Monday, 17 May 2021

Back inside the pub on Holy Island

It's almost two weeks since my last post. I left Sussex on the 6th May, spent three nights at Stamford in the south-west corner of Lincolnshire (but with a Cotswold feel), then moved on to Richmond in North Yorkshire for four nights. And four days ago I shifted to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. 

In all that time, I've been out and about - mostly in good weather - and seen plenty of things that are blogworthy. Readers who look also at my Flickr site will have a sneak preview of what will illustrate posts yet to come. Why haven't I written and published those posts? Because of all the photos taken. I've taken 1,500-odd shots so far on this holiday, and processing them on my laptop has left no time for blogging. But I've made time tonight.

Today was a rather special day. The next big step in coming out of the national Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. After a gap of several months, one could get back inside a pub. Not that I'm much of a pub-goer. But now and then, when out during the day - and especially when on holiday - I will treat myself to lunch at a pub, gin and tonic included. But I'd had enough of the windy-garden experience. I wanted to be inside, out of the weather. 

Where to go for this special event? Holy Island - not far from where I was pitched at Berwick - called to me. I've written about Holy Island before, based on my last visit in 2019. I may do another post on it, as I explored the island rather better today. But this post is chiefly about my pleasure at finally being able to sit in a nice pub. 

I arrived at just after 10.00am. This was only half an hour after the tide had receded sufficiently to uncover the causeway that links Holy Island with the mainland, so the road was wet and fringed with seaweed, although perfectly safe to travel at speed on. According to the table I'd consulted, I'd have until 5.30pm to get off the island before the advancing tide covered the causeway again. I definitely wouldn't be staying that long. But it takes - so I was told - a full four hours to walk completely around the island, although presumably this is at a funeral pace, and includes the sand dunes at the western end. If you keep to the grassy bits, where sheep graze, three hours would surely be more than enough. As it was, I wouldn't be able to do even a short circumnavigation before noon (when the pub I had in mind opened), but I could still go much further around the coastal fringe than ever before. And I did. Over 10,000 steps worth. 

It started off bright but cloudy. Here I am, pre-pub, making my way anticlockwise around the island's coastline, with Lindisfarne Castle in the background:


It soon got a little sunnier. I had to put on a spurt to get back to the pub at noon, and it was warm work. The green hooded Seasalt raincoat came off. 

Surprisingly, there wasn't a jostling melĂ©e trying to get inside the pub. I didn't have to elbow, punch, slap, head-butt, kick, gouge, stab, claw and bite to gain entrance. I had the interior almost to myself. That changed as people gradually drifted in after me; but clearly nobody else had worried (as I had) about not getting a lunchtime meal and something to go with it. 

The pub was called The Crown and Anchor. It looked out at the ruined Benedictine Priory, with the Castle in the distance.


Well, I was in. It was friendly and comfortable. I chose a good table, took off my face mask, and gave my order. My gin and slim soon arrived. 


Cheers!

It was such a novel experience, enjoying a meal and a drink inside a pub again that I was moved to send a solemn text to my friends in Sussex:


Afterwards, I walked about a bit more. It was lovely to feel the warmth of the sun.


I did a bit more of the coastline, then headed back to Fiona. An early-afternoon kip in the caravan was indicated! Ah, lazy days...

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

A statement from Mr Will Smith of Growth & Partnerships at JustPark

During a conversation I had with Mr Smith yesterday, I offered to publish an explanatory statement concerning the MOT reminders that JustPark were sending to their customers, if he put one together. 

