SO – HOW MANY OLYMPIC MEDALS DID YOUR GUESTS WIN?

I have a new and delicious question for my rivals in the B&B trade: “How many Olympic medal winners’ families have you entertained this season?”  I ask it casually, and in my best Linda Snell manner, with an air of knowing superiority. (I don’t often get to feel superior, believe me). But I could not resist the temptation to have a very small brag about my latest guests from the USA – Mark and Jennifer Kierstead, and their friends Nick and Dianne Somers. Jennifer  is the proud – to say the least – mum not just of an Olympic gold medal winner, but a double Olympic gold medal winner: daughter Eleanor (Ellie) Logan was in the US rowing team which won gold in London 2012 and also last time round in Beijing.
As a professional writer and a mother Jennifer was asked by Parents magazine to keep a blog of her experiences as she watched Ellie rowing at the Olympic site in Eton –  http://www.parents.com/blogs/goodyblog/2012/07/the-emotions-of-watching-your-child-compete-in-the-olympics/

As a mother whose only memory of her daughters’ sporting achievements has been biting my nails as I worry whether they’re going to come last in the three-legged race, I can hardly begin to imagine the anguish of watching a daughter compete on the world stage and at the highest level. Or the ecstasy when – for the second time in four years – they win gold. Jennifer, with husband, Mark, and Dianne and Nick, stayed with us for two nights after watching Ellie and team mates compete, on their journey around Britain. As we chat, I’m ashamed to recall my reaction seven years ago on hearing London had won the games. “I don’t know what everybody’s getting so excited about – it’s going to be a total disaster. We’ll rue the day, you mark my words,” I’d said to Ian.
It was, I’m sure, a feeling shared by many in Britain. What was the point? Why were we spending all this money? What about the terrorists, the crowds, the riots at Heathrow as so many people tried to get into the country, the gnarled-up transport system, the humiliation as our own athletes fail to gain anything more than a single bronze medal? Well, how wrong can you be. . .
It was a delight to welcome our US guests, to see the pride and joy on all their faces, to play a tiny, tiny part in welcoming visitors to this amazing country. Jennifer emailed me from our guest library during their stay (that’s a first) to say how much they were enjoying themselves, and sent a lovely picture of herself and Ellie (below), taken in their B and B in Reading, where the group were staying during the Games. And I took some more pictures before they left us. We hope they will return, and we’re sure we will keep in touch. Thank you for coming, thank you for sharing your magic, Olympic moment.

Rings of success

Note Dianne’s necklace – gold, silver and bronze rings. A gift from a friend – and a complete coincidence!

Proud mum, Jennifer, with golden daughter, Ellie.

“That’s my girl. . . right there!”

Jennifer with (left to right) Dianne, husband Mark, and Nick

GOOD GUYS, BAD GUYS

Good guys . . .
I buy an English/French dictionary which is so enormous I can’t pick it up. Plus we can’t take it to French class as it might look like we’re showing off. (Qui? Nous?). So I print off the returns form, which says they’ll refund postage of £2.97. Except postage is £7.62. I send an email pointing this out, and within 30 minutes they email back saying just scan in the receipt and email it. An hour later it’s credited to my bank account, as is the total refund for the book. AND I get a credit note.
Bad guys . . .
Hmmm. . . This post has been on the starting block for ages. So many bad guys – Vodafone, Orange, John Lewis. John Lewis? Another broken plate saga, which makes me fel tired just thinking about it. It makes me tired just thinking about all the examples of dismal service and miserable incompetence, so may be another post on another day.

I buy a beautiful blue Denby bowl online. It has a crack in the glaze so I call to tell them. They answer the ‘phone quickly – no music, no button pushing (well, not so you’d notice) – and the person on the other end doesn’t sound like he spends his entire life sticking pins in effigies of customers. They’ll send me a new one immediately. But I’ve ditched the packaging, so can’t send the damaged one back. “Don’t worry. We don’t need it. We trust you.”

Have they been on a customer care course? I doubt it – you can’t fake good service, no matter what the training consultants who charge £10,000 an hour tell you. Within a day of reporting a bad, but not serious, leak outside the gate there’s a man inspecting the damage and marking the area with a bit of blue chalk . And – it’s a Sunday. Next morning the leak’s repaired and the reinstatement team are promised before the end of the week. Neat job, smart uniforms, and smiles all round. Who says public service is dead? All right so it’s a private company, but the ethos survives.

