Saturday 29 September 2012

Villa Bellagio - A Welcome Result

Speaking up
The saga about my access to wireless internet services at my hotel took a new turn yesterday when I decided to write to the Villa Bellagio head office about the issues of customer service and problem management I have written about over the last few days not failing to attach the picture of a red cross over the free Wi-Fi service icon.
The need to escalate this problem was evident from the fact that I had lost complete confident in the manager to seek a problem resolution or even provide a temporary solution to the problem.
Presence matters
Evidently, she just did not have the bearing even in her own organisation to first take ownership of the problem and then think outside the box as one would have expected considering the hotel itself had a private Wi-Fi service that could have been co-opted without unnecessary angst.
I soon got a reply from the head office explaining the situation which appears to corroborate the manager’s stories. The management of the hotel had only recently changed and Swisscom terminated the contract without notice, so the hotel has been working to restore the service, though it has been taking quite a while.
It goes without saying that one does need a presence and bearing to convincingly carry a title and an office along with the gravitas that allows people to trust your views and opinions. The hospitality industry is not for shrinking Violets and the demands of customers can be quite varied requiring differing solutions calling on initiative and good managerial ability.
Initiative is key
I see in this case that I was ahead of her in determining what the problem was and seeking an appropriate solution and in my correspondence with the head office; they offered to grant access to the private Wi-Fi service.
In thanking them, I asked that the information be available to grant me access on my return to the hotel but I have just received an email now with the password to the private Wi-Fi service and the offer of a discounted stay if I do visit again.
A result
I think we have a result along with a whole litany of how problems should be owned and properly managed to the satisfaction of the customer.
Now, I do hope that when I type in the password for the Wi-Fi access, it works first time and Villa Bellagio can begin to repair the damage their reputation has suffered so far.
However, this is not the complete solution for everyone, but it is for now good enough for those who have endured the loss of this service for 10 days.

Friday 28 September 2012

Thought Picnic: Villa Bellagio - a case of a manager beyond her depth

A bad manager
When  I consider the issues I have with Villa Bellagio, the hotel I have stayed in for 2 weeks now that has failed to resolve the 10 day loss of wireless internet service, I see a serious deficit in problem management that I put down mainly to the manager at first and then to the brand.
The hotel in advertsiements clearly touts that it offers free Wi-Fi, it is part of the product set and like I have said before, one of the things people check for when booking a hotel is the availability of Internet connectivity, either wired or wireless. It is also becoming uncompetitive to charge for that service and this trend was started by hotels with the Radisson brand name and it has extended to the group and now beyond that.
The lies are many
The manager had a story as regards the loss of this service for the first 4 days which was far from the truth when she blamed it on Swisscom saying other hotels were having the same problem when our own independent investigation determined that the hotel or possibly the hotel chain itself had cancelled their contract with Swisscom.
Apparently she was not aware of that situation until I informed her of the situation. What amazed me was how such a unique selling point in the hospitality industry could have been missed by a manager running a hotel with about 100 rooms.
I accept the fact that we are unusual clientele for the fact that we have spent more the typical average stay of less than 3 nights such that the story that might have worked for short-stayers will not work for us, but it makes the issue nonetheless urgent.
No problem ownership
She never once owned the problem from the very start, everything else was to blame, Swisscom first, then her head office and now probably us for being a nuisance demanding the service be restored.
She no doubt must have had a discussion with her staff because I first heard of the “it is a complementary service” line came from one of the desk clerks, but she was missing a fundamental point which was, complementary or not, this was part of hotel service just as much as one will expect to have one’s room cleaned, clean bed linen, a television and even a fridge, if not a mini-bar.
No re-mediation steps
Between the hotel group and the hotel, they cannot have been unaware of the pending loss of this service and facilitated a replacement, first with immediate re-mediation pending the installation of the new service with presumably the service provider I am told they have signed up with, but I am nowhere near believing that she has told the truth here either.
In fact, I have come to the conclusion she will manufacture any story to get her out of a sticky confrontation with me that I will need to contact the head office myself and remonstrate about this dissimulating manager.
Beyond her depth
Beyond the being a hotel desk clerk able to check-in and check-out middle-aged to retired Far-East Asian guests, this lady who has been promoted well beyond her capabilities cannot really manage a hotel, she by terms looks no different from her staff and lacks the requisite aptitude to manage even the simplest situation of giving priority to rooms that clearly have “Please Make Up My Room” door signs over other non-urgent rooms. [See earlier blogs on this.]
That it has taken this exceptional situation to recognise a fundamental flaw is both unfortunate and careless, she has not grown to the challenge and by that, she might well destroy both her job and the brand too just because 6 people came to stay 3 long weeks at the hotel and got a good feel of how it really is being run.
Abandon hope
So, once again, I was at the desk this morning, we had extended our stay for another 2 nights; at this stage there really was no reason to change hotels even though we had another week to run. Our patience has been tested, our endurance of the incomprehensible has been tried, and life goes on.
There. I learnt that new phone lines have to be put in on Monday and then the wireless connectivity will be restored thereafter. I did not believe one word of what she said apart from understanding we might not get the service restored before we leave and that is if ever the service will be restored at all, it has gone on too long to hold that prospect.
When I asked for a contact at their head office, she said she will call up for me and then connect the person to my room. Trust had broken down to the level that I just told her, I will find out myself and make my own call.

