Get ’em off!

So I’ve arrived in Barbados … but it was touch and go for a moment!

After an uneventful flight from Gatwick on British rather than Coconut Airways, I arrived at Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown yesterday afternoon around 4.15pm local time.  Of course the plane was parked up a long distance from the terminal building which meant that by the time I reached the immigration hall I was just about done in.  I still cannot walk long distances, and after an eight hour flight I was feeling not a little delicate in the back department …

The immigration queue wasn’t too bad and I was soon on my way to baggage reclaim.  I’ve always maintained that baggage reclaim is that great leveller in travelling society.  Whether you travel in First, Club or Cattle classes you meet your fellow passengers at the great merry-go-round that is the luggage carousel.

People stand about looking nonchalant, or at least trying to look nonchalant.  Yet everyone knows that everyone else is thinking “Will my bag come out?”.  Marion knows only too well that sinking sensation that comes over you as you begin to realise that however long you stand and stare that precious suitcase of yours ain’t gonna show.  We never did discover where her bag went to instead of Stornoway last January, but fortunately she and her bag were reunited within 24 hours.

Here in Bridgetown however, the loss of a much-needed bag would have been rather more troublesome. But fortunately after waiting ages – easily half an hour of watching bags coming out of the black hole of Calcutta – thankfully mine appeared. Thank goodness I had the foresight yesterday to attach my silver ‘Land Rover’ baggage tag to it, for otherwise I should not have recognised my bag among the myriad other black pull-alongs.

Delighted to be restored to a full complement, I turned to head for the customs hall.  I’d already filled out my declaration chit and had it safely stored in my shirt pocket ready to present to the officer on demand.  I made for the green channel where I discovered that’s exactly what everyone else had already done and there I was at the back of an enormous queue. I shamelessly sidled up the side of this queue and inserted myself such that I was in front of about 75 people. And no one said a word!!!

The single customs officer (a jobs worth if ever I saw one) was taking the customs declarations from travellers from two different aircraft. Not one person did she challenge or question, just took the chit and added it to a growing wad of them in her left hand. And then it was my turn.

“Good afternoon,” said I. “Please remove your shorts sir” she replied. I looked at her with astonishment. “I beg your pardon?”

“Camouflage shorts are illegal in Barbados sir, you’ll have to remove them I’m afraid.”

“Oh!” I said, “well sure, no problem, but right here? You want me to remove them here and now?”  I almost wished she’d said yes, but instead I was directed to the red channel and to declare my illegal shorts to a different officer. This I did, and I was marshalled into an inspection room by the second officer and was instructed to put something else on.

Fortunately I’d changed from jeans into my shorts on the flight, so it was an easy thing to do.  The changeover was accomplished in two minutes and I was on my way again, out of the baggage hall and into … Barbados!

Philip and Derek were waiting for me by the wheelchairs. Fortunately they weren’t needed for me though if one had been offered by this time I think I should have accepted a ride. Troubles behind me, I started to enjoy my arrival and we walked to the car park, found the car and set off for home.

Along the way they told me that I was lucky indeed  that my shorts had not been confiscated. Only two weeks ago Philip had been wearing camouflage pattern shoes of some description and had had it pointed out to him by someone that they were illegal.  It appears that only the Barbadian army is allowed to wear anything camouflage pattern: future visitors please note!

We arrived at Prospect in the parish of St James just as the sun was setting in the west across the Caribbean Sea.  Beautiful!  A quick change out of jeans into shorts (plain green this time) and flipflops instead of trainers, and the boys led me down the garden path, passing the hot tub and very inviting swimming pool (both to be road tested today!) to the road. About a hundred yards beyond was the sea.

It was wonderful to take my flipflops off and walk on the coral sand and then into the gently lapping sea. We walked a couple of hundred yards along the beach to a lovely beachside bar where a scotch on the rocks (sacrilege!) was the order of the day.

We spent an enjoyable evening at the bar (with Italian restaurant). We had a table right on the edge of the beach, the sea no more than thirty feet away, fringed with palms and torch flares.  After the long journey it truly felt like paradise, a veritable garden of eden.

We returned to Summerland Villa via the road and I was very pleased to get to bed at 1.30am GMT, 9.30pm AST and slept through the night.

Today is a new day. Agenda for the day: swimming pool, sunbathing, hot tub and dinner with a couple of Philip and Derek’s friends who, I am told, I will like very much.

