It’s Easy When You Know How

Have you ever convinced yourself you could do something just by sheer force of imagination? At the age of sixteen, I managed to convince myself I’d be good at ice skating and watched so much of it that simply by putting on a piece of music and closing my eyes, I could picture myself gliding, spinning and jumping over the ice. I lay the blame for this delusion firmly at the door of Robin Cousins, gold medallist at the 1980 Winter Olympics, and British champion for many years. His crime was not just being outstandingly good, but in making the whole thing look effortlessly easy which, as it turned out, it wasn’t. It was a year or so later before I was thoroughly disillusioned following an afternoon at Richmond Ice Rink where the only gliding and spinning I did was on my backside (and for avoidance of doubt, that was not part of the intended choreography!)

I suppose it shouldn’t have been such a surprise although to be fair, back in the day my feet were a lot sturdier and my balance was a lot better. Nowadays standing on terra firma in grip-soled trainers is sadly not always a guarantee of staying upright, and that’s before I’ve had a glass of wine or a malibu and coke.

Having consigned this episode to the archives under “failed enterprises”, I was reminded of my short-lived ice skating ambitions the other day after seeing something interesting on a friend’s Facebook page. It was one of those demonstrations that proliferate on social media these days: the sort that make you want to rush out to Tesco to buy ingredients for a malteser cake or buy a packet of serviettes so that you can make origami swans for your dinner table. In this instance, it was a demonstration of how to tie shoelaces in all sorts of fancy patterns, using all manner of coloured laces.

Even before I’d got to the end of the first viewing, I decided that I absolutely had to have a go at this and immediately set to work on ebay searching for something more exciting than the white and grey laces that were currently in my two pairs of trainers. Having checked the exact measurement of my existing laces,  I trawled through page after page of bootlaces and was thrilled to discover you can get every colour imaginable: rainbow ones, colour-graduated ones, even Harry Potter ones (although sadly no guinea pig ones). Several hours later I had whittled it down to two pairs.

They arrived a few days later and I immediately opened up the demonstration again to decide which pattern I was going to try first. (As I own two pairs of trainers, I ambitiously decided I’d do a different pattern for each pair).

Snag number 1: these demos on Facebook are speeded up. No matter how many times I watched this digitally dextrous chinese woman thread up her laces, I couldn’t quite see how to make the bows work. Or the loops. Or anything else for that matter. I decided watching on my phone was not helpful so logged on to my laptop where I could pause the action and watch a second-by-second demo. I decided after ten attempts that I’d do a combination of various patterns, and by the end of the evening I was happy with the results.

Snag number 2: the intricate weaving involved in my pattern meant that I was rather short of lace for tying up the bow, but decided I could make do with dainty little bows. By now it was getting rather late so I left my trainers in the hall with their colourful new laces in their fancy patterns, and went to bed feeling very pleased with myself.

Snag number 3: if you need to get out early in the morning, it’s not a good idea to start pratting about putting new laces in your trainers the night before. Especially when you haven’t had a trial run.

My left foot is about average size, but my right foot is significantly wider than its friend, prone to swelling, has very few toes left on it and I have no feeling in it. Consequently it needs gentle persuasion with a shoe horn to go into my trainer and, with very little time in the schedule, it did not take kindly to being shoved unceremoniously into my chosen footwear. In fact, it wouldn’t go in at all so I then had to loosen all the laces from the bottom up, which – from an artistic point of view – sort of spoiled the pattern a bit. However with a bit more shoving, I got it on and thought nothing more about it until I returned home several hours later and took off my trainers.

It was then that I discovered if your footwear is too tight, it leaves an imprint of your socks embossed onto your foot. It did look very artistic actually although probably didn’t do a lot for my circulation. I duly sat down on the stairs and loosened the laces yet again. It turns out that my right foot actually requires a lot more space than the laces allowed so I’ve had to abandon the pattern entirely and go for a less fancy arrangement that enables me to still tie a bow. I haven’t given up altogether though and may still revisit my creative ambitions over the summer, albeit next time with much longer laces.


