THE TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS OF TRAIN TRAVEL

 

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IS IT possible to travel inexpensively and in comfort on the UK rail network?

I pose this question as I recently travelled to Helensburgh in Scotland, a well-placed Victorian town on the Firth of Clyde, designed in 1902-03 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and home to the Royal Naval base at Faslane. Lovely town, lovely people, weather not-so-great, at least while I was there!

The circumstances surrounding my need to make this journey were such that I didn’t actually know when I’d be required to go until the last minute. I was also going for personal reasons and not business-related—so putting the cost on expenses wasn’t an option.

When I finally knew my dates, two days prior to travel, I was honestly expecting the cost to be astronomical. So you can imagine my surprise when, not only did I find a favourably-priced seat but it was also in First Class and only costing £8.00 more than a Standard.

Of course it was a no-brainer. So I booked online and looked forward to tasting a 2019 version of a British First Class rail travel experience.

The day came and we arrived at the station bright and early. Aside from a grumpy porter, who argued about the location of available toilets, everything went smoothly. The train pulled in, I boarded, settled into my allocated seat and duly waved goodbye to my hubby.

We set off and the surprises began early. A choice of coffee, tea or soft drinks, followed by a picnic-style lunch—then even more drinks—were all served at your seat and best-of-all… for free! Amazingly the extra £8 I’d paid for my ticket had already been repaid.

I had to change trains at Edinburgh Haymarket with a very short transfer time. And not knowing which platform to head for I asked a station employee who was, to say the least, rude and unhelpful. But, luckily for me, a fellow traveller kindly offered to look up the info on his smartphone’s Virgin App and I just made it onto my connection.

The return was even more interesting. Again I didn’t know when I’d be travelling home until closer to the date. I searched online and found the same priced ticket I’d purchased for my outward journey. But it stated I could only travel on the trains stipulated for that price, and again it gave me a very short transfer time—with no allowance for delays.

On a whim, before buying, I headed to Helensburgh Station to see if they had a machine to print out my ticket. I’m so glad I did. The ticket man was brilliant, and told me I could travel on an earlier train in order to avoid the risk of missing my connection. Apparently, when it states that the ticket price only covers certain trains, it only applies to the main operator and not other rail providers—in this case Scotrail. So I was able to take an earlier train and arrived at Edinburgh Haymarket with 40 minutes to spare and time for a coffee!

When my connection arrived, I again settled into my seat not sure whether the freebies would be on offer again. Well, indeed they were. And, in addition, there was wine this time plus even more food!

I had wondered, as I travelled up on a Saturday, whether the refreshments were just a weekend special. But I returned on a weekday, so it appears they’re included in the ticket price whatever day of the week you travel.

I think it’s important to point out that, on both journeys, there were three First Class carriages and none of them were anywhere close to being full.

Two things spring to mind:

  1. We the public need to search online to compare standard and first class travel, especially when making a long journey.
  2. And to the rail operators, why are you putting First Class carriages on trains only partially filled when passengers are squashed liked sardines into Standard ones?

When things run smoothly, trains are a good and comfortable way to travel around Britain. Yet there’s also still so much that can be done to improve rail services.

Investment has to be made—and soon. Especially when we’re being asked to take fewer short haul flights to reduce our collective carbon footprints.

Happy travelling!

’Til next time,

Granny FlapjaX

STEER CLEAR OF SHAMBOLIC PONTINS WITH ‘UPDATE’

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RECENTLY I read on Facebook about a Bristol mum and her family who had booked an Easter holiday weekend at Pontins, Brean Sands in Somerset, England.

When they arrived they had to wait two hours to access their accommodation, but it was so disgusting they ended up choosing to walk away and scrap their plans.

Not before complaining, of course. But to no avail, because Pontins simply don’t care. They’ll sell you accommodation based on photographs on their website, which are not of the accommodation you are buying. Then, when you complain, they’ll always find a reason NOT to refund your money.

Their first cop out, while you are still on-site, is to offer to clean the room. I think it should be a given that accommodation is clean and up-to-standard when you arrive. Clearly they don’t!

Then, when you ask for a full refund, they say you’ll have to go through their complaints procedure which takes 28 days. Which is a joke!

I know this because my daughter, her partner and two children booked at Prestatyn Sands in Wales last August and had exactly the same experience. I’ve seen the photos and to describe the accommodation as disgusting would be putting it mildly.

There was broken furniture, curtains hanging off the rails, old stained mattresses and quilts, a filthy bathroom and the stairs and decked walkway to the room was like a rubbish tip.

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They’d also paid for the meal package and, in total, had spent just under £400.00 for four days.

Pontins did suggest they’d refund the £180.00 for the meal package, but only on the proviso we didn’t pursue any further action for the accommodation. As I understand it, they’re not legally entitled to do that.

After a long, tiring journey, my daughter and family were upset and angry to find that what was on offer was not what they’d paid for.

They waited in a lengthy line of other guests who were also complaining. The reception staff offered nothing other than to clean the room, and said they had no other rooms available. The manager was seen cowering in a back office behind the reception—rather than coming out to confront his angry guests.

My daughter and her partner deemed the room unfit for use and made the decision to return home, despite being very tired and bitterly disappointed.

