A Lot Of Old Rubbish: Disposing Of Britain’s Waste Mountain:

Have you ever been to Quaglino’s, an upmarket restaurant in the St James SW1 area of London? If not, then you’ve missed out on the opportunity to sample it’s “brasserie-style menu”, among which is featured a Herefordshire beef fillet with green peppercorn sauce for a mere £39 and a 30 gram portion of Siberian Baeri caviar for a slightly pricier £75. While considering what to order for your main meal, you could sip one of their “classic cocktails” such as “El Sombreron”, which consists of “zacapa 23, lime and cantaloupe juice, sipsmith, sloe gin and fresh passion juice”, at a cost of £20.

However, you’d probably have to drink it directly from the glass. As the Evening Standard’s Consumer Business Editor, Jonathan Prynn, reported on 10th January, the owners, D&D London, which runs a total of 40 restaurants & bars, have banned plastic straws from all of their premises. D&D’s Chief Executive, Des Gunewardena, acknowledged to Prynn that he’d had no idea how many straws his staff had been giving out to customers (1.9 million in 2017). This move follows a similar decision taken last autumn by the national pub chain Wetherspoon (70 million a year) and in June by the All Bar One company (4.7 million a year). As Prynn pointed out “Plastic straws are seen as a particularly harmful form of waste because they are made from material that is very hard to recycle and their small size makes it difficult to stop them ending up in rivers and seas. Alternatives can be made from paper”.

The problem of what to do with our discarded plastic has, along with the pressure on NHS hospitals, has dominated the attention of the media during January – far more than Brexit, the Prince Harry-Meghan Merkle wedding in May and concerns about British tennis player Andy Murray’s hip injury. The Guardian columnist Sandra Laville observed on 5th January that many MPs are demanding the introduction of “a 25p extra charge on takeaway coffee in an initiative that could see disposable cups banned in five years time”. Laville quoted statistics provided by the House of Commons Environmental Committee which reveal that 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK, almost 5,000 every minute, amounting to 30,000 tonnes of waste. Only 0.25% of them can be recycled, because most of them “are made from cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner, which is difficult to remove and means they are not accepted by paper mills”. Starbucks and Costa last year began to offer 25p discounts to customers with reusable cups and Pret A Manger have now doubled this to 50p on hot drinks “in an effort to change people’s habits and reduce waste”.

But why the sudden sense of urgency? What has really caused the panic reflected in newspaper headlines this month has been the decision by the Chinese government to ban the importation of rubbish not only from the UK but from several other developed countries such as European Union members, the USA and Japan”. In summer 2017, Guo Jing, an official at the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) informed the World Trade Organization that from 1st January 2018 his country would no longer accept 24 types of solid waste, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) bottles, unsorted scrap paper, discarded textiles and vanadium slag. This was – so Jing told journalists – all part of a campaign against “yang laji” (foreign garbage) “ which is loathed by everyone in China”.

The conservation photojournalist, Alex Hofford, has emphasized on “The Conversation” website that the impact of China’s decision will be far -reaching. Although other nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam also take in recycled plastic, their limited capacity won’t compensate for the lost Chinese market, which in 2016 processed more than half the world’s recycled plastic waste (7.3 million tonnes) – 500,000 tonnes of which was shipped from Britain.

What, asks Hofford, will now happen to all that waste? It’s a dilemma which, according to the Guardian’s environmental correspondent, Matthew Taylor, on 3rd January, is already creating a crisis for local authorities in the UK. He noted that Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association, “has already seen some lower-grade plastics piling up at recycling plants around the country”. Furthermore, because Britain has relied on exporting plastic recycling to China for 20 years, no-one knows what will now happen: If it no longer pays for his Association’s members to take and sort the waste delivered to them by the councils, they might stop accepting it altogether, which could then result in local authorities suspending their rubbish collections: “It could really lead to chaos”. In the opinion of Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (cited by Henry Bodkin of the Daily Telegraph), Councils will either have to increase taxes or cut waste services: “Neither will be popular: In some places in England, rubbish is already only collected once every three weeks”.

The LitterBins.co.uk website acknowledges that it’s understandable why many people don’t think about what happens to their rubbish once it’s been taken away. But if it can’t be recycled or incinerated, it has to go somewhere – usually to landfills: However, “that land has to be prepared first, to prevent decaying matter and bacteria leaking into water sources and causing health issues in the local area”.The European Commission has meanwhile issued suggestions as to how we can all be a bit less wasteful. Among them: Buy only the amount of fresh food you need and enjoy your leftovers by turning them into exciting new dishes, put your “non-meat scraps” into a compost bin and have your old, unwanted clothing shredded so it can be turned into packaging, insulation or raw material for textiles”.



















Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on January 15th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

It’s The Festive Season: So Forget About Brexit (For The Moment):

How do you feel about the big European Union debate? Perhaps you share the view of much of the UK population who – according to William Wallace in the Independent on 29th October – are completely fed up with the whole thing. The media and the politicians might be obsessed by the negotiations with the Brussels bureaucrats – but most people’s priority at the moment is more likely to be planning for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and deciding what presents to buy for their friends and family.

A survey conducted by NatCen Social Research – featured in the latest edition of The Economist magazine – has concluded that very few voters have changed their minds since the Referendum last year, that those in favour of leaving the EU still think it’s a good idea, but that it’s being handled very badly. In the opinion of The Guardian on 9th December, the agreement reached between British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU commission the previous day – on how much the UK will have to pay for the “divorce” (£40 billion?), the future rights of EU citizens in the UK and what will happen with the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland – was the “easy bit; the most difficult part lies ahead”.

Has all this seemingly interminable wrangling adversely affected the mood of the British public? Apparently not. In November, the Office For National Statistics (ONS) released “its first data on national well-being since the Referendum on June 23rd 2016”. This indicated – noted the International Business Times on November 7th – that “Britons are happier, despite a squeeze on household incomes, higher inflation and a weaker pound”, although the ONS also acknowledged that “as we have not yet left the EU, the implications it will have for the daily lives of people in the UK remain to be seen”.

