Black & Decker: Industrial design in the hands of five year old

Black-Decker-Screwdriver-1024x1024If you asked an alien to design a sex toy or five year old to design a spacecraft, you’d end up with a similar design.

Luckily for Black & Decker this creates a host of new ideas for their latest crop of insane home ‘improvement’ gadgets. Not only do these products looks like the bastard love child of Anne Summers and the Transformer they are also about as easy to use as a Rubic’s Cube on a unicycle.

BD jaws

This little beauty is some sort of cutting devise but surely the five year old in charge thought it should looks like a character from Nemo .

It matters not, as the life cycle of these products is the same as a Mayfly, and each insane model will be replaced by something equally bonkers in three months .

My advice is, if you think you are Luke Skywalker and are 5 years old; buy Black & Decker. If not, don’t and enjoy life as a grownup.

 

 

Musing on Cruising #6 Should you go on a cruise or is it the ultimate in luxury non-travel?

imageOf all the aspects of why people go cruising the psychology fascinates me the most. Cruising is a multibillion dollar business serving millions of passengers every year but the great question for me is why do people choose to take this most peculiar type of holiday.

Imagine for a moment the following fictitious ad for a new hotel

Come to the Hotel Queen Mary 2

Applications are now being taken for holidays at the Queen May 2 hotel. You will join over 2000 other passengers in a 1200 feet long hotel from which you will not be allowed to leave for up to seven days. You can walk around the deck in 70mph winds if you wish. The hotel will spend most of its time passing identical martime scenery and the may list uncomfortably if the sea conditions or wind are unfavourable.

You may experience prolonged periods of nausea but highly priced medical services are available. You will not however be permitted to leave the hotel in mid-holiday.

You can spend your time eating and drinking to excess and then exercise in one of the ships 7 minute hip-baths we laughingly refer to as swimming pools.

There are a wide variety of diverting entertainment few of which you would ever consider attending if you were not staying at the hotel Queen Mary 2 and in the evening a draconian dress code will be enforced together with a ridged class system in order that those with more money feel extra privileged.

Due to poplar demand bookings are now being taken for 2018

It doesn’t sound too appealing but the strange thing is that cruising actually works and I thought I’d spend a while trying to decipher why this strange and bizarre form of tourism isn’t just popular but is thriving.

Having spent almost three weeks at sea both crossing the Atlantic and the Caribbean I am convinced that Cunard are probably the most sophisticated psychological marketers on earth. By the use of a large variety of subtle psychological techniques and triggers they not only shape and control the experience of over 2300 people they manage to make it highly enjoyable.

There are so many things that simply shouldn’t work but they do and in many cases work spectacularly well. In no particular order here are my thoughts

Continue reading Musing on Cruising #6 Should you go on a cruise or is it the ultimate in luxury non-travel?

Musing on Cruising #5 Transatlantic in December

imageWhen you think of cruising your mind conjures up images of sunshine, steamer chairs in the deck, white jacketed waiters bringing you iced drinks. That may be the case except in the Atlantic in December. Here you should be thinking about Master and Commander, The Cruel Sea and any other movie that features black seas, violent storms and a pitching ship.

As I write this we have been at sea for five days. We have seen the sun for twenty minutes and the wind speed hasn’t dropped below Force 7 or about 38mph. Our record this afternoon was Hurricane Force 12 with wind over the deck of 78knts or just under 90mph and then it started to snow.

The wind causes a few problems with stability but the Queen Mary 2 is very sure footed. The problem is the pitching. When the swell is a moderate 10 feet most people wither retire to their cabins or totter about the ship looking slightly drunk as they gently bump into walls and furniture. Here is my guide to transatlantic wind speed and how to judge it

20mph – 30mph      Moderate swell

Brits are talking about it being a smooth as silk and Americans are jogging around the deck

30mph-40mph         Rough Force 8

Brits are using words like ‘choppy’ and have switched from beer to spirits. A few Americans are still jogging.