Until next time …

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The joys of air travel today

I’m off to Barbados first thing on Thursday morning. I’m all set for the airport rigmarole. Well, as prepared as I’ll ever be!

I intend to arrive at the airport a full three hours ahead of the probable minimum seven hour check-in. I shall allow extra time for walking the last couple of miles to the terminal building.

By arriving earlier I will stand a much better chance of getting a decent seat under one of the more desirable CCTV cameras. I’ve done a bit of advance research into which are the cameras with the less blurry image.  Having established my base for waiting for my delayed or cancelled flight, I will defend it from other travellers trying to invade my space.

I’ll be going to the airport armed with some “Police Incident: Do Not Cross” tape. I picked it up on the Reading relief road this afternoon.

As I’m rather ticklish, I shall be wearing extra thick clothes for the inevitable body searches, and I’ll have some doggie chocolate drops to help make friends with the sniffer Alsatians.

One of my favouritest games whilst waiting at an airport is to count of the number of times the word “apologise” is used on the public-address system. The all-comers record at London Gatwick (where I’m flying from) is 267 “apologises” in three hours.

Of course I won’t be able to get anything to eat at the airport. This is because the essential catering staff won’t have been able to get to work because of police road blocks. So I’m taking some snacks with me. But I won’t make the mistake of taking egg or tomato sandwiches to the airport, because the contents tend to fall out during the frequent sandwich inspections by security staff.

I won’t be taking any drinks though. It is never advisable to use the airport lavatories during your stay. This is because they are all occupied by suspicious looking characters lurking near the hot-air hand-driers. I understand that security experts say all users of public toilet facilities are viewed as likely terrorists.

I’m a bit reluctant to take my camera with me as it will almost certainly be confiscated at the airport for “reasons of security management.” This just means that the flash could startle one of those police officers wearing a bullet-proof waistcoat and carrying a sub-machine gun.

I’m not especially bothered about having a photographic record of my airport stay; I know I will be preserved for posterity (or at least a good long time) on the CCTV footage and probably also be filmed by a TV news programme.

In fact, if I’m really lucky, I could be interviewed for the BBC News channel by that very nice young girl who is their Chief “Airport Misery” Correspondent.

Bon Voyage!

Managing brand reputation in the Twitter age

Twitter logo

I’ve been telling corporate folk for ages that reputation management is essential if an organisation joins the Twitterati or Facebook.

Microblogging services such as Twitter and an infinite host of other social media platforms have enabled anyone with online access to communicate instantly with a global audience. As such, we now live in a world of billions of potential influencers.

One person’s opinions about a company, regardless of whether those opinions are based on evidence, speculation or emotional impulse, can spread within minutes among networks comprising thousands, sometimes even millions, of individuals.

Unsubstantiated hearsay about a company can quickly harden into fact – and live on forever, popping up again and again in search engine results. And if those rumors go “viral” – that is, seen and distributed by enough people – it can attract the attention of the mass media, leading to a full blown communications crisis.

High-profile examples include Google’s alleged plans to buy Twitter, followed by another stating Apple would acquire the micro-blogging service for $700 million. As we know now, both rumors proved false, but the wild speculation grabbed the attention of the trade media and undoubtedly impacted industry decision-makers around the globe.

Whether an online conversation involves something unfounded or true, the worst reaction is to ignore it. Instead, organisations should take a ‘Murphy’s Law’ approach, that is, imagine the worst possible things that can be said about your brand and have a plan for quickly and effectively responding to them.

Here are five steps your organisation can take to anticipate and prepare for a communications crisis:

1. Know Who Will Do What

Your senior officers and communications team should create procedures to be followed in case of a crisis. Who within the organisation is designated to respond to rumors? What platforms will they use? Is there a company-wide manual that provides all employees with the dos and don’ts of reacting to online scuttlebutt or inquiries from professional journalists?

2. Anticipate What You Will Say

What are the typical scenarios that the organisation might expect? Do they involve products, services, customer interactions, employee relations, financial markets, industry practices, corporate social responsibility or something else that can impact your stakeholders?

For each area, you can develop general messaging that can be quickly tailored to address a specific issue. Make sure those messages are consistent with the core messaging that your company uses in daily communications through all of its channels. The last thing your organisation should do is send mixed messages.

