Wednesday, 8 December 2021

I'll take the service, please and keep the compensation

A failure to do

Compensation: the refuge of service providers after the efficient display and demonstration of ineptitude and incompetence in the provision of an advertised and vaunted service you first can afford and pay for, that they have so failed to deliver, you are left both speechlessly askance and quite livid with rage.

You might think I am on the roll with regards to compensations in December, for at first, it was with my laundry service provider, LaundryHeap, with a laundry and dry-cleaning turnout of 24 hours, picking up and dropping off your clothes at your home.

A willingness to fix

When I used that service in mid-November, 20 out of 58 clothing items were returned in the service window, the rest involved a back-and-forth that ran for 4 additional days with a £10.57 compensation offered at that time.

Blog - Laundered to distress by Laundryheap

I was utterly dissatisfied even after using the service for years, and I resisted posting a review apart from what I posted on my blog, keeping my counsel and holding my peace. Then out of the blue on the first of the month, Laundry Heap contacted me to refund the full-service charge for 38 clothing items that were not returned within the 24-hour service window. It amounted to £184.50.

My globetrotting baggage

Moving on, we had a situation where I arrived in Cape Town 40 hours before my baggage which from the assurance of the captain on my Air France flight from Paris to Cape Town indicated our delayed departure was to allow for baggage to be loaded on the plane. The aircraft left Paris with less than half the baggage of the passengers that boarded the plane when we stood at the carousel a few minutes before 23:00 local time.

Blog - In flights of intermittent piquancy

We learnt that baggage had been left behind before each of us got emails from Air France informing us of the possible circulatory route our baggage would take to be reunited with us by Sunday, we having arrived on Friday night. After filling in a Property Irregularity Report with information of where to deliver my baggage, if and when it arrives in Cape Town, I took to Twitter to follow up on the progress.

My baggage made it to Amsterdam on Friday night and then was put on board a plane in the morning from Amsterdam to Cape Town, to arrive just an hour short of midnight. I heard nothing more and could not contact the office in Cape Town nor leave a message as their mailbox was full.

A disorderly organisation

I assumed my baggage was already in Cape Town, so I made for the airport and through some security to a desk where I was informed my baggage was on the way to my Cape Town address without anyone having contacted me to update me of that situation. It transpired my baggage was still on the airport premises, I collected my 3 suitcases and signed for them.

I then returned to Twitter to remonstrate, wherein I was given a link to claim some sort of compensation. You wonder what for? The T-shirt, the pair of shorts and the sandals, I got to just not be overdressed for summertime in Cape Town?

Then I got a call from Air France to my South African number where I was offered a maximum compensation of £85 and 8,000 Air Miles. I could quibble because the last time Air France forgot to keep my baggage on the same itinerary and schedule as I was, they gave me 10,000 Air Miles and it was a journey to Bucharest and I was reunited with my baggage within 24 hours. But for the fact that I was a premium rate customer with a Platinum Flying Blue card meant this was throwing pennies at me to compensate for pounds of distress. I was unimpressed, we soldier on.

An apartment apart in chaos

Then, we are left wondering what attracted us to the apartment we are staying in for 28 nights in Cape Town because we were no doubt taken in by the glossy pictures and that was about it. The letting agents that injected themselves into the process after we booked the apartment on Hotels.com now have to earn their keep because they have heretofore been sitting pretty and indolent.

The agent who was supposed to meet us to show us around the apartment was not available because of car trouble, then on entering the apartment, we began to see that so many things were not as stated in the details we read about this place. There is a lift in the building even as the material suggests there isn’t as there is a bathtub in the bathroom when we were informed it only had a shower. How do you miss that, except if you have never bothered to visit the property under management?

No cooks ever cooked here

There is no microwave oven in a 21st Century apartment leaving you wondering if anyone who ever stayed here ever ordered or takeaway or even tried to cook anything with the aluminium pots that had no handles and lids without holders, it got worse when I tried to prepare a salad and there were no kitchen knives.

The wardrobe with two 1.5m rails only had 3 clothes hangers, and though the apartment had a washer/dryer with a 7kg/4kg weighting for the respective cycles, there was no clothesline and there is no vacuum cleaner in the apartment. Considering this is the 5th apartment we are staying in since we started visiting Cape Town, even we are left astonished that this is the first time we have ever had to complain about where we are staying.

