I failed maths – now what?

It is well known in my office that I am not a numbers person. In fact my profile in our system has me reflected as Lesley “Mathematician” Keyter. I still haven’t found out whose little joke that was! I like to think of myself as being more on the creative side – hence putting together fantastic travel trips is what I love to do. COVID has, however, other ideas as to how to make me suffer.

Just about every file I deal with now has some “bookeeping” tasks associated with it. Whether it is getting a breakdown from a supplier as to which amounts will be refunded and which will not, or perhaps working out the value of the return portion of an air ticket. Don’t even get me started with airline taxes. You need a Calculus degree to start working through those. ATSC and AIF and goodness knows what else – don’t forget GST.

I clearly remember the day that my career path changed forever – it was back in high school when my maths teacher gently suggested that maybe I should learn to type as my last maths exam was a miserable failure. So off to the typing class I was sent. I am dating myself now but in those days we did not have electric typewriters – we used the old Hermes manual typewriters – and especially frustrating they were specially made for schools so there we no letters on the keys – no none! It was all about the old ASDF ;LKJ…. how many people know what I am talking about?

Here we go – for those who want to touch type. This came naturally to me for some strange reason and before I knew it I could slam along at 60 words per minute. This was very useful in the field of law where I ended up. Working for Senior Counsel in South Africa kept me on top of my game and I didn’t even need to do shorthand – just talk and I will type as fast as you talk. Sort of like those court reporters you see on Law and Order – except they have a different kind of machine.

Of course everything has changed now even more. Many people can do that 60 word a minute on their phone. That is a skill I haven’t mastered yet and I am in total admiration of those who hold their phone and type with two thumbs. Wow! Naturally we have to learn a whole new language now as we use texts more and more to communicate. Things like idk nm iso nntr…. it’s another language. But at least it is not maths!

Before you all get concerned out there do not worry! I have a fantastic back up team who can really add up, subtract and do amazing sums! I’ll just stick to finding out how to get you to Papua New Guinea!

To mask or not to mask – that is the question

I am sure you have seen numerous articles about whether or not it should be mandated that we wear a mask, whether or not it is good or bad for you and if you breathe in your own carbon dioxide by wearing one. The debate is endless – but hey, it is not new. Back in the Great Spanish Flu pandemic medical professionals urged people to wear masks and it stirred up just as much controversy and passion as it does today. I read a great article called The Mask Slackers of 1918 by Christine Hauser – here’s the link https://nyti.ms/2XpK4vD

“The masks were called muzzles, germ shields and dirt traps. They gave people a “pig-like snout.” Some people snipped holes in their masks to smoke cigars. Others fastened them to dogs in mockery. Bandits used them to rob banks.”

Well clearly none of us like wearing masks but I had to chuckle at the description that it gave people a “pig-like snout”. Certainly some of them are not that flattering, let’s face it. I saw a really weird one the other day on facebook which was a see-through mask.

Yeah – doesn’t that just give you the creeps? I get where they are coming from because it is really hard for people who rely on lip reading and so there is a need for a transparent mask. Just something about this one that freaks me out. Reminds me too much of this …

and I have no idea why – after all it is not see through. Maybe because you can see his mouth??

So the tough times we are going through looks pretty similar to what people went through in 1918 – even the newspapers look the same as our social media today –

So anyway – we all have to wear masks so we might as well get on with it. And some people really are getting on with it. Creative ideas for their own masks with colourful fabric and fun designs for the kids. If we have to do this we might as well have fun. Right? Here are some of the funniest I found ….

And finally – some words from the most eloquent –

“A mask tells us more than a face” – Oscar Wilde

The world’s happiest place?

“The world’s happiest place” – where can this be? Well of course – no other than Disneyworld. Funny how the world’s happiest place sometimes seems full of crying children – but in fairness my experience of this was late at night when little ones probably want to go to bed. After being closed for so long the mouse fans are excited about getting back to all things Disney. So excited in fact that one of them decided to take a couple of guns along – just in case!