Having made the complaint via email—as Pontins requested—then  following up in writing to the Chief Executive and their Sales and Marketing Director, there was essentially no response from them. They simply acknowledged they’d received the complaint and said they would respond within 28 days.

They didn’t!

We then spoke to Trading Standards, who advised us to go through Resolver, an online mediation service—but again we had no response.

The next option was to go through the small claims court. But up against a large  company it can become costly, and it didn’t make sense to throw good money after bad.

Finally, there was ‘chargeback’ through the bank, which initially looked promising—yet again Pontins found something in the fine print, which meant the bank wouldn’t pay out.

I’m writing this because clearly there are many other people who are also being misled, ripped off and cheated by Pontins and their owners, Britannia Hotels.

This group needs to be named and shamed. They don’t care about their guests or about providing adequate and habitable accommodation for families, most of whom have saved all year for their holiday, only to have their dreams shattered.

Pontins and Britannia appear to have no business standards or morals and so far are getting away with what can only be described as ‘daylight robbery’.

They mustn’t be allowed to continue in this way and, have no fear, I’m on the case and fully intend to take them to task.

In the meantime, with the holiday season coming up, I can only suggest that you steer well clear of Pontins, wherever they’re located. They are bad news, and you’ll only end up being disappointed and out-of-pocket.

Only by protesting will we spark a change for-the-better—and doing so with our feet and our wallets is the best way forward.

I’ll keep you updated, so watch this space.

Take care,

Granny FlapjaX

July 2019 – PONTINS – UPDATE

In June my daughter decided that she would pursue the issue with Pontins through the small claims court, and not just let them get away with her £430.00; £380.00 for the accommodation and food, plus £50.00 in compensation, for loss of their holiday, a total of £430.00.

Essentially it was easier than we thought because we had already done most of the work required by the court. They are looking for evidence of your correspondence to Pontins and their responses, if any. And by using Resolver, you can download the case history which has all communications from you and any replies from Pontins. It’s also important to have advised Pontins in writing that you are going to pursue the matter through the small claims court, but again this can be done in Resolver.

By the end of the first week in July, my daughter had received a cheque for the full £430.00 from Pontins. Yes, it really was that quick. Pontins didn’t even contest it, but that’s because they knew that they didn’t have a leg to stand on.

I am, of course, delighted for my daughter, her partner and family, and I hope that this outcome will inspire anyone else who is duped by Pontins, to pursue them through the small claims court.

In my view their business ethic is wholly unacceptable, and only by more people taking action against them, will we have a chance to stop them.

All the information you need to make a claim can be found online and the forms downloaded; and finally, if it’s possible, remember to take photographic evidence and keep copies of all correspondence.

Good Luck!

‘Til next time,

Granny FlapjaX

STEER CLEAR OF SHAMBOLIC PONTINS

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RECENTLY I read on Facebook about a Bristol mum and her family who had booked an Easter holiday weekend at Pontins, Brean Sands in Somerset, England.

When they arrived they had to wait two hours to access their accommodation, but it was so disgusting they ended up choosing to walk away and scrap their plans.

Not before complaining, of course. But to no avail, because Pontins simply don’t care. They’ll sell you accommodation based on photographs on their website, which are not of the accommodation you are buying. Then, when you complain, they’ll always find a reason NOT to refund your money.

Their first cop out, while you are still on-site, is to offer to clean the room. I think it should be a given that accommodation is clean and up-to-standard when you arrive. Clearly they don’t!

Then, when you ask for a full refund, they say you’ll have to go through their complaints procedure which takes 28 days. Which is a joke!

I know this because my daughter, her partner and two children booked at Prestatyn Sands in Wales last August and had exactly the same experience. I’ve seen the photos and to describe the accommodation as disgusting would be putting it mildly.

There was broken furniture, curtains hanging off the rails, old stained mattresses and quilts, a filthy bathroom and the stairs and decked walkway to the room was like a rubbish tip. 

IMG_6812 IMG_6817IMG_6822

IMG_6807IMG_6816IMG_6811

They’d also paid for the meal package and, in total, had spent just under £400.00 for four days.

Pontins did suggest they’d refund the £180.00 for the meal package, but only on the proviso we didn’t pursue any further action for the accommodation. As I understand it, they’re not legally entitled to do that.

After a long, tiring journey, my daughter and family were upset and angry to find that what was on offer was not what they’d paid for.

They waited in a lengthy line of other guests who were also complaining. The reception staff offered nothing other than to clean the room, and said they had no other rooms available. The manager was seen cowering in a back office behind the reception—rather than coming out to confront his angry guests.

My daughter and her partner deemed the room unfit for use and made the decision to return home, despite being very tired and bitterly disappointed.

Having made the complaint via email—as Pontins requested—then  following up in writing to the Chief Executive and their Sales and Marketing Director, there was essentially no response from them. They simply acknowledged they’d received the complaint and said they would respond within 28 days.

They didn’t!

We then spoke to Trading Standards, who advised us to go through Resolver, an online mediation service—but again we had no response.

The next option was to go through the small claims court. But up against a large  company it can become costly, and it didn’t make sense to throw good money after bad.

Finally, there was ‘chargeback’ through the bank, which initially looked promising—yet again Pontins found something in the fine print, which meant the bank wouldn’t pay out.