3. Keep Your Eyes Open

Assign one or more employees to monitor online conversations about your organisation. Make sure to have them monitor both mainstream news stories as well as those that appear in social media. These individuals should bring negative conversations to the attention of senior communications strategists who can then determine if next steps are necessary.

4. Be Responsive

The beauty of the Internet is that it enables two-way conversations. If, for example, your organisation discovers an unhappy stakeholder on Twitter, invite the individual to speak with you via email, phone or some other channel that will enable you to give them personalised attention and address their concerns in detail.

5. If Appropriate, Be Humble

Be humble as an organisation. Show that you’re willing to listen and change. Demonstrating a willingness to learn from mistakes and move forward can generate good will among stakeholders. For example, Motrin, the brand for a popular U.S. pain reliever, launched a new ad campaign implying that mothers use baby carrying devices as a fashion statement.

The campaign prompted an immediate, viral protest, with women denouncing the depiction on Twitter and even forming a Facebook group to boycott the product.

Motrin, which was closely monitoring social media discussions, immediately pulled the ads and apologised, helping to turn a potentially damaging gaff into an opportunity to engage in a positive conversation with its target audience.

Another instance involved a YouTube video of two employees, as a prank, tampering with food at a North Carolina Dominoes restaurant. When the video began spreading on the internet, the company posted its own YouTube video of its president reassuring viewers that appropriate actions had been taken.

12 useful things for today

1 There is an ancient tradition that cake, eaten in the dark, “never happened”. It is believed that this dates back to a special concession granted by Henry VII in 1489 to the Guild of Master Bakers and Tart Mongers to help them in the hard times brought about by the First Great Tudor Obesity Crackdown (1487-1491). Over the centuries, it has come to be generally accepted that the same rule applies to double cream consumed in a dimly lit room or sweetmeats eaten by candlelight, and, more recently, ice cream with your eyes closed.

2 As far as resolutions are concerned, the New Year does not actually begin on 1st January. They don’t become operative until you have filled in all your personal details at the front of your new diary.

3 The rules of good manners always override promises made in late December. Cigarettes, sausages, gin and tonics and roast potatoes should always be accepted when it would be rude not to do so. In a restaurant, spurning rich sauces may easily offend the waiting staff.

4 The second Thursday in January is known as Void Thursday. This day marks the end of the cooling off period for rash New Year decisions. Newly-purchased trainers and tracksuits may be returned to shops with no questions asked and many gyms hold special farewell parties for all the people who signed up for membership on 2nd January. Four days later we celebrate Null Monday. This is when, traditionally, we tell the new personal trainer that it’s not working out.

5 If you can say “good morning” and “thank you” that’s all the conversational Mandarin you really need. In fact it is sufficient attainment in any language.

6 Lambert & Butler Green, not enjoyed, do not count as smoking.

7 It is essential to save up some self-denial for Lent which begins early this year on 6th February. It would be foolish to find on 5th February that you were just too virtuous already. Many sensible people believe that it is a good idea to take on a few extra self-indulgences in January just to make the Lenten self-sacrifice more worthwhile.

8 Most lawyers agree that resolutions made under duress (that is, in the presence of one or more other people also making resolutions) are not binding. Indeed, even to remind a person of a resolution made under these circumstances could be regarded as a breach of their human rights.

9 If you have made a vow to be an all round nicer person, it would be a mistake to combine this with a New Year DIY blitz. You would be a danger to others if you lifted a hammer, spanner, power drill or other heavy implement before you were certain that you had made progress with the being nicer thing. This is a gradual process. (It is advisable to wait at least 12 months to be sure that the all round niceness has “taken”.)

10 A wise man once said: “A half-decorated kitchen is worse than no kitchen at all.” He also said: “There can never be a right colour for the spare bedroom” and “Wallpaper in haste, repent at leisure.” I can’t remember who he was, but he was exceedingly wise and his hair was flecked with magnolia.

11 So what if your novel is only four pages long? This could be a whole new genre.

12 A new year resolution should be regarded as a work in progress. There is all the difference in the world between breaking it and doing a certain amount of fine tuning. You may wish, as the months pass, to add footnotes, to point out that white wine does not count as alcohol and that it is acceptable to take a sabbatical from a dieting. Remember, Britain is noted for its EU opt-outs. So the way to keep resolutions alive is by continuous improvement. I often find that one doesn’t achieve the optimum, finished product resolution until about 30th December and there’s one day left to keep it.