In Paris: Such Raw Talent

This was different
Now, I have seen many buskers in stations with varying degrees of musicality from the ability to sing to amazing dexterity and talent with musical instruments.
The strains and strumming have rarely moved me to listen, stop and spectate; I do not have that sense of curiosity and distraction when I have other purpose until last night.
This was really different
As I made for my train to the Parisian suburbs just on the platform ahead of me the voice came with angelic resonance singing A Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin) to backing music on an amplifier.
We all stopped and gathered round for this unusual session of entertainment to which we all applauded without respite.
Then she did Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack), I Want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner), Sitting on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding) and Human Nature (Michael Jackson).
Who discovers talent?
It made you wonder why such talent wasn't filling concert halls, night after night. However, the appreciation was generous as we all seemed to chip in a coin, a note and more applause.
She made the boring but bustling platforms of Châtelet des Halles lively with the nostalgic sound of really good music.
As I boarded my train, I could only wish the lady the very best and I thought, where does such raw talent go to be really appreciated?

Thought Picnic: No Vexatious Customer

It is important
Looking at issues to do with Problem Management some things are becoming quite evident. Seth Godin in his short blog a few days ago asked the simplest customer service frustration question of all saying, “why is it not as important to you as it is to me?
This exemplifies the sense a customer has of a problem not being given the kind of attention, importance, significance and urgency the customer believes their complaint should have.
Feel my pain
For good measure it is when the customer senses when interacting with a human face that represents the possible solution to the problem that there is no empathy as if the service provider is indifferent, nonchalant or just irresponsible.
This is evident in words of conversation, responses or action predicating a refusal to take ownership of the problem such that the customer is left to feel there is no solution in sight.
The rage against indifference
The customer can adopt one of many approaches but the hardest one to adopt is appealing to the good nature of an apathetic service provider.
Some customers will however seek ways to bring about a desired response and resolution with tools within their means.
Beyond lethargic ombudsman engagement systems to expensive legal redress which all involve third-parties, the customer can now engage social media in the quest to have their problem managed and solved.
Getting even and listened to
It gives the customer the leverage and clout they once did not have where service providers have poor problem resolution processes and worse still, personnel who have no reputational stake in putting forward a professional face for themselves and the organisation they work for; we are left at the mercy of the presumably heartless.
Social media can at once be both aggressive and effective. Many have put it to good use and organisations are slowly relearning the hard lesson of the customer being king.
On blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on YouTube, the customer is demanding a responsive, friendly and empathetic service in words that read like - "I am not a vexatious customer, just one with a requirement I expect to be met." 

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Thought Picnic: No stars for my coffee and no bucks for the WiFi

Starbucks to the rescue
For free wireless internet connectivity at the price of a coffee with strange names [tall, grande or venti] pretending to trendiness at Starbucks you can surf.
I usually have a café latte grande which in simple English is a medium-sized coffee with frothy milk, but it felt strange seeing the coffee being made.
Now, I have had student doctors gather round my bed, even had some sit in on consultations either with my medical consultant or for intimate topics of discussion without thinking much about it as long as they are not poking me with things or making the calls.
The taste of trainee coffee
It is the first time I have had an apprentice barista [not barrister at law for a vendor at a coffee bar] prepare my coffee as she was instructed through each step of making the coffee.
You could see she was not a dab hand that my coffee was in danger of coming short of the Starbucks quality I had grown accustomed to; there was not enough frothy milk to fill my mug that the instructor had to step in.
She might with time become such an expert able to train other baristas in making the Starbucks menu of coffee-bean offerings but I would have liked a little subtlety in the instruction.
Just ask
For a café full of people who I thought were using the free WiFi, I found out it was down, the jinx of my hotel seemed to be following me, but when I asked, the guys in the café switched it on and we were all able to surf for free.
I cannot be the most forward and assertive person around, I guess people just looked for alternatives rather than ask and that might be because they had their coffees in take-away paper cups rather than in a china mug as I always have mine.
Why ask?
This only lasted so long before the WiFi service became unusable in two Starbucks cafés around Chatelet des Halles that it was better to find a seat inside Forum des Halles for the free WiFi connection.
Where an annoying prick took exception to people taking pictures in the mall where he might have inadvertently appeared in their pictures after being the most irritating nuisance on the phone beside me. He was just about walked out of the place by security – Good riddance.
To think in one Starbucks café I only had to click on a button to connect and in another hardly 300 metres away I filled in a form to guard against terrorism just short of divulging my sexual preferences and blood type – I’ll rather be rescued by something freer than what Starbucks has to offer of over-priced coffee and a fraction of a carrot cake compared to what I will get in Germany going for literally twice the price. Daylight robbery!