40mph-50mph         Rough Force 10

Brits are talking about having a light supper and only one cocktail. Last American still jogging

50mph-60mph       Big Swell Hurricane Force 11

Passengers using both hands on the banisters, bars half empty, doors to the decks are closed. No Americans jogging

60mph-70mph         Hurricane Force 12

Shows cancelled but the Balls carry on regardless. Dancing style goes out of the windows as people try to slow waltz by adding extra steps in a desperate attempt to keep their feet on the floor. Spin turns result in couples exiting the dance floor uncontrollably and ending up in the bar. Or was that just us.

70+mph        Armageddon

Brits crash into one another in corridors smiling while saying “I haven’t had my first gin yet”. All soup is cancelled. Every second lift is shut down and the Captain makes impromptu announcement that we needn’t worry as the ship will be the through the worst of this in the next six hours. Seats available anywhere you want. The sea looks like it’s going backwards and the wave hit the windows on deck 7. People start hallucinating claiming to have seen dolphins, whales, Wales, submarines, land or mermaids out of the windows.

In reality the condition aren’t too bad if you have reasonable sea legs but I wouldn’t do a transatlantic again. Six days at sea with no sun is just too boring regardless of however many balls and dinners they offer. Either start in the sun or start sailing when there is the remotest chance of some sunshine however brief.

Musing on Cruising #4 Getting on board Queen Mary 2

imageElly and I have been through a few airports in our time and I’ve even been arrested in one but maybe that’s a story for another time.  We’ve been first class, business. economy and capitalist hyena class of whatever the Cambodian regime calls it but the one feature that unifies every flight, is it takes a serious amount of time to get from pavement to seat. 

Board the Queen Mary 2 with a Queens Grill booking in Southampton and everything changes.  Like all passengers your luggage is whisked away at curb side and you enter the terminal.  Then for Priority Boarding you join a queue of one, have your picture taken and hand over your credit card.  From that point on the Cunard fantasyland experience starts.

Through security and you’re on board and your find yourself in a photo line up with two munchkins dressed like Buttons from Cinderella.  Find your way to your room sorry stateroom, in our case a suite and the reality distortion field kicks in.

Meet Adrian our Butler

I always through that was another Cunard piece of marketing fluff and your Butler was just a waiter in a better uniform.  Wrong.  So wrong.

The first thing Adrian and his sidekick did was unpack, neatly fold and put away all our clothes and possessions.  I mean all seven bags, hat carriers and other assorted paraphernalia.  This is probably worth the enormous fare on its own given how long it took to pack.  The secret joy is knowing they’ll repack everything at the end of the trip as well.

Then we were free to explore the 500 sq.ft. that will be our home for the next 26 nights. The Q5 level suite (#9017) is large compared to a comparable hotel room and has more storage than our house. Apart from a huge walk in closet for Elly there are shelves and wardrobes from me and a huge bar area with glass cabinets, fridge and so forth. You simply tick a sheet confirming the spirits you want and your butler keeps them fully supplied while you are on board. As we don’t drink he asked what we’d like and then made sure that every day the fridge was topped up with Pepsi, iced tea, tomato juice and so forth.

Adrian delivers breakfast to the room, compliments us on our outfits and at about 5.30pm each day brings us canape in case the sheer act of dressing for dinner has made us weak with hunger. He also collect and hangs laundry, arranges the fresh flowers and most importantly ensures that the handmade chocolates are in the suite when we return from a hard evening dancing.

I understand he will also run your bath, tie your bow tie and serve drinks and canapes to your guests but there are limits to even my indolence.

Musing on Cruising #3 – Packing or why only the paranoid survive

imagePacking for our cruise has been stressful to put it mildly. Not only are we away for almost a month but the range of temperatures and the types of clothes needed is extreme. New York in December will be somewhat colder than St Lucia (I hope) and the the clothes needed for a beach in St Kitts will be somewhat different from a Royal Ascot Ball.  So for guidance I turned to the CruiseCritic forums for a solution.

It seems that there are two types of packer; the liar and the paranoid.

The liar, often male, claims to not have even thought about clothes or packing and intends to ‘throw a few things in a case’ the night before travel.  He’ll moan about having to take a dress suit and will ask intentionally provocative questions like ” Can I wear swimming trunks to a ball” in order to have the paranoids start screaming at him. These represent about 2% of travelers.

2015-12-01 17.30.35
The initial selection

The paranoids, or the rest of us, engage in a complex discussion of room size vs. number of nights vs. temperature. On Cunard you change your clothes at least twice a day if you’re a man and potentially more than that if you’re a woman. Multiply that by 26 nights, temperatures ranging from -5C to +30C and add in fascinators, dance shoes,make-up and jewelry and the list becomes enormous. So given there is no restriction on the number of bags and we have a suite we will be packing heavy. By my rough estimation five cases and a suit bag.

I thought that maybe other cruise lines had useful tips of what to pack and turned up these gems from Disney Cruises. They range from the strange to the downright bizarre. Under the heading of ‘Other items to consider packing’ they had:

Books – if you think you have time to read. Who wouldn’t have time to read but maybe on Disney you are continually pursued around the deck by men dressed in huge mouse costumes so you won’t have time.

Bungee chord – for connecting cabins. I presume these are your own cabins not some bizarre game where you tie random door handles together and watch the fun. Come to think of that I might slip a couple for when the mood strikes.

Dry erase board – to communicate with your family. I usually prefer talking to my wife but maybe writing to each other on a four foot white board might be novel.

Duct tape – I presume to stop communicating with your family. “Time to duct tape Young Josh again he’s getting a  bit irritating”

Glow necklace – to find your family at night I assume

Two way radio – Can you imagine a trip with a hundred families talking to their children on two way radios. The horror. The horror.

Suction cups – to hang wet swimming truncks at the porthole also I presume to muzzle the children if the duct tape fails.

But leaving the duct tape, dry erase boards and radios to one side here are my tips for packing happiness.

  • Buy lots of suitcases. You’ll never use them again but that is why your house has a loft.
  • Take everything you can conceivably think of, however unlikely. The collapsible shoe tree will have its place and the oil painting of Great Auntie Margret will make your minute cabin feel more homely.
  • Take duplicate items assuming a waiter will spill soup on you at every meal and the laundry breaks down. So 52 changes of clothes for 26 nights is not unreasonable.
  • Think of the most unlikely scenarios and plan that these happen regularly. “Oh no, that pesky swarm of killer phone charger bees have stolen my 3rd back-up laptop charger….again”
  • Know that the cruise line makes a note of each outfit you wear and will fine you for repetitive dressing. Pack accordingly.
  • Assume that the boat has the facilities of a small life raft and pack everything you might need that they clearly won’t be able to provide; like soap.
  • Work on the assumption that the cabin staff will lose half your clothes so pack extras just in case.
  • Understand that with time changes each day is 37 hours long so take extra clothes to cover the additional hours.
  • Expect the unexpected. It could snow in the Caribbean in January and there could be a heatwave in New York in December. Remember that there are no shops in New York or the Caribbean.

Follow the other parts of Musing on Cruising below

Musing on Cruising #1

Musing on Cruising #2

 

Musing on Cruising #2 – Welcome to Cunard World

imageWhen we decided to take our first cruise we discovered the hierarchy of cruise lines. This seems to be based as much on facilities and ship size as it is on the dreaded dress code.

Cruise lines, like the Disney Corporation, are marketing organisations whose principal role is to lure you to their artificial worlds and then extract as much cash as possible while you are their captive. They exist to sell you their stuff not to watch you consume yours and they do this by subtly altering reality so that you are swept along in a brand identity and lose touch with the reality of money/time and almost everything else.

They do this by establishing both a brand identity and a rigid class system. Cunard do this by romanticising the bygone era of transatlantic crossings from the 1920s and 1930s. Interestingly the only reference to the Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, still exists in what Cunard call White Star Service “Legendary, Elegant, Memorable”. I suppose the Titanic  certainly delivered “Memorable”white-star

I love the fact that the Cunard typeface is Sang Bleu or Blue Blood. I suppose the other choices of typeface like Rich Bastard Bold and Entitlement Grotesque were not available. The style guidelines also allude to what they call a ‘Touch of Britishness’ as follows

By which we don’t mean bullish patriotism, but rather the positive post-2012 Olympics sense of self-possession and inclusiveness, coupled with hints of old traditions and quirks recognised the world over.