I’m writing this because clearly there are many other people who are also being misled, ripped off and cheated by Pontins and their owners, Britannia Hotels.

This group needs to be named and shamed. They don’t care about their guests or about providing adequate and habitable accommodation for families, most of whom have saved all year for their holiday, only to have their dreams shattered.

Pontins and Britannia appear to have no business standards or morals and so far are getting away with what can only be described as ‘daylight robbery’.

They mustn’t be allowed to continue in this way and, have no fear, I’m on the case and fully intend to take them to task.

In the meantime, with the holiday season coming up, I can only suggest that you steer well clear of Pontins, wherever they’re located. They are bad news, and you’ll only end up being disappointed and out-of-pocket.

Only by protesting will we spark a change for-the-better—and doing so with our feet and our wallets is the best way forward.

I’ll keep you updated, so watch this space.

Take care,

Granny FlapjaX

LET’S MAKE BRITAIN GREAT AGAIN

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I RECENTLY watched the film I Daniel Blake.

What a terrible testament to how we’re treating our indigenous population today. People who’ve worked hard to make a life for themselves and their families and who suddenly, through no fault of their own, find themselves with nowhere to turn for support but the state.

I felt physically sick and angry seeing how Blake and others were treated when trying to establish what benefits they could claim and how difficult it was to make a claim–because you have to apply online.

What’s that all about? Does the UK government not realise there are still many people who either don’t have access to a computer, know how to use one, or can actually fight there way through the jungle of ‘gobbledegook’ that’ll supposedly help them claim what’s rightfully theirs.

Surely, instead of the government trying to make it as difficult as possible to claim benefits when needed, they should sort out a system which can be accessed with the help of appropriately trained people, to ensure they claim the right benefits for their situation. Leaving it up to the individual to work it out can be neither fair nor cost-effective. 

Clearly the government doesn’t want to pay out more tax-payers money than is necessary, but are they really making an attempt to stop that?

In my humble opinion, no. The exorbitant costs of introducing Universal Credit to replace the current benefits system are a shocking waste. And now the rollout has been postponed, save for a nominal 10,000 people who will be moved onto it as a trial. Yet hasn’t it been trialled for the past two years or so, with no resolution? And in the process caused total devastation to many who’ve had their benefits reduced dramatically, or not received payments at all – subsequently ending up in arrears with rent, along with accruing other debts.

The ever-increasing number of people being forced to turn to food banks to put food on the table for themselves and their families is another shocking statistic which can be laid at the feet of the UK government.

Have they really no concept of what it’s like for the homeless and for people living on low incomes or benefits, and how hard it is to get through each day?

Clearly not. And it seems a ‘head in the sand’ attitude is the path they’re choosing to take. Because they’re okay–and if it’s not on your doorstep you don’t have to deal with it.

Now we hear much talk about feelings of ‘hatred’ being banded about. Is it any wonder?

How long should we suppose it’ll be before there’s an uprising from those in society who feel suppressed. Those who simply want a comfortable home, food on the table and to be able to pay their bills. Surely we can all expect at least that in the 21st Century?

However, capitalism, greed and the lack of a real leader for decades now, has left us where we find ourselves today. A severely divided society, with a huge gap between the disgustingly rich and the desperately poor. And no-one with either  the guts or the inclination to take a stand and bring some equilibrium to the situation.

Of course there’s anger and hatred, because we’re supposed to be a democracy. Yet, in reality we’re not.

We’ve always been proud of our freedom of speech; but that’s now been eroded to a level where no-one feels able to speak out.

As a country we’ve allowed ourselves to be carrelled into trying to please everyone–and, in doing so, we’ve lost authority in all areas of everyday life.

Nearing the end of the first month of 2019, we must start to look at the possibilities of turning the situation around; give authority back to those on whom we depend to keep our country safe and in order.

With our politicians at war with themselves, unable to carry out the result of a democratic vote in the 2016 referendum, and murders happening almost daily on the streets of London and elsewhere, we are seeing a society that is in danger of becoming  feral.

And, with the world spinning out of control, we have to take responsibility for the ultimate survival of Great Britain, turn all the anger and aggression into a united force for good; free ourselves from the chains which have linked us to the EU for the past 40 years, and break out into the wider world with renewed vigour and determination to become a great nation once more.

As I’m always telling my grandchildren, “Believe in yourself, you can do it”.

And Great Britain can too, believe it!

‘Rule Britannia!’

’Til next time,

Granny FlapjaX

THE YIN & YANG OF CHRISTMAS – It’s Like Marmite, You Either Love it or You Hate It!

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THIS year has flown by—like a speedboat through the ocean–and suddenly Christmas is upon us once again!

While I don’t want to be a ‘killjoy’, I freely admit feeling a strong urge to crawl into a corner and hide away for the next couple of weeks.

In some respects I love Christmas. The build-up, excitement and anticipation we all share with our grandchildren—especially the younger ones—is a certain level of magical.

Yet, just this week, I had to ask the dreaded question: “What would you like for Christmas?”

The responses were quick and to-the-point. From the teenage fraternity it was: “Money please!” While the younger ones bleeted out they’d like a new phone and branded trainers. Eeeeeek!

