Monday, 4 July 2022

Travel Woes of a Paddleboard

Back in August of 2020 I invested in a kickstarter project for an Origami Paddleboard, I loved the idea, my adult daughter is not home often and the idea of one that could fit the car and not need pumping up, seemed ideal.

It was my second attempt at a kickstarter project, my first being for a rum bottle, and I was really pleased with that. I travel a lot and saved on shipping by having it delivered to my hotel next time I was in the US.

That was my plan for the paddleboard. The first covid lockdown was over, and we were still working from home, but I didn't expect it to continue for too long, so was happy with the plan.

The fund was a success and in April 2021 shipping within the US started. At this stage there was no sight of returning to work travel so I looked at it eventually being shipped to Europe. With issues around supply chain globally, and specifically my new border-non-border where I live in N Ireland, and no idea about import duty, I was at a loss about what to do.

Then I changed jobs, and found myself travelling again to the US, so opted for bringing it home via a plane, after all the website said it only weighed 45 Lb, (about 21Kg) so it should be easy. I am top status with British Airways and am allowed 3 pieces at 32KG (70 Lb) each, so no problem.

It was eventually delivered to a colleague in May and his first comment was "It's a very big box!"
"Don't worry, was my reply, I'm gold with British Airways, almost unlimited luggage".

A few weeks later I was in the office and saw the box. It was very big.

Panicking a little, especially after another colleague suggested it may be too big a box. I looked a BA's website. 90 x 75 x 43cm (35.5 x 29.5 x 16in). Pretty generous so should be OK, but then we got out the tape measure. 90 x 80 x38 (35.5 x 32 x15) just a tiny bit too big.

I emailed them and they did reply but simply sent me a link to the website.

Then I phoned them, spending almost an hour to get through. They do have some exceptions for sporting goods. If it was a bike, there would be no issue it can be enormous! There is a paragraph about Kayaks, and this does convert into a kayak. It says "you can take short surfboards and small kayaks with paddles in a protective bag as part of your checked baggage as long as the packed bag is under 190cm in length." - well it is only 90cm so that should be OK. Whilst he agreed the agent said it was open to interpretation and wouldn't give me an email - just told me to turn up and see what happened.

Now, I specialise in worrying, so we opened the box to see if we could remove any packaging but there wasn't anything.

My colleagues all though it would be fine. The baggage staff probably don't work for British Airways as there is only 2 flights a day at peak, and 'everything is bigger in Texas' anyway.

Not convinced I decided on a plan B. A colleague would take me to the airport, drop me off and then wait nearby for the all OK. If they refused it then they would take it back to the office and next time I came over I would travel with American or United who both have a total dimensions must not exceed .... policy, which would be fine.

On the day, we resealed the box, and I added superior string with a breaking limit of 100 Lb to make it very secure and add ways to lift box.

My colleagues helped me to the truck, making a big deal about the size, It took 4 of us to get it in the elevator.

But once we got to the airport, I was on my own. Not only the box, but also my other luggage. I had been in the US for 5 weeks and also a quick trip to Mexico scuba diving for which I had bought my own equipment with me, so let's just say a lot of luggage. But with one hand on the luggage cart, my hand luggage on my back and dragging the other case behind me, all was good.

What a non event, the agent never even battered an eye lid. I asked if I needed to take it to outside baggage and she said no, they had their own porters to do that. Total checked weight 78KG 171 Lb (scuba is heavy). 

Off I went to the lounge, to ring my colleague, let him leave, and then to relax. My flight was delayed, having previously been moved from an earlier time slot, and once I got to London, I had another 8 hours before I finally got back to my home airport. However I know my box was travelling so I was fine with it.

When I finally arrived at my airport, a young baggage handler pushed the box out into arrivals and asked who owned it. "Me" I squeaked and loaded up another cart. Small panic when I realised it might not get it through the narrow exit of the arrivals hall, but I managed it, just.

My normal taxi driver laughed as he loaded up the car. Back seat needed as well as the normal boot / trunk. And finally I was home.

The box had been opened, my beautiful string cut, but inside the box, was a lovely note from TSA explaining their right to do so. It wasn't damaged, so that's OK, I suspect they were simply intrigued. The box does say what is inside.

So alls well that ends well. Let's just hope the daughter likes it.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Surviving WFH - Counting My Blessings

Everyday, on every news broadcast we see the real implications of this crisis. The deaths are expected but no less awful, and there are so many other implications.

People are loosing their jobs, the UK is trying to help here and whatever your politics they are making an effort. 

People are loosing the businesses, I have family who have successful small businesses who have had to stop trading. I have relatives who have had to let people go.

My job is safe, I suspect it will change after all this, and that worries me but I have a job and I am being paid. I did have to ring my oil supplier, to explain I may need a delivery of oil. Normally one delivery a year is enough for me but I am now heating the house everyday. An extra cost for me, but other people will have increasing bills and perhaps not the income or savings to support that.

I can leave my house if I need to. I am not self isolating, I have had no symptoms. My last travel was to Madrid, which is now the 2nd worse city in Europe. I am blessed.