No kidding – it was reported in the Daily Mail that a woman from Georgia tried to enter the park with a .45-caliber and a 9mm semi-automatic hidden in her child’s diaper bag. My goodness me. The mind boggles. Did she think she would need protection in the happiest place on earth? She entered the park with her husband and two kids – but guess where she tucked the guns? Into her diaper bag. Yup. No accounting for folks. She did also have a bag of cannabis in said diaper bag too! Maybe just to take the edge off walking around with a stroller in a place where you might be attacked???? By a crazy mouse????

It might be the world’s happiest place but it can sometimes be the world’s weirdest place. Although in fairness to Disney it is the people not the park. Some of the strangest things to happen ….

A couple tried to smuggle their 6 month old baby onto the Space Mountain ride. Someone heard a noise from the duffel bag! Maybe they didn’t have a sitter and just wanted to do the ride together.

At least they tried to take their child with them – unlike the other couple who just tied their child to a pole while they took a ride … from this Buzzfeed post.

I once saw parents tie their leashed child to a pole so they could ride Splash Mountain. They were greeted with security when they came back to retrieve the poor kid.”

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Yes the need to get on the ride overcomes all objections – as this witness reports –

I once witnessed a guest trying to stuff her dog in a locker so she could go on Grizzly River Run at Disney California Adventure.”

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Disney’s Haunted Mountain ride is a popular place to sprinkle the ashes of a loved one who was a Disney fan. This is a huge hassle for the park staff as they have to stop the ride and clean up!

“You cheated on me!” – a family of four arrived for dinner at Cinderella’s Castle. Halfway through the meal the dad stood up and tapped his glass for attention and then announced that his wife of 15 years had been cheating on him. He then left with the kids…. crying wife sitting at the table in shock!

And then there was the family that nearly froze to death right in the centre of Epcot. It’s true. One of our team was down there and it was a somewhat cooler day in Jan… but listen people I am talking about Florida here. A young couple had entered Epcot, maybe somewhat ill prepared and the mom started freaking out at her husband because it was so cold she was worried the baby would get frostbite. The Canadians nearby (decked out in shorts and flip flops) just stared in astonishment.

GO CANADA GO

Bye bye buffet

Looks like buffets may never be the same again in a post COVID world. In fact they might disappear completely and that could be a good and a bad thing.

Traditionally on a cruise the idea was that you would put on a pound a day and a lot of that is due to the buffet because really – we have a hard time monitoring what we eat. You know what it’s like. You wander around the buffet when you first arrive just to do a recce and see what’s on offer. Then you grab your table and go back and join the line of your fellow passengers with plates in hand all looking a bit like a bunch of Oliver Twists asking for “some more please sir”. Just when you have got what you came for you happen to look at the plate of your neighbour in line …. Hang on, you say to yourself. What’s he got? Hmmm – maybe I will have a bit of that.

And so it goes on – with a bit of this and a bit of that and before you know it your plate is overflowing – and not in the biblical sense. You make your way back to your canteen style table to get yourself organised. Why does it always feel like a canteen however posh the ship might be?

SIDE NOTE – the origin of the buffet – In the 19th century, supper, a lighter meal some hours after the main dinner, was sometimes served as a buffet (and so called), especially late at night at grand balls, where not everyone present would want to eat, or at the same time, or in the same quantity. Even when many servants were on hand, there might be an element of self-service. The term buffet originally referred to the French  sideboard furniture where the food was placed, but eventually became applied to the serving format. (Wiki)

The buffet has always been seen as one of the places where you can “catch something” and no wonder with all those serving spoons lying in dishes waiting for our dirty hands – because despite the cruise lines putting in hand washing stations at the entrance to the buffet how many times have you seen people just walk right past without washing their hands? And the poor attendant has no right to insist that they do so. Well you can say goodbye to that sort of buffet because if the ships in post-COVID have buffets it is going to be very different indeed.

On a cruise ship all your meals are included so you don’t need to go bonkers in the buffet as for sure you won’t starve to death or be charged any extra for having 3 meals a day. In other spots, however, it is a bit different. Take Vegas for example. One of the things it is renowned for is the “Eat All You Can Buffet”. For anyone on a cheap trip this is a brilliant way to cram three meals into one – breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one go.

