Since I went away with the extended family for a warm weather break a few weeks ago, this is the first in a 3-post series on holiday travel. I was tempted to call this post the Ryanair Scam part 2, since they have recently introduced a rule by which you can only have your cabin bag in the overhead locker if you’ve booked priority boarding. Otherwise it goes in the hold. This is fine if you already have a large bag in the hold, but a pain if you’re travelling light, since you have to factor in extra time and effort to retrieve your bag from the destination baggage belts.

I recently experienced this policy at first hand. The reality is that it works pretty well if, as I mentioned, you already have large holiday bags checked in, at additional expense of course. We did, so it was a no brainer and it means less to carry on and off the plane. However, it’s a ton more work for the hard-worked, exasperated gate crew – the check-in/boarding staff and baggage handlers – who now have to manually tag and load around 100 additional non-priority bags per holiday flight.

As it happened, our flight was delayed leaving. The conveyor belt into the plane from the baggage carts broke, presumably under the workload of having to deal with many more bags than it was used to. This turned a useful conveying device into a shelf, so the bags had to be manually carried into the hold.

This is what often happens to a process which you’re constantly tweaking and looking to improve. You pinch here, you feel it somewhere else. Ryanair do keep moving, changing, innovating though. Fair play to them for that.

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‘Can you just move a smidge to the left for me?’

‘I’ll take a smidge of milk with my tea please.’

What exactly is a smidge? It’s hardly an agreed unit of measurement, either by width or volume. I use it from time to time and always assumed it was a quaint olde English word from the 16th century, probably coined by Bill Shakespeare, who seems to have more coinages to his credit than extant plays.

It’s actually a shortened form of the equally arcane smidgen – the origin of which is uncertain, but you can also spell it smidgin or smidgeon – and American English in its origin.

WordPress wasn’t happy with smidge or smidgeon, giving them the red dotted underline of shame. All the more reason to use them.

Fabulous.

In 1990’s Scotland there was a great series of TV adverts designed to reinforce our recall of the Tennent’s lager brand by judicious use of words ending in their big red capital T. Younger readers may also be familiar with the summer festival T in the Park, which does exactly the same thing.

Anyway, these ads featured the pouring of half of a glass of Tennent’s in front of someone, who either laughed with joy or cried with sadness, depending on whether they were an glass-half-full optimisT or a glass-half-empty pessimisT.

These days we’re under increasing pressure – perhaps it’s our gradual Americanisation – to be incorrigibly upbeat and optimistic about everything. Our positive outlook alone will affect the outcome. It’s the positive spin we put on life and especially in marketing. This is true in parts. I’ve always described myself as a realist, occupying the halfway house, a hope-for-the-best-plan-for-the-worst space in between the two characteristics.

The other day I was chatting to my son who can sometimes be sweepingly downbeat in that glum teenagerish way. I told him he was sounding like a pessimist. ‘I’m not a pessimist Dad,’ he countered, ‘I’m a non-delusional realist.’

Which opens up a whole new can of worms. Is that the same thing as a pessimist, or is it a qualification of a realist, or is it suggesting there are many shades on the pessimist-optimist spectrum, or many grades to the axis?

I know, thinking too much…

My Eddie Bauer bag

My Eddie Bauer bag

What a pity is was that Eddie Bauer went bust. When was it, maybe 2009 or so?

I was in the US on business about a decade ago and bought a really warm down coat. While I was there I saw a laptop-holding travel bag that I’d been looking for for ages. It had an extra section that turned it from an overnight bag into something you could use for 3 or 4 nights, perfect for those short-ish business trips. For some reason, this kind of bag with the extra section and the extra 15 litres or so of capacity is really hard to find.

I spend a lot of time in the software industry and this bag fits right in. There must be 30 pockets in there, of all shapes, sizes and uses. The laptop section is very snug for devices of all sizes.

This bag accompanies me on almost every journey I make when I need to bring a laptop, and most even when I don’t. It always fits in the airplane overhead bins, and I never get asked to check it in, even when it’s full to bursting.

A treasure of a piece of travel luggage. I don’t know what I’ll do when I have to replace it.

Wooden Labyrinth

Wooden Labyrinth

Anyone remember this game from yesteryear? We were obsessed with it when we were kids, a hundred years ago in the pre-pre-pre-internet era of proper games and slot fruit machines.

It’s a fine test of hand-eye co-ordination, with 2 levers and an ingenious bit of engineering that allow you to tilt the floor in myriad ways to manoeuvre the ball around the holes, staying close to the black line until the finish.

Somehow, quite recently, a 21st century version of it – well it might as well be a 20th century version –  appeared in the Dilger household, a strange happening since our kids are not really in the demographic for it.

I’m hooked on it again, and have to allow myself only two tries at at time, when I’m making a coffee or otherwise taking a break. The simplicity enthrals me and the excitement levels are worryingly high.

I’ve only finished it once in the few weeks since its renaissance. Must give it a quick go now…

The title of this post should really be ‘tomorrow’s buttocks’, but that would send the wrong message entirely. There is a serious message to it believe me.