An article on November 8th by Steve Doughty, the Social Affairs Correspondent for the pro-Brexit Daily Mail, was unequivocally jubilant about the ONS report. “Forget Brexit doom and gloom”, proclaimed the headline: “ Levels of contentment have hit record levels in the year after the decision to leave”. Instead a plunge into worry and fear, wrote Doughty, “there is convincing evidence of rising happiness and satisfaction with life”. The ONS findings, he asserted “undermine claims that people are alarmed by the prospect of economic reverses and deeply concerned about the future”. On the contrary, “the national anxiety measure now stands at 2.91 out of ten, compared to 3.13 in the spring of 2011”.

The ONS figures correlate closely with those contained in the Legatum Institute’s Global Prosperity Index 2017. This analyses each country’s economic quality, business environment, governance, personal freedom,social capital, safety and security, education, health and natural environment. It ranks the UK at No 10 – below Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Australia, but above Germany (11), the USA (18), France (19), Spain (20) and Italy (30). The highest ranked Latin American nation is Costa Rica at No.29.

The World Happiness Report 2017, issued by the United Nations, has the same top ten as the Legatum Institute, though Costa Rica (12) and the USA (14) are both further up, while Germany (16) and the UK (19) are lower on their list. The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, has published a chart showing the variations in happiness across the UK: it has denominated the district of Craven in North Yorkshire as the happiest place in the UK with 8.3% and Hertsmere in Hertfordshire the saddest with just 6.87%. Hackney is portrayed as the most downcast borough in London.

Other available statistics somewhat contradict the rosy picture provided by the ONS. Andrew Macaskill, a correspondent for the Reuters news agency, on 4th December highlighted a poll conducted by the research firm Survation, which revealed that “half of Britons support a second vote on whether to leave the EU and a third said they would be worse off financially outside the world’s largest trading bloc”. Chris Morris, the “Reality Check” correspondent for BBC News, reported on 29th September that between July 2016-June 2017, 64,400 UK citizens applied for Irish passports, followed by applications for Spain (4,558), Sweden (2,002), Denmark (604), Poland (332), Finland (115), Greece (34), Czech Republic (27), Croatia (13), Romania (7).

The London Evening Standard on 29th November focused on the possibility of a “public backlash” against Britain having to pay a Brexit “divorce bill” of around £50 billion .The same newspaper on 5th December drew attention to the fact that millions of rail users will be hit with fare increases of up to 3.6% in January – the biggest for 5 years – “due to Brexit and the slump in the pound” .

More immediately: The Good Housekeeping magazine has carried out an investigation into the cheapest items currently on the shelves of the UK’s main supermarket chains. It’s verdict (as quoted by the Guardian’s consumer affairs correspondent, Rebecca Smithers, on 28th November ): The “Brexit effect” has pushed up the price of Christmas. The cost of a turkey the same size as one on sale for £8 at Christmas 2016 will now be £8.99; Brussels sprouts, 88p (58p last December); Mince pies £1.58 (£1.49); Christmas cake £3.99 (£3.00); parsnips 88p (58p); Carrots 35 p (29p). Cranberry sauce, though, has stayed the same at 55p and if you’re partial to Christmas pudding, that’s gone down from £3.49 to £3.00.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on December 12th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Sounds Familiar: The Melodies We’ll Be Humming To This Christmas:

How many times have you heard the song “Jingle Bells” over the past week while you’ve been out shopping? If it’s only been five or ten times, perhaps you should consider yourself lucky. Nigel Rodgers, the founder of “Pipedown”, a group that campaigns for more silence in public places, calculates that department store staff will be obliged to listen to this and other traditional melodies around 300 times between now and Christmas Day.

In October, Rodger’s organisation published the results of a survey by The Good Hotel Guide, which reported that “The omnipresent curse of annoying muzak” is one of the most hated aspects of hotels today”. Pipedown’s efforts appear to be having some effect: Marks & Spencer have decided to “switch off the music” in its branches for the whole of the year, including the festive season and ASDA will introduce “a daily Christmas-music-free hour from December 15th”. Several other big retailers, however, have done the opposite. As the Sunday Times columnist, Iram Ramzan pointed out in his article on 12th November, John Lewis will be relaying Christmas music for the first time and some of its branches will be inviting “small groups of musicians to play and sing to create more atmosphere”. Sainsbury’s, noted Ramzan, is “another enthusiast: usually it provides music only in its cafes, but  this Christmas, seasonal tunes will blare throughout its stores”.

Customers who find this annoying can of course go elsewhere. Employees, however, don’t have this option and so have to put up with the same songs being repeated day after day: As a result, Linda Blair, a British clinical psychologist, told Sky News, they “become unable to focus on anything else and spend all their energy trying not to hear what they’re hearing”. The Business Insider commentator, Lindsay Dodgson, suggested on November 2nd that they should buy some earplugs, though she didn’t explain how they could then attend to their customers.

Dodgson’s observation that “Christmas music is something you either love or loathe” highlights the fact that, not only is it almost impossible to escape from it at this time of year, but that it always seems to consist of the same tunes. As a contributor to the “Red Chestnuts” website has asked, “Why are there no new Christmas songs? Why am I listening to exactly the same ones that my dad and probably my grandfather listened to at my age?” He’s not against religious songs such as “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings”, but it’s the “secular ones” he hears in the stores that he’s most fed up with.

The American cartoonist and CNN correspondent, Jake Tapper, has acknowledged that, because “new Christmas songs have failed to break through”, we’ll all be humming identical tunes to last year and many years before. Examples are the inevitable “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby 1942), “Blue Christmas” (Elvis Presley 1957), “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” (Wizzard Rock Band 1973) ,“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (Band Aid 1984), “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Maria Carey 1994) and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (orginal version recorded by the 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd in 1952). In her list of “the 12 worst Christmas songs ever inflicted on humankind”, the Time Out correspondent, Kate Lloyd, has included “Drummer Boy” and “Under The Mistletoe” (both by Justin Bieber), “Santa Baby” (Madonna), “Milennium Prayer” (Cliff Richard) and “Christmas Tree” (Lady Gaga & Space Cowboy).