He emailed this statement to me a short while ago. Here it is.

will.smith@justpark.com

18:47 (27 minutes ago)
Reply
to me

Hi Lucy, great to talk yesterday, thanks for sharing more insight to your experience, it was really helpful for me. Here’s a little summary of what we talked about for you to publish on your blog – I appreciate that. Hope you have a great holiday. Will

 

 

“My name’s Will, I work for JustPark. After reading Lucy’s blog above I had the pleasure of talking to her find out more about why our reminder hit the wrong note with her and to answer her questions about how / why we’re doing this. Here’s a little summary of what we talked about…

 

From talking to many of JustPark’s drivers, the same insight keeps surfacing – owning a car is supposed to be a symbol of freedom, but the reality is too often the opposite – strict rules, expensive bills and hassle.

 

In response to this we launched our Driver Care Platform in Autumn 2020 which aims to take away a little of the pain of owning a car. The first thing released under this platform was MOT reminders.

 

Why did we decide to do this?

Further research revealed 53% of our drivers worried about remembering their MOT date (Lucy obviously isn’t one of them though!). Separately it was in the news in March that 11% of UK drivers are actually missing their MOT due date by over 3 weeks – risking a £1,000 fine and 6 penalty points. From this, it felt clear an MOT reminder would be useful. We also discovered that 34% of our drivers didn’t have a good relationship with a local garage – they worried about being overcharged for work on their vehicle. So we decided it would be even better to help the people worrying about choosing a garage to find a good one. To do this, we partnered with a business who independently curate a list of trustworthy garages – the garage must have a great customer review rating to make the list, and will get removed if they fall below that standard.  

 

How & why do we have MOT dates for our drivers?

Our contracts with several Local Authorities and large car park operators require us to confirm the vehicles we are presenting for parking are road legal: have a valid MOT. So when a driver adds a vehicle to their JustPark account we automatically look up the publicly available MOT date with DVSA. Given we already have this data, we thought it would be good to put it to use for our drivers.

 

Do our drivers like this?

We have 5m drivers – it’s really hard to do something new that 100% of them will love, but we don’t want that to stop us trying to add value for them. We’re working hard to exclude people like Lucy who don’t find the reminders helpful, but it’s difficult to predict at scale which drivers these are. We run an always-on satisfaction survey to check how the reminders are received. It didn’t hit the right note for Lucy. But from 1,000s of responses we’re averaging 4.3/5 rating – which reassures us we are doing something useful here. We’re also continuing to work hard at getting that feedback score even higher and keeping the Lucys of this world happy. Which is why I’m so grateful to her for her feedback and insight which we’ll be using to make improvements.

 

Thank you, Lucy!

 

Will Smith, JustPark.”

 

 

 

Will Smith

Growth & Partnerships

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Second Covid-19 jab missed by a whisker

Would you believe it. A text today from my GP practice to invite me for my second Covid-19 vaccination! A little sooner than expected: I thought this would come no earlier than halfway through the month. They can 'do' me in only three days' time. There's a range of appointments I can book on Friday 7th May. 


But I can't take this up. I'm off to Scotland on the 6th. 

I'll now have to wait at least another five weeks. It's so frustrating. Especially as I was speaking to my doctor only last week, and asked if it were possible to get the jab before I set forth. She said no, I couldn't jump the queue. I accepted that. But as it's turned out, very little queue-jumping would have been involved. 

Oh well. I don't suppose it will make any practical difference if I walk around only partly-protected for the next few weeks. I won't be going to raves, for instance.  

The text had a link which took me to the vaccination-bookings site. If not making a booking, I had to give my reason why not. There were several standard reasons I could choose from, set out on a list. None of them applied, so I tapped on the 'because of something else' option, and completed a box to expand on that. I explained that I had booked a five-week holiday, leaving home on the 6th May, and not returning until the 8th June. And that I wanted to make a vaccination appointment asap after that. Then I had to tap an 'opt-out' button.


I didn't like that 'opt-out' button. I wasn't opting out of having the second jab. I very much wanted it. I only wanted to postpone booking a date and time until I was home again. But in the eyes of the medical world, I will be blameful, for putting a booked holiday before an advised vaccination. I'll be thought feckless and irresponsible.