There are of course some places where you never escape the buffet – even when all meals are included it is buffet breakfast, buffet lunch and buffet dinner. This is a popular option at some of the all inclusive resorts. We always worry about getting sick on holiday and I can recall getting advice such as avoiding the salads and only eat foods that are completely cooked. Now we have to worry more about getting COVID than getting Montezuma’s Revenge.

Growing my bucket list

I live for travel. So does that mean right now I am not living? Not really. I usually have a trip coming up on my calendar and just love the excitement of planning to travel and then even packing. I have everything travel related packed in one handy place – all the “stuff” I need on my trip – special bag for my electronics, another little bag with travel umbrella, ipad case …all those sorts of things. Well the other day when I planned a little “escape” from the city for a night in Canmore I actually forgot what my carry on suitcase looked like! Can you believe that?

I went down to the basement to look for a bag and there it stood – my lovely, faithful wheelie bag just standing in the corner looking folorn. Oh what joy to discover him sitting there. It was like I had a new bag all over again. Zipped it open, checked in the pockets – so exciting.

So apart from playing with my suitcase what else is there for an travel addict to do? Well I could really work on that Bucket List. Update it, cross off the places I have been and see what is still left on it. So let’s have a look – in no particular order – of what is actually on this magical list.

The Amazon … I really like the look of this place and I would love to do it on one of the small river boats. If Brazil gets itself sorted out I could tack on a visit to Rio but the jungle would be the real attraction.

(Pause for thinking …. trying to be strict and not put my favourite places in that I would like to revisit like – Italy’s lake district, Ireland, WW1 and WW2 battlefields in Europe, Venice, Malta, Morocco, Uluru in Australia…. oh stop, there are just too many).

The Douro River … I have visited Oporto and loved it but a trip down the Douro River would be amazing. Definitely high up on the list there.

The Corinth Canal … I would love to sail through this canal – it’s only 25 metres wide and steeped in history. It would have to be on a small ship – there have been a couple of larger ships do the crossing but it has been a tight fit.

Israel …. whatever your belief or faith there is so much of our history tied up in Israel and while there I would add on Jordan to the visit.

And one thing that I would definitely like to include on my bucket list would be a cruise without any port stops! Does that sound weird? I know many people look at “sea days” as being boring but I love them. However there is a good reason for no port stops in this time of COVID – that is why some of the expedition cruises are putting out journeys, sometimes as long as 14 days, without a single port stop. Imagine that – but you are not stuck on the ship – every day you have the chance to go out on kayaks or zodiacs and explore. Now that sounds like the best of both worlds – no ports – just nature!

What’s your bucket list? I would love to be inspired.

A holiday at home

So as we still cannot really travel out of Canada many of us are looking at taking a holiday in our own country and using this opportunity to explore the many delights of Canada that have enticed thousands of foreign visitors from all over the world. RV sales are booming and the highway out to Banff and beyond is very busy.

As a child growing up in England we did not have the opportunity to travel “abroad” as they called it. We were stuck with having holidays at home and most of the time we were lucky to grow up in beautiful parts of the UK such as Cornwall, Somerset, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There was always something to see on a day’s trip. No suggestion of staying in a hotel. That was just for rich people and travelling salesmen. So we would pile into the car with a biscuit tin filled with sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. What is it about the English and hard boiled eggs? Goodness me!

So us kids were very surprised when Mom and Dad announced that we were gong on holiday – “a proper holiday”. It was to one of those holiday camps run by Butlins. Very organised – like a week in the army. I blogged about this a few years ago and for those who missed it here is the link

https://thetravellady.blog/tag/butlins-holiday-camps/

It was an experience that taught me that I do not like “organised fun”.
Needless to say after that experience we stuck closer to home for our fun. Now that we find ourselves unable to travel – at least out the country – I find myself looking at what is out there to discover in Canada so that I can satisfy this travel craving that keeps welling up inside me at unexpected moments. A weekend in Canmore just recently was a good start to escaping my Calgary bubble as I discussed with Sue Deyell and Andrew Schultz.