We always try to create a home away from home experience with fully domesticated living, but this is at a stretch difficult in this apartment without considerable remediation that the agent has informed us the owner of the apartment would sort out, we just do not know when and it is the 5th day of our stay.

Get it right the first time, thanks

Now, this is my view of the issue of compensation, I do not need it, what I need is the service I paid for delivered to the standard and better of what was advertised without my need to complain, except to be appreciative and commend whoever and the service provider for their excellent service.

In fact, you can never fully compensate for a failed or below par service apart from paying back everything with a little more for the distress and inconvenience suffered. In my view, LaundryHeap went the furthest in the compensation stakes, Air France has not acquitted themselves well for the fact that the captain knew he was leaving France without our baggage and that it took that long to get things back to me.

Then 6 hours after I collected my baggage from the airport, I received a message from Air France indicating my baggage had arrived in Cape Town and will be delivered to my address. Honestly!

As for our apartment, we are expecting to be surprised if any of the issues were raised gets sorted out. One thing the agency and the owner of this apartment should avoid is a negative review because I will be honest and that is just the way things are.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

My boarding school story still affects me

Parents in the know

I have been watching with rapt and engaged attention the developments on the Nigerian Twittersphere about boarding school life and bullying, that began following the unfortunate death of Sylvester Oromoni, a 12-year-old pupil of Dowen College in Lagos as a result of an apparently coerced initiation into a cult. [BBC News: Sylvester Oromoni: Nigerians demand justice over Dowen College death]

My boarding school experience which started over 45 years ago was a decision by my parent to give me a grounding in our culture and traditions, as we lived in the north of Nigeria and they were from the southwest, I was born abroad with a good few things well-formed, language and speech, mannerisms and attitude, I was somewhat a stranger not integrating enough into what should be a Nigerian.

Back home to black out

On the other hand, they also wanted to toughen me up as I began to relive the separation anxiety that I experienced in England. For I was preterm by 10 weeks and that was spent mostly in an incubator in Birmingham whilst my parents worked and studied in Walsall. I also had a bit of fostering and being moved around foster carers as they progressively could not find suitable ones, one even starved me that I took to stealing food out of the refrigerator when I was back with my parents. Odd behaviour, my mother thought until she found out what was happening.

Just after my 10th birthday, the common entrance examination season for secondary school admission started, my parents were not looking for any schools near home, I was in taking exams in the old Western State and Lagos to the extent that I was away from home for over 4 months living with relations mostly met for the first time when they came to pick me up from the airport. For a while, I was with my cousins when the February 1976 coup happened.

Blog - Childhood: Shocked into adolescence

On my return home in late May, I already had another baby sister, amongst other things too distressing to talk about here and then as a listener with wild tales about paranormal activity between my aunt and our new house servant, I began seeing things, apparitions of otherworldly figures that my father dismissed as fantasy. My parents weren’t listening to me.

Blog - Thought Picnic: The reality beyond the augmented

A misfit adrift

I prepared for boarding school with much of what I needed to fit in wrong, my shorts should have been light green, they were grey, I could not tell if that was a typographic error on the part of the school or something my mother misread. I had a hefty machete to cut the grass when what I needed was the equivalent of a scimitar. This introduction to boarding school life was brutal and harsh, so I left essential personal health things undone and resumed bedwetting that rarely ever happened in the past year or so.

Soon, I was seeing things in the night, ghosts, I thought, and recited Psalm 23 all through the night until I was completely tired out. Amongst my classmates, I was in the younger cohort by an average of 2 years and were it not for my early development, I would have been picked on more, just as I was the butt of jokes and extreme ridicule.

That first term was torture and when news of my situation reached my parents, I know that my mother’s best friend tried to prevail on them to bring me back to the north, which they refused to do, confident in their reasoning that the boarding school experience was essential to my education and tough education it was I found ways to adapt and survive whilst keeping counsel of my own situation. My parents weren’t listening.