Reading the Small Print

I’ve got used to the idea that everything comes with instructions these days. Some are quite obviously essential: medicines could be taken in the wrong dosage, put the wrong strength of lawn feed on the garden and it kills the grass, and cooking instructions are required to avoid turning your dinner into charcoal. However there are plenty of instances where I struggle to see the need for instructions, for example on a bag of guinea pig biscuits where the process is pretty self-explanatory: open packet, put biscuits in bowl, guinea pigs operate a rapid and efficient self-service system.

Even more annoying than superfluous instructions are those that are downright inaccurate; our bag of frozen peas says “tear here” along the top of the packet, but any attempt to actually open it by tearing results in a gaping hole and frozen peas all over the floor (if you haven’t already guessed, I speak from experience).

It seems that nowadays everyone wants to put instructions on everything, although perhaps it’s to cover themselves in the event that operator error results in an accident more serious than frozen peas all over the floor. However, instructions for using a toilet is not something I’ve come across before and up until the other day, going to the loo was firmly in the self-explanatory-instructions-not-required department.

The day in question was a recent trip to see my sister in Wiltshire, which is a two hour journey from Cheam. If it wasn’t for the protracted M4 roadworks and the enforced 50mph speed limit, we’d have probably done the journey without needing to stop, but needs must and we pulled in to the services at Chieveley where we nipped inside for a pit stop and a choccie bar purchase.

Thankfully I had remembered at the last minute to switch my sunglasses for my normal glasses, although that was so that I could scan the chocolate wrappers more easily – I had not expected to need them in the loo. Nevertheless I was greeted by a large notice stuck above the toilet with a list of instructions for use. Assuming this was a special toilet I walked along to the next cubicle, and the next, until it dawned on me that they all had the same notice.

Step 1 was how to lift up the lid. I decided I didn’t need to bother reading that, but after several tugs with no sign of any lifting going on, I studied the accompanying illustration and realised you had to pull something at the same time. So far, so complicated.  Step 2 was the (familiar) self-explanatory bit, although it took a while to persuade the end of the toilet roll to hang down properly. (Is it just me that has a problem with this? And who puts a new loo roll in the dispensing machine without undoing the end properly?) After flicking said loo roll round several times in an attempt to persuade it to make an appearance, step 3 was thankfully less fiddly and consisted of close lid and press large button to flush.

Having finally mastered the mechanics, there was more reading stuck on the inside of the door. In fact, the services management had really gone to town on this, explaining why they had switched over to these more environmentally-friendly toilets and providing a summary of how much less water they used as compared to ordinary toilets, and how much more hygienic they were. There were also pie charts and percentages accompanying all these facts for those who liked scientific details. The poster contained lots more facts including details of some special flushing mechanism, but I decided in the interests of not causing a massive queue on the other side of the door that I could live without this information.

Thankfully the washbasins did not come with instructions and I successfully negotiated the hand dryers which were at a sensible height. In many places they are not positioned correctly for those who are vertically challenged, so I either get a face full of hot air, or the sensor is so high that I look like I’m waving at a passing aeroplane whilst trying to dry my hands.

Lessons learned from this experience:

  1. Where possible avoid making pit stops at Chieveley motorway service station.
  2. Always read the small print before attempting to engage with new-fangled technology.
  3. Chunky peanut butter KitKats work well as emergency stress relief. Probably due to all the protein in the peanuts.




Accidents & Penguins

A couple of months ago, someone who wasn’t paying close attention to the traffic managed to hit my car. Thankfully the damage has been repaired, I no longer get calls from the insurance company on a regular basis, and I have now received a letter saying their file has been closed. I’d like to think that will be the end of the matter, but my suspicion is that in the not too distant future, I will get the inevitable call. You know the one I mean; it usually starts with someone saying “I understand you were recently involved in an accident” and concludes swiftly with you saying, “No I haven’t – go away, annoying person” or words to that effect.

Not that you actually need to have had an accident to get one of those calls – these people are more than happy to pester anyone on a regular basis for the same reason that my guinea pigs squeak every time I open the fridge door: because it does occasionally yield results.

It must be very boring phoning people all day asking the same mundane questions, and I often wonder whether I should liven up their day a bit by inventing a few accidents for them. However there is a risk that they might get a bit too interested and step up the pestering. Alternatively, you can use the Linda Corbett tried-and-tested method of junk caller elimination. The  conversation goes along the lines of:

Them: I understand you have been involved in an accident recently.
You: Yes I have. Let me go and find the details for you. Hold on just a minute….