I realised how much I had missed the very real treat of having someone else cook a meal for me. Bliss! The simple things in life. Now I am looking further afield and realise that I have actually done fairly well in exploring Canada but obviously there is so much more to do.

I checked off my list recently –

  • Tofino – loved it – favourite beaches there
  • Vancouver and Victoria – fabulous food
  • Niagara – great wine tasting
  • Montreal and Quebec City – beautiful – Quebec City is like a little bit of Europe in Canada
  • Yellowknife – spectacular but too cold for me
  • Halifax and surrounds – loved the music and the people
  • St John’s Nfld – my favourite place in Canada

Now I am looking for inspiration – any ideas?

No more carry on

Well the news that Alitalia is banning use of the overhead bins for flights into Italy is interesting and is sure to spread to other airlines. The reason of course is the enhanced safety protocols because of COVID. The thinking is that this will cut down the time that people spend standing in the aisle while everyone tries to fit oversized bags into the overhead bins. This makes perfect sense and the subject of carryon is one that can stir deep passions in people – either the carriers or the carry on haters.

The carriers say that they love the overhead bins and never check a suitcase. This is probably very true for business travellers who maybe only have one overnight and a day full of meetings. They want to be able to get on and get off with their bag and get the hell out of the airport and off to their meeting.

The carry on haters say that people bring too much onto a plane and it takes too long to board and too long to deplane. In addition there have been occasions when someone’s too heavy suitcase falls out of the overhead bin and bonks someone else on the head. Then we have our teeny tiny short person with a super heavy carry on bag. Now this usually tends to be a woman – because women are shorter than men usually – and being a short woman I can say this. Trying to get that heavy bag up into the overhead bin is hard if not impossible. Most carry on bags these days have handles and buckles and wheels – none of this is easy.

Whichever camp you fall into I can bet anything you have been irritated at least once in your travel life by either getting on the plane late and finding all the overhead bins full or getting to your designated seat in the front part of the plane only to find that some doofus has put his bag in your overhead bin while he toddles off to his seat at the back (which is why he was boarded first). The cheekiest of all overhead binners is of course the one who books economy but sticks his bag in the overhead bin in business class. Good try!

There are those who vow never to check a suitcase again after having lost one holding treasured possessions and favourite pj’s (never to be found again and probably auctioned off in a warehouse somewhere on the other side of the world). There are the others who like the flexibility of travelling with one small suitcase for their vacation (and wearing the same clothes every day for 3 weeks). I have done that before, and say that with pride. One carry on bag for three weeks holiday in Ireland. Shoes are the biggest problem because they are bulky but I did it nevertheless. Of course when I got home I immediately burnt the entire contents as I never wanted to see those clothes again.

It will be interesting to see which airlines follow suit. One thing I should point out is that as this overhead bin ban (wow that could be a hip hop song) was mandated by the Italian Government the airline is waiving its checked luggage fee. Now at least there is some silver lining!

New airline seats – new rules

The travel advisory has not yet been lifted but the airlines are getting ready for you – and they can’t wait! But it is going to be a little different. From the little that we have seen so far of what it is like to fly during COVID-19, it is apparent that flying is not going to be the same. Masks are required – naturally and in flight service is just not there. Instead a bag on your seat with hand sanitizer, face mask and a bottle of water awaits. But what about social distancing?

Well, as there is not a great demand right now for flights it is easy for the airlines to keep half the seats vacant so as to give some semblance of social distancing but the problem with that is simple economics. There is no way an airline can operate permanently with half loads. Some creative designers are coming up with ways to make our flights more comfortable and “spaced out”.

How about a double storey aircraft – half the seats on the higher level with access via a little ladder and the other half underneath? Everyone gets to stretch out and space out. This design has attracted the interest of several airlines. Would you like to travel like this?

I think it looks like you would have to find somewhere else to stow your carry on luggage – but this could be the answer.

Another designer has come up with this idea called the Janus seat (named after the two faced Roman god). This idea looks pretty good to me.

