Let’s talk about customer service..

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Running in Chamonix – no ski boots required!

Call me old-fashioned, call me old, you’d be right on both counts, but I do like good customer service, no, actually, I like excellent customer service. Being self-employed, I make sure that’s what I give, if I didn’t, my reputation would suffer.

Let’s look at two scenarios to test out the principles of good customer service, you decide what actually happened.

It was the last day of a snow-packed slippy-slidey no-fall ski holiday (that’s no falls on the downhill, the cross-country had obligatory falling over). The snow just kept coming down and we were happy.

Our Chamonix hotel, the Faucigny was a favourite place to stay, we’d been there many times, welcomed warmly by the couple who ran it as a family business. They had since retired, but we went back as we loved it there.

It’s usual for ski boots and skis to be kept in the bowels of a hotel, usually in a room heady with the scent of 100 sweaty feet. We have our own boots, moulded to our feet and fitted with customised footbeds, so comfortable, like having your feet kissed…

As we opened the door that last morning, instead of our two pairs of boots, there was one. Mine. Noel’s had gone.

In scenario one, we speak to the reception staff, in French of course, who sympathise and offer to cover the cost of hiring boots for the day, and promise they will do their utmost to track them down. We leave re-assured and head out to ski our little legs off, trusting our hotel will sort everything out for us. On returning, we are presented with the missing boots, a guest had accidentally taken them, apologised profusely for the inconvenience, leaving a gift, a generous gift, we’re overwhelmed, we shed a tear or two, embrace the hotel staff, who hand us a warming cuppa and huge slice of gateau then bid them a fond farewell, promising to return. Soon.

Scenario two and we’re met with a shrug, there’s an offer of a discount voucher to hire replacements, the same voucher offered when we arrived. Definitely the least they could do. The hire boots fit like gloves, boxing gloves. It’s not a good day. We return to the same shrugging and decide to report it to the police as a theft, that way we can claim on the insurance. We spend the penultimate hour of our holiday in the Gendarmarie explaining everything in our best French. On returning to the hotel, to pick up the airport taxi, Noel checks the boot room one last time. The boots are back, still warm, and wet through, the reception staff shrug, saying one guest returned, but they didn’t see who, yeah, right. Noel explains in his best French that he’s not happy and would very much like to discuss reimbursement of the hire cost of the boots with the person responsible. More shrugs. We’re hungry, thirsty and angry and already composing our Trip Adviser review.

Once when we were there before, we’d returned to the room to find it hadn’t been cleaned. Monsieur was mortified, he called the cleaner back, apologised profusely and gave us a bottle of champagne and sacked the cleaner. That was customer service.

So, which scenario was it, dear reader?

Everything hurts. Everything. 

Well, when I say everything hurts, my eyelids are fine. And my left earlobe, that’s not too bad either, though my right one is throbbing a bit. But everything else? Bloody agony. 

Cross country skiers have god-like bodies, slim, elegant movers and as fit as a butcher’s dog.  That wasn’t my sole reason for signing up for a three-day course, but I have to confess it was at the back of my mind and I have already ordered clothes two sizes smaller, just in case.

We found ourselves with six other like-minded debutants and two of these god-like creatures who were tasked with transforming us into maybe not skiing gods, but hopefully minor deities. Very minor deities. 

I’m a reasonable downhill skier, falls are usually in the single figures, by the second day at least. I was lulled into a false sense of security as I put on the comfortable boots, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a martyr to my feet. But then came the skis, long, thin, light and no edges. I immediately fell over, it wasn’t the last time that day, or even that hour. 

Oh my goodness it was tough going.  The only progress is under your own ski power, no lifts, tows or satisfying long carves down corduroy pistes. Just hard physical work.

I used muscles I didn’t know I had, my legs stretched further than they’ve ever stretched before and I am very bendy. After day one, I ached, day two and I couldn’t walk up the stairs, day three and I crawled up the stairs, it took a while.

No pain, no gain, and I gained a lot. I learned to move on horizontal-ish snow, gliding and falling less and less until the tally was in single figures, thanks to our cross country skiing gods, Richard and Emma. 

Now it’s back to the downhill stuff for the next few days, just to make sure the aching continues, different aches in different places, but at least my eyelids are fine. 

Running…because I can

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Thanks to Andy Wicks for the photo

I had a lovely running friend, sadly no longer with us, who was a great inspiration to all of us who enter races knowing we haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of bothering the prizewinners.

Arthur James a sprightly septuagenarian, ran as best he could then finished with a thundering sprint. ‘Run….because you can…’ he said. And I did.

It’s now ten years since I ran my first ever 10km through the dark satanic mills of Dewsbury and Batley, passing the HQ of an organisation that had treated me very badly and resisting the temptation to make a moon-related gesture. Never in my whole life did I think I would run that immense distance, especially in my late 40s without the need for supplementary oxygen and emergency chocolate. The very idea! But I did, and I didn’t collapse in a heap, in fact, I was euphoric. And I got a tee-shirt and what’s more it still fits!

