What’s Wrong With Paying Before You Eat

OK, so I happily and calmly go for a weekend meal with my wife and children (we do this a lot) – and pretty much all family restaurants are of the type that you have to pay upfront.

We get seated, but one of us dislikes the table we’ve chosen, so we all move, but the next one is unstable, so we move yet again. This goes on for a while until we have a good view, a stable table, we’re away from too many people, the kitchen and the toilets. Unfortunately, the table has dirty dishes, spills and no-one is around to clear it.

The menu is scoured, chins are scratched, weighty decisions made, changed and remade. Eventually, everyone tells me what they want to eat and drink, I get the tablenumber and head to the bar to queue, order and pay. I have become a waitress.

I join the bar flies in trying to catch a bartender’s eye. When it is finally my turn, I give the table number and we begin the surreal process called “ordering”.IMG_20150503_132957814_Fotor

This is always a ghastly nightmare.

“Table number?”

“Table 14”

“OK, what are you having?”

“Can I have the Kids’ Macaroni Cheese, but without the peas and without the broccoli…”

“Oh, but the peas are mixed in…”

“Oh dear, are they?”

“Would you like something else instead?”

“No, it’s my little girl, and she wants macaroni cheese.”

“Well, the adult macaroni cheese doesn’t have peas mixed through, but it is more expensive?”

“Hmm. OK, then make it the Adult – and she wants the coke too, please.”

“Well, you don’t get a drink included as it is not the Kids’ meal deal thing, so it would be a full price coke, is that OK?”

“Really? Oh well, go ahead on that coke then, please.”

“Oh  it’s Pepsi, is that OK?”

“No Coca Cola?”

“No, sir, we just do Pepsi”

“OK, I’ll have one of those.”

“It’s draught Pepsi, not a can, do you want ice?”

“Erm, I don’t know”

“Ice or not, sir?”

“OK, ice please. And can I have one Kids’ Chicken Nuggets Chips and beans, not peas, with a lemonade, thanks?”

“One Kids’ Chicken Nuggets meal, beans not peas and a lemonade. Do you want ice in the lemonade?”

“Yeah, please. And The Chilli. An adult chilli please.”

“The adult chilli is off.”

“Off? Really?”

“Yes, sir, sorry. would you like something else?”

“OK, I’ll just have what my wife’s having – TWO of the Chicken Strips please.”

“Do you want Southern Fried?”

“Er, I think so”

“Breaded?”

“Yeah”

“Salad or fries?”

“Er, I don’t know, er – salad?”

“Both?”

“Yeah, both the same.”

“Dips or sauces?”

“Er, I don’t know – what do you have?”

…and so it goes on.

I am making decisions about everything, the family are too far away to ask. It’s ALL on me. Dammit. I’m sweating; this is a test.

Of course, I get it all wrong. My daughter is happy about her massive and expensive macaroni, but upset about Pepsi. She hardly touches it anyway. My son gets peas and cries about it. My wife asks where her chips are, and she wanted a different side. While I was ordering, they had all moved because of a down-draft from the air-conditioning unit, so I had to go way back to the bar and queue to change the table number.

The new table is unstable, and the waitress brings out our food to the wrong table, but it eventually finds us. She snipes about me giving the wrong table number when ordering. My wife and I get different things. I get onion rings and the chicken is not breaded.

The children leave most of their food, but want a dessert.

No way am I going through all that again. We leave.

There was a time when the procedure was to be seated by a waiter, food was chosen from a menu, discussed with the waiter, and an order placed, the kitchen produced the order, and this continued until you asked for the bill. Drinks were added, changed, and desserts indulged. Everything was totted up, and payment (and tip) was made. It is a simple, straightforward, uncomplicated system that worked well for aeons all over the world.

This system worked and didn’t need fixed; it wasn’t broken.

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The Giant Scones of Luss

Some years ago I was talking with the Rev. Gillies of Govan, and talk turned to places to go and things to do.

He casually mentioned “The Giant Scones of Luss”.

Of course, I was intrigued, so I asked,

“Are we talking about scones – real scones – as in ‘afternoon tea’ scones?”

“Yes, only these are legendary; they are not called ‘Giant Scones’ for nothing!”. he declared, “And Luss is not that far, it’s under an hour by car – on Loch Lomond.”

Well that was it, I had to go and see for myself, The Giant Scones of Luss.

We jumped in the car, and headed north to Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond on a dreary wet Saturday afternoon in winter.

We arrived in this cute village, parked up, and wandered about in the rain for clues. A local out walking her dog was approached.

“I know this might sound a bit ‘funny’, but do you know where we could find The Giant Scones of Luss?”

“Oh, Aye, The Coach House – over there,” she pointed.

In we walked to a warm and welcome – and bustling – coffee shop, complete with a glowing coal fire. Perfect. And the scones were indeed giant. It has a lovely atmosphere, but it was expensive – tourist prices.

