Monthly Archives: August 2014

Blogger – or – Blagger?

The use of the word ‘blog’ and the natural result of having a blog makes someone a ‘blogger’, made me think about the difference between being a blogger and being a blagger.. Continue reading

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What is the problem with baggage handlers?

These days, it seems that the vast majority of us have travelled overseas, either for work, pleasure, or both, so we are all used to the sight and experiences of baggage handlers, right?

As I travel a lot for work, I have this ‘joy’ (experiencing baggage handlers at work) more often than most, so it seemes like an obvious topic for my latest blog entry.

I live in the UK, but currently work in Germany through the week, so I take aorund 100 flights a year for business and, unfortunately, considerably fewer than this number for pleasure.

I often wonder just how difficult it can be in this technological age to actually deliver an efficient baggage handling system…..here are a few of my thoughts..

I marvel at the ease in which the baggage is ‘handled’ at check in. As soon as my passport has been checked for the flight, and the boarding pass issued, a luggage tag is put on my bag and the automatic conveyor belt whisks it away to the black hole that is the baggage handling area, hopefully to arrive safely at my destination airport…hopefully!

I worked for a number of years in Dubai, and as you can imagine with such an incredibly busy airport, the amount of luggage they handle is colossal. During this time, I only experienced baggage difficulties twice, and this was on the flight to and from Dubai, both with British Airways.

I had decided to take my golf clubs out to Dubai (with very unimpressive results- more of that in another blog!) and the check in of my clubs, as is most often the case when checking in any luggage in my experience, was very smooth and efficient.

When I  was waiting at the baggage carousel in Dubai, my suitcase came off relatively quickly, and I had visions of being away from the airport and back in my apartment in no time at all. Sadly, this was not the case.

If you have experienced the feeling of waiting for luggage to appear on the carousel, only to watch expectantly as case after case passes you and is collected by other passengers, then the belt is empty, and slowly comes to a halt, you will know that feeling. ‘That feeling’ is when you know that your worst fears have just been realised, your luggage is not going to appear, and you frantically begin to rack your brain to try and remember what urgently required item is in your luggage.

I stood there, forlornly thinking about the game of golf I had planned for the next day, my day off, and hoping that the belt might start up again and my prized clubs would appear through the rubber screen and I could continue my journey.

Alas, it was not to be, and when I turned round to see where the place to tell somebody about my loss might be, I noticed a small sign on a flimsy stand, pointing away from the luggage belt.

As I walked round the stand to read what was on the sign, I realised that it was my name printed on the sign, and it was telling me to go to a Dnata office. (Dnata seems to be the company responsible for luggage handling, amongst other things)

When I went to the office, I was told that my golf clubs had not been loaded on to the aircraft, and they would follow on a later flight the next day. I asked why they had not told me this earlier, as I had spent almost an hour since getting off the flight waiting for my golf clubs, which were still in the UK. They pointed to the sign, and said ‘ Sir, your name is on the sign’. When I explained that as I approached the luggage belt the sign was not visible, and only after the empty belt had stopped running and people dispersed did I see it, and even then the writing displaying my name was on the side facing away from the belt, they simply shrugged their shoulders and asked me to fill a form out and tell them when I was home for them to deliver my clubs.

The clubs arrived two days later, a day after my golf game, which I had to cancel, and I thought that was the end of it…..silly me.

A couple of months later, I was going home on leave, and I was travelling on the return leg of my British Airways flight ticket.

I made my way to the baggage carousel at Manchester Airport, and again was pleased when my suitcase appeared. I slowly started to feel a sense of deja vu when the remaining passengers all collected their luggage and made their way out, leaving me again to watch the belt continue round and round for an agonising ten minutes or so before grinding to a depressingly familiar stop, minus my golf clubs of course.

As I looked round the emptying hall, a guy from the baggage handling company looked at me and made his way over. He called my name, and when I confirmed that it was me, he asked me to go to the office with him.

By now I was sure the dreaded British Airways and my golf clubs connection had struck again, but I was not expecting his statement, that my golf clubs had not been loaded on to the aircraft, and would follow on a later flight. Talk about Groundhog day!

When I asked him the same question I had asked in Dubai, which was ‘why didn’t you tell me earlier, as I have been standing there watching everybody else collect their luggage for 25 minutes’ he said “we were expecting you to come to see us when you realised your bags were not there”. Amazing!