Thought Picnic: A Brunch of Long Memories

The seat of the mind
My life is full of memories of people, of places and of events. I find myself sitting just beside Georges Pompidou Centre at Café Beaubourg like I have many times before done when in Paris.
Strangely, for the many times I have come to this café for brunch, I have never visited or entered the famous centre, rather, I have just sat at the window on the first floor and watched life and lives in motion below and ahead of me.
I have once had sat for a caricature portrait of myself in front of the centre accentuating my oval-shaped head pointed at the top in its balding glory and my glasses all atop a finger-thick neck and even skinnier body. In my many moves, I think I might have lost it.
Sadly, Café Beaubourg in all its trendy setting has failed to keep up with the times with the absence of wireless internet connectivity that is standard fare for literally any café worth its salt.
This is also quite poignant because I am reminded of when just over 10 years ago we were here to celebrate Dick’s 50th birthday, my treat to him was a sumptuous brunch at the café.
I met Dick in Paris over 14 years ago, we were tourists in Paris, he from Amsterdam and I from London and we maintained a friendship after that meeting that he lodged me for the first month of my move to Amsterdam just over 12 years ago.
Now, I hold in my heart, the loss of many so caring and dear for we lost Dick in February 2010 but I know that the dead are never dead if they are fondly remembered by those they touched.
More profoundly, the biggest lesson of all is to live life well, touching people and affecting them in every good way for you will be assured a more enduring epitaph before a stone told in memories, dreams, stories and smiles that follow a thought of that thing you did that made others laugh.
To Dick.

Villa Bellagio running for Worst Hotel Prize

Still unconnected
The promise of the restoration of wireless internet connectivity at my hotel remains unfulfilled that I went to the reception this morning spoiling for a showdown and we had what I expected to have.
I had come to the conclusion that I had probably become a nuisance or at least I was getting treated as one considering no progress had been made on resolving the problem for each day that I had raised the issue with the manager.
Having now spent 2 weeks at the hotel with another week to run, the manager had still not cottoned on the kind of trouble we could become.
A French dump
9 days without a service that was the clincher for considering this hotel above others, nonetheless a free service had gotten to an untenable point.
It would have been comforting if without the Internet we had the pleasure of at least one English channel to watch on television but rather be home away from home, I am in the equivalent of a reeking hell-hole made worse by a lack of alacrity and urgency to address a particular need.
Once again, I was told it was a free service to which I said, I did not care if it was free or paid for, the reason business people choose hotels is for the convenience of being able to go online.
Pissing off the customer
For her faux pas, she then said I was not like their typical customer, there are 6 of my team in that hotel for 3 weeks, I as much as threatened to pull out all the team and seek a more amenable hotel, considering we did leave another hotel for Villa Bellagio after two nights.
If Best Western was still running that hotel before it closed for two years, I doubt they will have such a silly manager at the helm, one unaware of what is going on in the company that a critical service is lost and she cannot press to have it urgently replaced within a week at the very maximum.
Villa Bellagio to my mind considering all the hotels I have stayed in and I have stayed in quite a few has all the makings of a 4* hotel but like I said before, it is poorly served by 0* staff that by the time I have posted on, TripAdvisor, Expedia and any other review site that advertises the services of this hotel my experiences which are factually and truthfully well below par, their supposed proximity to DisneyLand Paris will count for nothing.
Breathe, Akin, breathe.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Monday 24 September 2012

WiFi Coming Back

Coming back, possibly
Politics, you find that everywhere, but that is another story between assertiveness and a passive-aggressive stance to ensure one is not undermined by events and decisions that should have one’s input or audience.
At the hotel I spoke with the desk clerk last night and as on had feared, the contract between Swisscom and the hotel had been cancelled and apparently, they have now signed up with another provider.
I have been assured that the wireless connectivity will be restored today and as I have just heard, the communications cabinet was being moved out this morning.
Bring it back, first
Now, I will rather not dwell on good intentions but effective action with results. This means the graphic with the red cross through the “Free WiFi” icon on the hotel’s sign will remain until that service is restored after which I will blog from the hotel of that change.
After 7 days without wireless connectivity, I have been an utterly patient man to my own surprise, if not chagrin. I have accommodated this atrocity by walking up to the Le Caméléon Bar where they have free wireless internet and power sockets to link up and just connect to our heart’s content.
Besides that, even after informing the desk clerk that I wanted my room cleaned for Saturday, I returned to an unmade room, a basket full of rubbish and used towels. I do hate complaining but I went downstairs after a 12-hour working day to remonstrate – I had towels delivered to my room and a promise that on Sunday my room will be cleaned.
It was cleaned.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Disconnected at Villa Bellagio Bussy-Saint-Georges