Then you put the phone down anywhere except back in its cradle or docking station, and continue with the rest of your day. After about half an hour, you might want to go back and check, but I can guarantee they will have got bored and hung up and probably won’t try again. Personally, I like to get value for money and work on the principle that if they are going to waste my time making me stop whatever I’m doing to answer the phone, I will reciprocate. It’s even better when they start by saying “how are you” – it makes it all too easy.

Instead of the customary “fine thanks”, I go into more detail. A lot more detail. I tell them about my poorly guinea pig. About my sister who’s just had an operation on her hand. About my Mum who has had to go into a care home. About my foot that gets terribly cold in the winter and how my walking has definitely got more flaky in the last five years or so. As those who know me can testify, I can talk without drawing breath for a considerable period of time (I wasn’t a professional trainer for nothing) and always have an infinite source of riveting topics ready. The trick is not to stop, pause or give them an opportunity to start asking you questions.

Funnily enough we haven’t had many junk calls recently, although the last one I had wasn’t a greedy lot of accident chasers at all, it was Greenpeace. A friend of mine had invited people via Facebook to sign a petition to stop industry in the Antarctic ruining the penguins’ habitat. Within ten minutes of signing the petition I received an email from Greenpeace thanking me for showing interest in their work, followed by daily updates thereafter on a variety of different topics. Three days later I unsubscribed, assuming (erroneously) that they would cease communications. Two days after that I received a phone call asking if I’d like to join their organisation.

I said I was fed up of being bombarded with emails after signing one petition. I told them my sole concern was for the penguins; the poor little things were being driven out of their homes; there wasn’t enough landmass for them; people were just being greedy drilling for oil in the Antarctic. I asked him where were they supposed to live? The ice sheets are melting, and penguins need a safe place to live and raise chicks. After listening to ten minutes of various permutations along the same theme, the man seemed in quite a hurry to put the phone down.

So, next time you get a time-wasting call, why not try a different tactic? And if you don’t have any penguins to worry about, why not tell the caller about Shine Surrey’s fundraising efforts? Tickets for the 2019 prize draw will be available from the AGM onwards, so why not start drumming up business? Ask them if they’ve heard of Shine Surrey, or what they’d like to do for our local community. If nothing else, you’ll have a bit of fun and should they stump up a prize, feel free to point them in the direction of your Shine Surrey fundraiser!

The Trouble with Call Centres

A few weeks ago, someone drove into the back of my car. No-one was injured, but my bumper was damaged and the reversing sensors got knocked out of alignment so as soon as you put the car into reverse gear, they started making a deafening racket. Clearly an insurance job, and I resigned myself to being without a car whilst repairs were done. However, it was as we began the process of filing the insurance claim that we realised Direct Line sub-contract work to other companies, including the process for getting the car repaired, and this meant dealing with a call centre.

My heart always sinks when I have to phone anywhere official as it can often take ages to get through to some places. When I came to renew my TfL congestion charging exemption earlier this year, I had to hang on for over twenty minutes before anyone answered, listening to the same piece of music on a constant loop until it was stuck in my head. (Hint: you know you’ve lost the plot when you inadvertently find yourself humming along).

However call centres – that outsourcing opportunity beloved of so many large companies and corporations – add another layer of bureaucracy to the whole process. For a start, there are those complicated menu options, which seem to go on forever and which invariably include “press 9 to hear all these options again” (i.e. in case you’ve lost the will to carry on after option five). Some organisations have multiple option menus so after you’ve pressed the number to take you through to the right department, you’re presented with a whole new menu of choices.

However, my real bugbear is that once you actually get to speak to a human being, you then have to embark on a lengthy process of identifying yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand and appreciate the need for personal data protection, but as I discovered recently, the same identification process applies even when they ring you. So, when the call centre rang to discuss my claim, they insisted on the same identification palaver: Full name, address, date of birth, car registration number and goodness knows what else.

Part of the problem, if not all of it, arose because my circumstances failed to dovetail smoothly with their internal process, which runs something like:

Arrange car collection, provide replacement hire car, arrange car repairs, then deliver repaired car back to owner.