Mmm…. Money seems okay, as there’s little work involved in that. Just draw it from the bank and stick it in an envelope. Job done! However, a new phone and branded trainers? This could involve taking out a new mortgage!

The trouble is, we’re always trying to please the grandchildren, not wanting to acquire a reputation for being ‘meanies’. But we have to ask ourselves, at what point do we draw the line and say: “Too much money?”

Martin Lewis (of MoneySavingExpert.com fame) has been very vocal again this year, appealing to people to be smart and not cripple themselves with debt this Christmas. And he’s right; we do have a tendency to overspend on gifts, food, decorations and Christmas jumpers!

If you feel sick-to-the-stomach at the thought of spending money you don’t have on gifts family and friends probably don’t need or want, then why buy them? It’s far easier to be honest and say you’re opting out of gift-buying this year because you simply can’t afford it.

They’ll respect you for your honesty—and very likely admit to being relieved. 2018 Xmas Presents 1

Christmas spending on gifts, just for the sake of it, has become a nightmare for so many of us—and it’s about time we woke up and realized that starting the New Year without credit card debt would be the best Christmas present ever!

Then we have decorations. Now, of course, we all love to decorate our homes with the tree as a centerpiece. And, if you’re like us, you’ll use the same decorations every year—which I see nothing wrong with. Some of ours are actually as old as our children and still going strong. They have memories attached to them, so are special. Plus, we don’t need new ones every year. Many of the baubles are plastic too, but whatever they’re made from, they’ll be eroding the planet’s natural resources. 2018 Xmas Tree 1

2018 has also been a year of smack-in-the-face realization of the damage we’re doing to our planet. With food being just one of the problems.

The shops are now closed only on Christmas Day. So why do we buy enough food to last us a month? It’s because the supermarkets spend thousands of pounds on advertising campaigns tempting us with a neverending array of treats to stuff ourselves with over the festive season.

But is that what we do? No. And, as a consequence, there’s massive food wastage and enormous amounts of plastic packaging to be disposed of.

And how much deforestation takes place to make way for palm trees which produce the oil that goes into the products we buy to keep our cupboards stocked with Christmas treats?

We need to bring sanity back to Christmas, wrestling back control from the shops and stores that so effectively and seductively lure us in with their beautifully dressed windows. Especially as, upon heading inside, you find they’re essentially selling the same stuff as last year? Maybe in different packaging, but the same, nonetheless?

I find it depressing when I go out looking in the shops for ‘something different’—when, in reality, I know there won’t be anything. Just ‘tatt’, ‘tatt’ and more ‘tatt’!

Then there’s Christmas jumpers. A recent phenomenon which add layers to the stress and financial burden of Yuletide. Yes, they’re fun. But if you have a family, it means everyone has to have one—which can be a ridiculous expense. We managed for years without them, and can do so again!

Finally, let’s bring an end to the endless rounds of ‘Round Robin letters’… please! 2018 Xmas Round Robin

I have to hold my hands up and admit to having sent them out with my Christmas cards in the past. But I only sent them to people who knew my family, and who we didn’t see from year-to-year.

However, by reducing my Christmas card list, we now only receive one and honestly, I have no idea why? We haven’t seen the people for 25 years-plus, have no contact at all with them during the year and, worst of all, only knew one of their children—when he was a teenager. But, nevertheless, we get news on all the children and grandchildren, home improvements, holidays, health and anything else you can think of that’s simply not relevant. Ugh!!!!!!!

Every year, with grit and determination, I strike names from my Christmas card list. Yet then live in fear that one I’ve ‘struck-off’ will still venture through our letter box. And, when it does, I reluctantly send one back. With the cost of postage rising every year, I definitely need to toughen up!

On a lighter note, I recently saw the new Grinch film, and realize I’m in danger of becoming ‘Mrs Grinch’.

So, in the true spirit of Christmas, I wish everyone a wonderful Yuletide spell and a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

See you in 2019,

Granny FlapJaX.

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DEAL OR NO DEAL? — £39 BILLION TO BE WORSE OFF?

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Why it’s time we opened the box to a brighter British future and left the EU to mourn its loss.

I CAN’T believe what I’ve been hearing the last few days re. the supposed ‘deal’ Theresa May and her so-called Brexit team have negotiated with the EU.

To say I’m shocked would be a giant understatement. But I’m also seething and feel like we’ve been completely shafted by Mrs. May, as a nation.

All she’s done since the details of her ‘deal’ were released is repeat over and over again the same terms. Which she insists she’ll push through, as that’s what she’s promised us.

Yet all I keep hearing is a list of broken promises.

What planet is this woman living on? She clearly has her head in the clouds, and seems to be on the verge of keeping us in the EU. But minus any influential representation in the European Parliament.

And we hear it’s going to cost us £39 billion pounds for the privilege. Yes, we’ll literally be throwing £39 billion pounds down the drain.

I’m sweating just thinking about it.