There’s a lot of plexi glass there to clean which is my only concern but it does give a bit of a better situation for the poor middle-seater. But then again maybe not. Can you see how the middle seat person is basically looking face to face with the person sitting next to them. It would make for some awkward eye contact moments. Experts don’t really think these new designs will take off. Airline seating has rigorous testing to go through – as Will Horton comments in his article in Forbes Magazine –

“New aircraft seats have to withstand a 16g dynamic force. A roller coaster has forces about 4g and a Formula One car 6g. The plastic barriers have to be strong enough to remain intact, but not so hard they could cause injury if a passenger’s head suddenly crashes into it.”

So maybe this is just another whimsical journey of aircraft designers for ideas that never really take off (‘scuse the pun). Like the saddle style standing seats. We saw a lot of interest in these but not a single airline purchased or installed them. The seats look like a bicycle saddle

You wouldn’t want to do a long flight on these puppies!

And the other new rule of course – wearing a mask – which might be difficult on a long flight and certainly difficult for flight attendants when someone chooses to be an ass and refuses to wear one for no good reason. Like the guy who got thrown off an American Airlines plane for refusing to wear one. He kept 122 passengers waiting while he argued with the flight attendant and when she said it was the rule he said it was not a Federal rule. She basically said to him “my house, my rules, get off”. He was very indignant and has now been banned from flying American Airlines.

So masks are no doubt going to be part of our lives for a while now – although it is hit and miss these days. Half the people in the supermarket with masks and the other half not. And for those with a sense of humour? Well there is no end to what can be used for a face mask …

Out of your comfort zone?

When you go away somewhere on vacation do you find that you end up doing things that are totally out of your comfort zone – just to fit in – or make do? I am a great one for not being the squeaky wheel and blending in with the rest of the group – or even with the family but sometimes I have to admit I have done things that are way beyond my comfort zone.

For example – the whole group decides that it would be fun to go do the zipline when you are in Costa Rica. Would I go on something like that if it was left to me – hell no! But c’mon Lesley – you are the team person remember. Can’t be left out. So I end up spending 1 hour of shaking with a mixture of nerves and adrenalin (and that was just in the bus on the way to the zipline centre). Just keep smiling, Lesley, I say to myself. No-one will ever guess how scared you are.

Actually it wasn’t that bad after I had done a couple of “lines”. My goodness that sounds like something out of a drug movie. Anyway – it was good and I was glad I did it and I will never do it again. Nope – next time I will opt for a day at the spa.

The other thing that freaks me out is the drag lift at the ski resort. Oh my goodness – I would rather get on the chair any time than be towed up one of those things. No wonder they call it drag – I don’t know how many times I have almost been dragged face down. I did it but don’t need to do that any more either!

And then there was the day of taking the stick in a glider. Now I am sure you know that a glider is a plane with no engine – usually just holds two people and you fly it with a stick – that’s a pretty basic explanation. Well of course when you are doing a guest flight you get up in the air (usually towed up by a small plane and then “released” into the skies) and then your friendly host pilot casually says “Why don’t you take the stick”. “Why don’t you go to hell” I think to myself. But no…. I smile and say “Of course” and then go through 30 minutes of terror while this engine-less plane dips and bumps around the sky. Phew – don’t have to do that again. He married me!

Then there was the time when I lived in Swaziland that we decided to do a weekend road trip to Mozambique. Just to get perspective Swaziland is a small landlocked Kingdom in Southern Africa right next to Mozambique – so just a 4 hour drive to the capital Maputo (used to be called Lourenco Marques).

Swaziland has since been renamed Eswatini

Now this would have been in about 1982 or so and at this time it was still in the middle of the Civil War (see the timeline below).

1962-74 Independence struggle: Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) formed.

1975 – Independence: Frelimo rules under single-party system with leader Samora Machel as president.

1976-92 – Civil war.

1986 – President Machel is killed in an air crash, Joachim Chissano installed as president.

What were we thinking? Well again I just wanted to make everyone happy and when I became friendly with the Mozambique Ambassador to Swaziland he invited (no insisted) that I should visit Mozambique and he would arrange the tourist visa personally. What could I say?

