows most of the words as well as the band, then the effect is amazing.  Despite the huge size of the venue lead singer GaryLightbody went ahead with performing from a random spot in the crowd where he suddenly appeared with acoustic guitar and microphone.  This was live entertainment at its best – some silly girl got hold of the microphone and screamed into it, but he recovered the situation with a simple “well that won’t be happening again!” and continued the song – with every electric light in the building being turned off and the crowd invited to take out their mobile phones and light up the arena like stars. 

“Its like performing in space” he said.

Lost in the post

Digressing from canals for a minute, I need to vent some steam after a seemingly endless dialog between me, two guys who bought something from me on Ebay, a guy I bought something from on Ebay and the DVLA.

To cut a long story short I sold my old car to someone in Poland. I wanted to retain the number for my new car and although I put this in the advert I found myself apologising day after day that he couldn’t pick the car up until the DVLA had sent the replacement tax, MOT and Log Book.  Apparently the first two normally come within 7 days but the latter can take a further 4 weeks.  Without it the car can’t realistically be sold.  However after 14 days DVLA decided that because my old car was itself an import it had to be referred to Swansea causing even more delay.  Many boring bits later the paperwork all arrived, I had new number plates made, signed all the forms in the right places and waved it goodbye as it went off to Poland.

I looked forward to getting 10 months tax back, so duly wrote to the DVLA as required to do when a car is sold for export, enclosed the right bit of the V5C form and a V15 application for tax refund, together with the licence disk.  Sent first class recorded delivery, just for safety’s sake.

Today 3 weeks later they wrote back saying this had been rejected as I was not the previous keeper of the car, nor had I told them it was sold to someone else.  15 agitated minutes of holding on the phone I was put through to the refunds section who acknowledged that they had received my letter, and had marked the car as exported but they denied receiving a tax refund request, which of course was in the same envelope.  They admitted they must have received it, being as they had written to me to reject it, and so rather than sort it out by phone my only recourse is to write something on the back of the rejection notice and send it back for them to reconsider.

Concurrrently I sold an item on Ebay – I couldn’t believe how excited the purchaser was getting, but it turned out this car amplifier was a long lost match for his current one, and to have two is seemingly so much better.  He texted me to tell me every step of his journey to the post office, the postal order being put in an envelope, stamped and despatched.  And yes it came the very next day, so I called DH a well known parcel carrier and personally handed the well wrapped parcel, all labelled up and paid for, to the collection driver.

I began to think there may be a problem when the tracking number suddenly stopped showing anything sensible.  For the record, when DHL tracking shows “Security Check” in the status it means they have lost it.  Phone call after phone call failed to make it reappear. The standard response of well make sure it is sent out in the morning begins to wear thin after a week has gone by.  My text inbox was almost full with the purchaser getting more and more despondant about where his irreplacable amp had gone, although he was very understanding, although this may be after having made the Ebay faux pas of giving me good feedback before he got the goods!

I refunded him in full, lost 8 pounds commission on the postal order (I thought they were free!!!), £12.99 paid to send the parcel, £2 for packaging bubble wrap and £80 pounds worth of equipment.  I was only covered for £50 loss, and have yet to see anything other than “we are still looking for it” emails. 

It really bugs me that a parcel carrier can lose something so large, so easily, and shrug it off as one of those things that happen.  In fact the agent through whom I booked the service claims they only lose 0.4 per cent of packages.  Looking at the number of parcel carrying vans on the road that sounds like a very large number of items to me!

So I wait with baited breath to see if I get a penny back.

To make it worse I ordered a pot of Captain Tolleys Creeping Crack Cure a couple of weeks ago, again from Ebay but from a very reputable looking marina.  It didn’t come.  I made a fuss after a week and they put it down to computer problems, but the promised replacement hasn’t arrived either.  With my own lost parcel I wasn’t at all surprised when the vendor told me he has lost over 200 pounds worth of stock in the mail last week alone.  Where are all these lost items going!  To his credit he has sent a replacement under recorded delivery, and this should come in the morning.   Its one thing me losing a box in a private sale, but when a mail order business loses so many items this has to be devastating for them.  “Just leave good feedback or no feedback” he asked.  At least I have waited for the product to turn up – and then I shall leave very good feedback, as this supplier is tearing his hair out trying to run a business and is now providing excellent customer service.  I can’t penalise him for the Royal Mail’s shortcomings. 

So hardly a day has gone by in the last three weeks without apologising to or being apologised to by someone with whom the only thing we have in common is Ebay, parcel firms and Royal Mail.  What an incredible waste of time and money.  I am currently at least two hundred and fifty pounds out of pocket through this, let alone the cost of phone calls and stamps.