Stage one went swimmingly well. Stage two failed to get off the starting blocks.

The company sub-contracted for part two called the day after my car was collected, and I explained that I can’t avail myself of their offer of a courtesy hire car as it would have to have the accelerator moved to the left of the brake, and the seat would have to be raised up several inches higher than any height adjustable mechanism would allow. Plus they would probably need to have a specialist fitter/engineer to do any subtle on-site adjustments. Undeterred by these difficulties, the caller assured me she would look into this.

Having presumed this was a triumph of hope over practicality, I thought no more about it until I received a call a few days later from the same company saying they need to arrange a hire car for me. Not only was I forced to go through the same data protection questions again (name, address, what did your pet have for dinner last night) I then had exactly the same conversation about why I can’t drive a bog standard hire car. Over the next week, I had three calls with the same questions and answers and, with a feeling of Groundhog Day,  I finally asked the person I was speaking to if they kept a record of these conversations as they might see there is a pattern emerging. She assured me that she understood the problems perfectly as she was the same person I had spoken to on previous occasions. Make sense to you? Me neither.

Still keen to fulfil their obligations, she asked if I’d like a non-fleet car. I can’t tell you what that is because I didn’t understand the explanation, but I suggested that instead of wasting several calls trying to get me to take a car hire I couldn’t drive, they could try chasing up Direct Line instead and get my car back on the road. Whether by design or coincidence, the garage called later that day to say my car would be returned that afternoon.

I mistakenly thought that would put an end to the pointless conversations but less than an hour later, I received a call from an independent hire car company saying they had been asked by Direct Line to contact me about providing a hire car. I assured them that it wasn’t necessary and that my own car was returning that afternoon. I was advised that this was highly unlikely given that Direct Line had only contacted them twenty minutes ago about my claim. I therefore felt obliged to give the chap a brief précis of the preceding two weeks’ events, thankfully now culminating in the imminent return of my car, and I took his details anyway to make him feel better about turning up late to the party. I didn’t bother to mention that if I have to make another claim in the future, I still won’t need a hire car.

Obsession with Feedback

Is it just me or has the world become obsessed with feedback? I understand the point of it when you’re buying stuff online, and Amazon product reviews are often very useful (with the exception of people who leave one star reviews for books because the package arrived late or damaged – hardly the author’s fault!) However it has now got to the point where almost everyone wants to hear what you thought of their service, and you can easily spend half your life responding to such requests.

If I remember, I usually give feedback for ebay purchases, but I rarely complete surveys unless there is a decent inducement to do so (and by “decent” I don’t mean something feeble like five percent off your next purchase provided you spend over £500 before next Wednesday). Priority is given to those surveys that offer the better inducements, such as the opportunity to be entered into a free prize draw to win a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper or a lifetime supply of chocolate.

However, my doctors surgery has now got in on the act, and after my last GP appointment I had barely got home and taken my trainers off when a text pinged through asking if I would complete a survey on my experience. Having waited nearly an hour to see my GP, I was more than happy to complete the form as I was keen to promote my new time-saving suggestion, which was to text people when the doctor is running significantly late.

I already receive text reminders from the surgery about forthcoming appointments so this should surely be an efficient next step, and since I live only a few minutes’ drive away, having advanced notice would have meant I could have set off almost an hour later and not had to twiddle my thumbs in the waiting room. I was therefore most disappointed to find that this survey consisted of just two questions: would you recommend this practice to friends or family, and please give the reason why you answered yes or no to the first question. No space for any other comments whatsoever, and no opportunities to win anything.

The other bizarre feedback request I received over the summer was connected to a power cut we experienced at the end of June. Power cuts are never convenient at the best of times, but during the long hot spell we had, not being able to open the fridge or freezer was very unhelpful; however it did lead me to make an interesting discovery. (This is as defined on the Linda Corbett scale of day-to-day activities and not, for example, a breakthrough in the field of nuclear fusion). So….you know how you can track the progress of a parcel from despatch, arrival at depot, out for delivery etc? Well I discovered that you can also track the progress of your power cut!

