This past New Year 2014/2015 I went skiing in Chamonix France with my good friend of 20 years. I booked ChamExpress, a transfers company, to taxi us from Geneva Airport to Chamonix and had an absolutely awful experience. I post this article in the hope that others will read it be forewarned.
Readers of this story are very welcome to contact me on Twitter at @craiggibbons
A true and accurate account of this experience follows:
My friend Laura and I took the ChamExpress taxi from Geneva airport to Chamonix at 12:30pm on December 30th, 2014. The taxi contained between 8 and 10 passengers. About an hour into the journey, the taxi stopped at the drop off point for the first passenger. I politely asked the driver if I could have 5 minutes for a comfort break. There was a McDonalds restaurant right across the street from the drop off point which had toilet facilities. The driver, replied that the service was on a tight schedule and it would therefore not be possible. I then inquired how much longer it would take to reach our hotel, the Hotel Alpina in central Chamonix, to which the driver replied about half an hour. I made it clear I would not be possible to wait that long, when you have to go you have to go, and again I requested a 5 minute break. The driver again refused and so, left with no other option, I went to use the facilities at the McDonalds. The driver then simply left me there, at the first drop off location, with no money, no coat and without my bag, in an unknown location in France, in winter. I don't speak French.
My travelling companion pleaded with the driver to stop but he repeatedly refused. She then begged to be let out of the vehicle as she didn't want to abandon me in the middle of nowhwere. She said clearly that he was taking her against her will and demanded he stop the vehicle. The driver refused. Upon reaching the Hotel Alpina, she attempted to take a picture of the driver with her iPhone for purposes of identification in a written complaint we were going to make to ChamExpress. The driver snatched her phone out of her hand and threw it into the vehicle with force. When she then attempted to retrieve the phone, the driver pushed her out of the way causing a bruise to her leg, took the phone and threw it into the snow. The driver then closed the taxi doors and drove off. The snow was deep and after hours of searching she still failed to locate the phone. A complaint was filed with the Gendarmerie in Chamonix the same day.
I managed to get a taxi to the Hotel Alpina and arrived about an hour later to find my companion extremely distressed and in tears over the incident.
I am utterly appalled at the behaviour of the driver. He denied me a basic human right by not allowing me to relieve myself and as a representative of ChamExpress he failed in maintaining the duty of care which ChamExpress as a taxi service have to their passengers. His behaviour towards my friend was aggressive and highly inappropriate. When I called ChamExpress to complain, their initial response was a simple "What do you want us to do about it?". When I insisted on speaking to a manager, I got the Operations Manager on the line who insisted I put my complaint in writing which I have duly done in terms with the complaints procedure as documented on the chamexpress.com website. She also shot down my complaint by saying "Our behaviour was appaling"! Our behaviour, not that of their driver.
I have to date not received any reply from ChamExpress or CEO Andrew Martin (@Chamexpress).
All throughout my youth I recall, whilst tolerating kisses from aunties and grannies, being asked what my hobby was, to which I would always have to reply "err, well I don't really have a hobby". Well, as of last week I can at last declare, I have a hobby! Yes, I have taken to model ship building after being interested in and inspired by this delicate discipline for some years. On a recent trip to Simon's Town (South Africa) I had the pleasure of admiring a vessel of incredible detail and proportion which struck me with awe. The intricacy, the sheer man hours necessary to produce such a thing - it was a labour of dedication and fascination and upon returning home I immediately purchased a Corel Ranger US Revenue Cutter for my first project.
As of writing, I am 3 steps in and the hull is just starting to take shape. I continue, learning techniques, acquiring tools and exercising a steady hand. More to follow...