We were informed that prices used to rise in season, and drop off season, but are now high all year round as the tourists come in a steady stream now. However, there was a “suggestion” that regulars and locals don’t pay these prices, and I wouldn’t be surprised at that at all.

Giant scone

Was it worth it? Definitely, it was cosy and snug in winter, and perfect for a wee trip from the city for loungers and lovers.  In summer, it’s a destination for a wee run for afternoon tea and a scoot round the loch.

And, of course, you get rights to talk about the legendary Giant Scones of Luss – and that’s worth something in itself.

The Pain’s in Spain

I am just back from nearly a fortnight in Spain, and it was a disappointment.

I wish I’d known more about the place before the family and I headed out there. I really do. But there is not a lot of choice during the Glasgow school breaks, one has to act – quickly and decisively and that’s that.

Let me get the moan out of my system. First up – it took us nearly ten hours to get from Glasgow, Scotland to Fuengirola, Spain. That’s three hours’ drive from Glasgow to Newcastle Airport, then over three hours sitting on a plane on a spare bit of tarmac on account of the French Air Traffic Controllers’ Strike, then three hours flying and a hair-raising taxi ride from Málaga to our Hotel.

We left Glasgow’s sunny 22C and arrived on the Costa Del Sol for an overcast, and showery 18C, followed by a massive storm that moved the sand about.

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This was our first ever beach holiday, but the entire 8km of beach was taped off and closed while large trucks and diggers tried to put the sand back on the beach. The beach was closed the whole time we were there.

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It is a shame that the storm closed the beach for our holiday, but it’s one of those things that cannot be helped. An “Act of God”, Mother Nature and all that. 2015-04-15_1429-072015-04-16_1300-40

When the weather cleared up a bit, we found another beach further away – it was not very busy – which seemed strange. At first we thought this was because there were no shops, bars and restaurants following the line of the beach, but after finding many dead fish washed up – and a putrified rat too – we decided it must be somewhat polluted.

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We later wandered Fuengirola beach promenade to find many shops, bars, and restaurants closed down, with signs for sale or to let. Many of the high rise apartment block were vacant too. The place is infested with beggars and jet black folks selling fake handbags, sunglasses and wristwatches. This is a troubled part of the world. I realise that they have very high unemployment, and economic problems, so there’s not much we could do about it, except to crack on and try to make the best of our holiday.

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We were surprised by the massive Mosque (one of the biggest in Europe) and the number of Muslims. What a juxtaposition with the long supermarket aisles of legs of ham, bacon and non-Halal foods!2015-04-18_1058-42

There was a lot of building work going on. This made the place noisy and dusty everywhere. We were surprised at this considering the economic state of Spain – they seem to be hell bent on removing the big unsightly plastic rubbish and recycling bins that are parked at the roadside in favour of aesthetically pleasing and very expensive recessed bins. I wondered how they could manage to pay for this sort of thing instead of investing in schemes to reduce unemployment or increase output. If not investing, then what happened to austerity measures?2015-04-15_1259-132015-04-11_1307-18 2015-04-11_1141-53

We tried food and coffee in whatever cafés and restaurants we found open, but the food was not very good, and not very Spanish either. Everywhere was Heinz Tomato Ketchup. I suppose it can’t be helped that they have to try to cater for English tourists who want home comforts rather than Spanish grub.The best food we ate was Lebanese, and Aruna Shaw’s Indian Tapas served up decent Indian grub. Everywhere else was pretty pathetic.

There was a massive shopping centre below the castle. I mean massive! It is so massive it has a go-karting and racing track on the roof!2015-04-14_1149-33

Sadly, a shopping centre filled with the same shops as back home, is as far from the authentic Spanish experience as one can get. KFC, Burger King, Primark and so on. With the rain, this was a home-from-home, not a break in the sun.

The architecture is horrible, especially so near to the Castillo Sohail (which was closed at this time of year). The hotel’s kids club and events for children were closed, and there was a general feel of getting ready for the English School summer holidays. This was definitely off-season. Hence the very cheap price.

However, cheap prices bring cheap types too – and our hotel had yobs – lots of them. Some urinated from the balcony at night – facing the road – and this would dribble and pool in all the balconies of the rooms beneath, others played loud music and partied in their rooms late into the night.

We rose above it all and made the best of it. The children did bungee trampolining, we hired pedalos, and toured about on hired bicycles. We found a nice beach to play on and swim from, the kids swam in the hotel pool (even though it was very cold), we tried restaurants, read books and bought tat. The food and wine was very cheap in the Eroski Hipermarket, and clothes were comparatively cheap too. The exchange rate is 72p to the Euro, so everything was even cheaper.

One can’t help the climate or the economic climate. Off season works and teenagers trying to be American with “Spring Break” also cannot be helped. French Strikes, immigration and pollution are part of the modern world.