I have many friends including my daughter working on the front line in hospitals. Each are taking many risks and I am so proud of them. Again here in the UK our NHS is handling it much better than others, yes they have shortages but they are doing their best. I have a friend in the US where that is not the situation.

I have friends and family who are supporting the population. Those in distribution who are keeping the shops and hospitals supplied. Those in residential homes to are keeping safe those whose own families are not even allowed to visit. I have one friend who has closed his place of work and he and his workforce are now volunteering as drivers to keep the supply chain going.

I have signed up to volunteer, not sure what I will be doing, put I've registered.

I have no one in my house 'shielding', that must be very scary, I have family and friends where this is the case, and it isn't easy.

My wider family recently setup a 'whatsapp' group when my grandmother, who is 100, was in hospital with respiratory issue. Just typing that sounds awful. It was before coronavirus, she recovered and is back at home. Anyway that group is a great comfort, and I am chatting with cousins and aunts that previously I spoke to just a few times a year. Everyday we try a quiz and it is fun.

I have had a few video calls with friends and most days with my daughter. Thankyou so much for the internet. How would we survive this without that connectivity?

I wish my household was more than just me, but I also know that people are having issues with domestic and sexual abuse more in these dark times.

So whilst I am still struggling with isolation, I know I have it easy. 

Surviving WFH - Week 3

I am writing this post on Sunday 29th March. I have been working from home for 3 weeks. My company stopped us travelling a week before the government recommended it.

That means I have been in my house for 23 consecutive nights. I have not spent that much time in this house since 2008. I live on my own, my job includes lots of domestic and international travel. I love that balance of working in cities and living in the country.

Now I am struggling. Not with the WFH, that is easy, although I am working much longer hours.

Thankfully most calls for work are video enabled and I see people. My own UK team have 'huddles' every other day, just to check in and goof around. Wednesday it was wear a wig or hat day, loved it.

I am trying not to work all hours, and am trying to find a routine.

I have osteoarthritus in my knees and my surgeon says I should do non weight bearing exercise like cycling or swimming. It isn't a big deal, it was but I got a steroid injection almost 2 years ago and it was a miracle. So I try and do the exercise. If I am in a hotel there is normally a pool and at home I have an exercise bike. I get up early but regardless of the time, I cycle then, watching the BBC 6am news (thank goodness for iplayer). I don't do a lot, normally just 20 minutes although I have increased that a little now.

My own cuddly coronavirus creations

I love crafts so have tried to do some of that. This week I saw a coronavirus on facebook and adapting a pattern I found for Mike from Monsters' Inc, made my own and a few for some friends. I won't be doing any more they are really fiddly but it was fun. I also made a rainbow for my window, and then for a friend who runs a nursery. 

I have a small yard at the back of my house which has recently been cleaned and the walls painted so I painted a bench and some pots and made a little area to enjoy the evening sun. ( N Ireland is quite far north so on a good day we stay light quite late).

I have tried not to go to the shops. I now have enough food to feed me for a couple of weeks but milk and fresh vegetables was getting low, so I ventured to the village on Thursday. Down to the little shop and back in about 2 1/2 miles, and it was a lovely day, so I walked. Oh dear, it was like having been on a dive boat for a week, my legs, despite the cycle every day, were not used to walking. It was really weird. I think I will try a walk everyday without going to see people.

The shop itself, and the other 2 shops in our village, a greengrocer and butchers, both had long queues. Everyone was stood the right distance from each other but I expected more conversation, it was weirdly quiet. What was lovely was seeing lambs in the fields as I walked along the lane.

Next week I am going to try and work less, and do more of the personal things on my list.

Surviving WFH - escaping, just the once

The first week of social distancing went OK. WFH was really easy, as I said I have everything needed for that. The isolation is hard but even harder is the routine of not being on the go all the time.

My Seasearch group suggested shore diving. Dive boats are closed down but I am blessed to live on an island where the coast is never that far away. So after 9 years of diving I invested in a scuba tank so I could go shore diving whenever I wanted.

thanks to Oliwia for the photo

3 of us met at a small harbour and the only other person out was someone open swimming - brrrrrr the water temperature was 5'C. It was cold, really cold and we only managed about 40 minutes in the water but it was wonderful. It cleared my head and made everything right with the world. Visibility wasn't great but I was so happy.

However when we got out there was many more swimmers in the water and a lot of walkers, it was a beautiful day. 

This was our first weekend under 'social distancing' but the weather was wonderful and people although intending to stay apart , naturally flocked to the coast. In other parts of the UK it was national parks or beauty spots. So unintentionally we were still at risk. In this fast moving crisis the rules are now that we can't drive to our place of exercise. So that is the end of the diving for a while.

Yesterday the local police introduced fines of £5,000 for breaking social distancing rules.

Very disappointing, I know the diving is my go-to thing, and once a week would keep my mental wellbeing in a good place but I also know the risks of unnecessary interaction.

I'll just need to look at all my photos.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Surviving WFH - Social Distancing

Monday, week two at home. Work is going well, my internet is holding up and I certainly have plenty to do.