I don’t know about you, but I get ideas any time, any place. Ideas for things I need to buy, ideas for blog posts, business ideas, and so on. You have to strike while the iron’s hot. To prevent them from becoming simply a fleeting thought that I can’t possibly recall, I jot the idea down, sometimes with a few words of explanation, in case the title of the idea is too pithy or esoteric for me to get to the kernel of it.

I was telling my wife the other day that I needed to create a blog post. She recalled that I was driving an iea and asked her to put a couple of words into her phone’s notepad for me to use as inspiration later. When she pulled up the not, it simply said ‘tomorrow’s buttocks’. I know, me neither. It could have been autocorrected, but from what I simply have no idea. It’s gone, the fleeting thought has fleeted, for good.

Is this what it’s like to be a detective, trying to piece together from the tiniest of clues what happened in an event, what people were thinking and what caused them to behave the way they did? Tough gig.

If it were important enough, ike an idea for a great melody, it would have come back to me. But how many millions have been lost, or how different might the world be, and the things we take for granted, from fleeting thoughts that people never executed?

I meant to call my wife the other day, but ended up calling the next name down my favourites list, my youngest brother. His 8-year old son answered the phone. The call went like this:

  • Hello?
  • Oh…[nephew’s name], is that you?
  • Yes, who is this?
  • It’s your uncle Paul, sorry, I called you by mistake..
  • Do you want to speak to my Dad?

Kids are great, aren’t they? They have no filter. You always know where you stand with them.

As we get older we develop layers of self-consciousness and diplomacy. Consequently, we have to peel back layers with adults to get to what they really mean. Sometimes this can present a challenge with sales and marketing, especially when we’re looking for feedback or indication from a customer about what they really think of our product, service or company.

The number of layers each adult has depends on their own unique filter setting. As you probably know, some adults have a low filter setting, blurting out exactly what they think in an uncontrolled fashion, or else telling you exactly what they think because that leaves no room for ambiguity. I much prefer this, as honesty is true feedback, as long as they don’t express it in a needlessly nasty way.

Many adults on the other hand, and this varies culturally, have a high filter and our job is then to try and get to what they really mean, by probing and asking essentially the same question in a different way.

Getting work done – by other people who do it for a living – around the house is always difficult I find. It’s feast or famine, from a supply point of view.

When the economy is tanking, no-one has any money and providers can’t get enough work, so they get involved in other areas. Famine for them. When the economy is flying, there’s too much work to go around and you can’t get anyone. But, because providers can only do the jobs for which they have available people, they can pick and choose between jobs and their schedules are chockablock for the short term. That’s the feast.

For those of us who don’t want to wait around beyond the short term, we encounter voicemails and our messages don’t get returned. When we finally get them to agree to an appointment, they don’t keep it, or they rearrange it, more than once. They play a balancing act of keeping everyone on the long finger so they can do concurrent jobs and always know what’s coming down the pipe, at least for next new weeks. The end customer suffers from a less than perfect outcome.

You get what you pay for, which simply heaps the pipeline of possible work onto the few reliable providers of house-related work, those folk that call when they say they’ll call, quote when they say they’ll quote, and start the job when they say they’ll start. And, because they know that almost all the competition is unreliable, they can charge a premium for their services.

Yes, it’s feast or famine. Unless you have a relative in the professions or you can do it yourself, getting stuff done is hard.

Mothercare store front

I was at my mother’s house in England the other day, casting an eye over all the toys we had as kids, which she has saved of course, and which her grandkids now enjoy.

I came across the edge of a toy package from Mothercare. This company has been around for ages and is clearly a highly respected name in anything to do with children. I love the identity – which I think the company has now moved away from – with the little child image literally under the protection of the m of mother.

What struck me for the first time that I can remember was how outdated the name was; the actual words mother and care put together to make a new name, as many company and product brands do. Back when Mothercare came into being, parenthood was possibly the almost exclusive preserve of the female parent, and that’s simply not the case any more.

The funny thing is, and I feel this about many household names and brands, we never question the name. We see the word mothercare and we equate it with a parenting brand for children. This is what a brand does to us. We rarely take the name out of context, deconstruct it, before realising that it’s perhaps not as appropriate as it used to be.

I think there are lots of examples of this, brands that we take for granted because they’re much more than the sum of their words. Lots of them, hiding in plain sight.

In this ultra-PC world we live in, as I’ve noted previously, communication is never far away.

I was travelling on a train in the UK the other day and the automated announcer reminded everyone that they needed a ticket to travel and couldn’t get one on the train. This message came from the ‘Revenue Protection’ department.

That’s the fraud protection department, right, since travelling without a ticket is fraud? I’m left wondering what message they’re going for, what impression they’re trying to project, with the term revenue protection.

Isn’t that a little like calling a short person like me vertically challenged? Perhaps they don’t want to antagonise the fare-dodger.

If someone travels without a ticket, and they’re not entitled to free travel, then they’re damaging the profitability of the transport company. As a consequence, all of us fee-paying passengers are indirectly punished when the company has to raise fares, or reduce services, or go for more government subsidy – which is of course a function of the taxes you and I pay – and we end up paying more.

So why not call it what it is? Fraud prevention is better, methinks.