Being rather cheesed off that I couldn’t get any ice for my malibu and coke, and then realising I couldn’t get at the chilled cans of coke in the fridge either, I googled “Cheam power cuts” for something to do and to see if there was any indication of how long this inconvenience was going to last. On the first website I came across, there was a map of the UK with space to enter your postcode, and from there it took me to a screen that detailed when the power went off, how many houses were affected, when the engineer had been notified and the estimated duration of the power outage. So far, so impressive.

Even more impressively, I discovered I could then select a facility to sign up for text updates that included useful information such as what the problem was and what the engineer was planning to do about it. Whilst it didn’t speed up the process, it was relatively interesting (see definition above).

Thankfully our power supply came back on within the predicted timescales, and I was happily able to access both the chilled drinks and rest of the contents of the fridge. However some time later that day I received a phone call from goodness knows where asking how I managed the recent power outage. I had to ask them to clarify this question since as far as I was concerned, I didn’t manage the power outage, I experienced it. Clearly if I had been able to manage an area-wide power cut, that would mean I had some hitherto undiscovered superpower; now that would surely be an interesting discovery on anybody’s scale.

Greetings from Gatwick

Q: When is unpacking your suitcase after returning from the airport even more of a chore than usual?

A: When you haven’t even had the holiday.

Our spring break to the South of France had been booked for several months. We’d spent ages online looking at pictures of holiday homes, and then another chunk of time arranging car hire, booking assistance at the airports, booking the meet and greet parking at Gatwick, and arranging for the pet-sitter to come and look after the guinea pigs. As the date of departure approached, we ran down the food in the fridge, tidied the house, prepared several days of piggie breakfasts in the fridge, and watered the garden until we were in danger of flooding the neighbouring properties. On the morning of departure we made sure we were checked in online, checked the flight time, and checked for traffic hold ups on the motorway. So what did we miss?

Well apparently we failed to check whether the French air traffic controllers were on strike, which – for the fourth time this year – they were. Other airlines knew about this in advance as the strike had apparently been advertised in the press the day before. Even Ryanair, the airline that is not exactly famed for its customer service and would happily charge customers for using the toilets if they were legally allowed to do so, managed to send an email or text to people giving them advance notice of the strike action. EasyJet, it seemed, didn’t bother.

It was only when we scanned our boarding cards at the security area that we discovered we might not be leaving the country after all, and were directed to the customer services area where we and the passengers of several other flights now queued for attention. Despite Britain being a country where you could expect to see superior examples of how to queue in an orderly fashion, the customer services area at Gatwick North Terminal bore more resemblance to the opening day of the Harrods sale. A member of the EasyJet team began handing out leaflets to people explaining that our flights were cancelled (which we already knew) and that we could rebook these via the EasyJet website (which you couldn’t). Andrew tried to point out that according to their own website, our flight was still intending to leave on time so was not allowing anyone to rebook, however her job did not appear to extend past handing out the leaflets and this information fell on deaf ears.

After being told there were no other flights to Toulouse for five days, we decided to call it a day and give up on the holiday. There was then the small matter of reclaiming our car and finding out where on earth the suitcases had gone. (Why they were checked in in the first place if the flight was cancelled appeared to be another of those questions not on the EasyJet customer service script).

We finally arrived home four hours later and I unpacked the cases while Andrew cancelled the holiday, flights and car hire. We were still charged for one day’s meet and greet parking, so technically our car got a holiday even though its occupants did not. Having notified the travel insurance company, we then tackled the bureaucracy that is airline compensation arrangements. In theory you’d think that if you don’t get on your flight for reasons beyond your control you would be entitled to compensation. Sadly that is not the case and there are a number of “exceptional circumstances” that are excluded from the compensation scheme. These circumstances include flights cancelled due to strike action, severe weather, political instability or security risks.  In fact I’m not sure once you take out the exclusions and unravel all the red tape whether there are actually any circumstances under which you would get compensation. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath….)