It was not our usual type of holiday, and it was not what we’d expected, but we made it work, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, we had great fun and made great memories – which we’d also have done if it had been sunny, had a beach and better food. At just under a grand, it must be one of the cheapest trips a family of four can take.

So – would we go back? No, thanks.

Spanish Tourist Seaside Package Holidays are just not our thing, but may very well be someone else’s perfect break.

I cannot rule out Spain altogether as I would still like to visit Barcelona, Pamplona at Navarre, La Tomatina at Buñol, and more besides – just not for a few years; I think we’ll steer clear of Spain for a while and perhaps return to France or Italy, or perhaps try something new to us – like Greece or Turkey for the next break.

Evolution of Travel

When I was small, long car trips did not involve safety belts. There was eye-spy, of course, but in the main, it was a “challenge”.

Trains and coaches were much the same – long and boring. Air travel offered shorter journeys, or further distances, but this has completely changed in recent times – interminable waits in unhealthy waiting areas, checking in, baggage. It’s far from quick and glamorous these days.

Travel is a chore. It is not fun unless you are doing it for its own sake, and are in no hurry (and have no children with you).

This is where the tech comes in.

Tech means that journeys are filled with games, music, films, texting, status updates, sat nav, bluetooth syncs, and posting selfies.

However, tech also means chargers, cables, battery-life, loss of signal, no wi-fi, foreign plug adaptors, fear of theft, and fear of breaking the screen.

I’ve known people who have bought a car upon arrival in Australia to drive about for their holidays, only to sell it before returning home.

I’ve known people to pack no clothes, but returned with a bag crammed full of the latest Italian couture.

As I pack for a trip today, I realise that I am taking no luggage (due to stupid budget airlines), just a cabin size bag full of tech, along with minimalist items such as underpants and toiletries, a spare pair of shoes, some t-shirts. Not much really.

The thinking is to strip it all down to the minimum, travel light – that way you do not get lost luggage, broken items, or backstrain. If one should need anything while away, then one could simply nip into a shop and buy whatever it is.

The choice is whether to pack it to bring home or to toss it in a bin at the airport upon departure.

This is the modern world.

On The Importance of Underpants and Shoes

I read an article on-line by Jonathan Kay last October in the National Post. Here’s a quote from it:

When Jang actually met Kim Jong-il, he expected a robust demi-god with sun rays bursting from the back of his head. Instead, he encountered a short, eccentric, doddering, pot-bellied man who spent much of his time playing with a tiny dog.

“As I stand bent double at the waist in a deep bow, my eyes cast down … I can see [Kim’s] feet under the tablecloth,” Jang writes.

“He has taken off his shoes. Even the General suffers from the curse of sore feet! I had always thought him divine, not even needing to use the toilet. That’s what we were taught at school and that’s what the party says: Our General’s life is a continuous series of blessed miracles, incapable of being matched even by all our mortal lifetimes put together … But here I am, looking into his shoes, which have high heels and an inner platform at least two and a half inches high … Although his thin, permed hair adds to the illusion of height, the Dear Leader can’t be more than five feet three inches.”

While it is true that our heroes are fallen by being fallible, I am more interested in the bad feet and shoes of this man, and this reminded me of a comedy sketch where the chap playing Napoleon (or was it Caesar?) said that they simply couldn’t invade a country with uncomfortable shoes. Thank our lucky stars for Kim Jong-il’s bad feet; who knows what would have happened had his feet been happy.

There is a great truth in this – the wrong shoes will ruin the day. This is something women do not seem to understand; look, let’s be frank here, I have been on vacation with women (and everyone knows that vacations means a lot of walking about, don’t they?), but it’s always spoiled by complaints about blisters and sore feet.

underpants and shoes

SHOES ARE IMPORTANT. They must be comfortable, first and foremost – because you cannot win, you cannot be happy, you cannot enjoy anything with bad shoes and sore feet. It’s a law of nature.

A close second is the snugness of the underpant.

Underpants are very important indeed. I am presently attempting to transition from a boxer back to a snug hipster pant, and it’s annoying; I am aware of my underwear – and no-one ought to be aware of underwear, that’s the thing of it.

Being aware of underwear all the time is Not Good. I have these elasticated hipsters holding me in, and I find it distracting, and uncomfortable.  I wish I was back in my boxers, free and carefree again.

I am reminded by a work colleague who wore to work the silk underpants presented to him by his wife on the event of his 40th birthday. He said it was both the longest day of his working life, and the most shamefully erotic too.

Wide Boy

My father in law bought a new Prius car.

He liked it so much he decided to buy the new one this year.

However, the new one he doesn’t like so much. The main thing seems to be the width – it seems to be a lot wider than his old Prius, and he’s having trouble getting it into his garage (and him getting out of the car when it’s in the garage).