New terms of engagement

The Christmas holiday was spent in the village with my grandparents and my father came to visit for a week. In that time, we visited grottos and medicine men, had incisions in all sorts of places, drank concoctions, some too vile to describe. All to the goal of curing me of my apparent ailment or psychological illness, but never once did I see a professional, a specialist or a paediatrician in psychology or psychiatry, which with hindsight might have done me a world of good.

The first half of the second term, I spent as a day student living with my aunt because the boarding house could not endure another half-term of nightly disruptions from an apparently unstable child.

I returned to the boarding house in the second half of the second term and appeared to settle down to school. To my parents, their planning was working, I was becoming more independent and may be responsible. Responsible for some things they probably would not have liked me to be responsible for.

You get by even with the injustice

There was bullying and abuse, much that I try to forget, and I made friends with similar backgrounds, though I was more privileged in that when they were returning home for holidays, they got on trains to the north. I was picked up and taken to the airport to fly home, there are things where my parents really did lay out the red carpet for their son. Even when we moved from Kaduna to Lagos, at half-term and the end of term, the driver arrived in time to take me back home. No fuss.

In the last year at school, we returned for summer school which was going well for a few weeks when some amongst us looking for fun in their riotous youthful exuberance raided the girl’s hostel causing damage to property and harming some of the girls. Many of us were oblivious of what had happened, but rather than investigate, the Parents Teachers Association imposed collective punishment on all the boys, and we were expelled from the boarding school for the fifth year.

The vice-principal came to the hostels to see us pack up to leave, and she said to my hearing as she looked at a few of us that she knew we were not involved in that melee. I spent my fifth year as a day student, and it is a huge upheaval to my early education. For that unjust act, I have not forgiven Remo Secondary School (RSS) for that injustice from 40 years ago. I believe I would have had a better leaving school result had I stayed in boarding school.

My education was searing

The result of my boarding school experience is more far-reaching than I sometimes realise. For whilst, I am in contact with some of my school and classmates through social media, I have no enduring friendships. That time represents when I seemed to fall into clinical depression from which I did not recover or find any bearings for 5 years. It also took completely leaving my parents’ and home too. The boarding school experience had schooled me into preferring to be away.

I have not participated in any RSS old student association activities or offered any support for first the reason I gave earlier and out of the fact that part of the leadership has some of the people who bullied me in charge. It is strange that a couple of years ago, one of them attended an event I was at, I would not have recognised him and if I did, I most definitely would not have approached him.

Not another chance to do that again

The most consequential part of this boarding school experience and I was speaking to Brian about it is Nigeria. When I left Nigeria, I left for good. I have family and relations in Nigeria, my father, an octogenarian and my mother a septuagenarian, I have felt a bit shamefaced about not seeing them in a very long time, but the truth is we broke those strong affinity bonds much earlier in life when they were being strong parents.

I can forgive them the boarding school experience, but the result is the result, I am not inclined to get on the plane to see anyone, much as I love them and would probably miss them when they are gone. I do the necessary in supporting them as much as I can and that is where we are at. Boarding school shapes you, marks you, scars you, if you have a child in boarding school, be prepared for the unintended consequences. Yes, I am well into my fifties, and it is a wound that never healed, I just learnt to tend it and live with it.

Blog - Childhood: Ghosts and ghouls of my past

Blog - Thought Picnic: A child has memories that last a lifetime  

Monday, 6 December 2021

Coronavirus streets in Cape Town - L

This city wins us

Cape Town is like our city of dreams; we have so fallen in love with this place and found that we take in life with gusto finding quiet locations in this bustling city to feel the warmth of the weather and watch the idling nature be what they naturally are.

Then you wonder, there are troops and troupes, groups and teams, friends like gangs, families with children left to the abandon of carefree and unconcerned expression, that they could literally be out of control but for the grace of God.

There is no pandemic here, omicron is as Greek to them as their probably knowing such a letter existed only a week before. I thought I had flown into a curfew and would have to spend the night at the airport, the law was not as strict as it appeared to be, the knowledge that a flight had arrived late to the international airport made allowances for the passengers to be taken to their chosen destinations.