Don’t Smile Please

It won’t be long before thoughts turn to holidays, and already we have a day trip to France booked with my friend and her children. In my case this will necessitate a quick brush up of the lingo before we go; like many people, French was compulsory at my school but it was learning by rote and not particularly inspiring. Somehow I managed to get a B in my French  ‘O’ Level, but have I used it since? Not really. There are also big gaps in my vocabulary so it’s probably fair to say that nowadays my French is more of an Anglo-French combo, which could definitely benefit from improving. I can just about manage “Je voudrais une slice de chocolate tiffin s’il vous plait”, but I could do with a few more handy phrases.

Rather more urgently, I discovered I also needed a new passport as the current one expires in May this year and having no idea how long it takes to renew passports these days, I decided I needed to get a move on. Last time I went through all this, there was a form to fill in and photos to get certified by someone who wasn’t your Mum or close relative.  Whilst it is all a bit of hassle, it’s nowhere near as time consuming as filling in one of the DWP’s benefit application forms so I approached the task optimistically.

I was therefore really pleased to discover that Her Majesty’s Passport Office now allows you to renew existing passports online provided that you have not changed your name or changed your appearance significantly. The questions were all fairly straightforward actually and it was only when we got to the photo bit that it got a little tricky. There are a long list of dos and don’ts, but Andrew took a number of pictures against a plain background and I chose one I thought was most appropriate and uploaded it onto the system.

Almost immediately a box popped up advising that the photo was invalid on the grounds that there was uneven amounts of shadow on my face. It seemed a bit overly fussy to me but we took another photo in better light. This one was also rejected: apparently my eyes were obscured. On closer inspection of the photo, the upper rim of my glasses was level with the top of my eyes although that’s because my nose isn’t wide enough for my glasses to sit further  up, and therefore not my fault. I discounted using blu tak on the grounds that it would look stupid and I can’t be bothered to get plastic surgery just so that I can utilise the online passport renewal system, so we went back to the wall for yet another photo shoot. This time I tried holding my head up ever so slightly as Andrew took the picture. After a few seconds wait for the photo to upload, I received a message confirming that this one was accepted. Until the following day when it was turned down. Apparently I was not looking straight at the camera.

By now I was getting a bit fed up of the whole process and showed Andrew the allegedly “unsuitable” photo which looked no different to any other picture of me. The website message was accompanied by a fact sheet containing a series of photos illustrating the good (green tick) and bad (red cross) features of a passport photo with ludicrous examples of people wearing sunglasses, covering their faces or wearing hats. It was then that I spotted a small note underneath these stupid illustrations that said If for medical reasons you believe this photo should be accepted, please state reasons below.  My motto is “if you’ve got it, use it”, and decided it would be churlish to pass up this sort of opportunity. A few minutes later, I had knocked up a sentence including the words spina bifida, neck, scoliosis, spine, shoulders, alignment, hips, added a few creative adjectives for good measure and hit enter. The following day my passport photo was approved.

I had barely finished celebrating my triumph of disability over bureaucracy when Andrew announced we would have to change the date of the French trip because there was a possibility that his football team might win something or other and play at Wembley on that day. As you may gather, I know absolutely nothing about football but was happy to acquiesce until he advised me of the proposed rearranged date: 19th of May. I can’t be the only person who has already earmarked the telly for the royal wedding so sadly the answer to that one was “Non merci. Findez vous another day for le French trip!”

Happy New Year

Have you noticed how once the Christmas decorations come down, everything seems very ordinary again? Even worse, the areas of the house that needed dusting and which I happily hid with a vast array of Christmassy ornaments, are now back on show again with added dust. Even telly programmes change after the new year and those in charge of the TV schedules seem to have a downtime after all the fab Christmas specials, films, and serials. The adverts change drastically too, to the extent that if a passing alien happened to be watching UK telly immediately after Christmas, they would mistakenly assume that all humans rush out to buy sofas every January.

One change that has occurred in the Corbett household routine for 2018 is the morning alarm clock, which now goes off at 6 am three days a week. Not for me, but for Andrew who has gone back to work for a few months, having been arm-twisted by his former colleagues into helping out on a project. There have definitely been winners and losers in this new arrangement; on the plus side I get the chance to watch my Downton Abbey DVDs all afternoon instead of defrosting the freezer (and other jobs of similar levels of excitement).