“A HAVEN OF PEACE AND TRANQUILITY. . .”

Two b and b guests expected any time now. Four more tomorrow. All staying for the weekend – plus my stint as safari supper hostess on Saturday night. Colin says the cooker will be working by Friday morning. Tricia says not being quite ready for the supper will be “all part of the fun.” No problem there then . . .

Nearly there . . .

MIND THE GAPS

So there we were, standing in the kitchen at 9am today, contemplating the gaps. The man from B&Q looked at the kitchen plan, looked at me, and smiled wanly. Yes, there were gaps, he agreed. And yes, it was my fault because they had been on the plan and I’d agreed to it. But he smiled again and said not to worry, it could all be put right very easily and without any argument. New cupboard, new work surface, new drawers, new everything. No more gaps.
“So – like I said, no problem there, Mrs Everett. We can fix it all. There’s just one thing. You will have to pay for it. Much as I would love to be able to say we’ll do it for nothing, I can’t. That’s just the way it is.”
I turned to the nice lady he’d brought along with him who was the showroom manager of the B&Q store. What did she think, I asked.  She looked at the spaces into which the stylish gaps had been planned, gave a little frown and shook her head in what looked to me like disbelief.
Five minutes later the problem was resolved. It would be put right and we wouldn’t have to pay another penny. So – good for her, good for him, good for B and Q. I will eat my words. In the new, red, shiny fitted kitchen. Fingers crossed . . .

IS IT ME?

I know the answer is yes. It is me. Who else can it be? Who else’s fault is it that my new, super-duper, lovely red kitchen that I’ve worked and saved for, and which two nice men called Colin and Chris came to fit this very morning is – guess what? – approximately two and a half feet too short. Oh no. Hang on a minute: one foot eleven inches too short on one side and seven inches too short on the other. Of course it wasn’t the fault of the first man who came to measure it, or even the second one – surveyor, no less – who came after him to make 100 per cent sure that there were no little glitches. They took their very careful measurements and drew up a plan with lots of numbers and arrows and little green dots on with a line across (single socket) and some more with two lines across (double socket, wouldn’t you know) and yellow bits and blue bits and so many lines you go cross-eyed looking at them. And I never once thought to say: “Could you just explain that to me please? Could you just confirm that this  little drawing means that the units on the right actually meet the fridge-freezer and don’t stop seven inches away from it and leave a massive gap? Oh yes – and could I just seek reassurance that the unit on the opposite wall meets the bit where the window starts and doesn’t stop one foot eleven inches away from it so that instead of a cupboard which I could put things in, and a work surface which I could put things on, which would be really useful, there’s another massive gap which – guess what – I have no use for?” And the reason I didn’t ask all this was because I just kind of assumed that kitchen designers, for that is what they call themselves, designed kitchens that fitted given spaces, not kitchens that don’t. How stupid an assumption is that?
And the worst thing of all is that now, when I look at that plan, I can see with total clarity what had eluded me before: those white bits that I didn’t even realise were white bits are in fact spaces. It means there is nothing there. How did I miss that?
“I don’t want you to worry about it,” says the man on the end of the ‘phone – the man, in fact, who took the measurements the second time just to make sure there weren’t any silly gaps or anything.  “I shall come and see you in the morning and it will be sorted. The main thing, Mrs Everett, is that you should be happy with your kitchen. That’s all that matters. So don’t worry. Everything will be ok.”
Oh good. I’m smiling again. But it won’t be ok. Will it? I just know it.

WHY DO WE SAY YES WHEN WE MEAN NO?

