7 April 2010

Go wild in the country

Have you ever been to a Country Show? No neither had I, but I urge you to do so as you will be exposed to an extraordinary world of the strange that you vaguely knew existed but never expected to experience. A place where you can buy a crossbow adjacent to the marquee for the hamster breeders. Camouflage, wellies and tweed vie with shotguns, shooting sticks and ferrets to lure in the country pursuits loving punter and take the unwary civilian by surprise.

So a visit to Thame Country Show over the Easter weekend proved that there is a rural world free from metrosexual, latte slurping townies, who still practice and preserve country pursuits, that in fairness seem mostly like a good idea. For example I now feel, should the collapse of capitalism precipitated by the greed of the banks and the onset of a new brand of Tory self interest arrive, I will be fully prepared to live on a diet of wild rabbit, having witnessed a very long display of the art of netting them. Should I be out ferreting, unlikely I know, I am confident that with just a few metres (sorry feet, metres haven’t penetrated the countryside yet) of fine netting, a faithful hound and some stakes I could fairly simply catch my tea.

There wasn’t a display on killing, skinning and eating the poor bunny, who in this case was made of nylon, but I am sure a quick peruse of a Clarissa Dickson-Wright or Valentine Warner cookery book and a sharp knife will put me right.

On the subject of rabbits there seems to be a vast club of people who breed giant specimens, that like bunny buddha’s, sit fatly in their cages gazing benignly at the small children wanting to stroke their lush and no doubt valuable fur. More fascinating still are their owners, who unlike their counterparts who catch and eat them, really should get out more. This is also true of the stranger still sub tribe of Hamster breeder; grown men and women who quite obviously devote themselves to the ungrateful brown rodents.

But I don’t want it to sound like I’m contemptuous, I loved all this stuff. I think its fantastic that there are large numbers of people who are immersed in lives that are in touch with the wild (or caged in the case of the hamsters), who can forge a living from the woods and the fields. Who will go hunting for their dinner and in general harm no one apart from pigeons, fish and rodent’s. Falconry is incredibly impressive to watch and I’m sure casting lessons will help many more men get away from their wives for hours, maybe days at a time next to a river or pond.

And while I am sure there is a major whiff of Countryside Alliance about them and possibly a darker side of dog fights and poaching, I have definitely gained a new respect for this very different, at least very different to mine, way of life.

I still don’t know what you need a crossbow for though!

22 March 2010

BA Dispute

A week spent in the French ski resort of Morzine/Avoriaz had the potential to be ruined by the 3 day British Airways cabin crew strike, that commenced on the day we were due to return home. There has been so much in the media about the strike that I struggle to believe that passengers have not been in a position to make alternative arrangements.

BA seem to have the upper hand with communication and emergency planning working effectively. They contacted me by email 3 days in advance of my return flight to say it was cancelled, I then had the option of booking an alternative flight that was 1 hour earlier than the original schedule but operated by Jet2 rather than BA.

BA do of course fall down in short haul with their almost complete lack of customer care and service. It seems that rather than rising to the challenge of the Easyjet's and Ryan Air's they have rushed headfirst to meet their levels of service. This is most marked now in the amount of luggage you can check in, 1 bag no more than 23Kg. Now I only booked BA to Geneva in the first place because they used to allow sporting equipment as an extra bag with no charge. So ideal if you are taking ski's. No longer; extra money will change hands if you have more than one bag. Does that remind you of anyone?

I feel somewhat conflicted in that I want BA to improve levels of service but understand that the penny pinching on meals and baggage is all about making savings or generating extra income, which in this climate has to be a smart move. Yet as a passenger they are no different to any other cut price carrier; making these savings removes a portion of their competitive advantage which I suspect they will never regain.

As if to prove this rule the flight operated by Jet2 from Geneva to Heathrow on behalf of BA was excellent, certainly better than the BA flight in reverse a week earlier. More motivated, happier staff, friendly smiles and good customer care. I understand BA cabin crew are demotivated by change but just look what potential competitors are doing and wake up.

And the BA cabin crew's position is no different to workers in other industries where the economy has changed the fight from one of profit and expansion to raw survival. While it seems clear that Willy Walsh is busting for this fight with the union he has a much better arguement about the survival of a great company for the long term than the unions do about what seem like relatively minor changes to terms. Obviously there is more to it but I dont see very much public sympathy for the cabin crew. They're pretty well paid and other workers have unfortunately had to accept new realities in order to survive.

Just want also to say thanks to Henry and jess at our Chillipepper chalet in Les Prodains, Morzine for looking after us with some great food over the course of the week. I'm not sure I'd pay the money to go again but the chalet hosts were lovely.

8 February 2010

After a month of relative austerity, staying in, trying not to drink and doing exercise, February has started with a bang. Fortunately my birthday arrives early in the month so there is a reasonable excuse to start enjoying life again, despite the advancing years.

Late January saw a trip to the tiny French ski resort of Val d'Allos. 2 hours drive north of Nice, virtually no Brits to be seen and plenty of challenging and cruisy runs either at La Foux or Les Seignus www.valdallos.com. Friend Hammy owns a small chalet in the village. Small with a few restaurants a typical French PMU bar, patisserie, tabac and Shopi this is very definitly not a resort if you are after apres ski and night life. Which is precisely the reason for going there!

And for me after the autumn knee op and the consequent DVT http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DVT it was a good test to see if all my limbs would hold out, not just on the slopes but back on a plane and of course from an excess of not at all useful male banter. Needless to say plenty of wine was taken. But the knee held out and I'm confident that come March I should be able to have a real blast.