Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Easirent Edinburgh Airport

I've been hiring cars several times a year since the spring of 1992. I have never before felt compelled to write a car hire review however... 

Because of Covid, many of the car hire places in Edinburgh airport are not operating as usual. Seeing that the Copenhagen flight gets in exactly an hour before the car hire companies shut was a cause for concern therefore. I rang ahead and asked what their policies were concerning delayed flights or other issues. Easirent assured me on the Tuesday morning that that would be no problem. If I could see already in Copenhagen that I was delayed, then I should ring up and let them know to wait, otherwise I should ring on arrival and they'd send down the shuttle bus no problem, but whatever the issue, they assured me they never closed if they could see on their booking form that someone was coming for a car. They sounded perfect, so I booked with them... Next time I'll remember to ask the name of the person doing all the promising...

Our flight touched down exactly on schedule but Brexit means delays at customs and passport control and further delays at baggage handling. Half an hour before Easirent's closing time, I rang to alert them we'd be cutting it fine but no one answered. I rang non-stop till five minutes before their official closing time to let them know I'd be between 5 and ten minutes late. Mr Jobsworth answered and told me he would be closing at half past on the nose, booking or no booking. I explained calmly the assurance I'd got from his colleague four days earlier but he was less than interested. I explained I needed to get to Glasgow and then Newton Mearns, that I had tired children and numerous cases with me and that an eight day booking was a significant amount for his company. He hung up on me. We rushed to the shuttle bus and over to Easirent, assuming we might just catch him. And we did. Thanks to a lovely shuttle driver we got there at breakneck speed and arrived before he'd even closed up for the night. The guy on the desk told us he was not interested, he was closing and we could do what we liked. We pleaded and begged as he chained the car pound up for the night. The shuttle driver begged on our behalf and told him he'd report him, to no avail. Thomas took out his phone and tried to take a time-stamped photo of the man locking up for our official complaint and the guy ran at him wielding his fists, till the shuttle driver, Léon, and I stepped between them to keep him safe. All this in front of our 11 year old child!

The shuttle guy offered to drive us to McDonald's or a hotel and eventually drove us back to get the night bus to Glasgow. He was an absolute star of a man. The night bus to Glasgow costs £50 when you buy in advance, but fully £70 when you have to buy on the day and we'd to wait an hour to catch it. Finally dropped in Glasgow at 3am, we had no choice but to get a seven seater Uber out to my mum's as there were no trains or buses for nearly four hours and the kids had been up 22 hours at that point.

£105 down, physically threatened and with no hire car for the week or to get us back to Edinburgh for our flight home, we ended up forking out another £105 to insure me on mum's car for the week but that left us with just one five seater for seven people so I had to drive every trip twice meaning I had almost no time left to visit the friends I haven't seen in nearly two years.

All in all, I would say that Easirent in Edinburgh airport is by far the worst renting (if you can call it that) experience in all my car renting years and in all the countries I have rented. If you aren't willing to stay open when baggage or a flight is delayed, that's absolutely fine, but say it upfront so people don't book with you!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Rip-off Britain

I know the Tories love to line the pockets of their friends but my god this Day2 PCR test nonsense takes the biscuit. 

Here in Denmark we kindly offer tourists free PCR tests, done in person and available within about 15km of anywhere you happen to find yourself, including airports, border points etc Charlotte needed three tests while she was here for various reasons, Marcel and Milly took two each - one to get into Germany and one to go back home.

The UK currently requires you to take a PCR test two days after arriving in the country, fully vaccinated or not, but there are no free tests on offer. You click on the government website and it offers you tests starting from £2 per person. Not too dire, so you book your flight. Then four days before your flight you click to book your test and of course the first one on the list says they have none of the £2 tests left but are, funnily enough, willing to send you a test for £68 per person. You go onto the second on the list and as if by some miracle the same happens. You then go through the first forty on the list and every single one of them has the same message - Cheap tests sold out, tests start at £68 or £70, and the tiny little test that fits in a tiny little envelope somehow requires £10 in postage per test! Because you couldn't possibly stick five in one envelope if you could charge £50 in postage instead, could you?.