Cover of "Say Yes"

Cover of Say Yes

“You know where I live, don’t you?” asks the plumber, when I say I’ll call round with the cash for the leaking pipe he’s just fixed. “Yes, of course!” I reply with an air of “why wouldn’t I?” Except the real answer is “No. Tell me.”
“I’ve said I’ll run a discussion on what puts people off church,” says a friend. “Will you do it with me?” I look at my diary and see I have a prior engagement – perfect. I open my mouth to say “Sorry. I can’t. I have a meeting that night” and find myself saying: “Yes – sounds fascinating.”
“You’ll sell some raffle tickets for me, won’t you?” Yes. (No. I’ll just give you £20 not to have to sell them). “Would you do a sponsored read/walk/anything?” Yes. (No. Same as raffle tickets, only make it £50). “Please send this to 10 strong women whom you love, admire, and respect and send it back to me so I know you have.” OK. (No! Just press the delete button. I hate getting emails telling me how wonderful I am. My ego needs no boosting, I can tell you).
Why do we say yes when we want to say no? Or is it just me? I don’t think so. Though I did once work with somebody who, as she was leaving, was asked by a colleague: “You will keep in touch won’t you?” “No,” she answered without a flicker of hesitation. He looked stricken. “But we’ve all been good mates haven’t we? It would be great to meet up from time to time – wouldn’t it?” He was sounding a bit feeble. “No. We’ve been colleagues, and I’ve enjoyed working with you. But the chances of me actually wanting to make the effort to see you all again are – well, nil. Cheerio!” And with that she was off.

Everybody was devastated. What’s wrong with her? Why is she being so nasty? Do you think she’s having a breakdown? They clearly all expected her to say “yes” because most of the time, that’s what we do. Will you help me paint the living-room? Of course! Will you come to my total immersion baptism? (yes, really). Love to! Have you read War and Peace? Yes – but when I was 16, so please don’t ask me for a resume.
Now, I can understand why intellectual pride might lead us to lie about having read a great work of literature, but pretending to know where somebody lives? What’s that about? A wise and clever person once said the thing we fear most in life is rejection and the thing we most crave is acceptance. I’ve lived in the village nearly five years – the fact that I don’t know where the plumber lives might suggest I’m just a tiny bit thick, and who wants to know a thicko? This is beginning to fit the rejection theory.
But just a minute – I asked the same friend/colleague one day if she would join me for lunch with another colleague I’d invited, and who I actually found quite difficult to have a conversation with. “No thanks,” she said. “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes.”  Oh come on, I say, help me out here. I don’t want to be on my own with her for an hour. “So why have you asked her for lunch then?”  I say it’s because I feel a bit sorry for her. “Well, do you know what? I don’t. And I don’t want to have lunch with her. In fact, I’m not that keen on having lunch with you. I want to read my paper and eat my apple – in peace.”
Did I feel rejected and unloved? Did I hate her, decide she was a nasty, selfish piece of work? No. Because she’s not. What she is, is honest. When she pays me a compliment – which admittedly isn’t often – I know she means it. There’s no artifice about her, she doesn’t suck up to anybody, and you can be totally honest with her in return. She makes no excuses, has no regrets, never – or rarely ever – finds herself somewhere she doesn’t want to be, doing things she’d rather not do, and never, ever has to ring round friends asking if they know where the plumber lives. She never tries to sell me a raffle ticket, never tells me how wonderful I am and, as far as I know, has never done a sponsored walk. But she has read War and Peace.
Or so she says . . .

WHEN IT’S SO EASY TO GET IT RIGHT WHY DO SO MANY GET IT WRONG?

First-class travel, first-class snack, first-class service. Simplicity, and attention to detail. And we wonder why Richard Branson – sorry, Sir Richard Branson – is a multi-billionaire. I know he comes in for a fair bit of criticism – the only way to avoid that is to do nothing with your life, and definitely don’t commit the ultimate sin of actually being rich and successful – but this is a tiny piece of perfection: lunch on a Virgin train. Herb-y black and green olives, a little pack of cream cheese, a tiny pot of pate and some savoury biscuits. Oh yes: and a nice crisp apple. My only regret is not having photographed the free lunch as I travelled with East Coast: an indefinable white slush, a glimpse of a passing mushroom, and a couple of cubes of  something that had never flapped a wing or clucked, all wrapped up in a sad, damp, pastry parcel. Six or seven soggy chips and some  limp salad. As I say – when it’s so easy to get it right, why do so many service providers manage to get it so monumentally wrong?

PS Nearly forgot – proper cutlery, and a free glass of wine, with my lovely snack.