Because let’s consider what this bamboozling amount of money could potentially do for the people of the United Kingdom:

  1. Shelter the homeless and eradicate rough sleeping on our streets.
  2. Upgrade our education system—both schools and universities—to get us back where we used to be, sitting at the top table with the best in the world.
  3. Fund our NHS to treat every citizen with the proper care and respect they deserve. Plus, end the winter bed crisis which has become an annual embarrassment.
  4. Fund a proper care system for the elderly and build new care homes so they can spend their twilight years in comfortable surroundings, being looked after by properly-trained staff who really CARE.
  5. Fund Social Services to properly support their committed staff. Giving them the tools to make a difference. And removing the neverending restrictions which prevent them from making the right decisions to help those in society desperate for support. Especially innocent children.
  6. Give proper financial support to our ex-servicemen, the disabled and those suffering with mental health issues. Because our lack of attention and focus on them is a national disgrace. They deserve to be looked after, treated with respect and given the best possible care available. In fact, we owe it to them to make that happen.
  7. Give back authority to the police, teachers and our emergency services who are battling against the odds. Give them the financial support and the resources they need to do the job required of them in today’s society.

In the referendum of 2016, 52% of British people voted to LEAVE the EU. Which begs the question, which part of the word ‘leave’ does Mrs. May not understand?

Do we really believe the threats of financial disaster, losing thousands of jobs, planes failing to take off and land, drastic food and medical shortages, and house prices plummeting?  In a word: “No.”

Because we know how Britain was and how it existed before we joined the EEC in the 1970s. Which was? The answer is simplicity itself.

Great Britain was Great! We had huge industries in fishing, boat building, car manufacturing, engineering, science and research. We were also innovative, creative, forward-thinking and always moved with the times.

 

Why then, have we gone into reverse since becoming part of the EU? Heading straight into a black hole—which has led to us losing our standing on the world stage. And allowing ourselves to be run by a bunch of unelected bureaucrats, clearly only interested in feathering their own nests.

Where did we go so wrong?

The reality is we’re not afraid of them. They, however, are afraid of us leaving. Because realistically, without our financial input, the EU will cease to be.

Finally—and it’s something I feel really passionate about—let’s not forget it was only just over three weeks ago that we were remembering the millions of men and women who fought and died in the first and second world wars.

Don’t we owe it to them to stand on our own two feet and not allow ourselves to be ruled and bullied by some of those nations they fought so bravely to defeat?

Food for thought.

’Til next time,

Granny FlapjaX

REMEMBERANCE DAY – 11TH NOVEMBER

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This year on 23rd September, my father would have celebrated his 100th Birthday. 

Sadly he didn’t live to enjoy such an occasion; he died in 2001 at 83 years of age.

But as we approach Remembrance Sunday, I want to talk about him from a personal perspective, whilst remembering the millions of brave men and women who gave their lives or suffered unimaginable atrocities, at the hands of the enemy, in both the first and second world wars.

They were an extraordinary generation; strong, patriotic, focused and mentally and physically extremely tough. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, so the very least we can do is to REMEMBER them.

My father returned home having been held captive by the Japanese for nearly three and a half years during the second world war. 

The soldiers who fought in the Far East were known as the ‘Forgotten Army’, because they were.

The troops in Singapore were awaiting evacuation from the island, as the Japanese advanced; but Winston Churchill made the decision to turn the ships back, with the result that Singapore fell into Japanese hands and all the troops along with many civilians were captured.

Some of the history of what happened to both the military and civilian populations during the following three and a half years is a matter of public record. They endured unspeakable torture, cruelty, starvation, deprivation and degradation, but many of the internees chose not to talk about their experiences after the war, including my father.

 We do know he survived several very serious illnesses including, Beri Beri, Dysentry, Septicaemia, Malaria, Diphtheria and Osteomyelitis of the right lower jaw, for which he had four operations in the POW camp, and further surgeries many years later, back in England.

To this day we don’t know how he survived, but it is clear that he had an incredible inner strength and determination to make it home.

When he came back from the Far East, he weighed just over 5 st, having been nearly 12 st when he was captured; being 6 ft tall, it’s not hard to imagine how he would have looked. However, his physical appearance was recoverable, with a good diet and a lot of TLC, but the mental scars were not. He spoke about it very little, but it is clear that it was my mother who supported him through the endless nightmares and flashbacks which stayed with him throughout his life. She was there for him through it all; there was no help, no counselling, no government support.

Gerry & Kathleen in uniform 3

After arriving back from the Far East he was invalided out of the Army, despite having had a bright future ahead of him when he joined. He was given £7.00 and a tin of cocoa and basically told to go and “get on with his life”.

Then in the mid 1990’s following a documentary he was involved with for the BBC,  titled ‘Not Forgotten’, he was asked by a doctor to take part in a study into the effects of trauma, now known as PTSD.

It seems it is since then and the more recent wars, that we have accepted that being in a war situation, has without question, a lasting affect on the men and women who put themselves on the front line.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has become a recognised consequence of military service.

I have asked this question of myself and my family; at the age of 24, can you even imagine what it must be like waking up each morning wondering if this will be your last? And not just on one day but everyday for three and a half years. 

Being forced to watch the beheading of fellow soldiers who may have tried to escape or insulted a japanese officer.

Being made to dig graves and then forced to watch prisoners, men and women, stand at the edge of each grave and be shot into it. Then having to fill the graves in.

Waking to find a friend in the next bunk has given up his fight during the night, but then being subjected to a post mortem being carried out right there in front of you.