It's amazing to look back and note that my last post was Feb 2011, more than 18 months ago. Shameful. I hang my head. I can only hope that somewhere in that not-so-steel-trap mind of mine all of the events of these past months have been recorded or else they will only feature in fleeting recollections and dreams later on. I should go back, check my calendar and record them in as much colour as I can capture. But I probably won't, for the same reasons I haven't posted anything since then... I'm uninspired to write. This blog is, in a way, a barometer of my state of mind. The better things are going, the more I write. That is not to say the last 18 months have been bad, quite the contrary, there have been many bright spots and no time of life is actually bad, it's all new experience and even if it doesn't feel like it at the time, all learning. I just haven't felt like writing, haven't felt creative. So without being too thoughtful on the matter, I hope to write more. For now, this is a start.
With the very greatest of satisfaction I can report I received my first British passport today. It is maroon in colour but in fact, it's pure gold. As a South African, travelling on the passport of my country has been a tiring and expensive experience. From waiting in the extraordinarily long arrivals queue labelled "Other passports" to being heavily fleeced every time the urge strikes to go abroad, it will be a truly novel experience to breeze through a border crossing, for free. Paris, here I come!
A gigantic cover/protector industry has sprung up around devices like the iPod, iPhone and very soon I'm sure, the iPad. For some reason, people love 'em and the sales people at the store try push these expensive add-on's to you every time you enter the store. They look on with animated disgust when you extract your phone from your pocket, devoid of not only a cover but, oh my, a screen protector too! "Are you mad?!" their wide eyes enquire. I take special delight in this ritual. To me, the mobile phone cover is stupid, pointless and a false economy. It is tantamount to covering your sofa in plastic. Think about it, what does it actually give you? You get a nice shiny new phone, straight out of the box it's perfect. Then, you cover it with some silly carbon-fibre or jelly looking thing and you place a strip of plastic over the screen, entombing the device in these accessories forever. What has happened here?
- You paid money for the accessories
- You made the device twice as big and half as attractive
- Eventually the cover will get messed up anyway and then...
- You'll have to buy another one
All the while you never get to see or use the device as it was intended. You'll never get to feel the soft leather of that new sofa.
I can only really speak for the iPhone, but after 2 years without a cover, being dropped twice, shoved into my pocket with keys and coins thousands of times and taken through a hailstorm in my top pocket while riding my motorbike, it's still going strong and looks good.
Ditch the cover.
After 5 hard years, I am happy, nay, god damn delighted, to report I have at long last been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (IDL) in the U.K. The process has been long an arduous. When I first came here, I had no recourse other than to obtain a sponsored work permit. I duly found a sponsor and set about obtaining the work permit. After months of promises, the visa failed to materialise and only the good graces and sharp thinking of my immigration consultant prevented a disaster. Later, after moving to a second sponsor and enduring the extremely unfair immigration policies of the Home Office which added another year to the required duration, the road has come to an end and the visa has been granted. No more will I have to be subjected to the suspicious barbs of disgruntled public servants at Heathrow’s arrivals lounge. Ha… HA!
I never figured myself for a green-thumb kinda guy and my early childhood spent watching South Africa's favourite gardener, Keith Kirsten, left me with an overall impression of gardeners toiling all day in the dirt and smelling not unlike a combination of formaldehyde, mulch and whatever growing thing they happened to brush up against last. Recently, Gemma and I purchased a house together. Through all of our adventures in house buying, the one thing which became the veritable holy grail of the first home, was a layout in which the kitchen led onto the garden via a gaping large sliding door at the back of the house, welcoming the fecund scents of spring into the expectant kitchen carpel. For me, the focus was always on the house and all the beautiful things it could be filled with, but lately, with the weather so very excellent in February, or indeed by any other month's standards, the focus has shifted, to the outside. Walking around the garden the past few days has revealed things I couldn't see upon moving into the house half way through September last year. Small buds have begun to appear, grass has begun to grow, barren shrubs have regenerated from nothing, grey has turned to green, indeed everywhere I now look, new life has sprung forth from the earth where only barren soil and dead branch resided only days ago. Eager to assist our new garden in its efforts to reclaim all that was lost to it during the winter, we have purchased Primroses and planted Lily of the Valley and all types of herbs, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Mint and even some Rocket. The garden is alive and to my eyes, presently only beginning to exhale after holding its breath for so many months. I Look forward to the spring and summer with unbridled anticipation... oh if Keith could see me now.