Worse. For all I know, my records might now be marked 'Covid-19 refuser'. Or that, at the very least, I will need to reinstate myself onto the vaccination programme, with great trouble. Starting again at the back of the queue, jostling with twenty-somethings no doubt. How embarrassing for us both. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

A somewhat sinister reminder from JustPark - now explained

This post is about an email from a car parking app company, suggesting that I seek an MOT for my car. As you will see, it caused me annoyance and puzzlement, for I'd already had this year's MOT done. But in any case, the wording of the email was a cause for concern. The main part of the text describes what my personal reaction was, and how this escalated into distinct worry after discussion with friends. 

There was actually no reason to be troubled. I ended up having a good conversation with a JustPark executive, and have since published his written explanation for the apparently-contentious MOT reminder.

It all goes to show how careful one must be when sending communications. Anyone can get it wrong. It's truly a minefield.


I was a bit put out by an email I received this morning from JustPark, one of those online car parking companies who are attached to a car park and let you pay for your parking with an app on your phone. 

I have no issue whatever with the notion of car parking apps. It's highly convenient to pay by phone. Much better than with coins, which have been a no-no during the pandemic, and at the best of times unhygienic, dirty from previous fingering by unknown hands that (for all I know) have never been washed. Coins are also weighty and awkward to carry around in suitable quantities, bearing in mind that for car parking the larger £1 and £2 coins are mostly needed. Using a parking app lightens the load, avoids infection risks, and eliminates queuing at the ticket machine. It can all be done from the warmth and shelter of one's car. And an electronic ticket on one's phone saves paper - a small contribution to keeping the planet green.

So I'm basically a big fan of car parking apps, and have embraced them for several years now. The first one I installed was PayByPhone, the one you need for on-street parking in Brighton. RingGo soon followed. RingGo is especially worth having, because this is the app you need for many car parks around the country. But there are plenty of others you might install. Where do you stop? Every one of these apps needs to know your credit card details and the registration of the car you drive. I'm wary of sharing too much information with companies I'm only occasionally in contact with. So if, on my travels, I happen to park in a car park that is linked to a parking company I've never heard of, and whose app (if I install it and set it up) I may never use again, I will pay by other means or move on.

But when in Cornwall in September last year I kept coming across JustPark, and one day when in Falmouth I bit the bullet and installed their app. All quickly done, and the app worked well. But I doubt if I'll need to use it again for a while. 

I certainly didn't expect to get this email from them today. These are screenshots from my phone:

  

This seems rather intrusive! It's meddling in my affairs. And it's making an assumption that my life is so chaotic that I am likely to forget that my car needs an annual MOT. I'm not stupid, nor gaga. It's actually pretty annoying. In any case, they got the MOT date wrong - both of them, as they quote 2nd May in the text and 31st May in the heading. Well, in 2019 the MOT was carried out on 13th May; last year - in accordance with lockdown rules - it was deferred until 1st June; and this year I had it done early, on 29th March. Why didn't they know that? It's bad enough bombarding 'customers' with irritating reminders. It's worse to misquote the date!   

And why is the date of my car's MOT any business of a car parking company? Will they be reminding me that I'm seventy next year, and must begin making regular health declarations to the DVLA? I will regard that as a bit of cheek too far.

It may simply be a income-generating ploy. Clearly they have set up arrangements with some garages, and will get a kickback if I book a service and MOT with one of those, using the app. I hear that car parking companies - NCP anyway - are presently in financial difficulties, because lockdown restrictions have so much reduced the demand for town- and city-centre parking. It's understandable that they might wish to try new ways of stimulating their revenue.

But the message contains some words that disturb me: 

When you added this vehicle the DVSA [that's the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, not to be confused with the DVLA, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. They are - of course - quite distinct] sent us confirmation of the make and model along with the MOT renewal date to confirm your vehicle was legally allowed to park with us.