Despite all of this my father managed to live a full life, working well into his seventies, and he remained married to my mother until she died in 1998.  We thought he would go very soon afterwards, but again, he surprised us by living on for another three years.

Sadly none of us really have much knowledge of what my father and thousands like him, suffered in both the first and second world wars.

I believe that in the last year of his life, he may have wanted to talk about it, but the opportunity never arose, and I feel guilty that I may have deprived him of feeling some peace at the end of his life.

Although he worked hard for the best part of his life, there were many signs of the effects of his time in the POW camps, most too personal to put into print.

He would spend up to two hours in the mornings washing himself over and over again, and the bathroom floor would be soaked from him splashing himself with water. 

If his hands were idle he would take a man-size cotton handkerchief and roll it into a ball from the outside in, so tightly that it would tear into holes. It was a strange thing to do, but clearly something he had learned to help relieve the stress and boredom in the camp.

He felt that he had lost four years of his life and was determined to claw that back, which we believe was why he carried on working for as long as he could.

And although he never said outright, he clearly felt angry that his country had let him down. He didn’t have a good word to say of Winston Churchill, or the government who wrote him off when he returned home, and he HATED the japanese and would never have anything made by them in his house.

And from my point of view, I carry those feelings with me on his behalf. 

Now as we approach Remembrance Day, 11th November 2018, it is the duty of all of us, to remember each and every one of the brave men and women, military and civilian in both the first and second world wars, as well as those who were lost in other battles of 20th century. If they hadn’t made the sacrifices they did, we would be living very different lives today. 

So when we feel life is getting us down, we have to remember their sacrifices and their suffering, and their selflessness which has given us the lifestyle that we are privileged to have today, and that must NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.

Until next time,

Granny FlapjaX

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Poppies Rev

Oil on canvas

Artist – Jamie Jardine, London, Ontario, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

“Regrets? I have a few.”………

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CHATTING to my youngest son recently, he asked whether I had any regrets in life?

The question made me really think about my life—and what I’d change about it, if handed a ticket to a time-machine.

As you get older, time flies by so fast. ‘Til you reach the point where you realize many of the things you had planned—and always thought you had plenty of time to do—may not happen now.

That’s a real ‘wake-up-call’, especially when you still feel mentally able to achieve those things. Just perhaps not physically.

~ ~ ~

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Looking back, the lion’s share of my life is regret-free.

I’ve been married to the same man for 48 years. We met three months before my 21st birthday. He was at college in Leicester and I worked as a hotel receptionist in a small town in Hampshire, where his parents lived. 

He came to the hotel looking for work during the Easter holidays. And while waiting to be seen, was inspired to come and chat-me-up at the front desk.

We only saw each other six times before getting married in the June—less than three months later.

He had a student flight booked for a trip to Canada and America in the summer holidays, where he has family, and luckily, was able to bag me a seat too — we spent our honeymoon travelling.

We had virtually no money, but were able to get work in Canada—which paid for the flights to Texas—from where we travelled to Monterrey in Mexico, back to Texas, then finally home to London, via New York.

When my parents passed away, I found a collection of letters which I’d written to them while on those travels. They’re a wonderful record of times past—and also very funny; written with such charming innocence.

One day I may choose to publish them on my blog.

During the 48 years we’ve shared, we’ve repeatedly ridden life’s rollercoaster.

It’s been a blast—intertwined with tragedy, sorrow and pride. But always an abundance of love; both for each other and our wonderful children and grandchildren.

Our first baby died when he was just five hours old, but then we were blessed with three more beautiful children, and over the years they have blossomed and grown into the most amazing human beings.

They’ve all overcome their own unique challenges in life. And while not millionaires (yet!), they’re richer in every other way for those experiences. 

Trustworthy, loving, caring and loyal are just a few of the qualities they’ve been able to pass on to their children. Our incredible grandchildren.

There are no words to describe the joy they’ve brought to us over the years. They’re truly wonderful and we feel privileged and blessed to be in their lives.

~ ~ ~

For the last 25 years of our working lives, we ran two businesses together: a design consultancy and two antique shops.

It was a crazy time with so much packed into every waking hour. We worked hard and played hard—yet thoroughly enjoyed it all. And the best part was the amazing people we met along the way. Some who are still friends today.

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Now that we’re retired, if still boasting a bustling schedule, I do reflect on things from time-to-time. And some regrets do bubble up.

I regret my parents had such a hard life—which they didn’t deserve.

My father spent four years in a POW (Prisoner of War) camp at the hands of the Japanese during World War II.

Against all the odds, he survived and made a new life for himself back in England—working hard and living to a grand 83 years of age. But he never fully recovered from the mental and physical torture he suffered during his captivity.

My mother was his rock and they stayed together—despite enduring some tough times. Many couples in their shoes didn’t make it. She was incredible and is an inspiration to me every day.

I am strong because of her.

~ ~ ~

I regret the suffering my three children have endured for different reasons. 

If I could have swapped places with them, I would have. But thankfully they’ve all come through. And are, I believe, stronger and more confident people for conquering those challenges.

I also lament the fact I wasn’t able to sit any exams before I left school at 15, to take my first job. I dreamt of being a lawyer, which would have required a law degree. But going to university wasn’t possible for me then.

