As you can see, it's the QR code on my current National Trust Life Member card. That card was sent to me back in January 2017, but until the last couple of weeks it has remained unused, partly because it didn't have the class of my older Life Member card (which I naturally preferred using), and partly because the staff at NT properties were able to cope with stick-in-the-muds turning up with old cards, scanning instead a generic list of cards, so that they'd know that 'a Life Member' had visited, although they wouldn't be able to record that it had been me in particular.
That clearly matters, electronically counting my presence. The personal QR code on my new-style card can tell the NT what type of visitor I am - my age, sex, home address, how long a member, and so on. But by keeping to my old card, and denying the NT this useful information, I'm excluding myself from the day's Property Visitor Profile. You can readily see how developing such a profile - day after day, member by member - is very valuable in assessing the popularity of each property on different days and at different times, and whether its appeal might be broadened to cover (for example) younger members and their families, rather than just old fogies. Or vice versa. It's a bit like a supermarket scanning customer loyalty cards and discovering what sells, and to whom.
The NT have also decided to use these QR-coded cards to give members free parking, wherever there are ticket machines. I suppose there were complaints that at certain beauty spots non-members were making use of NT car parks, parking for nothing, and occupying so many spaces that paid-up members couldn't park their own cars. It's fair enough: non-members must now buy a ticket. Members, however, must let the ticket machine scan the QR code on their card. This is a new extra step in the visiting process, and not an especially welcome one. It means more hassle, even if scanning one's card provides a free ticket to display. This new procedure replaces the old-but-straightforward showing of a National Trust Member sticker on the front windscreen of the car. I had a little friendly lecture about it from a member of staff last March down at Cotehele in Cornwall. Apparently these annual stickers were too easy to get hold of, or fake up, and many members were forgetting to change their last-year's sticker to the current year's. I think they are being scrapped for 2019 onwards.
So the NT has gone somewhat high-tech, although I do wonder why it's not possible to use a member card with NFC, and just 'tap and go' at the ticket machine or property entrance - as you would with a contactless credit card. Or a phone, for that matter. And it's a bother having to park, then trek to the machine, spend time there getting a free ticket (one might have to queue for a long time), and then trek back to the car to display said ticket. All this faff, before actually beginning the visit! I'd much rather just 'tap and go' on the way to the property entrance. Or have the opportunity to do it all by phone.
Scanning a physical card already seems so last-year in tech terms. And the NT must have spent a small fortune on installing their new ticket machines - and those handsets for staff at property entrances. Money wasted, I fear. It will all be out of date so quickly.
As you might surmise, I have bowed to the NT's notion of technological progress, and started to use my QR-coded card. But not out of love for this unimpressive, unlovely-looking card, which is a dull grey on its business side ('It's not grey, it's platinum - for our special Life members! The ordinary annual members just get a magenta card,' I was told yesterday at Sheffield Park. No, I'm afraid it's a dull grey...). I just want to help the NT's visiting statistics along, in case that genuinely leads to improvements in property presentation and facilities.
It's a cheap-looking plastic card, all the same. But I can get over that. I do insist, though, that the NT's 'new technology' works faultlessly. And - guess what - I've discovered that the QR code on my card doesn't scan! The parking machines won't recognise it. Nor do the hand scanners at property entrances. And it's not just my card. I've come across several people in NT car parks who, like me, find their cards letting them down. Ditto at the property entrance.
It's an especial pain at the car parking machines. A queue forms while quick-witted and intelligent people (not just doddery old duffers) figure out how to scan their card - and get annoyed when nothing happens. We try one after another. I haven't seen anybody succeed yet. We all end up going in high dudgeon to the property entrance and explaining. Some are no doubt fearful that while visiting the property their unticketed car will be clamped, or a fine imposed by some official, all involving time and hassle to sort out. A few paid-up members must tamely pay for parking like a non-member, just to have a ticket. That's disgraceful.
The machine itself is not optimally designed. Here's the one in the NT car park at Ditchling Beacon, up on the South Downs. As I said, it's for the use of both members and non-members - this dual-purpose functionality introduces complication all by itself - with a screen that gives you 'simple' instructions, and with various buttons to press. Also (bottom left) an aperture for scanning cards. The on-screen instructions could have been clear and helpful, but are not. The scanning aperture is much bigger than the membership card. Why? Wouldn't a narrow slot be better? Is one meant to move the card in and out, or left to right, or up and down, in order to achieve a scan? Or do you stand on one leg, singing 'Just One Cornetto' while you waggle the card in a slanting, slicing motion? Nothing tells you. There is a sticker - just a picture, no words - that suggests that the card must be placed on top of it just so, precisely aligned with it, but doing that doesn't get you a successful scan. Possibly the card must be hovered over this sticker...?
Mind you, on the first attempt I didn't press the yellow 'member' button as well as the green 'start' button. No wonder I got no joy. Yellow button now pressed, I persevered for several more attempts. I did get a red light, which flashed a bit. And a couple of times there was a green line that moved fore and aft along the card.
All the time I was holding the card firmly onto the green sticker. And you had to hold on to it, otherwise it would have tipped up and fallen to the ground. I really don't know how infirm members with shaky hands can manage. Despite having a screen, the machine displayed no tips on how to do the scanning. I can imagine many people thinking that 'scanning' means moving their card in and out, over and over again if necessary, rather as you would move food items across the scanner at a supermarket check-out. There was nothing to say what you should do. It was perplexing. And despite the red and green lights and lines blinking away, no ticket resulted. It was so frustrating to get this on the screen:
No handy member of staff, of course. And who in their right mind is going to leave a Life Membership card on display in their car while they go off somewhere? You could well expect a smashed window, and no card, on your return. In any case, if this were a car park at a property, instead of just a country car park, how would you show a card at the entrance, if you'd left it on display in the car?
Methinks the NT didn't think this one through well enough. Or at any rate their requirements didn't get through to the people making the ticket machines.
At one point I stood aside so that a younger couple could have a go. They were equally unsuccessful and frustrated.
It winds you up. And yet, on a later attempt, I somehow did get the procedure right, and a free ticket came out. This was at my fifth or sixth attempt, I think. And I couldn't say what I'd done differently.
This was the ticket.
So what's going on? Is the QR code on my card defective, so that it only works sometimes? Or are the NT's scanners not up to the job? Either way, they had better fix the problem pronto, or else people will start avoiding going to some places.
On the advice of NT staff, I have now emailed the National Trust, requesting a new card.
They have officially recognised a scanning issue 'with some cards'. I suspect it's really 'with most cards' and that the NT has egg on its face, but won't own up to making a big blunder. And to wasting money on bad cards and bad equipment. It's the arrogance of an untouchable (and powerful) national institution with lots of members' money in the bank. Mixed in, I suspect, with the tech-ignorance of a snobby policy committee that unwittingly let the tail (the card and machine manufacturers) wag the dog (the NT).
But hey, whether I'm right or wrong, the QR codes are not working, and a lot of money - member's money! - has gone down the drain. And meanwhile hassle, hassle, hassle, and goodwill lost. NT, don't you care?