'Legally allowed to park with us'? What does that mean? It sounds like a vague threat. Are they saying 'if you are overdue with the MOT on your car, you can't use our car parks'? Why would it matter to them? And what sanctions are they hinting at? Would their staff impose a fine, or get somebody to tow my car away to some compound? As they apparently don't know that I've already had my car MOT'd this year, - over a month ago - would I wrongfully suffer some penalty if I used one of their car parks? 

To me, this looks like a try-on of some kind. I've just waded through the terms and conditions for using the app when parking, and there is no mention of cars with overdue MOTs being banned. Nor for any other 'illegal' defect that might make a car unfit for use on a public road, such as no insurance, a blown headlamp bulb, or tyres with too thin a tread. 

Regardless of whether or not they have some proper legal angle here, and I doubt it, I don't like their approach.  

They do invite me to unsubscribe from getting such 'friendly reminders', but I think I'll hold my hand and see what else they push at me. 

I earnestly hope I don't encounter JustPark during my upcoming travels northward! I think I'd rather buy parking time with cash.

Sequel, after discussion with friends
This could be a scam. The hallmarks are there: an unexpected email that looks genuine but contains small errors; an urging to attend to something before a deadline; and suspicious links to tap on - no less than four of them: the green 'local garage list' button; a link to stop the reminders (which must connect with my JustPay account); a link to remove the registration quoted (ditto); and one to unsubscribe (ditto). Any of these might let criminals have access my JustPay account, learn my credit card details, and accomplish something nasty. I'm glad I took no action!

I will think about reporting this email to the DVSA and Action Fraud. 

Further developments
I've spoken with a representative of JustPark, Mr Will Smith, and now understand what was going on here. It wasn't a scam. 

JustPark's app makes it easy to locate and use a car park, but they also have a contractual duty to the car park owners they work with, to keep unroadworthy vehicles out of their car parks. Apparently the proportion of cars on the road that need an MOT but are overdue for one has lately shot up, last year's lockdown rules confusing many drivers about when to get their vehicles tested. And of course some drivers pretend to be confused. The car park owners don't want to see dangerous or broken-down cars dumped on their premises, and to play their part, JustPark have been taking what they intend to be a low-key but effective approach to the problem - using their vehicle database to send timely email nudges to app users, urging them to do the right thing. It was unfortunate that the email sent to me was unhappily worded, and contained date errors. 

I have accepted an apology from Mr Smith for the email causing me puzzlement and concern. 

I offered to publish a statement from him on my blog, to give him an opportunity to explain in his own words what JustPark were attempting to do. This has now been done. See my more recent post, A statement from Mr Will Smith of Growth & Partnerships at JustPark.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Mostly hurrah

This post was originally a footnote to the last, but it grew. 

The new EE SIM card arrived as promised, just after midday today. Hurrah!

I winkled out the card tray, and inserted it into my phone. It looked good next to the microSD card. I rather liked EE's logo.


With the card tray pressed back into Prudence, she sprang into life again. 


The lock screen now showed 'EE' as the mobile phone service provider in the top left corner of the screen, and not 'BT' any longer. Hurrah! 

I tethered the laptop to my phone - and lo! - I got connected at once to the Internet. I tried a few favourite websites. No issues whatever. I'd be able to make full use of my massive new data allowance. HURRAH!

So far, so good. I'd had a great welcome from EE, as if they were genuinely chuffed and honoured to have me on board. And I was definitely able to use my phone in all respects, at least with the temporary phone number they'd given me. But now I needed to transfer my usual phone number over to EE, using the PAC code that BT Mobile had texted. That might not go so well. 

The procedure itself was straightforward. I just had to complete a simple online form that wanted only three details: my new EE phone number, my old phone number, and that PAC code. 

But EE didn't like the PAC code. Hmmm...

Should I enquire with BT, or start a chat with EE?

