WHAT DOES THE DOCTOR THINK THIS MONTH?
Some more pleasant ramblings from Dr Ian.
This month's article is full of "bits and pieces" and I hope you all find something to inform you and that you enjoy it.
Madeira: Deannie and I spent the last two weeks of March in our humble timeshare in Madeira. They have had a terrible winter and we caught the last week of such weather (what do we do today - read, go to the supermarket, visit the cinema, top ourselves?) before the weather changed and the glorious sunshine took over. Of course, two weeks before our visit, there had been terrible landslips with thousands of tons of rock, rubble and mud pouring into the main town and port, Funchal, with terrible devastation at some places inland. However, the Madeirans have worked flat out and, to the casual tourist, there is now very little sign of the problems. They have gathered up all of the rocks and gravel which poured into the town and have used it to reclaim a large area from the sea in the harbour and, no doubt, this will form a car park or be put to some other use. Inland, the rivers are full of heavy equipment, smashing rocks and using all the materials which came down during the disaster to make new roads to replace those roads which were washed away. Any of you who have been thinking of visiting Madeira but have not yet done so should do so now. Bookings for Madeira have "fallen off a cliff" since the disaster. Prices have been slashed and it is now possible to have a week in a three star hotel, including flights, for about £150. Of course, there are no beaches and most of the tourists are over 60 years old so it is really quiet. The Levada walks are real fun if you are looking for activity, ranging from "easy" to "vertiginous".
Car Hire: We always hire a car for our two weeks in Madeira and for weekends away - booked well in advance, a small car is very reasonable and works out cheaper than using taxis. The rental agreement includes Collision Damage Waiver and theft insurance. However, there is an "excess" payment (the first part of repair or replacement costs) which must be made if the car is lost or stolen. This is known as the Car Hire Excess. Also, you can be charged for damage to tyres and windscreen. So, car hire can be quite nerve-wracking as a passing lorry could chip your windscreen, your car could be scratched by others in a car park, and so on. I once saw a man being charged £700 at Dublin airport for a chipped windscreen - he was adamant that the chip was present when he hired the car but he had not been assiduous in his own pre-hire survey of the vehicle.
When I picked up my car this time, I was told that the Car Hire Excess was £1,250 (a vast increase from past times) and that I could insure this amount for a one-off payment of £210 (£15 a day). I declined, drove carefully and was fortunate enough to escape any extra charges.
With an eye to the future, I did some homework. It is possible to take out Car Hire Excess Insurance which insures the policyholder against all the above "excess" charges. A policy for one year costs £49 for Europe or £109 for USA, each covering up to 31 days rental per annum. I have bought a policy from insurance4carhire.com (0844 892 1770), who pioneered this form of insurance, but there are several companies offering these policies.
Premium rate telephone numbers: This is a reminder from a previous article a couple of years ago. If you need to contact a company or a utility and they offer you a premium rate 0870 number, go to saynoto0870.com and enter the number into the box provided. You will then be given an ordinary land line number or, sometimes, a free 0800 number to telephone.
Telephoning Airlines: To avoid the automated systems and to talk to a person, for easyJet use 0871 244 2366 or, for others, try www.telegraph.co.uk/travel and enter "travel cheat sheet" in the search box. This lists telephone options for more than 20 airlines.
School reports: These days, school reports are politically correct and use "computer speak" so they are relatively unthreatening. The school I attended (Birkenhead School) was a six full days a week academic pressure cooker and the school reports were all hand written by the individual masters and were, frankly, terrifying. The Daily Telegraph letter pages have recently contained ex-pupils' reminiscences of those times and some are reproduced below (none of these was from my school reports - they are secret!)
Unlike the poor, this boy is seldom with us. At least his education hasn't gone to his head. This boy does not need a scripture teacher. He needs a Missionary. Give him the job and he will finish the tools! His handwriting has improved enormously - this has revealed his inability to spell. He has an overdeveloped unawareness The tropical forests are safe when this boy enters the woodwork room for his projects are small and his progress is slow French is a foreign language to this boy This lad has useful speed when he runs in the right direction When the workers of the world unite, it would be presumptuous for this boy to include himself in their number This boy suffers from insufficient maternal neglect
Best wishes to you all
Ian G. Nisbet