It just gets worse
Everything that made our hotel a great relief to move to in terms of location, quality and availability of services seems to have been lost to circumstances within the control of the owners but left to decline into atrocious service.
I cannot for the life of me understand how a 4* hotel cannot have “Do not disturb” signs to put on the door that other guests tend to steal the few available from other doors to put on theirs.
In my case, I had to retrieve mine from the room next to mine and then mark it up so that it could be identified if stolen from my door again. It is unnecessary but not with housekeeping staff desperate to meet their quotas that they will enter your room if it is not barricaded.
Having the “Clean my room” sign on my door has made no difference either and I have not been able to demand something be done about it until this morning for that fact that I have been working unusual hours.
96 hours offline
What irks me most is that the hotel offers free wireless connectivity as part of their attractive package and for one it is probably the biggest reason why I will consider staying anywhere away from home.
Four days ago, the service went down but having returned to the hotel at just before 3:00AM I could not be bothered to chase up the problem until the morning. At dawn, I went to speak with the desk clerk about it and I was allowed to use the computer at the reception to send an urgent email to work.
Later, when I got to speak with the desk clerk on day duty, he simply offered the view that it was a free service to which I retorted, the free service was essentially what made their hotel attractive compared to the competition.
Lies and flies
The manager then said this was a problem with Swisscom and that more hotels were affected, we took that on face value but there was something suspicious about us not getting a signal from the access points, the problem could hardly be with Swisscom.
I got my colleague to call up Swisscom on the third day suggesting he report the problem without intimating Swisscom of what the hotel had told us before and we learnt that they were not aware of the issue.
Talking to the manager later, I tried to spare her the embarrassment of letting her know that she might have been caught in a lie by preparing her for what I was about to say. She swore Swisscom had been informed but I let her know that the problem we had in the hotel by reason of the knowledge of networks the four of us had pointed to problems in the hotel.
The truth is bitter
With our call incident number we made two further calls to Swisscom with the hope to resolve the problem and we learnt this morning that Swisscom was no more doing business with Villa Bellagio Bussy-Saint-Georges and this can only have been due to the hotel not meeting up with its obligations.
What I find most irksome is that the hotel having put out a falsehood about the state of affairs regarding wireless network connectivity stuck to the story without realising that some of their guests will indeed try to determine the root of the problem and report back their findings without mincing words.
A new sign
It is with that in mind and the fact that every advertisement about Villa Bellagio Bussy-Saint-Georges touts free wireless internet that doesn’t exist and the prospect that the next 10 days I will spend there will be as harrowing experience of being incommunicado that I have taken a picture of the sign outside the hotel and updated it with today’s reality.
A red cross over the Free WiFi offer because that is the case and until that changes, anyone who needs internet access as part of their hotel deal should consider other accommodation for now.
Getting bad attitude from one of the desk clerks and the running down of what is supposedly a 4* hotel by 0* staff having been offered a service they are making no moves to restore is just not the way I intend to spend the next week and my name will be known by the time I leave.
As always, I am not a vexatious customer, just one with a requirement that I reasonably and any one reasonable person will expect to be met.

Friday 21 September 2012

Thought Picnic: A sense of space

Riding is ingrained
When I visited Germany for the first time in November 1995, I went to visit an old friend of mine who had returned to Germany and was living in what was then a changing East Berlin.
The strangest thing we did was to get on bicycles at night and ride for hours considering I had not ridden a bike for at least 9 years and that was just for an evening, before which I was probably just a teenager when I did have a functioning bicycle.
A sense of space
I was amazed not so much about the buildings that looked grey or brown as if they were time capsules of sepia that reminded you of a bygone age but the sense of space, the public spaces as in roads, parks, public buildings and the grandiloquent monuments usually exemplified in statues dotted all around the place.
I formed a theory in my mind that the leadership of closed societies where expression is not free had perfected a form of social engineering where this sense of space appeared to offer a kind of freedom by repressing dissent but opening up spaces as if that availability of space is the substitute for openness of the mind.
A town boy in the country
Now, I have always been a city dweller most of my adult life to compensate for my inability to drive and sometimes to cater for my single status – the former makes sense because public transport has quite catered for my needs but the latter has simply confirmed a truism; you can both be alone and lonely even in a crowd.
When I left Amsterdam for Almere and then a week in Breukelen is when I realised that space did exist in the Netherlands, lots of it, especially in Almere which had been planned out to such detail to have lakes, farms, bicycle paths, parks, greens and much else.
The conurbations could look busy but the layout in general seemed to make you want to breathe and feel that you could be at one with nature just outside your door.
Much space in France
Now, in France and just about 30 kilometres east of Paris at Bussy-Saint-Georges I also find this sense of space, it is obvious from the roads that seem to be long wide stretch into a vanishing point, real avenues and by that, I mean roads lined by trees and these roads are central main roads with less busy parallel roads that feed the offices and houses.
The love for space suggests that between 1999 and 2006 there was a year on year 30% increase in population  and not only have I noticed lots of Far-East Asian tourists at my hotel, there are quite a few restaurants and businesses run by them suggesting there is a sizeable population of that ethnicity here too.
Nature is given a chance to show up with parks and lakes dotted about that place, it is commuter-belt country, just 30 minutes by train into Paris and two train stops on before Paris Disneyland.
In all the time I have visited Paris, I have never really had a good look at the outskirts to see if there was life outside of Paris – there is and not every place is caught up in the stereotype of the restless and riotous banlieues.
I hope to upload pictures soon.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Ten years of terminating the terminal with thanks