Omicron be on the run

Out at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the crowds were milling, and most facemasks were like stirrups hanging off the chin rather than covering the mouth and the nose. For those who even attempted to cover something, their noses stuck out like protuberances much longer than when Pinocchio had told his third lie.

Then as we looked around for Zakhele Popo, he approached us, not yet in his regalia and we hugged so tightly like old friends do. Everywhere else was lively and heaving, even the dry dock had a large vessel to provide a cacophonous background sound that robbed the waterfront of any stillness.

Blog - Zakhele Popo of V&A Waterfront

We made for the Marina that was secluded as usual, sat on the benches, hugged and kissed many times as the clouds billowed and rolled over Table Mountain, the winds boisterous to the point that the main door to the V&A Waterfront Watershed had to be closed. We were recognised by some and identified by others. We felt we were back. Omicron, go and find another city to give your grief.

Sunday, 5 December 2021

In flights of intermittent piquancy

The gut is a prophet

My deepest premonitions, I should trust a bit more, for they forestall frustration, disappointment, resentment, and complaint. You can set your expectations to the level where you are accommodating not so much of incompetence or even a residency in cynicism but in the realism of what can obtain when systems are not perfect because the human beings who designed it with all their best efforts and the those who use the system are just not perfect too.

My flight from Manchester to Paris, or in airport code MAN-CDG was early, something I rarely do to punish myself, it was to take off at 6:05 AM, if I had to be at the airport at least 2 hours before, it meant I had to get a cab there from home round 3:00 AM. That whole setting meant; I did not sleep overnight.

Timing without priming

The flight itself took off at 6:25 AM, 20 minutes late and with a stopover in Paris for my connecting flight being 1h25, I was concerned about me getting on that flight from Paris to Cape Town (CDG-CPT) and then of my baggage making it too. There was no time for shopping or lounging, I was straight to the gate in Paris where boarding had begun.

It was to take off at 10:10 AM, but that was delayed until 10:39 AM, meaning my Paris stopover had extended 24 minutes to 1h49. The captain had announced that the reason for our delay was they were expecting baggage, which seemed to allay my fears that my baggage would not make it, how wrong I was.

A flight in slight

On the MAN-CDG leg, the Airbus 320 had on-board Wi-Fi which I used to communicate with friends and I was expecting that same service on the CDG-CPT leg, which when I bought the flight ticket was supposed to be a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, but we ended up on a Boeing 777-328(ER), the seating configuration completely different from when I booked a seat, it was a 2-3-2 seating plan instead of a 1-2-1, though seats were occupied as if in a 1-2-1 configuration.

There was no Wi-Fi for that 10h40 journey apart from the seating being a bit cramped, yet from my reading of the flight details, it has only been in service for 5 years. Having a spare seat beside you is quite different from having a wider space to occupy, my 6-foot frame I had to pull up as my seat did not fully recline as would have been the case on the originally designated flight and my long feet always scratched the top of the foot compartment. I made myself as comfortable as I could.

To places from above

The most I do out of in-flight entertainment is listen to music, I am more fascinated by the interactive maps that I have in constant view except when it is switched off because I have fallen asleep. I was surprised that we took a southwestern bearing from Paris towards the border with Spain flying over the majestic Pyrenes which are always a wonder to behold especially in the winter.

We left Spain, just by Valencia over the Mediterranean Sea into another beautiful mountain range, the adoring folds of topology are a sight to behold from above. We did not fly over it, Mascara was to the west, it is not etymologically related to cosmetic mascara which has an Italian origin. Then the flight path took into northeast Mali, pinching the southwest of Niger and then northeast of Burkina Faso before flying the length of the Benin Republic and exiting the African landmass into the Gulf of Guinea at Porto Novo.

Flightpath from Paris to Cape Town.

The person of my baggage

The greater length of the flight was over water until South Africa and the approach to land at Cape Town. The aircrew was extremely pleasant and nice with a genial and warm disposition. I caught about 5 hours of sleep combined as it was a daytime flight, after an early lunch, we pulled down the blinds to darken the interior and caught as much kip as we could. I usually change into my pyjamas for these long-haul flights, you shouldn’t be sleeping in a suit, and I always wear compression socks.