However having got used to Andrew being around during the day I have completely forgotten how organised I need to be food wise and found on a number of occasions that my lunch was limited to what I could reach in the larder. Andrew has tried to make everything as accessible as possible but it’s a balancing act between things being low enough for me to reach but high enough to deter the mountaineering mouse that made a regular visit to our larder throughout the latter part of 2017.

If you’ve ever had mice in the kitchen, you know how tricky they are to catch, and it took us a while to work out they were chewing through a ventilation grill that allows cold air to circulate under the kitchen floor and into the larder. We immediately installed a (humane) mouse trap although it became more of a mouse feeding station than a restraining device and we had to upgrade to a more serious sized gadget. On the advice of my helpful Facebook friends we even purchased Nutella for the trap but several bags of nuts, sultanas and other foodstuffs were attacked before we managed to catch and repatriate two of the little critters.

I haven’t done anything particularly newsworthy recently, having spent most of December fighting a losing battle with a snotty cold and a blocked ear, and consequently postponing anything that wasn’t connected to Christmas or eating chocolate.  I certainly didn’t feel up to organising Tiger the guinea pig’s quarterly haircut and bath extravaganza, which I suppose you could class as interesting, depending on how far away your fingers are from Tiger’s mouth. The rescheduled event took place at the beginning of January and I was actually quite pleased with my improving hairdressing skills, although Tiger was completely unimpressed with the whole bath experience and stuck her teeth in my arm by way of constructive feedback. No animals were harmed during the process, although one human needed Savlon.

On a more positive note, the alleged high pressure in my eye (as identified by the optician at Boots) has now been checked out at the hospital and is not dangerously high at all. Apparently the high readings had more to do with the fact that the machine that carries out the test could not go low enough, and the adjustable chair didn’t go high enough, so I therefore had to kneel up on a swivelly chair with the heels of my trainers sticking into my bottom, whilst trying to keep still as the machine blew a puff of air in my eye. Unsurprisingly sitting in that position strains not only neck muscles but also your eye muscles. Advice for those under 4’6” in height: bring your own booster cushion or risk being referred to the hospital. The alternative gamut of tests, whilst comprehensive, are not for the faint-hearted and the one where the ophthalmologist put what looked like a small magnifying glass on a stick against my eyeball was something I’ll remember for a long time. In the future I shall be sticking to orthopaedic stuff only.

Routine Maintenance

I don’t know about anyone else, but there are a number of entries in my calendar that come under the heading of routine check-ups; things like six-monthly dental appointments and biennial eye tests that are a bit of a nuisance and cost money but which are probably necessary in the long run. A bit like having your car serviced I suppose: you don’t have to have a pre-MOT service but if you don’t, you run the risk of getting some unwelcome surprises further down the line.

Then there are the things that in my younger days would have been viewed as beauty treatments or a bit of a party makeover, but which nowadays (having sailed past a significant birthday) have been reclassified under the heading of essential maintenance.  The way I look at it, if you’re going to go to the bother of having the engine serviced you might as well pay attention to the bodywork as well.

A couple of months ago I had my routine eye test, and I was surprised to discover that for the first time in years my reading glass prescription hadn’t changed; even more surprising was that my distance prescription had actually improved a teensy bit after six years of staying pretty much the same. It made a pleasant change not to have to spend an extra forty-five minutes in the opticians faffing about trying to find new frames that didn’t look too different from the old ones, although that didn’t stop the assistants trying to promote their latest bargain designer frames. Luckily, not working is a marvellous incentive for not spending. In fact the whole thing would have been done and dusted remarkably quickly other than for one small issue: the readings for the eye pressure test were at the high end of normal, and I was asked to go back for a retest at a different time.

At the retest the readings were, if anything, even higher and after a third retest I was informed that they would have to write to my GP about this. I decided that our upcoming holiday and other social essentials came higher up the pecking order than ringing my GP for an appointment, besides which, I have an arrangement with my body which from my side at least, I stick to. It goes like this:

I accept that several bits don’t work very well (or at all), some look like they’ve been put together with instructions borrowed from an old IKEA wardrobe, and most of the replacement metal parts never functioned like they were supposed to (and disappointingly lacked any options for bionic upgrades). The trade off is that nothing else is allowed to fall off, fall over or fall apart. Hence my annoyance at this eye pressure thingy. I mean, I’d just had my eyes tested and I could read all the letters on the chart, so how urgent could this be?