Meanwhile: Data compiled by the price comparison website “GoCompare” has confirmed that “Black Friday” (this year, 24th November) now signals “the big start to the UK’s Christmas shopping period”. It predicted that £3 billion would be spent during the event with 49% of the shopping being done online. The Guardian journalists Sarah Butler and Zoe Wood reported on 25th November that Britain’s online retailers had indeed won the battle for sales on Black Friday, with overall spending up 3% on 2016, despite a decline in the number of shoppers visiting stores: When Currys/ PC World on Oxford Street opened its doors at 7 am, “only one customer, who had ordered a laptop, was waiting”.

An investigation conducted by the finance website, Bobatoo, has revealed that most of those questioned “are planning to spend less than £200 on Christmas food, drink and decorations” – which correlates with the estimate by the Guardian commentator Rob Walker on 25th November that 53% of Britons won’t spend more than £10 on a bottle of sparkling wine. Furthermore, “on average, UK shoppers will buy presents for between five and ten people”. Only 7% will be giving presents to more than 20 people; 42% plan to spend less than £100 on presents for their partner or spouse, 23% between £100 – £150, 17% more than £150 and 8% over £200. Bobatoo concurs with GoCompare that the majority of Christmas shopping (64%) will be done online this year. Research by the Dutch financial services corporation ING has shown that one in seven Europeans were unhappy with what they received for Christmas last year. More than 50% kept the gifts anyway, 14% sold them, 10% tried to return them to the store and 9% of people in Holland and 11% in the UK returned the gifts to the giver.

According to the Greeting Card Association (GCA), one billion Christmas cards are bought in the UK, mainly in shops and stores rather than online. Charity Christmas cards raise an approximated £50 million for “good causes”. If you’re planning to send a card abroad by airmail, the last posting dates for most of Europe are the 15th and 16th December and for the Caribbean, Central and South America, Thursday 7th December.

Filed under: Music & Dance, Society | Posted on November 29th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

World Travel Market 2017: The Long Shadow Of Brexit & Catalonia:

DSC_0293Have you decided yet where you will be going on holiday in 2018? If you have already chosen Italy, then you are among the 60% of UK residents for whom that country will be the preferred destination next year – ahead of the USA (54%), Greece (48%) and Cuba (24%). These statistics were published in the World Travel Market (WTM) 2017 Industry Report to coincide with the opening of WTM at London’s Excel Centre (6th – 8th November), which was attended by around 51,500 senior travel industry professionals, as well as government ministers and the international media.

DSC_0295Several Italian cities – Rome, Milan, Venice & Florence – feature in Euromonitor International’s top 100 Global Rankings 2017 and the country’s “strong tourism performance” is mainly thanks to its wide range of attractions and the fact that it is perceived as being relatively stable compared to many of the other options available elsewhere in the world. For the same reasons, according to the WTM Report, this has been a “bumper year” for Greece and the prospects for 2018 are even better.

DSC_0296Although Spain remains a popular vacation venue, in the opinion of Olivier Jager, Chief Executive Officer of the travel industry analysts ForwardKeys, it could be adversely affected by the current turmoil in Catalonia. The Travel Daily News International correspondent, Tatiana Rokou, on 31st October quoted Jager as emphasizing that “domestic political unrest almost always deters visitors and that is what we are seeing now – a 22% collapse in international flight bookings for Catalonia”. Because many visitors arriving there then proceed to visit and explore other parts of Spain, any further decline “will be of great concern as travel and tourism represents such a large proportion of the Spanish economy, over 14% of GDP”.

DSC_0299During WTM, the staff at the Catalan stand, which was positioned on the corner of the extensive Spanish pavilion, put on a brave face and did their best to conduct “business as usual”, handing out colourful maps of the region and leaflets promising “a top notch programme of activities in Barcelona as part of the Year of Cultural Tourism 2018”. However, their chief tourism official, Patrick Torrent, acknowledged in an interview with Associated Press at WTM that (as depicted by Travel Industry Today) “ the freedom fight come with a price” and that the region will probably see a 10%-12% fall in tourist numbers during the 4th quarter of 2017, a level of decline equating to around 450 million euros, with the large bulk of the fall related to a drop-off in business travel to events such as conventions”.


IMG_1551As both The Daily Telegraph and Bloomberg Politics have pointed out, Catalonia – along with the Madrid region, Valencia and the Balearic Islands – is a net contributor to Spain’s tax and spending accounts: “It pays about 8.8 billion euros more than it receives, a longstanding complaint of the separatists”. The Economist magazine noted in its November 4th edition that “more than 1,800 companies, among them CaixaBank, Banco Sabadell and Freixenet, have been prompted to move their legal domicile out of Catalonia since 1st October”– a trend, the deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told Sky News from Brussels on 11th November, that has been encouraged by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is fiercely opposed to the region’s push for independence.

DSC_0304There are, so the Global Risks Insights journalist, Niall Walsh, contended on October 10th, “some striking parallels between the proposal for Catalan independence and the Brexit vote in 2016: An increase in business risk generated by a climate of uncertainty, rising political and social instability and a fresh challenge to the effectiveness of the European Union”. The WTM Industry Report 2017 has concluded that Brexit threatens to undermine London’s dominant position as a place to do business and that “competing cities that have emerged in an attempt to steal it’s crown include Paris, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Dublin and Amsterdam”.

More than half (53%) of all travel trade respondents – states the Report – believe Brexit will have a negative impact on their companies and that it has already damaged the UK’s reputation as a holiday destination. Over 20% of European Union citizens working for British tour operators have apparently already left the UK “because of the long-term uncertainty over their status” and 50% of these organizations are having difficulties recruiting new EU employees. The British Hospitality Association has highlighted “how crucial EU workers are to UK firms, especially because of their language and service skills – and warned that there are not enough British people with the right expertise to replace them”.