I'd mentally finished with BT. I would try the chat. After a few exchanges, I gathered that the phone number transfer I'd been trying to make was already in hand, and should be complete by the end of the next day at the very latest. Really? Had Ryan (the person at BT Mobile I'd spoken to on the day before) done all the heavy lifting for me already? It looked as if he might have! 

Well, we'll see. It's Wednesday afternoon. If the EE chat assistant was correct, by the end of tomorrow, Thursday, people should be able to call or text me on my proper number. 

Let it be true!

Fingers still crossed tightly...

In case you were wondering, the picture on my lock screen was cropped from one I took in October 2004, at Sheffield Park Gardens, a National Trust property not far from where I live. This was the slightly-darker original shot.


The camera used to take this with was my first digital camera, the Nikon Coolpix 990, bought in May 2000. It was a distinctive-looking beastie:


It ran on AA-sized batteries, which you extracted (at frequent intervals) for recharging - they didn't last long. But I liked using it, and it took very nice photos. But by 2005 its 3.4 megapixels were insufficient, and I'd jumped to 5 megapixels instead on the first of my Panasonics. The 990 did however recommend the Nikon brand to me, and in 2008 I bought the full-frame Nikon D700, a semi-professional DSLR, which as you can see gave me great joy:


And no wonder - it was a superb piece of kit, and the lenses I had for it gave wonderful results. But it was bulky and heavy. I bought the little Leica D-Lux 4 in 2009, to give myself a small and light alternative for casual shooting. Inevitably, the little Leica quickly became my favourite camera, and the D700 was rendered practically redundant - and I simultaneously abandoned my half-formed ambition to go semi-pro. 

I eventually sold the D700 - and its lenses - in June 2011, to raise much-needed cash to pay the humungous Council Tax on the empty Cottage during the forthcoming winter. 2011 was a very low point in my finances. Running two houses - the one I still live in (inherited from Mum and Dad), and the Cottage in Piddinghoe (bought earlier as an investment) - was ruining me fast. I survived because the Cottage itself sold in August 2011, after being offered for sale in an auction. Just in time to keep me from certain bankruptcy. It was a close thing. 

Well, that was some digression! Back to my SIM saga. And the news (first thing on Thursday 29th April) is that BT have emailed to say my regular phone number has been passed to EE. I am now awaiting a message from EE, due sometime today, to say that it has replaced the temporary number they gave me. 

So there should be yet another hurrah! by the end of the day. 

One minor fly is however thrashing about in the ointment. The deal is for 160GB. So far EE have been showing only 80GB on the 'My EE' part of their website. I shouldn't get worried about this - Ryan at BT Mobile warned me that 80GB would appear at first, but it would soon be corrected to 160GB. (It was in fact a short-lived 'double-data' deal for new EE customers) But elsewhere on 'My EE' a strange amount of 120GB has started to appear! Very puzzling.

But never mind about that - at 9.00am (half an hour ago) the number porting was complete, and texts began to roll in on my regular mobile phone number, but of course via EE. So job done. 

HURRAH! 

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

My new SIM-only contract

Not quite a year ago I switched my mobile phone service provider from Vodafone to BT Mobile. By the end of 2020 I was paying BT Mobile £20 for 40GB data per month, regularly using about 30GB of that. 

But I could easily have used more. I'd been consciously curbing my Internet usage so that I wouldn't run out of data. I was always watching my data consumption in the last two weeks before the billing date, wary of going over that 40GB limit - which would have been very expensive! I'm not talking only about my usage of the phone itself. Since getting rid of my landline and my Home Broadband last year, I have been tethering my laptop to my phone and using 4G for my large-screen streaming, such as website videos and catch-up TV. It works well for me. And instead of paying for BT's 'luxury' Broadband, I've got away with just their mobile phone service, saving me at least £30 a month. 

But now my BT Mobile contract was approaching its end. In fact it would finish while I was still away on my upcoming Scottish holiday. So I decided this morning to negotiate a fresh contract while still at home. 