So, although I thought that the handlers in Dubai had a strange system, by writing your name on a sign which is facing away from where you are waiting, the guys at Manchester Airport went one better..they simply waited for you to come to them!

My clubs arrived three days later, and by then I had sworn never to take golf clubs on another British Airways flight. Surely it cannot be coincidental that the same airline lost my clubs but delivered my suitcase, on two separate flights?

Which brings me back to my point. As I mentioned, I am a frequent flyer, and as a result, I have the dubious joy of watching bagge handlers at work on a regular basis.

As I sit in my seat each week, waiting for my flight to depart, I watch the baggage ‘handlers’ with a feeling of anger and astonishment. They would be more appropriately called baggage abusers than baggage handlers, as they appear to indulge in a contest to see who can throw the luggage the furthest, or drop it from the highest height onto the conveyor taking the luggage on board the aircraft.

I regularly see suitcases fall off the belt from height and if you ever look closely at your suitcase after it has been on a few flights, you might not be surprised to read this, when looking at the collection of impact marks.

The trolley which holds the luggage as it is transported from the terminal building to the waiting aircraft is usually around the same height as the loading conveyor which the baggage handler has to place the suitcase on. I emphasise the word ‘place’ as I cannot see any reason why the handlers should think it is acceptable to throw the luggage around as they do. Not only is the luggage itself these days invariably an expensive item to purchase, but of course the contents of the luggage can be prone to damage, especially when subjected to drops from a height.

As I have seen this method of throwing the luggage around and items dropping off loading belts in a number of different airports in several countries, it is obviously not exclusive to any particular company or airport, but seems to be the accepted ‘norm’ by these ‘handlers’.

I suppose the only message I could give is to not spend large amounts of money on fancy items of luggage, (and there is an increasing amount of nice snazzy designs out there) as they will be subject to very rough handling, and in a very short space of time will look like exactly what they are, the victims of manhandling and abuse.

Whilst we cannot it seems, do anything to prevent this mishandling of our personal belongings, we should I suppose, at least be aware of what is happening.

 

Incidentally, I looked at a website to see how Dubai Airport manages to handle such vast amounts of luggage, and I found a short video showing what goes on behind the scenes, produced by Dnata.  Hopefully the link below works, but just take a look at how carefully the handlers deal with the luggage, (knowing they were to appear in a promotional video of course) and compare this the next time you gaze out of your aircraft window and see the reality of your luggage being tossed around!

http://bcove.me/ivr7ozhp

 

Life goes on…a new tattoo

There are times in your life (well there are in mine, at least!) when you become quite reflective.

I think a lot.. Not necessarily about structured, organised topics, or even things which should be relevant to any particular circumstance or event, but just ‘stuff’. Continue reading

An Englishman playing golf in Germany

As a keen but not very good golfer, I jumped at the opportunity when one of my work colleagues invited a friend and I for a game of golf here in Hamburg.

I always enjoy playing on new courses and with different peole, as I believe I can watch and learn so much this way. My German colleague, Matthias, is a 20 handicap golfer and built like a rather large outbuilding, so I am looking forward to seeing how he plays.

Tomorrow I will write about the game itself, but here I am talking about the build up to the big day, and the not so easy task of actually getting my clubs over here to Germany.

I usually fly to Germany each Monday morning for work, and return each Friday evening.

When I started looking at prices for flights, and particularly the add ons for carrying a set of clubs (don’t you just hate these additional charges?) it turned out the most economical way to bring my clubs over, so Easyjet it was.
We left for the airport an hour earlier than I would usually, because the motorway junction at the airport exit was closed for the weekend for roadworks.
We expected heavier traffic because of this, but nothing like we experienced. What was usually a 40 minute journey took us three hours!
My flight was at 4 o’clock and they said the gate would close at 3.30.
I was dropped off at 3.25 and feared that not only would I miss my flight but I would have to pay over £400 for another one.
As I sped to the check in desks my heart sank when I saw the long queues at the Easyjet desks.
I overheard one of the check in girls mention Hamburg to somebody checking in, so I thought hopefully the gate will still be open.
I was in luck..well sort of. The flight was delayed 2 and 1/2 hours!
Whilst this would normally be a source of irritation on any other day, today it was a blessing because it meant that I would catch my flight.
Once I had checked in and dropped my golf clubs off, I did what is the only thing to do in times of great stress…I headed for the bar.