The news
He was prepared for what the news might be, which for many is sad and terrifying, he was ready to receive the truth and look ahead of what it really meant.
A strange situation for two weeks before the tests were conducted and they needed another week to really confirm those results.
That has become the significance of September the 20th for as long as he can remember, it marked an opening, a birth and now this.
Reactions of many
He could see tears of concern, maybe sympathy or even pity in the eyes of the bringer of the news and he talked of the issues this kind of news brings.
Anger, despair, denial, blame, depression and whatever else that followed the negative decline of self to nonentity but he heard and then spoke asking, whatever happened to hope.
There are many things to hope for starting with the news not immediately destroying you to miracles which could be far off but there is much else that life offers that the news of something terminal should not necessarily terminate.
Things can get harder, trials might get tougher, losses do get bigger but hope takes you beyond the limitations imposed by circumstances to possibilities beyond what one could ever wish for.
Lift up and thank
Now, the Grim Reaper has harvested many afflicted but not without a fighting chance and today marks for that man, 10 years ago he was told the Grim Reaper beckons by reason of that news but that has been 10 years of living life to the full like there is no tomorrow just as if again there will be many more tomorrows to fill another 10 years.
The news must never been the end, it must be the beginning of a new acceptance, a new life, a new hope and living like the living rather than dying daily as if one were the walking dead.
To his friends, his well-wishers and many more who have come and stayed as well as those who have come and gone. He is thankful, grateful and happy. To those who can – lift up your heads and thank God too. 

Thought Picnic: Use your heads more than your hands

Cross, really cross
Miffed does not begin to describe my feeling a few days ago when a good week after I had asked agents to sort out the issues of my proof of address, I got another email asking for the same. I covered that issue in an earlier blog.
It simply highlighted they are done nothing since then and I was not ready to stand for any nonsense. Immediately, I despatched an email to those who matter and asked that the recommended agency be dropped from handling my business for their lack of initiative and understanding of my situation.
Sorted in stride
I was quite pleased that the matter was resolved within the hour as all the parties immediately communicated with each other and appeared to reach some sort of compromise.
My premise was that it had become an inconvenient distraction and it could begin to interfere with my ability to concentrate on what I had to do.
Besides assurances I got from my employer, the agency sent me two emails, one from my first contact apologising for the misunderstanding and putting it down to chaser emails and the other also apologising but adopting a line of defence I will deal with below.
Now, because I have always worked in Information Technology, I rarely buy the idea that computers are to blame for problems created by poorly implemented algorithms without the requisite simulation of human interaction but that is the problem with processes, they sometimes take away initiative when the process is not fit for purpose.
As for the other email, I was told I was granted a month of leniency to produce some proof of residence, it was a statement that made me all the more irksome.
Understanding not leniency
Why I would want leniency is beyond me, I have committed no offence nor have I been criminal; I have just returned to the UK and within 6 days gotten a job that has me travelling around Europe – is that a crime? There literally will be no time to set up and proof residence for the foreseeable future.
If anything, rather than understand the exceptional circumstances I presented them, I was left to run the gauntlet of a rote-serf devoid of the ability to as it were think outside the box and where incapable, escalate to better equipped and informed persons in the hierarchy they report to.
Nothing annoys me more than being offered the excuse, “I am only doing my job” don’t even get me going because it implicitly means, “I do not know how to think through the problems I am given, I have to be told what to do.”
Managers and others
That again was a situation I met at my hotel this morning after a night without wireless internet connectivity. I let it rest thinking someone will address the matter with urgency only to be met by a desk clerk who suggested the service was offered by another company and that they were not responsible, then crowning the nonchalance with the fact that the service is free.
O God, I am blessed beyond what words can describe that I will rarely be gainsaid, if ever. Thank you.
I made it clear that it was because of that free service that my team had considered booking 5 rooms and then an additional 3 rooms in his hotel. It was a critical service component that gave them the competitive advantage that he should not ignore or we will take our business and the remaining 12 days of stay elsewhere.
I then said if he could do nothing about it, I would rather speak to someone senior like the manager to which he responded he was the manager. Nothing could be further from the truth because no decent manager shirks responsibility to ensuring a critical though free service component remains unavailable without showing a sense urgency to resolve the same.
And then this too
Desk clerks are not all like that, the one I met earlier in the day allowed me to use their computer to send an urgent email to the office.
This afternoon before I left to find a café from where I wrote this, I did meet the manager and what a difference there is between a manager and desk clerk.
That same difference was evidenced at the office between managers who asked having seen us in a room before locking the door and cleaners who after cleaning the rooms and seeing us move in and out of the room still locked the doors without asking and disappeared. If people will just use their heads before their hands.
Exasperation! Breathe, Akin breathe.