On arrival in Cape Town, we filled in passenger tracking forms and showed my Fitness to Travel (PCR test) certificate and made it through passport control to pick up my baggage at carousel 2. That was when we learnt that more than half the baggage that should have been on our flight had been left in Paris. I think I should get an additional set of air miles for the journey of the baggage which I have been able to ascertain took the route CDG-AMS-CPT and might have arrived late on Saturday night for my collection, sometime on Sunday.

Friday, 3 December 2021

Setting off for something

Packing neat not heat

I cannot at all understand where all my friends get the idea that I pack too much when going away. In my view, I pack what needs to go with me, for it is better to have more than you need than to be met with missing what you should have taken.

I am nowhere in the league of Donatella Versace who arrived at London Heathrow in one of those Airport television programmes and she was missing a suitcase out of 63. The airport staff were searching high and low for it, it made for interesting television viewing.

In any case, because I have a Platinum card with AirFrance/KLM, I have the standard quota of 2 pieces of checked-in luggage and one more. Since there were things, I was taking over for myself and for Brian, I utilised the full quota, even as my friends protested over the phone that I was going to overdo it, I am moderation personified, damn it.

Loyalty creates priority

Obviously, I had to call an Uber XL to carry 3 suitcases, a suit bag, and a rucksack, all brimming with goods, as one does. It meant I had to get a trolley at the airport to get my stuff to the check-in desk. There was a long queue for the standard check-in and just 2 people ahead of me in the Sky Priority queue.

At the desk, I presented my passport, then proof of vaccination, 3 jabs of Pfizer BioNTech and a Fitness to Travel Certificate, a negative result from a COVID PCR test, which is standard for any travel consideration and thankfully a lot less expensive compared to what I paid to the same test in December last year. The directors of that company are probably sunning themselves on their yachts in Dubai having made a killing in the pandemic. Disaster capitalists, all of them.

Far, a longer way to lounge

Then, I was through to security, the Fast-Track Lane as I displayed containers of liquid, electronic devices, then through a scanner where I had inadvertently forgotten a pound coin in my pocket and some creams were secreted in my rucksack. It’s been a long week.

Terminal 2 at Manchester Airport is new, and I had never been through it before. I cannot understand why the lounges are so far away, tucked away from the madding crowd and presenting an ordeal to get to if you use a cane or need some mobility assistance.

Once late, twice deflated

My flight to Paris was to take off at 6:05, the lounge had been open early and it was good to settle there for just about an hour before leaving to board my flight which left Manchester 35 minutes late and that ate into the time I would have had to shop and lounge in Paris, I had quite a short stayover, I had to go straight to the gate for my flight to Cape Town.

Now, I was expecting to be on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, that was what was advertised when I booked my flight, well, fancy ending up on a Boeing 777-300, cramped, noisy, no WiFi and well, let me not complain, I sip the champagne and lie down, it is a 10:40 hour flight to Cape Town. Savoir-faire.

This is deep stuff now

In thought without words

All year long, we have been preparing for this, the almost 11 months that we have persevered, supporting each other with daily communication, along with the occasional tiff, it has not been easy at all.

Strangely, I do not have that excitable buzz of youthful wistfulness and exuberance, I seem to be my totally English self, betraying no emotion at all. I guess we are now in serious territory, it is not a longing infatuation with the novelty of discovery even if the pandemic insinuated two 11-month separations in the last two years.

This man means a lot more to me than I am sometimes willing to volunteer, he is my partner and everything in me is yearning to be in his arms. That, itself would do that talking, as at times, the most and best is said when nothing at all is spoken. I’m in love.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

World AIDS Day 2021 - A reflection

I was unpersuaded

World AIDS Day is what I mostly celebrate in quiet contemplation rather than with fanfare and symbolism. I reflect on the life that I have lived, the good fortune that has smiled on me and the privilege of living at a time when possibilities existed long after all hope was literally lost.

I have been living with HIV as diagnosed since September 2002, I might well have had it for much longer, I cannot tell. At diagnosis, I threw caution to the winds and lived in a careless and carefree world, almost daring the worst to happen, like I was invincible and inviolable.