The day of the golf game.

My excitement of waking up and looking forward with eager anticipation to playing golf in Germany was somewhat squashed when the reality of getting my golf clubs to the office from my apartment dawned on me.
I had a 30 minute walking dragging my clubs behind me, thinking all the time ‘I hope this is worth it!’

Eventually I arrived at the office, soaked in sweat but relieved to have made it without undue incident.
All I had to do now was get on with my work and count the hours down.

At last the time came for us to head off, and after a short car journey we arrived at a very posh looking German golf club, my very first visit.

We registered, paid our fees, and headed to the practice area.

The three of us spent around twenty minutes practicing our chipping and putting before moving to the driving range to ‘get the big guns out’ and hit a few balls.

If you have never visited a driving range before imagine an open area with ten or twelve people all attempting to hit a number of golf balls one after another in a consistently straight line, with an effortless swing, and ideally to a respectable distance.

Now, imagine if you will, the Virgin Englishman scuffing most of his shots, missing the ball altogether, and managing a pitiful 10 yards as the furthest attempt. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, there was a golf pro (who, as you will learn, was English!) giving a lesson to a 17 year old a German boy who hit the ball like he had been born with a golf club in his hand.

Never being one to let a lack of talent Damien my enthusiasm, I headed off to the first tee with a spring in my step.

The course was immaculate, and the first hole was a daunting par 5 stroke index 1 (meaning the hardest hole on the course) which I comfortably made a 6 on.

Things went really well for the first five holes and I was playing the best golf I had ever played.

The 6th was a par 3, hit over a small pond which should have presented no problems, especially with me playing so well. (Note the ‘should’)

I topped my first shot which landed about 20 yards from the tee. This is after watching my friend and playing partner Steve hot his tee shot to within two foot of the hole.
Matthias, our German host, also landed his tee shot on the green so I just had to chip over the pond and join them. (Note the ‘just’).

I took my ‘simple’ hip shot….and dispatched smack in the middle of the pond!
So now I am playing my 4th shot (after incurring a one shot penalty) from a drop to zone. The shot was a simple chip onto the green, which was about 15 yards away. (Note the ‘simple’).

I managed to hit my shot over the pond, but hit i too hard and it landed in some very deep rough beyond the green.

One attempt was all I needed to get the ball out of the rough. Unfortunately I only managed to hit it to the semi rough, around 6 foot nearer to the hole.

Eventually, and just before my playing partners died of boredom, I joined them on the green, after what seemed an eternity since they had first walked on it.
The result for me was a 9 on a simple par 3, spoiling a great start.

Being nothing if not resilient, I managed to overcome this setback and completed the front 9 in a respectable (for me) score of 50

Unfortunately the back 9 wasn’t as impressive and I had a couple of 9’s on my card to give me a not so respectable 118 for the round.

Given that it was a strange course, and that I am very much a novice golfer, overall I was delighted with my round, particularly the front 9.

We finished a lovely day in the twilight at the restaurant at the clubhouse, and after a couple of beers and a schnitzel the day was a resounding success in my book.

Massive thanks to Matthias and Steve for making my first ever game of golf in Germany a very enjoyable one

 

 

My bike was pinched!

So here I am, about to write my first post on my blog. A blog which I haven’t got a clue how it will look, or if anybody can be bothered to even read it.

Having said that, as I mentioned in my ‘about’ page, the reason I decided to write a blog is to get some of the junk out of my head! so, here goes..

I have been working in Hamburg for over a year and a half now, and commute here each Monday and back to the UK each Friday. Hamburg is a lovely City, and the people are all very nice….or so I thought.

A few months ago, I was wandering round a supermarket near to my apartment with my wife, and we stopped to look at some bikes which were on sale for a crazy low price.

After a bit of pondering, my wife convinced me it would be sensible to buy one, as until then I had a 30 minute walk each way to work, and often walked home from town if we went out for a drink or something to eat.

So, that’s what I did, and became the proud owner of a great 3 speed black beauty!

Compared to many of the bikes I see around Hamburg it was a bit cheap looking to be honest, but nontheless it soon became my pride and joy.

When I bought it, it needed to have all the vrious bolts tightened of course, as it had only been assembled for display purposes, not for road use. I had to carry the bike up the stairs to my 4th floor apartment (not so good!) and then bring a set of spanners back with me on my next trip.