I would sympathise slightly if I thought these were in place to make the UK a safer or more Covid-free place, but these tests are sent to your home/holiday address, done in private and returned to the lab in the post so there is no way of knowing whether the passenger has completed them or if they have asked a friend or relative to scrape their nose, mouth or wherever. These tests serve three purposes as far as I can see. Firstly to line the pockets of labs that have been okayed by the government, secondly to pretend to the public they are keeping the UK safe, unlike their abysmal performance throughout the pandemic and finally to hack off the foreigners so they stay away... I'm sure that will be great for the economy going forward.

I, for one, won't be caught out like this again. Next time I want to see my mum, I might just fly her to Amsterdam or the Canaries instead of wasting £350 on bogus Covid testing. Then I can use my money to boost some other economy instead. Grrrrr!

Oh and this all means by the way that I may be in the UK Mon-Fri next week, or I might just take my £350 and bugger off somewhere nicer and more tourist-friendly instead!

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Paris marathon

Marcel's done a lot of charity work over the years, from building irrigation systems in India, to volunteering in charity shops and soup kitchens and giving up his time to paint vulnerable people's houses free of charge.

His latest offering seems to be running the Paris marathon (he's never run a marathon before) for a cancer charity. So if anyone fancies rewarding his hard work and training, here's the necessary link!

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Brexit and language students

How can destroying a young person's ability to educate themselves ever be good for a country?

Charlotte is in 4th year at Glasgow university studying for a language degree. As a compulsory part of the degree, she needs to spend a minimum of 9 months in the country of her primary language and after that a minimum of 3 months in the country of her second one. Charlotte went to Madrid last year and spent exactly 51 weeks there before returning to see us in Denmark and finally after 54 weeks, returning to Scotland. She battled Covid alone, twice, was in lockdown away from her family and all the friends she knew in Spain from previous visits and spent Christmas day alone... Yet the hesitant, though adventurous young woman who left us in September '20 had been replaced by a self-assured, open and very capable adult on her return a year later.

She now has to go to France around February 25 next year. If you look at previous year's recommendations on the uni syllabus, kids were advised to go to the second country for the three months, so until around May 25, and then to try to work the summer in that country, to further improve their language, or to return to the country of their first stay to brush that language up before returning to Scotland at the end of September for their final year at uni. Of course by this point in their studies many have picked up a foreign boyfriend or girlfriend, some foreign friends they'd like to visit or even just a friend from uni who is staying nearby who they might like to interrail with. In Charlotte's case she has her family in Denmark she'd like to see at some point after those three months. And over and above that she has the two families in Madrid she has au paired for since she was 18, not to mention her step-grandparents in Tuscany, and potentially her aunts, uncles and father who live in France, who she also might like to drop in on. 

This year's students were called to a meeting yesterday to look into the logistics of this now they are post-Brexit. The year long assistantships are still going ahead where possible for now as visas can be obtained for those, though at some cost. Though some kids have gone straight from second year into fourth bypassing the once-compulsory part of the degree. As someone who has been through the system, there is nothing quite like a year in a country to change your ability to speak. Waiving that year will belittle a language degree enormously. 

This year, however the 'minimum three-month stay' now reads 'maximum three-month stay'. They have to find a job before they go, as they are no longer allowed to seek work on arrival. They can't obtain a longer visa without a more permanent signed contract, and of course once they have found an employer who will allow them to stay less than 90 days, they have to leave before the end of the 90 days and go back to the UK where they need to sit it out until the end of August when their 90 day clock is reset. But let's face it, who is going to run back to France or Spain with three weeks to go before uni starts after spending the entire summer tied to the UK, unable to further their studies? 

And those who made some good friends during last year's stay can't visit them again this Christmas as that would eat into the 90 days the student is allowed in the EU which they need to save for February, nor can they visit them after their stay in the other country as they would again need to wait until the last week of August. Going forward, those who are passionate about language will find themselves constantly being sent back to the UK to cross off days on a calendar in much the same way as a prisoner might in his cell.

