Saturday, March 27, 2010

Plans, plans and more plans

This blog is going to cover our trip to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (thanks to a reader for pointing out the correct appellation) in 2010.  Before getting to the plans let us deconstruct that country name:
  • Britain: OK, although the Britons as a genetic identity probably died out a couple of millenia ago.
  • Great: once, certainly.  Now is more dubious.
  • Kingdom: Why isn't it a Queendom?
  • United: The place contains England (OK that wants to stay); Northern Ireland (about half the population wants to stay, even though they have got a separate mention); Wales (got their own Parliament and see N Ireland); Scotland (see Wales); Isle of Man (happy to stay as long as they don't pay taxes) and the Channel Islands (last time I checked they are two States and they are only in it for Foreign Affairs and a cheap army - see Isle of man  but the Channellers probably would rather be French).
The big picture of planning was that the trip was to involve touring Gothic Cathedrals and birding sites.  The driver of the process was the cathedrals, following the success of a tour of this nature around L'Ile de France in about 1997.  There are pages about those attributes elsewhere as linked.  This left us three things to book:
  1. Flights;
  2. Accommodation; and
  3. Rental Car.
There seemed to be no real difficulty with flights so I thought the first thing to do was the accommodation in the UK.
This was made relatively easy by Frances finding the Enjoy England website.  Indeed the only problem with the site was sorting out the plethora of places they had on offer.  We ended up selecting three places as looking rather good:
Is it not astonishing that each of these places is not only part of an internet based travel booking system but has its own website.  If only the banking system was as good!

We changed our mind a couple of times about the order to visit them, with that shown being the 1st selection and the final one after the Barn couldn't take us for the second week.  I wondered about doing the West Country first but it turned out the Glastonbury Festival was on that week which seemed to make it likely that part of the UK is going to be full of punks and junkies.  Thus we ended up as shown.

All three property owners seemed most excellent in terms of being very responsive and helpful to us (and it might be noted from the end of the trip they continued those traits even after meeting me).  Getting the three places organised took us about a five days elapsed time with Martin putting in perhaps 2 hours contact time.

The only issue was generated by the banks.  It appears that to send money to an account in Europe it is necessary to use an International Bank Account Number (IBAN).  This seems to identify the bank, the branch and the account.  Thus get rid of all the other crap about names etc.  Not for WESTPAC. (I have put in the link in the hope that all readers of this page send that company some email advice!)

Having seen the array of stuff they seemed to require for an on-line transfer (most of which I didn't have, and the one bit I did have contradicted info on the Westpac site) I decided to go for a serviced transfer. That got kiboshed because the teller needed the address of the Bank in England.  So I sent an email to the owners seeking this info.

Then I got an email from another property which looked as though it should work - even though the IBAN contradicted the WESTPAC advice - because it told me they were dealing with the Royal Bank of Scotland.  On doing this online it emerged that all that was really needed was enough detail to identify which of an array of bank names were to be used.  It seems that WESTPAC deal with Royal Bank of Scotland under a range of situations and they all have different SWIFT codes.  The only one that looked sensible referred to transfers so I picked that and it generated a SWIFT code.  There was no need to know the address at all.

So, back to situation 1.  The problem was that the info from the owners didn't include the name of the bank.  The appearance of the letters MIDL suggested 'Midland Bank' but that was taken over by HSBC some years ago.  So I googled GB69MIDL and up popped 4 webpages.  One of them, the membership page for the European Museum indicated the Bank name was none other than HSBC.  So I included that and again got a list of possible bank names: most of these looked fronts for the Corleone Family or the source of letters advising me that I had won a squillion dollars in a lottery I had never entered; however buried in the middle of it was "HSBC all British Branches" which looked to fit the bill.

What a palaver for something so simple.  The offending mob of idiots got a nice email pointing out the problems with the system.

A linguistic aside: in the old days 'bank-robber' referred to someone who robbed banks.  These days it is probably used as much to identify the banks as a subset of robbers!

In early research I had found that Emirates was back being a cheap airline and one of those that flew directly into Manchester (a key driver of this process being to avoid Heathrow).  I very quickly found flights that matched our requirements and set about booking the flgihts.

Suddenly I found myself back at the WESTPACsite filling in something from Mastercard Secure "to ensure my security".  Having mentioned the s-word you can probably see that this is not going to be happy.  Sure enough the screen clears and I am told to contact my Emirates Office.  GRRRRRR!

So I ring Emirates and it turns out that the problem was that I hadn't registered with Mastercard Secure before starting the process.  Never having heard of this service before it was hardly surprising I hadn't registered with them.  The good thing about this was that the young lady taking the booking requested nice seats etc for us. 

Back to westpac, on the phone, with a whole lotta short, Anglo Saxon, words in my mind.  Their starting point was that only some companies use the Mastercard secure 'service' so it isn't really part of their system.  (ie it is Emirates fault.)  To get me registered, to prevent a recurrence of this lunacy, we search the WESTPAC site for Verified by VISA!!  I pointed out to the young lady - a different one, but also nice - that I used a Mastercard she said "Yes, but if you search for that you won't get to the right place."  The short, Anglo Saxon words got almost past my teeth!  After 17 minutes we had finished the exercise: as I commented to the young lady, I hope someone was recording the call so that they realised how appalling the system is.

Car rental
We decided this didn't have to be done for a while, so it wasn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment