Monday, 11 June 2012

Mobile phones and not going to Lundy

Lundy Island is about three and a half miles long and half a mile wide. It lies off the coast of North Devon towards the end of the Bristol Channel and is reached by ferry from either Bideford or Ilfracombe. It's owned by the National Trust and although it has a shop and accommodation is a bit of a wilderness. Going there has been at the back of my mind for a long time, but it was last year when I was walking the Exmoor part of the South West Coast Path and came across ferry timetables that I decided I would definitely visit this year.

I decided to go on the Thursday as the ferry times on this day would give me the maximum amount of time on the island. I hoped to walk right the way round and so wanted as much time as possible so that I could achieve this without feeling rushed and whilst still having plenty of time to sit and absorb the views and watch any wildlife.

I emailed the ferry company to see about booking. They emailed me back advising me to book in advance and informing me that I would have to do this over the phone rather than online or by email. Easier said than done as I get in too late to ring during the week. I tried phoning on Saturday morning before I left but each time I rang I got a voicemail message telling me the booking office was closed and informing me of the opening hours. As I was ringing at a time the message was saying the office should be open, this was a bit strange. Stranger still was the second part of the message advising me to ring the number I was actually already ringing. I tried one last time right before I left and this time, hallelujah, got through. I booked my ticket and arranged to pick it up from the booking office on Thursday morning. I even got a discount because I'm a member of the National Trust. The woman told me to be at the office for 7.45am and gave me directions for where to park and how to get to the office and the ferry. She also told me to phone the office after 8pm on Wednesday evening to check that the sailing was going ahead. I left home relieved I'd got it sorted out and knowing I'd be able to indulge my island habit whilst I was away.

All was well until Wednesday. I listened to the weather forecast: gales, storms, thunder, rain, gusts of wind up to 70 miles per hour. Maybe I wouldn't be going to Lundy after all. I listened to the forecast a couple more times in case they changed their minds but they didn't. Unless I was told otherwise by Lundy officials though, I still needed to turn up for the ferry the following morning. So it was important I made that after 8pm phone call. This is where I hit my next problem.

I rarely use a mobile phone. In fact I've never actually bought one, I just use other people's cast-offs. I've been using my current phone for a couple of years and it's an old one of my brother's. As he lives in Germany this is a German phone and so the charger doesn't fit English plug sockets. Not a problem because German plugs fit the shaver socket in my bathroom and so I can charge it in there. I can also charge it in the car and when I'm travelling in mainland Europe the charger fits the sockets fine and is much smaller and lighter to carry than an English size charger and adaptor. So I'm very happy with my German phone.

Now however, my phone decided to die. Each time I tried to switch it on it said auf wiedersehen and switched itself back off. And yes, it was fully charged. I took the battery out and wiped it and put it back in. I shook it. I held it in different positions. All to no avail. If I was going to make this phone call I was going to have to get a new phone. A trip to Tesco was called for.

I found a phone for £11 that seemed perfect. They did have one for £9 but I needed to buy a car charger to go with it and there wasn't one to fit the £9 phone. Buying a phone is far more complicated than I ever realised.  I had to charge it, then ring a number to register it, then put credit on it, then learn how to use it so I could actually make my phone call. I sat in my car in the car park with the phone plugged into the cigarette lighter trying to go through everything in the right order. Finally I was able to make my phone call. Only problem now was that I couldn't hear anything. I played with the volume but still couldn't hear anything. The only way I could hear was to have the phone on loud speaker. I assumed I was doing something wrong and resolved to play with it a bit more when I got back to the campsite.

As for my phone call? Well, I felt like I'd completely wasted my time because all I got was a voicemail message saying that because of the weather forecast the ferry may or may not go and they'd decide in the morning so passengers should still turn up at 7.45am. What was the point in having to ring to be told that? After my experiences with their voicemail messages on Saturday I really think they need to think a bit more about how to word their messages so they actually tell callers something useful and meaningful.

So next morning I had the alarm set before 6am to make sure I had enough time to get to Bideford and find the parking and the ticket office and the ferry. I tried calling again before I left but it was still the same message as the previous evening. I drove the half hour to Bideford, put my car in the car park and bought an all day ticket (luckily it was only £3) all with the knowledge that I was probably doing all of this for nothing and could have had a nice lie-in.

I walked along the quay to the ticket office. The ferry was docked alongside looking inviting. A queue of people were snaking outside the booking office door and along the quay next to the sign saying 'cancelled'. I had to join the queue to fill in a form to claim a refund. I wasn't the only person pointing out the inadequacy of the voicemail messages. The woman in the office said they'd only just made the decision to cancel. I really don't understand the point of having to ring the night before (ok, phoning the night before probably wasn't as much palaver for other people as it was for me, but even so ...) if they don't make decisions until just before the sailing is due even when there are such severe weather warnings. I was rather miffed at having got up early, wasted an hour's worth of diesel (return trip) and the parking fee all for nothing, as well as being disappointed at not getting to Lundy. The next sailing was not until Saturday and that would be too late for me.

At least it was still early and I still had the whole day ahead of me. So I went for a walk. But that's another story.

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