DSC_0305An equally gloomy assessment was issued on 6th November by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS). Under the headline “EU businesses say goodbye to UK suppliers as Brexit bites into key relationships”, it asserted that the uncertainty has meant that 20% of UK companies with EU suppliers have found it difficult to secure contracts that run after March 2019 , 8% say they have already lost contracts as a result of Brexit and 35% feel unable to prepare due to the lack of progress on a future trade agreement between the UK and the EU.

The CIPS Chief Executive, Gerry Walsh, considers that “it is already too late for scores of UK businesses who look like they will be deserted by their European partners.” They simply can’t keep their suppliers and customers waiting , he declares, while the negotiators get their act together: “The lack of clarity coming from both sides is already shaping the British economy of the future – and it does not fill businesses with confidence. The clock is ticking”. Yet despite all this apparent despondency, 31% of those questioned by WTM predicted that Brexit will have no prejudicial consequences at all and 16% that, on the contrary, it could prove to be extremely positive.






Filed under: Travel | Posted on November 14th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Language Show Live 2017: A New Venue, Fewer Visitors & Some Unhappy Exhibitors – So Back To Olympia Next Year:

IMG_1488Would you like to become an interpreter or translator? If this idea appeals to you, then now might be the ideal moment to consider making a career in this sector. As the Financial Times columnist, Michael Skapinker, pointed out on March 22nd, British companies will need to recruit many more linguists if they wish to expand their global trading links after the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019. He cited the results of a survey conducted last year by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the education group Pearson, which indicated that French, German and Spanish are most in demand by British businesses.

But where, he asks, will they find people who speak them? According to a British Council report, the number of students at UK schools learning French has fallen by around 33% and German by nearly 50% – with Spanish being the only one of these three showing an increase. Hence, there are extensive employment opportunities at the disposal of anyone from abroad currently resident in the UK and who is fluent in one or more of these languages. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) website highlights what it describes as the three main options in this profession: Interpreting at conferences, political events and trade fairs; Translating for business people at company meetings or during negotiations; Working in the public sector – such as translating at police interviews, attending court cases, interpreting for hospital patients or helping people with a limited knowledge of English to access essential educational and housing services.

Because many airports function 24 hours a day,the UK Visas & Immigration Department is “in constant need of interpreting services”. The majority of the work is “face-to-face”, freelance and with no minimum or maximum requirement in terms of hours. The fees (Monday to Friday) are £48 for the first hour then £16 per hour from 8.01 am – 6 pm and £20 ph 6.01 pm – 8 am; Saturdays: £72 first hour and then £26 ph; Sundays: £72 first hour and then £32 ph. Training for all these types of employment is available in both London and other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. South Thames College in Wandsworth, for example, runs a 13-week Community Interpreting course (£275 / £380 for international students) and a 15-week part-time Diploma in Police Interpreting course (£450 / £650 for international students).

It was thus no coincidence that this topic provided the main theme for the Seminar Programme during the Language Show Live (LSL) 2017 at the Business Design Centre in Islington from 13th – 15th October. Among the speakers featured were Karen Stokes of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL): “Becoming a Professional Translator – Qualifications, support Network and Success”; Eulalia Pessoa-White, a freelancer with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) – “What It Takes to be a Public Service Interpreter”; Pamela Mayorcas, Chairperson of ITI – “A Day In The Life Of A Translator: Find Out What They Do, How They Spend Their Day, What Helps Them To Be Successful”; Sue Leschen (CIOL) – “Terms & Conditions for Freelance Language Professionals”; Dr Lindsay Bywood (University of Westminster) – “What can I do with my translation qualification?”. Other relevant issues covered were: “Why is it good to learn languages?” (Professors Ludovic Serratrice and Theo Marinis, University of Reading) and “Embracing Brexit and Language Learning for Business” (Michelle Ogbonna, Chief Executive Officer, Museum of Knowledge).

A total of 100 exhibitors had booked stands at this year’s LSL. Although a very wide range of languages, such as Cantonese & Mandarin, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Gujarati, Nepalese, Persian, Vietnamese and Welsh were on offer, 40 of the stands were promoting Spanish courses – either in Spain or Latin America (for example,Don Quijote, Learn Spanish in Mallorca, Sevilla Language Center) or in the UK (including the Universities of Hertfordshire, Portsmouth, Surrey, Kent & Manchester Metropolitan and the Instituto Cervantes London). Not all the exhibitors, however, were convinced by the choice of the Business Design Centre as the location for this year’s event or happy with the position they had been allocated for their stand: It was noticeable that there were far fewer visitors on the Saturday than on the equivalent day in 2016 at Olympia in Kensington, the traditional venue for LSL. A new company called “Evolved Events Ltd” has come to the same conclusion: They have just bought LSL from the previous organisers, Upper Street Events, and will be transferring it back to Olympia in 2018 (9-11 November to avoid coinciding with the Frankfurt Book Fair and Expolingua Berlin): All parts of the Show – stands, seminars and classes – will be on the same floor, which they believe will “work best for exhibitors and visitors alike”.