Joining a club and taking part in races was a natural next step, that was after I bought suitable trainers and movement-limiting running gear. Did you know breasts have no muscles and left unrestrained, will make a figure of eight when running causing untold damage and massive chafeage? I discovered that very quickly and thank my lucky stars for Shock Absorber #4 which keeps everything in place, though does catapult across the room when unhooked. I once found it hanging lazily from the reading lamp after looking everywhere, that’s the power of elastic.

But it can be a bit disheartening when all the fast folk just breeze past on their second lap and I’m puffing and panting, hardly able to acknowledge their encouragement. My poor legs just plod away and I feel like I’m getting slower and slower!

Noel was quick to give advice, ‘If you want to run fast, then move your legs quicker…’ Excellent. You can imagine the response. He’s right, though, and I’m working on it, speed sessions, hill training, it’s hard work and sometimes it doesn’t feel it’s making a difference. But I’m motivated and encouraged by Arthur’s words, I can run, so what’s wrong with that? It’s not about racing or medals, though I confess I do like a bit of bling.

The best run I had recently was splashing through the fresh snowfall in the local woods, savouring the clean, crisp air, the winter sleepiness of the leafless trees, the glimpse of the occasional bird, the sound of my own unlaboured breathing, the total freedom of running, is there anything better, really?

So as I enter my second decade of  running, I do want to run freer and faster. But most of all, I want to run just because I can. Thank you Arthur.

An arty start to the new year

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It’s always best to start a new year with good intentions. I’m not talking about resolutions, that all feels very formal and implies a level of commitment just short of signing with your own blood. Frankly I need all the blood I have, so I’ll stick to good intentions, thank you very much.

I’ve been handed and accepted a rather lovely challenge for January. It’s not running every day, that’s more of a way of life than a challenge. No, it’s a very arty challenge, and I won’t be alone, there may be a few million of us.

For the past four years, the creative charity 64 Million Artists , whose whole reason for being is to encourage us all to unleash our artyness, has issued a challenge a day for the whole of January. Each day I’ll get an email, it could ask me to pen a poem, draw a picture, or solve a problem, which all sounds very interesting. The task shouldn’t take more than ten minutes, so I won’t be painting any Mona Lisas.

I wonder what the first challenge will be? Oh blimey, I hope it’s not drawing, I’m rubbish at drawing, and painting come to think of it, but it’s never too late to learn! The idea is to share it with the millions of other challengees. Join me?

Happy New Creative Year!

Oh yes she did!

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Cake and cheese. The Yorkshire way.

Japanese people are reserved, polite, courteous, quietly-spoken and genteel. We Yorkshire folk are not high scorers on those things really, if we are honest, and we are always honest, brutally so. So what happens when you take your Japanese friend to her first pantomime? Ever? And in Yorkshire?

Maika is in the process of being assimilated into the true Yorkshire Way, which as everyone knows, is the only way. She’s been a student here for more than two years now and it getting into the swing of it. She’s eaten mucky fat and bread, made Yorkshire puddings, worn a flat cap and sung all the verses from Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘at, even though she suspected it had an underlying theme of death and cannibalism.

Her Tyke vocabulary has expanded to the point that she can teach the Unenlightened (non-Yorkshire folk) our unique expressions. These are mainly to do with the weather, she can announce fluently that ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’ adding with that happy optimism we Yorkshire folk are famous for ‘but it’ll burn off’. Coming from a warmer climtate where the sea temperature is a balmy 22C, she soon feels the cold and confesses she sometimes runs in a duvet jacket because she’s ‘nesh’.

She is spending her first Christmas in the UK and had donned beard and suit to take part in the Santa Dash, so we thought she’s be ready to take it to the next level, that most British of festive frivolities, the pantomime. There are no pantomimes in Japan, actually in modern times, pantomimes are unknown outside the UK, so there was a lot of explaining to do. Where do you start? We gave a few simple pointers, the dame is a man in drag, the principal boy is a girl, the baddie enters stage left, the goodie stage right. Members of the audience are teased, there’s a lot of double entendre, custard pies, slapstick and raucous shouting out. What’s not to like?

The only pantomime worth talking about in Leeds is the annual rock and roll pantomime at City Varieties, this year, it’s Aladdin. The beautiful 150-year-old theatre was built as a Victorian music hall, Charlie Chaplain and Houdini performed there and of course it’s home to the BBC TV programme The Good Old Days  where people dress up and sing along, which was our plan too.

We all bought plastic tiaras, except for Noel, who doesn’t dress up, and took sweets and drinks into the theatre. Maika was amazed, in Japan, she said, there was no eating or drinking in the theatre. She was definitely in for a surprise!

