Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Here and There

You know you're in the West Country [UK] when you can browse the magazine shelf at the local filling [gas] station and study titles like Practical Tractor, Tractor Monthly, My Tractor, or perhaps Truly Tantalising Tractor Tales, even Tractor Attractor (all right, so I may have made up a couple of those), and all the aforementioned carry full-colour photographs on their covers of Massey Fergusons or John Deeres enough to have a rustics mouth salivating in seconds.

I was waiting for the bloke to deal with the paperwork for my hire car. He was still on the blower. A few years ago I made the cardinal error of booking a hire car over the internet before leaving Greece with an apparently multi-national and therefore one would have thought reputable company, only to find having taken a half-hour bus ride into Bath, followed by a walk of about the same time to arrive it the company's office and be told by the butter-wouldn't-melt girl behind the desk that I'd of course be wanting the extra £85 worth of insurance cover wouldn't I. When I queried this and pointed out that I'd brought with me a print-out of the e-mail of the booking from the company, which strangely hadn't mentioned any extra charges on top of the quoted price, she just replied with "Well, I only work here, sir. But if you do have an accident and you haven't taken out the extra cover, it'll be a £500 excess that you'll be liable for, so I'd strongly recommend that you take it."

Having spent the ensuing couple of weeks driving around in a car from a company for which I was developing an ever deeper resentment, I resolved then and there to find a local company, near to my mother's home, in future. How glad I am that I did. Now, each time we're planning to arrive in the UK to stay a few weeks with mum, I just call them a week in advance, we agree the price and I can walk to the garage to collect the car, where I pay the exact price quoted for a very acceptable car thank you very much. I even get to browse a magazine rack full of tractor magazines whilst I wait.

What's nice about being in a village like Chilcompton, too, is that if I strike up a conversation with the bloke who's serving me, I'm almost certain to find out that he knows someone who I used to. "That garage along the road, used to be Crockett's didn't it?" I began.

"Yep." Came the reply, "You knew old Bill Crockett then?"

"Used to work for him, not long after I left school. I worked out at Emborough, where there was a bloke called "Bish" who used to clean the cars and man the pumps, back in the good old days when you used to get served when buying petrol."

"I knew old Bish," replied Martin, the man who was running my Debit Card through the machine, "He only recently died. Lived just down the road from here. Drink finally got the better of him."

Having enjoyed a companionable moment, having just discovered a mutual acquaintance, I told him my favourite "Bish" story from three or four decades ago. We used to retire to the nearby Old Down pub at lunchtimes, the salesmen and he, where Bish would try and chat up women. If they ever asked what he did for a living, he'd always reply, very a la Del Trotter: "I'm in petroleum, on the retail side."

Why am I rambling on about all this? Well, usually at this time of the year whilst visiting my mother in the West Country, it's a handy time to reflect on the various differences between our lives out in Rhodes and the life we may have still been experiencing were we still living here in the UK. I mean, I've written before about how I'm convinced that shop assistants think I must have escaped from somewhere when I can't understand the money. I mean, here's this bloke who's obviously a local, and he gives up in desperation while buying a paper and thrusts an open palm across the counter and asks the assistant to take the correct amount of change. Boy do I get some funny looks. Having pulled up at some petrol pumps this morning I waited for ages wondering why it was taking me so long to get served. Eventually I got out of the car and looked around for someone, but it was the garage forecourt equivalent of the Maria Celeste. The sun (yes, folks, it was sunny!!) was reflecting on the glass of the garage store and so I couldn't see any bodies within.

After probably five minutes or so it finally dawned on me that here in the UK you're expected to get your hands all smelly and serve yourself. Having grown so used to the most civilized practice which still prevails on Rhodes of the attendant opening your filler cap, filling your car and collecting your cash whilst all you have to do is lower your window, I'd quite forgotten the etiquette in Britain.

That's a plus for Greece. A bit of a minus, though, has to be the situation when you have to visit the local doctor's surgery. Not long after moving out to Rhodes someone told us, "In Greece they're all totally preoccupied with 'specialists'". GPs are nervous about treating virtually everything and if you drop by the local practice, of which there are many dotted about the villages, [much like the situation in the UK], more than likely the Doc will refer you to the hospital."

Now, this isn't so bad if the hospital's just along the road. But if you live down toward Gennadi on Rhodes, you're looking at at least an hour in the car. It's either that or the GP will write you a prescription for three or four different and very expensive drugs that ought to ensure that he [allegedly] gets his free golfing weekend in Italy from the commission he'll get at the end of that financial year. My wife had a minor feeling of discomfort under her ribs a while back. She went to the Doctor's surgery in Gennadi and came home with three prescriptions, none of which was for the complaint that she'd gone to see him about!! One was even an inhaler!!!

The other potential scenario, as referred to above, was brought back to mind when our close neighbour, Jane (of Mac and Jane fame in a couple of the books) e-mailed us a few days ago to tell us how she'd recently arrived back on Rhodes after a frigid few weeks in the brass-monkey riddled UK still nursing a pretty raw chest. After a few days at home in Kiotari with it not seeming to shift, she took herself off to the local doctor, who promptly referred her to the hospital to see a specialist. In the UK it's almost a certainty that the local doc would have prescribed a dose of antibiotics and that would have sorted it out. But here, off she was sent all the way to "the specialist" in the hospital in town, where she was examined, told she had a chest infection, and sent home with the recommendation that she return for another appointment in a few days time, another round trip of more than 100k!!

Something I must add here, on a totally different subject. This year we chose to use the train to travel down from Gatport Airwick to Bath, changing at Reading. Much to our surprise and delight, the trains were virtually on time, every member of staff whom I approached for directions at the stations was courtesy and friendliness personified, and we arrived at my mother's door a few hours quicker than we would have done had we taken the National Express coach, which up until now we'd sworn by. This year their fares had taken such a hike that we ended up on the train, but all in all, a huge tick in the credit column for the staff at Gatwick and Reading stations.

Finally, since we'd had some time to kill at Reading I wanted to give the "heads up" to the small and very friendly "Tutti Frutti" coffee bar on the concourse there, where we enjoyed a couple of truly wicked Mochas and choccy fudge, cum carrot cake or something like that. The cafe is two doors from Costa Coffee, where everyone seems to want to sit. 

Pic courtesy:
We ended up in Tutti Frutti (hidden by Costa Coffee above), which, when we sat down, was empty of customers, and were very glad we did. The young man and lady serving there were exceptionally friendly and helpful and, when we paid up and left, we checked the prices at the famous neighbour, to find that we'd saved ourselves a tidy sum too.

Anyway, I'll sign off now. Got a couple of Tractor magazines to peruse through.

1 comment:

  1. Hope you are still enjoying your 'holiday' in UK, I'm sure your mother is enjoying your visit! We are certainly revelling in the slightly warmer, drier and definitely sunnier, weather that you kindly brought with you from Rhodes.