Monday 17 September 2012

Thought Picnic: I am not embarrassed for myself

We talk indeed
I have the most fascinating conversations with my dad within which I find truth, wisdom, admonition and rebuke – I sometimes have to be on some type of guard.
What really amazes me is the constant demand of parents for their children to reach and I use reach quite liberally, in the broadest sense.
Many are quite aware of the issues I have encountered in the last three years and to the day, it was the first time a doctor noted the seriousness of what eventually turned out to be life threatening but thankfully manageable with outcomes that read almost like miracles of healing.
However, with the loss of health came the loss of many other things that hopefully will find replacement as things change for the better. Having reached that milestone I am being pushed on to things that are not in my purview, seemingly very important to others other than myself.
Hitching to getting hitched
That topic came up again, as apparently, I am according to him married to my computer and it is now time for me to be properly married and get responsible. In fact, this time, I just let that correlation of marriage and responsibility pass.
There is no doubt that with marriage a person assumes some responsibility but a responsibility in and of itself does not equate to being responsible.
It was quite interesting to see his view of things in the conversation we had, as he suggested I would have made a really good lawyer because I have always been quite articulate and could make conversation quite easily and by so doing there was no reason why I could not chat up ladies for the purposes of a relationship and eventually marriage.
Now, I see
I was not prepared from the timescale he suggested for my getting hitched, he gave me a year, to which I had to respond before he interjected and in doing so the real reason for his constant angst for my enduring bachelorhood – he is embarrassed to admit to people that I am not yet married – I for one do not know how those people who have not interacted with in over 25 years will know of my current marital status if he has not been contributing to his embarrassment when he should have held his counsel.
I am not embarrassed by what he identified as my two phobias – the fear of driving and the fear of marriage – to the first, I could write a treatise about how he felt the cars we had when I came of age were too big for me to learn to drive on and to the latter – where do I even start to reason from inability, incapability, incapacity through to total indifference.
Basically, to reiterate ever so strongly, I am not embarrassed by who I am and what I have made of what constitutes the life of I [allow me this construct and grammatical licence]; if there were two of me, I could have spare for regret, I don’t.
This is Akin
In the end, one has learnt to take the affirmation with the denigration and having as much sense as an old cow to eat the hay and leave the baling wire; the hay is the affirmation and the baling wire of denigration in the society my parents come from is what is used to bind the hay into bales.
As for the phobias, the greatest one to avoid is really the fear of just being yourself and I think my dad is well aware of my radically independent streak, the forcefulness of my opinion and the fact that I will only do what I want to do, at my own convenience and in my own time but more disturbingly for him, I most likely will not do what he really wants me to do.
You don’t get named Akin having started off life no bigger than an adult’s outstretched hand and think there is nothing to it – my dad and I are clued into something we would rather deny is a reality we don’t want to appreciate – for all the sincerity of purpose we share, some pretence also has a part.

Catching up on the times

Back and out
Busy and pressured best describes the last few days at work which began on Tuesday, much having happened and yet we can expect much excitement for the next few weeks.
Who would have thought that on returning to England after 12 years abroad, the job I will have would involve travelling around mainland Europe for the next few months?
Arranging contracts, travel and other essential things was quite frenetic and the day before I went shopping for boots certified for safety – I had grown to love Doc Martens for their comfort but in my house move, I seem to have given the ones I had to charity.
Boots and routes
I wended my way up to Camden Town to the British Boot Company where price, choice, aesthetics, size and design became the battle of do or don’t. With size 12 feet, it was always going to be a struggle to get one that ticked all the boxes. What I eventually settled on was a trade-off, I had to pay well them because the design I really wanted was not available in my size.
Getting home, much as I tried, I failed that test again, the test of travelling light, I still seemed to get more than I needed packed into my case but nowhere near the excess weight I managed to pack a few months ago.
I got help from my nephew to the station and the change at Hammersmith had me asking a lady to please give up the priority seat for my moving on to the empty seat beside her and I was delivered to London Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
Two rotten terminals
Huge and somewhat inefficient I could appreciate the chaos that greeted its opening. There, I met up with an old friend and my new colleague before I passed through customs and security with the need to take off my shoes – the fun in travel is slowing being taken away with these paranoid security systems.
Everyone knows that Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is in need of a radical redesign, it is not user-friendly, it is humongous but badly planned out, I had to walk almost a kilometre to meet up with other colleagues in those interminable terminals and that was just the beginning of the long evening of incompetence on the part of planners  who got our car-hire booking wrong and sent us out to the wrong hotel by which time so late in the night I ended up just avoiding emesis eating a takeaway calzone because our hotel was in the middle of nowhere.
In another story, I will relay how we all moved to another hotel by the third day. Only now have I had the rest that allowed me to run a good soaking bath. Phew! Some will say.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Thought Picnic: Never Say Never