I had lunch with an old friend. We met in a restaurant that was almost deserted, but it was great to catch up. I might even grow to like this #WFH.

But then it all changed. Social Distancing. No going out to coffee shops. No Zumba. Church cancelled. Nothing.

My employer is amazing. Accenture have > 500,000 employees and many of us can work from home.  What we are doing depends on the projects we are on, each customer has their own challenges and we will do what we can to help each one.

The team I belong to, is having regular 'huddles' on line. Just a 'hi, how are you?' share a joke, just keep in contact. I love it. They are encouraging us to be on camera, to make the human interaction feel more real, and from tomorrow we will have online meditation sessions, armchair exercises and virtual yoga classes. 

I shared this photo, it looks like I am living in a bubble. Taking social distancing really seriously, but actually I am having my house painted and they were masking the windows. The view has now returned to normal.

I am incredibly busy at work, refining my role as we have just had a big reorganisation and I do feel I am managing that very well. I have been supporting poor colleagues who have been doing large presentations online to customers, and have to do it myself next week. 

But I am lonely. I live on my own and it is really quiet when I take off my headphones at the end of the day. The weather hasn't been good for walking but they promise better tomorrow, perhaps I'll go for a walk. 

I chatted with my daughter this evening, thank goodness for the internet and social media.

Surviving WFH - End of Week One

I decided I would make into my second stage of the virus, the 'positive' stage. It is probably good I live on my own as I would have been hell to live with the last few days. As the governments of the world, shut the doors, country by country, I resigned myself that this was going to be a long haul but was determined to try and deal with it.

I started the weekend by buying some flowers for my house (why is explained in this earlier post).

I told myself I would shop in local shops, visit a different independent coffee shop each day and support those who needed it. 

I even thought, 'if I can't travel for a while', I can practise living at home full time and see how it will feel in retirement. Was there enough here to keep me busy? 

I actually got quite excited. Started making coffee dates with friends, thought I would go to the Zumba class just started at church and generally settle into village life.

This positivity, though was short lived. I decided to brave the shops. I don't need toilet paper, a pack of 9 would last me months, so even if I was home full time, as long as I didn't eat much of my own cooking I would still be ok.

But my cupboards were bare, needed the basics. Joke, it was unbelievable. Apparently the germans call this panic buying 'hamstring'. It is as if we are preparing for hibernation. Toilet paper wasn't on my list, but basic things like eggs and pasta, even coffee was all gone. Luckily I am only me and not a family of 4 or 5.

Sunday I drove a little further to a big supermarket, and it was just the same. The I got to the till, it wasn't too bad. A couple being served, and just one other lady before me. The couple were quite young and obviously expecting their first baby anyway. They had 4 packs of newborn nappies, each containing just 20 nappies. I am guessing there were no larger packs on the shelves. The cashier tried to ring them up but it only allowed 3, the limit for that supermarket. The cashier explained and the couple were not rude just bemused. The cashier offered to talk to a supervisor and get an exception, but was told no, it was the rules and the till was programmed to reject > 3 of any item. So the last behind them, said she would put the other packet in her shopping, which she did. Then as the couple walked away, the cashier burst into tears. She said so many people had been rude to her all day, and yet she still had to say no to someone really in need.

Church was quite busy, but we were expecting older people to be told to stay at home so I expect the numbers to be much lower next week. There was no tea or coffee after church and the collection was on the way out, no passing bowls around the congregation.

Trying to stay positive is going to be hard.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Surviving WFH - Cancel, Cancel, Cancel

The government, My Employer, the news and Facebook had new information and things to worry about several times a day.

Monday - I was told no work travel, and cancelled flights for that week.

Tuesday - I was told the conference I was speaking at in Norway this week was postponed. I knew it was coming and it was the right thing to do. When I speak overseas I can claim the costs back after the event, so here I was going to loose a lot of money. I have travel insurance but it wouldn't pay up just because an event was cancelled. Last year at the event I won a voucher for Norwegian Air and thought I would use it this year to travel to the far North of Norway and try and see the Northern Lights. All was booked, 3 days light chasing and then down to Oslo for the conference.

What should I do? If I cancel all of it I will be out of pocket for a lot of money. If I still go to see the lights, it will cost me more to change some of logistics, but at least I will have a short holiday and who knows when I will get the next one. This process took many hours, but finally it was done.

Wednesday - work contacted me and told me I could not travel to the US in April for a conference. They wanted to cancel my flight but it was very expensive and for a few hundred I was able to change it to cover another planned trip in October.

Thursday - Norway announced anyone entering would need to go into 14 days quarantine. Guess the Light chasing was off. Oh and the conference in the US was called off.

Friday - I cancelled as much as I could for the Norway trip. It was by now on their government website, so perhaps I will get something from my insurance. I did get through to them but all they said was, fill in the form and we will assess it. I cancelled one flight and then 4 hours later they introduced a voucher scheme for re-use.

I calculate I spent almost a working day, amending, canceling and understanding options. Very frustrating, and although it was hard I still believed it was just a blip.