Aspect Exhibitions, based in Ashton, Northampton, advise anyone thinking of booking a stand at a trade fair to first “obtain a floor plan of the venue, assess the likely flow of visitors, the places they are more likely to gather and the spaces best avoided”. Anecdotal evidence (they say) suggests that the majority of visitors instinctively turn left when they first enter an exhibition hall – in which case, having your stand somewhere to the left of the entrance will “automatically be in a good position to attract customers”. However, being too close to the entrance is not a good idea as it tends to be congested and visitors “are liable to walk straight past your stand” when they come in – and similarly when they head for the exit “as they’ve already seen enough and are ready to leave”. The most beneficial place (asserts Aspect) is probably adjacent to the exhibition’s cafe or restaurant “as long as your stand does nothing to disturb people relaxing or enjoying refreshments” – so no loud multimedia demonstrations, blaring music or light-shows.IMG_1486IMG_1497IMG_1493IMG_1487IMG_1506IMG_1504IMG_1502

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on November 1st, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Did You Have A Good Flight? Perhaps Not, If You Used A Low Fares Airline:

You might find this difficult to believe, but travelling by plane used to be fun. At least, that’s according to the AOL Lifestyle columnist, Rebecca Dolan, in an article captioned “Remembering the Good Old Days of Flying”. Once upon a time, she wrote wistfully, flight attendants were dressed in high fashion, leg room was included in the price of a basic ticket and meals were practically restaurant quality. On some Pan American World Airways routes, it seems, passengers would be “served hors d’oeuvres on a silver tray” – something you’re unlikely to experience now unless you are booked into first class on Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad or Singapore Airlines. This didn’t, though, guarantee Pan Am’s survival: The company went bankrupt in December 1991. Doug Murray, a correspondent for “Slice.ca”, has also enthused nostalgically about “how civilized flying used to be”: Air travel was a “glorious thing”, you did it in style: “Today, unless you’ve got a bucket-load of cash, flying is barely a step up from taking the bus”.

Patrick Smith, an American airline pilot who writes about flying at www.askthepilot.com, however, disagrees with both Dolan and Murray. In the New York Times in May, he dismissed as “mythical” the idea that there ever was a “Golden Age” of air travel. He acknowledges that “resentment against the commercial airlines has hit fever pitch” (especially after the forced removal of the Chinese-American Dr David Dao from a United Express plane in April) and that “Yes, things were once a little more comfortable, a bit more special”. He doesn’t deny either that “airlines could and should do a better job – at communicating, at treating their customers with dignity and respect “and that he doesn’t enjoy claustrophobic planes, delays, noisy airports or wasteful security practices”. But he points out as well that, not only are tickets cheaper, we also have a wider range of options: “There are planes going everywhere, all the time”. Furthermore, that the aircraft of past decades were louder, more “gas-guzzling and polluting”, that as recently as the 1990′s, smoking was still permitted on board and that “globally, the last 10 years have been the safest in the history of commercial aviation”.

Nonetheless, as Larry Light, a reporter for CBS News, noted in May, a recent survey carried out by the American Customer Satisfaction Index has found that “consumers rate rate airlines as one of their least-liked industries”. Many passengers, it concludes, are particularly unhappy about excessive “crowding” – caused mainly by cabins being “reconfigured to fit in more seats, legroom shrinking by three inches in recent years and the overbooking strategy that the industry has adopted to ensure that planes are as full as possible.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data quoted by the BBC journalist Adrian Goldberg has shown that the number of “air rage” incidents on UK airlines has quadrupled over the past three years. This is partly because – as the Jet2 Managing Director Phil Ward admitted to the BBC – some passengers drink too much in airport bars before going on board and then become disruptive during the flight. However, it’s also because (declares the refund.me website) both the airlines’ customers and their employees “ are increasingly dissatisfied with how they are being treated”. Charles Leocha, President of Travellers United, feels that passengers are reacting against being regarded simply as “cargo”.

In the UK, the image of the airline industry has undoubtedly been undermined by the attitude of Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s Chief Executive, towards his customers: Among his most notorious remarks: People who forget to print their boarding pass “should pay 60 euros for being so stupid”; “Are we going to say sorry for our lack of customer service? Absolutely not”. “What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand? We don’t want to hear your sob stories”. On this last issue, however, O’Leary has been forced to back down by the “furious” CAA Chief Executive, Andrew Haines, following the cancellation of 50 Ryanair flights a day up to the end of October and (reported in the Guardian on 30th September) the decision to “scrap 18,000 flights on 34 routes between November 2017 and March 2018” – all, contends O’Leary, a consequence of problems with his pilots’ holiday rotas.

Apart from the delays and cancellations, what really annoys airline customers (asserts traveller.com) are: the expensive snacks and drinks, the use of in-flight mobile phones (unless you’re the person making the call), the poor quality of cabin air (a Daily Telegraph investigation has revealed “worrying evidence of toxic fumes contaminating aircraft”) and the “constant stream of announcements offering services and goods such as perfume, cuddly toys, car hire, train tickers and scratch cards” .

By far the most aggravating factor, however, is “the very limited leg room provided in economy class”. Smarter Travel’s “in-flight experience” commentator, Ed Hewitt, has described the available space as “ narrow, cramped and getting worse”. He has observed that, technically, his body does fit into a typical airline seat – as long as he sits up and keeps his hands and arms folded into his lap. A Business Travel Airline Survey has revealed that Ryanair has the narrowest economy seats out of the 32 airlines researched, offering just 16 inches of width, with Air Canada’s seats the widest at 18-18.5 inches. British Airways are 8th in this list for width (between 17’3 – 18.1 inches).

Sometimes (notes Airport World.com) it’s other passengers who can make your journey a misery: For example, putting their elbow firmly on the shared arm rest and leaving no room for yours; constantly getting up to retrieve items from the overhead lockers; people behind you trying to get off the plane first; babies crying throughout the flight; and (the one that causes the most arguments), someone “reclining their seat so far back that they are practically in your lap”.

There’s now a solution to this last problem: A pair of “knee defenders” that you can buy for only $21.95. You just have to clip them to the bottom of the arms of your lowered tray table. They then prevent the seat in front of you from being tilted backwards. This doesn’t contravene any current aviation regulations, so there’s nothing the other person can do about it – except protest vociferously.




Filed under: Travel | Posted on October 2nd, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Revolution In the Fashion World: The Catwalks Face Up To the Social Media Challenge:

IMG_1392Has London Fashion Week (and the ones in New York, Milan and Paris) become an anachronism? The BBC clearly thinks it’s still important: It devoted at least half of its prestigious “Today” morning radio programme on Friday 15th September (the first day of the latest LFW, which finished on Tuesday 19th September) to the event, with one of it’s presenters, Mishal Husain, broadcasting from the venue at The Store Studios in the Strand. As she pointed out, British Fashion Council (BFC) statistics show that the fashion industry is worth around £30 billion pounds to the country’s economy and that it supports 880,000 jobs in the UK.