A week or so later, I had the chance to test out how good my eye sight still was as Andrew had left some general leaflets lying around on the dining room table. I used to be really good at reading things upside down – a useful skill when you wanted to read something interesting on your manager’s desk without giving the appearance of being really nosey. So I confidently glanced over at the large red font on the nearest leaflet, which said “Emergency appeal for people flying Ryanair”. I have to admit I was very puzzled by this; whilst anyone flying with Ryanair has my immediate sympathy (especially if you also require assistance), I wasn’t sure that it really warranted a full scale disaster emergency appeal. I was therefore intrigued and turned the paper round so that I could read the small print and find out what this was all about. It turns out it was an appeal for people fleeing Myanmar, which makes a whole lot more sense but has nevertheless severely dented my confidence in my reading upside down skills.

I have since received a letter from Epsom Hospital advising me that an appointment has been made at the eye clinic and to allow two hours for the appointment, so it sounds as though this is going to be a thorough investigation. My annual MOT is in December (Epsom Hospital Orthopaedic Clinic) so by Christmas I hope to be roadworthy for another twelve months. However I may just schedule a few extra touch ups to the bodywork just to make sure.

Short Person Etiquette

If you are anywhere near my eye level, you will already know how tricky life can be when you are significantly below average height. Conversations with other people are conducted with your head tipped back at a ridiculous angle that pulls more muscles than a trip to the physio, and standing in any sort of queue normally ensures that you get someone’s handbag or laptop bag in your face. Counters and bars in pubs are too high so you have to wait until the place is nearly deserted before you can get served, and you get called “love” by people you don’t know, and who are usually suppressing the urge to simultaneously pat you on the head.

These things I am prepared to grit my teeth and put up with (most of the time). However, there is a  definite line in the sand, and this summer I have been forced to take action on a number of occasions where members of the general public have unwittingly crossed that line, the most recent of these incidences having taken place at music venues. The proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall have long been a staple activity in the Corbett household, and I am pleased to report that the Royal Albert Hall has achieved silver status under Attitude is Everything’s Charter of Best Practice. In keeping with this status, their staff are very obliging and helpful as far as disabled awareness is concerned. Sadly the same cannot be said for some of the punters.

The person that sat behind me in the choir stalls and decided I was short enough not to notice they were using the back of my seat as a foot rest was soon treated to a Paddington Bear stare, followed by a pointed comment to Andrew at a volume that ensured everyone in the neighbouring seats heard as well. At a different concert, I had someone sitting behind me who assumed it would be acceptable to tap their shoe against the back of my seat in time to one of John Williams’ film scores, resulting in a very unpleasant vibration in my lower back. (Suzanne: if you’re reading this, rest assured I don’t hold AiE responsible for this behaviour). Then you have what I call the “excuse-me game” which involves members of the public trying to reach their seats at the end of the row, requiring everyone in their way to stand up first. This is very common at the Albert Hall, but I’ve lost count of the number of times that the person trying to get passed insists that I don’t need to stand up, then treads on my trainers (a hanging offence) when they realise there’s not enough room, by which time I’m half out of my seat and in danger of getting impaled on the arm rest because they’re barging passed anyway.

For next year’s Proms season, I’m considering getting a small double-sided placard made that I can hang round my neck that informs the person behind that I am not a mobile percussion instrument/footrest, my metal bits do not take kindly to being jiggled about, and that I can stand up if you wish to get to your seat but it takes a few seconds.

In my experience, most tourist spots are generally hazardous places so I prefer to do my visiting off season and definitely out of school holiday times. However, some places are just stuffed with people whatever the season, and over the years I have got very experienced at dodging people brandishing selfie sticks or slinging large camera bags over their shoulder. Nevertheless, being hit in the face by someone’s rucksack because they stepped back without looking is still a regular occurrence, and I intend to investigate whether I can get some sort of James Bond-esque attachment when I next need a new pair of trainers. I’m thinking thicker soles with built-in retractable spikes at the front might be an impressive deterrent, although in the interests of health and safety, I may consider adding a warning to my placard.

Or maybe I’ll just keep the element of surprise.