A patriotic rip-off
Fourteen years ago during the World Cup in France, we engaged the services of a Nigerian agent to facilitate travel, tickets and accommodation to watch Nigeria play Bulgaria at Parc des Princes in Paris. It was Nigeria’s second match after our shock defeat of Spain which then had the legendary Luis Enrique as their playmaker.
We probably paid through the nose for that service, I paid for my cousin and I and it was just a shade short of a GBP 1,000 – it did not matter, we were going to have patriotic fun like we’ve never done before.
Just late enough
We set off from London on the long bus journey, taking the Chunnel Tunnel that left many of us literally seasick because there was no horizon or frame of reference for our movement even though we knew were moving.
We got to the stadium just after the national anthems but just in time to watch the kick-off, the moment was electric. I cannot say I once saw where the ball was on the field but when we scored in the first-half we had the game in hand and our hearts in our mouths until the end of that game.
Sadly, I failed to record memories of that event because my camera gave up the ghost within the first 10 minutes of the game starting and by the end, I had lost my voice.
No stars here
That was just the beginning of our odyssey; we got back on the bus to go our hotel where we were to have a Nigerian food splayed out in celebration and jollity – it never happened, we got lost for over 2 hours searching for the hotel, we were literally worn out.
Then we got to the hotel and it was difficult to find words to describe the fact that our countryman business people in the quest to maximise their profits had landed us in a place too cheap for the humblest person not to be haughty.
The rooms had bunk beds I had not seen since I left secondary school almost 20 years before, the shower room was a squeeze that literally had the toilet for the drain and amongst us were professionals and some who had travelled all the way from Nigeria only to be greeted with contempt, insult, injury and disdainful abuse – it was atrocious.
We are done with this
We were at a place called Fontenay-sous-Bois [French], just to the east of Paris in what could not have the grade of a 1* hotel at best.
Three of us decided we were not going to stand for this, called a taxi and drove into the centre of Paris where we found better lodgings, service and access to the city proper with a lesson that I learnt too well for a long time.
I swore never to do business with a Nigerian again and cancelled the plan to attend the match between Nigeria and Paraguay in Toulouse.
Will I ever?
Besides that, I would never have thought I would ever for any reason find myself in Fontenay-sous-Bois again after that unfortunate experience, but today, I find myself in an office in the middle of that small town that made me remember that old nursery rhyme.
Doctor Foster,
Went to Gloucester,
In a shower of rain.
He fell in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.
I might have sworn to never ever but now I know never ever to say never again.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Thought Picnic: Returnee Woes