I love the idea of post-2012 Olympic British self-possession and quirks. So if I turn up as an unemployed asylum seeker in a suit of armour I should be fine.

However, it is dress code that really delivers the Cunard brand identity. While some cruise lines are increasingly relaxed about dress code, Cunard isn’t. After 6pm the ship enforces a strict dress code which basically says that if you want to wear jeans you can either stay in your cabin or slum it with the proles in some food court below the waterline. For the rest of us life becomes more complex.

On formal nights (every other night) it is black tie or a dark suit for men and ball gown or cocktail dresses for women. They used to allow white tie with medals or national dress for formal nights and I was disappointed they had dropped this. My plan was to pitch up in a neon jockstrap (gentleman’s athletic support) with a lamp shade on my head. When challenged I was planning to remonstrate that this was my national dress and how dare they besmirch the honorable tradition of my nation.

On informal nights (every other night), it is jacket for men, no jeans, shorts or anything else deemed as too casual. Ties are optional but try and find an official publicity shot showing men without ties except at breakfast. For women it is cocktail dresses or smart separates.

If that wasn’t enough on many of the formal nights there are balls to attend like the Royal Ascot Ball, Masquerade Ball, Black  White Ball, 175 Ball, Christmas Ball, New Year Ball and the list goes on.  For these you can hire accessories or bring them. So if I was really going to get into the swing of this I would be packing my Morning Suit with top hat, Venetian masks (of which I naturally have many to choose from),  White tie. As it is I am already taking bow ties in three colours.

For Elly, she has been shopping like a woman possessed. Ball gowns, cocktail dresses, shoes, costume jewelry, hats and even I have been buying jackets and shirts. As a result we will need a small tug towed behind the Queen Mary 2 just to accommodate our wardrobe.

Clearly dressing-up is a major part of why some passengers (sorry guests) take a cruise (sorry voyage) on a Cunard ship (sorry liner). They want to pretend that they are in Downtown Abbey at Sea and that an army of butlers and under footmen will be on hand to deliver their fantasy. The fact that Mr Carson is a young Filipino on minimum wage is just an annoying detail.

So I am ready to embrace the up market dressing-up box that is Cunard and accept that is all balls……when it’s not informal nights naturally.

 

Musing on Cruising #1

imageA little bit of background before I begin. After we had planned a long world trip for 2016 Elly came down with pneumonia and we had to rethink our plans. Fortunately she is fine now but we had paid a large deposit to P&O for a trip from Chile to Hong Kong by sea and rather than waste the money we decided to transfer the deposit to Cunard and get away from the doom and gloom of England for a trip to the Caribbean via New York on Queen Mary 2 over Christmas and New Year 2015.

My view on cruising has always been pretty negative, namely very old people trapped in a small steel hotel for days on end with nothing to do except gorge themselves 24 hours a day. Add to this norovirus, seasickness, snobbery and dinner jackets and unsurprisingly going on a cruise hadn’t made it onto even my long-range bucket list.

However, we took the plunge and are due to sail to New York on 15th December, then down to the Caribbean and back to UK via another stop in New York. A total of 26 nights.

We decided that if we were going to cruise we would do it in style so booked a Queens Grill suite and so entered the bewildering world of cruising.

Let me explain. For most of our travelling lives the decision-making process has been Where, When and How. But it seems many cruisers make their decisions based on Ship, Whenever and Wherever. It seems most pressing concerns,according to the forums on CruiseCritic.com,  are what is the dress code, can I get a cabin upgrade and can I bring my own drinks on board. Almost nothing else seems to matter.

I honestly believe cruise lines could sell a trip to a baby seal cull if they threw in a complimentary room upgrade and a free bottle of Prosecco.

So what will I be doing for the next 36 Days 11 Hours and 17 Minutes (according to the hateful timers on Cruise Critic). Well Elly and I have decided to embrace the unknown, unlock our inner cruiser and are taking ballroom dancing lessons.

So it’s goodbye Chiang Mai hello Cha Cha.

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