I’d dropped a note to say that Maika was seeing her first ever pantomime, and that she was fast becoming a Yorkshirewoman as she would tell anyone who left the door open to ‘put t’wood in t’ole’ and that the cold, damp weather was ‘nithering’.

After a few rounds of ‘it’s behind you!’ and ‘oh no you won’t – oh yes you will’ with a whispered explanation about the Emperor Wun Hung Lo holding his balls (I think this is the first time I’ve ever uttered the word ‘testicle’ in a theatre) the messages were read out.

Maika was amazed to hear her name, but when Widow Twanky mis-pronounced ‘nithering’, there was a loud shout from the lady on my left. ‘It’s not ny-thering, it’s nithering!’ We were shocked, such a shout from a polite, genteel Japanese lady, but she immediately reminded us she was now a Yorkshire lass and could yell like the rest of us!  This continued for the rest of the performance, with us all yelling loudly. All that remained was for us to celebrate the festive season with Christmas cake and cheese. It is the Yorkshire way.

The cafe of awwws and big smiles

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We’ve a lot of cafes in Leeds, but the latest to open is the only one that comes with paws and purrs. The Kitty Cafe is the new home to a dozen or so rescue and stray cats who rush to greet you as soon as the door’s opened. Well, not so much rush and greet, they are typical cats and just ignore you until it suits them. Cats, eh?

We’d visited a cat cafe in Paris, it was the first I’d heard of cafes with cats, but the idea of sipping a latte surrounded by cats, particularly French cats, was very appealing, I was excited to see whether they miaowed with a French accent.  They didn’t, it seems miaowing is a universal language.

The Kitty Cafe opened in Leeds last week, of course we had to go. The windows were already covered with smudges where humans had pressed their noses in the hope of seeing a cat or two. I confess, one of those smudges was mine and yes, I saw the occupants who, having come from not-very-nice places to somewhere they would be fed and adored, were looking rather pleased with themselves.

Our one-hour slot was early morning, the cafe is fully booked for weeks, so we took the only available time. It gave us a chance to sit down with a cuppa and continue to be ignored by cats – pretty much like at home. However, we did observe the humans, every one of them awwwed as they came in and every one smiled.

There has been debate about the rights and wrongs of cat cafes and whether it’s cruel to the cats. But as far as I could see, the cats were getting on with being cats and have they very real prospect of finding homes. The cafe charged £6 per person to cover cat care, which is cheaper than going to the cinema and certainly more interactive. And the humans are happy, if only for an hour. I’ll definitely be back!

 

 

 

Santas, stormtroopers and sushi

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Leeds. Eight-thirty on a Sunday morning just before Christmas, two Santas, shivering in the sub-zero temperature, stride through the near-deserted streets. The only people they pass look straight ahead, pretending they aren’t there. Pretending we aren’t there, for I am one of those Santas.

Being good Yorkshire folk, careful with our hard-earned cash, we’d parked some distance from the city centre where it cost only half a crown for the whole day, so we were quite alone, Sue and I, the two Santas, with our trusty minder and photographer Noel. Noel wasn’t a Santa, he doesn’t do dressing up. No wonder the remains of the late-night revellers didn’t make eye contact.

But as we neared the centre, we joined a sea of red. Santas as far as the eye could see, big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones, big fat ones, small thin ones, several dogs and two festive Stormtroopers, we knew they were festive because they had snowy white beards and their weapons were set to ‘stun’ rather than the usual ‘completely obliterate’

This was the Santa Dash in aid of St Gemma’s Hospice, a surreal experience for those taking part and those watching, so many Santas, so little space. Sue and I had to do the obligatory tactical visit to the facilities, it’s a runners’ thing. Noel went ahead, then turned round, looking alarmed ‘How will I recognise you?’ How indeed with so many Santas around, he told me later he could tell my walk a mile off, I think that’s a good thing.

Our Japanese friend Maika, who is spending her first Christmas in the UK, is making sure she experiences as much of the festive spirit as she can. She too was a Santa, with Christmas pudding glasses, traditional eyewear Chez The Clauses somewhere in Lapland. Along with our Sikh friend Jaz, we made for a multi-cultural, multi-faith bunch of Santas. We laughed ourselves silly as we ran, walked, said hello to and high-fived fellow Santas and barracked the Stormtroopers.

The post-run refreshments were courtesy of the Japanese restaurant Little Tokyo. Instead of the usual mucky fat sandwiches and custard creams served up to hungry runners, there was sushi, tempura vegetables, dips and…….. chips. Chips? I asked the lovely Little Tokyo staff who were braving the cold to feed us. Yes, they responded, it’s what the crowds want! Maika was amazed, Santas, Stormtroopers and sushi, whatever next?

A pantomime, that’s what’s next for Maika’s Christmas  experience. Oh yes it is…I can’t wait to blog about that!