So tourist visa in hand we packed up the car and headed East to the border where we successfully exited Swaziland with no problem and I practised my poor Portuguese as we went through the Mozambique passport control.

Then the fun began ….

Just 15 minutes down the road in the middle of nowhere a group of ragged looking men appeared in the road carrying AK47’s. They ran over to the driver’s window which my husband rolled down and then started shouting at him in Portuguese. Of course he didn’t understand a word so I was leaning across trying to explain that we had a visa and we were going to visit Maputo on the invitation of the Ambassador. That wasn’t working very well and needless to say I was becoming a bit tense. With that suddenly the Irish took over and I threw open my car door and marched around to them. With all of my Portuguese wheels racing I gave them a thorough telling off in fluent Portuguese and showed them the visa signed by the Ambassador. I said he would be ashamed of how his countrymen had greeted an invited visitor.

It worked.

The AK47’s were lowered, heads lowered, eyes to the ground they shuffled and apologised and came round and opened my car door for me. Obrigado! Obrigado! I said … got into the car and we drove off quietly. My husband just looked at me and said “What the hell?” and we collapsed into nervous laughter.

We arrived at the posh Polano Hotel and felt like suddenly we were living in the old Communist Bloc (which we were really). Toilet paper on ration and soap bars cut in half. Not much in the way of decent food at the hotel but we headed down to a recommended restaurant on the sea front and there treated ourselves to a slap up meal of Prawns Peri Peri. Wow – it was amazing. We were surrounded by Eastern Europeans and Russians who had come out to help in the struggle for power but they were just out for a good weekend too. The waiters were so happy to see us as of course there was no tourism from South Africa any more and they were excited to speak English again. Yes that was definitely a trip out of our comfort zone and when I think back on that – wow what a chance we took.

Sometimes you can experience great things outside your comfort zone – you just have to take that first step.

Road trips

These might be more popular this year – until at least the skies open up and let us fly away to distant lands . Road trips sound so romantic. They are the things of great literature.

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

Travels with Charley in Search of America – John Steinbeck

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.”

And of course you can never consider a road trip without at least watching National Lampoon’s Vacation. It just never gets old.

We often hear of those who do those cross country road trips across Canada from one coast to another. It sounds adventurous and exciting – but not if you are 9 years old. Definitely not. I speak from experience.

I lived in many places as a child because my father was in the Royal Navy but one place we always travelled to – whether we lived in Scotland or in Cornwall – was Birmingham, my grandmother’s home. Slap bang in the middle of England it meant a long long car drive to get there. We hated it.

First of all my Dad would insist on getting us up at 4 am “let’s get an early start, kids”. As he chased us out of bed at that ungodly hour we were greeted by a plate of scrambled eggs. I am not joking. His theory was (after many years on aircraft carriers around the world) that a hearty breakfast settled the stomach and prepared you for the day. We were not great on these long journeys and perhaps in a way his idea worked …. for a while. We forced down the scrambled eggs and climbed into the back of the very packed up car (3 kids in the back) and headed off into the dark night.

Now in those days (and I am NOT saying how many years ago) there were not the same number of highways as today in the UK so very often we had to go through cities. By this time us 3 in the back had been swung around that many corners and up and down the hills of the Cornish and Somerset countryside that we were well and truly ready for a good “up chuck”. Those scrambled eggs had been sitting there just waiting for the chance. And Oh Yes, there was no way Dad was stopping.

I recall travelling around the big ring road in Bristol at rush hour with the two back windows open – my head out on one side and my sister out on the other side – to the disgusted fascination of the early morning commuters. The car was a real mess!

Those were the days of no seat belts and mom and dad having a ciggy in the front while we squabbled in the back. You got into the back seat and you claimed your territory and you held on to it for dear life. If your sibling’s foot dared to even touch yours it would end up in a kicking match in the back with mom turning around to give us a swipe – if she could catch us. If it really got out of control then dad would stop the car. That was Serious – with a capital S.

Nowadays the estimated travel time from Cornwall to Birmingham is about 4 and a half hours – it used to take us 8.

Yup – road trips might be the thing for these times of COVID and travel restrictions but it is certainly no kid’s idea of fun.