Being April first, we decided to prank him.

“Hello?” he answered the phone.

“Good Morning, this is Toyota UK calling regarding your recent purchase of our new width Prius, we’re conducting a short telephone customer satisfaction survey today and beg just 2 minutes of your time. Is just now convenient?”

“Two minutes?, OK go ahead.”

“Right, well as we said you have purchased our extra wide Prius model, can you tell us about your buying decision – can you tell us why you decided to go for our extra wide model”

“Extra wide? I didn’t even know you did an extra wide model”

“Well, you bought one, sir”

“Hm; that explains why I am having problems getting it into my garage.”

“Because it is extra wide?”

“Exactly – you know, this is all becoming very clear what’s happened. We’ve only gone and bought the wrong width.”

“You mean you wanted our standard width model?”

“Yes. We were mis-sold a pup! That salesman sold us the wide version! — I knew he was shifty and up to something!”

“Are you saying you didn’t want the very wide model?”

“Well who would? Really!”

“April Fool! There’s no such thing as a wide model! It’s me!”

“Ah, eh? you got me!”

Pranking Mother

One April 1st I called up my mother.

“Hello?” she answered

“Good afternoon, madam, we believe that you have recently had an aerial installed?”

“Yes, it was yesterday.”

“Ah, yes, that’s what our records show, can you confirm the number of outlets please?”

“Well I have three or four I think…”

“OK, madam, I do not wish to cause you any concern, but as a safety precaution, until our operatives arrive, could you please exit the premises at his time.”

“Why what is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s too early to say, but could you please leave the premises right away, madam?”

“But my daughter has a new installation. I put the men that did mine onto her. They are there today. Should I ring her up?”

“No, no madam, now could you please hang up and leave the house as soon as you can; our operatives are on their way.”

“click”

“Hello – mother? Mum? are you there?”

” ”

Well it seems that my mother did hang up and go into the garden to await “operatives”. I tried ringing her again, but it rang out.

She was very put out to discover later that it was a daft April Fool prank. She stood in the garden in the rain for 20 minutes. I felt bad.

We never spoke of it again.

I never pranked my mother again.

Daftness Celebrated

I like April Fool’s Day; it’s quirky.

I also like Valentine’s Day, but not Saint Valentine’s Day. I like it for not being anything religious, but instead about relationships, romance, love, and passion. Now that’s a proper reason for celebration.

Tonight Stephen Fry on his TV show, QI, informed me that Mothering Sunday was originally about returning to your mother church, and nothing at all to do with celebrating mothers and motherhood. That would have saddened me, had it not been for the fact that everyone KNOWS it’s about mum. To heck with the origins!

April Fool’s Day (which seems only to operate from abut 9 am and noon) is another superb idea – the celebration of our capacity for foolishness, or that we can be gullible and taken in.

That we can graciously accept being made a fool of, that we can prank someone, that we can read something in the papers or believe some nonsense simply because it is on the telly, is excellent to my mind. This is a good reminder that everything is not always so serious and glum.

peacock chairThe April Fool Prank that I consider to be the best done to me, was when I had ordered a Peacock Chair from a shop in the city. There was a few weeks’ delivery to wait.

I forgot what the date was and a call was put through to my office, my secretary said the shop were ringing me up.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Hello, we have received your stuffed peacock this morning and just need to know which day suits you best for delivery.” Said the voice of a bored, common, shopgirl.

“A what?” I thought I was hearing things.

“Your stuffed peacock,” she said.

“My stuffed peacock?”

“That’s right, your stuffed peacock, sir. We can deliver it tomorrow between 9 and 11 in the morning, or perhaps Thursday afternoon if that suits you best…”

“No, no, no!” I panted, “I ordered a peacock chair, not a stuffed peacock.”

“That’s not what it says here, sir.”

“But it must be a mistake…”

“No mistake, sir, it’s here in front of me in black and white – you signed the form, sir, I have your signature and phone number as well as all your details, right here, sir…”

“But… what on earth would I want a stuffed peacock for?”

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know sir; it is rather large.”

“Large?”

“Yes, it stands about seven or eight feet with it’s tail fanned out like that.”

“What? Eight feet? Oh no!”

“Yes, sir, we’re having to arrange for a Luton van to do the delivery…”

“But I don’t want it! It’s too big! I never ordered it! This is a nightmare! I need to speak with your manager to sort this out!” I ranted.

Large peacock

“Hahahah you numpty! It’s me!” said a slightly different voice. My world spun in confusion.

“April Fool!”

It was my girlfriend’s best pal, calling from her office. I could hear the hilarity going on around her. I was 100% drained.

“So I don’t have a giant stuffed peacock?” I stuttered.

“No, you bought a chair, and I’ve no idea when it’ll be delivered!” She said between laughs.

Brilliant.

Happy April foolishness to all!