This is pain
There is an interesting aspect of being a returnee that is quite uncomfortable and disconcerting. When you return home from another country after so many years away, the only thing you probably have is your identity and not much else.
The process of reintegration is being fraught by rules that do not seem to have exceptions. Resettlement is not easy and planning it depends on how you are able to leave where you were to where you want to be and the attendant responsibilities that come with it.
Soul destroyers
In my case, I am caught in a Catch-22 situation that is growing ridiculous by the day. Normally, on arrival in the UK one is to register as looking for work. My experience of the literally soul-destroying concept of being told you are not doing enough to find work that you are matched to jobs that demand nothing of you than to demean and depress you from over 20 years ago was job not what I needed at this time.
Recently, I read of the experience of a PhD holder expected to do menial jobs and not considered to be utilising his job-searching time productively if he was researching and preparing for interviews belying an inferior and pedestrian system in the UK whereas in the Netherlands they fully appreciated your skills and offered help and advice to job-seekers to help them flourish in what they really do know how to do.
Hitting the ground running
I arrived on a Friday and took temporary accommodation with a relation, by Sunday, I had obtained a mobile phone SIM and a new phone number that allowed me to update my CV with an address and number – enough to give it some freshness.
On Monday, I was getting calls and by Tuesday the inquiries were gaining traction that I landed an interview on Thursday after which I was offered a job, what had to follow were mere formalities – terms, contract and other essential personal details.
Proving an improbable
No one on entering a country within days is able to provide a proof of address in that country without exceptional circumstances to that effect. The social services will only consider a returnee habitually resident in the UK only after 3 months of arrival, before which that have no obligations though asylum seekers in dire need seem to get prompt attention.
I could not open a bank account without a proof of address and the company that was supposed to handle my payroll then said they will not release payments for my work until I could prove where I lived, however, I cannot claim many of the official documents like utility bills, job centre correspondence or government agency letters when I am in temporary residence still trying to find my feet.
Exceptionally unique circumstances
In essence, even though I am ready, able and engaged to contribute my bit to society, I am being treated like a homeless man, my independent streak to just get up and do not appreciated and there does not seem to be some exception to cater for people with my kind of unique circumstances.
The unintended consequence of anti-money laundering laws are hitting on honest and innocent persons ready to earn a living but frustrated by the system. Meanwhile, we read of looters of African treasuries washing their ill-gotten wealth through British banks with amazingly breath-taking ease.
Do something
I have put the onus back on my employer and Payroll Company, having offered my identification and met with their personnel, they know what I will be earning and it is unlikely that with the contracts I have signed with both, I can at the same time be an agent of money laundering at their behest.
What is required is a bit of common sense and intuitiveness on their part to validate my existence and facilitate my reintegration.
When I moved to the Netherlands over a decade ago, my employer stood as surety guaranteeing the necessity I had for opening a bank account and consequently securing rental property – that is what I am asking of them – the emails will go back and forth until I have gotten them to stand and stand tall on my behalf. I should not be agonising about these things, I want to concentrate on my new job and perform excellently in what I know to do.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Nigeria: The Age of Irreverence Is Upon Us Like A Rash

Culture shocks
It took reading a rather long blog full of very interesting snippets of history titled the Culture of Disrespect for it to occur to me that a seismic shift in values and customs had happened in our society that many had not noticed.
Over the last few months, anyone caught in the amber of some bygone age of interaction between the powerful and the self-important erudite set has lamented the spate of uncomfortable feedback emanating from social media forums.
That time is going fast
Those used to riding rough shod over the masses who had never had to be accountable to anyone and could with impunity be criminal without consequence having never been questioned or withstood by those they term lesser in status and influence have run the gauntlet of abuse, ridicule, rudeness, discourtesy and disrespect – the mystique and mystery that once redounded unearned adulation by reason of sycophancy and fawning had been torn away.
The age-old niceties of deep courtesy and obsequiousness that allowed for patriarchal and sometimes feudal systems of control and subservience had been consigned to the bin of the unnecessary, ushering in what I would call the Age of Irreverence.
Not by default anymore
What the Age of Irreverence meant was that people no more earned respect by default by reason of status, age, wealth, connection or position but by reason of what you did to affect your community for the better.
Much more is demanded of leadership and even more is expected of them to perform with people ready to call out bluster, bombast and bull shit. The people, many though not all, quite well informed today and poised to pounce on any sign of weakness or hypocrisy, do not have the patience to be taken for a ride.
The expression of the angry young Nigerian
It appears leaders are in for a rude shock, they engage to their peril and disengage to even greater opprobrium and that is just what has become the times – only their paid sycophants have sold their consciences for a lie in the face of manifestly undeniable facts.
That is not to say courtesy, respect and reverence no more matters but leaders will just have to work harder for it and carry their audience honestly and truthfully with them to be offered such adulation.
Like another blog suggests, the young Nigerian is angry and social media offers the forum to vent their spleen and join cause with others in what might look like an onslaught or barrage of abuse. It will take more sophisticated skills of communication to placate the passionately angry and they are increasing in numbers in what might become a formidable movement.
Taking no prisoners
Those who portend to take themselves too seriously will be cut down to side, the haughty will be belittled and the proud are in for a crashing and catastrophic fall.
It is all coming together now and only the savvy will be able to withstand those they label the opposition or as one Presidential adviser put it in his risible and lamentable Jeremiad - the cynics, the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria – have arrived to be the Kings and the Queens of the Age of Irreverence.
The art of the good insult
They will not suffer fools gladly and will use smarts, wit, abuse, insults, irony, sarcasm, satire and much else including data, facts or rumour in their arsenal to express their displeasure in ways that will make even the slightly old-fashioned like myself flinch – I hope for myself, I have not misread the signs of the times.
The sophisticated might well attempt to elevate the art and the finesse of a polite put-down, maybe a Shakespearean insult or even the subtlety of damning with praise – God knows, many are really deserving of what they see on Social Media and long may it continue until things are set to rights; for the highly fed and lowly taught need to experience a comeuppance that will clip their wings.
We have come upon by accident or by design the glowing Age of Irreverence and it will soon reach a street near you.