When you study languages, you want to work in that country in your free months, you want to be free to visit the friends you made last time round, you want to be able to fall in love in that country. If you're studying in Spain, you might want to jump over and learn a bit of basic Portuguese for a few months. Leaving this generation in limbo by negotiating no student exchanges or visas will have two effects as far as I can see. Some will muddle through, resentfully working their summer in the local supermarket or McDonalds in Glasgow when they really want to be doing the same but in Madrid or Bordeaux, finally becoming a slightly more mediocre version of what they wanted to become and others will bottle up their resentment till they can get on the first plane out of the UK as soon as they graduate, having negotiated a contract that will slowly bring them closer to a residence permit for a different EU state, never to return.

Charlotte, of course, is in the odd situation where the new rule does not affect her. She can fly into France on her French passport, so have no stamp and no 90 day countdown, and yet it does affect her as she is surrounded by students who are being forced back home when the summer is about to begin. As the friends she would have interrailed with are forced back into exile, she will be left all alone to backpack round Europe, a kind of post-Brexit Norma-no-mates. But had she not had her other passport, she would have to choose between completing her degree requirements and seeing her mother, her siblings, her friends. All because the Tory arrogance opted not to negotiate any sort of reciprocity for students. Why would the Tories want to encourage the youth to mix with Johnny Foreigner types, after all? 

My heart is breaking for these kids. At that age, I spent 13 months in France over the course of my 3rd year of uni and then went on to stay in Germany and France again from the February to the October of the following year, not to mention a further trip at Christmas of the same year. This did wonders for my languages. There is nothing quite like an extended stay abroad to broaden your mind and make you grow and mature into an outward-looking person. You open your mind to new ways of doing things, thinking about life and accept new possibilities. My five months in Germany are still amongst my fondest memories to date and the friends I shared those times with will be with me to the end of my days.

Coupled with the 50% fall, this year alone, in EU students applying to Scottish unis, which I expect to increase, not decrease as time goes on and fees become transparent, we are looking at a generation of kids who will have little opportunity to have their minds opened to new cultures both at home and abroad. I find it hard to imagine being as passionate as I was about language in my early 20s, and as Charlotte is now, but being sent back to the UK every 90 days to cross off the days till I could once again spread my wings.

Some say it is time to move on and work within the confines of Brexit, but I for one will never move on and will never get over what ignorance has done to a whole generation of kids. I, for one, hope they all up and leave as soon as they can.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

An allergic reaction

When Léon was a small child, he had a bit of an allergy to blue food colouring. It always manifested itself as skin irritation, rather than breathing issues, thank goodness, but still, he was sent home from school on several occasions when staff refused to believe it was an allergy rather than a contagious disease.

We thought it had gone. He's had various blue sweets and similar over the past few years with no side effects. 

At the weekend we went to a family confirmation party in Copenhagen. They were serving blue fizzy juice to the teenagers. Léon had two over the course of a couple of hours. He was sitting on the opposite side of the hall to us with the other adolescents so we hadn't noticed till, when listening to one of the speeches from that corner of the room, Charlotte spied him from a distance. What a state he was in! His normally blemish-free skinned looked like he'd been roasted in front of an open fire.

Back in the day I would never have left home without an antihistamine in my bag but it's been so many years since this happened, I had no supplies. I double checked it was only his skin and he had no tightening in his throat or similar. What could we do? I suggested, for want of a better idea, that he should maybe drink some water in an attempt to dilute the effects or flush out his system. He disappeared into the kitchen area and returned with a glass of juice. I went for elderflower juice instead of water, is that ok? Of course, I said, positively encouraging him to down copious amounts as quickly as possible. Six elderflower juices later he looked more relaxed and laid back and was no longer scratching. I wandered through to the kitchen to get myself a juice too. Standing on the table where both Léon and I had served ourselves elderflower earlier in the evening was a large juice dispenser but it no longer contained elderflower, but rather mojito! I rushed to Léon and asked him if I could taste his elderflower juice. He handed it to me and I immediately noticed some tell-tale leaves floating on top. The silly wee bugger had only gone and downed six mojitos in the space of ten minutes, for purely medicinal reasons, while also mentioning how good his aunt was at making elderflower juice!

To cap it all, when I related the story to his aunt, she delved into her handbag and handed me an antihistamine! But I guess it had the desired effect, given he didn't seem in the least bothered by the irritation in his face afterwards and he was more than pleased that he'd managed to acquire six mojitos entirely innocently!