There had been some cracking SIM-only deals recently - notably from Three, one of their best deals offering unlimited data for only £17. But there was a snag with Three. Their 4G/5G network was geared towards city-dwellers and didn't quite cut it in the countryside. Or at least not yet. So it was no good to me. In any case, surely I would never need unlimited data: I could see myself expanding my usage somewhat, especially if I bought a new camera with larger photo files to upload, but I didn't need an infinite amount of data. 

EE remained the best (and fastest) for nationwide 4G/5G coverage, so I'd been looking chiefly at their deals. Their current best big-data deal was 160GB for £20 a month. True, it would tie me to a 24 month contract, rather than the usual 12 months; but even in two year's time this would still be a very reasonable deal, an awful lot of data for no more than I was currently paying to BT Mobile. If I migrated to EE, I wouldn't feel short-changed. When negotiating, it's always important to have a credible alternative to the present service, one you'd be happy to switch to, to strengthen your hand.

My plan then was to phone BT Mobile, and ask them for a new contract that would give me more data than I had at the moment, but for the same price. 

Not being too greedy or pushy, I had in mind asking for 50GB or 60GB, but I'd insist on not paying more than £20 to have it. If they said no, then I would wave EE's '160GB for £20' deal at them. EE was a subsidiary of BT. I would simply be asking for what was being offered by another part of their organisation. It would be daft if they wouldn't meet my modest request. But if they wouldn't, I'd politely and regretfully threaten to go.  

Well, I made that call. I spoke to a pleasant man called Ryan, and I didn't have to argue one bit! I explained what I was looking for, and he himself immediately offered EE's 160GB for £20 deal. Well, blow me! He said he'd moved onto that deal himself. He added that it was now usual to point BT Mobile customers with straightforward needs to no-frills EE. They wouldn't get the full glittering range of BT's freebies, extras and add-ons, but they'd get more data. 

I'd take more data any day. I didn't want sport and movies and Wi-Fi hotspots, and such things as parental controls.

So I agreed. We went through the various ID, banking and credit-rating checks and Ryan explained what would happen as regards the switch-over. I'd become an EE customer. I'd get a new SIM card with a temporary phone number, and this would reach me in a day or two, certainly well before I'd set off for Scotland. Having replaced the old BT Mobile card with the new EE card, I'd be able to use my phone straight away. But callers or texters wouldn't be able to reach me until I'd used the PAC code from BT Mobile to transfer my normal phone number to the EE card. However, with that done, I would be fully up and running. 

The signs are good that all this will happen smoothly. I've already had a confirmatory email from EE, and a 'sorry to see you go' email from BT Mobile. Ryan said that although the BT Mobile email will mention a small termination fee, it will in fact be waived. This makes sense. There's really no severance here. I'll still be with BT in a wide sense, merely continuing under the EE banner.  

It's interesting that BT are keeping EE quite distinct from their own main services. Ryan couldn't say what BT's Grand Plan was, but it does seem to me that BT Mobile will in the future be made attractive only to customers who also have BT Broadband. Everyone else will be encouraged to look at EE instead.  

I really do hope I can pop the new EE card into Prudence within two or three days! It would be a disaster if I had to go off to Scotland with the EE card still on its way. 

Another thing. Once I have an EE account, presumably my BT account will be closed - meaning that if I ever wish to reinstate my landline (with perhaps a mandatory upgrade to a fibre cabinet-to-house connection) I'll have to go through the entire new-installation process, with a new account, all at great expense. This is truly burning my boats. Henceforth, it's wireless Internet or nothing. 

Gulp.

But look! A visit to EE's website shows that they know I'm on my way!


And, delving, I can see that temporary phone number Ryan mentioned on my new EE account. (I wondered whether it would, by chance, be a better number than the one I already have, but it isn't, so I will be using that PAC code). 

Mr Postman, look and see
If there's a SIM card in your bag for me...