In mid-2005, I attended a medical check-up where the consultant proposed a regime of strong Vitamin B medication with some prophylaxis to protect my kidneys, it seemed a rather severe action to take when I was not presenting any issues. For that consultation, however, my wallet was lightened by €1,800. The knowledge and experience made me quite averse to learning more about what more I could do, including getting a second opinion.

The signs were screaming

By late 2008, the chef de reception, Javier, at one of my holiday haunts had noticed things about my pallor and wellbeing, he suggested I have my health checked out, I went through the motions but did not do a lot about it. Then in June 2009, some friends came to visit me in Amsterdam, and we went out to Kinderdijk to see the windmills, but on our way back, I was overcome with tiredness and weakness I had never experienced before, on the day they left, I broke out with shingles.

Blog - Javier

Meanwhile, I was nursing what I thought was athlete’s foot on the sole of my left foot, it was not clearing up, it was getting painful and beginning to weep. Another part of my folly kicked in, I seemed to desire more miraculous healing than a medical intervention. All that messing around in me, I still travelled to Berlin for the Christopher Street Day celebrations, then returned home to nurse myself back to a semblance of health.

Laying on of wands

In August, the foot became even more bothersome, and I was still desperately seeking some sudden rather than a gradual easing of my pain. A visit to a friend who was able to persuade me to attend her birthday, having recently had cancer in remission, she introduced me to new pain medication, which helped a bit as I endured in my foolishness.

I travelled to London in early September to attend a church service with Jerry Savelle, a word of faith preacher ministering, who laid hands on me, and I felt nothing, but it was at that point that came to my senses, I think. It was not going to be a magical moment.

I showed my best friend my foot and told him how I was suffering, not giving him the time to even say much than just acknowledge that he might just lose me. I told him; I had allowed my condition to deteriorate to a stage that I might have no other options left.

Only left with Plan B

Returning home to Amsterdam, I sorted out my insurance provisions and visited my doctor on an emergency appointment because I was in excruciating pain. She took one look at my foot and immediately said, this looks serious, I need to refer you. There and then she booked an appointment with the hospital, dressed my foot and prescribed some strong painkillers. My visit to the hospital two days later called for a further referral which was scheduled for the Tuesday after the weekend, once I told them I was HIV positive, they had reached conclusions I was yet to realise.

The HIV until September 2009 had been untreated since the September 2002 diagnosis and what was presenting was evident immunodeficiency, opportunistic infections, and the heretofore untreatable athlete’s foot, was in fact, Kaposi’s Sarcoma (a kind of skin cancer), I had full-blown AIDS.

I am fortunate and privileged

What World AIDS Day means to me is even in that extremely dire situation, I lived in a country with healthcare, service and support to attend to my immediate need, that there was an extremely high level of medical competence and expertise available to me without castigation or judgement, I just presented a challenge they had met many times before.

Fundamentally, they had confidence borne of experience and understanding drawn from the many cases and lives before mine whose contributions to the body of knowledge in the management and treatment of HIV and AIDS whether they survived or not meant that people like me had better chances of survival. I was not a lost cause.

Your miracle is in medicine

Indeed, it was a medical intervention that saved me, I did not abandon my religious beliefs, for that really helped me keep my mind and my head through the toughest times and I have told of that in many stories. I have by adversity been won to the miracle of medicine and medical expertise, why it matters, and it is not a negation or a repudiation of any other belief system, it is as much a gift to humanity as it is the emancipation and progression of civilisation.

You ask, how could someone so westernised, educated, enlightened and knowledgeable have allowed his condition to deteriorate to such a life-threatening situation? Then you begin to understand that the strengths and weaknesses of our humanity are myriad, amid apparent wisdom and knowledge can be stark ignorance, irrationality, stupidity and worse. Sometimes, we just need to forgive our own stupidity so we can learn to use a bit of wisdom.

Let’s just say, we have been steeped in such bad education that the process of unlearning to allow some new learning can be painfully difficult and consequently life-affirming. I am well, healthier than I have been in decades, on antiretroviral medication with an undetectable viral load for over 12 years. All thanks to medicine and the wealth of lives and deaths that have made it possible for all of us living with HIV to be productive members of our small and large communities. This needs to be shared around the world more.

Happy World AIDS Day!

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