IMG_1434LFW is thus “ an international event that showcases British fashion and the global brands that choose to exhibit in London because of its reputation for creativity”. However, the industry is all about “big business” and so is evolving rapidly. Nearly 7 out of 10 women (as the BBC’s business reporter, Lucy Burton noted) have bought clothes online. Sian Westerman, the BFC’s President of Business & Investment, acknowledged to Husain that e-commerce has caused “a great fashion revolution”, that it has dramatically changed customers’ expectations in terms of speed, delivery and accessibility to fashion. The “fast fashion brands” now turn to social media platforms as much as to the fashion weeks for an indication of the latest trends.

IMG_1391Richard Christofoli, Debenham’s Marketing Director, likewise accepts that it is “a fluid, dynamic and challenging situation” for the established high-street retailers:  Customers can now shop online and then collect at the store, or browse in the store then use their smartphone to decide what to buy and from whom. Christopher Bailey, formerly Burberry’s chief executive but now it’s chief creative officer, believes that LFW is all about “trying new things, experimenting and innovating, making sure we are talking to customers, media and buyers, pushing ourselves”. He agrees, however, that the rise of social media has created a completely different way of looking at every industry, not just fashion and that it has had a disruptive impact on “the fairly rigid timetable of fashion weeks around the world”.

This view is shared by Jo Ellison, Fashion Editor for the Financial Times, who pointed out to Husain that “the fashion industry has always been a very visual medium for most people, which makes Instagram the perfect platform for people to understand it”. Brands can now deliver their messages to a global audience to whom they didn’t previously have access. People are now able to find out things for themselves – they don’t really need the “ordination” of newspaper or magazine fashion editors anymore. Furthermore, brands are now offering “trans-seasonal” clothes: customers are merely “adding to their wardrobe each time, there’s not an abrupt change each season, there’s much more continuity”.

Nevertheless, as Christopher Bailey emphasizes, London continues to be “a creative hub for the creative industries”. That’s because we have “the best creative art schools in the world, which attract people who want to be educated here and then set up their businesses here”. Bailey argues that this provides enormous potential for post-Brexit Britain, that “Britishness” resonates globally due to the combination of the country’s “beautiful, historic, almost Victorian values” with its island culture, eccentricity and self-expression and that “street style”, which began here, is still “the strongest than anywhere else around the world” . He desperately hopes, though, that the current “anti-immigration climate” doesn’t undermine the openness with the rest of the world or inhibit “the collaboration with people of different cultures which is fundamental to any creative business”.

Bailey’s assertion that London is ideally placed to enhance its leading role in the global fashion industry is fully supported by the BFCs statistics: More than 5000 guests, including “the international press, buyers, broadcasters, influencers and industry insiders from 70 countries” attended the latest LFW. There were 85 catwalk shows and presentations and 33 other events. Burberry presented its new collection, as did Versace’s VERSUS, Fashion East and House of Holland. New participants were Tommy Hilfiger (USA), Nicopanda (USA), Emporio Armani (Italy) and Ralph & Russo (UK). Also featuring prominently were “internationally celebrated British designers” such as Emilia Wickstead, Fyodor Golan, Margaret Howell, Pringle of Scotland and Temperley London. The BFC described the diversity of the LFW schedule as “ a testament to the inclusive and innovative British fashion industry on display in London”.



Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on September 18th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“Bags For Life”: Less Plastic & Much Better For The Environment?

Which supermarket do you use: Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose or one of the discount chains such as Aldi? Your choice is probably influenced by a range of factors, especially price, proximity to where you live or work, the layout of the store, the brand style, habit, familiarity and whether you’ve signed up for one of the “loyalty schemes” such as Sainsbury’s “Nectar” or the Tesco Club Card. Whichever one you prefer, do you take a shopping bag with you or do you pay for one at the cash desk?

If it tends to be the latter and you’re a Tesco customer, you might already be aware that the organisation has recently changed its plastic bag policy. After conducting a ten-week trial in three of its stores, in Aberdeen and Dundee (Scotland) and Norwich (East Anglia), it has decided that, from August 28th, it will no longer sell “single use” 5p plastic bags and will replace them instead with “thicker, re-usable bags for life”. These will be made from 94% recycled plastic and cost between 8p – 10p. They will also fall outside the provisions of the plastic bag regulations introduced by the Government on 5th October 2015 and hence mean that the company will not be obliged to pass any of this new income on to “good causes”. Nevertheless, so Tesco insisted to the Daily Telegraph’s Consumer Affairs Editor, Kate Morley, on May 24, it “would not profit from the bags and would continue to support environmental charities”.

In effect, Tesco is following the example of Sainsburys who, after the new law was implemented – as the Independent correspondent, Hazel Sheffield, has pointed out – “did away with single-use plastic bags in favour of a sturdier orange bag that can be recycled and exchanged for a new one when it becomes damaged”. This costs 5p and – as with Tesco’s new “bag for life” – is not covered by the 5th October 2015 regulations. The Guardian has reported that just 1p of the 5p goes to charity (“lower than some other retailers”) and that Sainsburys say they can’t confirm how much they give to charity because the information is “commercially sensitive”.

As the Gov.UK website emphasises, the regulations apply to all retailers (not only to supermarkets) who have 250 or more employees: “Smaller businesses can also charge on a voluntary basis if they wish”. The levy does not apply to shops in airports, on board trains, airplanes or ships, if the bag contains items such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, uncovered razor blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers or if it is made of paper. Furthermore, as The Independent commented with some scepticism when the scheme was first introduced, “Despite government guidance that the money raised should be donated to good causes, there is no legal requirement for stores to hand over the cash to charities. Retailers can deduct costs for administration and staff training from the money they collect”.