This I did, and having tightened everything up, I was all set up and ready for my first trip to work on the Monday morning.

I had wondered why the bike only had one brake, and a front one at that, but I soon discovered why. As I rode to work, with my coat safely secured under the spring behind my seat, I was riding along quite pleased with myself, and decided to turn round to check that my coat was still with me. this is when I found out why there was only one brake…as I stood up on the pedals to have a look, I discovered that applying pressure to the pedals operates the rear brake!

As I stood up with all my weight on the pedals, the back wheel locked, and I started skidding. Imagine the fear on my face because i didn’t know at this stage what was happening, and thought I was about to fall off and under a passing car!

When I realised what the problem was, I quickly sat down again, waited for my heart rate to return to something approaching normal, and continued on my way, armed with my new found knowledge that I was the owner of a bike with two brakes not one.

The rest of my trip to work was uneventful, and I arranged to go straight from work with my friend Steve to watch a football match in the City centre.

I managed to safely navigate my way to the pub we were going to, despite just one dodgy moment when I tried to set off from the traffic lights and thought my bike was broken, only to discover (again) that I was in fact pressing down the wrong way on the pedal. Instead of pushing to go forward I was actually locking the wheel again!

Once this slight oversight was remedied I was away again, and arrived at the pub in one piece. I decided to lock my bike to a lampost where I could keep an eye on my new acquisition, feeling very protective over this life changing machine I had just bought!

At half time the pub was a bit dead, so we dcided to miove to another bar to watch the second half. The obvious thing to do was leave my bike where it was safely secured, and collect it after the match for my first alcohol fuelled ride home.

a couple of hours later this is what I did. I turned the corner, and I must admit I breathed an audible sigh of relief when I saw my gleaming set of wheels in the same place where I had left it earlier.

As I went to unlock the bike my face reddened as I realised my mistake…..I had secured the flexible lock round the bike, then locked it to itself, completely missing out the lampost I was supposed to lock my bike to!

This  meant of course, that the bike was actually very well secured – to itself!

Over the coming days, weeks and months I went everywhere on my bike. To and from my office, off to various bars around Hamburg, and on one public holiday I even rode around the whole of Hamburg virtually all day, covering 22 miles in the process.

As I travelled to and from England each week, I used to ride home on a Monday evening and back on a Friday morning with my small suitcase secured to the back of my bike, as you can see in the attached photo.

This attracted a few wry smiles from the ever efficient Germans, but I suspect they were quietly impressed with the English guy’s ingenuity!

This routine worked really well, until very recently.

I would leave my bike locked up outside my office building on a Friday evening, and collect it again on Monday evening, and for a few months this was a normal, uneventful occurrence….until last week Grrrrr……

I had to leave my bike outside for longer than just the weekend, as I was having a couple of days off in England as my son was visiting from Australia where he now lives.

Last Tuesday evening I left work, complete with my suitcase, and went downstairs and outside to where my bike was. Except it wasn’t!!

I looked everyhwere but the bike was not there. Because I can be prone to memory loss (as you will discover in subsequent blog posts) I thought perhaps I had forgotten that I had not ridden to work the previous week, and the bike would be locked to a rail outside my apartment.

Sadly, when I arrived home and walked up and down th estreet several times, I realised that my bike had been stolen.

When I walked to work again the next day I checked right round the building, but to no avail. My loving pride and joy, all €85 worth of it, had been pinched!

Gutted is not the word, I am distraught. Sadly, in this day and age like many people, I am not a stranger to things being taken, but as I had seen hundreds if not thousands of much better bikes than mine every week around Hamburg, one of the safest Cities I have lived in, I thought the chances of somebody even wanting to steal my bike, let alone actually doing it, where slim to zero.

So now, it’s back to walking or the train for me.

I have been asked several times by my German colleagues if I will buy a new one, and my answer is an emphatic NO!!

It is bad enough the thought of having to buy another bike to replace the stolen one, but my mind just thinks all I would be doing is feeding the local thieves who are just waiting for me to do just that.

Instead, I now walk everywhere again (it is teeming down with rain as I write this, so you can imagine how this makes me feel) and I look at every passing bike and cyclist with a cynical eye, wondering if my bike will pass before me. If it does I will chase after it, knock the thief off it, and resume my happy cycling which has been cruelly denied me!

My bikeGeoff