Not having a more successful career is a regret too. But I do still have an ‘ology’ in life skills—and am very proud of that.

I believe our lives are mostly mapped out; kind of written in the stars. And no matter what decisions we take, they’ll move us in particular directions.

I say this because there are so many instances when I’ve wondered “what if” I’d taken another path?

But they always lead me back to where I am today. And the fact that, if I’d made different decisions, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

I am reasonably fit, and a happy and contented wife, mother and grandmother. With a life rich in ‘special’ memories. And hopefully many more to create in the future.

If I was to give any advice, I’d say:

  • Believe in yourself and love the person you are.
  • Live life to the full (you only have one).
  • Follow your instincts and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a risk, as long as it’s a calculated one.
  • Make every day count; time is precious.
  • Enjoy the good times—and always try to learn from the not-so-good.
  • Be proud of yourself and what you achieve—and you’ll have few regrets.

 

‘Til next time

Granny Flapjax

SUN, SEA & STUNNING SCENERY — IS THE GOOD OLD BRITISH HOLIDAY HERE TO STAY?

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If this years’ great summer weather is a taste of things to come, it’s going to be hard for us Brits not to be enticed to stay home and take our future holidays right here!

So far this year, just visiting family and friends, my hubby and I have enjoyed trips to Cornwall, Derbyshire, North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Scotland and Wales—and I have to say, when all the elements are right, the UK takes some beating!

The West Country, with its Jurassic coastline, glorious sandy beaches and stunning scenery is always a treat, while Cumbria, featuring a feast of fabulous hills and majestic lakes offering ever-changing views as the setting sun turns day into night, is just a delight.

And right across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—you can never feel disappointed with the rich variety of vistas and the lush, history-soaked landscapes which stretch far and wide and flood your senses with joy and satisfaction. Derbyshire 2 PeaksCumbria 6 The Lakes

Aesthetically and historically we can rival the globe’s finest vacation destinations. But do we have things right when it comes to offering value for money?

You’ll hear many frustrated parents say how expensive it is to stay in the UK with their children—especially if their luck’s out on the weather front.

We do have holiday camps, but for the most part they fall short on every aspect of what they offer, and in my view are best avoided. There are caravan and camping sites aplenty. But even they can prove expensive when entertainment, food and other costs are taken into consideration.

It can also be argued that some—if not all—providers of UK holiday accommodation seem to adopt the philosophy that if it’s cheap it doesn’t need to be clean and tidy! We’ve stayed in countless hotels and B&B’s over the years where this has been the case and the accommodation has been a total letdown.

I also wonder what first impressions foreign tourists have when they initially touch tarmac and prepare to explore our beloved isle.

Flying in and out of our major airports is, it’s fair to say, a work-in-progress. But for now, we’ll stick with “in”.

If you’re lucky enough to retrieve your luggage smoothly, you’ll still be taken aback by your first port of call, the toilet facilities, which will leave you in no doubt you’re now on UK soil (pun intended).

Having travelled abroad a fair bit, I’ve never found loos as badly abused as they are by Brits, both overseas and here in the UK.

Disney in Florida was a classic example. When we hit the famous Epcot Centre, where a multitude of different countries are represented, the UK facilities were unquestionably the worst!

And it doesn’t matter where you go here in the UK—whether it be motorway services, train and bus stations or airports—it’s always the same.

I’ve been bending ears about this for years, because I simply don’t understand it. Do people treat their own bathrooms the same way? I somehow doubt it. Not least because  it’s down to them to clean up the mess.

Do they really lack an ounce of appreciation for the people employed to keep public toilets clean? It’s clearly not going to win many votes for best job in the world. But it’s still, nonetheless, a vital one—and someone has to do it.

Surely we have it in us to behave responsibly when using our nation’s loos? To ensure the people who pass through after us—and the heroic cleaners—are not subject to some of the horrors witnessed in past movements?

Having fought your way out of the airport and onto the next mode of transport, you can at least relax and look forward to a good night’s sleep at the accommodation you’ve booked in good faith.

Or can you?

In most cases, yes. Especially if you’re paying an arm-and-a-leg—as in dropping a fat sack of money on a place to stay.

But beware if trying to grab a great deal. When it sounds too good to be true it usually is!

When hunting down holiday accommodation in Britain—be it for one night or longer —it can be, to quote the Tom Cruise movie, “a risky business.”

Always proceed with caution and pay due diligence when drawn in by some of the glowing descriptions for vacation rooms or rental suites advertised online. And be sure to thoroughly scour reviews and, if possible, get a personal recommendation.

There’s nothing worse, after a long flight or epic journey, to arrive and find the accommodation you have high hopes for is a complete joke.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an abundance of these below-par offerings in the UK. which is scandalous when people are paying in advance—as most do today. And, in many cases, it can ruin a hard-earned holiday.

I can’t get my head around how people can get away with running any kind of sub-standard holiday accommodation—and not have a legal mark to measure up to.

We used to have AA and RAC inspectors going to spend a night and assess suitability. Awarding a star, if merited.

But that seems to have now fallen by the wayside. At least judging by some of the experiences my family and I have endured in recent years!