On 21st July, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released statistics showing that “the seven main retailers issued 83% fewer plastic bags in 2016-2017 compared to the calendar year 2014”. This works out (estimates letsrecycle.com) as a reduction from 7 billion to 2 billion , equivalent to each person in the UK population using around 25 bags during 2016, compared to around 140 bags a year before the charge was applied”.

According to the DEFRA survey, the 168 retailers who provided data had donated over £66 million to good causes. However, the Sunday Times journalists Helen Croydon and Jonathan Leake indicated, in an article on 13th August titled “Charities Barely See 5p Carrier Bag Cash”, that they were unconvinced by these figures. On the contrary, that although “the 5p charge on plastic bags cost shoppers £105 million last year, only £25 million went to named charities”. They noted that fifty firms , among them Iceland, Argos, Halfords and River Island, all declared that that net proceeds did go to charity but opted not to disclose specific details.

Also, that others deduct substantial costs: For example, in the year ending April 2017, the music chain HMV earned £135,000 from the sale of 3.2 million bags but kept £60,000 in costs; WH Smith raised £206,000 from 4 million bags but retained £76,000. More generously: Tescos- £32 million from 637 million bags, donated £23 million; Sainsburys- £2.6 million from 52 million bags,donated £2.1 million. The main problem with a “bag for life”, Dominic Hogg of the environmental consultancy Eunomia told the journalists, is that it weighs three times as much as a single use bag “ which means using three times as much plastic”.

Sarah Coles, a commentator for AOL UK Money, has been more inclined to believe in the retailers’ good intentions: On 18th July, she asserted that Iceland, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose now all “tend to focus their charitable giving on local or environmental causes”. Among others: “B&Q passes on the full 5p to “Children in Need”; M&S sends half the 5p to local charities and community causes chosen by individual stores and the other 50% to national charities such as the Marine Conservation Society and Macmillan Cancer Support; Aldi donates money from the sale of its carrier bags to an educational partnership with the RSPB (Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds”).

On 29th August, The Guardian reported that, the previous day “the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution” had come into effect in Kenya, where supermarkets have been handing out an estimated 100 million bags each year: Anyone producing,selling or even using plastic bags risks imprisonment of up to four years or fines of £31,000. The justification for such an extreme measure, in the opinion of Habib el-Habrir, who works for UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) in Kenya, is that “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the oceans than fish”.

Meanwhile, Andrew Pendleton, Head of Campaigns at Friends of The Earth, has endorsed the attention “now being given to the millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfills as well as to the oversized boxes and excess packaging which are the by-products of online shopping”.



Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on September 4th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The “Silly Season” Is No More: It’s Been Replaced By Something Much Worse:

Have you ever heard about “Nessie”? If yes, then you’ll know that it’s a monster that reputedly lives beneath the waters of Loch Ness in Scotland. On 11th May, The Scottish Mirror journalist, Natalie Evans, reported that a video taken by a tourist from Wales, Robb Jones, suggested that “the world famous mythical creature may have returned – 9 months after a previous reported sighting”. Evans also quoted the reason given by Gary Campbell – the “keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register” – as to why “Nessie” is invariably seen more in the summer than at other times of the year: “There are more people around, there are much longer daylight hours and the weather is usually better”.

However,the many sceptics who doubt whether “Nessie” exists at all offer a somewhat different explanation – namely, that the print media tends to be a little short of news stories during the peak vacation period, so the apparent re-emergence of a popular monster helps fill the gaps. The Conservative MP for South Dorset, Richard Drax, has pointed out on his website that throughout his 17 years working as a journalist, the month of August was always referred to as “the silly season” – and indeed, that it still is, due to Parliament being in recess, schools closed until September and many people on holiday. Hence, “items that would normally attract little attention are elevated to the front pages”.

Suzi Christie, the owner of Blueberry Public Relations Ltd in East Sussex, has noted that some editors can be so desperate for input that they will give prominence to “ludicrous” reports such as one that featured in The Independent about “squirrels addicted to crack” and a claim by a group of residents in St Osyth, Essex, that a “large lion” had been seen prowling the surrounding countryside. The Daily Mirror concluded that the culprit was probably not “the king of the jungle” but more likely “ a 12-year-old ginger tomcat named Tom who lived in a nearby old people’s home”.

The controversial Daily Mail commentator, Richard Littlejohn, acknowledged on 15th August that “hacks” like him often have to “scratch around to find something to write about when “real” news is in short supply. He then highlighted several stories that he considered farcical – for example, a sheep race in Scotland which had been “abandoned after a campaign by animal rights fundamentalists” and the decision by the organisers of the Frome Carnival, Somerset, to replace their traditional carnival queen with five “carnival ambassadors” – on the basis (so they told the Sunday Times) that “ a beauty pageant is out of step with 21st century values”.

There have been a number of other stories that have appeared in rival newspapers during August that their editors presumably judged as newsworthy but of which Littlejohn may have disapproved: In the Sunday Times on 6th August, Roland White revealed in his “Atticus” column that the Labour MP, Paul Flynn, is calling for cannabis users “to descend on Parliament for a mass smoke-in as a token act of civil disobedience”. The same publication that day devoted half a page to an article by White’s colleague, Robin Henry, about dog walkers on the beach at Llandudno, north Wales, who claim they are at risk of a £75 fine if they are caught with their pets off their lead and that they are “being watched through binoculars, covertly filmed and followed by intimidating black-uniformed security officers working for Conwy Council” when they take their dogs across the sand dunes.