About two months ago, my parents came down to London for a visit. It so happened I was feeling a bit feverish that day, the start of what ended up being a good bout of flu, so I stayed home and it was well I did because at some point during the day, a skinny, lost and cold ginger cat with a sniffle followed my father back into the house after he went out to his car. Having grown up with cats, I immediately liked him but with Gemma being allergic to cats, I tried to discourage him from staying, so I gave him as much food as I had and a saucer of milk and after he had a two hour nap, I put him outside again with the promise, to myself, that if he came back, I would take him in right away and take care of him. An hour or two passed and then what I had secretly hoped for but didn't think would happen, happened, a little flash of ginger and white appeared on the window-sill outside the lounge and I leapt up from the sofa, almost knocking over my Lemsip, and let him in the house. Poor little thing, he went straight into the bedroom and fell asleep at once, for several hours. After Gemma came home that day, we decided (tentatively) to keep him. After much deliberation, we decided to name him Pantoufle, after the little girl's imaginary friend in the novel Chocolat by Anne Harris. I had always wanted a cat in London, but not having a garden and leading a fairly irregular life of late nights at the office and triathlon training schedules meant I didn't feel I could be a legitimate cat-minder. Now, with a garden in our lovely mid-terrace home, a cat has about forty other adjoined gardens to play in and in some ways, life has normalised to a certain extent. The point is in any case moot, the moment he jumped up on that window-sill, he was here to stay for better or worse and even when he wakes me up at 4am, for food and to be let out, he's still the best little ginger cat in the world.
One of the guys at work sent around a mailer a few weeks ago, asking if anybody was interested in doing the London Pride 10k Run on August 18th. As with most of these events, it was for a good cause and in this case it was also sponsored by Merrill Lynch, so I figured why not and signed up right away. There's nothing like a 10k race to up your speed over the longer distances, so the race doubled as some good speed training. One tends to slow down pretty quick as soon as you shift into long distance pace training. I'm really glad I went along that day. The weather was fine, Victoria Park was in good form and the runners were all well up for it, even the fairy godfather
Standing on the start line, with all that pre-race tension and competitiveness building, I could see my heart rate monitor starting to register the excitement building inside me, climbing from 60bpm resting, to 120bpm by the time the gun went off. By then, as with all the races I do lately, I had edged my way to the front of the pack for the start. I figure if somebody is going to pass me they can work for it, rather than me having to fight my way through a pack of slower runners. This approach worked well at the Bananaman 10k, but a stronger type of runner turned out this day and even though I lead the race for the first 1k, a group of 3 faster runners come past and I didn't see them again. A 10k race is always a sprint and after some others passed me, I found my stride and maintained a solid pace for the rest of the race, seeing off a few challenges from those with my position in their sights, eventually finishing lucky 13th for a new personal best of 36:18.
Last night my good mate Frame and I went to go see Evita for President at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. The alter ego of Pieter Dirk Uys has been a household name, in South Africa anyway, for more than two decades and her (his) political satire is well known. This was my first live viewing of Uys in action and it was, for me, a most wonderful experience. Uys takes the stage in unassuming attire, a black undershirt and loose pants and commences his performance. Only 5 seconds in and the audience is already captivated, spellbound even, as Uys reels off line after line of well timed, current, relevant and down right funny material. He shifts effortlessly through a series of character sketches representative of South Africa old and new, punctuating each transition with a story about unfaltering optimism, joy and progress in the new South Africa. Uys is quite simply nothing short of a national treasure. Evita for President shows at the Tricycle Theatre through 1st September 2007. Highly recommended.