Considering the amount of income foreign and British tourists pour into the UK’s coffers each year, the government has a responsibility to ensure customers are getting great value for money. Whatever their outlay.

The Ministry for Sport and Tourism, which has tackled tourism issues in the UK since the government reshuffle in 2012, needs to set concrete industry standards which all accommodation providers have to meet.

And if they don’t, a deadline should be issued for any necessary upgrades or improvements to be made. After which—if not met—the guillotine drops and the business is shut down.

Having found a good place to stay in the UK (fingers crossed!), you’ll never be short of things to do. Not least due to Britain’s rich history, heritage and culture—and all related attractions and activities. Warwicks 1 Warwick Castle.JPG

If coming with children, you’ll have no problem keeping them entertained. A visit to an historic castle will give their culture muscle a good workout. Or take them for a day out at one of Britain’s many zoos or theme parks. Theme Park 1Zoo

Alton Towers, Legoland and Chessington World of Adventures are three of the best known. Not quite on a par with a trip to Disney! But still fun for all the family.

You’ll need to budget for the theme parks though. The entry prices are high despite several looking a little tired and shabby in places, and it often being a bit hit-&-miss when it comes to rides being open and equipment functioning optimally. But they’re still as popular as ever—and be prepared to queue a while for some of the main attractions!

Another great option, especially if the weather’s good, is to head to the coast to enjoy one of the UK’s famous array of seaside resorts. One of the benefits of being an island! Cornwall 2Lymm Peninsular WalesDevon 3 Lyme Regis

 

 

 

Be smart when organising short or longer trips so you minimize any travel issues—such as rush-hour traffic if driving or taking a bus/coach—and check schedules online if you’re going anywhere by plane or train.

While we’re a fun, quirky bunch, there are 65 million of us packed onto these fair isles… which means getting around can take planning, co-ordination and most of all patience!

So, whether you’re coming from abroad or feel tempted to give this green and pleasant land a chance, surely the UK is worth considering in your future holiday plans.

’Til next time,

Granny FlapjaX

 

DO WE REALLY CARE IN THIS SO-CALLED ‘CARING’ SOCIETY?

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I have recently had cause to turn my attention to the state of the British care system, and feel a responsibility to shine a light on the challenges children currently face going through such a set-up.

While I accept a certain amount of red tape has to be cut through and due diligence taken when it comes to finding safe and secure homes, it also shouldn’t be such an arduous process and one where the children are innocent victims.

But who is really responsible for this stressful status quo? If we were to take a step back, pull out a zoom lens, then zero-in on the culprits making life so tough for the youth in this predicament, who has blood on their hands?

Does the blame lay solely with the parents, naively producing offspring like it’s the latest craze without proper thought and consideration as to how they’re actually going to provide and care for them? So often putting their own needs before those of the helpless offspring—and expecting tax-payers to fund this ineptitude?

Or should the authorities also shoulder their share of the glare?

Unquestionably they have an unenviable job. Making potentially life-changing calls on whether or not to leave vulnerable children in hostile environments with volatile parents, put them into care, or find them a short or long-term foster home, can never be done without thorough assessments and detailed investigations.

However, the time it takes to work through this process—usually featuring lengthy family court hearings—and draw the right conclusions is a major issue. While decisions are being made, children—sometimes tiny babies—are left at risk of physical, sexual or mental abuse—and frequently just neglected; the parents thinking they may lose them so caring even less.

But no matter the age, it’s abundantly clear social workers have a near-impossible task in trying to facilitate the removal of vulnerable children from dangerous environments and relocating them into safe ones.

Funding plays a huge part. Yet, the reality is there’s a desperate shortage, all over the country, of short and long-term foster carers. So, no matter how much money you throw at the issue, a shortage will likely still remain.

One reason for this is the long and arduous process which applicants are forced to endure—a crusade which can last more than six months.

There’s a seemingly endless amount of form-filling, much of which appears to be repetition, while detailed digging has to be done into an applicant’s past; his or her childhood, schools attended, addresses lived at, and misdemeanours committed.

While I agree 100% that police record and sex offender register checks are essential, I don’t understand the relevance of someone’s childhood and teenage years in making a decision.

Personally, I’m a very different person now to the one I was in my formative years—and have constantly evolved as an adult. Life’s experiences—good and bad—all play a part in how we grow and develop as people, and our attitudes and opinions change as we mature and take responsibility for ourselves and our lives.

So why then is it necessary to dig down into a person’s childhood and teenage years in determining whether or not they’ll make good foster parents, sometimes two or three decades later?

Makes no sense to me. Plus, the lengthy application process does nothing to attract potential foster families, or aid the children waiting to be placed.

It’s easy to see why so many would-be foster carers pull out of the process before completion. The lengthy, invasive and stressful plight leaves many—who likely would have provided a happy and safe family environment—bereft and dealing with hopes and spirits crushed by such an outdated system.

There has to be a better way moving forward—one which will both encourage more people to seriously consider fostering, and simplify the whole process. It needs to become less about form-filling and more about nurturing good people in healthy family units.

Above all, it has to be about the children—whether tots, teens or somewhere in-between—who deserve a safe and happy environment where they can live, play, flourish and grow.

‘Til next time,

Granny FlapjaX