The previous week, the Sunday Times had described as “not so savvy” the pink linen dress which Prime Minister Theresa May was photographed wearing while she was on holiday in Lake Garda, Italy and which can be bought online from Next for £26. Both the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times gave space to rumours that the divorce between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may be off or at least postponed “after he gave up boozing to win her back”. Meanwhile, the Observer correspondent Nish Kumar focused on the sale of the Brazilian player Neymar by Barcelona to Paris St Germain “ for a head-exploding sum of £198 million, a figure almost eight times larger than the GDP of the island nation of Tuvalu”.

n the opinion of the Stir PR Ltd website, the description “silly season” no longer applies either to August or any other time of the year. It emphasizes that “with the rise of social and digital media, consumers now get their news fed to them on their smart phones, linking them in lightning-quick fashion to their favourite website, blog or influencer. It doesn’t matter if the reader is at work or lounging by the swimming pool, these channels don’t slow down over summer and they don’t change how they report”.

In what has become a sombre August 2017, media editors have not needed to resort to fabricated stories: On 1st August , British Gas raised its prices for its 3.1 million customers by 12.5%, effective as from 15th September. The Government then did likewise for rail passengers: a 3.6% increase in January 2018. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un threatened each other with nuclear war. Europe was hit by a “Lucifer heatwave”, with Sicily suffering the highest temperature, 46%. Many survivors from the June 14th Grenfell Tower fire are still awaiting alternative accommodation and financial help. White supremacists clashed with protesters in Charlotteville, Virginia.

And then: The attacks in Barcelona & Cambrils, in Spain and the Finnish coastal city of Turku. The “silly season” is no more. It’s been replaced by something much worse.

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on August 21st, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Don’Take Me To A Cattery! What To Do With Your Pet When You Go On Holiday:

According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) – quoted in The Guardian on 22nd July – a record of 2.4 million British holidaymakers will go abroad this year. This means that over the weekend of 21st – 23rd July, more than 500,000 passengers were expected to fly from Heathrow airport, 335,000 from Gatwick and 136,000 from Stansted. They were going off to enjoy their summer vacation – but what happens to the pets that many of them left behind?

The statista.com website has estimated that there are 54 million pets in the UK: Dogs are the most popular at 24%, followed by cats (17%), indoor fish (5%), rabbits (2%),  reptiles (1.5%) and hamsters (1.4%). The majority of dog owners tend to either leave their animal with friends or family or (if they are travelling by car) take it with them. This is not, however, an option usually available to cat owners, 54% of whom ask their neighbours to go into their house to feed their pet and 16% of whom leave it with a cattery.

Any guilt complex these owners may feel about apparently abandoning their animals will not have been alleviated by an article in the Daily Mail by columnist Caroline McGuire captioned “ Take me too! Upset pets look the picture of misery as they watch their owners pack for their holidays”. This was accompanied by photos of cats and dogs with sad faces sitting in their owners’ suitcases and refusing to move.  The Telegraph’s science editor, Sarah Knapton, however, seems to regard this as something of an exaggeration. She has noted that research conducted by the University of Lincoln has concluded that “cats, unlike dogs, do not need humans to feel protected, preferring to look after themselves”. Furthermore – and especially relevant in the summer vacation context – that “Although owners might worry that their pet is nervously pining for their return, in fact cats show no sign of separation anxiety”. As a consolation for cat owners “despairing about their aloof house guests”, Knapton also highlighted the opinion of animal behaviourists that “if a cat stays around, it shows it really wants to be there”.

A report on “pet translators” by the Guardian journalists Sarah Butler and Hannah Devlin  on 22nd July cited the author of “Learning The Language of Animals”, Con Slobodchikoff, Professor  Emeritus with the Northern Arizona University’s Department of Biological Sciences, who told them that many people would dearly love to find out what their dog or cat is trying to communicate. He suspected, however, that a lot of times, the cat would just want to say “You idiot, just feed me and leave me alone”. Christopher Hitchens, the English-born American author, journalist and literary author, was similarly sceptical about feline attitudes, pointing out that “ If you provide dogs with food, water , shelter and affection, they will think you are god. If you do the same with cats, they draw the conclusion that they are gods”.

Meanwhile: If cat owners who are going on holiday don’t want to bother their neighbours, what’s the solution? The “Home Loving Cats” website is adamant that “most cats really hate catteries” and that when they are “forcibly taken away from their familiar home environment (their central territory) they will often become stressed, unhappy, sometimes stop eating and are quite unable to adjust to their new surroundings”. It’s not so much the fact that they don’t want to be taken to a cattery, but more “that they don’t want to be taken anywhere”. If, however, a cat owner really has no alternative, they should “be careful to exercise appropriate care and due diligence when choosing a cattery”.

David Fellingham, the proprietor of the West Wimbledon Cattery, concurs with the view that “dogs need people, cats don’t”. He’s been running his business, authorized by Merton Council, for almost 25 years, works from 7 am – 8 pm seven days a week looking after around 24 cats on site and another six based in houses in the area. He says there are no seasonal fluctuations, that he is busy all the year round. Some cats will be left with him for just a couple of weeks, others for much longer, such as two years in the case of a cat from America. He charges £13 per day for one cat and £17 per day for two, though they have to be from the same household.

The Animal Boarding Establishment Act 1963 requires anyone operating a cattery or kennel to acquire a license from their local authority, which will also specify the number of animals that can be accommodated. As the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) has emphasized, the facilities have to meet specified minimum standards: The enclosure, for example, must “provide sufficient space to allow each cat to turn freely and to easily stand, sit and lie in a comfortable position”. It should also be maintained in good repair to protect the cats, contain them, keep other animals out and enable them to remain dry and clean.

There is a considerable variation of prices, depending on the cattery: Silverdale Kennels in Feltham charge £11.83 + vat per cat and £20.66 + vat for two cats sharing; The “Cat’s Whiskers”, on the Middlesex / Surrey border, £15 per day for one, £20 per day for two sharing. By contrast, a suite in the West Wing of the Pawchester “five star luxury cat hotel” in Fulham SW6 costs a minimum of £45 per night. It also has two bungalows (£30 per night) and ten “high rise” suites (£25 per night): “Relaxing classical music is played throughout the premises, premium food is used for all the guests and there is Cats TV in every room”. For anyone interested, the Pawchester is now being offered for sale.



Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on July 24th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »


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